Friday, 19 April 2019

The Comedy of Errors: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 9 May 1992)

“In the last 10 minutes I’ve transmuted rather horribly from Andy Kershaw to John Peel.” 24 hours after their “fantastically amusing” trail for it, Abana Ba Nasery played a live session which straddled the end of Kershaw’s programme and the start of Peel’s.  On the 3 hour recording of this show that I heard, they played four tracks - none of which I can share with you beyond the link to the show, though the tracks on the Kershaw show have turned up on YouTube.

Peel had had a trying day.  Nerves over the live session, even though, “I’ve been doing live radio programmes since Queen Anne - God bless her”, allied to his continued grumbles about having been unable to either go to that day’s FA Cup final or watch the Eurovision Song Contest.  But all had ended well.  Liverpool had won the cup, Abana Ba Nasery had delighted him and Eurovision was due
to return to Ireland next year after Linda Martin’s victory.  Over 20 years later, Ipswich Town fans would be sitting open-mouthed in amazement when her 1991 duet with Mick McCarthy was brought to our attention.

The incursion of the Abana Ba Nasery session into his airtime led Peel to warn that his show was even more under-rehearsed than usual. The reorganisation of the show meant that Peel had to drop his plan to draw winners from a competition he had set the previous week in which entrants had to send him something interesting in an envelope.  However, he did draw winners for a competition in which entrants had to draw a Werefrog.  Apparently Peel’s wife, Sheila, always warned him against setting competitions in which he had make judgements over winning entries, because he would be so racked with guilt about those entries he hadn’t picked, he would end up taking them home with him where they would be left hanging around the house for months while Peel tried to think what to do with them, mainly because he couldn’t bear to throw any of them away.

Away from my selections and near misses, of which more in a moment, Peel continued in his mission to drive Sonic Youth completists to madness by playing Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon’s contribution to a Bob Dylan covers album on Imaginary Records called Outlaw Blues.  He recommended  The Dead Shall Inherit, a new album by US death metal band Baphomet on the grounds that the cover of the album would appeal to people, even if they had no intention of playing the record.
Regular visitors to this blog (hi Webbie) will know that I always mention tracks that either I wanted to share here but couldn’t or ones which I had originally slated for inclusion only to go off them when  I returned to listen to them.  This show brings me a potential new sub-category namely, tracks I was never going to include, but which may be of interest to others.  Towards the end of this programme Peel played Factory by Sonic Violence, a slice of sonic-metal with dancey overtones.  It almost persuaded me, but not quite despite the fact that it sounded like a union meeting of zombies in a post Dawn of the Dead world.The hit rate on this show was pretty high for me.  Only one initial selection fell from favour with me:

Booker T and the MGs - Can’t Be Still - I know it’s against the law to go off a Stax record, but I’m afraid that this 1964 single got in on reputation only to be shunned when I found that was all it had.

There were three tracks I would have liked to share but couldn’t:

The Last Peach - String-like - Catchy Stereo MC’s influenced guitar pop, leading Peel to wryly comment about “The unwholesome stench of melody creeping into the programme”.

The Werefrogs - Don’t Slip Away - the single version of a track which the group had played in a Peel Session 8 days previously. Copies in blue coloured vinyl were to be sent to the winners of the “Draw a Werefrog” competition.

Gut Logic - Undecided - coming out of Texas, this was one of Gut Logic’s contributions to an album
on Anomie Records called Manifestation.  A lo-fi industrial-electronica-death metal hybrid which put me in mind of the kind of content that Load Records would start to put out from the following year onwards.  The Manifestation album featured a number of hilariously named bands such as Pain TeensJesus Penis and Turmoil in the Toybox named after a Christian TV show of the same name which looked at how children’s toys were becoming corrupted by ungodly and satanic forces.

I had thought that I was going to have to add the Japanese/Mancunian stylings of White Kam Kam (or White Come Come according to some sources) when I was unable to locate a solo video of their swirling, stratospheric track, Rise.  Despite sounding similar to any number of bands that Peel would have played in the preceding 2 or 3 years, I thought Rise put many UK bands’ efforts to shame.
However, the band’s sole release, the Skin EP can be shared.  Go to 18:24 to hear Rise in all its splendid glory.

You can access the Abana Ba Nasery tracks that they played for Peel by clicking on the link to his show further up the page.  To whet your appetite, enjoy the tracks they played on 9/5/92 for Andy Kershaw.

