Friday, 16 February 2018

Oliver!: Otis Redding - Stay in School (10 April 1992)

Peel played this 75 second curio while linking two other tunes.  It’s the title track of a public service Stax album called Stay in School - Don’t Be a Dropout (1967) which saw Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Booker T & the MGs and others encouraging people to stay in education.  You don’t see Spotify doing that kind of thing, do you. The track also featured on the Redding compilation, Remember Me, which Peel had been dipping into through the early part of the year.

In 1992, with my GCSEs imminent, I would almost certainly have recorded this on to  a mixtape in order to try and reassert the important goal I had, alongside doing Oliver!, which was to get 4 GCSEs at Grade C or above so I could go on to Sixth Form.  It’s odd, I was just beginning to like school at the very point I was on the brink of leaving it.  Maybe it was because I wanted to do drama as an A-Level having not selected it for GCSE - a mistake I really wanted to rectify - but after my disastrous mock exams, I had my work cut out....

Redding apparently wrote the song on the spot - just himself and an acoustic guitar, plus a little overdubbed saxophone.  I love the way he encourages the listener to ponder what would be the worst option for them at their age: school or the unemployment line, as well as the satisfaction of rising above the catcalls to make it to the top, so you can be there to greet the taunters, “when they get there, if they make it”.  If Otis Redding said it was the thing to do - and he tells us quite clearly that he thinks it is and we should say so to anyone who doubts it - then how could I let him down?  Trunkworthy considers this recording a very important one, both in terms of Stax Records’ sense of social responsibility and as a hint of where Redding may have gone musically had he lived on into 1968 and beyond.

Perhaps most impressive of all is the effortless way in which he pulls off the hardest thing any famous person has to say professionally, “Hi. I’m (insert name here)”.  As, you’ll see below, it can be a massive stumbling block.

Don’t panic, he doesn’t sing:

Videos courtesy of twet500 (Redding) and riccardo riande (Bolton).

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Oliver!: Spiritualized - Angel Sigh (10 April 1992)

I initially had a question mark next to this track, taken from Spiritualized’s first album Lazer Guided Melodies.  I suspect this was probably due to the extended noodling fadeout.  However, I’ve fallen more and more in love with it (even the fade out - which doesn’t seem that long when you consider it) while listening to it ahead of this post.

When considering the gorgeous opening 45 seconds - all gentle arpeggios, bass prods, lightly struck tabla and ambient shuffle between keyboards and guitar - I have to refer to a YouTube comment made by Cyrus Budd. They say simply, “Spacegaze.”  It’s a summation that is hard to beat.  Such is the beguiling sense of space and scale cooked up by this opening that I keep expecting the impassioned vocal of a Richard Ashcroft or similar to come in and dominate the space.  As a result, it always surprises me when the phased, husky whisper of Jason Pierce comes in instead.  Pierce always sounds like a man trying to convey the depth of his love/desire/emotion while simultaneously suffering with a hangover and a dose of flu.  Here, he’s admiring a woman from afar, his feelings either unrequited or contained inside him so far.  The beautiful ambient feel of the first minute catches all too well the sense of anticipation that comes from waiting for her to come around the corner and be seen in all her glory.  And then, in classic “quiet/loud/quiet/loud” style, she comes into view and suddenly the guitars are screaming out and the angels are playing their autoharps, as though the spirit of Brian Jones had been drafted into the Spiriualized line-up for this track.  One can almost feel the sun bursts behind her as she walks down the street.  After a repeat of this formula, we go into the long fade out - not that long actually, only about 2 and a half minutes - but it’s quiet all the way through to the end, leaving the indelible image of Pierce waiting patiently (fruitlessly?) for his angel to appear again.

