Saturday, 25 January 2020

The Comedy of Errors: Loketo - Le Mot Fin (13 June 1992)

All that time in France was starting to rub off on the AfroPop musicians who had gone there to set up home and make their fortunes.  This may be one of the few AfroPop tunes posted on this blog which owes its place here to the vocals ahead of the guitars.  In The Last Word (my GCSE French still holds up, doesn’t it), Lucien Bokilo unleashes his inner Serge Gainsbourg over an understated, but delightful, arrangement from Loketo.  Unlike the get up and dance vibe of most soukous, this is one for Sunday mornings and the woozy vocals reflect a warm, contemplative feeling on the last words said to a loved one.  The video shows Bokilo having moved on from the woman he was getting children to help him softsoap at the Eiffel Tower in the sublime Leonore.  It also implies that his current squeeze ends up having the last word on him.  Being 1992, high waisted trousers are present and correct as a matter of course.

Video courtesy of melynga.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

The Comedy of Errors: The Grid - Figure of Eight [Grid Tribal Trance mix] (13 June 1992)

When Peel returned to host an edition of Top of the Pops in early 1982, after an absence of 14 years, one of the acts he introduced that night were synthpop duo, Soft Cell in a video of Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.  I turned 6 in 1982 and started watching Top of the Pops around the time Peel hosted it.  Bands like Soft Cell loom large in my consciousness when I recall early experiences of watching the programme. I just remember a swathe of duos featuring a singer and a taciturn bloke standing over a synthesiser.  Soft Cell were the first that I recall in a lineage that stretched over the next 5 years and incorporated the likes of YazooBlancmangeErasure and Pet Shop Boys.  They all produced wonderful pop music, though stylistically they were following the lead of Sparks in having a quirky, personable singer matched with a seemingly dour musician.  The sexual politics within those groups flew over my pre-pubescent head and while I have no doubt that Messrs.AlmondBell and Tennant helped generations of teenagers to realise who they were, my attention was always fixed on those behind them, the impassive likes of Vince ClarkeChris Lowe and in the case of Soft Cell, David Ball.  I found them fascinating, in their different ways, all cocooned behind their keyboard stands,  looking like hod carriers behind ballet dancers.

10 years on from Top of the Pops, Ball had left Soft Cell far behind and was now ensconced in the world of dance music as one half of The Grid with Richard Norris.  Although operating in a different milieu to that which he had done in Soft Cell, Ball with Norris, still had the hitmaker’s touch.  Although it would be another 2 years before The Grid had a big hit with Swamp Thing, their earlier work was a staple at the lower end of the charts.  Figure of Eight just managed to break into the Top 50 UK Singles chart.  It’s very much a product of it time in places with all those processed saxes honking away throughout, but in typical Grid style there’s some more eclectic sounds - in this instance scat singing - which help to break up any sense of predictability.  The Grid’s own Tribal Trance mix, as played by Peel on this show, does an even better job of dispelling the essential Hitman and Her vibe of the mellower radio edit and making the track into something more of an event.  That ascending opening minute producing more atmosphere than all the other mixes, including a whole 12-inches worth by Todd Terry, put together.  Though I did enjoy the Tee’s Ultra Mix, which is included below.

Videos courtesy of Bondandgoed and waddleofwigan.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

The Comedy of Errors: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 12 June 1992)

