Friday, 30 September 2016
Mixtaping is supposed to be easy. Listen to tracks - those you like are kept, those you don't like are rejected. At its root, it sounds simple, but every so often nuances crop up which leave you questioning your instinct, judgement and taste - while living with the spectre of the question that hangs every mixtaper: why did I choose to preserve this?
Such has been the case with the band Revolver, formed in London, circa 1990 and their session for Peel recorded on September 12 1991. Revolver have been chafing at my ears almost since I started this blog when Peel played the track, Drowning Inside on one of his November 1991 shows. From its beautifully classical arpeggios through to the little key change towards the end of the song which made me think of the way my mid-90s band, Extraordinary, would try and do similar things in our songs to make them seem more harmonically interesting (unfortunately, we couldn't really do any of the things that Revolver would do before they reached their key changes, hence why we stayed in the garage while they went out and got signed and did Peel Sessions), 95% of my brain said in response to it, "This is a great pop song". But somehow the 5% going, "It's by the numbers indie" won out. The same thing happened when I heard bits of their session on the 23/11/91 show. In fact, the live version of Drowning Inside saw my brain capacity jump to 10% worth of derision.
It took until the repeat of the session on 22/2/92 for me to wake up and fully appreciate how good these tunes were. These four tunes, at times, sound like what an electric guitar was made for. There's grandeur, compassion, longing, empathy for the outsider and the disaffected in this music. The third track, Wave, even manages to pull off that George Martin trick of creating sound pictures - the opening minute wonderfully evoking the approaching ocean as the listener lies waiting for it to break over you. And once it does so, the restorative power of the waters has you up and running through the spray like you could swim forever. But just in case this all feels too elemental and ethereal, there's the brute force of instrumental session closer, John's Not Mad, which channels The Mono Men, The Stooges and the whole garage movement, though the excessive feedback wankery at the end almost spoils it for me.
And it's details like that which have meant that while trying to prepare this post, I've turned mental cartwheels and flip-flopped constantly over this session. I've veered between liking none, half and all the tracks. The big problem has been Matt Flint's vocals. In among this stirring, majestic, powerful musical background, they are either too nasal, too high or too whiny - but he can still floor me with lines like "The words just stumble out my mouth/I've never been upset by sounds" in session opener, Crimson. A pean to awkward communication worthy of Daniel Johnston. And even when he's straining for that key change in Drowning Inside, I can't help but think back to 1992 and know that that jump on "Lie on the ground with a light in my head" would be the template for my own doomed attempts to be a singer by the middle of the decade. And I can only, ultimately, acknowledge the unknown debt, put the carping aside, and give into a magnificent session.
Video courtesy of Vibracobra23
Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Had I not been brought up in Falmouth, then Bristol would have done just as nicely for me. Beautiful area around it, thriving city centre, easy to get out of and back into, situated perfectly when it comes to reaching the rest of the country, plenty of sport to get interested in and a wonderfully diverse cultural scene - not least its music scene.
In the 90s, the focus on Bristol's music scene began to shift away from Snakebite quaffing heavy-metal biker band cliche and onto a strain of dance music that sold by the shedload, made stars of its leading exponents and which produced some sounds which by their very texture and tone could have come for nowhere else but the M5/M4 interchange. However, we're still a few years away from the word, "trip hop" making its presence known. Instead, Smith & Mighty, who knew all the right people in Bristol, but who never quite got the same exposure, serve up a delightfully eclectic mix that while fusing together Lynchian style drones, horror movie vibes, Florida Soul and more, sticks to one of the fundamental but little known rules of music: there isn't a record in the world that can't be made even better by sampling This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us by Sparks.
Videos courtesy of Anonymous (Smith & Mighty) and The Mars Bar (Sparks).
Saturday, 24 September 2016
When I listened to John Peel's radio show, I experienced many different emotions ranging from excitement and amusement through to irritation and boredom. It is to my lasting regret that the negative emotions won out on me (combined with a defective tape player) and caused me to ignore his last two years of broadcasts until I was too late to effect a rapprochement. This blog remains, among many other things, an ongoing act of contrition for that period of small-minded idiocy.
One negative emotion that all Peel listeners must have succumbed to over the years would be envy. How many great records by bands/artists you had never heard of would be followed by Peel talking about how it had come in on an import or that listeners may have to go to mail order catalogue in order to add the record to their own collections. Not to mention the fact that he had access to as many major or independent label records as he wanted. When I was taping Peel shows in 2002, I remember him playing a track by Brendan Benson and genuinely feeling riven with envy that he had that record. I've never listened to a Brendan Benson song since, but it was the fact that he could and I couldn't that made me rage at the injustice of it. Ridiculous really, since Peel was always very candid about records he had never got his hands on or which record companies had by-passed him in order to send them for first plays to younger disc jockeys at Radio 1.
