Saturday, 21 April 2018

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 10 April 1992)

John Peel
“Do you ever have days where you feel you got out of bed on the wrong planet?  This is one of those, I think.”
His opening words to the show on 10/04/92 showed that Peel was taking the events of the previous 24 hours hard.  The Conservative Party, under John Major, had confounded predictions and won the 1992 General Election.  The IRA commemorated a fourth term for the Tories by exploding 2 bombs in London; the second one, at Staples Corner, going off while Peel was on air.  There were times in his life when Peel felt that what he did for a living was excruciatingly superficial when set against the hostile realities of life and a melancholy air hung over the programme on this night - even though he had a guest in to try and gee his spirits up.
A few tracks from previous months - selected for this blog too - turned up on Peel’s playlist tonight.  There was “a final play” for Don’t Want to Be Grant McLennan by Smudge as well as Gag’s far-sighted warning about Donald Trump, The Corner Hot Dog Stand.  Also getting an airing was an acetate of  Hippy Gumbo, recorded by John’s Children and given to Peel by Marc Bolan prior to him starting Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Peel was also enduring further anguish as he had a deadline approaching for a magazine article which he had been asked to write about football songs.  Having received a letter that evening by “George from Swindon” about Elizabeth Archer’s pregnancy, he now wanted George to write back to him with advice on what to write, perhaps lacking courage in some of his own recent choices.
On a depressing evening, small victories had to be found where they could.  Peel had been in a correspondence through the week with Earache Records about the speed at which Stranger Aeons by Entombed should be played at.  The label said 33rpm but Peel had doubted this when playing it at home.  He phoned Earache who told him that it was definitely 33rpm.  However, the next day, they contacted him again and told him, “rather shamefacedly” that he had been correct and that it should be played at 45rpm.  It had originally been on my list of inclusions, and maybe if it stayed at 33rpm it would have featured here, but listening to it again it fell away in a heap of steaming “meh”-ness.
There were a few others that fell from favour and in a couple of cases, I think I might have made mistakes:

Afghan Whigs - This is my Confession - I should have been well disposed towards Afghan Whigs considering they recorded tracks from Jesus Christ Superstar, of which more if and when this blog ever gets to 1996, but despite the strong start to this track, interest dribbled away very quickly.  However, I owe a big apology to...

The Hair & Skin Trading Company - Elevenate - who yet again found my wavering thumb ultimately pointing downward, despite coming up with a track that went in a number of surprising directions but ultimately failing to convince me.

Hyper - U - Demonic S-Cape - a track which covers similar ground to In the Name of the One by Prudens Futuri and ultimately comes off worse.

There were a couple of tracks I would have included but couldn’t get hold of:

Stare - Work - described in my notes as “an excellent protest song requested by Felicity of Wood Green”.

Krispy 3 - Harder Times - Still brilliant.  Still unavailable.

All other selections from this show were taken from a full 3 hour recording of it.  The next evening, Saturday 11 April 1992, would be the first not to run alongside Oliver! It featured sessions from
Jacob’s Mouse and a repeat of Robert Lloyd’s Terminal Hoedown session from two months earlier.

