Saturday, 7 December 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Ragga Twins featuring Junior Reid - Shine Eye (12 June 1992)

I’ve often felt that one way John Peel could have tempered any frustration he felt over his listeners’ conservative choices on a Festive Fifty would have been for him to give out some unofficial awards as a way of recognising records or artists who hadn’t made the chart.  The likes of the Kold Sweat label and Shut Up and Dance should have been given some form of acknowledgement at the end of the year.  In Shut Up and Dance’s case, they should have been given the Best Collaborations award.  Having seduced listeners with their Peter Bouncer team up, Love is All We Need earlier in ‘92, the label provided another dream match when it put together The Ragga Twins with Junior Reid and in the process invented Kanye West.  The title of the track is patois for a female gold digger.  But many years before West made his name with Gold Digger, Black Uhuru had got there first with their 1979 single, Shine Eye Gal.  Rather than sample it, The Ragga Twins hooked up with Reid, who had been Black Uhuru’s lead vocalist in the mid-80s to sing the opening verse and bestow some sense of authentic link to the original source material, while they worked nascent jungle music magic over it.  It’s a perfect match.  Reid’s strident vocal drawing out the frustrated passion of the lyric amid the frenetic arrangements.  My advice is to create your own collaboration between the two versions by listening to the Ragga Twins/Reid version to psych up with before going out for the evening and then chill with a nightcap and the Black Uhuru original before bedtime.

Videos courtesy of X-Dream USA (Ragga Twins) and markobolwyn (Black Uhuru)

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Sonic Youth - 100% (12 June 1992)

In prepping this post about 100%, the lead single on Sonic Youth’s Dirty LP, I was surprised and chastened to learn a little bit more about why Henry Rollins hates everything.  On December 19 1991, Rollins and his housemate, Joe Cole were held up outside their house in Venice Beach by armed muggers.  They only had 50 dollars between them, so Rollins was ordered into the house at gunpoint to get more money.  He managed to escape through a backdoor and raise the alarm, but Cole was not so lucky and a mugging escalated to a murder.  The perpetrators have never been caught.  Rollins had to contend not just with grief at the murder of his best friend, but also the trauma of briefly being suspected of the crime himself.
Sonic Youth dedicated two songs on Dirty to Joe Cole.  JC is the private grieving song with Kim Gordon chocking out an incantation that’s factual, unsentimental, brutally cognisant of life’s fragility and transience, but just about holding itself in from screaming about how unfair the tragedy is.  The music reflects this though with guitars wailing like the sound of walls being beaten by fists and tears burning out of eyes that are melting with the torrent of emotion from those left behind.  It’s the grieving process that those who stood at the back of the crematorium and offered their genuine sympathies at the funeral but had moved on to other things by the next day, don’t see and would run a mile from in terrified helplessness if they ever witnessed it.  According to The John Peel wiki, Peel played JC on a few occasions over the summer of 1992. Alas, I was not acting in anything over that summer so I haven’t heard those shows and won’t be blogging about them, but I wouldn’t have been up to the challenge of JC, I don’t think. It goes to necessary, real places in typical Sonic Youth fashion, but I end up one of those who runs away from the raw pain on display there.  Instead, I would be clinging to the other tune dedicated to Cole’s memory, 100%, which in Thurston Moore’s hands comes across as both the sermon at the funeral and the communal hymn sung to remember their fallen friend.

It does Moore a dis-service though to think that although 100% may be a more palatable expression of grief and remembrance, it’s by no means soft in terms of its feelings.  In the background, Lee Ranaldo’s guitar sounds like a dozen churning stomachs, sick with grief and sticking a handkerchief in the mouth to try and stop the dam of grief from bursting over in public the way that JC shows that it will in private.  Lyrically, the track balances tributes to Cole (“I can never forget you/The way you rock the girls/They rule the world and love you/A blast in the underworld”) with direct questions about forgiveness (“Can you forgive the boy/Who shot you in the head?/Or should you get a gun
and/Go and get revenge?)  This last week in the UK has seen notions of forgiveness and not meeting violence with more hate given a considerable amount of analysis.  But as far as Sonic Youth are concerned, in so far as the murder of Joe Cole went, they lean more towards a Henry Rollinsesque worldview (“I’ve been around the world a million times/and all you men are slime/A gun to my head/Goodbye, I am dead/Westwood rockers, it’s time for crime”).

