Thursday, 24 May 2018

Oliver! appendices - The Divine Comedy - Timewatch (24 November 1991)

If the Institute of Contemporary Arts ever approaches Neil Hannon about presenting a Divine Comedy album in a live concert from start to finish, the odds are nil that he will choose to present any work from the concept’s earliest days, when Hannon played guitar and sang lyrics of urbane, romantic wonder backed by a jangle-pop sound.  If the early 90s were a fertile time for rock trios, they threw up an unlikely one in the shape of The Divine Comedy - a band which, as Timewatch shows, were more likely to quote Nat King Cole than the Sex Pistols.  With bandmates, John McCullagh and Kevin Traynor, Hannon cooked up quite a neat little sound.  Although he has subsequently disregarded the music recorded in this line-up, leading to it attaining considerable rarity value - just look at the prices a copy of the first Divine Comedy album, 1990’s Fanfare for the Comic Muse are going for - it really isn’t that much of a gulf between a nascent sound and what the world at large considers “The Divine Comedy” sound to be.  The Timewatch EP was self produced by the group and this ensured that Hannon could be heard loud and clear - you don’t bury your key asset after all.
For a long time, I had thought that Timewatch was about aging and death, especially given the opening, “When I fall asleep” verse.  But ultimately it all comes back to love and the “time to fear” seems more indicative of a clock ticking on a relationship which is apparently full of fun and frolics, but not a lifelong commitment.  The allusions to being put back together suggest that the relationship is a port after the storm for Hannon after a traumatic period in his emotional life.  Touchingly, Hannon is open to it becoming something more substantial if his lover gives off signs or indications that they are worthy of the love into which he can feel himself falling.  Never is this better evidenced than in the long held cry of “you” at the 2:39 mark just as the music picks up the pace to reflect the emotional discombobulation. Even more dramatically, it appears as though as both parties in this relationship are waiting on the other to make that commitment first.  If neither is prepared to blink first, then an avoidable termination of the relationship duly awaits.
Hannon probably felt that he was doing the moods and emotions of the track justice when he re-recorded it at glacial pace with strings for the next Divine Comedy album, Liberation, but I don’t think it holds a candle to the version Peel played on his programme on 24/11/91.
Hannon went on to record many fine tracks in the following years and created records of glorious, edible, luxurious music, but he has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to this example of his early Byrdsy work.  Come on, Neil - ditch the string quartet and put that 12-string Rickenbacker on for this tune, in the future.

Video courtesy of Zuru.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Oliver! appendices: Lethal - Techno Stylin (17 November 1991)

The Beatlemaniac sounding crowd screams at the start of this track are entirely in keeping with what makes this such a compelling listen.  Techno Stylin is a joyous, uplifting record which not only celebrates the thrill of making music but something more parochial and personal - making music in Sheffield.
On his 17/11/91 show, by accident or design, Peel found himself showcasing a couple of examples of dance music coming out of Sheffield.  One of them came up at first search and proved to be perfect fodder for New Year’s Eve, but had Nu-Tekk set the revellers Riverdancing over midnight, it would have been Lethal setting everyone up with a sense of possibility for the new year.  Techno Stylin goes head to head with every “I’m the greatest and this place is the centre of the universe” US record you’ve ever heard and makes a compelling case for Sheffield being the hippest place it was possible to be.  If you’re quick-witted enough to catch Lethal’s flow, this serves almost as a how-to guide when it comes what you need to succeed in techno-breakbeat-rapping, but if you can’t catch it just enjoy the love and excitement in these beats and rhymes, combined with a come one/come all invitation to get to Sheffield on the weekend and feel the music.  As Resident Advisor’s 2014 retrospective on bleep music shows, Yorkshire found itself in a good musical place at the end of the 80s/early 90s.  Recognition of a golden age often heralds its demise, but with tracks like Techno Stylin to chronicle the thrill of the time and place, the music will never grow old even when attention shifts elsewhere and leaves Sheffield’s once thriving nightlife in a state of current inertia and Sainsbury’s Local hell.