Full tracklisting

“He’s a born undertaker’s mute/I can see him in his black silk suit/ Following behind the funeral procession/With his features fixed in a suitable expression” (That’s your Funeral from Oliver! Words and music by Lionel Bart).
To have both a show and a general election in the same week was a combination that I have never experienced since April 1992.  I had watched the previous night up to the point where the famous Basildon result was announced, but the significance of it was lost on me despite the ballyhoo that accompanied the declaration.  When my father woke me for my paper round and  told me that the Conservatives had won again, I was mildly perplexed rather than majorly put out as I wasn’t eligible to vote until the next election anyway.  Like many others though, I did wonder whether I would ever see a Labour government, more out of curiosity than political conviction at that point.  My seat of Falmouth and Camborne, which the Liberal Democrats had targeted, was held by the Conservatives and was represented by former Olympic champion and World Record holder, Sebastian Coe.  Later that year, my parents would escort him and his then wife when they were guests of honour at an Atheneum Club dinner & dance, my father being president of the club over 1992.
As I say, I had no influence over the election, but Oliver! went extremely well running from Tuesday 7 April to Friday 10 April 1992.  I won’t be going into extensive reminiscence for a show that no one reading this (outside of any Facebook friends who were in it and may be looking in) ever saw.  Suffice to say, my main business as Mr. Sowerberry the undertaker, was wrapped up inside the opening half an hour.  I sang That’s Your Funeral without any problems and blundered by wearing white socks under my undertaker’s costume.  This was nothing new as I continued to wear white socks casually until well into my early 20s.  In mitigation, I worked a period of that time in a sports shop, so it was expected.  The textiles teacher, Mrs. Slater, told me about the socks but no-one gave me any black ones to wear.  Indeed, it wasn’t till the final night that anyone gave me prop money to pay for Oliver, up till then I mimed handing money to Norman Selwood as Mr. Bumble.   Once young Oliver Twist ran away to join Fagin’s gang, my appearances were more sporadic:  A Bow Street Runner at the end of the first half who catches Oliver and starts his journey towards safety and respectable society whereby, through one of those “only in a musical” coincidences where Oliver has the whole of London to pickpocket but ends up getting caught by trying to steal from his own
grandfather, Mr. Brownlow; a tavern drinker in The Three Cripples joining in with Oom-Pah-Pah and
then cowering with all the other drinkers from the fearsome Bill Sikes - a classmate of mine was most jealous and put out that a girl he fancied had to spend these scenes sat on my lap and cuddled up to me.  I told him he should get into acting, then it might be his turn to enjoy such accidental pleasures; I also sang the Knife Grinder’s part in Who Will Buy, which in a sense I enjoyed more than Sowerberry’s song because a) Who Will Buy is a much better piece of music and b) many of the subtleties in That’s Your Funeral went over my head.  I wasn’t even aware of the meaning of the title and my performance was less sepulchrally gloomy than may have been required.  Instead, I ended up in a kind of vaguely pissed off middle agedness mixed with a touch of henpeckedness.  In other words, if I did the part again now, I would do it very differently.  But that’s true of most of the performances I gave between 1992-97.  I finished my nights’ work as the Bow Street Runner again, raiding Fagin’s place after SPOILER Bill Sikes is killed and Nancy murdered.  Applause was long and loud.  Colin Leggo was cheered to the rafters as he came out to sing a reprise of Consider Yourself on one leg after suffering a broken kneecap in a PE lesson at the start of the week.  Friendships that had been bonded together over 6 months endured in some cases, and faded away in
others.  I went away from it all, about an hour before Peel would begin his long 3 hours of the soul,
determined to try and do well enough in my GCSEs so I could do A-Level Drama.  The director, Jane
Stevenson, also Head of Drama, told me that the school was going to perform Carousel in 1993.  With a bit of luck, I could be doing all this again within a year, but in the event, I was back into rehearsals for something completely different by the start of the following month...

....but before this blog moves on to the Peel show playlist for my next show, the Oliver! posts will wrap up in the next few weeks with reflections on the Oliver! soundtrack itself and finally the ultimate Oliver! mixtape from Peel’s shows from 2 November 1991 to 10 April 1992.

I’m the man in black....

Photo courtesy of Jane Stevenson

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Oliver!: Revolver - Venice (10 April 1992)

The Oliver! selections started with a song about clandestine infidelities, so it’s fitting that the final track from that show should cover similar ground.  And how nice to hear Revolver on such confident form here, in contrast to the anguish I went through over their performance on their Peel Session a while ago.