Videos courtesy of Asian Shoegaze (White Kam Kam) and Fruitier Than Thou (Abana Ba Nasery)

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Unwound - Caterpillar (9 May 1992)

Imagine you love an unsigned band so much that you not only form a record label, specifically to put that band’s music out, but your label becomes synonymous with US hardcore music.

The band were Unwound.  The label was Kill Rock Stars and the starstruck musical entrepreneur of the Olympia, Washington scene was Slim Moon, who was quoted as saying, “...I started the label expressly to put out Unwound records because I thought Unwound was an incredibly exciting band that K Records and Sub Pop were totally overlooking.”
I heard Peel back announce Kill Rock Stars releases countless times in the period that I listened to him, probably because the label provided a number of bands who went through the Peel show playlist en route either to mainstream success like Gossip or to wider socio-political recognition like Huggy Bear.  Let’s not forget other stalwarts of Peel’s playlists who came under Kill Rock Stars wing such as Bratmobile or Deerhoof - all of whom had a door of sorts opened to them thanks to someone loving Unwound past all sanity.  Moon wasn’t the only one either.  A little bit of cursory research ahead of putting this track on here shows me that Unwound were widely loved and devotedly followed through a 11 year career which ended in 2002.  Furthermore, conventional wisdom seems to be that Unwound’s music got better as they progressed, and that they achieved rock’s impossible dream by splitting up on a high note after releasing a carefully nurtured double album, Leaves Turn Inside You (2001), widely considered to be their masterpiece.

It’s all been a bit of an eye-opener, because I’d never heard of them at all prior to hearing Peel play this debut single.  He may well have agreed with the feeling that Unwound got better with age as they recorded their only Peel Session nearly six years after this show.  Caterpillar catches Unwound trying so hard to sound like Nirvana, it’s almost touching.  Nevertheless, comparing the raw ‘n’ ready thrills of an Olympia track called Caterpillar to an Oldham track with a similar title shows why American rock was catching more imaginations and hearts than British ones at the time.  Unwound managing to pull off that difficult trick of saying nothing at all, but making sure the listener remembers every word.

Video courtesy of samuraiinCfede.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Depth Charge - Daughters of Darkness (9 May 1992)

A week ago, I talked about Invasion of the Bodysnatchers style horror being set to music, and now here we are again.  But while the punky thrash of Half Japanese’s UFO Expert had its roots in the musical past, Jonathan Saul Kane’s Depth Charge project was creating a musical future in what would become to be known as Trip hop.

In 1992, we were still some way off recognising this as a musical genre in its own right and venerating Massive AttackPortisheadTricky et al, though Peel had been giving exposure to tunes which with the benefit of hindsight can be seen as laying the foundations for the 90s most intriguing musical development, such as Smith and Mighty’s Too Late.  Daughters of Darkness, which takes its name from a 1971 Belgian horror film that happened to turn up in Danny Peary’s fabled Cult Movies 2, is a bit of a game changer.  Since 1989, Kane had been ploughing a furrow of mixing together long sound samples from exploitation films with breakbeats and deepened sound through a series of 12-inch releases through Vinyl Solution.  Tunes like Bounty Killers and Goal were frothy and brilliantly silly.  Packed with samples from spaghetti westerns and South American football commentary, they invited listeners to get up and dance but with a touch more discernment than would be found within the acid house or nascent drum ‘n’ bass scenes. They’re light and don’t quite fit, but they’re clearly pointing the way ahead to something different but unformed. 1990’s Dead by Dawn gets a little more serious, starting to push the vibe away from the dance floor and into the listener’s head.  The sound becomes stretched, more languorous and dreamy, though with an abrasive edge.  By the time Kane reached Daughters of Darkness atmosphere started to trump energy and the abrasive had become decadently seductive, like its vampiric inspiration.  With its whispering synths, suffocated strings, heavy snare drum thump and sensual samples, Daughters of Darkness opens a door through which others would, in time, stampede.  But when the history of Trip hop is written, I hope it includes a chapter on Jonathan Saul Kane and the compilation of his Depth Charge Vinyl Solution singles, Nine Deadly Venoms.

