Thursday, 10 August 2017

Oliver!: Sugar Shack - You're a Freak (21 March 1992)

Played by Peel on pressed purple vinyl, I'm dedicating this track by Houston band, Sugar Shack, to the woman I saw on the Tube in London on June 23 this year.  It was not a Brief Encounter moment - illicit romance was the last thing on my mind considering I was coughing my lungs out with some kind of chest infection, a mere 24 hours before my wife and I were due to leave for Portugal on a long-delayed honeymoon.  I would have preferred to be at home, packing, but had had to come into London for a job interview.  Considering my interviewers were coming down from Leicestershire and Yorkshire, I felt I couldn't really ask for a reschedule of the interview - not least because they had brought it forward for me before I went away.  The interview went OK, despite being conducted in the bar of a Travel Inn.  I was there for nearly 2 hours though, so was glad to start my journey home.  While taking the Tube back to Victoria, I was sat opposite a woman in her late teens/early 20s who stood out a mile amongst everyone.  On a pleasant summer's day, she was rocking some kind of summer Goth look, with boots that looked like they had come from Milla Jovovich's wardrobe from Resident Evil.  Her hair was dyed black, her lips were painted black, her eyes were almost submerged in black eye shadow, but what made her stand out were the tattoos.  She didn't have the kind of flowing body tapestry of interconnected squiggles, stars and quotes, much beloved of footballers - Luke Chambers, the captain of my team, Ipswich Town has progressed his own transmogrification from arms to upper thighs over the summer, though there are worse offenders.  Instead, this lady had tattoos dumped at random parts of her body, or at least where I could see them.  On her arm, on her knee, on her chest - there was no consistency or pattern to it.  Just random quotes, book titles and band names dotted about here and there with pieces of artwork cropping up in places where text would have been too cramped to fit in.  Written across her face, though not in ink form, was a great sense of vulnerability.  Despite the Goth/Punk look, she didn't look unapproachable, but rather more that if you approached her, she might crack and break apart in front of you.  If the tats and boots were intended as an armour defence, she hadn't quite grown into it yet.   I did what I always do when I see people celebrating their individuality/trying too hard (delete as applicable) and mentally speculated over what had led her into this extremity of look - rebellion against a repressive home life? A reaction to being bullied at school?  Falling under another's influence and trying to copy it?  - the possibilities were endless.  What was apparent though was that this was her.  Some old form of this woman had been jettisoned somewhere along the line and this was how she was going to represent herself for the foreseeable future.  And why not?  I may not have been able to stop looking towards her and constructing life stories in my imagination,  but to her, she wouldn't be seen any other way on that Tube train.  Her life so far has built to that look and if it's the right direction for her, then that is all that matters.

All of which cod-sociology leads me to wish that You're a Freak had been sound tracking the journey, not least because it might have brought a smile to her glum features.  Built around a classic sludge-
rock riff incorporating the guitar equivalent of that comedy trumpet "wah-wah-wah-wah" effect on the title line, this is a song which is by turns slightly awed of those with the black lipstick on and the chalk white faces, while mocking those looking on at them.  The chorus is a neat reversal of what the title implies - they don't know they're freaks not due to a lack of self-knowledge, but rather more appropriately because they don't give a damn. With its lines about freaks holding lattes* as they move obliviously through the streets, Sugar Shack are ahead of the curve when it comes to predicting hipsterdom but the sting in the tail comes through a false ending in which singer, Mark Lochridge, speaks the ultimate universal truth.

* Turns out I misheard Lochridge sing "light of day" as "latte" which takes away a little bit of the song's satirical bite, I feel.

Video courtesy of FEBear1

PS - I didn't get the job. Serve me right for imagining alternative life histories...

Friday, 4 August 2017

Oliver!: Dyke and the Blazers - Shotgun Slim (21 March 1992)

Whenever Peel cued up a record as being "From the Kent compilation...", my interest would be piqued.  It usually meant there was a good chance of a fascinating slice of pure funk or soul following on.  For years I associated Kent Records with the best segue I ever heard on a Peel show.  On 27 June 2002, he followed Sandbar by Derrero with Woman to Woman by Shirley Brown, an almost perfect tonal matchup from the conclusion of the former to the beginning of the latter.  Shirley Brown's track was taken from a Kent compilation called If Loving You is Wrong, an album packed with intriguing titles like If We Get Caught, I Don't Know You (sung by a man naturally).  10 years before this, Peel was playing tracks from a reissue of an early Kent compilation called So Sharp which showcased the work of "Dyke" Arlester Christian and his band The Blazers.
In the late 60s, Dyke & The Blazers would have been the soul band of choice for anyone who feared that James Brown was becoming too indulgent or that Sly and the Family Stone was soul music for hippies.  In the age of Aquarius, they provided a home for displaced Mods and a soundtrack for the Northern soul movement.  Playing them in 1992 leaves me hoping that Peel would have inspired any of the soul bands who formed after watching The Commitments.  Not such a leap of imagination when you consider that Dyke and the Blazers' best known song was covered by Wilson Pickett, who (SPOILER) may very well have sung it with The Commitments if they hadn't broken up before he arrived at their last gig.

Video courtesy of FunkNationZ.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Oliver!: Sebadoh - Kath (21 March 1992)

I wouldn't want you to think I was obsessing on names of people I've known through drama; it's just the way that selections have worked out.  Unlike the Ruths, I was never romantically involved with the Kath I knew on the Cornish drama circuit, but she did give me a cracking part in The Diary of Anne Frank which this blog is still, chronologically, 2 years away from.  I had a huge amount of respect for her because she was fearless as an actress, highly imaginative as a director and endearingly devoid of any confidence in herself in either discipline.  She wore her fear heavily and visibly even when she had pulled off something brilliant onstage or had put together a production full of innovative touches - especially in pantomime.  Goldilocks and the Three Bears set in a circus or Aladdin in which the set was a scaffold tower - cue much grumbling from people within drama committees about doing a traditional panto the following year.  But invariably the shows would scoop  awards at the county pantomime awards evening - sponsored by Calor Gas in my day, and now revived - at least in one part of Cornwall, meaning that they would be remembered fondly, rather than as arty folly.  She has now started writing and directing her own work as well, and one of my greatest regrets about not acting in Cornwall anymore is missing out on the potential chance to have played in some of her writing - or at the very least wonder why I hadn't been approached to.  I write this on a day when I have worked in a job that leaves me uninspired, directionless and pissed off.  I really need to start doing more of what Kath is doing.

While I wouldn't rush to play Goodbye Ruth to either of the Ruths given the rather downbeat nature of the song, I'd happily play Sebadoh's Kath to Kath.  Simultaneously haunting and calming, with its beguiling mix of spine-tingling acoustics, metronomic percussion and a lyric poised somewhere between romantic cherry popping ("I'm so glad the wait is through/I'm so glad I waited for you") and pagan sacrifice (allusions to chicken heads and killing the jealous) this is a superior piece of U.S. acoustic gothic complete with live cicadas providing an alfresco choral feel to the recording.

Video courtesy of jakmgrunge.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 20 March 1992)

One book on my To Read list is Ken Garner's 2007 book The Peel Sessions which chronicles all the sessions recorded and broadcast by Peel during his time on Radio 1.  15 years earlier though, Peel Sessions had been one part of a more comprehensive work of Garner's called In Session Tonight which attempted to present a full history of ALL sessions recorded for Radio 1, regardless of host and/or size of act.  During early 1992, Garner was observing sessions and writing about contemporaraneous Radio 1 for the opening chapter of his book.  He wrote to Peel about the Spiritualized session broadcast on 14/3/92, of which precisely no tracks turned up on this blog, because none of them were on the recording I made my selections from.  Garner had sat in on the session at Maida Vale, recorded on January 7, 1992 and one which Peel had particularly enjoyed because Jason Pierce and co. had taken his words to heart about using sessions to push beyond their comfort zone by bringing in outside musicians to bulk up their sound.  According to Garner, Kenneth Branagh had been recording a radio adaptation of Hamlet for broadcast on Radio 3, in the next door studio.  The first anyone knew of this was when Roddy Lorimer, one of the trumpet players that Spiritualized had drafted in for the session announced to the assembled company that he had just bumped into Michael Hordern in the Gents toilet.  Peel replied that his only lavatorial encounter with a famous person had been at Wembley Stadium a few years previous, when he had met Matt Busby.