Video courtesy of bonbonfabrik

Friday, 18 May 2018

Oliver! appendices: Superconductor - The Most Popular Man in the World (10 November 1991)

In looking at the title of this track while doing a trawl of appendices for the Oliver! selections, all I could remember was the rather gross cover photo for Superconductor’s debut single.  It had been some three years since I heard the 10/11/91 show and it had been my Festive Fifty winner from the 1991 shows that I had heard which I most readily associated with that edition of Kat’s Karavan.  It was only when doing a little research on Superconductor, ahead of writing this that I rediscovered exactly what piqued Peel’s interest in them.  Basically, if you wanted sonic rock excess - no, sonic rock gluttony - in the early 90s, then Vancouver, Canada was the place to go.  Superconductor boasted a line up containing 6 guitarists and 2 bassists.  Clearly A.C. Newman and friends decided that an indie version of Paul McCartney’s Rockestra was a potential going concern.
The Most Popular Man in the World is essentially two styles parading for audience attention.  The first half is hard rock lamentation about the title character’s drinking exploits, but at 1:40 the tone changes to something more akin to garage rock.  It’s these shifts in tone, alongside the sheer weight and brio of the sound that guarantee its inclusion, some three years after I was initially left wishing for it.

Video courtesy of Irresponsableful.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Oliver! appendices: Eggs - Ocelot [Party Mix] (10 November 1991)

Yet another find of a track which wasn’t around when I originally looked for it. Strictly speaking, this isn’t the version Peel played on 10/11/91, which was the b-side on Eggs’s first single on the Teenbeat label, Skyscraper.  That version started at the 20 second mark and was a little more stripped back, using only a single vocalist rather than the frail harmonies on display in this ”Party Mix” version from Eggs’s first album, Bruiser.  It was also a little slower and featured low-mixed horn parts.  Nevertheless, I’m delighted to have a version to put on this blog.  It seems to be a great example of what I think of as campfire rock - overdriven acoustic guitars backed by sludgy electric guitar and bongo like drumming (although, in this case they really are bongos helping to drive this track along).  A decade or so later, Jack Johnson would enjoy substantial success with a variant on that sound.

As well as being catchy as hell, other notable features of Ocelot include its vaguely surreal lyrics: “Every ocelot is a stroked cat/But not every stroked cat is an ocelot”*; weird verse metres and Mark E.Smith vocal lifts.  No wonder Peel was getting letters about them.

*Not quite so surreal since I’ve subsequently discovered what an ocelot is.
Lyrics copyright of Andrew Beaujon.
Video courtesy of Amye Sagar

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Oliver! Appendices: Pay the Man - Popeye (9 November 1991)

In the few months before I first set up a Twitter account to link to the blog (handle is @greasepaintpeel), I was probably the only person who ever looked at what I was writing.  The result is that the first handful of Peel shows that I covered, mostly ranging across November 1991 had very little exposure.  Whenever I write notes about a Peel show, I usually mention tracks I would have liked to blog about but couldn’t due to there being no YouTube upload available.  After the Twitter account allowed any curious souls to look in on here, it meant that in a number of instances tracks by artists as diverse as Kat Bjelland, The Mind SirensManifestoSultans of Ping F.C.M31 and Sanchez/Shaka Chamba among others were made available after my plaintive cries were heard.
However, requests from those early shows went unheeded, because nobody would have read them.  Such are the vagaries of timing - though I may take the advice of Tim Worthington and link back to those earlier selections in a “Things you may have missed” way.  We will see, I’m still tying up loose ends of things for Oliver! while at the same time, keen to press forward.  If you’re reading this and wondering what you may have missed in the early stages of this blog, click the 2014 tab on the right hand side of the page.

Happily, one request from the early shows turned up, unbidden by me on YouTube in late 2017.  Popeye was one of only two releases by Los Angeles trio, Pay the Man.  Despite an early warning for including excessive tune-up wankery at the beginning of the track (a musical offence only marginally less aggravating than excessive feedback wankery), it delivers a kick-ass opening riff before segueing into a sunglasses-cool vocal suggesting that the Popeye of the song is closer to Jimmy Doyle than the Sailor Man.  Despite sounding every inch a garage band, the refrain of “The time.  The moment.” that keeps popping up through the track suggests that they may have been listening to U2 as much as The Stooges in their formative years.  As you will hear, to Peel their influences had far less bearing on them receiving a play on his show than the combination of their mailing address and the colour of the vinyl that the single was pressed on.