Everything about the opening of this track is perfect.  The minute long overture reflecting the journey to get to Venice, a city for lovers, and the opening verse conveys exactly what had brought Matt Flint all the way there:
Fall into your arms I could die in there.
The wonder of a smile just leaves me bare.
Think of how we’d be if we had more time.
I can keep a secret if you keep mine.
(All lyrics copyright to their authors).

Having established the sense of desire that has brought the lovers together, the track then reflects on the underlying unspoken cost of the affair, both to the lovers themselves who lack stability in what they do - “Waste away my hours in nowhere sure” - and the effect that discovery may have on them and those around them - “This mood I’m in could ruin for evermore” - a line which serves up the possibility that Flint is the bit on the side in this relationship and growing frustrated, or that he’s ready to blow cover and make things public in order to move things along.
As their Peel Session track, Wave, showed; Revolver were very adept at using their instrumental breaks to paint sound pictures and the guitar break here conveys the passion, intoxication and rage of people locked into an affair - clawing both at each other and at the glass ceiling and walls around them.  It’s a shame that the final verse is a reprise of the second.  It would have been great to see whether Flint laid down an ultimatum, took his lover away with him, or walked away from it altogether.

Video courtesy of poorsofreign.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Oliver!: Prudens Futuri - In the Name of the One (10 April 1992)

In 1992, The Wedding Present weren’t the only act trying to make themselves a permanent fixture in people’s record collections with multiple releases within the calendar year.  Dutch DJs Dave van Hasselaar and Ed Bout released single records under a variety of pseudonyms.  Some may have known them variously as Rigor Mortis, Metapsychosis, Daster & Dancer, Donner & Blitzen, Timecode or Ave Maria, whose No Sex Until Marriage will definitely turn up on this blog if Peel played it while I was working on my other 1992 plays.  In most professions, running business activities - most only fleetingly - under a variety of names would likely bring you to the attention of Watchdog or as would have been more likely back then, Roger Cook.  But in dance music, you are expected to operate under as many aliases as possible - even if the music stays similar regardless of the name it’s being done under.  Before the rise of the Superstar DJ, the intention seemed to be to take the personality out of the music - it could have been me or it could have been you in the studio or back bedroom making this stuff - and instead get the audience and most especially, the clubbers, to focus on the music alone.  They could project whoever they wanted in terms of the bodies which made up Prudens Futuri (Latin for “wise future” in case you were wondering) or any of van Hasselaar and Bout’s alter-egos.  I find something quite charming about the thought of DJs trying on names and identities for a day, like a pilled up Mr. Benn before discarding them and trying something new.
However, van Hasselaar and Bout had certain aural obsessions that they couldn’t help returning to in their music, regardless of what name they put it out under:

1) Religious quotation - there’s plenty of that in In The Name of the One, though it seems to be lifted from biblical film epics and kitchen sink dramas (“For the love of God!”) Other van Hasselaar and Bout recordings feature papal doctrine and mass.  But at the risk of sounding dull, the scripture would be balanced out with...
2) Star Trek sound effects -  none here alas, though they did make a good job of working in communication signals and that strange “bu-wip” noise that the Enterprise’s scanner would make.
3) Classical quotations - usually at the end of tracks, but there’s plenty of manipulation of what sounds like Verdi’s Requiem which pops up arrestingly throughout the track.  See also A House’s Endless Art for more evidence of pop/classical mash-up on the Peel show.

Balanced alongside the above elements, is a barnstorming dance number, albeit slightly dated by its blocky synths and “Woah” shouts.  Indeed, whereas some of van Hasselaar and Bout’s work from 1992 still sounds pertinent and striking today, In The Name of the One works best as a nostalgia trip calling the faithful to prayer before the priests leading the chorus slip out of their habits and into another disguise.