Since the previous week, Peel had made the finals of a stock car racing event, in which he had beaten out Andy Kershaw.

The selections from this programme came from a 90 minute file.  The show included a track called Her Too by Greenhouse which takes the prize for track I've hated most on any Peel show, so far.  It's basic tune is good, but it becomes unlistenable due to their incorporating the sound of metal bars being struck.  Even Werewolf, Semen and Blood by Finnish group, Beherit was more enjoyable to listen to.

Tracks I would have liked to include but couldn't included:

Fun-Da-Mental - Janam (The Message) - Peel sounded like Sir Nicholas Soames as he attempted to enunciate Fun-Da-Mental's name.  The track though was fantastic: a compelling mix of Eastern drone, propulsive bassline and political agit-prop.  Essential listening - if you can find it.

The Megaton Men - So What - A venomous break up song, from Peel-described "Pride of Penarth" replete with gay subtext given that they sing about there being "another guy" at the root of their reason to break off the relationship, unless they're reading back a Dear John letter.  A good rocker, either way.

Manifesto - Pattern 26 - Peel heard traces of former Dandelion Records act, Medicine Head in this tune, but I thought it more closely evoked T.Rex myself.  Not quite hitting the heights of Walking Backwards but a strong ending would have recommended it for inclusion.

Tracks that fell from favour included:

The Hair and Skin Trading Company - Ground Zero - I agonised over this.  At times I loved it, especially when the ear-heart sound from the radio recording was in full effect, making the tune sound massive and exciting.  But too often, I felt detached from it - maybe because it's in that halfway house between major label sound and no budget one.  It's not a track that's going to die wondering, it has its eye on Wembley Stadium, and would probably sound amazing in that context.  However, it never held my attention when I was doing something else, so it was left out.  I have no idea whether this was my fault, or theirs.

PJ Harvey - O Stella - one of her key tracks from the start of her career, but on listening to it more closely, it just seems like a retread of the far superior Sheela-Na-Gig.

Full tracklisting

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Oliver: Hypnolovewheel - Candyman (20 March 1992)

This track from the Long Island band's Angel Food album allows them to showcase, as Peel noted, a remarkable similarity to The Fall, despite "...the remarkable preponderance of beards and facial hair in the band".  There's the opening burst of radio static cum audio sludge out of which Mark E.Smith would usually emerge barking out "Pander! Panda! Panzer!" or suchlike.  But here, we get a Fallesque scratchy guitar riff, which in no time at all is beefed up by its bigger, brawnier bass brother, before we get a lyric delivered somewhere to the right of Aubrey Woods and Christina Aguilera.  I can also hear a touch of Big Black in here as well.

It's difficult to make out too clearly what the content of the track is, but there's a vague update of The Beatles' Savoy Truffle with chocolate, flavours and wrapping being used as metaphors for human behaviours and an "it's what's inside that counts" message.
All in all, it's a borderline inclusion that wins through on the strength of that riff and the quality of the  Mark E.Smith pastiche.  It also appears to be an anomaly with the Angel Food album itself, which mostly seems to be made up of glistening guitar-pop and high harmonies including one track whose opening sounds like the the clear inspiration to Babies by Pulp.  I like the fact that in the middle of all that perfectly serviceable pop, there's this gnarly, snarly, difficult track like Candyman.  It made me wonder why any pop bands who complained about feeling constrained by their established image, didn't just do something like this extremis.  "There's three singles for the radio; the rest of the album's going to be lo-fi racket".  Blur managed it in 1997; any other suggestions are welcome.

Video courtesy of Oliv DeKaDe

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Oliver!: Some Paradise - Goodbye Ruth (20 March 1992)

Speaking as one of the unpublished, untalented ones, songwriters often have to remember a key rule when it comes to writing songs which mention women by name.  The rule is "One syllable name difficult; multi syllable name easier".
Go on.  Think of a song with a woman's name in it.  Bet you automatically defaulted to a song with a 2 to 4 syllable name, didn't you?  I don't blame you, I've already had LaylaRuby and Victoria (original version - sorry, Fall fans) going through my mind while writing this paragraph.  Incidentally, if anyone remembers this blog's last meditation on names in song titles, my wife now has another one to add to her own list courtesy of a collective of musicians called The National Gallery and a track from their sole 1968 album inspired by the work of artist, Paul Klee.

I wrote song lyrics to myself about all the women I went out with, and the one I eventually married.  Two of my muses were called Ruth, but by the time I wrote about the second one , I avoided the issue that dogged the song about the first one, and didn't try to crowbar her name into the lyrics.  I can't remember anything about the eponymous Ruth song that I wrote circa 1995, though I don't think I gave it a Flash  (Ahhh...) style chorus, and I'm hoping that I was savvy enough to avoid rhyming her name with "truth" or "strewth".  There's no guarantee of this good judgement - I once wrote a song and hit upon the idea of ending the verses with "Good (something)".  This was fine for the first two verses as the rhymes I needed led me to write "Good night" and "Good time" respectively.  So far so good, but I ran into trouble when my third "Good..." had to rhyme with the word, "look".  I racked my brain for a while before deciding that as I was writing about a woman, then "Good cook" would do fine.  I still thought it would when I showed the lyrics to my songwriting partner a week or so later.  But his snort of "Good cook?!" when he read through it consigned it to the dustbin.  I don't think it was much of a loss to music really - the last verse ended with "Good moon" (to rhyme with "soon" naturally).  That's the thing about songwriting - it never pays to overthink it.

The issue with one syllable names in song is that they either come out too sharp - as though the singer is spitting out the name - or they dribble out like someone dropping a blacmange onto a mattress.  Even the peerless Michael Jackson had delivery problems when singing about a pet rat - "Bin" anyone?  You have to put the name together with another word and ideally have it at the end of the line.  To their immense credit, Todmorden's Some Paradise - no stranger to Peel's show under their old name, Victory Mansions - do exactly this and when allied to a full bore performance full of driving guitar and strong vocals, serve up a little classic.
I have good relationships with both of the Ruths - the subject of the eponymous song came to my wedding and was in Extraordinary - but while I'm tickled to discover a song with their name in it which was played by John Peel, I'd be reluctant to bring this to their attention, regardless of how much I like it.  The main reason is, as you can probably guess from the title, this isn't a particularly
happy song from Ruth's point of view.  The song appears to be a lamentation about how Ruth used her youth (I didn't use that rhyme in 1995 either) and beauty to secure a lover which made her financially secure only to have her bright future torn up when her lover found someone else who had the youth and beauty that she had lost herself.  It plots the course of the trophy wife's journey from pearl of the oyster to burnt out cigarette in the gutter pretty unsparingly but with the dramatic eye of a Terence Rattigan play.  The sympathetic but unsentimental tone reaches its natural conclusion in the chorus, where it feels as though the farewell is not just to the memory of what Ruth lost, but possibly to Ruth herself.  Left with nothing but the scars in her mind after growing, blooming, wilting and being tossed aside, the piece as a whole has the feel of a damning funeral address.  It mines a similar vein of intensity to that of Red Hour albeit with a slightly poppier edge.  Something was brewing in the North of England circa 1991/92 - dark folk/pop tales which never got a chance to grow as grunge swept in over the next  2 years, but someone should gather these examples together and put them out in a compilation soon.

The video is taken from the 29/2/92 show, with Peel's link at the end.  My customary thanks to the wonderful Webbie (@keepingitpeel) for answering my specific request to upload this track.  They're a prince!

To finish on the multi-syllable name in song, I couldn't not include this bearing in mind how many times I saw it in rehearsal during the period this blog has covered so far.  Oliver.  3 syllables long, so it could be easily given not just the title, but whole lines of nothing but the name.

Videos courtesy of Webbie (Some Paradise) and maiza (Oliver!)

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Oliver!: Mav Cacharel - Boyoka Ba N'Deko (20 March 1992)

According to Peel, the former Loketo singer's first solo album was called Mav Cacharel (not strictly true).  This track came from his second album, also called Mav Cacharel, which suggests that he took his titling policy from The House of Love.

Peel also revealed some of the musicians on the record, including guitarist Bongo Wende, which got me thinking about Bongo Eddie from Kid Creole and the Coconuts.  Sometimes, I prefer the former, sometimes I prefer the latter - but which one is better?  There's only one way to find out...  (God, I hate myself for that.  I much preferred his Channel 4 show).

Video courtesy of lek kerdammer.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Oliver!: The Family Cat - Furthest From The Sun/Prog One [Peel Session] (20 March 1992)

By the time I got into "contemporary" music, around late 1994/early 1995, The Family Cat were winding  down their operations.  This barely made a dent on me at the time beyond a flippant "see ya" style dismissal in one of the music papers.  Had I known that three of the members came from Cornwall, I might have been pained by it more.  It certainly explains the thinking behind calling their first album, Tell 'Em We're Surfin'.  How nice that this Peel Session allows me to see beyond the slightly quirky name and appreciate a fine band.
The recording that I heard of the 20/3/92 show only had 2 session tracks on it.  The video is of the full session, and had it been on the recording that I heard, I would have included muscular session opener, Too Many Late Nights in the title.

Second track Furthest From The Sun deserves praise anyway as it prompted Peel to follow it with I Can Take You To The Sun by The Misunderstood for which I was profoundly grateful.  My wife spotted that the riff which opens the tune and which it kept coming back to was lifted from The Man Who Sold The World by David Bowie.  It sets up a loving tribute to a female recluse, living out of sight on a hill in the countryside, but who clearly inspires great devotion in Paul Frederick's vocals, for her lust for life and general spiritual purity.  The line "Sleep gently while you fall" implies that the subject of the song has died.  Whoever it was had a profound effect on the band, as the song became the title track of their upcoming album.
This loving tribute is then followed by the best performance of the session and a track that's harder to get a handle on, but fabulously compelling.  Prog One sounds like it should be setting up a piece of space rock noodling, but instead it uses the narrative of horse racing to chronicle a (forced?) break up of a relationship.  References to riderless/futureless horses making a break for freedom, while those left behind maintain the house as a shrine and "bad men" throw things in the backs of vans help to give this track all the intensity of a Dick Francis thriller.  Maybe he was popular on their tour bus?

The session concludes with River of Diamonds, which can't compete with the riches that come before it.  Perhaps it needed Polly Jean Harvey, who sings on the album version.  My picks start at 3:05.

Video courtesy of vibracobra23.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Oliver!: The Misunderstood - I Can Take You To The Sun (20 March 1992)

Imagine a history where The Undertones never wrote Teenage Kicks.  In that instance, it's probable that on announcing Peel's death in October 2004, Radio 1 would have given over four minutes of the daytime schedule to a much admired, cult record from 1966.  A record which Peel, at least until he heard the opening drum beat of Teenage Kicks in 1978, had announced on air more than once as "The best pop (sic) record that has ever been recorded". He was talking about I Can Take You To The Sun by The Misunderstood and, as so often when Peel used hyperbole, a strong element of truth backed up his opinion.

Peel first encountered The Misunderstood when he saw them play at Pandora's Box in Hollywood, early in 1966.  It was a gig that he would, to the end of his days, cite as one of the 10 best gigs he ever saw.  He was so beguiled by them that he offered his services to them as a manager, arranging the opportunity for them to record some demos and then sending them to London where they had to explain to Peel's mother that he had said it would be OK for them to stay with her. By the time Peel returned to the UK himself in early 1967, The Misunderstood had split due to a plethora of issues including drugs, visa problems and being drafted into the U.S. Army.  But their short time together had yielded a handful of influential recordings of which I Can Take You To The Sun was the jewel in the crown, and one which Peel would periodically return to throughout his broadcasting career.

I Can Take You To The Sun is an astonishing piece of music.  It's use of textured fuzztone guitar owes a lot to The Yardbirds, but its opening minute alone throws out challenges to their contemporaries.  I can imagine the likes of Love and The Doors hearing the powerful, panoramic, rocky opening and thinking to themselves, "Shit, we need to raise our games".  The record also achieves a level of cosmic, sonic liftoff akin to what Pink Floyd were achieving in London clubs throughout 1966 before they got into the studio as well.

The track progresses in three movements over the course of about three and a half minutes: the garage rock opening which encapsulates the idea of the psychedelic troubadour before it became a cliche (greeting the sunrise with nothing but a guitar).  If the track can be read as a description of an LSD trip, then the opening section can be read as a dare to dream, a way of greeting the new morning which youth culture felt was approaching through 1966.  The second, instrumental, section with guitars snarling and Glenn Ross Campbell's steel guitar providing the rocket fuel, covers the journey to the sun.  The moment when perceptions expand but the harshness of the sound means that we can't be sure how smooth the journey is.  If nothing else, it puts to bed The Beatles' complaint that three guitars and a drum kit wouldn't be able to produce something like Tomorrow Never Knows on a 1966 stage.  And finally we come to the third and most audacious movement, as the electrics fade out and the sun is reached with an acoustic guitar duel.  All is peace and the sun is being used to warm and not to burn.  However, while the tone of this part of the song is gentle and ethereal, it acknowledges more earthbound truths than might seem to be apparent.  The line, "You've existed in a lie that will someday show/I can take you to the sun...but you don't want to go." is tremendously important in rooting the track's significance because it recognises that the coming psychedelic revolution would not, despite its best intentions, be a collective redemption.  People would be scared by the drugs, by the implied threat to orderly society, by the generation gaps, by The System, by the weirdness, by any number of reasons from engaging with it fully.  Some would make it to the sun, others would float off into space and many more - too many the song implies - would stay earthbound thanks to fear, suspicion and incuriosity.  The last section of the track can be seen as a lament for a battle, which had not yet been fought, but which The Misunderstood forecast would ultimately be lost due to overwhelming opposition.

The best pop record ever recorded?  Impossible to say, but with its mixture of vision, bliss, excitement and regret, it may very well deserve to be called the best psychedelic record ever made.  Peel spoke about how The Misunderstood's live shows of the time could bring people together in ways he had never seen - no one ordering drinks, Go-Go dancers in their cages downing tools, the whole venue pressed up to the stage simply listening to the music.  I Can Take You To The Sun captures all of that in the time it would have taken The Grateful Dead to plug in their instruments and tune up.

Video courtesy of hawkmoon03111951.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Oliver!: 2 Too Many - Where's the Party? (20 March 1992)

This should have been an enormous mainstream hit.  It has bags of fun, charm and wit.  Was built around an infectious sample of The Isley Brothers' version of Stephen Stills's composition, Love The One You're With.  It also had the backing of Will Smith behind it, who had befriended this young West Philadelphia trio and signed them to his production company, before pairing them up with the producers of Summertime.  The love of socialising and rapping; of sharing your gift in a convivial environment with friends comes off this track in waves.  It shares Smith's disdain for those who want to use rap parties as an excuse to get violent or those who put machismo above looking good, feeling fine and having a good time.  There is some neat social observation though about the difficulties of hailing a cab when you're black.  But its primary concern, as it says itself, is making toes tap, which it does effortlessly.  Though not enough for a hit single surprisingly.  They also parted ways with Smith at the end of the year, though he took the "Work that body, work that body" line and piloted it to Number 1 a year later.

