Nothing is created in a vacuum, music most of all. There has to be some influence, something to draw from; and all this is useless if the ideas are not nurtured and allowed to bloom.
In today’s musical climate artists very rarely get the chance to develop their talents. It’s a hit or oblivion mentality that sees many fall by the wayside.
This is a problem Ray Holroyd seeks to solve with Grade 9 records, and in many ways he offers up a great deal of hope.
A non-profit record label is something you seldom hear about-if ever, but it takes away one of the most destroying aspects to creativity-money.
In an approach that harks back to a forgotten time of artist development, Ray is giving that spark back to musicians. This cannot be downplayed in terms of importance: do you honestly think Pink Floyd would have stayed signed, and lasted long enough to make the seminal albums they did, if they were starting out today where artists development is not a large part of the business.
It took several entities to bring the Metropolis sessions to realization, Copro records, Plastic head distribution, Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College and of course Metropolis studios; the end result being the music recorded here.
It’s also interesting that Roy has decided to call it Grade 9-it’s a subtle musicians joke referring to the mythical 9th grade of musicianship (The grades only go up to 8) It’s interesting because of all the things a musical education cover it does not tap into creativity- scales, modes and progressions yes, invention-no.
One of the most immediate questions is ‘Why so little?’ as there are only 5 tracks on offer. This may have been a conscious choice however as they are all intended as singles-the cream of the sessions. It would be fascinating to see what got left on the cutting floor as there is some diverse stuff on show here.
All five songs blend together well starting with the surprisingly commercial ‘Quicksotic’ surprising because when a group of musicians get together the crevasse of indulgence is constantly circumnavigated. ‘Quicksotic’s underpinned with some interesting note choices that every so often pull the main melody into something darker, particularly the midpoint groove which dances in the darkness before resolving itself with a pop stance-think the red hot chilli peppers in their earlier, more reflective and musically accomplished output.
It’s not funk for funks sake though, but just a comfortable pocket playing that starts the first of three movements by ‘Of harmony’ There’s a strong ‘Free’ feel to the entire proceedings, and as the guitar solo threatens to take you up even further you can’t help but think this may have not come to fruition in less enlightened environments.
As the movement continues effortlessly into the second and final sections the largest surprise comes from the heavy part that dominates the final moments as it both works in its self but also with the previous ideas-it almost shouldn’t fit-but just for a minute a door opens sonically and possibly the best part of the record is let out.
The sheer amount of quality producers ensure throughout that sonically it’s perfectly presented and the entire package is tied together with the somehow completely apt artwork by tattooist Kamil Mocet.
Ending with ‘Bitches of Ray’ which is clearly an ode to the originator of Grade 9 is a nice bookend and acts as the musician’s thank you to someone who has allowed them a unique opportunity.
There are successes here, some slight misfires, but very few mistakes and a tremendous amount of energy and positivity that can only come from a project laboured with love, with a goal of providing musicians with fertile soil for them to grow. In that respect Mr Holroyd should be applauded