Video courtesy of John Peel.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 10 April 1992)

John Peel
“Do you ever have days where you feel you got out of bed on the wrong planet?  This is one of those, I think.”
His opening words to the show on 10/04/92 showed that Peel was taking the events of the previous 24 hours hard.  The Conservative Party, under John Major, had confounded predictions and won the 1992 General Election.  The IRA commemorated a fourth term for the Tories by exploding 2 bombs in London; the second one, at Staples Corner, going off while Peel was on air.  There were times in his life when Peel felt that what he did for a living was excruciatingly superficial when set against the hostile realities of life and a melancholy air hung over the programme on this night - even though he had a guest in to try and gee his spirits up.
A few tracks from previous months - selected for this blog too - turned up on Peel’s playlist tonight.  There was “a final play” for Don’t Want to Be Grant McLennan by Smudge as well as Gag’s far-sighted warning about Donald Trump, The Corner Hot Dog Stand.  Also getting an airing was an acetate of  Hippy Gumbo, recorded by John’s Children and given to Peel by Marc Bolan prior to him starting Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Peel was also enduring further anguish as he had a deadline approaching for a magazine article which he had been asked to write about football songs.  Having received a letter that evening by “George from Swindon” about Elizabeth Archer’s pregnancy, he now wanted George to write back to him with advice on what to write, perhaps lacking courage in some of his own recent choices.
On a depressing evening, small victories had to be found where they could.  Peel had been in a correspondence through the week with Earache Records about the speed at which Stranger Aeons by Entombed should be played at.  The label said 33rpm but Peel had doubted this when playing it at home.  He phoned Earache who told him that it was definitely 33rpm.  However, the next day, they contacted him again and told him, “rather shamefacedly” that he had been correct and that it should be played at 45rpm.  It had originally been on my list of inclusions, and maybe if it stayed at 33rpm it would have featured here, but listening to it again it fell away in a heap of steaming “meh”-ness.
There were a few others that fell from favour and in a couple of cases, I think I might have made mistakes:

Afghan Whigs - This is my Confession - I should have been well disposed towards Afghan Whigs considering they recorded tracks from Jesus Christ Superstar, of which more if and when this blog ever gets to 1996, but despite the strong start to this track, interest dribbled away very quickly.  However, I owe a big apology to...

The Hair & Skin Trading Company - Elevenate - who yet again found my wavering thumb ultimately pointing downward, despite coming up with a track that went in a number of surprising directions but ultimately failing to convince me.

Hyper - U - Demonic S-Cape - a track which covers similar ground to In the Name of the One by Prudens Futuri and ultimately comes off worse.

There were a couple of tracks I would have included but couldn’t get hold of:

Stare - Work - described in my notes as “an excellent protest song requested by Felicity of Wood Green”.

Krispy 3 - Harder Times - Still brilliant.  Still unavailable.

All other selections from this show were taken from a full 3 hour recording of it.  The next evening, Saturday 11 April 1992, would be the first not to run alongside Oliver! It featured sessions from
Jacob’s Mouse and a repeat of Robert Lloyd’s Terminal Hoedown session from two months earlier.

