Monday, 16 January 2017

Oliver: Tex Morton - Big Rock Candy Mountain (1 March 1992)

Peel declared himself and Andy Kershaw "spellbound" by the compilation album, Yodelling Crazy, He described it, with some degree of sincerity as "the first essential album of 1992".
Yodelling, like morris dancing, has never quite achieved much of a cultural cachet, though Peel was always a fan of some of its leading exponents - Ronnie Ronalde in particular enjoyed as much airplay as The Fall did on Peel's show in the early years of the Millenium.  It may have been because of its adaptability within forms of country and roots music.  Peel was still some way off his reimmersion into country music in early 1992, but listening to different versions of Big Rock Candy Mountain ahead of writing this, I was struck by how much the song, originally written by Harry Mac Mclintock in 1928, brought out the vocal gymnastics in its performers.  Burl Ives's version not only re-writes large portions of the lyrics, but recasts it as something close to country madrigal.

Ultimately, you're better to go with New Zealand born singer, Robert "Tex" Morton's version, which opened Peel's show on 1/3/92.  The yodelling is easier on the ear than the previous night's selection had been from Slim Whitman. Although taken at a quicker lick than most of the versions mentioned here, he doesn't miss a trick in bringing out the almost psychedelic strangeness of the lyric, which casts  the titular edifice as a utopia of cigarette trees, streams/lakes of whiskey, lemonade springs and barns full of stew - not to mention a laissez-faire approach to work and the law. That mountain of rock may not be as innocent as it seems.   Whereas the yodelling could serve as an irritating distraction, Morton instead makes it fit like a glove.  The sound of a community deliriously out of its mind within its much envied rural idyll.

Video courtesy of Feelinx Sound.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Oliver: The Fall - The Birmingham School of Business School/Two-Face! (1 March 1992)

The best rock music book I read in 2016 was The Big Midweek - Life Inside The Fall in which the band's former bassist, Steve Hanley details the peaks, troughs and utter awfulness of spending 19 years working, recording, touring and dealing with Mark E. Smith.  As told alongside co-author, Olivia Piekarski, it paints a picture of a band which was always uncategorisable, even when it was enjoying mainstream attention.  Smith comes across as a resentful, control freak - always ready to blame others for his own mistakes and paranoid that his bandmates are lazy leeches, resting on their laurels.  A sacking offence of the highest order as far as he's concerned.  At the same time his remorseless attention to detail, perfectionism and focus (even when horrifically drunk) is admirable.  He really should be a world famous figure, he's certainly as driven as any megastar needs to be.  The Big Midweek captures all this through a compelling narrative of wariness, weariness, appalled amazement, mordant humour and a soup├žon of admiration.  I was quite touched by the story of how Smith cheered up a little girl who was crying about a lost teddy bear by telling her that it had gone on tour and that, as his job involved a lot of travelling, he would keep an eye out for it.  He then used to send her postcards, from her teddy bear, sent from different countries that The Fall were touring to.   It also keeps its thread of events a little bit better than Renegade, Smith's own autobiography.

The Fall were in one of their customary phases of crisis when they began recording Code:Selfish.  Not in a personnel sense; indeed their ranks had been strengthened with a new keyboardist, Dave
Bush, whose interest in techno music colours quite a lot of the tracks.  However, money was tight.  Smith was still tied up in settling his divorce from Brix Smith Start and was also getting very agitated  over the performance of the band's manager, Trevor Long.  It is Long who is the subject of The Birmingham School of Business School - a witheringly sour attack on "scientific management and the theft of its concealment".  Hanley takes up the story:

"To clear up any remaining doubt as to which manager the song may be calling into disrepute, Mark even insisted on tacking an authentic recording of an answerphone message onto the end of the piece. 'Orroight Mark!  It's Trevor Long here. It's 3pm...Hello Mark, it's Trevor Long here. It's 3:45pm..
'Do I need a speaking clock?  I need a manager, not a fucking speaking clock!'
Trevor once made the mistake of turning up to the studio in a dusty-pink Audi...The car wasn't brand new but looked it, so immediately roused Mark's suspicions. 'Where's the money for that coming from?'
'You get a lotta car for yer monnay at the central Birmingham New-to-You Audi dealers.  They even threw in a full valet.'  Trevor was a co-signatory to the Fall cheque book and, feeling the pressure to defend his spending, became a walking spreadsheet.
For some time Trevor's alleged fund-siphoning had been brought into question by Mark and Trev had been ringing me up in a bid to interpret why.  'You know whor it is, Steve. Oim just trying to limit his spending.  Wharram I supposed to tell the accountants? It's a business, you know.  With a turnover of a quarter of a million.  Seven people on the payroll.  And it's Wednesday, cash.  Friday, more cash in the outgoings.  And what's it for?  Him going out, that's what!  It's cash and there's nowt petty about it. I can't lerrim do that.  Even Simon Le Bon wasn't allowed to do that.'
I tried to explain to Trev that Mark doesn't like him controlling his money, and we all know what happens if Mark thinks he's losing control of anything.  Once his misdeeds were immortalised in a song, sadly there was only one way Trevor was going to be heading in his dusty-pink, value-for-monnay Audi, and that was straight down the M6 to the Bull Ring." (Hanley & Piekarski - The Big Midweek, pages 346/347 - Route, Pontefract).

When Peel played The Birmingham School of Business School on his British Forces Broadcasting programme, a fortnight after this show, he called it the least commercial track on the album.  Certainly, it's esoteric theme may have prevented it from emulating the Top 40 placing of Free Range, but that Lalo Schifrin/Blaxpoitation style bass/drum pattern is a thriller and the dirty guitar work of Craig Scanlon draws out every last ounce of contempt and suspicion in Smith's vocal.

Two-Face!, the other selection here, might also come from the same distrustful place as The Birmingham School of Business School.  However, it could equally be about Smith himself and the faces he has to assume within his role as the face and voice of The Fall.  But, it's a flawed analysis if you read The Big Midweek, or even Renegade.  Smith has one face at all times.  It isn't a patch on The Birmingham School of Business School but someone clearly had a brainwave when it came to utilising a keyboard sound.  That giant bee in a copper pipe sound, which gets louder as the track progresses until it comes booming out to get the listener at the end, is The Fall to a tee.  Angry at you and implacable.

Videos courtesy of 54129 and Paul Connelly.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Oliver: Nirvana - School [Live] (1 March 1992)

From the Come As You Are single, another live cut taken from their Halloween 1991 show at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle.  In a moment of insiderdom, Peel expressed bemusement at the fact that Come As You Are wasn't getting much daytime airplay despite being on the Radio 1 playlist.  Somewhere, Matthew Bannister was making another note for what would happen, come the revolution.

School was taken from Nirvana's debut album, Bleach, and may well be the most banal lyric they ever recorded - comprising just three phrases.  Apparently, it's a critique of the Seattle rock scene, "Just like a fucking high school" according to Krist Novoselic, whose silky, brawny bass part is the main reason why I would have taped this.  PJ Harvey used something to similarly enticing effect on The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore many years later.  Like a lot of early Nirvana, what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in spirit.  And judging by the footage, that Paramount gig looks like a huge celebration, even if, as Dave Grohl bemoans at the end, only"2% of the audience have dressed up".

Video courtesy of Jean Michael Schuster.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Oliver: Digital Excitation - Pure Pleasure [Repeat Until mix] (1 March 1992)

To me, that opening burst of puckering synthesisers is the perfect distillation of techno music circa 1992.  It doesn't get any better than this.

Speeding by in a blur of beats, diva screams, crazy cowbell, samba percussion, whistles and, the one misstep, a Tune a Day organ piece, this remix is phat excitement and a heaving dancefloor classic personified.  Even Peel was moved to deadpan, "Well that's a bit of a toe tapper, isn't it?"

If this strikes as hyperbole on my part, it could be because the urgency and excitement on display in this mix is such sharp contrast to the Kubrickian ponderousness of the original, which opens up with futuristic flourishes, but after chocking out that iconic synth riff detours into some ghastly synth washes better suited for soundtracking a David Copperfield illusion.  "Repeat Until" is a perfect choice of title, because this is one to dance and dance and dance and dance and dance to until you drop.

