The invaluable brilliance of BBC Radio 6 Music resides in its ability to bring the innately esoteric to a more broad or – and I here generalise slightly – to a perhaps less discerning audience (myself more often than not included) than would otherwise be exposed to these weird and wonderful sounds from around and about the circumference of the globe. Gilles Peterson is among the station’s most fervent flag bearers, and his annual Worldwide Awards continually exhibit not only the intense variegation of his appreciably vivid palette, but with that his abiding travails in centralising the left field a little to thereby bring its dab handed ranchers to the spotlit stage of Mornington Crescent’s prime pseudo-salubrious establishment, Koko. The ambience within is the sort envisaged of one of those purportedly swanky, faux-cosmo tapas bars considerably more renowned of the N1 than the NW1 postcode, and that the place is bursting at the bits only enriches this impression. Though with an ingenuous glimmer a-flicker in each eye, a tidily attired Peterson stands stage-right – a monochromic statuette when seen from the lofty balcony above – whilst fellow 6 Music mainstay Cerys Matthews goes unapologetically hefty on the ol’ ska. The event coming at the close of a week to have seen the commerciality of music in Britain take what may transpire to be an irremediably degenerative turn for the worst, one could quite convincingly contend that this sort of night is what it’s all about. It’s now therefore up to us – as well as the likes of Peterson, of course – to ensure that these exceptional showcases aren’t to become but mere exceptions in a musical landscape persistently ravished by an abiding ruefulness over all that could’ve been.
Two years ago, Koko once again hosted these Worldwide Awards and indeed to this day, it’s one such example of an event I endlessly bemoan having missed: an ever exemplary blend of anything and everything excelling in that bit at the centre of the almighty Venn to aggregate all successful crossover ventures, the likes of Mount Kimbie, and Flying Lotus, and James Blake all pitched in on what must surely have been a smorgasbord of eccentric sonic experimentation. This is the epicentre of where the esoteric crackles into that more exoteric of environs, as we’ve seen with each of the aforementioned going on to garner much critical acclaim even in more mainstream pools.
Though the main attraction back then was a collaboration rarer than most red meats between Walthamstow duo Rocketnumbernine and a certain Kieran Hebden: once a seemingly ephemeral project, the brothers Page and their taciturn guru in kind subsequently set sail for NYC, where the three pioneers supported none other than Radiohead over two nights down Midtown’s Roseland Ballroom, although it wasn’t until substantially more recently that any combined vibrations were heard emanating out from wherever it was that they were holed up. Set for an as yet nebulous release on Hebden’s Text Records imprint, again, this is what it’s all about.
Though whilst it was once Four Tet who the duo would flank, the dons of sporadic collaboration tonight instead début a commensurately remarkable conjoining of forces with Swedish trip hop stalwart Neneh Cherry who, fresh from her The Cherry Thing LP alongside jazzy compatriots The Thing, is becoming something of a serial colluder herself. Peterson had initially intended for the Nordic ensemble to once again ally with Cherry, although logistic issues precluded the reunion. Nonetheless, in adversity Cherry here finds triumph as she and her newfound associates run away with both the latest shard of night, as well as the earliest glimmer of morning – this recurrently cited concept of crossover again key.
Smidgens of doubt encircled even this coming together however, the snow fizzing infuriatingly about the capital threatening to put the night’s main attraction on ice earlier on in the week though from the rambunctious opening reworking of Cherry Thing track Cashback, the overriding sensations are both of relief, and revelation: the former, for throughout theirs are compulsive cosmic jazz reinterpretations well worth revelling in and the latter, for we’ve finally found out how Rocketnumbernine sound with vocals suffused throughout their idiosyncratic, hypermodern rhythmic skiffle. And they sound incontrovertibly outstanding: whether on the imposing octaves of this, or on the succinct house throw down of new cut Weightless whilst Rocketnumbernine can only very occasionally sound that little bit two-dimensional, Neneh’s gritty vocal is the Cherry topping off their motorik surges and ebbing cymbals to make for a pretty delectable splurge of enticement. It’s that most fruitful of collaborations; a quite striking creative symbiosis in which each force does everything within its power to strengthen the other, as the trio indeed take The Cherry Thing to another dimension – if only for twenty or so.
Of course it goes without saying that when they come to cover Neneh Cherry & The Thing in turn covering Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream, the propulsive gusto gushing from monolithic speaker stacks all about us bears only a negligible semblance to its point of origin, though never did it ever sound quite so compelling as it did thirdhand and contorted beyond nigh on all recognition.
It’s that which leaves the indelibly lasting impression and indubitably their most impressive rethink, and with further shows and perhaps even recordings to come, while the project may be destined never to engage a more Worldwide audience, somebody somewhere or other will surely delight in biting into another off-centre Cherry endeavour. A succulent and admirably laboured fruit, excuse us a moment while we dream of all this ever again materialising…