Full tracklisting

“He’s a born undertaker’s mute/I can see him in his black silk suit/ Following behind the funeral procession/With his features fixed in a suitable expression” (That’s your Funeral from Oliver! Words and music by Lionel Bart).
To have both a show and a general election in the same week was a combination that I have never experienced since April 1992.  I had watched the previous night up to the point where the famous Basildon result was announced, but the significance of it was lost on me despite the ballyhoo that accompanied the declaration.  When my father woke me for my paper round and  told me that the Conservatives had won again, I was mildly perplexed rather than majorly put out as I wasn’t eligible to vote until the next election anyway.  Like many others though, I did wonder whether I would ever see a Labour government, more out of curiosity than political conviction at that point.  My seat of Falmouth and Camborne, which the Liberal Democrats had targeted, was held by the Conservatives and was represented by former Olympic champion and World Record holder, Sebastian Coe.  Later that year, my parents would escort him and his then wife when they were guests of honour at an Atheneum Club dinner & dance, my father being president of the club over 1992.
As I say, I had no influence over the election, but Oliver! went extremely well running from Tuesday 7 April to Friday 10 April 1992.  I won’t be going into extensive reminiscence for a show that no one reading this (outside of any Facebook friends who were in it and may be looking in) ever saw.  Suffice to say, my main business as Mr. Sowerberry the undertaker, was wrapped up inside the opening half an hour.  I sang That’s Your Funeral without any problems and blundered by wearing white socks under my undertaker’s costume.  This was nothing new as I continued to wear white socks casually until well into my early 20s.  In mitigation, I worked a period of that time in a sports shop, so it was expected.  The textiles teacher, Mrs. Slater, told me about the socks but no-one gave me any black ones to wear.  Indeed, it wasn’t till the final night that anyone gave me prop money to pay for Oliver, up till then I mimed handing money to Norman Selwood as Mr. Bumble.   Once young Oliver Twist ran away to join Fagin’s gang, my appearances were more sporadic:  A Bow Street Runner at the end of the first half who catches Oliver and starts his journey towards safety and respectable society whereby, through one of those “only in a musical” coincidences where Oliver has the whole of London to pickpocket but ends up getting caught by trying to steal from his own
grandfather, Mr. Brownlow; a tavern drinker in The Three Cripples joining in with Oom-Pah-Pah and
then cowering with all the other drinkers from the fearsome Bill Sikes - a classmate of mine was most jealous and put out that a girl he fancied had to spend these scenes sat on my lap and cuddled up to me.  I told him he should get into acting, then it might be his turn to enjoy such accidental pleasures; I also sang the Knife Grinder’s part in Who Will Buy, which in a sense I enjoyed more than Sowerberry’s song because a) Who Will Buy is a much better piece of music and b) many of the subtleties in That’s Your Funeral went over my head.  I wasn’t even aware of the meaning of the title and my performance was less sepulchrally gloomy than may have been required.  Instead, I ended up in a kind of vaguely pissed off middle agedness mixed with a touch of henpeckedness.  In other words, if I did the part again now, I would do it very differently.  But that’s true of most of the performances I gave between 1992-97.  I finished my nights’ work as the Bow Street Runner again, raiding Fagin’s place after SPOILER Bill Sikes is killed and Nancy murdered.  Applause was long and loud.  Colin Leggo was cheered to the rafters as he came out to sing a reprise of Consider Yourself on one leg after suffering a broken kneecap in a PE lesson at the start of the week.  Friendships that had been bonded together over 6 months endured in some cases, and faded away in
others.  I went away from it all, about an hour before Peel would begin his long 3 hours of the soul,
determined to try and do well enough in my GCSEs so I could do A-Level Drama.  The director, Jane
Stevenson, also Head of Drama, told me that the school was going to perform Carousel in 1993.  With a bit of luck, I could be doing all this again within a year, but in the event, I was back into rehearsals for something completely different by the start of the following month...

....but before this blog moves on to the Peel show playlist for my next show, the Oliver! posts will wrap up in the next few weeks with reflections on the Oliver! soundtrack itself and finally the ultimate Oliver! mixtape from Peel’s shows from 2 November 1991 to 10 April 1992.

I’m the man in black....

Photo courtesy of Jane Stevenson

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Oliver!: Revolver - Venice (10 April 1992)

The Oliver! selections started with a song about clandestine infidelities, so it’s fitting that the final track from that show should cover similar ground.  And how nice to hear Revolver on such confident form here, in contrast to the anguish I went through over their performance on their Peel Session a while ago.

Everything about the opening of this track is perfect.  The minute long overture reflecting the journey to get to Venice, a city for lovers, and the opening verse conveys exactly what had brought Matt Flint all the way there:
Fall into your arms I could die in there.
The wonder of a smile just leaves me bare.
Think of how we’d be if we had more time.
I can keep a secret if you keep mine.
(All lyrics copyright to their authors).

Having established the sense of desire that has brought the lovers together, the track then reflects on the underlying unspoken cost of the affair, both to the lovers themselves who lack stability in what they do - “Waste away my hours in nowhere sure” - and the effect that discovery may have on them and those around them - “This mood I’m in could ruin for evermore” - a line which serves up the possibility that Flint is the bit on the side in this relationship and growing frustrated, or that he’s ready to blow cover and make things public in order to move things along.
As their Peel Session track, Wave, showed; Revolver were very adept at using their instrumental breaks to paint sound pictures and the guitar break here conveys the passion, intoxication and rage of people locked into an affair - clawing both at each other and at the glass ceiling and walls around them.  It’s a shame that the final verse is a reprise of the second.  It would have been great to see whether Flint laid down an ultimatum, took his lover away with him, or walked away from it altogether.

Video courtesy of poorsofreign.