Incitement to violence couched in a tribute to a murdered friend but presented in thunderously catchy style means that 100% stands as one of the more genuinely edgy UK Top 30 hit singles of the 1990s.

Video courtesy of Sonic Youth.
All lyrics are copyright to their authors.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Chaka Demus - Special Request (12 June 1992)

A year after this edition of the John Peel Show was broadcast, I got very interested in the UK Top 40 Singles Chart.  This was because at the tail-end of 1992, I’d bought a copy of The Guinness Book of Top 40 Charts 1952-1991, one of the great reference books I ever owned until I threw it out in a house move 12 years ago.  Well, it wasn’t like I was going to start a blog where it might have been useful to refer to, back then, was it?  For several weeks across March-May 1993, I listened to Bruno Brookes taking us through the chart and dutifully wrote down the climbers, the fallers, the non-movers and new entries.  Like the Guinness Book of Top 40 Charts, I drew a box around the highest number that any single had reached when it became apparent that it was now on a downward curve.  It was only a brief obssession, perhaps 6 Sundays’ worth, but it did allow me to record the second most remembered set of chart placings of the 1990s, after the outcome of the Country House/Roll With It face-off.  I refer to the Top 3 singles at week ending 21 March 1993 with pop/reggae crossover hits by ShaggySnow and Shabba Ranks dominating the top of the chart.  Whether it was a quirk of timing or a genuine moment of cultural change, I couldn’t tell, but it opened the floodgates to a spell where chart reggae gave chart dance a real run for its money.  After the initial burst of chart successes, the second wave of artists - many of whom had been toiling away on smaller labels or in clubs for years - starting having hits.  Names like CJ LewisPato Banton and Ini Kamoze hit the mainstream jackpot, all a long way from the days when their main UK radio exposure was through John Peel or The Man Ezeke.
Looking back on it now, the relationship those records had to reggae/dancehall was tenuous to say the least.  They were party records, perfect for summer evenings and given the fact that a number of them had their biggest hits with reworkings of 60s tunes like Sweets For My Sweet or Baby, Come Back they had understandable cross-audience appeal for all ages.  One can only have sympathy for genuine natty dreads who had to endure tourists shouting “Shabba!” as they went about their business.
I think that the best of these records was Tease Me by Chaka Demus and Pliers, which was slinky, sexy and perfectly pitched in terms of the performances and production.  It carried off that trick of sounding like an obvious hit without the workings that made it so, being exposed.  By early 1994, the duo had thrown the kitchen sink at Twist and Shout and were rewarded with a Number 1 single.

For Chaka Demus this was the commercial pay-off for nearly 10 years worth of graft.  The idea of Number 1 singles seemed very remote when Peel played Special Request on this show.  The Top Rank label, who issued the single couldn’t even spell his name correctly.  Unlike the hits with Pliers, you can forget singing along all the way through as Demus starts toasting.  The track appears to be
in praise of women advocating friendship, respect and love for them, but there’s moments where things get earthier.  I hear the phrase, “rear end” and references to how this proves love between a man and a woman, a potential anal sex subtext which gives the phrase, Special Request added potency.  If I’m looking for things that aren’t there, I’m simply happy to sit back and enjoy a performance and production ringing with positive vibes and endorsing male/female romance.  A nice change from the prevailing reggae mood of desperate living, vendettas and self-aggrandisement .

Video courtesy of devagne

Friday, 29 November 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Gibson Bros. - Old Devil (12 June 1992)

NOTE - The video features both sides of The Gibson Bros. My Huckleberry Friend single. Go to 2:45  to get straight to their version of Old Devil.