Video courtesy of VinylSolutionRecords.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Yami Bolo & Blacka-T - Waiting for a Sound (9 May 1992)

A second Yami Bolo record on the 9/5/92 Peel show and it was one that I initially misread.  With its chorus line “Sitting here in limbo/Waiting for another soundboy to die”, I had thought that it was talking about the kind of violent incidents among Caribbean musicians that saw the likes of Dirtsman lose their lives.  But Blacka-T’s toasting puts the mind at rest and it becomes clear that the “killing” in mind here relates more to battles between sound systems than street gangs.  There’s all the usual braggadocio and front on display with particular sarcasm for country boys coming into Kingston and trying to take on the established crews.  I was recently lucky enough to watch a UK-based semi-take on this when Mubi screened Babylon (1980) a reggae dub version of Quadrophenia (1979) with whom it shared a screenwriter, Martin Stellman.  I call it a semi-take, because the movie’s set in London and the furthest anyone has to come in to town to compete at the climatic sound system battle is Lewisham. Well worth a watch if you can find it.  I actually thought it was better than Quadrophenia both musically and cinematically.

Had I been listening to this in 1992, I expect that I’d have taped it because I liked the tune and the vocal.  In 2019, what gets it onto the metaphorical mixtape, apart from the aforementioned vocal and melody, is the fact that it is an Augustus Pablo production. I have had his tune, AP Special stuck as a constant earworm since reading about its use on the 1980 ‘end of punk/birth of new wave’ documentary, D.O.A. In fact, I love it so much I’m going to use it as curtain music on a play I’m directing at the end of this month.

In keeping with a number of the dub videos on YouTube, we get both the vocal and dub instrumental versions of Waiting for a Sound.  The version played by Peel ends at 3:38.

Videos courtesy of vital sounds (Bolo/Blacka-T) and Rodrigo Pablodub ((Pablo)

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Half Japanese - UFO Expert (9 May 1992)

70 seconds of thrashy Invasion of the Bodysnatchers style paranoia from the “day job” group of one of American rock music’s great gadflys, Jad Fair.  The oeuvre of Half Japanese has been described, not least by the band themselves, as either love songs or monster songs.  UFO Expert belongs to the latter category.  In Jad’s view, the aliens walk among us already. It’s a question of who will be next?  Given its cinematic antecedents and the fact that Invasion of the Bodysnatchers was believed to be based on American paranoia over communism infiltrating the minds, thoughts and behaviour of the American people, it’s possible to see the track as a mocking take on these concerns especially given the fact that by 1992 communism seemed an irrelevance.  We could laugh about it then, but given the way that new “baddies” have been found in subsequent years, I would be surprised if no modern group hadn’t picked up on this track either to try and spread fear over modern aliens or to mock the 21st Century paranoia that clouds so much discourse today.

UFO Expert was the opening track on Half Japanese’s latest album, Fire in the Sky and this led me into this blog’s occasional pastime of researching whether concomitant films may have used the track on their soundtracks.  In this instance, I had to check the soundtrack to the 1993 film, Fire in the Sky which dramatised an alledged UFO abduction on Bonfire Night, 1975, in Arizona.  Considering that Jad Fair formed Half Japanese with his brother, David, in 1975 then it was an open goal.  But alas, the producers were too po-faced to see it. Abel Ferrara  missed the same trick with his 1993 take on Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

Video courtesy of pont.

Monday, 25 March 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Storyville - From Where I Stand (9 May 1992)

When I link to these posts on Twitter - handle is @greasepaintpeel - I put in some pithy subtitle to avoid the links looking too po-faced.  In this case the subtitle will be “When Discogs goes wrong”, because in trying to get this track up I found myself questioning my sanity thanks to a rare piece of fallibility from a site that has been invaluable over the years of writing this blog.

My notes for From Where I Stand warn me that it “may end up being too vanilla ultimately (to make the cut for the blog)”.  Many months after first hearing the file of the 9/5/92 show, I certainly couldn’t place it when I called up YouTube to see if it was available for sharing.  The beefy jangled guitars have Storyville sounding somewhere between Big Country and Teenage Fanclub.  Lyrically, From Where I Stand picks up on the angel lover admiration complex of Spirtualized’s Angel Sigh, but whereas Jason Pierce was content merely to observe the glory of the object of his affections, Storyville’s singer (either Barry Morris or Darren Pearse) is intending to make his interest known and has no fear of either her beauty or her “holiness”.  It’s a straight MOR love song - not earth-shaking or game changing - but I’ve listened to it and enjoyed it numerous times over the last three days.  I could picture it making it on to the 1992 Radio One daytime playlist, though the authorities might have blanched at the final line’s reference to a “hard on day”.  The fact it didn’t make the daytime list means it sits in that odd branch of records on a John Peel running order - the ones that are making a play for mainstream acceptance despite not quite having the money to pull it off.  The type of record that I’ve kept rejecting from this blog whenever Peel played something by The Skin and Hair Trading Company.