Peel was taken by the reference to Skip to my Lou from Meet Me in St. Louis, a musical and song which I starred in with a Falmouth youth theatre group in 1995.  He had tried in vain to find a good version to segue into after Where's the Party?

Basically, The Isley Brothers WERE hip-hop sampling at one point

Videos courtesy of mintunderground (2 Too Many) and koollatter (Isley Brothers).

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Oliver!: Th' Faith Healers - SOS [Peel Session] (20 March 1992)

This show featured a repeat of a Faith Healers session which had originally been broadcast on 11/1/92.  I only caught two of the tracks on this show: the rama-lama repetition of Hippy Hole and this rather enjoyable cover of ABBA's SOS, which gives the 1975 original a shoegaze makeover with feedback to spare.  It comes through as one of the more sincere efforts at "underground" covers of pop - see also things like the If I Were a Carpenter tribute album from 1994, which Peel despite his dislike for The Carpenters played tracks from.  Or you could compare it to Chumbawamba's (in)famous Peel Session comprised solely of covers of cheesy party songs in late 1993.

Peel was tickled by Th' Faith Healers choice of cover saying how much he enjoyed it when bands used the session as an opportunity to record something other than the latest single and three tracks from the forthcoming album.  I might have a higher opinion of Th' Faith Healers if they had chosen to go full Erasure in this session.  Considering that this session predates ABBA-esque by a couple of months, you could, at a push claim that Th' Faith Healers made the early running in a year which would see Erasure take an EP of ABBA covers to Number 1 in the charts and end with the release of Gold: Greatest Hits, one of the biggest selling compilation albums of all time.  It's clear, 1992 wasn't about Ebeneezer Goode, it was about Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anni-Frid.

Inspired by Th' Faith Healers?

Videos courtesy of Vibracobra23Redux and ErasureVEVO.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Oliver!: John Peel's Music - British Forces Broadcasting Service [BFBS] (Sunday 15 March 1992)

For nearly 30 years, John Peel, lest we forget one of the last generations of British people to do National Service, broadcast a show on British Forces Broadcasting Service, hereafter to be referred to as BFBS.  He followed a long lineage of broadcasters whose shows were transmitted to servicemen: Alan Freeman, Kenny Everett and Tommy Vance were among his contemporaries on the network, which began broadcasting in 1943 and remains in operation today, with a wide number of services throughout the world.

By 1992, Peel had had a weekly show going out on BFBS for 20 years, primarily being transmitted in the German part of the network.  In keeping with his shows for other European stations, the shows featured no sessions, but plenty of records and stories.  In keeping with, what Peel always referred to as "my domestic programmes", there was also plenty of worry in the background over Peel's future on the station.  In this show, he thanked the German listeners for getting the programme back on to its  old timeslot after it had been moved, leading some listeners to write to him asking whether the show had been discontinued.

His cold from his holiday at Center Parcs continued to bother him, but nevertheless he had enjoyed observing the comical lengths people had gone to in order to protect their hairstyles on water slides.  One track which didn't make my cut was Tumbleswan by Jacob's Mouse.  According to the music papers, the band had been arrested for trying to steal the No Fish Shop Parking sign.

The selections from this show came from the full 2 hour programme.  I was unable to find...

Cords - Such a Fool - and I can't tell you anything about the track as the recording was taken down.  I can remember them requesting Peel play a track which I initially included but later dropped...

Rapeman - Inki's Butt Crack - yes, it's allround funster Steve Albini and friends with a musical joke based on Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture from Fingal's Cave and in keeping with most musical jokes, it's a tedious bore.  Peel anecdotalised about his usual beef with Rapeman in that he loved their music, but hated their name so much that he had once declined the opportunity to offer them a session as he couldn't face saying, "Here's another track from Rapeman" four times in a night.

For Winston the Ferryman.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Oliver!: Dashing Marbles - MTV Girl (15 March 1992)

This wonderful piece of punk-pop, apparently recorded "in a frigging hole in the ground, Chicago" according to its liner notes was about 3 years old when Peel played it on this show.  I adore it for a number of reasons: the compellingly direct vocal performance from Jeanette Alfred and the virtuoso playing of Russ Forster, particularly that funky-punky duologue between guitar and bass going into the last 30 seconds of the track.  In our Instagram-anyone-can-be-famous-if-they-know-how-to-court-the-right-social-media-crowd world, I felt huge nostalgia for songs that focus their ire on starfuckers who would do anything to get through that gilded gate and into that gilded world.  The rarefied, super cool world that MTV once beamed into homes and lives.  Those impossibly glamorous and hip young things who didn't feel awkward walking around holding a stick microphone the size of a railway sleeper through the late 80s and early 90s while they talked to movers and shakers across what was either an ongoing snapshot of youth culture or a symbol of the McDonaldsisation of it, despite the best efforts of Beavis and Butthead.  Either way, it felt like something that mattered back then.  Now, the only access I have to music TV channels is when I go to my local barbers or the odd pub, and none of them are tuned to MTV, instead choosing The Box and other low calibre variations.  But what does it matter?  As Noel Gallagher remarked during his hilarious video commentary of Oasis' Whatever, "Who fucking watches videos (on TV) these days?"  I mean we could all do it through YouTube now, couldn't we?  Yes, but the point is, it was harder in those days.  You did have to have something about you to get onto MTV.  It seemed as though you had made it, regardless of whether you were a performer in a band, a solo artist or just one of the entourage.  How far would you go to get on it?

Jeanette Alfred was convinced that the price some people were willing to pay was too high.  She told me recently:
"MTV Girl came about when MTV was so popular and all the girls on these (channels) looked the same to me. I wrote a lot of fuck you type of songs though I was not a fuck you type of person. That is why, when Bikini Kill wanted me to sing on an album with them, I thought that singing was really not what I saw in my future.  I asked Michael (Cornelius, her husband at the time) to help me make it a song and we kind of put that song together. Everything has to do with the time back then like the line, "Dancing with Bruce" that would be Bruce Springsteen and "raped by Dee" would be Dee Sneider of Twisted Sister. Some videos must have alluded to that."

Jeanette went through quite a journey to get to recording MTV Girl after arriving in the US from her native Germany:
"I moved to the US (Arizona) in January of 1981 and was bored out of my mind. I wanted to return back to Germany but didn't have money. After a couple of years, I meet some punk-rockers and ended up marrying the bass player (Michael Cornelius AKA Michael Cx)  from JFA (Jody Foster's Army). Our house was the band house.  Every band and skaters who came to Phoenix to play, stayed at our place. I didn't know any of those people but remember the band names (Feeders, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Black Flag, Tony Alva, etc). There is a group on FB that still keeps up with the scene from back then. 
I was surrounded by music and Michael, my then husband, had a zine.  I wanted to do all those things too. I put out a zine in half English and German and helped design JFA's album cover. When I didn't get credit for it, I was kind of mad and said, "Forget you all, I can do my own music." So I started writing."

After her marriage to Cornelius broke up, Jeanette moved to Chicago and continued her musical adventures under the eye of a big favourite of John Peel's:
"I started recording with Russ Forster of Sponge. Our producer was Steve Albini. Steve is kind of a big shot in the Punk music business here in Chicago. I spoke to Russ last year to get all the tracks off of the remaining spools but we never made a definite plan. I will talk to him some more about it."

Jeanette currently manages a world music outfit called Kreyol Roots led by her husband. I'd love to hear a world music take on MTV Girl, a track which retains its relevance, even though its original targets are now more simultaneously widespread and local than ever.

Video courtesy of John Peel. 

My deepest thanks to Jeanette Alfred.