Video courtesy of Rabbit1Lee.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Oliver!: John Peel’s Nachtexpress [O3 Austria] (Monday 6 April 1992)

And so, after 5 months of rehearsal, Falmouth Community School’s production of Oliver! reached production week.  The opening night was Tuesday 7 April and the show would run for 4 nights, ending on Friday 10 April.  Before that, on this day, there was to be a preview performance for kids from local junior schools.  For us, it was a glorified final dress rehearsal.  For them, it was an afternoon off lessons - which was a good chunk of the reason why I was doing it too.
I still had to go to lessons in the morning.  I can’t recall what I had timetabled, but everyone in the cast was made aware of what one cast member had been doing that morning when we arrived after lunch to get ready for the performance.  Colin Leggo had spent all those months of rehearsal playing one of the Artful Dodgers.  Mrs. Stevenson, the school drama teacher and director of the show, had cast two Olivers and two Dodgers who would alternate on the nights of the run.  Colin might have been scheduled to play the part that day.  However, it was his misfortune to have PE as one of his Monday morning lessons.  He told me, “We were supposed to be playing rugby, but it was raining, so we were in the gym hall instead playing ‘crab football’.  Someone got up and started running around with the ball, accidentally jumped on my kneecap and broke it. Nice.”  Gutted as we all were for Colin, it didn’t affect the balance of the show too much as we had someone else already up to speed with the part.  But amateur drama is a precarious business, because understudies are not generally used.  In two productions that I’ve directed, I’ve had to step in and act roles when actors have dropped out at short notice - one of them due to slipping on a piece of pizza in a restaurant on the opening day of the production.  I also used another to make up for retracting an offer I had made for a part when my original choice dropped out because she thought she was going to be away when the show was staged, only to discover she had mixed up her dates and could do the play after all.  As the years pass in this blog, you’ll hear tales of replacements who were replaced after 1 rehearsal because they alienated everyone else and the time I was asked to replace someone, not because they were injured, but their acting was so bad, people threatened to quit if they weren’t replaced.  It’s not usually so cut-throat, I promise...

The preview went off without any problems and so the cast, crew and musicians of Oliver! wended home to send their prayers to Colin - who was given his own special curtain call from the second night of the run onwards - and to dream of a successful run.  Austrian listeners to John Peel’s Nachtexpress on O3 were given a betting tip ahead of the UK General Election, set for Thursday 9 April.  Peel predicted a win for the Conservatives with a reduced majority.  He described this as his worst nightmare.  I hope he put some money on the result, at least.
A common feature of many of Peel’s shows for non-BBC stations was a wish for people listening from far flung corners of Europe to write to him.  2 Nachtexpress listeners had taken him up on this, but to Peel’s chagrin he had lost both letters.  What annoyed him was that if he had been able to name his correspondents, he hoped it might encourage other Nachtexpress listeners to write in as well.  He finished the programme by playing Naye,  a track from the new album by Matchatcha, Diblo Dibala’s new group.  Peel felt that they were slicker than Loketo had been and this was a matter of regret.  Matchatcha were further damned with faint praise as only the first minute of Naye was heard before the programme faded out and the news came on.

The selections from the show were taken from an edited version of the show in which the taper chose not to include any of Peel’s dance music selections.   Amid tracks which have already surfaced here, the only “new” track I couldn’t share was:
Gorilla - Gone - This track had a question mark against it, and having just listened to it again, that question mark may still be there.  A funky and loose piece of power pop driven along by guitar and organ, but blighted by rather gurning vocals.  Have a listen below and see what you think.

Live from Stowmarket!

