I first met Jimi Nightingale on a warm summer’s evening 20 years ago, when we were both in our teens. We were on an old slam-door train pulling out of Victoria Station, a little before midnight. Jimi was extremely overweight back then – like Roland from Grange Hill, except sweatier and redder – and, on the night in question, he’d drunk more pints of snakebite than he could possibly handle. Sitting opposite him, I knew what was going to happen (but was far too English to get up and move to another seat).
Sure enough, somewhere between Clapham Junction and East Croydon, he lurched to his feet, pushed down the window of the speeding train, and began to throw up prodigiously into the rippling darkness. I remember it vividly: the horizontal line of semi-digested kebab flying through the air alongside the carriage, receding behind us, apparently forever. In its own way it was beautiful – though the smell that lingered afterwards on his cheap Burton suit was anything but.
As he slumped down sadly in front of me – like a spent post-coital whale – I recoiled inwardly in horror. Nevertheless, when we reached East Croydon, some charitable impulse made me not only help him onto the platform but ask for his address and see him safely home.
That, I assumed, would be the end of it. But a week later, I bumped into him once again at the station and a bizarre friendship – based fundamentally on a shared belief that Soul II Soul’s Club Classics Vol. 1 was the greatest album ever – was somehow born.
Over the last 20 years, Jimi has drifted in and out of my life – though I have never seen him very often. In 1999, his parents were both killed in a motorway accident and he moved away from Croydon to live with his grandmother Iris in Peacehaven – a coastal ghost town of huddled retirement bungalows and expectations of imminent eternity. Since then, he has disappeared from view many many times. And our friendship has mainly consisted of music sent back and forth in the post. In the old days it was mixtapes scrawled with marker pen and biro; over the last decade skipping CD-Rs.
In 2003, for a year or so, when I too moved to the south coast and my work took me to Peacehaven from time to time, we would meet for a pub lunch or sit in his grandfather’s carpentry shed at the bottom of the garden, sipping tea and listening to DJ mixes. He loved to wax lyrical about the days when DJs cut up and collaged a diversity of sounds. Grandmaster Flash’s Adventures, Double Dee & Steinski’s Lessons and, above all, Coldcut’s majestic Journey by DJ were his favourite points of reference. But that year was an exception in our friendship. In fact, since that time I have seen him only once in the flesh – near Dukes Mound in Brighton, some four years ago, walking away in a hurry and refusing to acknowledge my shouts from a distance.
Jimi, you see, has always been a bit of a mystery, always just out of reach. He is unreliable, reclusive, misanthropic, nihilistic. He disappears for months at a time and no one is sure what he’s up to or how he’s managing to take care of himself. It’s not my place to tell you about his troubles – but, suffice to say, he’s had more than his fair share.
Nevertheless, every few months, he gets it together to send me some music in the post and I return the favour to whatever return address he has provided. I owe most of my knowledge of contemporary hip hop and dubstep and free jazz to him alone.
Six months ago, when I’d written to him about my plan to set up Parking Garage Politics, I received a jiffy bag in the post with 8 DVDs of music: but this time it was his own material, he said, made on a battered laptop with a Russian crack of Ableton, a sample of which he suggested I might put on the site. I should have listened to his music properly when I received it. But I hadn’t imagined that hosting unknown music would be a big feature of the site and other concerns loomed larger in my life at the time.
I regret that now.
Because when I finally got round to listening, I was in for a surprise. For here was an extraordinary sound world. And when I wanted to let him know, once again Jimi was nowhere to be found. I’ve written and I’ve called his grandmother a few times – but it’s been several months since anyone’s heard from him.
The track I’ve uploaded here – ‘Riding Wild’ – is the first track on the first DVD. As Jimi’s friend, I find it impossible to exercise unbiased critical judgement on what he’s produced in order to pronounce that X or Y track is best – so the beginning seemed as good a place as any to share with you.
On the later DVDs, Jimi’s music can be more abstract, heavily distorted, sometimes shrouded in echo, sometimes stripped to the bone, sometimes entirely arhythmic. But here, it’s a dense collage of all manner of samples – much in the vein of the golden age of early hip hop and eclectic DJing he so adored. In this track alone there are maybe 20-25 different samples – but it’s principally a re-working of Prefab Sprout’s ‘Wild Horses’ – which was unknown to me but recognised instantly by my wife. (To give me credit, I can pick out a lot of the other sources: the Mongolian throat-singing at the beginning, the qawwali at the end, Soul II Soul’s ‘Back To Life’, Nils Frahm’s organ chords. So there. And there’s a snippet of Norah Jones too: proof that at some point he’d mined his grandmother’s CD collection for material.)
When all the different elements gather at the climax of the tune, a feeling echoes everywhere around you. And that feeling is Jimi. Because when he can get himself together to put pen to paper and stick a CD in the post or telephone unannounced in the early hours of the morning, Jimi can float a joy in the air that every person in this world should have the right to feel now and then in their lives. I hope by listening to this you’ll get a taste of it too; the bright white light into which music can lift us, souls no longer tethered to the earth.
And Jimi – if you’re out there old man, don’t be a stranger. Be in touch. I’m waiting on another one of your tapes.