Hand on the Torch


Hand on the TorchThis is an album that captures a lot of what was going on musically in the 90s. Sampling, rap, hip hop grooves, acid jazz – it’s a lot of fun.  The pedigree of the sampled music is gold-plated True Jazz, from the high priest of crossover Herbie Hancock – the main riff from his classic “Cantaloupe Island” forms the bedrock of the first track here, renamed as “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)”. It was a bona fide pop chart hit with a video on MTV and everything.

This album enters my world in 1996. I’m teaching English as a foreign language in a school in central Poland, a nondescript wee town called Włocławek, about two hours up the Vistula from Warsaw. Oddly, the Poles have a two week holiday in January, two weeks after everyone returns from their two week Christmas break. In anticipation of this, I had been teaching privately since the summer so that I could afford to travel over to Turkey to see my girlfriend, Arzu, whom I hadn’t seen since the summer. The night before my flight, I arranged a stopover in Warsaw with my best friend from Ankara, Paul Maddocks – he was the principal reason I too was in Poland for the simple and obvious (now) reason that, aside from Arzu, he was the love of my life. And I probably need to qualify that in some way, but maybe in another post.

Paul had been invited to a party in one of the high rise housing estates that comprises much of the Polish capital. It was freezing, temperatures around minus 40C or something ridiculous. We’d been walking for ages looking for this party, having been dropped by a crabbit taxi driver at the wrong end of a long road where all the blocks were identical, the numbering wasn’t clear and everything was iced white and covered in layers of snow.

When we arrived, we were offered a glass of spiritus – home-made firewater that was reportedly 85% proof and which did the job of thawing us out and putting a sparkle on the evening. It was a tiny flat, a lot like places I’d been to in East Kilbride. It was full of ex-pat teachers, Paul’s colleagues, plus a few locals, but apart from Paul, nobody I knew. So I put this on the stereo and danced – alone, in the middle of the living room in this high-rise apartment in suburban Warsaw – for the entire duration of the album. Nobody seemed to mind. I was all sparkling from this Polish moonshine, loved up, high and high up, and looking forward to seeing my beautiful Arzu the next day.

I don’t remember leaving, or how we got back into town, or how drunk I was, or where I stayed that night, or whether I had decided to stay up all night, or how I even got to Ankara. But I do remember this album, lighting me up from the inside, shining with love for the world and everything in it. One of the happiest times of my life.