Video courtesy of Sternen Seelen

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Oliver: Butterfly Child - Violin [Peel Session] (1 March 1992)

"A butterfly child/So free and and so wild/And so full of living"  - copyright to Marty Wilde and Ronnie Scott (not that one).

I was still a few months away from buying the 1968 compilation cassette which included Jesamine by The Casuals and included the line that started us off here, when the Belfast trio, Butterfly Child had their first Peel Session broadcast on 1/3/92.  I was even further away from getting into The House of Love, whose arpeggios are effortlessly evoked throughout Violin.  But instead of Guy Chadwick's hot mess of tangled emotions and passions, Joe Cassidy instead weaves Donovan-like poetry.  Certainly, the bard of Maryhill would have been delighted with a line like "Underwater ripples offer bluer colour".
This track and Led Through the Mardi Gras were the only two tracks from Butterfly Child's session that I would have kept.  Led Through the Mardi Gras was even better than Violin, starting like a back-street samba before transforming into a thunderous rocker out of which Cassidy's voice peeks through like someone singing out of a standing wall of fire. Unfortunately, I couldn't track it down.  I wasn't persuaded by the other two tracks: Shipwreck Song and Neptune's Fork which both tried to combine the intricacy and the power of Violin and Led Through the Mardi Gras to diminishing returns.  In their letter to him, which contained two different line-ups for the band, they invited Peel to drop in for a cup of tea next time he was in Belfast.

Video courtesy of smithdream.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Oliver: Ambassadors of Swing - Weekend (1 March 1992)

After playing this track, Peel gave a ringing endorsement to the label which put it out, Kold Sweat.  He had been extolling the virtues of the label, over breakfast that morning, to The Shend, former member of The Cravats, a fixture on Peel's playlists in the late 70s/early 80s.  The Shend also had one of the best business cards ever printed, bearing the legend, "The Shend - A Decent Bloke".
For Peel, the reason for Kold Sweat's brilliance was predicated on the fact that, "There's a wonderful live quality to their recordings which I would like to think is driven by art rather than economics."

The funny thing is, that as with the last Kold Sweat selection on this blog, I feel that this track promises great things, but doesn't quite deliver.  The first 2 minutes or so of Weekend are excellent. Starting out with a vaguely Art of Noiseesque horn break and filling it out with other horn samples from party records.  Over the top of this, MC Cee lays down a flow about getting ready for a night out, the excitement of the club, dancing, drinking, handling people trying to pick her up - I particularly liked the line about having a BTEC in Fashion Design.  I would be getting to know that particular wing of vocational education later in 1992.
It's all rolling along wonderfully until about 2:40, after which MC Cee drops out of the picture and we have the 2 minute hip-hop equivalent of a slow fade.  There are glimmers of slap bass, percussion, scratching and horns, but also a sense of drift.  Maybe Kold Sweat needed an economist to say, "Look, you could lop a minute off this and no-one would miss it."  Maybe I'm being too fussy.  It's only 4 and a half minutes after all, but at a time when we should be looking at the ceiling, lost in the bliss of dancing, we're looking at our watches instead.  Frustrating.  A half-classic.

Whether it was art or economics, I don't know, but the Rap Game EP was Ambassadors of Swing's sole release on Kold Sweat or indeed anywhere.  But their name inspired another collective to release a handful of daytime dance records , which have the footprints of economics all over them, a couple of years later.

Video courtesy of zitterfinger.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Oliver: Zero B - Eclipse (Warp 2) (1 March 1992)

Happy New Year!

While not a patch on Module, this remixed version of Eclipse provides a superior buffing up of the original. It's a borderline inclusion admittedly with several moments that wrongfoot the listener just when expecting something else.  That big opening synth organ chord for instance leading to that none more 90s sequence of keyboard notes really sounds like it should be dropping the beat on us like rockface falling from a cliff, but it doesn't quite manage it.  There's some harmonic variance with windy inhalations/exhalations similar to the opening titles in Donald Cammell's film, Performance,(an example can be heard in the background of this.) There's also synths switching from the funkily futuristic to Ibiza club hell.  Ultimately though, I'm still waiting for an opportunity to blog properly about Zero B's best track.

Video courtesy of Markandrew davies.