Photo credit - Renata Golden

Kreyol Roots website

Friday, 2 June 2017

Oliver!: Esperant - Eloucha (15 March 1992)

Looking back through lists of tracks written down months ago, it can be a dreadful feeling when you see a track title and realise that you remember nothing of it.  This is particularly true of foreign language tracks and on the page, Eloucha brought back no recollection at all.  There was no distilled joy as in the mid-section of La Joie de Vivre, no plangent ringing riffs from Leonore or even the wonderful coda to Ngonda from the same 15/3/92 show wending through my unconscious.  The lack of those instant associations made me wonder whether this would see the track fall from favour, but it romped it straight from the very start with an explosion of floor-filling joy like a Fanta bottle that's been shook up for an hour.  It's a fun track, swapping virtuosity for a kind of French-African soul music, complete with xylophone and comedy Italian phrases (though not in a Joe Dolce sense).  Even the synthesiser, always an obstacle to Peel's enjoyment of a soukous track feels right before the guitars come in to take us home.

Video courtesy of mrbobodigital.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Oliver!: The Vinyl Vandals - Don't Be So Serious [Rasta Mayhem mix] (15 March 1992)

When I used to listen to Peel in the early part of the Millenium, he seemed to be one of the few disc jockeys who was given licence to swear on air.  He didn't abuse this freedom but I thought nothing of the fact that he could back announce something like The Immortal Lee County Killers album, The Essential Fucked Up Blues! without censure.  I figured this was down to a combination of the time slot his show went out at (10pm to midnight back then - 11pm to 2am in 1992 - and these BFBS shows went out late in the day too), the fact that he only did it when announcing swearwords as parts of song/album titles or band names and the fact that he was, after all, John Peel.  He'd earned the right.  How surprising to learn that he only really had permission to do this after the turn of the Millenium.  Californian band, Fuck, were "Feck" on Peel's show for most of the 90s and the likes of Prosthetic Cunt could make some of Peel's last playlists but never get a session so as to avoid the C-word being said more than once a show.
Up to the 21st century, swearing in a record could have a huge impact on what Peel could play on air.  This was despite the fact that, even taking into account the large number of under 18s who listened to his show, he was broadcasting after watershed hours - after the pubs had closed in 1992 for that matter.  However, Peel was bound by rules like everyone else, even on the British Forces Broadcasting Service.  Before playing this splendidly enjoyable fusion of Rasta preaching and hard trance, Peel read a letter from a listener called Hughie requesting that he play a different Vinyl Vandals track from the one he had been doing.  Peel explained that he couldn't do this due to the amount of bad language on the other Vinyl Vandals tracks that he had.  He expressed a hope that an imminent single from them called Headstrong would be "as pure as the driven snow."  It turned out to be their last release.

The frustration is justified but any mix of Don't Be So Serious is worth listening to.  The radio friendly Rasta Mayhem mix features Rasta scatting, water bubbles, a memorable refrain for a whole nightclub to chant, "You are drugging our water" and a mix of beats and processed synth sounds that drive the thing on superbly.  The sweary mix is even better, evoking the feel of an illegal rave right up to the arrival of the police.  I include it below and salute The Vinyl Vandals for their refusal to compromise. I only hope Hughie got to hear it in the end.

Videos courtesy of DJDreadnought and skunkassociation.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Oliver!: The Fall - Return (15 March 1992)

Peel was still getting plenty of mileage out of The Fall's Code:Selfish album and he programmed four tracks for inclusion in this programme, two of which made my shortlist.  In doing so, he put me into a position similar to that when I was trying to select tracks from Revolver's Peel Session.  One minute, both tracks were in, then only one of them, then it was a different one from the one I thought I liked more, then I would go back to liking them both before briefly considering skipping them altogether.  Ultimately though, the Twilight Zone referencing Time Enough At Last misses out and instead we have Return, a tune which my initial notes on the show lauded as featuring Mark E.Smith's vocal at his most lushly romantic.  Being that this is a Fall song though, nothing is quite so straightforward.

What's clear is that there has been a major row between Smith and his lover.  References to "Hellas" suggest that she was Greek, perhaps foreshadowing Smith's subsequent marriage to Elena Poulou.  The tone of the track is broadly speaking, one of reconciliation, but Smith manages something very interesting in his vocal line - a skill he would lose as the years passed - listen out for the slightly pleading nature of his "Baby, baby, baby, come back to me", but note how he follows that with the single word, "Return", which by contrast, comes out like a command.  It's a nice, subtle touch - and it suggests that the detente between them may be a fragile one.  I also like the touch of male fantasy that  crops up when he talks about the object of his desires leaving because she found it difficult to stay calm while doing the ironing.  Even misanthropes from Prestwich want their gorgeous women to do whatever housework they can.  The final verse finds Smith in the unusual position of the solicitous lover, "Sparkle and pander her", while the line, "I'll change the latch on the door/I'll get locks all over" can be read either romantically - the girl returns through an open door and he buries himself in her golden hair, showering her in sweet nothings - or more cynically that he will keep her locked up so that she can't leave him again, but he'll keep spinning her sweet words so as to distract her from the realisation that she is his prisoner.  Given that the album has a few tracks in which Smith attempts to play something close to a balladeer, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it's a romantic track.  Any other interpretations are welcome in the comments box.

Video courtesy of Jake.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Oliver!: The Werefrogs - Forest of Doves (15 March 1992)

Nothing made The Frank and Walters sound so anodyne and pointless to me than hearing Peel follow their session version of Happy Busman with the title track of The Werefrogs' first EP.  That was on the 1/3/92 show, but it wasn't available anywhere when I first heard it.  Thankfully, another selection from this 15/3/92 show turned up on YouTube, and I asked the uploader very nicely for The Werefrogs, and here we are, to my everlasting gratitude, because this is a huge favourite of mine.  223 views on YouTube, and at least 3/4 of them have probably been made by me.  It's high time Forest of Doves was better known.

The Werefrogs formed in New York but were one of those bands who, if not more popular in the UK than in their homeland, found that Blighty offered them the opportunity to record and distribute their music.  Ultimate, home to groups like Senser and the 1992 Festive Fifty winners, Bang Bang Machine put out virtually all of The Werefrogs material starting with this superb, unashamedly romantic, psychedelic rocker.

The first thing that strikes you is the massiveness of the initial burst of sound after the preliminary drum pattern and bass prodding; once singer, Marc Wolf's guitar bursts forth, strap yourself in for an epic. The first 90 seconds seem to progress through the stages of seeds being planted which burst into mighty oaks and stretch up, up into the sky.   On their own website the band called themselves "shoegaze/indie" but Forest of Doves is full rock monster; more Led Zeppelin than Curve, though a more contemporary, for the time, comparison might be with The Thing.  Marc Wolf's vocals can't compete with the sound but does a better job of integrating with it than Sice Rowbotham.  He sounds like someone trying to pick his way through the depths of the forest, looking to reach an oasis of sanctuary in the middle of it.
Lyrically, the song can be read several ways.  On the one hand, it's a love song with Wolf bringing flowers to his lover.  It could be a drug song, if the doves are taken to mean something other than birds.  The laments over hollowness and haunted streets imply that the song is about a graveyard of memories, and that the forest represents a chance to escape mental torments of the past or the ennui of the present.  I'm particularly entranced by the last minute of the song from 4:51 onwards where a gorgeous minor chord guitar line comes in to play the song out alongside the more monolithic guitar parts.  It gives the song the feeling of a thousand doves taking to the skies from the tree branches of life, while the forest burns beneath them.  A piece to listen as the sun rises and allow chaos to fall away from you.  Staggeringly good.

This recording comes direct from the 15/3/92 BFBS show and Ivor Cutler's When I Stand on an Open Cart followed it.  You may hear a snatch of the next track on the Forest of Doves EP, Spider Gardens Fizzle, before Ivor starts.  I had to smile as the same quick start caught Peel out on 1/3/92 as well.

