not affected by the passage of time or changes in fashion.
The brass neck (or gold teeth) to name your debut album Timeless. Not just a singular word but a statement. A blast of confidence. An author so sure of the work that he seals it with a name that threatens mocking and criticism. You can hear them now “who does this guy think he is? Timeless? We’ll be the judge of that”…Time stretch forward to the 31st July 2020 and here it stands. Timeless. Untouchable. Unique and iconic. The brass neck indeed.
Looking back at Goldie’s Timeless now it feels impossible to comprehend that it could be anything other than a huge success. It also feels like Timeless is not a moment caught in time but a fluid statement that has as much to say about the situation we find ourselves in now as it did in 1995 for here we have the work of someone who should not have succeeded. The British system isn’t geared towards people of mixed heritage growing up in the care system actually breaking out and breaking free…and for them to become one of the leading artists of the time and to be influencing a flood of youth? Oh no that surely wouldn’t do for the tie twisters and violence dispensers put in place through surname privilege, there to stamp the boot on anyone wanting to show original thought and maximum drive. Goldie burnt them all and did so with a smiling mouth full of gold teeth to boot. With our current inept taskmasters patting each other on the backs for a ‘job well done’ as thousands die and those in the BAME community suffering the most NOW is the time for Timeless. Its voice is loud and beautiful.
What’s the secret to Timeless’ success? Why did it crossover? Of course in 1995 you had a blurring of tastes with more and more people experimenting with their listening habits. Music fans were as happy absorbing the sounds of House as they were the Hip-Hop Blues of Portishead and the cockroach drama stories of Pulp. Yet for all the cross-pollination that was occurring Jungle and its heir Drum n Bass seemed to still be on the outside. If you went to a decent size indoor rave like the ones in Milton Keynes’ Sanctuary you would find the Jungle room off to a side somewhere all dark and full of smoke whilst the main room was filled with the sounds of Happy Hardcore or Techno from the likes of Scorpio and Clarkee. Drum n Bass was unwelcoming in sound but full of love in delivery. It was rapid, harsh and scattered with the proud lineage of Jazz and Ragga pulsing through its veins. It could terrify or thrill you depending on your life outlook and if you got it then you were married for life. Yet for all this here we have an album that smashes down any doors in its way dragging a whole scene out in to the light and the truth of the matter is this is all down to Goldie, Rob Playford, Dianne Charlemagne, Dego and Marc Marc creating a work that at its heart is a soul record. The decision to make the album surround like it is bathed in light and not cooked up in dark basements helps give listeners a sense of being welcomed in to a world many may never have explored before.
Timeless may be Goldie’s vision but it is important to remember that there is a great sense of collective endeavor that runs through the album with Moving Shadow’s Rob Playford and 4hero’s Dego and Marc Marc all contributing, however, it is the voice of singer Dianne Charlemagne (who sadly passed away in 2015) that takes the album from the street to the heavens. In a week when we’ve lost the singer Denise Johnson, it is vital we acknowledge the part that women (and in particular Black women) played in helping take underground club culture into the mainstream. It is their voices that allowed life and heart to permeate the sometimes harsh and synthetic electronic music (something the writer Fergal Kinney wrote brilliantly about in his tribute to Johnson for The Guardian). In such a male dominated industry and at a time when the awful “lad culture” was seemingly everywhere it is not just the vocals of your Gallagher’s or Ryder’s or Gillespie’s that stand out. In fact it is the voices of Denise Johnson, Rowetta, Martina Topley-Bird, Caron Wheeler that you think of. These voices were not dressing or side-show, they are the true centre of the music and when it comes to Timeless Dianne and the music create a marriage that connects the album to a lineage of Billy Holiday and Nina Simone with Goldie himself telling FACT in 2015 that:
“The vocal aspects in electronic/dance music were always a little bit non-existent for me. I wanted to implement vocals more as a soulful element because of the soul aspect of the 1980s. Using the voice as more of an instrument than within conventional song structures. Diane Charlemagne, god rest her soul, was someone who brought these soulful influences from the 1980s”
Which brings us on to…..
Goldie’s upbringing has been well documented and he would get intensely into it himself on Mother from Timeless’ follow up Saturnz Return but knowing what we know now we can see that even on Timeless he was allowing us a peak inside his soul. You can hear it on Timeless’ opening suite of the same name and the iconic track Inner City Life. At the time you could have read the song as Dianne singing about a distant love or broken relationship yet revisiting it now 25 years later and realise that Goldie and Dianne could easily be singing about his relationship with his mother and his upbringing. Just look at the lyrics: