Sunday, 23 October 2016

Oliver: Nirvana - Drain You [Live] (23 February 1992)

A completist's selection given that this track already turned up on a Peel Session.  This live recording from their Halloween 1991 performance at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle was included on the Come As You Are single.

What the radio play didn't include, as this video shows, were the BOY/GIRL dancers, which make this performance look like a grunge update of Mud performing Tiger Feet on Top of the Pops circa 1974 with dance accompaniment from their road crew.

Videos courtesy of Jean Micheal Shuster (Nirvana) and 70s & 80s Music + Kate Bush (Mud)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Saturday 22 February 1992)

February half-term week in the 1991/92 academic year which means Oliver was now getting in sight of its opening night.  I have a very distinct memory of that half-term, one of sitting at home listening to South Africa thrash Australia in the cricket World Cup.  A further reminder of a distant time in which the Springbok return to world sport seemed a further reflection of a world at peace with itself and committed to throwing off the poison that seemed to have infected 20th century politics from between the end of the Second World War up to around late 1989. I'd fallen for a girl that I was in the show with and was writing down my reflections on it while listening to South Africa knock off the runs with ease, and felt excitedly and contentedly happy.  However, I won't dwell on the girl that much, because as soon as she got wind of my interest, her previously friendly demeanour towards me was replaced with something close to utter terror.  I backed off, mentally kicking myself to pieces and trying to pretend that I knew this would happen all along.
But that was all in the future during that half term.  I'd also bought my first compilation tape of a particular band.  Not anyone contemporary, but rather Birmingham's finest band of the 60s, The Move.  A love affair brought about by being utterly beguiled by their rendition of Blackberry Way on Sounds of the Sixties.  It must have made an impression given that the same episode also featured memorable performances from The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and The Mothers of Invention.  Needless to say I caned the tape over the summer and beyond - and even thought that doing an exaggerated impression of singer Carl Wayne's dancing would be a way to impress women.  They laughed all right, but whether it was at me or Carl, I could never be sure.

In the here and now of 22/2/92, John Peel permitted himself a little bit of nostalgia with an Otis Redding track which you will notice by its physical absence as you scroll down through the selections from the 3 hour show.  It holds the record, a mere 48 hours, for fastest takedown of any track that I have put up on this blog.
Peel had started the half-term admitting to problems sleeping because his eldest son, William was away on a skiing trip in Austria, though he suspected that the Austrians had more to fear from William than the other way round.
Radio 4 presenter, Libby Fawbert dropped her future colleague a recording of the announcer at Birmingham New Street Station, who she claimed sounded the spitting image of Peel.  He played the recording and there was a definite similarity.  Peel felt the announcer had a much better radio voice than he did and followed up with a session track by Loudspeaker called It Wasn't Me.
Peel had friends all over the world, some of whom would correspond with him through his show.  One of these, Ahmed, wrote to tell Peel that he was moving from Cairo to Newfoundland. Peel greeted this with dismay given that he doubted that any records Ahmed sent him from Newfoundland would be half as good as the ones he sent from Cairo.
The recording featured a nice bit of ephemera.  Given our digital radio present, it was interesting to hear a trailer featuring Tommy Vance promoting increased FM coverage for parts of the country that had not previously been able to hear Radio 1 through it.  "We're coming soon to the Channel Islands".  Hopefully this increased coverage meant Peel regained some of the listeners who lost contact with him when Radio 1 switched exclusively to FM frequency circa 1988.  Peel having received letters about it, as referenced in David Cavanagh's Goodnight and Good Riddance.

By the time I worked my way through the full show, I had 23 selections that were vying for inclusion.  The ones I haven't been able to share are:

Kar - Take Control - there should be an umlaut in Kar's name.  This horn led tinkly techno track was, according to Discogs, the only release that came out under this act's name.

Loudspeaker - It Wasn't Me/Strip Mind/No Time (Peel Session) - as you can imagine from their name, Loudspeaker specialised in loud, bluesy, bar room rock.