So with From Where I Stand accepted with open arms, I took myself off to Discogs to get a little more background information on Storyville from their page, which opens by explaining they come from Austin, Texas.  “Wow!” I think, “”For a Texan, the singer kept the drawl nice and light”. So they released four singles on a small label called Nursery before releasing albums on EastWest and after a 5 year gap on Atlantic, so having swung for the mainstream they certainly seemed to have caught the ears of some influential people.  “Good for them” I thought and then went to the Wikipedia page.  And it was here that I suddenly became aware of the Storyville mystery.  In the Years Active section of Storyville’s Wikipedia page, it said 1994-2000.   Further searches on the Internet turned up the same information.  It turned out that the band who had recorded albums for those big American labels were a blues-rock band featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section.  And then I noticed that the recording of From Where I Stand I’m sharing here was a video and none of the men in that looked anything like the Texan Storyville.  So who the hell was playing as Storyville in 1992?  That was information which the Internet was much more reticent about providing.  Indeed, it was only the sleeve notes to the 12-inch release that gave me a band listing and confirmation that they had recorded the track at Cabin Studios in Coventry.

Discogs had mixed the two Storyvilles together.  From Where I Stand was the final release by the UK version of Storyville who had released exclusively through Nursery, an East Midlands based label who put out an early release by Catatonia and, of greater interest to me, tracks by Thieves featuring David McAlmont.  I’ve seen nothing to suggest that the Austin guys heard an import copy of From Where I Stand and decided “Nice name, we’ll take it!”  To their credit, they made the Leicester branch proud with recordings like Nice Ain’t Got Me Nothing.

Videos courtesy of David Holmes and parkboy55.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy [Peel Session]/Yardstick - Post Murder Tension (9 May 1992)

Videos courtesy of Vibracobra23 (DHHH) and Hammer & Head (Yardstick)

A quick housekeeping note for completists before I start.  The order of tracks on the video of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy session is not the same order in which Peel played them on 9/5/92.  On the show the tracks ran as Positive/Traffic Jam/The Language of Violence/Exercise our Right.  We’ll cover them here in the order they appear on the video.

Given Michael Franti’s status as the drill sergeant of hip-hop, a Peel Session from The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy could have been a wearying experience.  How nice to report that it turns out to be a cracker - lyrically rich and diverse and wrapped up in a number of fascinating musical ideas and settings. In typical DHHH style, the four tracks cover all the major thematic bases: politics, violence, the environment and sex but with a sure touch and a sense for the dramatic that avoids cliche.  Even the didacticism, a real bugbear when it comes to previous DHHH recordings is dialled down and comes across as good sense.  Franti is still urgent and full on, but it feels more like an adviser or counsellor rather than an overzealous lecturer.

The session was recorded on 24 March 1992.  This has a direct bearing on the get-out-and-vote theme behind Exercise our Right with its reference to “April 9” and I can’t believe an advertising firm has never run with “Remember your vote before you get your pint”  slogan.  By the time the session was broadcast, the UK election had been run and Peel perhaps still sore about the result was reflecting about whether democracy was a good idea.  For Franti, the refusal to vote is not a noble act but one of
self sabotage: “Some sucker still gonna get elected”.  He doesn’t make a call for revolution, but instead makes the plea that our vote is all we have and if we use it to back people who will have our interests at heart rather than sitting it out or registering a protest vote, we just might see the system work for us.  It resonates as much in 2019 as it did in 1992, though the search for those worthy of the vote seems even harder than it was then.  With the 1992 US Presidential election campaign well under way by May 1992, Peel was intrigued as to who DHHH would vote for.

