Sterling Roswell. Rosco. Mary Stuart (to his friends).
Earlier this month we spent a few hours in the company of one of the most talented and fascinating multi-instrumentalists that this wonderful city of London has to offer. We heard some fantastic new music, and left feeling completely privileged and very, very excited about what treats lie in store for 2020.
Most readers of GIGsoup will have heard of Rosco from his days as teenage drummer with Spacemen 3. Back in 1986, he was sharing a flat with the then drummer Natty Brooker and J Spaceman. Following a falling-out between the band and Brooker, Rosco took over the sticks and the band created what for many fans was to become their favourite album, “The Perfect Prescription”, a paean to psychedelic drug experimentation and, according to Pitchfork Magazine, one of the 50 greatest albums of the 1980s. Their 12″ single “Take Me to the Other Side” ought to be in most serious psychedelia aficionados’ record collections. This took them on their European tour, which engendered their first live album “Performance”, recorded at the mythical Melkweg in Amsterdam. Rosco has very fond memories of his adventures with the band at that period. “I had a brilliant time”, he understated, nudgingly.
This amazing introduction into the heady high-life at such a young age was the ideal launchpad for Rosco’s impressive career. Together with the Spacemen 3’s bass player Pete “Bassman” Bain, The Darkside was reborn, while other band-members splintered off to create equally worthwhile projects such as E.A.R. and Spiritualized.
The term ‘multi-instrumentalist’ really describes Rosco to a T. His Spacelab music studio in Whitechapel is an exciting hive of vermicular leads plugged into an impressive array of both new and old instruments. Sneeze at your peril: if you make a sound, it may be sampled and turned into a psych track before you’ve finished your coffee. Rosco is like a human recording studio, his brain is always going off down other tangents. Making music is in his blood. Should we be surprised, given his amazing introduction to the UK psychedelic scene?
But what is he doing now? Well, so much, that we can’t work out how he’ll have time to do it all. But we are going to try to spill the beans. And boy are you in for a treat.
Rosco has been busy. Very busy. And many of you will have heard of his latest playmate. Twink, now in his 70s and occasionally known as Mohammed Abdullah since converting to Islam in 2006, has been at the epicentre of the UK psychedelic movement since the early 1960s. Rosco looks up to Twink as an older brother, and the music they are making is exciting, meaningful and magical. For those who don’t know, Twink jammed as part of Tomorrow with Jimi Hendrix at the UFO Club, and soon became a quintessential part of Pretty Things, becoming famous for his acrobatic antics at their Hyde Park concert. The Fairies were the first group to record an electric version of a Bob Dylan song; he has also been credited with coining the term ‘acid punk’.
Although they had previously played on the same bill as Hawkwind and Suicide at the Acid Daze gig in Leeds in 1987, Rosco came fully under Twink’s radar after Twink heard the production work Rosco had done with Sky “Sunlight” Saxon, lead singer of psychedelic garage punk gods The Seeds, voted the number one punk band of all time according to MOJO magazine, an honour with which Rosco himself will gladly agree. The symbiosis between them is as electrifying as it is productive.
Rosco was already a huge fan anyway, so it was always going to be a marriage made in heaven. Rosco regaled us with anecdotes of when Twink was invited by the druids to get on top of the stones at Stonehenge during the solstice, and a few other tales that we possibly cannot divulge here, at least not with Twink’s permission.
We then got to hear some of the stuff that they have been recording together. It blew us away, and that is putting it mildly. It was a huge privilege to hear some rough-cut recordings of what will surely, if there is any justice, become a highly collectable album once it is finally released next year. Ten tracks, all quite different, all, very psychedelic. We got goose-bumps listening to some of it. “Hey Rosco” is one of those earworms that will keep burrowing into your brain for a week at least. But the stand-out track for us was “Black Queen”, a nod to Anita Pallenberg’s cult performance in the 1967 sci-fi film “Barbarella”. Oh my goodness, this track is so deserving to be released as a single, it will blow people’s minds. The rest of the album, when it is finished, looks very promising indeed. and one track in particular – “Ya Mama” – will tick boxes for any Doors-hungry fans.
What is most exciting about this is that the album has not even yet been attached to a label. Rosco knows this is something special, something that people will really appreciate, and wants to play his cards closely to his chest. If you had also heard the rough cuts as we had, you’d understand why.
But, as we said, Rosco is never ever only involved in one project. Because he has so many personalities – he is openly gender-fluid, though is happy for me to refer to him as “he” for the purpose of this article – it comes as no surprise that he has his fingers in lots of other pies. An outsider, a master of unseen arts, who can tell what he’s going to do next? His gender-fluidity may actually explain why he is able to live and thrive as a polymath. He also manages to control his genders with alacrity. By his own admission, there’s a time and a place for glitter and tinsel, and he knows that the local Tesco is not it.