Flying Saucer - Sandy Says - With that name, I had expected Man or Astro Man style dynamics, but instead got Velvet Undergroundesque balladry.  Very nicely done and Peel called it his favourite record of the moment.

Burnout - Lounge - This blistering rocker was on a consignment of records from Drag City record label out of Chicago, all sent on vinyl. "No CDs for these blighters".

Sweet Sound and Dance - Zimbabwe - a tribute to a country which in those pre-Mugabe-losing-his-mind-days, Peel described as a place he would happily move to with his family if he could conquer his fear of flying.

And then there were the tracks which fell from favour on second, third or even sixth listen:

Bunny General - Pon Mi Border - initially I was quite taken by this reimagining of his own Played By This Ya Sound but as time went on, I got more and more uneasy that it was using its "reggae is better than Bhangra" theme as an unsubtle cover for more offensive sentiments.  "Tell them don't cross over" and talk of murder after crossing the border is too close to the bone in 2016 Britain, even with near 25 year old recordings.  If I've misread this or am barking up the wrong tree, then please feel free to correct me.  For now, Pon Mi Border is beyond the pale.

Babes in Toyland - Catatonic (Peel Session) - this track trailed the imminent release of their Peel Sessions album on Strange Fruit.  Cherry Red would subsequently release a complete collection of Peel Sessions in 2001.  Peel anticipated that this would be his favourite Strange Fruit release to date, but to me Babes in Toyland continue to be an exam question which Peel has set and which I cannot find a credible answer to except in acoustic form.  I see why Peel was attracted to them given the Slitsesque vibe, but all I hear is three girls screaming unintelligibly up their cunts and daring the listener to feel the art.

Billy Bragg - The Marriage (Peel Session) - in recent weeks, I've celebrated my first wedding anniversary and seen my wife's sister get married, so while I may have been initially taken by the Bard of Barking's dismissal of matrimony in comparison to straightforward living in sin, it's sentiments palled on me when it came to writing about it.  All that and the fact that Billy delivers a really annoying vocal here.  I mean it's Dolores O'Riordan levels of irritating.

Sideshow - Right - this sounded OK on the radio, but came across as lumpen and stodgy on subsequent hearings.

Cherry Forever - Cherry Forever - the opening dynamics of this track aren't bad, but those weak vocals kill it.  Besides, you can never trust a band which writes a song named after a character from Porky's.

Peel signed off ahead of the next night's show, promising to be "so unrelentingly cheery, I'll get a daytime programme out of it".

How many of these would the announcer at Birmingham New Street Station have played?

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Oliver: Curve - Horror Head (22 February 1992)

Geoff Travis, head of Rough Trade Records, once described Peel as "unpluggable".  There was no point in hustling him to play records by this band or that band - he would play what he wanted to play.  Peel admitted that this sometimes worked against him as major labels would decide against sending him records meaning he had to buy them together with the rest of us Joe Shmoes.
Nevertheless the perception that what went out on his show was his decision alone gave his verdict a greater degree of authenticity than other disc jockeys.

Another reason why record companies were wary of trying to pressure Peel to play their artists was his tendency to ride a coach and horses through their carefully laid plans. Whether it was playing the whole of Bob Dylan's 1975 album, Desire, the day before it was due to be exclusively played by Capital Radio, or abandoning his support of The White Stripes when their record company tried to tell him that he couldn't play tracks from their 2003 album, Elephant until they told him that he could,  Peel was no respecter of record company diktats.