Video courtesy of John Peel.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Oliver!: Ivor Cutler - When I Stand on an Open Cart (15 March 1992)

The last time an Ivor Cutler piece turned up on this blog, I blethered on about how, in his nature-centred pieces, Cutler never wrote about animals or landscapes in sentimental ways.  To Cutler, the natural world was as full of absurdity and ridiculousness as the human one and his interactions with birds who wanted to break into the Top 40 made perfect sense.  However, he pulled a neat subversion of this approach in When I Stand on an Open Cart, a brief spoken word track on his 1976 album, Jammy Smears.  Whereas most of the natural world tracks that I've heard of Cutler's either had him directly talking to the animals and insects, or singing about their issues from their perspective, this track presents him as an observer of nature's bounty.  If the Countryside Code wanted to add a poem to its list of instructions for the public, it might look to the opening lines of this piece.   But typical of Cutler, the appreciation of cows, corn and voles also has room for weeds, bacteria and cowpats.  Nature's pitfalls have to be preferable though to what the average cart rider may observe in the towns.  The image of "the aged" observed through windows, "lying in bed, wrapped in newspaper" offers a bleakness that must surely have fired the imagination of somebody like Stephen "Babybird" Jones.

You'll hear When I Stand on an Open Cart again tagged on to the end of the next track I write about for this blog, but as that track is a potential choice for my own favourite of 1992, I want it to have the post to itself.  And likewise, When I Stand on an Open Cart deserved its own solo spotlight too.  Peel was certainly enjoying having the reissues of Cutler's albums for Virgin on CD as it made it easier for him to cue up the individual tracks than it had been on the original vinyl.

Video courtesy of bobsherunkle.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Oliver!: Emeneya - Ngonda (15 March 1992)

I'm so pleased that this wonderful soukous track was available to share, because a) it's been ages since any of my soukous picks have been available and b) Ngonda formed part of a wonderful trio of tracks on the 15/3/92 show.  It's all subjective of course, but Peel's programmes were unmatchable whenever a sequence of melodic, thrilling and new (to the listener) records came together.  This and the next two tracks that turn up on this blog over the coming days have had me aching with anticipation since I heard them.

Ngonda appears to be one of King Kester Emeneya's key songs, and it features a brilliantly extended outro, full of rippling guitar duelling from about 3:03 onwards.  Peel praised the playing of guitarist Luttulle Lutus but felt that the Emeneya name, which I think he thought covered the band rather than the singer, sounded like "a rather grisly religious foundation".

Get on your dancing shoes and give praises.

Video courtesy of selino bwatshia.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Oliver!: H-Bomb - Radar (15 March 1992)

A one-off pseudonymous release by Jeff Mills, a US DJ who was to become a big fixture on Peel playlists over the course of the next decade.  A look at Mills's John Peel wiki page suggests that it wasn't until 1993 that he started to be played by Peel, but he had been part of the dance music scene for many years under the guise of The Wizard, as part of the Underground Resistance collective or as resident DJ at the Tresor club in Berlin.

Before Peel made a full immersion into Mills's music, he played this storming piece of techno rave, which picked up on the acid computer game feel of many of his contemporaries and reworked it into something much heavier, snappier and better.  There's plenty of soars, sweeps and red alerts in this track (one day I will print a full glossary of terms that I use to describe the soundscapes in dance records, but for now, I ask you to trust me on this), before ending with an emphatic game over that sounds like the vanquishing of his competition.  For Peel, the fact that this record played from the middle outwards guaranteed its inclusion.

It may be some time before we get to 1993, but this will do nicely to be going on with.  On the strength of Radar, there's going to be plenty to enjoy from Mills over the years ahead.

Video courtesy of ffokcuf.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Oliver!: Mo-Dettes - Fandango (15 March 1992)

Even before I tell you anything in depth about this track, you'll probably have heard enough in the opening seconds to go, "Ah, John Peelesque circa 1980, I believe?"  It's all there.  Guitars that sound like the opening of cocktail umbrellas; mannered Mittel-European female vocals that in this particular case sound like they're going to go "Ooh la la" at any moment; whole verses delivered in a foreign language (French, I think*) and a feeling that the whole track is going to collapse in on its original intentions and end up as a Girls At Our Best pastiche.

*Your intrepid blogger just looked at Mo-Dettes page on the John Peel wiki.  Turns out that the lead singer, Ramona Carlier was born in Switzerland, so less mannered than I had thought.

Mo-Dettes were formed in 1979 and included in their ranks Kate Korus, a founder member of The Slits, though she left them before they recorded their legendary Peel Sessions.  Fandango was the opening track on their sole 1980 album, The Story So Far.  The half English/half French mash-up may sound genially close to gibberish as it rattles along, but is of a piece with an album which despite the of its time sound manages to touch a number of musical bases.  What comes through in Fandango is a half lament, half sigh of relief that the protagonist's former lover is out of her life.  This theme is touched on to more satisfying effect on Bedtime Stories.

Peel played the track in response to a letter from a listener called Andy asking for some records by among others Mo-Dettes, Section 25, Blue Orchids and others from the post-punk era.  Peel obliged by playing this back to back with a song by The Diagram Brothers.  I'm charmed enough by Fandango to include it, but I think there are much better examples of Mo-Dettes on their album than this track.  As well as the aforementioned Bedtime Stories, I would recommend their swingtime flavoured history of the Kray Twins (sad to see that it didn't turn up on the soundtracks to either Legend or The Krays), the nifty character sketch of Foolish Girl or the irresistible White Mice in either version.

Video courtesy of Pleasure Victim

Monday, 8 May 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 14 March 1992)

Now that Peel was broadcasting on the overnight shift on Fridays and Saturdays, it had a knock on effect for his weekends.  By his own admission, today was the first Saturday afternoon he had spent in London for years.  "I was thinking I was going to do loads of interesting things, as you do.  Go to the pictures; go and buy records; go shopping; go and see people; sit in amusing cafes talking codswallop over expensive food and drink.  Of course, int the end, I did none of these things.  Instead, I spent all afternoon in the Radio 1 office putting this programme together for you the listener."  His new weekend arrangements stopped him from accompanying Sheila to Portman Road to see Ipswich play out a fortunate goalless draw with Leicester City.  The Pig had had to borrow a friend's child in order to sit in the family enclosure.  Peel hoped that Leicester wouldn't become a bogey side for Ipswich in the way that they had once been for Liverpool, "Of course these days, virtually every team appears to be a bogey team for Liverpool."

The selections for this show came from a short 47 minute file.  There were 2 other tracks I would have liked to include had I been able to:

Crane - Colourblind - My notes call this "good drone rock" and it seems a good example of that obesssion that British guitar bands over the late 80s/early 90s to rewrite any of See My Friends2000 Light Years From Home or Tomorrow Never Knows.  All clanging guitar and Eastern drumming pattern - heavy on the cymbal to tom-tom shuffle.  It can't help but seem a little lounge jazzy in comparison to its original sources, but not bad for all that.

Cutty Ranks - The Agony - despite featuring plenty of a guitar note that sounds like it's doing a Kenneth Williams impression, I enjoyed this a lot.  I particularly liked the way he works in refrains from kids' songs like Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar.  His flow defeated me on a number of occasions, but it seemed to be going down the "love makes you a hypochondriac" route.  Completists may be interested to know that there is a track called Agony doing the rounds credited to Cutty Ranks and Chinese Laundry, but it was not the one played by Peel on this programme.

Lots of "bundle tracks" in this episode.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Oliver!: Cybersonik - Thrash (14 March 1992)

A storming piece of trance techno to get the 14/3/92 show underway, the type of track that this mixtaper would include just to shake things up a bit.  One for fans of ominous-chords and electro bongos.

"I was going to segue it into Extreme Noise Terror, but that would just have been cheap".