This show may be my favourite so far of all the Peel shows I’ve listened to over the course of doing this blog.  It’s not just the music but a real sense of joy permeates the whole broadcast.  This was always true of John Peel’s broadcasts after he’d enjoyed a change of scene for any period of time longer than 48 hours and in this instance it was down to him being able to indulge in one of his great passions in life.  Namely, watching near lethal high-speed motor sport on the Isle of Man.  “About the only thing, I didn’t do was win the wet T-shirt contest, 3rd again, I’m afraid.”
Among the many people he met out there, he gave a shout out to Robert Miles and Timothy Henderson, two listeners to his show who had gone out to see the TT Races due to Peel raving about the experience, a year earlier.  They certainly seemed to enter into the spirit of the thing by attempting to ride a bike down the street.  Unfortunately, they ended up in a magistrates court as they were naked  apart from wearing crash helmets and boots when they did it.  Still at least they adhered to road safety in some form.  A tickled Peel described them as “Men of the match, at least on an amateur level”.
Peel doubted whether any of the competitors at the race would be listening to his show, but not for the first time, Andy Kershaw - who often accompanied Peel to the races - phoned in to tell him that he was listening to the show in a pub with some of the racers, including future motor cycling superstar, Carl Fogarty.
The other big sporting event of that week, Euro 92 had got underway on Wednesday 10 June.  Peel had passed up the opportunity to watch some Stock car racing in Douglas to watch what he described as an “abject” England performance in a goalless draw with eventual (and surprise) tournament winners, Denmark.  There would be much worse to come.  Scotland, by contrast, were praised for their spirited performance in a 1-0 defeat to Holland.  Peel also reminded me of the incredible, and at times baffling, diversity of sport that Channel 4 used to cover.  They were about to start broadcasting Football Italia and would end the decade with the broadcast rights to Test Match Cricket, but in the late 1980s/early 1990s, their sport output was made up of events that did get attention such as horse racing and NFL Gridiron as well as more niche sports such as Australian Rules Football and most memorably, Sumo wrestling.  It was in this latter sport that Channel 4 were starting to lead British sports broadcasting down a slippery slope by bringing celebrities into the commentary box. Now, I wouldn’t describe actor Brian Blessed as a nonentity (definitely not to his face), but I haven't a clue why anyone would have thought he was a suitable choice to be a commentator for the sport.  Unless Channel 4 were hoping to get Blessed to go “BOOM!!!! FEEL THE EARTH SHAKE AS THESE TWO FAT BASTARDS COLLIDE! THAT’S IT! GET THAT FAT, OVERGROWN BABY OUT OF THE RING! ON HIS ARSE! CRUSH THE MIDGETS AT RINGSIDE, THE LAZY BASTARDS!”
Nevertheless, Peel wasn’t convinced it was a good idea. Footage of Channel 4’s sumo wrestling coverage seems thin on the ground, but Amazon are selling the station’s tie-in guide if you’re tempted to see what the fuss was about.  For more on the golden age of Channel 4 Sport, go to TV Cream.

Away from sport, the news included George Bush defending the USA’s environmental record while simultaneously refusing to sign up to a bio-diversity treaty (things have changed so little).  The UK saw the birth of the world’s smallest baby, Tyler Davidson of Lincoln measured just 6 inches on birth. It ran in the family clearly because his brother only weighed 2lbs.  I’ve heard of weak sperm, but this is ridiculous.  The Queen’s birthday honours were also announced and with the good judgement and sense that we associate with the Royal Family included a life peerage for Jeffrey Archer, who would remain a peer for life, and a convict for 2 years.

The selections from this show were taken from a full 3 hour show.  Some tracks which didn’t make the cut included Rain King from an Estonian release of Sonic Youth’s 1988 album, Daydream Nation which was sent to him by Robert Nightingale; another listener sent him The Epic Ride of John H. Glenn by Walter Brennan in order to increase the number of records about astronauts in Peel’s record collection, “Doubled it in fact.” The one downside of his week in the Isle of Man was time away from his wife, and he still wasn’t going to see her until Sunday, so he played For Your Precious Love by Geater Davis for her. Aaaaaah....
This show also featured the naming of winners of a prize to go to a launch party on 18 June for The Orb’s new album UFOrb which was being held at The London Planetarium which sounds the perfect setting to listen to tracks like Blue Room. One of the winners, Julia Metcalfe, was faced with getting down to London from West Scotland. Peel intended to check with her that she was definitely coming given that transport or accommodation were not included in the prize.  If she was going to decline, he resolved to send her a suitable consolation prize.

