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Miniatures 2020

From the East Anglian Daily Times... Sat 20th March '21 UPON "MINIATURES 2020" released this week.

Many people outside of pop music’s golden fold may not have heard of Morgan Fisher, a keyboard player who, in his maytime played with the groups Love Affair and Mott the Hoople. Fisher, however, in 1981 started an eccentric project, which a full 40 years later refuses to lie down and die. Miniatures, which was compiled – 'curated' as those arty types say nowadays -- by Fisher, consisted of 51 mini-masterpieces by various artistes; each of them no more than 60 seconds long.

When Morgan Fisher first asked for submissions for Miniatures, enthusiastic contributions came from XTC’s Andy Partridge, who offered an ingenious 60-second History of Rock'n'Roll, the Pretenders' Martin Chambers talking (while drumming) about the habits of swifts Quentin Crisp, John Otway, Roger McGough, who recited The Wreck of The Hesperus at breakneck speed and numerous other curiosities from unexpectedly diverse quarters. The project was original and exciting because Fisher had given these talented people carte blanche to do what they wanted, provided that their work did not exceed the allotted time. Essentially, therefore, he'd given everyone a cage in which to be brilliant.

The stage was set when UK’s oldest Indie record label Cherry Red agreed to press and distribute this 51-minute menagerie of sound. In a quiet gap between the fire of punk rock and the cocktail-sipping flounce of the New Romantic movement, Miniatures attracted more than the expected interest. Naturally it wasn't going to make the chart. Nor would the strange parade of Top Of The Pops presenters of the time be gibbering about it. Yet the record was listened to, talked about and liked. A friend even brought it round to my house one Sunday morning and said, "You have to hear this. You'll love it." It had an in-built escape hatch too, because, even if one of the tracks was hard work you knew that, like shuttle buses, there'd be another one along in a minute. Some of the entries went for humour and some went for avant garde. There were poems, short plays, interesting noises and a huge amounts of musical ingenuity.

I've frittered fair quantities of my life away exploring what might possibly be crammed into about three-minutes recording time. But a minutes-worth? This was something else. Morgan Fisher’s Miniatures therefore, briefly became an Indie sector belle of the ball. An enduring affection for it led, 20 years later to Cherry Red releasing a second collection. Then, in 2008. the two discs were packaged together and released once again.

That was it. Or so we thought. Then 2020 dawned and all the delights of what in effect, became a national house-arrest for the UK's musicians. Old studio rats like me weren’t too badly off, using the peace of the Lockdown to get on with some home-recording and re-editing. With all the venues closed indefinitely, life on social media and various sharing platforms were lively. The levels of nostalgia and over-reminiscing however, were becoming unhealthy.

Over in Wales, meanwhile a friend of mine Big Al Davies of Llanbradach, asked the question: did anyone remember Morgan Fisher’s Miniatures? Many did. And then, "Wouldn't it be fun if… " It was a summer distraction project. A handful of us began contributing our one-minute pieces. It was only intended as an online activity. Maybe there'd be a little CD circulated among friends at the end of it all. I introduced Al Davies to Barry Lamb, an experimental composer and general organiser. He took stewardship of the project.

Contributions now came in from the likes of Billy Bragg, Toyah Wilcox, Tom Robinson, two members of The Damned and others. Soon, the original creator of Miniatures, Morgan Fisher himself heard about the project, giving it his full blessing and support. Al Davies, our genial Welshman did not know what he'd started with one idle social media post.

We often hear of social media posts causing terrible rows. But it's rarer for them to trigger entire double albums. Miniatures 2020, the end result is released this week. It consists of 124 pieces recorded by 100-plus artists: each one of which has had to squeeze their warped genius into a space 60 seconds long. There are even contributions from one or two of the original 1981 artists.

It's both entertaining and illuminating to find poets, pop musicians, folk musicians, comedians and all manner of other keen conceptualists rubbing along together so well. What it also gives us, however, is what we've all been missing since this killjoy virus unplugged the jukebox twelve months ago. Here are 124 smidgeons of the very stuff which attracts us to arts centres and other small venues, during nicer times. Miniatures, like a bumper selection box of sonic liqueurs comes in a 2-CD set with a satisfyingly thick booklet. It's not a Lockdown album, rather it's a reminder of what we may expect when the chains finally come off the music room.

Miniatures 2020 by Various Artistes, is released this week by the 62nd Gramophone Company.


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