The recent anniversary of the passing of Andrew Weatherall saw a raft of DJs and music fans alike delve into the great man’s archive to share their stand-out tracks from his 30-year musical tapestry… including an ethereal masterpiece from his Sabres of Paradise days.
Sabres of Paradise, which featured Weatherall alongside Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns (and took their name from a B-side by now-forgotten 80s band Haysi Fantayzee) kicked off their career with the single Smokebelch II, released in 1993 on their own self-titled imprint.
Featuring keyboards from Les Jumeaux, aka darkwave group In The Nursery, it’s a timeless piece of blissful Balearic joy that would go on to be acknowledged as one of the group’s most celebrated tracks.
Elsewhere, the ethereal ‘Beatless’ mix, which appeared on the Sabres’ debut long player, Sabresonic, was arguably even bigger still – featuring on countless mid-90s chill out compilations, most notably Jose Padilla’s first Café Del Mar album, released in 1994.
But while the track is and will always be associated with Weatherall, Kooner et all, it wouldn’t have existed at all without a little-known 1989 EP by Lamont Booker, aka the self-styled ‘prince of dance music’, L.B. Bad.
Released on Nu Groove Records, which was also home to Frankie Bones, Bobby Konders and others, The True Story Of House Music is a six-track release largely built around the title track, a Chicago-style composition featuring spoken word vocals extolling the virtues of house music.
But it’s the ‘new age bonus track’ hidden away on side B, The New Age Of Faith – which is split into three ‘acts’, The Sea: Birth; The Land: Life; and The Stars: Faith In Heaven – that is the most intriguing.
To put it bluntly, it basically IS Smokebelch II, albeit a looser, stripped-back version – akin to a ‘demo’ version of the Sabres of Paradise classic.
While Weatherall and co name-checked Booker as the track’s author on the initial single release of Smokebelch II, by the time the album Sabresonic rolled around, his name was conspicuously absent – as the inlay puts it, ‘All tracks written, produced and music by The Sabres of Paradise’.
Later represses of the album did go on to credit him, although his name is similarly missing from the Café Del Mar inlay, and various other compilations on which Smokebelch II appears. Notably, Smokebelch I, which also features on Sabresonic, bears no resemblance to Booker’s original.
Booker brought the issue to light in 2015, in a video interview called We Bring The Light, where he accused Weatherall of ‘stealing’ the track.
Elsewhere, in a comment underneath the YouTube clip of The New Age Of Faith, he goes into more detail.
“But you must know, and heres the sad shit, Weatherall and company, and Café Del Mar did not give me any props – and only they know what else they didn’t give me – from the first release(s) of his cover. Same as many of the remixes and other versions we have heard.”
In an interview with The Wire last year, shortly after Weatherall’s death, friend and fellow selector Danny Rampling revealed the story of where the former Lone Swordsman would have likely first become aware of Booker’s track, Soho’s Black Market Records.
“Smokebelch comes from a track, New Age Of Faith, LB Bad, it’s a track that I used to open sets with at Shoom,” Rampling said. “It was released in 1989, Nugroove Records. That is the basis of Smokebelch.
“We were in Black Market Records; and it was the Friday [before Shoom on Saturday], and Black Market Records was the hub; it was the community gathering on Friday afternoon and bartering over the counter. They’d get three or four copies of a record in there and just create this… bartering in the shop, you’d get people scrambling hands up over the counter for a record.
“Fortunately, I used to have a bag in there, and they’d save stuff in a bag. They’d often have two copies in a bag for me, because I used to buy two copies of everything. And that particular track – we hadn’t gone to the shop together, but Andrew just came in – and they’d put it on and […] Andrew was, immediately, ‘What is this track? I really want this track.’ I said, ‘There’s two copies in the bag, give Andrew the other copy.’
“He went on and made Smokebelch, that timeless classic Smokebelch that everybody loves. That’s where that came from, that Friday afternoon in Black Market Records.”
We’re not sure whether Weatherall ever reached out to Booker in his later years to make amends – but he did seem to lay claim to the track’s origins in an interview with Uncut, published last year (not to mention a 2003 interview with Spannered, which discussed the track’s use in a Vodafone advert), in which he expressed dismay that somebody had put together an orchestral rework.
“I had mixed emotions because someone did an orchestral version of ‘Smokebelch. I was a bit conflicted because my ego was slightly stroked, but my artistic sensibilities were rankled,” Weatherall said. “But there are worse evils in the world than light entertainment to be worried about.”
So, is Smokebelch II a musical rip-off or a glowing tribute? Either way, it’s still one hell of a track. 🙂