Saturday, 31 October 2015
Not for the first or last time, I was beaten by the bounce of the patois in this collaboration between Frankie Paul, a man described as "the Jamaican Stevie Wonder" and reggae rapper, Stinger Man. The track poses the age old question, why do beautiful women always seem to go around with "stupida" men?
In such situations, baffled impotence seems the only response. I remember talking to a mate of mine about it, one night in 1993, when we were eavesdropping on a conversation in a nightclub where one attractive woman was telling her friend about the problems she was having with a bloke who sounded awful, but who she loved nevertheless. Forever after such men became known to us as "Darrens".
Frankie and Stinger Man propose slightly more radical action than my mate and I's amused distance. "Hawk, cough and spit on them", which sounds a bit drastic, and in a post Elliott Rodger world, more than a little queasy with the benefit of hindsight.
Video courtesy of Jarrett Mc.
Wednesday, 28 October 2015
If I had found a serviceable recording that matched my criteria for 3 November 1991, we would not have had to wait a year for Nirvana to turn up on this blog. It might also have helped had Peel played some Nirvana tracks that I liked in the meantime. If Unsane were ubiquitous in December 1991, then Nirvana were in that position on Peel's playlists in November 1991. However, while the fare on offer was a suite of tracks from their debut album, Bleach or 12-inch picture disc only b-sides, the record button would stay untouched. I'm afraid I've always been that way with Nirvana. As Stuart Maconie put it:
"I could see the sheer visceral power of Nirvana. I could feel (Kurt) Cobain's excoriating pain and rage. I just didn't fancy it myself. I didn't hate myself and I didn't want to die. I actually was quite happy staying alive. I had a nice walking holiday in the Lake District booked for one thing..." [Maconie - p.301 Cider with Roadies, Ebury Press 2004]
The analogy is perfect. Too often when listening to Nirvana songs, I've been mentally on one of those walking holidays. It didn't connect with me at the time when I was the right age for it, and it still struggles to now. But, as with death metal, sometimes you need to be face to face with the music (live) rather than looking at it though the mesh of studio technique. It certainly seems the case here because this session, their third for Peel, is a doozy.
Peel sessions were always intended as a means by which the artists involved could, if they chose, let their music stretch out and move in new directions. Plenty of artists went in the studio and whacked the tracks down in time to get to the pub, but others used it as an opportunity to have a little fun. Whether it be melding all their singles into a fantastic medley; exploring their ethnic heritage or passing themselves off as an acapella group, the Peel session archives feature dozens of examples of bands taking temporary live left turns. Having delivered an all covers set in their 1990 session, Nirvana played Peel session bingo this time around, serving up a new song, Dumb - which was recorded for their 1993 In Utero album. I love Cobain's vocal in this recording, he sounds like a chanteuse. Heavy lidded and with a large glass of absinthe in front of him, but one can almost hear the smile on his voice as he sings about how he will deceive himself into contentment. There was a choice cut from the gathering juggernaut that was Nevermind; Drain You being a great example of the Nirvana sound that hit so big in 1991 featuring plenty of Cobain's Southern Boy vocals and the Seattle Overdrive guitar sound that made the UK shoegaze sound seem tepid in comparison. The mid section duel between Kris Novoselic's rope like bass and the detonating doorbell rings of Cobain's guitar and Dave Grohl's flung from a tall building drum beats is the sound of a band taking the world with confidence and brio, instead of the hesitancy that would lead Kurt into the darkening cellar of his own tortured contradictions.
Last and best of all comes the Peel session experimentation that I spoke of. A lengthy, almost
instrumental piece of free-jazz rock called Endless, Nameless, which sounds like someone asked them to soundtrack a monster movie. It certainly sounds like a take on John Williams's approach of the shark theme from Jaws at the start. But then the piece makes its way through a series of tonal shifts including an impromptu cover of The Vapors's Turning Japanese before ending in a series of propulsive feedback manoeuvres. It may seem like a bit of a contradiction to laud Nirvana for feedback play, having slagged Neil Young for doing the same thing but I like feedback with purpose instead of posturing.
Nirvana's Peel sessions have been gathered into a compilation called Almost Everything. It may possibly have a claim to be their best album.
The session is cherishable for many reasons not least of which the fact that it feels like an end of innocence for Nirvana, if such a thing is possible. It was recorded on September 3 1991, some three weeks before Nevermind was released and made them the biggest band in the world while simultaneously conferring a status on Kurt Cobain that he was hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with. There would still be peaks in the Nirvana story over the coming years, but this session catches them before the leaves on their tree started to curl up.