I was pretty fortunate that pretty much everything I wanted to include was available, with one exception:

E.C. Groove Society - Tiny Little Rebel Yell - Eton Crop go dance with a track which my notes describe as an “Excellent dance track featuring samples of what sound like the Budweiser frogs intoning the title of the track.”  The ending caught Peel out due to it containing broken up speaking.

Which of these did Carl Fogarty like best?

Brian Blessed sports commentary courtesy of Room 101

Video courtesy of bigmossman

Friday, 17 January 2020

The Comedy of Errors: The Fall - Ed’s Babe/Pumpkin Head Xscapes (12 June 1992)

For reasons which I’ll elaborate on in the next blogpost, John Peel was in cracking form for his show on 12/6/92.  He had spent the past week having a fantastic time at the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races.  Flying back into London that evening feeling “tanned and refreshed.  Greek Gods look like very small beer next to me.” and arriving at the Radio 1 offices at 8.30pm, he found the cherry on the cake of a wonderful week for him, sitting on his desk: a new EP by The Fall called Ed’s Babe.  “Could I possibly ask for anything more?”.

If Free Range was the Fall song of the spring on the Peel show, then the title track of Ed’s Babe held that function over the summer of 1992.  It trades in the electronica sound of Free Range for an acoustic guitar line of substantial ferocity by Craig Scanlon, but augmented by a six note keyboard refrain which keeps popping up at the end of most lines like a little fanfare.  It all seems a little lyrically vague, even by Fall standards, though it is widely believed that Scanlon rather than Mark E. Smith wrote the bulk of the lyrics for what appears to be a cautionary tale of a local lothario with girls dotted all over the place finding himself, literally left holding the baby.  Note the contrast between the chorus refrain of “Ed’s babe” (the child) and “Ed’s babies” (the women that Ed picks up while working nights - 21 Prestwich virgins, ready to be deflowered...).

For Pumpkin Head Xscapes, all I can say is take a bow to the Fall’s rhythm section who cook up such a wonderfully funky and danceable groove it virtually reduces Smith to a stranger in his own song, wandering about chipping in non-sequiturs and leaving you to wish that he’d get out of the way.  Although he does still land some lyrical punches on the laziness of musicians, the tendency to write
exclusively about the artist’s experience “full autobiograph self pity crap”, the KLF who get written off as senile.  Meanwhile the “We’re coming, we’re coming Leo” refrain suggests that Smith or one of the band had recently been watching Ace in the HoleBilly Wilder’s 1951 film which takes the rescue of a man trapped in a cave as its centrepiece. And if, like me you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably seen the Simpsons episode that it inspired.    I’m grateful to The Annotated Fall for making these links,
especially the reference to the fact that the song is inspired by Scanlon’s cat going missing, which perhaps helps put the title of the track into full context.

All lyrics are copyright of their authors.
Videos courtesy of Kevin Kriel.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

The Comedy of Errors: Drive Like Jehu - Bullet Train to Vegas (12 June 1992)

Bullet Train to Vegas was one half of a 7-inch single which San Diego’s Drive Like Jehu released as a holding operation between their eponymous 1992 debut album and their 1994 swansong, Yank Crime. With it’s driving, repetitive riff and hundred mile an hour tempo, it’s an arresting piece of hardcore rock which gallops straight at and through the listener with the force of the titular train.  But how does it compare to other train based pop songs? And who did trains better - Britain or America?

1) Ocean Colour Scene - The Day We Caught the Train - For a band that was often accused of being rooted in the past, there’s something rather appropriate that one of their best known songs is a nostalgia-fest for days spent hanging out with friends and taking a train journey, probably down to Brighton given how in thrall they were to Mod-era Who.  Speaking of whom...

