Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Oliver: Curve - Arms Out [Peel Session] (29 February 1992)

Peel's near month long run of airplay for tracks from Curve's debut album, Doppelgänger reached its logical end-point on 29/2/92 with their second session for him.

I spoke about "Curve fatigue" setting in for me in my notes for the show on 23/2/92.  A sense that, as Peel himself had been moved to hint in response to an excitable press release, the band were a bit one-note when listened to over an extended period.  It's certainly happened between my first hearing of the session, and the time for selecting and writing about it.  On first listen, I had 3 out of the 4 tracks earmarked for inclusion, with only Die Like a Dog failing to make the cut.  But after listening again, I found myself going cool on Split Into Fractions which seemed too formulaic, while the session version of Horror Head felt inessential next to the album version.

But Arms Out, a B-side to the Fait Accompli single was never in doubt.  Built around a battering, trebly riff, it showcases something that all too often got buried among the shoegaze wall of sound: a genuine sense of feeling and emotion.   It helped that Curve were blessed with a singer in Toni Halliday who wanted to be heard and who conveyed in her performances a mix of urgency, frustration and protectiveness towards the subjects of her songs which meant Curve were never anywhere near as fey as some of the waifs who whispered along with the storm of noise that the guitars and their pedals kicked up in lieu of any other ideas.
The psiren lead singers of many of the shoegaze bands of the time often sounded like mirages offering succour to the wounded and the heartsick, but the thinness of their voices made them seem like the friendly would-be lover you couldn't actually go near for fear of breaking them or turning them away with your own frustrations and rage.  Toni Halliday, as her performance and sentiments show here, was a safety net, a life jacket, a warm massage and protective embrace all in one.

Video courtesy of Felix Stairs.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Sonny Til and The Orioles - Crying in the Chapel (29 February 1992)

This 1953 recording was played by Peel as a trial run for a feature that he and his producer, Mike Hawkes were conjecturing in which Peel would play favourite records from his childhood and teenage years.  One sticking point was over a title for the feature, with Hawkes favouring Formative Favourites against Peel's idea of Pre-Pubescent Picks.

I'd never heard this track until listening to the 29/2/92 show.  I had seen the title and knew Elvis Presley had had a UK number 1 with it in 1965, but I had always assumed it was about somone being jilted at the altar.  Instead, and in a most gorgeously simple and touching way, the song is written from the perspective of someone overwhelmed by the glory of God.  Peel was an atheist by all accounts, but he was fascinated by religious music and often quoted scripture in episodes of Home Truths.

From a Pre-Pubescent Picks point of view, Crying in the Chapel offers a reminder that outside of balladeers and country music, doo-wop was the next link in the chain of Peel's, and by extension, post-WW2 popular music's journey.  Simple backings, velvet-voiced lead singers, harmonies stretching from the free-wheeling to gallows-tight - many times over the years, the Peel show would check out and reduce its soundscape to the aural equivalent of people singing under a streetlight. And time after time, the results would sound magical as this.  So much so that 1992 saw something of a revival in the form.  Boyz II Men were packaged as a gospel act but it didn't defy imagination to picture Sonny Til and the Orioles running through a track like End of the Road.  While that glut of boyband acts that broke through in 1992/93 - Take That & East 17 at the top end; Bad Boys Inc. and Worlds Apart at the bottom end - may have been marketed as teenypopper Beatles/Stones...err...Freddie and the Dreamers for the 90s, but essentially they had their roots in doo-wop: One prominent voice out front and four others standing behind him and going "Oooh".

My own favourite Peel doo-wop selection predates the time of this blog.  He played this in May 1981.  An incredible performance and a wonderful melody.

Videos courtesy of Manny Mora (Sonny Till & The Orioles) and TheNickNicola (The Jive Bombers)

A recent upload by keepingitpeel on their Wordpress site features several episodes from Home Truths, potentially featuring Peel's encyclopaedic knowledge of quotable scripture.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Oliver: One Dove - Fallen [Dawn] (29 February 1992)

The version of this track by the Scottish electro trio which Peel played on 29/2/92 is a real rarity.  So rare in fact that it was withdrawn from sale in the week after its release due to an uncleared sample.  This mix is as close as I can get to the one Peel played, but still contains all the elements which made this track so appealing to me.  Most of them are tied up with Dot Allison's breathy recollections of meetings with strange singers, angels and ghosts.  There's also a lyric which every young generation feels is talking about them: "They say we're hard to please/They say we want too much/As if all this would do/When all we want to have is fun."

Very much an end of evening mix, Peel promised to play a different mix of this tune on his next programme if he could remember.  He didn't but if he had, it should probably have been the ubiquitous Andrew Weatherall mix.

Video courtesy of markwo74.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Oliver: Gag - The Corner Hot Dog Stand (29 February 1992)

I've seen a few tweets recently linking to songs from the past that predict Donald Trump and the alt-right.  I'd like to add this track by Gag, the brainchild of Sue D, who also performed as part of a band called Tasty Bush, as well as Bald Cow.  According to the publicity notes, "Sue generally had lunch at Taco Bell, and dessert at Dairy Queen".