When it came to African music, he had to be as patient as the rest of us, with the exception of Andy Kershaw. This delightful piece of jit music by Zimbabwe Cha Cha Cha Kings came from an album released in 1989. Vimbiso translates as the Shona girl's name, Promise and its presence makes up for the fact that I've not been able to share their superior track, Abamwe.
Video courtesy of Musimboti.
Thursday, 22 September 2016
When I started listening to this track by Amarillo, Texas band, Voice of Reason, I really thought the opening line went, "Don't bend to the rule of Trump". That piece of mishearing made me nostalgic for the days when bands writing political songs could be gently patronised and we could all content ourselves that with the Cold War won, we were ideally set up through the coming decade to take care of local and green issues only. Voice of Reason come across as a punkier version of Consolidated, though they didn't have their longevity - only releasing 2 EPs and Evident Truth appeared on both of them.
I like the way this track rocks out, but have trouble pinning down the lyrics - successive listens have seen me yo-yo through a number of potential interpretations ranging from dismay at environmental disaster through to a pro-life, anti-abortion screed. They were from Texas, after all. All in all, hard to pin down. Though they had a fairly catchy mission statement: "Renounce allegiance. Stay Angry. Fuck America." That second command seems, 24 years on, to be giving Trump the chance to carry out the third command, doesn't it?
Video courtesy of John Peel
Tuesday, 20 September 2016
Pioneers lay the road, and diligent students pave them. That's my reasoning as to why I prefer the warmer, fuller work of Dub Syndicate when compared to, say, King Tubby. Although by the time they released their Stoned Immaculate album, Dub Syndicate were veterans, with plenty to offer anyone studying their work. To my untutored ear, the improvement is in the way everything is held together rather than running down blind alleys. The sudden piano stabs and electro drum beats serve to enhance the track, originally recorded by Prince Far I and The Arabs. It helps to have Prince Far I on any track because of his sage like qualities. In that voice, one can hear thousands of years of experience and wisdom. Whatever, he calls "good music", you feel would be worth listening to.
But ultimately, I can only come back to what I alluded to in my opening line. As someone who has only developed any kind of appreciation or hearing of dubstep through Peel, what I love about this track is the way in which it expands the possibilities that King Tubby and others threw out there, and makes them into something catchy, communal and exciting.
Video courtesy of SweetSmoke.
Sunday, 18 September 2016
I had a question mark against this track when I heard it on the 22/2/92 show. The question mark stayed there for a few more listens to be honest, but what guaranteed its inclusion was that it sounded like something else. Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery and a means of acceptance towards those who may have been tempted to go, "Jesus, John, what is this clattery ould racket?" I'm writing this in Ireland so may be prone to colloquisms.
Is the riff to Honeysuckle what critics used to call Motorik? I'm not so sure. It borrows from the "riding to hounds" riff of Unsane's Cracked Up mixed together with the congested vocal scream of Beeswax era, Nirvana. Those vocals also hark forward to the strangled yelp of Clinic, who are bound to find a place on this blog in the decades to come. And while we're looking forward, I find myself reflecting on that music business trope which declares that the more ferocious the performance, the more inappropriate the title of the piece will be.
Strictly speaking this should be held over till the very end of this blog, assuming I live to that age, as I heard it on the first Peel show that I recorded after his death, under Rob da Bank's auspices. He didn't back announce it, but happily that anarchy was knocked out of him pretty damned sharpish.
Videos courtesy of Irresponableful (Drunk Tank) and Sniperskull1031 (Bury Your Dead).
Thursday, 8 September 2016
Happy Soul is one of those tracks that turn up on the Peel Show and make me wish that I had known of it back in early 1992 - when I really needed it and when I could have used it as a manifesto for living. With characteristic poetic inarticulacy, Daniel Johnston sums me up in this track, one month before my 16th birthday. I was aware of a change in my mindset and how I looked at the world - I've already mentioned more than enough times that I was turning on to girls and how happy that made me feel - but it was more than that. I felt, as I got closer to 16, a great feeling of contentment. I wasn't a stroppy, moody or tormented teen. I saw possibilities in life, even though I couldn't articulate them. In retrospect, I was probably just beginning to savour the fact that I had reached the first of the age landmarks in which there were things I could do if I wanted to, and no-one could tell me that I wasn't allowed. The fact that there were other age limits still to pass meant I was in a cushioned holding pen - moving away from childhood, or being regarded as a child, but not quite into adulthood, or being expected to act like one. It felt like the best of all worlds, and it would only get better over the next couple of years. I had that Happy Soul, Johnston was singing about. Hell, I even started writing songs - well, lyrics in 1992. Unheard (and rightfully so) epics like Parking Lot Lovemaking (No, I don't know Ricky Gervais).
Girls, rock 'n' roll and a changing mindset that felt gently exciting and different from what had gone before. I relished them - well, the girls took their time to turn up - and Johnston knew we would. In short, this is one of the great, under-rated teen anthems in rock history.
Video courtesy of jameshunter93.