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BE MY FRIEND – a monthly portrait of one of Jackie’s pals.
This month – MARTIN OKASILI


Martin and me met through having the same music biz lawyer, the one and only Simon Long (Collins Long). I don’t actually remember our first meeting, and I haven’t spoiled this by asking Martin, but I do remember receiving an early copy of an album he was making for WEA – an album called THE INVISIBLE HISTORY OF THE BLACK CELT. The songs have great names, like ALL I GOT TO DO IS STAY BLACK AND DIE, and SOMETIMES NOTHING IS A REAL COOL HAND. He’s a great singer, songwriter and guitarist and was also producing the album on a recording desk WEA bought specially for him, so he had heaps of time to pay attention to all the recording detailing that it can be painful to have to abandon when you’re working to strict budgets.


Martin is a laconic Belfast man, with great warmth, total steel, and a sexual magnetism that often destroys entire rooms. When he came to record vocals on ELEGY FOR JOHNNY CASH (ALL THE RAGE/SONG FOR MY MOTHER) he was due to join us in the fabulously eccentric bar the Douglas Hotel in Bethesda, Wales, UK. We’d finished work for the day at the studio and were sitting drinking as much as possible. When I say we, I mean me, singer Deborah Greenwood, accordion player Spiros and viola player Mikailis from Greece, co-producer David Wrench, studio owner Laurie Gane, bass player Kevin Foster and multi-instrumentalist Michael Cosgrave, plus a pub full of Welsh speaking old lads, assorted twittish mountain climbers, vacant looking dogs waiting for salt and vinegar crisps, and a bunch of men and women who I mistook for depressed social workers, but who turned out to be Morris dancers having a knees up without any discernible knee movement.

Suddenly the vaulted door swung open with a piercing ‘scree’ and Martin Okasili swept in, dashed a purple cape from his shoulder, surveyed the room from left to right, and in the sexiest of growls said “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Chablis is on me”, at which point an entirely naked teenaged Provencal girl staggered in with a crate of selected vintages of the same.

Actually he just opened the door and said “hi”, but such is the way of the Okasili that the preceding fantasy is the absolute effect he had upon the room.

The photo here for BE MY FRIEND of me and Martin was taken by young Magnum photographer (and wife of sax player Ed Jones/ THE MYSTERY OF LOVE IS GREATER THAN THE MYSTERY OF DEATH)) Sissle Honore. Sissle’s studio is in Bethnal Green, east London, and before the session we all met up in a famous cafe (whose name escapes me) in the main street there. Same thing: Sissle is a delightful and sexy blonde Dane and I am a glamorous eccentric, but as soon as Martin sat down, young men outside skidded to a halt on their Vespas, ran into the cafe and asked Martin if they could stir his expresso.

“I don’t take sugar so there’s no need” he purred politely. It is said of the famous advertising wanker Tim Bell (‘Labour isn’t working’) that dogs would cross the street to be patted by him, such was his charm – we were once together in Soho, me and Martin, when Tim Bell crossed the street and asked Martin to pat his head.

“I’m sorry, I must decline – I don’t want my hand tainted by dubious unguents” Martin smiled. Tim Bell fell into a dead faint in the road with underlings frantically pulling his cock to try and revive him...

Martin’s work on my album FAIRYTALES FOR HARDMEN is exemplary: his vocals on MAD AS THE MIST AND SNOW and OLD WEST AFRICAN SONG are amongst the most poignant moments my oeuvre has to offer – when he gave these performances at Milo studios in Hoxton, me and Jim the engineer exchanged the sort of looks that are a rare preserve of the recording environment - a look that says ‘this magical moment is why we got into this terrible business in the first place’...


Martin once told me about a video for a song he was making in the south of Spain. As he told me about it, it was already blending with some archetypal yearning so deep within me that I couldn’t properly follow what he was saying. My understanding of what he said is this – and this has become a kind of Dali surrealist motif in my waking and sleeping life – it returns to me maybe once a season, like a regulating part of the soul, which only required strong enough imagery to get on with its function and could thereby dispense with my clodhopping interventions:

There is a tower in Spain – it is a sort of religious tower that monks live in. For some reason they have agreed to let Martin be filmed for a video in and out of the tower (they probably just met him and said collectively “oh YEAH!”). The tower is sand coloured and is by the sea. It has a path up to the top which circles it. The path is exceptionally dangerous and has no guard rail or any safety measure – you must simply make your way up and down the path (it’s a single file path) – any slip from half way up onwards and you are almost certainly dead, or wish you were.

Martin has to proceed up and down the path for most of the day, with lots of the filming being done from a helicopter which causes problems – swirling, biting sandy dust. Going up is relatively easy, coming back down is much less elegant and requires great concentration. The monks have warned of this difficulty and don’t help by standing at the top and the bottom showing great concern.

He didn’t explain to me the relationship between this stern visual idea and the song it was to illustrate, but I notice that when I think of it being me, instead of Martin, going up and down the pathway in alien heat with a camera overhead, like one of the detested British army choppers over Belfast, the song that comes to mind for me is an old Doll By Doll song called FIGURE IT OUT:

‘people ask me what’s gone wrong
i say I don’t know
one day we will meet again
one day I will call your name
maybe in a crowded bar
maybe in an empty car
there’s one thing you can do -
figure it out on your own’

 
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