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 two tracks for inclusion in this programme.  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, our next 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.