Video courtesy of vibracobra23.
Saturday, 24 October 2015
Going into the 11.30pm news on 29/12/91, Peel promised his listeners a segue of "the two greatest guitar tracks of 1991". Curiously the taper of the show I listened to declined to include either of them apart from snatched extracts at the start of both tracks which gave their identities away.
I don't blame them for passing on Neil Young & Crazy Horse's, Rockin' in the Free World from the Weld live album. It's a good track, I agree, but commits the cardinal sin of Excessive Feedback Wankery at the End of a Live Performance. An unforgiveable folly, which despite its volume and intended power is ultimately nothing more than noodling. You're better off with this.
I'm a little surprised that they rejected Syran Mbenza's, Icha from his album, Symbiose, featuring as it does impressive guitar work from Diblo Dibala among others, although it could be argued that the repeated arpeggios in soukous music could qualify as noodling too. However, that kind of noodling invites you to get lost in the music, whereas Young's feedback antics seemed designed to lock thousands of people into that idiotic pose, only seen at rock concerts, where the crowd start applauding at different stages while waiting for their cue to come in and simultaneously checking their watches to ensure that they haven't missed their buses.
Icha gets on the mixtape, because it's life affirming and catchy, but I disagree with Peel about it being one of the two best guitar tracks of that year. Hell, it's not even the best guitar track of 1991 to feature Diblo Dibala.
The video doesn't actually come from 29/12/91, but is taken from presumably earlier in that year. It had to be used given that it features a classic Peelism at the beginning.
Video courtesy of Kanal von brianrenate.
Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Speeding Motorcycle was originally recorded by Daniel Johnston in 1983 before being eventually released on the 1986 cassette only album, Yip/Jump Music. Four years later, Yo La Tengo covered the song on their album, Fakebook (such prescience!). On 4 February 1990, the two were brought together with Johnston on a phone and Yo La Tengo in a radio studio to perform the song. It was released as a single and in playing it on 29/12/91, Peel set the scene via a press release:
"On the special evening of this recording, Yo La Tengo were guests of WFMU Music Radio personality, Mick Hill, on weekly live music, Force It, show. Daniel, at home in West Virginia, called the station at a predetermined time and sang Speeding Motorcycle over the telephone, while Yo La Tengo provided the musical accompaniment live in the studio. The pairing of Yo La's subtle musical virtuosity with Daniel's long distance lo-fi vocals is, in a word, magical."
Compare the original and the cover!
In another piece of serendipitous timing, hot off the servers, The Quietus celebrate 30 years of Yo La Tengo.
Videos courtesy of deusexmachinaa (collaboration), Mega Lamka (Johnston) and Plath North Star (Yo La Tengo)
Sunday, 18 October 2015
Isn't it typical? After a wave of angry, urgent female fronted selections, we find the men mucking about with their cars like their emotionally stunted counterparts in Alan Ayckbourn plays.
There are at least three artists called The Gibson Brothers on Discogs. Peel probably steered clear of the late 70s French disco act who had 2 top 10 hits; the 21st Century bluegrass act might have made his latter playlists but on 29/12/91 he was playing the lo-fi rock-blues outfit from Columbus, Ohio whose members would briefly include Jon Spencer.
Broke Down Engine was an update of Blind Willie McTell's 1931 composition, Broke Down Engine Blues. It's smothered in that Duane Eddyesque twangy guitar that Peel was so fond of, and since hearing it again earlier this week, I've found myself singing "Lordy lord. Lordy lordy lord" in my unguarded moments.
Broke Down Engine was the flip-side to The Gibson Brothers' cover of Rex Garvin's gospel stomper, Emulsified. The only shareable version I could find features both songs. Broke Down Engine starts at about 5:20. Emulsified proved incredibly durable and was covered by a number of groups including Yo La Tengo, and in the next selection, Peel will have an interesting tale to tell you about them and a very special guest...
Blind Wille McTell's original recording. Unfortunately it seems he didn't live long enough to have a crack at Emulsified.
Videos courtesy of Ecilliterate (Gibsons) and RagtimeDorianHenry (McTell).
Friday, 16 October 2015
"[Someone] of Leeds went so far as to send me an illustration of a Sheela-na-Gig, and frankly, I was appalled." - John Peel, 17 November 1991.