Before playing this track from Curve's debut album, Peel ensured that the PR department at Anxious Records would have their heads in their hands when after reading out a press release which stated that     the Doppelgänger album would prove that not all Curve songs sounded the same, he stated that he wasn't entirely persuaded of this after listening to the record.  It's true that Horror Head is of a piece with a number of the other Curve songs on this blog, but it may be the best of its type, building as it does out of Toni Halliday's sweet opening vocalisations before bursting forward in an explosion of guitar pyrotechnics.  There would be plenty of opportunity to judge the degrees of similarity in Curve's album over the next couple of shows as Peel had tracks from it and a session from them booked in before the end of the month.  For myself, I'm just left wondering whether, when it came to naming their album, if anyone from Curve was a fan of Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

Video courtesy of Felix Stairs.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Oliver: The Aphex Twin - Digeridoo (22 February 1992)

"See, the problem is, the rest of the country thinks Britain stops at Plymouth" - every Cornish resident ever.

I loved living in Cornwall and was thrilled to grow up there.  While I always knew that there was something "other" about the place in relation to the rest of the UK, I was never a separatist.  Neither were many other people who lived there.  The quote at the top of the post was a fairly standard burst of frustration from a population that felt it was in a mutually distant relationship with the rest of the country.  Geographically this was unavoidable, but a lot of the time it felt like we were being left to rot in terms of wider British culture.  The Sex Pistols coming down to Penzance in secret was ancient history by the time I was a teenager. Not only were bands not coming down any more, but no one in Cornwall's music scene seemed to be getting onto the front page of the NME. I still remember feeling  a sense of indignation when Rootjoose, who were the band most tipped to break out from Cornwall got an album released and reviewed in Q magazine and were rewarded with a one star review.  Even Scatman John did better than that.

But that was 1997 and I was still a few years off realising that one man, originally based in Lanner, a granite strewn thoroughfare of a place between Falmouth and Redruth, had broken out and shaken things up massively in his field.  I just hadn't heard of him then, or I'd seen those fucked up pieces of sleeve art and hurried on to other things.

Richard D. James aka (The) Aphex Twin is without doubt Cornwall's best and most important contribution to British music of the last half-century.  He had been making his own records for a year previous to Peel playing Digeridoo on 22/2/92, which according to the John Peel wiki was the first time Peel had played him.  Peel loved the record but wondered how anyone could dance to it given its frenetic pace, up to 150 bpm.  He was unaware that James had recorded the track, almost to order from some of his friends who had been staging raves, as a floor clearer to get recalcitrant ravers to go home at the end of a long night.  Apparently, this track doesn't actually feature any digeridoos on it.  Nevertheless, there's a true sense of space and openness in it.  An aural Outback of shimmering heat haze and blood red sun, slowly rising.  You'll notice that the beat never fully drops, as you would expect from a piece of music designed to send its listeners out into the daylight after an evening's excess.  But it's that sense of anticipation, never fully realised, that makes this track so compelling.  Later described by Rolling Stone magazine as a formative influence in the birth of drum 'n' bass, this may well have been the most important record that Peel played all year.

I'd love to tell you of stories where I spent my teens/early 20s hanging out with Aphex Twin, dancing to his sets across the Cornish club scene, but it never happened.  Nevertheless, it gladdens my soul that if anyone was ever to say, "Cornwall did nothing for contemporary music", I could point out Aphex Twin and there would be no comeback to it.

For the definitive word on Aphex Twin and Cornwall's role in his music, I urge you to read this splendid piece by Laura Snapes.

Q seemed to hold their version of this song against them for some reason:

Videos courtesy of HouseMaster75 (The Aphex Twin) and Darren Curgenven (Rootjoose).

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Oliver: Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps - Who Slapped John (22 February 1992)

Gene Vincent was maybe the width of an eyelash behind Captain Beefheart in any list of Peel's greatest musical heroes.  Certainly, he could lay claim to being the key influence on Peel's musical tastes, prior to him becoming a disc jockey.  There was no particular reason, not that there needed to be, for Peel to play Who Slapped John, beyond the fact it allowed him to link a Revolver session track called John's Not Mad.  To a near 16 year old who would still have been wearing out a parental copy of the soundtrack to That'll Be The Day, this would have been an automatic inclusion.