2) The Who - 5.15 - Sitting at the top of side 3 of their 1973 rock opera, Quadrophenia, this promises escape, just like Bullet Train to Vegas, but in typical PeteTownshend style, there’s no jollies to be had  in this train trip to the Brighton coast. With Mod anti-hero Jimmy thrown out of his home and desperately searching for meaning, the train here serves as a vessel for the damaged.  In the Who’s case, it’s speed; for Drive Like Jehu, it’s alcohol, but with the difference that Drive Like Jehu sound like they’re looking forward to getting bombed.  I love 5.15 and really ought to give the full album a try one day.  I’ve seen the film, mainly because Danny Peary wrote about it in Cult Movies 2 and seem to be in the minority of people who found it a slog to sit through. Like getting the London to Brighton direct line train and getting stuck for 2 hours due to signal failure at Croydon.

3) Gladys Knight and the Pips - Midnight Train to Georgia - well, in musical terms, this was always like having a whole Amtrak train to yourself with four-poster beds in every cabin and teasmades which pour vintage champagne.  In comparison, Drive Like Jehu (and everyone else on this list) crowd into third class, splitting a four pack of beers between them.  But American train songs always seem far more geographically bold.  We’ve gone to Las VegasGeorgia and next up, we’re on a track towards Heaven.

4) Bob Dylan - Slow Train - it’s interesting, but I’m currently listing selections from Peel’s BFBS shows of November 1992 in order to soundtrack a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I was rehearsing/performing through October-December ‘92.  By this point, Peel had long tired of
Dylan’s output, finding his 1980s releases uninspiring and his live performances, some of which he had to review for The Observer, phoned in to the point of contempt for his audience.  However, he had heard and enjoyed Dylan’s 1992 album, Good As I Been to You and played tracks from it on his shows.  I’ve not been persuaded by any of them yet, but do find myself increasingly being drawn to Dylan’s 70s work.  Having got over the urge to play games with those who expected him to produce world changing lyrical statements in the 60s, Dylan seems willing to give more of himself in his 70s compositions and as a result becomes far more engaging to listen to.  As his ensembles got larger and the songs got longer, he seems - on the admittedly limited evidence I’ve heard - to have worked to the theory that if he was writing 6/7/8 minute tracks that there was little room for self indulgence.  Keep things moving and keep them interesting, everything is to the service of the song.  It means that he can get away, effortlessly, with tracks like the semi-title track to his 1979 album, Slow Train Coming, recorded after Dylan converted to Christianity.  Getting stuck on a train with someone trying to convert you may seem like hell, but Dylan’s gift with a melody means that it cannot be entirely dismissed as long as the bar remains open or one of Drive Like Jehu’s beers remains available to be shared while discussing the issues.

5) Travis - Last Train - When this band released their debut album, Good Feeling in 1997, they appeared all set to become the new Oasis.  By the time they released their third album, The Invisible Band in 2001, they appeared to be settling for becoming the new Runrig.  This could be intensely frustrating at times, but they got away with it because beneath the deceptively flimsy arrangements of their songs, Fran Healy could always be relied upon to come up with lyrics that could be casually, emotionally devastating.  Last Train starts out like it’s soundtracking a Cold War thriller, but takes diversions through writer’s block, lost love, plans of murder and ends on a note suggesting that Healy will go on to throw himself under a train once he has completed his broken hearted killing spree.  I can picture Drive Like Jehu coming home equally bleary-eyed and depressed after their Vegas blow out.

So who did trains in song better - UK or USA?  To be honest, I really can’t tell based on my list.  All of the tracks including Drive Like Jehu’s offer plenty of aural delights.  The USA could steal a march if we throw in Love Train by The O’Jays, but the UK comes roaring back into contention with Groovy Train by The Farm.  I think ultimately I may have to give the nod to the UK mainly thanks to
 John Peel’s 2004 favourites, Bloc Party due to their track Waiting For the 7.18 being the only one of the songs here to sum up the true essence of train travel: standing around, waiting. Waiting for escape, fun, revelation, the way home or just to get out of the cold.