If Hole and Silverfish represent the blowtorch and pliers, then PJ Harvey is the salve to rub on the wounds. After all what does her opening delivery on Oh My Lover suggest, if not the image of her smoothing the fevered brow of someone who has been chased across hill and dale by an enraged Courtney Love and Lesley Rankine. I'm sure the little hiccup of uncertainty on her "all right" doesn't
portend anything to worry about, does it? Surely not, she's even giving licence for her lover to keep both her and her rival going at the same time. She'll always put herself out for the one she loves, will Polly Jean.
In trying to gather his early thoughts of Harvey together, Peel wrote perceptively of her that she seemed "crushed by the weight of her own songs and arrangements". Certainly Oh My Lover and Dress are bonded by the desperate need to pacify and interest others, either by dressing provocatively or by giving them total freedom to do what they want. It's a submissive stance which could have been horribly misjudged were it not for the fact that Harvey, even at her most pleading and desperate, had amidst her fragility, a sliver of steel running through her which meant that you could see her turning the tables on the faithless, feckless, lucky bastards that were playing her for a soft touch.
That is precisely what happens in the other two tracks I would have taped from this session. After lying prostate at her lover's whims in Oh My Lover, she's now mocking his prudishness when he refuses to be seduced by her "child-bearing hips" and "pillows" in Sheela-Na-Gig. The object of her affection/derision is repulsed by her naked body and efforts to seduce him, as though she shoved the most prominent feature of a Sheela-Na-Gig into the poor man's mouth. But it's his loss as she resolves to wash that man right out of her hair in an earthy update of the South Pacific standard. It would go on to be a single in 1992 and remains a signature tune of Polly Jean's.
My favourite of the three tracks here is Victory, a muscular rocker that could almost be set the morning after the night before the other two tracks. "Storm is gone and the temperature's high". There's a wonderful, celebratory atmosphere in this track as she starts partying with the angels, God and those men who want to get right into her Sheela-Na-Gig, before setting sail in Victory and conjuring an atmosphere every bit as raucous as that which Nelson would have indulged on his ship of the same name.
I only heard three of the four tracks on the recording, which suits me fine as the fourth, Water, would have been a borderline inclusion. Quite serviceable but sounding too much like a piece of tepid surf rock to my tin ears. No matter, I'm content to get high on the three pieces of "Grade A stuff" as Peel described the session which Harvey, Rob Ellis and Stephen Vaughan cooked up in Maida Vale. An epoch defining set and Harvey included it in full when she curated the best of her Peel Sessions in 2006.
Videos courtesy of #pjharvey.
Monday, 12 October 2015
"Are you afraid of me?"
Good question and a highly pertinent one for the time as well. The early 90s was an incredibly fertile time for angry, aggro-ey female fronted bands. For a brief moment, it seemed as though they could take the world, riding on a wave of feminist energy at the very time when it seemed the liberal consensus was going to win through in a post Cold War/pre millennial world. These bands had manifestos, were not going to be manipulated by the music industry (though many of them still were), didn't give a fuck about any rules or anti-rules they were expected to play by, given that the punk sound many of them were using had been absorbed by the industry during the 80s and they all rocked like bastards. They were any music loving misogynist's worst nightmare. To hear them thundering out of your speakers was to feel one's balls being held up ready for the emasculating chop of the knife.
Dear God, how we could do with many of them around now....
From the day in September 1977 that The Slits walked into a BBC studio, armed with untuned guitars and two chords between them, and walked out of it having recorded a session which Peel would spend the rest of his life lauding as one of the best ever recorded for his programme, many of these bands found a home at the John Peel Show. In the course of this blog, I've heard examples I've liked (Hole, Mudwimin), examples I haven't got on with (Babes in Toyland) and I'm still waiting to hear some of the key 90s bands in this style (Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear).
Many of the bands followed a template: guitars set to loud, bass set to thunderous, drums set to tribal, vocals set to abrasive. Silverfish maintain the standard with this insanely catchy piece of head bludgeoning. It's a remarkable track because it doesn't really say or do much; there aren't any harmonic surprises; lyrically there's nothing here to make even John Power lose sleep; it's all very verse/chorus/verse/chorus relentless but.... what a chorus. It became a T-shirt slogan at the time and in just four words, it served up one of the great feminist anthems.