Video courtesy of Lilly Blue.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Oliver: Verve - All In The Mind (22 February 1992)

We're in to Smashing Pumpkins/The Smashing Pumpkins territory here, but given that Peel dropped them from his playlists before they added the definite article, I'll give Wigan's finest their initial name here and in subsequent blog titles.

If truth be told, I never really warmed to Richard Ashcroft and company.  The first I heard of them was when I read that they were celebrating the release of their 1995 sophomore album, A Northern Soul by splitting up.  "See ya then", I thought, but clearly I should have been listening more closely given that man of the moment, Noel Gallagher dedicated the best song on (What's The Story) Morning Glory to him.  However, when The Verve re-emerged in 1997 with Bittersweet Symphony, I recognised the quality while remaining resolutely disengaged throughout.  It took me a decade to get round to listening to Urban Hymns and I came out of it feeling the same way I felt after the last of the Harry Potter films had finished - glad to have experienced it but once was enough.  I think it was the fact that they looked like they were hating every minute of it which put me off.  A suspicion that seemed justified when they split again in 1999.
This time they did splitting up properly, waiting 8 years before coming together to make the album, Forth heralded by the fantastic Love is Noise, my favourite Verve track by some distance, for what it's worth.  Alas, having finally achieved their goal of making me actually love something that they had created, with no further worlds to conquer, The Verve split again.

Listening to All in the Mind, their first single, I can see why Love is Noise resonated with me in a way that Urban Hymns era Verve didn't.  While that record was made for sharing among the largest possible group of people as could hear it - notwithstanding the fact that it touches on troubling emotions and themes - All in the Mind is a much more intimate and disturbing piece of music. It's as far removed from 33,000 people at Haigh Hall as it's possible to get.  Despite starting out with the obligatory, for the time, feedback, it's antecedents feel closer to something like The House of Love rather than shoegaze.  The action takes place over the course of a decade, starting from the perspective of Ashcroft being picked up by a mystery woman, and mixes together several possible interpretations including childhood abduction and grooming given that it's five years from that initial car trip till the subjects becoming lovers and then the woman assumes a disturbing parental role.  Ashcroft sounds disarmingly young here, his vocal proceeding at a level just above a whisper for long periods allowing him to play both roles, before bursting out in the choruses.  The music too is equally unsettling, hinting at dark rituals and abuse especially in the Who-like Morse guitar solo, while the closing squall of feedback sounds uncomfortably like a child being dragged down to the cellar.  It manages to be both horrifying and weirdly sexy.  Compared to their later work, it's doubly effective at
50% of the fuss.

Video courtesy of emimusic.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Oliver: Otis Redding - There Goes My Baby (22 February 1992)

"Remember when you showed me that poster where you were top of the bill with Otis Redding at The Talk of the Town, London."
"It was Laurie London at The Talk of the Town, Reading!"
Only Fools and Horses - Stage Fright written by John Sullivan.

Peel was playing some intriguing sounding "unreleased recordings" compilations by prominent soul artists in late '91/early '92.  I'm still mourning the fact that 44 Long from the Rufus Thomas compilation, Can't Get Away From This Dog, which Peel played on 8/12/91 hasn't turned up yet for sharing.

This track was taken from a compilation of unreleased Redding recordings called It's Not Just Sentimental.  Listening to it, I can see why it didn't come out in Redding's lifetime - lyrically it peters out and there's a sense of "We may come back to this, later" about it by the end.  But the performance is irresistible with the Bar-Kays horn section in great form.  At the end Peel found himself having to mute the next track, Remember Me, when it crashed in over his back announcement.

Video courtesy of kaffehaken.

EDIT - well, I'm sorry about this folks, but as I'm sure you'll understand, I have no control over the activities of video uploaders on YouTube.  So only 72 hours of Otis Redding, but will you accept this original version of Love Mandarin by Cud which Peel played on 14/12/91 and which was pulled the day before I went to post about it.  Back with a selection which I can confidently predict will be going nowhere, at the weekend. xx

Video courtesy of Cud - Topic