Various ‘Discophilia Belgica : Next​-​door​-​disco and Local Spacemusic from Belgium 1975​-​1987’ 2X2LP/2CD (SDBAN) 3/5

It may be stating the obvious to indicate that Belgium is generally not regarded as a hot bed of disco, or related genres. However, it does count France and Holland among its close neighbours and has soaked up classic dance music emanating from those countries, both of whom have musicians (Cerrone) and labels (Ram’s Horn) that have prided themselves on their own brand of disco. What is unquestionable are the considerable efforts that independent label SDBAN have gone to in order to unearth some of these ultra rare grooves. That includes searching high and low in flea markets, charity shops as well as exchanging vinyl. The casual listener can reap the benefits of all that hard crate digging work.

As a whole, the music comprises myriad pop, electro, disco, soul and funk influences, and is best sampled in either small or individual parts. A real favourite is the Chic-esque instrumental, ‘System Love’ (1978) by System who bear no relation to the slightly later American group with the same name and the classy brass of, ‘Tropicana Beach’ by Fancy (1983) similarly impresses. Some 1970s rare groove is offered up by Carl Watson on his funk-tinged, ‘King Kong’ from 1975. For an interesting departure from any kind of formulaic disco, the folk-soul feel that permeates ‘Baby Won’t You Turn Me On’ by Charles Vernon makes him a candidate for Belgium’s answer to Bobby Womack. Several of the names of singers and groups have American-sounding provenance, but are in reality Belgian nationals, or at the very least naturalised Belgian citizens. There are some highly amusing titles and sounds on both of the CDs and arguably the winner of that prize goes to Steve and ‘I’m Free’ (1975), which has absolutely nothing in common with actor John Inman’s catch phrase from ‘Are You Being Served?’ It is, rather, a heavily stringed Euro disco number with heavy bassline, while, ‘Groovin’ To The Music’ by Flame (1977), features Hammond organ and female lead vocals. A close contender for amusing vocal delivery is, ‘Jungle Love’ by Cora Corona, who possesses one of the strangest voices this writer has ever encountered.

The sheer eclecticism of the musical range is, at times, difficult to take in and requires several listens to fully digest. Hence, on the opener, ‘Ethero-Disco’, Jethro Tull meets Roland Kirk head on, with sleazy French spoken vocals thrown in for good measure. In fact, the French language makes a regular appearance even on songs with English titles. Kevin Morane lays down a French Euro disco vibe on ‘Ivre De Vie’/’Drunken On Life’, and L2 do likewise on ‘La Gomme’/’The Rubber’. Elsewhere, British pop influences abound. This is exemplified by ‘Cosmos 81’ by The Rogers, which is a hybrid of Euro disco meets Gary Numan from his Tubeway Army period. In fairness, for fans of soulful underground disco, there is very little of that ilk here. However, some of the more obscure pieces are worth a listen and these include the 12″ (‘maxi 45’ in French) of ‘Disco Bush’ by L.A. Bush. A few embarrassing rock numbers that are best left to the cut out racks include ‘Queen To The Pharaoh’ by Marianne and ‘Sexy’ by Love Dream. Prince could have penned this song and made it into something memorable. This female singer sadly cannot. Fans nostalgic of early 1980s synth-pop will feel right at home here.

Tim Stenhouse