I say that the lyrics to Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal don't stand up to great scrutiny, but I forgot to mention the "Are you afraid of me?" refrain. In their different ways, Silverfish, Hole, Huggy Bear and the rest often posed that question in their music, approach, politics. Sometimes as a direct question, other times as a direct challenge. They were more than just bands, they were a threat. To your prejudices, to your views, to your desires. The video for the song makes this thought more explicit, but when I first heard it, it took me to a mental place in which Lesley Rankine had me hog-tied and ready to take the butt-plug. It's the sound of womankind, poised over the supine form of man kind and mocking the stupid, chauvinistic pigs of the male species. And when the music's this forceful and superb, I for one feel ready to have the collar fitted and be led by the nose. Perhaps it's a strong woman thing, a sense that the world would be less fucked up if we let women take care of all the important stuff. But then I see Theresa May and the thought flies into the ether to expire in disgust.
From a retrospective point of view, the likes of Silverfish were ancient history by the time I started listening to contemporary music in the mid-90s. I loved Elastica, Echobelly, the post-shoegaze Lush, I even enjoyed some of Sleeper's stuff. Peel also played these bands over the ensuing years, but I can't help sympathising with those who would have looked at how female fronted rock had gone in the space of four years and wondered how they ended up with Dale Winton.
Never mind - time for one more rousing chorus. Sing up, Peelie!
"Hips. Tits. Lits. Pow- I can't even say it!" - John Peel 29 December 1991.
Video courtesy of Jzzzzzzz
Friday, 9 October 2015
Courtney Love celebrated her 51st birthday this year. Just take a moment to re-read that sentence and marvel at it. This was a woman who spent the whole of the 90s seemingly on the edge of an overdose and one who, in the Noughties, continued to make headlines and teeter on the edge of crises that would have finished off someone with a weaker constitution and spirit. She survived huge amounts of drug taking, the death of a spouse who happened to be the most famous rock musician in the world at the time, self harm, miscarriages and a romance with Steve Coogan. Whether she's come out wiser is hard to say, but the fact that she is still with us and still possibly making music is to be celebrated. She's also reached an age where she's entitled to write her memoirs, as apparently she is planning to do.
It always sounds a pat thing to say when talking about an artist who has put their health through the wringer over the years, but it's a crying shame that Love's behaviour and addictions have limited Hole to a mere four albums and that at the time when they really could have cleaned up both in terms of sales and sustained musical legacy, they got the muslin of Love's crazy life pulled over them and had to try and function under something which threatened to submerge the fact that she had a band worth giving a damn over.
Peel was a huge admirer of Love and Hole. In typical style, he nailed the reason as to why they were so compelling: "They can be alarming, disconcerting, they can be embarrassing at times....but you want to hear and see every second of it." Margrave of the Marshes contains some charming stories about Peel meeting her at Reading Festival in successive years, and her telling his children that they would be better off watching Pavement than her own band, before she toddled off and walked into a rubbish bin. I'm ashamed to say my own knowledge of Love in the 90s went no further than "Does drugs and makes a tit of herself in public." I liked the track Celebrity Skin when it came out in 1998, but it was on a different planet to the stuff that Peel was playing of them on this night.
Good Sister/Bad Sister is seismic. It's a female Godzilla of a song which surprises and terrifies in equal measure. Listening to these early Hole tracks (I'll be covering their Peel session in my first 1992 show), I am frankly staggered by how good they sound. Love sounds like the most fearsome succubus you can imagine, her raw, shouty vocals seemingly bending the songs to her will while Eric Erlandson and co create merry hell around her. Sonic Youth's, Kim Gordon produced this track and the album from which it came, Pretty on the Inside and the influence of Gordon's band is plastered all over the track particularly in the dissonant, almost spoken word sections from around 1:55. These sudden shifts into sloppy metre and free form poetry led me into the classic mental wrestling match
one has when listening to Peel. "I don't know what I think of this. It doesn't fit straight away, but
there's the sense about it that it might do in a moment." And for me that moment comes at 2:23 with a propulsive rift that sounds like the Giantess climbing the Beanstalk after you and roaring, "I'll be the biggest scar in your back....I'll be the biggest dick that you ever had. You want it bad. You want it bad". And the 15 year old me would have wanted it bad enough to put this on a mixtape. But the sexiest female dominator song on the Peel show of 29 December 1991 is the subject of the next post on this blog.
Love had been through several more lifetimes by the time she came to declare Pretty on the Inside as "unlistenable". Several years sober by that point, it stands to reason that she may think that, but whatever sins she visited on herself at the time should not be used to make her put down such a splendid piece of rock.
Video courtesy of grungegirl1992.