24 years ahead of Trump, The Corner Hot Dog Stand touches on many of the themes that have facilitated his rise and occupy the minds of the Left at this crucial moment in history.  The titular business, owned by a family of Mexicans, has gone up in flames, victim of an arson attack due to a refusal to pay for protection either from the Mob or the police.  New York Daily Times journalist, Shaun King's Twitter feed has been my source of news about the racial abuse doled out to Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans etc since Trump's victory.  Gag talk in this song about people watching the conflagration either in prayer or silence.  If they were to chronicle something similar now, they would have to think of something to rhyme with "Build the wall".  Though if we aren't careful, who's to say the alt-right won't lay claim to "Burn out the old/bring in the new"?

The family go back to Mexico and in their place a shiny, new chain hot dog place - spotlessly clean, gaudily neon and one more link in the chain of faceless globalisation, goes up - further inspiring another set of protestors and objections, at least on this side of the song.

You can take so many things away from this song and the fact that that it has continued to resonate more presciently in 2016 than could ever have been thought possible when it was recorded make it as socially an important record as any that Peel had played in 1992.

If you're nostalgic for the days when a Clinton could overcome both the political establishment, and a non-racist billionaire presidential hopeful, then BBC iPlayer is currently hosting The War Room, the inside story of Bill Clinton's victory over George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in the 1992 U.S. Presidential election.

Video courtesy of FEBear1.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Oliver: Lucien Bokilo - Adidja (29 February 1992)

Listening to this track from Lucien Bokilo, I find myself thinking back to French lessons at school.  In particular, those moments when the teacher would bring out a tape recorder and bung on a tape to assist the class with its French listening exercises.  The lower school years at Falmouth Community School saw us use the iconic Tricolore books which are still going today.  13 years ago, I saw the comedian Ian Moore mention them in a throwaway line about how he was using them to help him, since he was moving to live in France.  I and a few others cheered the mention of Tricolore, and to a huge laugh he responded, "In case you're wondering, Jean-Claude is still living in La Rochelle.  Hoovering la fenetre.  What a disappointment he must be to the DuPont family.  No wonder they can't get a fucking army together".  This being the time when Jacques Chirac decided that following ourselves and the U.S. into a war in Iraq wasn't really something he wanted to be part of.
When I went to the upper school building of Falmouth Community School, there was a new kid on the French textbook block called Studio 16.  Funkier, hipper, more up to date.  The flared trousers and sideburns of the cast of characters in those Tricolore books replaced by vaguely preppy/or shell-suited teens pointing the way to the 1990s with lengthy dissertations about whether they liked British television or not.  I remember they liked ours considerably more than I liked theirs whenever I watched it on holiday.
What has stayed with me most about them were the musical stings on the accompanying cassette tapes.  Tricolore linking its sections with a jaunty acoustic guitar polka that ran throughout the tape.  Studio 16 was more varied.  The stings were more jingle like ensuring that you never forgot what you were listening to, but some would be done as bright electro-pop numbers; others as slower, bluesier efforts and every so often there would be a few bars of delirious Afro pop - Studio 16 doing a better job of reflecting France's racial make-up than Tricolore did.  Even now, Ousmane Seck of Senegal remains a clear memory of my education.
Adidja catches Lucien Bokilo channelling the spirit of those Tricolore/Studio 16 stings...and I can offer it no higher praise of comparison then that.

Video courtesy of soukousnostalgie.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Oliver: The Nightblooms - Butterfly Girl (29 February 1992)

I had a question mark against this when I first heard it.  What tipped the balance was listening, in error, to the 8 minute long version which showed up on The Nightblooms' debut album.  I adored the slow, meditative build up conjured by that 1-2-3/1-2-3 guitar figure, and the voices coming slowly into focus, like reverse radio waves eventually crystallising into the vocals.  The single version, which Peel played on 29/2/92, dispenses with that and comes straight in on the loud clanging guitars, but as you will hear, sound and fury doesn't really have a place here.  Putting their trust in Esther Sprikkelman's unadorned vocal (if this had been a British band at the time, it would have been drowned in reverb, I expect), the sun/rain/snow metaphors drift by like clouds in a Yoko Ono lullaby.

It all sounds horribly kitsch, the kind of winsome "slippergaze" that grunge was sent to obliterate, but instead it achieves a kind of beautiful serenity, even through the nihilistic lines: "I don't think and I don't mind.  I don't feel and I don't care."  I'm also tickled by the fact that the track was apparently recorded over the first two days of 1992.  There's a sense of moving from the old to the new, as in from last year to this year.  The sudden cut-off at the end encapsulates this completely, as though the butterfly girl has emerged from her chrysalis over the course of the Christmas period and is ready to fly into the new year, at least until the butterfly net of failed resolutions falls on her.

Video courtesy of fastfoodsblips

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Oliver: Bald Cow - Speed Skull (29 February 1992)

Sometimes, it's a mistake to be doing the ironing while making selections for this blog.  When first listening to the show from 29/2/92, this track bypassed me entirely and would have continued to do so if Peel had played the track he intended to from Bald Cow's 4 track EP, The Wrath of Achilles.  Instead of a take on Homer's Odyssey called Return of the Gone, we got a garage rock tribute to Albert Einstein called Speed Skull.  This was clearly a band looking to marry intelligent dissertations on science and literature to a biker bar musical ethos, and they do it brilliantly.  I nearly missed it, only hearing it and enjoying it when I was listening to clarify a point on the selection that will follow this track on to the blog.  I can only share it as a live recording from a gig that Bald Cow played in Chicago in 2011, but it captures the essence of the track perfectly.  Their full set from that gig is on YouTube together with some other recordings under their name.  Check them out.

Video courtesy of mmravic.