What’s On Michael Portillo’s iPod: International Teachers Of Pop

Here at Birthday Cake For Breakfast, we like to get to the heart of what an artist is all about. We feel the music they listen to is just as important as the music they make. With that in mind, we’re delighted to have Leonore Wheatley of the wunderbar International Teachers of Pop in the hot seat, talking us through five releases that have had her inspired around their forthcoming debut album.

Yellow Magic Orchestra – ‘Firecracker’ (Yellow Magic Orchestra, 1978)

I travel a lot between the cities of Manchester and Sheffield and so when on the train I feel a good synth is crucial to keep one company.

The Yellow Magic Orchestra are easily as pioneering as Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream. One of the founding members is Ryuichi Sakamoto, who’s amazingly prolific, writing music for the film The Revenant, as well as releasing an album pretty much every year since 1978. But for me it’s YMO who created such timeless tracks and ‘Firecracker’ in particular is the missing link between Kraftwerk and Boney M.

Kim Jung Mi – ‘Your Dream‘ (Now, 1973)

A South Korean contribution, I came across this beauty of a songwriter on one of those discover weekly lists on Spotify the summer I started working with Adrian and Dean, and I’ve been annoyingly and drunkenly telling people to listen to her album ‘Now’ most weekends. Released in 1973 with no follow up album, this wouldn’t feel out of place next to Joan Baez or Townes Van Zandt.

Her vocals are so so beguiling. I love the sounds she makes in between the guitar instrumental at the end of this track, contrasting to the lyrics which are visions of pink blossom, horse riding through the mountains and returning to a lost love, (apparently, I don’t speak South Korean so I’ve relied on Google translate) Soppy stuff, but she makes it sexy.

Cocteau Twins – ‘Persephone’ (Treasure, 1984)

“When thinking of vocal ideas, there are a couple of female singers I always think of who have inspired me the most, and Elizabeth Fraser is up there (Bjork being another). ‘Persephone’ is a relentless and brutal track. The ‘gun shot’ of the drum machine underneath the simple and driven bass line paves the way for industrial sanctuary. And then her vocals, unlike Kim Jung Mi’s lyrics, hers as per are unrecognisable, but who gives a shit?

Improvising over instrumentals, I’ve always tried to write vocal lines with a shape, adding in lyrics later which may fit. Elizabeth Fraser doesn’t just write a shape with her melody, but creates a whole scene scape, enabling us to build our own story line.

Kylie/Towa Tei/Haruomi Hosono – ‘GBI (German Bold Italic)’ (Sound Museum, 1997)

“Just watch the video.

Sugababes – ‘Overload’ (One Touch, 2000)

‘Overload’ came out in 2000 when I was 14 and it was a mixture of girl bands which I had convinced myself I was ‘growing out of’ and a darker groove similar to that of a pop sounding ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane (really similar bass line).

The original Sugababes line up (there were about 37 weren’t there?) were so cool with fashion style out of a Gap advert and a video that didn’t need all the millions Britney was pumping into hers. But most importantly their vocals in ‘Overload’ reflect pure 90’s RnB but completely unforced. The melody and harmonies are written over the two chromatic chords which make up the whole entire song, again just such Pop simplicity. I remember having that album and single on the top of my CD list at a time when instead I was starting to branch out into grunge and metal. Tracks like that have kept me tied to Pop and RnB throughout every musical outlet I’ve explored I suppose.

International Teachers of Pop‘ is out February 8th! Bag a copy (or two) here.

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