Listening to Don Howland sing Old Devil, I found one of popular music’s perennial questions running through my mind: Can White Men Play (or Sing) the Blues?  To which my answer would be, yes they can, if only they didn’t make such a big show of singing them.  Because when white musicians sing blues songs, affectation rules.  They are the musical equivalent of British people ordering a meal in an Italian restaurant or Steve McClaren doing an interview with Dutch television.  It’s incredible that audiences listen with a straight face to it, but I suppose it’s because very few of us were genuinely Born With The Blues, so reproductions are as good as we can aspire to.  If you can’t be pure, then at least be sincere.  Out of that sincerity, it may be possible to create magic.

The Gibson Bros. provided me with one of this blog’s great earworms several years’ ago with the “Lordy lord” refrain that ran throughout their relentlessly chugging Broke Down Engine.  This cover of Bo Carter’s 1938 song is essentially a solo turn from Howland as he runs through a litany of problems including fish theft and domestic abuse.  Throughout the track he vocally gurns in a way that makes it feel like he’s trying to summon up the blues from the very depths of his gut.  Compare his performance to Carter’s effortless original and it seems to bear out the belief that the blues are both a state of mind and pure distilled pain.  Only by sharing the misery can these poor put-upon folks make themselves feel better.  In keeping with the best white blues singers/bands, the Gibson Bros.’ success comes from the fact that they bring fresh elements of themselves to what they do.  The vocals are contorted blues croon, but blended with the almost Appalachian country playing and production which makes the guitar/banjo sound like it’s being played by the Devil, all the way down in Hell, as a soundtrack to the parade of petty and nasty acts on the surface, it comes together to create something which could sound laughable, but ends up rather compelling.  Somewhere in Detroit, Jack White, was taking notes...

Videos courtesy of Ecilliterate (Gibson Bros.) and randomandrare (Carter)

Sunday, 24 November 2019

The Comedy of Errors: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 6 June 1992)

For the first time in ages, we’ve skipped some Peel broadcasts due to the timings on the files not matching my minimum of 45 minutes worth of material rule.  If you’re less precious about these things, and quite frankly most people are, then head to the John Peel wiki to find out about (and listen to) content from 30 May 1992 and 5 June 1992.

Tonight’s Peel Show had a real need for speed running through it.  Perhaps it was inevitable given that Peel was setting off to the Isle of Man for the 1992  TT Races on the following day.  He was sent a postcard from Andy Overton, one of the competitors.  Further DeathRace like thrills found themselves on Peel’s playlist in the shape of On the Road Again by Drag Racing Underground, which nearly got in on the grounds of the extraordinary vignette it includes which is set at a truckstop.
As he had hoped to on the previous week’s show, Peel had met up with and shaken the hand of Diblo Dibala.

Elsewhere, it wouldn’t be summer 1992 without a story about the unravelling marriage between Prince Charles and Princess Diana.  Today’s news story concerned them turning up separately for Prince William’s school sports day.  Peel expressed surprised sympathy for Diana, “I don’t think any marriage could survive the crap being thrown at hers.”

The selections from this show were taken from the last 90 minutes of the programme.  I had only one selection that I wanted to share but was unable to:

The Bardots - Gloriole [Peel Session]: I caught two of the tracks from the Norwich four-piece’s session.  This brisk piece of Goth rock caught my interest, but I wasn’t so taken with their cover of The Beatles song, Don’t Let Me Down.

One track made my initial selections only to ultimately miss out:

Velocity Girl - My Forgotten Favourite: Named after a C86 touchstone track and with a sound that was pure UK shoegaze, the fact that Velocity Girl  hailed from College Park, Maryland seemed to suggest that not every female fronted Stateside band in the early 1990s wanted to be Hole, when they could instead be Bleach.  I was initially seduced but ultimately found myself thinking that Ipswich’s finest did a better job.