Video courtesy of anubiscj303.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Oliver!: Leatherface - Peasant in Paradise [Peel Session] (14 March 1992)

On the recording that I heard for the 14/3/92 show, there was only space for one track from this session.  Peasant in Paradise, which is the final track on this video of the complete session, was played first as part of the repeat airing that it received this evening. (On the video, Peasant in Paradise starts at 9:17).

Peasant in Paradise initially won me over because of its energy - so far so cliched, but further listens and to the rest of the session brought out greater depths to the material than might otherwise be expected from a band named after the iconic killer in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series.
Leatherface rock as hard as Therapy?  indeed lead singer, Frankie Stubbs sounds like Andy Cairns's older, wiser brother.  But whereas Therapy? dealt in dread and confusion, Leatherface manage to mine a richer seam of regret, contemplation, and loss with a piledriving force that allows it to escape guitar-wank self-wallowing.  If there is such a sub-genre as reflective punk rock (and The Buzzcocks seem a good starting point for that), then Leatherface took it on a notch for rough, rugged types with hurt feelings and clear heads.
Peasant in Paradise looks back at a better time in the protagonist's life -   an unexpected summer, which was over before they knew it to be replaced by a bleak winter.  That sense of touching elusive happiness, something so transient before it starts "pissing down with snow".  Also recommended is the third track on the video, Dreaming, which deals with the fallout when a casual, easy relationship suddenly brings on unforeseen and unlooked for responsibility.

Video courtesy of vibracobra23

Monday, 1 May 2017

Oliver!: Pointblank - Planting Semtex (14 March 1992)

One of the best tracks I ever heard on Huw Stephens's nascent BBC Introducing show was Thou Shalt Always  Kill from 2007, by Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip.  It wasn't just because it was a brilliantly delivered set of Commandmemts by which any 18 year old (or 31 in my case at the time) could live their life by when it came to personal relationships, socialising etiquette or relationship to music, but because it shed light on an inner secret of music.  In this case, it was the use of the phrase "kill" to mean "come up with killer rhymes".  This was important to ignoramuses like myself, given that the use of words connected with violence has always been bound up with rap/hip-hop/beatz poetry, and the resultant negative perception which the form carries around as a result. And I say that while fully acknowledging the slew of tracks where violent phrasing means exactly what it says.

Nevertheless, I found myself thinking about this use of bluff and extended wordplay when listening to Planting Semtex, the only release by Kold Sweat duo, Pointblank.  The incendiary title, designed to raise hackles, but in actuality talking about putting a bomb under PopLand.  For the rest, it reaches out to broach on other subjects including inner city inequality and stifled opportunities for black people both domestically and in South Africa.  However, it doesn't overcommit to this, falling back instead into boastful, loud and proud declarations of their own abilities as wordsmiths - an important piece of self-esteem, possibly all that they have.  It's an uneasy brew, which hangs together a little awkwardly, but the conviction in the delivery makes it a compelling listen.  I also love the shoutout to various London massives at the end, which continues on even after the backing track has dropped out.  It was always marvellous on the Peel Show when those stentorian callouts to their fellow men fell away only for Peel to uncertainly try and respond - like David Cameron pressed into emergency service at a hip-hop battle royale.

"Thou shall not make repetitive, generic music".

Videos courtesy of THECONSORTIUM (Pointblank) and lesacvspip (Le Sac/Pip).

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Oliver!: King Tubby and The Observer AllStars - Jam Down (14 March 1992)

A kind soul recently uploaded King Tubby's Special 1973-1976 to YouTube, allowing me a chance to listen to it in full and search for clues about why Peel was playing so many tracks from it through early 1992.  The album is essentially split into two halves: a series of instrumentals with The Observer Allstars and a series of versions (vocal tracks) featuring The Aggrovators.  One of which included heavy sampling from a very early post on this blog.  Maybe it's been an accident of tape omission on the shows I've heard, but Peel's preference seemed to be skewed more towards The Observer Allstars tracks, as I've heard nothing from The Aggrovators' cuts - a shame as I think some of the tracks from the latter half of the album hit some beguilingly strange grooves, while the treatment of the vocals give them real kick in some cases.
By contrast, The Observer Allstars material, with one outstanding exception, seems to fall into two camps: stentorian blasts or chilled noodling.  The saving grace is that it's all so well played and arranged that I can't help but include it, and Jam Down is another example of that.  In the context of a Peel playlist featuring tracks about fascism and death/famine/holocaust references, these chilled grooves would have been a necessary balm.  Intermission music before the next aural assault.

Video courtesy of theBolillo310

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Oliver!: Big Black - Il Duce (14 March 1992)

I'll add Steve Albini to the list of people that Peel backed from first record to last, even though Albini earned Peel's disapproval over the name of his first post Big Black band, Rapeman - more on that in the coming weeks hopefully.

I learnt about Big Black long before I heard a note of music from them.  Uncompromisingly brutal in their musical vision, and uncompromisingly cynical in their perception of the music business, I found myself hoping, "Jesus, if you're going to behave like that, you had better be  good at what you do".  Attitude will only get you so far, after all.  But the fact that Peel included their 1987 album, Songs About Fucking in a 1997 list of his 20 favourite albums suggested there was real meat on their bones, (although, as The Guardian admitted, had he been asked a week later, he may have produced an entirely different list).  But the evidence of my own ears sealed the deal.  A listen to a handful of tracks - "songs" seem disappointingly inadequate to describe Big Black's work - and I've been left with the thundering Cloverfield like riff(s) of Kerosene stuck in my head and bearing down like the Mother of All Bombs into my 10 favourite of all time.  To those who feel that, in 1985-86, Peel and his peers were panning for gold in gobs of spit when it came to finding interesting alternative guitar music, Big Black would have felt like a toxic burnt-out oasis in that desert.  The fact that Kerosene didn't feature in the 1986 Festive Fifty is enough to make me wish that Peel had stuck to his guns and dropped the whole thing after 1991.

Big Black were 5 years disbanded at the point that Peel played the title track of this 1985 EP, news which would have bummed me out had I learnt that in 1992.  Big Black were renowned for avoiding things like multi-formatting and broke off dealings with record labels who tried to do things without their knowledge or approval.  This strikes me as the act of a band who liked to give value for money to record buyers, and that feeling permeates Il Duce, which offers listeners 5 different openings in the space of the opening 100 seconds:
1) The moodiest sounding harmonium I've ever heard.  Only 12 seconds long, but making it clear that   this track starts in the lead up to a revolution that will not be bloodless.
2) The clicks and tricks of Roland - Big Black's faithful drum machine, though here it is supplemented by someone letting loose rimshots - like snipers taking up their positions.
3) That seasick guitar bass sound as the forces make their way through the street to their destination.
4) Hits and smacks of guitar chord - the sound of an occasional shot as the violence of the revolution begins to build up.
5) Finally, all out assault in the Big Black style, as the central riff is played out, while over the top of it, guitar strings are pulled, scraped, punched like tanks are rolling over them and firing off their mortars.

After that opening burst, relative serenity arrives as Il Duce begins his proclamations over that central riff and jackboot drum pattern.  There remains an ambiguity over whether the lyrics are told from the perspective of Mussolini himself, or from the perspective of a follower of his or an ordinary citizen.  That whole notion that Benito is the people and the people are Benito.  It's only by projecting that successfully that fascists get to shape the argument and now they're getting their platform in the media, they may get to shape a great deal more than just that.  Albini would have been guessing about this in 1985, but with Ronald Reagan having recently been re-elected with a landslide, he may have felt there were loose parallels.  Had he written the track in 2015, he could have taken his pick of contemporary settings to set it alongside.  Although the track calms down through the lyrical passages, it continues to be punctuated by bursts of guitar noise - the sound of executions and imprisonments.  While that final decisive drum beat sounds like a definite shutting off any dissent towards the new regime.