Had I heard the session when originally broadcast, I think that The Language of Violence would have spoken to me most.  Against jazz guitar stylings (possibly played by Charlie Hunter) Franti takes us to the most violent place all of us will spend a substantial part of our lives at - school.  In particular he hones in on the one thing that I remember as being the ultimate taboo at secondary school, the one thing that boys in particular could never endure being thought of as. It was a mindset I freely admit that I shared with my contemparies  Call me stupid, call me clumsy, mock me for being bad at sport, for having a face covered in zits, for being a swot, for talking with a posh voice - all of that is fine and can be endured.  But for God’s sake, don’t be thought of as gay.  To be regarded as that in school would be hell - in precisely the ways that Franti outlines at the start of the track.  I’m aware that there is no sight more clodhoppingly hamfisted than a straight man writing about homosexuality, so to be clear, I’m talking about the perception of homosexuality as it was regarded within the bearpit of secondary school rather than in adult life.  Because, until the advent of social media, school was the one unified environment in which every participant would be bound together in a setting where, on a whim, people could willingly choose to be as nasty, unpleasant, cruel and vile in thought, word and deed towards their fellow man as they wished.  It was always so and will always be thus. As much as we seek to educate and enlighten, we will never be able to remove the spite gene from a child.
In fairness, my school, Falmouth Community School was not as bad as the one painted by Franti in The Language of Violence.  I certainly don’t recall hearing about any of the kids who were suspected of being gay ever being beaten up for it but there were definitely a small group of kids who were considered fair game in having homophobic slurs thrown at them in rows or disagreements.  I’m ashamed to admit that I did it myself to one boy from this group not long before this Peel show went out.  In my defence, if such a thing can be defended, I blurted it out in surprise at him interrupting a conversation I was having with a friend of mine so that he could tell me that I had a face like a lemon (damn zits!).  There was also the case that however low down the pecking order I was at school (and believe me, there were plenty of times when I felt like I was sitting right on that dotted relegation line), this kid was even further down it than I was - he was in the year below me, as well, for God’s sake.  But I still remember the look of shock on his face when I said it to him.  He had no comeback at all.  If you’re reading this, Anthony, I’m sorry.
In DHHH’s world, homophobic language leads to homophobic action as the poor subject of the 10 strong gang’s wrath finds himself cornered outside of school and battered to death.  There is though a delicious twist in the tale once one of the gang arrives for their first day at prison...  What really makes the track stand out for me is how Franti brilliantly breaks down how language is used to dehumanise the target and lays the groundwork for violent actions to override compassion and empathy.  Listening to it I suddenly felt very glad that the language Franti rails against here can now be prosecuted by the law.  It all seemed like a pipe dream in 1992.

In the early 90s any song that tackles traffic congestion feels like it’s angling for a place on the
Falling Down soundtrack. The jazz-samba of Traffic Jam takes swipes at the rise of the automobile
against cuts to publictransport services and the resultant fall out both in terms of environmental pollution, industrial cartels, road safety and driver courtesy.  Certainly the backing track with its brilliant manipulation of female harmonies and saxophone to sound like shrill car horns all too successfully gets across the feeling of dread and anguish that being stuck on a slow/non moving freeway can inspire.  It would have made for a less portentous video than REM cooked up in the same circumstances.

The highlight of the session for me though is Positive which melds together a story of a young man going for an AIDS test with Stevie Wonder-tinged harmonica.  It brilliantly captures the feelings of fear, confusion, guilt, regret and worry that Franti’s protagonist goes through while journeying down for the test and reflecting on women slept with and all the times that the protected option wasn’t taken - indeed the “magic/prophylactic” rhyme is the one groaner that Franti inflicts across the four tracks, which isn’t a bad strike rate.  That duet with the harmonica is never more affecting though than on the chorus line, “How m’I gonna live my life/if I’m positive?” The downbeat tone reflecting the facile nature of imploring people to “stay positive” after receiving life changing news. The fade out means that the session ends on more of a downer here on the video than it did on the original broadcast which ended with the up and at ‘em dynamics of Exercise Our Right, but that’s quibbling when set against the fact that such a glorious session is available to be listened to and pored over.

But how, I hear you ask, have we gone from the hip hop vibes of San Francisco to the meat and potatoes rock of Whitehaven’s Yardstick?  Well when Peel played Post Murder Tension - a track from their album, Self Relaxation for the Insane - he felt that it made a nice companion piece with The Language of Violence.  Certainly both tracks take bullying behaviour as their starting point, though Post Murder Tension seems to be within a domestic setting rather than a school one.  There are also heavy hints that the abused ends up murdering the abuser.  “Shed all the hatred” indeed.

All lyrics are copyright to their authors.