The file that I heard the recording of this show on ran on to include the start of Lynn Parsons’s show. This provided a fascinating insight into pre-Matthew Bannister playlisting though to Parsons’s credit, she showed an early understanding of the orthodoxy that would see nothing older than 5 years played on the station by opening her show with One Better World, a 1989 single by ABC, which had barely scraped inside the Top 40.  Maybe Peel’s influence rubbed off on her and she opened all her shows with similar minor hits.  At 2am on Sunday morning, she’d surely earned the right to experiment.

Full tracklisting

Video courtesy of ABCVevo

Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Winfred Shaw and Dick Powell - Lullaby of Broadway (6 June 1992)

In time for the 6/6/92 show, a listener called Dave (not me) sent Peel a postcard with an owl on it and a request that he play something for himself.  “Hope you’ve got your dancing shoes on” said Peel and responded to the invitation not with Teenage Kicks but the breakout tune from Busby Berkeley’s 1935 film, Gold Diggers of 1935.  Written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, featuring one of the largest collections of tap dancers preserved on vinyl, Lullaby of Broadway was a perennial favourite of Peel’s and cropped up intermittently on his playlists.  Set in a world of Broadway dancers and wannabe Manhattan starlets who need stamina to survive long nights with their “Broadway Daddies” as well as skill to get their big break, it may very well have inspired tracks like My Time of Day from Guys and Dolls, which I appeared in, though I didn’t sing the song, a year after this show was broadcast.
The track goes through four movements: Winifred Shaw, backed by Leo Forbstein and his orchestra takes us through the tune up to 2:10, which is where Berkeley’s dancers get to work (the version on record is shorter than the sequence in the film). At 3:25, Dick Powell gets a contractually obliged turn, only 15 seconds long, but enough to get him on the record sleeve, which is nice work if you can get it. From 3:40 onwards the chorus and dancers take the track through to thunderous applause at the end including at 4:30, one of those descending brass runs which were so much a feature of 30s and 40s soundtracks.  A musical cue ripe for use either in a Golden Age of Hollywood musical or a film noir.

I suspect that had I been listening to the show in 1992, I’d have taped Lullaby of Broadway because a) it’s a wonderful tune and that enchanting gramophone-like quality to the sound genuinely allows us to feel like we’re hearing the past and b) the LOLBANTZ of hearing a 57 year old musical track played on Radio 1 (albeit in the early hours of the morning).  I don’t listen to Radio 1’s night-time output these days, though I keep meaning to.  Does anyone there now have the heft of Peel which would allow them to play records as old as this with impunity?  Would Huw Stephens ever feel inclined to play something like Dance at the Gym on a Sunday night?  Hmmm...I doubt it, but Phil Taggart could be persuaded, I think.

It would be another 9 years before Lullaby of Broadway would register with me.  In August 2001, I appeared in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, a zany 1987 comedy-thriller by John Bishop - not the comedian -  The curtain music at both start and end of the play was Lullaby of Broadway - though it wasn’t this version-  and as I drove home from St. Austell to Falmouth after the dress rehearsal on 7 August 2001, I listened to Peel’s show and he played the Shaw/Powell version of Lullaby of Broadway.  It was surely an omen that the show was going to be a success.  It certainly should have been with its mixture of escaped Nazi spies, undercover murderers, a spooky house and the subplot about staging White House Merry Go Round a musical about U.S. Presidents which is used as the cover to bring the characters together in the hope of unmasking The Stage Door Slasher -  maybe it inspired The Simpsons?  If that all sounds like the recipe for a ghastly night out, have a
heart. I hadn’t done a show in nine months and was desperate to get back onstage.
Alas, it missed the mark.  It will be a long time before we soundtrack The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 so I’m not worried about giving spoilers out here.  Our production never quite got over the handicap of our director having to act in a medium sized role which we weren’t able to fill.  It meant that he couldn’t watch the rehearsals as forensically as a fast-paced comedy demanded.  It needed someone to be able to tell us when less was more or indeed when more needed to be more.  It wan’t a disaster - you’ll have to wait till this blog reaches 1997 for one of those.  The performances were all good and it looked ravishing - but it lacked polish and focus, meaning that a potentially riotous night at the theatre never quite achieved lift-off.  A point brought home to us as the run of 12 performances progressed by curtain-call applause from audiences that suggested they quite liked what they had seen, but only if nobody asked them any questions about it.  As we made our way offstage after taking our bows to another crescendo of polite applause, I was moved to comment to one of the cast, “Sounds like a parish council meeting accepting the minutes”.  I brought friends of mine out to see one performance and dropped them home afterwards.  In the bar, they smiled and nodded and said “Well done” to everyone, but the moment we were in the car, I said, “We botched it, didn’t we?” and their agreement was immediate.
I couldn’t be too down-hearted though.  My character, struggling comedian, Eddie McCuen got the girl at the end of the play, undercover naval agent, Nikki Crandall. And for a brief and blissful time over late 2001, art imitated life as myself and the lady who played her, Ruth*, got together before the end of the run.  We reinvigorated each other’s lives just at the right time for both of us and as previously discussed here, she brought me a rare piece of treasure that I still value to this day.  Just over a week ago, she celebrated her birthday, so this one’s for her.