Tuesday, 6 October 2015
If I tell you that the title to this track is pronounced, "I No Sin", you may be expecting an early 90s prototype of It Wasn't Me. The shrill opening histrionics of a mortified woman seem to give the game away, but instead Glendon "Admiral" Bailey goes in a different direction, dispensing relationship advice to women looking to pacify their men and to men who let their jealousy get the better of their good sense. There's a nice undertone of protesting too much, which I find an attractive touch and his flow is as impeccable as Ed Robinson. Highly recommended.
EDIT - This is not the version Peel played on the show I heard. That was taken from the Digital-B release. The woman at the start isn't really present there and the whole thing seems a little more down-at-heel than this re-recording for the Mi Big Up album.
In drama news, I did a Peel from the soundbox last week. I was doing the sound for Hayes Players' production of Noel Coward's play, Relative Values. Not a particularly onerous task, a handful of standard effects (doorbells, car horns etc) and curtain music for scenes. For the interval music, I used iTunes, having bought an album of 40s light music to cover the interval. I'd taken a handful of tracks from the album to use for curtain music, which I programmed into the sound software we were using and was waiting to cue up a piece called Ascot Enclosure to begin the second half while waiting for a lady in a walking frame to return to her seat. Once she was in place, I pressed the button on the laptop and brought up the faders on the soundboard to be greeted by the most unholy cacophony. Strings, brass and xylophone were brought together in what sounded like a hellish avant garde freak out that I couldn't remember being there before. Eventually, the curtain open and I faded everything down. "What happened?" I wondered aloud. The answer was that I had had both the sound software and iTunes playing simultaneously. If nothing else, it showed me how piss easy mixing is (one track was much further on the other, so it sounded strange but kind of worked, despite its unexpectedness).
I also bought David Cavanagh's new Peel Show biography, Goodnight and Good Riddance last weekend. I've dipped into it. It will be a while till I read it in full. Very glad to have it and relieved that it doesn't make this blog obsolete. As I said before, his book doesn't have the clips or the hi-hi-larious theatre anecdotes that I can offer you here. I hope you'll think this town is big enough for the both of us.
Video courtesy of #AdmiralBailey.
Sunday, 4 October 2015
"Of course most people in England, Scotland and Ireland think that Welsh music means Harry Secombe, which is bad news indeed." John Peel sampled on Bandit Country by Skep.
When I started listening to Peel in the late 90s, Welsh music to me meant three bands: Melys, who I was indifferent to. I think because they ALWAYS seemed to be in session for him; Super Furry Animals, who I had a distant respect for. Distant because I never seemed to like two SFA tracks in a row, but those I did like, I fell for hard. And Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, who I adored. Their 1996 album, Barafundle is, for my money, the closest any band has got to producing a contemporary update on Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Whether intentional or not, all three bands put into my mind an image of Welsh music as, essentially, "soft" and I don't mean that as a put-down. The Welsh as good singers is as strong a cliche as the Cornish being straw-sucking farmers. (What do you mean we are?!). But, nevertheless, their songs, even when they were rocking out, were delivered in flawless Welsh tenor voices that transported the listener to a pub fireside. In their different ways, their tracks evoked a strong sense of place. From Melys's internal ruminations, Super Furry Animals's projections into space or Gorky's sense of the sea, the overall picture that built up in my mind was a hybrid of quiet rurality mixed with vast senses of imagination. To define under a label, I'd go for indie-folk-space rock-psychedelia.
At least that was if you talk about the late 90s....
In the 80s and early 90s, Peel played a number of tracks and sessions by Bangor-based, Anhrefn. Unlike the later bands, any pastoral, bucolic sentiment expressed in their Welsh language only songs was buried under a punk rock sonic assault. You may not be able to understand a word of what's being sung, but you know exactly where you are (in a soulless city with a spirit that won't be crushed, no matter what is prescribed).
Anhrefn were remarkably belligerent about their language stance and that's probably for the best, because when they did record in English, they got it wrong: teaming up with annoying Scouse actress, Margi Clarke to record a cover of Anything Goes, for instance. Peel seems to have resisted that, as would I. This was my first listen to Anhrefn and if the John Peel wiki's accurate it would have been my last listen to them for nine years had I been taping the show at the time, but it's how they wanted to be heard: defiant, rocking and Welsh. Another link in the daisy chain of Welsh bands that got support from Peel when no one else was listening, even those who could have sung along with every word.
Anhrefn defend their brand of free speech.
Videos courtesy of eastside1977rucker and Rhys Mwyn.