Friday, 2 February 2018

Oliver!: Cobra - Live Together (6 April 1992)

In one of those 1983 episodes of Top of the Pops which Peel hosted with David Jensen, and which I so recklessly missed when BBC Four repeated it, there is a moment in which our hero lightly disparages Paul McCartney’s iconic paean to racial harmony.  At 6 years old, the substance of Ebony and Ivory flew over my head, I was just goggle eyed at the giant piano keyboard that Macca and Stevie got to sit on.  The song marked the end of a 10 year hiatus for McCartney from writing about anything with a political subtext to it.  His last effort may still have been on the banned list.  Having struck out in 1972 and 1982, McCartney decided to leave politicking to others in 1992, which is where dancehall artist Cobra comes in.
It took me a couple of listens before I had to conclude that despite the “Now I’m not saying this man right and that man wrong/But let’s live together...” opening, this was not a plea for universal tolerance and peace among all men, but more likely a treatise on the murky state of Jamaican politics* Eventually, the patois got away from me - I’m more than open to any suggestions on what Cobra is singing about in connection to the 1976/1979/1980/1984/1988 sequence - allusions to colours like red and green suggest political factionalisation or could allude to land and blood but it’s the mention of grey that intrigues me.  Is it one of the first reggae songs to acknowledge that bringing warring sides together demands a recognition of the ambiguities that exist between the adversaries?  Well, is it?

* Edit - Just listened to it again.  While I think many of the points about recognising ambiguities hold water, if it’s politics are directed anywhere then it’s towards street politics.  Given that Cobra’s early records tried to marry reggae and gangsta rap, it’s credible that this may be a plea to stop killing and try to give each other room.

As so often in this genre, if you can’t make sense of it, just wallow in the sharpness of the performance.

Video courtesy of Djeasy Mixmaster.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Oliver!: The Fall - Married, 2 Kids (6 April 1992)

I only had 2 more selections to cover from Peel’s Nachtexpress show of 6/4/92, and this was to have been the last of them, only for events to force a reorganisation.

Mark E Smith’s death, announced on Wednesday 24 January, came both as a bolt from the blue and a progressive inevitability.  In the latter half of 2017, my Twitter feed had become virtually a live feed of Smith’s health and its effect on Fall gigs.  One night a cancellation, the next night a stunning show.  The next week, Smith would look frail and unwell; the next night back to his old self - albeit singing from a seated position.  As worrying as it sounded - and I’ve read stories since Wednesday of people who knew Smith was unwell to the extent that he had suggested (possibly in jest) that he may have taken an artistic director role in future projects - Smith seemed like he would have gone on forever.  Considering, he’d sung and performed while hungover, having fights, nursing a broken leg and from the dressing room, he could very well have gone full George Melly had he needed to and performed sitting down.  The people would still have come.
His death has provoked a reaction comparable to that of the passings Bowie, Prince and George Michael - it’s clear that he was an inspiration and a hero to so many people.  Like those previously mentioned, his musical gift/style was unquestionably unique - maybe more so even than Bowie and like them, he was an enigma - albeit the only one you could expect to find in your local pub at 1:30 in the afternoon.  People are instinctively drawn to artists that lead you to ask, “Who are they really?  What do they really think?”  Nobody doubted that Smith was the grumpy misanthrope that his work and antics in interviews suggested - though in his 2008 autobiography, Renegade, he suggested that “malevolent Mark” was a screen, a protection to be used if people tried to force themselves on to him.  He never came across as someone who was on your side or who could be relied upon to be there for you, and yet....people remained drawn to him and interested in what he had to say because if life was as shit as he seemed to suggest that he was, then no one was better qualified in pop music to encapsulate it.  Life was shit and turgid and disappointing.  Relationships were inevitably doomed.  The city was bleak and fun was a deception.  Smith touched on all of this and met the gloom and doom head on.  He couldn’t inspire optimism, but he faced despair down.  You can’t beat it, he seemed to say but neither do you have to succumb to it.  You can face it down into stalemate and if you have enough about you for drink, cigarettes and a good book that will do to be going on with.  That was all the comfort Smith could offer you, but it resonated and people went back to it every time.

I was not a Fall fan in John Peel’s lifetime.  Whenever I heard them while driving back from a rehearsal, I was at best, indifferent and I have no Fall tracks on any of the 2002 mixtapes I made.  Indeed it wasn’t until Rob Da Bank on OneMusic played What About Us that I willingly taped a Fall track.  I should have got on board sooner, after all Smith liked The Move and, although I wasn’t to
learn it until this week, we both shared a liking for Malcolm Allison’s autobiography - a copy of which The Fall gave to Peel on his 50th birthday.