*The Stage Door Slasher went on to become her father-in-law a couple of years later.  So she gained a father-in-law and a starting point if she, or indeed any of us who were in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, ever find ourselves playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

The full sequence is just over 13 minutes apparently, but here’s an excerpt.  Still staggering in any era.

Videos courtesy of Okmusix and TheJudyRoomVideos

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Anthony Red Rose - Tempo [Fever Pitch Riddim] (6 June 1992)

The fact that this Bunny Lie Lie produced remix of Anthony Red Rose’s 1985 track - originally produced by King Tubby - was preserved as one of the 1992 selections for the Peelenium automatically concurs some level of respect to it.  But is it justified?  Well, it may take a second listen to confirm it, but I think that it is worthy of a place in any list of great/representative 20th Century tracks.  It’s certainly up there with one of the great remixes of any era because it manages to achieve the difficult task of boosting both the singer and the song.
The ‘85 original is perfectly fine in its way, but it is first and foremost a statement by King Tubby.  Red Rose finds himself enmeshed in murky echo, like he’s singing behind frosted glass.  This may count as a piece of considered production work, but it does feel like a waste of a good singjay.  Also, for a track called Tempo, the first recording proceeds at a pretty dirge-like one.  The most successful element of the original is the sense of tension and menace it brings to the idea of face-offs between the soundboys, though this in itself is as common in reggae dancehall as broken hearts are in country music.  Had Peel played the ‘85 recording on this show, and he acknowledged after playing the remix that the original had been a favourite of his back in the day, I might have included it here.  But I might well have passed too.  It’s good, but feels a lot like something to be observed under a glass bowl rather than fully engaged with.
Now the Bunny Lie Lie production may lack a little in the way of musical variation - essentially the same backing melody runs all the way through from beginning to end - but this is fine because it means that while Red Rose has to do all of the heavy lifting, he at least gets to be star of his own song rather than an element to be phased up and down at the producer’s whim.  What Anthony brings to the piece is a tangible sense of joy.  In 1985, the dancehall felt an intimidating place to be, possibly with good reason, but in 1992 and to era defining effect, Lie Lie and Red Rose turn it into a palace of delights.  The title, Tempo, could have any number of contexts and intriguingly, the remix touches on many of them by bringing out a number of the essential elements required to make popular music so compelling.  These include the thrill of being out where the action is (“I just love how the dancehall vibes keep flowing”), the competitive edge underlying soundclashes (“clip them wing” etc), the sheer transformative power of this music (“I just love how the champion sound keep playing”) and finally and most importantly of all, the chance to impress women (“Girls them bubble like a soup in a pot...”). It’s far more than just “a little of this and a little of that”, it’s the world of Dancehall presented as an intoxicating way to spend your money, time, hopes and life.

Video courtesy of Dylan Esquivel