Video courtesy of ratherdroll.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Oliver!: The Boo Radleys - Skyscraper (14 March 1992)

Peel was giving plenty of airplay to The Boo Radleys' album, Everything's Alright Forever, through early 1992.  God knows why. Maybe a little bit of fellowship towards Liverpudlians.  I haven't been too taken by what he played from it, partially down to impatience with Sice Rowbotham's tokenistic vocals which sound like someone from another band wandering into someone else's song, singing a few lines inoffensively, and then meandering off again.

Despite that, I like Skyscraper a lot because it sounds like a track that is trying to transcend its limitations.  This becomes especially apparent in the rock out finale from 2:05 onwards, which despite owing a melodic touch or two to Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight (though not half as blatantly as Suede did a couple of years later) means that anyone who would have stood up in 1992 and said, "This is going to be one of the most artistically interesting  bands in the country through the 1990s", wouldn't have got laughed out of the room.  It was an upward curve for The Boo Radleys from here, and Skyscraper marks the first tentative step forward.

Influencing both shoegaze and Britpop?

Videos courtesy of MarkTurver1990 (The Boo Radleys) and InnerMusicLove (Clapton).

Friday, 14 April 2017

Oliver!: PJ Harvey - Joe/Plants and Rags (14 March 1992)

Peel was in a considerable state of anticipation in March 1992 as PJ Harvey prepared to release their (yes, you read that right) debut album, Dry.  He played three tracks from it on this programme - the two included here and the slightly free-form jazz-like Fountain, which I couldn't get a comfortable handle on.  Certainly not comfortable enough to imagine being happy about it turning up on a mixtape.  But Joe and Plants and Rags are great.  The fact that PJ Harvey were a band rather than a person at this point is important to make clear because these two tracks were the only ones not credited solely to Polly Jean Harvey; instead she co-wrote them with drummer and frequent collaborator, Rob Ellis.

I wasn't too sold on Joe when Peel played it as an acoustic b-side on the Sheela-Na-Gig single on his 16/2/92 show but beefed up with the full band behind it, then it becomes a different beast entirely.  Plants and Rags is the better song out of the two, certainly more sonically interesting with the clashing string parts and discordant duel between the violins.  What makes both tracks stand out though is the wide range of interpretations that can be applied to them.
Joe is a guardian angel figure clearly, but I've found myself split on whether he is
1) a truck-stop bodyguard in one of Harvey's Americana settings.
2) Jesus - admittedly this is based on a comment I saw on a message board about the song's meaning which supposed that the singer of the song was Mary Magdelene, on the basis that she would be washing the feet with her hair.
3) A figment of her schizophrenic imagination - although the track drives on at a fair old rate, it is riven with paranoia and a desire for vengeance against enemies both real and imaginary.  There's illness trying to make its presence felt through the onslaught with talk of the "headache tree" and how Joe can be the only one to cut her free.  But will he liberate her into this world or the next one?

Plants and Rags also seems to be narratively pulling in different directions.  At different stages the song seems to come from the standpoint of variously:
1) A recent corpse - "Ease myself into a body bag" and the references to the sun not shining in the white and black shadows.
2) A famine victim - living among useless plants and in her rags, dreaming of the man who gave her fine food and shiny things.  Maybe it was him that led her to 1).  Either way, he stands as a symbol of a better time and a more promising environment.  This is especially pertinent if the narrator is
3) A concentration camp victim - losing your home is one thing, but being led outside quietly afterwards is a chilling image.  Is this narrator one of those poor souls who lose everything they have at the whim of another, only to be borne away into the "care" of a heartless state?
Whatever the answer, the track has a tragic grandeur which evokes a sense of a world going to hell and repercussions for one individual.  Highly recommended listening.

Videos courtesy of Rik Hofman.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Friday 13 March 1992)

A period of upheaval both for myself and John Peel.  My father was a builder and this often meant that our housing situation could change based on his working situation.  More than once, we had moved into a house that he was working on in Falmouth, only to then move on again when it was ready for sale.  By the time I was 16, I had lived in 5 houses in the town.  2 of them had been for a combined period of 12 years, with 3 of them accounting for the remainder of the time.  In 1985, I'd done the whole bathing in a tub in the lounge thing and using a commode because we didn't have a functioning bathroom, in one of the places we had had to move into.  Nevertheless, going into 1992, we had been living in a wonderful house for 7 years.  Grovehill Crescent in Falmouth was perfect for a teenager; the town centre was 3 minutes walk away.  I also had my best mate at the time living at the top of the road, which was great until his parents moved out into the sticks.  He was still in Falmouth, but right out on the outskirts.  To me, outskirts was anywhere that didn't have access to a shop and the sticks were places without streetlights or street names.  I felt he had the worst of both worlds.
I didn't drive and from Grovehill Crescent, it would take ages to walk out there.  You could forget about buses out there as well.  I still saw him, but no way near as frequently.  I felt sorry for him too, because there was nothing out there.  He could walk into Budock Water, but there wasn't much to see there.  Just as I was absorbing the fact that my mate had moved out to something of a local wilderness, my parents told me that we were going to have to do the same thing.  This came about because my Dad and his building partner had been working on a pair of barn conversions that would have been their golden eggs if they could find buyers for them, but the recession of the early 1990s was in full effect by then, and the properties stubbornly refused to sell.  From a business point of view, my parents decided to move out to the barns, so that it might be possible to sell them with us in situ.
It was around this time that we moved out there, and I remember going out there one evening with them to have a look at the property.  Now, this was new ground for me, as it was the first place I'd ever lived in that didn't have either streetlights or a road name formally attached to it.  This was known as Higher Kergilliack and it was the area where you could either go on to villages like Mawnan SmithMabe or back towards Penryn and Falmouth.  We got out of the car, stood on the driveway in the dark, and looked away from the house to where I could see, in the distance, the yellow/orange mushroom cloud of streetlights in Falmouth.  At that moment, I felt incredibly isolated and outside of things.  It's funny isn't it?  You don't think of streetlights when you're surrounded by them, but as soon as you're away from them, they seem to stand for things beyond mere illumination: community, society, home.  Lest it sound like I was in some kind of Falmouth Outback, I should balance things up by saying that my school was only about 10 minutes walk away, and the town centre was about half an hour's walk.  Penryn was even closer.  Indeed,  I found myself going there more often than Falmouth, while we lived at the barn.  Had we been another mile further out then I really would have felt out of the way.  But for the first time in my life, and arguably at the worst possible age, I felt in the geographical margins.  Living in Cornwall, this was nothing new, but I gulped and swallowed hard before going into the barn, putting on a brave face for my folks and enthusiastically choosing my bedroom.

For John Peel, this date meant his first Friday broadcast on Radio 1 since 1978.  There were no incidents of misfortune on the 82 minute recording that I heard, which picked from various parts of the show.  He greeted listeners who may have been unaware of the schedule changes at Radio 1, and who may have switched on expecting Nicky Horne, "You must be having a rotten time" with his usual bag of tricks including an advert for drag racing from American radio circa 1966. By the end of the decade, he would be playing recordings of drag racing from Santa Pod Raceway, a venue where Peel had nearly been killed nine years earlier in the service of Noel Edmonds.

Three tracks would have been included here if they were available, 2 of them from acts sharing the same word as part of their names:

Mighty Force - Dum Dum - in my notes, I said they sounded a bit like The Art of Noise, though their record label described them as"hardcore indie rave".  Peel thought their record was good enough for people to stop watching The Word for.

T-President feat. Jah Whoosh - Living in Ecstasy (Truly Large Mix) - this essentially seems to be the BKS track I couldn't share from the 1/3/92 programme, but with added toasting.

C-Force - Strange Voyage - this is an industrial techno track with a lot of wonderful surprises in it.  You can hear a brief snippet of it in this 1992 mix by DJ Nickey.  It comes in at around 16:43.

Full tracklisting.