Please feel free to add your own train based compositions, but please...nothing by this lot.

Go to 1:12 for a cracking Ocean Colour Scene related blooper. Video courtesy of Jack Judge.

Video courtesy of Drive Like Jehu - Topic

Sunday, 5 January 2020

The Comedy of Errors: Datblygu - European Anthem 1992/No Law, No Property/Drug Addict? [Peel Session] (12 June 1992)

Video courtesy of Henry Moss


Three-quarters of the tracks Datblugyu recorded for their fourth Peel Session.  I passed on the final session track, Chatterbox, described by David Edwards as “an anti bullfighting song” but which degenerates into ten minutes of off-key warbling and tedium before ending on Edwards thanking Peel and pondering whether the group should do an Elvis Presley cover.  It’s interesting only as an example of how drunk the band got as they progressed through the recording of the session.

As for what I have included, well I can’t tell you much about the lyrical content as it’s sung in Welsh, except for Drug Addict? which may be the only music track I’ve ever heard which namechecks William ShakespeareLaurie Anderson and Steve Wright.
Session opener, European Anthem 1992 might have been composed with Euro 92 in mind.  One way or another it should probably be placed in a time capsule on 31 January 2020, to be opened and played at full volume if/when the UK ever rejoins the European Union.*

*Dependent on whether the lyrics are actually a Leavers wet dream (any Welsh language commenters are more than welcome to set this straight).**

** Just looked at my notes for this track, and European Anthem 1992 is not about either football or politics, but a mix of the evergreen (sex) and the niche (European rail/airport announcements).

Except where stated, all videos courtesy of Datblygu Topic.

Friday, 3 January 2020

The Comedy of Errors: Jacob’s Mouse - [Peel Session] (12 June 1992)

Jacob’s Mouse were formed when brothers Hugo and Jebb Boothby bonded with fellow pre-teen drummer, Sam Marsh over a love of heavy metal, “We were 11 at the time and it was quite a rare thing to find other people into heavy metal.” (Marsh).  By 16, the trio felt they had outgrown it, in part because of the music that they had heard while listening to the John Peel Show.  Nevertheless, when listening to this session - a repeat of their debut session, first broadcast the night after Oliver! had finished - I found myself noticing how much the tracks in this session owed to metal.  It’s most noticeable in the lyrics.  Four of the five tracks are made up of single, sparse verses which are repeated throughout with slight variations to reflect someone else’s point of view. They may be repetitive, but refrains like “Fish get caught and fish in a lie” in session opener, Oblong, will stay running around your head like an overactive puppy.
The paucity of lyrical variety may be down to the fact Sam Marsh is the vocalist and drummers have more than enough to cope with without having to recite reams of lyrics like a percussive Leonard Cohen.  However, it’s equally likely that the tracks the band recorded for the session were works in progress.  Oblong and the miniature Pink Floyd imbued Fridge were contemporary releases on their Ton Up EP.  Session closer, A Thin Sound (as it was called then) was held over till the following year’s I’m Scared LP.

The sound here takes the best elements of metal and holds its own against any American grunge group of the time.  The video is taken from the 12/6/92 show, but not every track gets namechecked on it. The full tracklisting for the session is:
1) Oblong (up to 3:50)
2) Fridge (up to 6:28)
3) Microflesh (up to 10:29.  The only track which doesn’t rely on a single repeated verse, but also the only one that I would have omitted had I been making a mix-tape.)
4) Homophobe (up to 14:19.  The verse for this track sounds like a lost David Bowie rocker from his 72-74 period. The verse is brief but as with Oblong, it jumps straight into your head and “With his feet and his hands on my hot chest/And he couldn’t take his eyes off of this” gets you immediately singing along.)
5) A Thin Sound (up to end and having stood toe to toe with the grunge bands, Jacob’s Mouse end up showing some new tricks to Red Hot Chili Peppers.)

Video courtesy of Vibracobra23 Ennui