Hi my name is Mike Belgrave. For many years I’ve been fascinated with odd music. Occasionally when I bought an album there was sometimes a strange little track that was probably knocked up for a laugh and sometimes shoved at the end. These songs tended to arouse my curiosity, but most of all amused me. Here’s a few examples:
I’ve also had an unhealthy love affair with episodes of TV shows (usual sci fi) that go a bit weird for a single episode. Some particular favourites of mine are:
Back to Reality – Red Dwarf
Human Nature – Doctor Who
The Girl Who Was Death – The Prisoner
So yes I like quirky things and quirky music, but I’m not particularly a fan of comedy songs. Hence my complete disapproval and stony faced silence when I was forced to listen to the god awful Stutter Rap in the car recently. But anything else a bit outside the usual grain tended to prick up my ears.
Now, what really dragged my attention to the world of Outsider Music was a track I heard on a compilation CD that was made up for my girlfriend. It was tracks from TV shows, mainly American, but I pretty much recognized every track. However there was one track that we were both mesmerized by. And that was this really awful version of Up Up and Away. It was an instrumental done with a light jazz ensemble and someone that sounded like they picked up a sitar two days ago and had never played an instrument in their lives and an acid casualty. It took us both a long time to not cry with laughter listening to it. I wanted to hear more but there was no track listing. I knew her friend pretty well and she only lived up the road so I would enquire the next time I saw her.
Now when I asked her friend what it was called she simply told me that she had a copy in the first place and had no track listing. I didn’t think it right to ask her to ask the person she the copy from because I would start to sound a little obsessive, which I was and still am. Anyway, the internets there for a reason that goes way beyond porn. So I set about trying to find out more information about this track.
Bit difficult mind. Up Up and Away is a popular song that’s been covered loads of times. And simply adding the word sitar doesn’t really narrow things down as much as you think it would. This version of the song has actually got more popular over the years. Right down to some gorgeous person adding he entire album track by track on YouTube. However a few years ago it was a a lot more difficult.
I tried quite a few times and came up with nothing. I gave up but never forgot the track. Mainly because I did a weekly community radio show and every week we did a version of he news that we said we went out and reported but was blatantly reading from a shoddy tabloid. In the background we would play the track. It strangely worked and stranger still, I never got sick of it.
About two years later I decided to look it up again and found it much easier this time. It was being discussed on a forum. The track was by Rajput and the Sepoy Mutiny andon the forum someone mentioned that it was part of a genre called”Outsider Music”.
The idea hit me like a bullet. It didn’t occur to me that this was part of a genre of music. But the second I saw the words, “Outsider Music” I knew exactly what it was and what it meant. I went to the all knowing Wikipedia and there was a nice big juicy entry for Outsider Music. Although Rajput wasn’t mentioned. However along with the description there was a list of other names on there. Some had links to their own pages other didn’t.
I clicked some of the links and found out a bit more. But what was particularly interesting was a name that is attributed to the whole genre. An American man by the name of Irwin Chusid. He coined the name and he also wrote a book and compiled two CDs all entitled Songs in the Key of Z the Curious Universe of Outsider Music.
As always with me I decided to check eBay to see if there were any copies. Lo and behold there was vol 1. I bid on it and got it for about three quid.
When it arrived in the post I couldn’t wait. Especially as Mr Chusid had written handy notes on each artists so you could get into it more. I was utterly blown away by most of it. Some took me a while to get. I’d never heard such a body of work as this. The opening track by The Shaggs, Philosophy of the World should be one of the worst things ever recorded. But somehow I loved it. It had a weird kind of innocence about it. It reminded me of my terrible band when we used to record practically every rehearsal when we started. It’s god awful but kind of funny and charming (funnily enough that’s a quote I got from GQ magazine).
Also my girlfriend listened to the album with me. She plays and knows a fair bit about contemporary music so she ha an open mind and her ears were tuned into the beauty of the odd even more than mine were.
My other favorites were
Rock and Roll McDonalds – Rock and Roll McDonalds (which I’d heard on Super Size Me)
Cousin Mosquito #1 – Congress-Woman Malinda Jackson Parker
Lift Every Voice and Sing – Shooby Taylor
Walking the Cow – Daniel Johnston
In Canada – BJ Snowden (which I was told in no uncertain terms that I could not have as a first dance at my wedding)
They Told me I was a Fool – Jandek
The Jandek track was particular was mesmerizing, haunting and disturbing.
I listened to the album many times. In the kitchen while cooking, on my iPhone, in the car etc. So I decided to go the whole hog and buy the second volume and the book. Now you can’t get volume two on it’s own, you have yo buy it as a double CD with volume 1, but to be honest I didn’t care. It was only nine quid. And the book about eight. When they arrived I immersed myself in the wonderful world of Outsider Music.
I read the book in about three days. I listened to the second CD over and over. I looked through Irwin Chusid’s website also called Songs in the Key of Z and trawler the Internet as much as I could. And do you know what? Apart from the work Irwin did and a few very excellent blogs that cover all kinds of weird music, there didn’t seem to be all that much out there.
The thing is, I knew there were other people out there that would like this music. There must be. I managed to easily get hold of a book and two CDs from Amazon dedicated to Outsider Music. There has to be a market out there.
In my job as a stand up comedian I do a lot of long car journeys with fellow comedians. Now there’s a particular trait that most comedians have and that is they’ll more or less talk or listen to any subject on the planet, then put their own spin on it and then ask the kind of informative question even an expert wouldn’t have though to have considered. Here’s two examples.
Me: There’s this piece Stockhausen wrote where a string quartet played in separate helicopters with headphones on so they can all keep in tine with each other.
Nick Revell: Do they all have to take off at exactly he same time?
Adrian Poynton: And do they have to be a particular make of helicopter?
And here’s the second example.
Can’t remember who said it: Did you know that if you put a conker in the corner of the room it keeps spiders away.
Nik Coppin: But if it’s a big room, would you need a few conkers? And how would you know? Spiders are in hibernation during conker season. Maybe that should be Spider-Man’s arch nemesis Conker-Man.
So when I talked about this exciting music to fellow funny men they got quite into the idea about this world of crazy and wild music out there. Although I wasn’t sure if they were genuinely interested or if they were being the usual inquisitive comedian.
So I decided to give myself a project. Something a bit more immediate than trying to get a book published, plus Irwin Chusid more or less wrote the bible on that one. And this is where my video podcast came into being. I was aware video blogs (or the ghastly named vodcast) were already in abundance so I though I’d go one step further than have some ranty hairy man simply giving his opinions into the camera. I’d use the skills I learned from my degree in Multimedia Systems from London Metropolitan University and make it more like a documentary/talking heads clip show.
And that was how The Outsider and Strange Music video podcast was born. Here’s episode one where I try to explain as briefly as I can what outsider music is. And then I take an artist I feel is possibly the most digestible, Wesley Willis and get that great friend and buffoon of mine Nik Coppin to give me his views.