Rosco loves boutique pressings. He is preparing quite a lot for early 2020, including work on his side-project, the Sterling Roswell Band, with whom he is planning an exclusive 50-odd run of singles to launch a new song, “Just Like… Sterling Roswell”. Why only 50?, we ask. “Because I can”, he replies. It sounds fun, with regular studio band-mates Steve Donnelly on electric guitar and Matt Radford on double bass, a combination that worked well with “Give Peace Another Chance”, released in 2017 to celebrate 50 years of the Summer of Love. Furthermore, the new record will feature Jim Sclavunos on drums, a fellow multi-instrumentalist who readers will recognise from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Sonic Youth and The Cramps. Another track he gave us a sneak preview of was called “Eleventh Hour”, and was pure dynamite.
A new superstar DJ remix by Tim Sheridan of Rosco’s single “Give Peace Another Chance” is available, as well as a big-beat remix by Max 2K Subs, best known in the UK for involvement with the Lo Fidelity Allstars. I filmed Rosco gigging with Paul Winter-Hart (from Kula Shaker) and the fabulous Bardo Lightshow at the George Tavern in East London last year, which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnAkersBoRI
At this point I had to take Rosco aside and ask him why he would take so much effort to release such great music with such exclusivity, rather than go more mainstream. These are, after all, tracks that will not even be released on iTunes. Does he not worry about not getting more exposure for his hard work? But it’s never about the fame or the music with him. It’s just the way he rolls. He would rather sell 50 copies of an exclusive vinyl pressing instantly, to his most hardcore fans, which is not available in any other format. So, how does one join this exclusive club, we ask. Rosco grins. Well, you can email him at email@example.com for enquiries.
Rosco loves doing this sort of thing, and is careful never to rip off his fans. Everything is moderately priced, and loyalty is always rewarded. “Oh, I’ve got so many treats planned for 2020”, says Rosco, an omnipresent rollie hanging from his lip. “I’m re-issuing my space-rock 2002 track ‘Girl From Orbit’ early next year as an exclusive 50-run vinyl release, with a brand-new dub version on the B-side”, he says, with a glint in his eye.
He also spoke about ongoing sales of the “Complete Studio Masters” of The Darkside, 55 tracks released recently by Cargo Records as a 5 CD psychedelia boxset. Whatever you want to say about Rosco or his music, he has never ever made a bad record. Which is something you would be hard-pressed to pin on many other acts out now in the UK.
He is looking forward to a fun-packed end of 2019. On 22 November, he will be in Edinburgh, supporting the legendary Jon Spencer, this time with the Hitmakers, who will be playing, among others, with ex-Sonic Youth Bob Bert, on ‘drums’. I write ‘drums’ cautiously in inverted commas; knowing Bert, it will probably be a wheelbarrow or a gas canister.
He also mentioned there may be an exclusive 50-run clear vinyl 45rpm dub version of “The Loansome Death of Johnny Ace”, previously released on Trash Wax last year, an homage to the legendary R&B singer who shot himself playing Russian Roulette on Christmas Day in Memphis, which could easily be found sitting alongside any classic TV theme tune; think “Third Rock From The Sun” and you’ll get the picture.
He also follows closely everything that his many friends and erstwhile colleagues in the music industry are doing. “Oh, you just have to listen to this”, he says, as he delves into his cave of vinyl treasures and treats us to some psychedelic minimal trance from Chilean band Föllakzoid which featured none other than Jason Pierce aka J Spaceman, a collaboration which happened after the two met backstage at a gig in London a few years ago. The Rough Trade East price label was still stuck to the record and it wasn’t cheap. It was a cracking record but we were surprised that Rosco had had to pay for it. “You gotta do it, man. You gotta support the scene. And the record shops. I love going to Rough Trade East. And seeing their gigs”, he smiles, as he takes another sip of alligator wine.
If he has a rare night off, and there is nothing worth seeing at the local cinema, Rosco occasionally does the odd DJ set, though he is feeling for the local Whitechapel community’s loss of his local bar INDO, which recently closed down, where we have occasionally witnessed him spin records from his enviable collection of rare garage rock, punk, electronica and techno vinyl. “Any music that has benzine in it”, Rosco says, with a laugh.
In spite of the loss of venues such as INDO, Rosco is quite upbeat about the future. “The world is changing. More and more people are getting the truth and are getting involved in the conversation. They are communicating. The future is now and things are getting better”, he adds, as he prepares another rollie.
“Music is no longer the be-all and end-all of people’s attention. Entertainment is now so massively diversified. We have Virtual Reality cafés competing with live music venues and this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good that the recording industry has to compete with different media. You hear people on the radio complaining about youngsters using up their carbon footprint by spending their lives on their mobile phones and laptops, but those people who are complaining don’t realise that these same young people don’t have homes, cars or secure jobs, so mobile phones are sometimes all they have”, he added, nodding knowingly.
Whatever the future brings, it’s looking pretty bright in the Roswell bootcamp. With so many imminent releases, plus the hugely exciting and untapped unreleased album with Twink which, we think, will not fail to draw acclaim from the critics (you heard it here first!), 2020 is looking good.