When I started this blog, I hoped it would give me an opportunity to appreciate The Fall more than I had previously done.  By and large this has happened.  I wouldn’t call myself a Fall convert by any means, but I see more readily what Peel meant by statements like “Always different, always the same”.  Not only that, but out of the near 400 selections that have been put on this blog so far, if you were to ask me, which opening most readily comes to my mind out of all of them, then it’s this.  The opportunity to learn more about them will always be there given that there are another 12 years’ worth of Peel shows to work through and Peel was playing them all the way up to and including his last show.

After all that, it feels quite mundane in the circumstances to come back to a single song, but Peel had this track lined up for his Nachtexpress listeners, hoping that the 03 DJs had been giving plenty of exposure to the Code:Selfish album.  It may be my favourite of all those that Peel played from it. Smith had recently married Saffron Prior, the head of The Fall’s official fan club but this bluesy lament didn’t augur well for a blissful union.  Smith’s protagonist is exhausted, jaded, defeated and “abject”. We learn nothing about the spouse and children, but they’ve driven the protagonist back to a hotel in Notting Hill Gate - either due to separation or perhaps as a venue for extra-marital activity.  Marital responsibility is presented here as a sickness leading to loss of appetite (an inability to commit to work), stress (too busy to think/too busy to work), exhaustion (knocked out after 2 pints), an inability to make rational choices (mustard aftershave) and senility (“I’m a long winded article” implying that the freedom to talk outside the marital home leads to turning into a reactionary blowhard. One can picture Smith, sat in the pub in the afternoon, watching the schlubs he has critiqued here, propping up the bar during an extended lunch opening up their latest ramble with, “As a father and husband...”). The Spirit Of Man being the name of a pub is one of those laugh out loud lines that characterise great Fall songs though Peel said afterwards that the line, “I have a peculiar
goatish smell” was the one that most people drew his attention to in their letters to him.

Video courtesy of Kevin Kriel.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Oliver!: The Meathooks - Manic Tribe N.Y.C (6 April 1992)

I’ve mentioned The Meathooks a number of times in recent posts, but this is the first opportunity there has been to put any of their music on here.  The whole of their Cambodia Soul Music album is up there for your delectation.  To jump to Manic Tribe N.Y.C go to 11:24.  I see it as a noisecore complement to the more melodic People To Talk To by The Mad Scene, in that it tries to reflect that fascinating angle of the city as a jungle - most obviously through the battering drum sound.  Peel was having none of it though, “The first person to describe them as aural art terrorists or similar gets their head kicked in.”

Listening to Cambodia Soul Music, I was struck by both how perceptive Peel had been in his picks from the album, both this track and Tribute which comes in around the 20 minute mark, had made my  lists.  However, I found the rest of the album to be really quite boring for the most part.  Peel’s tolerance for this kind of music often flummoxed people - how could anyone choose to listen to, as The Meathooks put it in the sleevenotes for the album, “Ten slices of claustrophobic headache” - but he knew what he was doing.  He believed that noisecore was a genre that should be championed, and if it needed him to act as sommelier for the masses, then so be it.  We couldn’t ask for anyone better suited.

Video courtesy of blackoperations

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Oliver!: PJ Harvey - Victory (6 April 1992)

There is already a version of the Peel Session version of PJ Harvey’s boat-party track on this blog, so taping the version from the Dry album, aired by Peel on 6/4/92, would have been a completist gesture but not an empty one given the brilliance of it.
When Peel was beguiled by a talent, he invariably fell hard for it.  Nachtexpress listeners were left in no doubt of just how much of a gibbering idiot Polly Jean Harvey had made him into: “I had lunch with her recently and was so nervous that I talked throughout the entire meal and didn’t hear a word she said”.

Video courtesy of TheSampler2010.