Video courtesy of Felipe Dominguez.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Oliver! Freddy de Majunga - Degat Materiel (10 April 1992)

This track seems to subvert a number of my assumptions about how soukous music is structured.  Whereas many soukous selections start with a mix of riffs and licks before preceding into the long dance fade: King Kester Emeneya’s Ngonda is an outstanding example, Degat Materiel (Material Damage) starts off with a siren that seems to act as a call for all Africans, young and old - there’s a mewling baby somewhere in there too - to take to the dance floor and raise the roof, which the opening minute seems more than capable of achieving.  However, after the opening minute the track takes a number of different diversions including drum solos.  Perhaps reflecting the number of countries it calls out to along its way - Cameroon, Senegal, Reunion, Democratic Republic of Congo - then known by it’s more punchy name of Zaire.  It’s still a party record, but one which seems to have loftier ideas behind it.  A sort of prog-soukous if you like.

Should that seem nonsensical or a bore, don’t worry.  It’s as good a foot-tapper as the genre’s best offerings.  It also offers the intriguing thought of Freddy de Majunga, who bears more than a passing resemblance to former world snooker champion Joe Johnson, playing the track while wearing the jacket he wore on the cover of the eponymous 1991 album that this track was taken from.  At the very least, I hope he asked the stylist whether he could take it home with him so he could try and one-up Lucien Bokilo.

Video courtesy of soukousnostalgie.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Oliver!: Marina Van-Rooy [Peel Session] (10 April 1992)

I’m afraid that this session saw my critical faculties eclipsed by aural lust.  “She’s pure sex!” bellow my notes from when I first heard this show.  In my self-defence, I’m looking at it from the perspective of how my 16 year old self would have reacted to Van-Rooy’s breathy, faun-like cooing of lines like “Make your love, make your love HOT!” or “Sex with you, when we do what we do” in Honey Drip or the murmured, distinctly mid-coital exhortations to “Hold me...say you’ll stay with me” in Stay With Me.  I wouldn’t have been able to resist then.  I still can’t now.

It’s only when listening to the session again that I realise that Van-Rooy’s doing such sterling work amidst some pretty flimsy supporting material.  Nevertheless, there are compensations - a wonderful chorus on All Heaven’s Open for instance.  Honey Drip is the best track of the lot with it’s bass/synth synchronicity providing an urgent hormonal heartbeat rush behind Van-Rooy’s bedroom vocal.  And Stay With Me wraps the listener up in the gossamer sheets of Van-Rooy’s voice and sighs to create something that sounds like a Tantric sex riff on Madonna’s Justify My Love.

The recording comes direct from the Peel show of 10/4/92 and which shows Peel hoping to hear the session again in more pleasurable circumstances, Van-Rooy’s close attentions failing to alleviate him of the depression felt over the IRA marking a fourth term for the Conservatives with a pair of bombings in Central London.  However, he still had enough mischief in him to follow the end of the session with a letter from Felicity in Wood Green, London, “mainly on the subject of contraceptives” - and anyone taping Van Rooy’s session would surely have contributed to a spike in sales the next day.

Video courtesy of John Peel.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Oliver! Adorable - Sunshine Smile (10 April 1992)

I suspect that I dreamt this but when I was in my Britpop cups, I’m sure I read someone dismissing imperial era Oasis as Adorable without GCSEs.

I’m aware that this track, the Coventry based quartet’s first single on Creation Records is a sacred text to many fans of British guitar pop.  I hadn’t heard it at all until about 6 months ago when I first heard the Peel show from 10/4/92.  And in doing so, I join the throng of people who contend that when all the mysteries of the mind, soul, body and universe have been answered, the one unanswerable puzzle the human race will be left to grapple with will be trying to figure out just why Sunshine Smile never became even as much as a Top 75 hit, let alone the Top 20 one it should have been.  My own theories, and bear in mind I’m nowhere near as invested in this band or song as much as others have been over the last 25 years, are:

1) People still wanted the real Stone Roses, not an approximation of what the Roses could have been doing in 1992 - Robert Dillam’s opening riff has a definite John Squiresque tone to it, Pete Fijalkowski comes in clear and tuneful over the top of it talking about love warmth and radiance, bassist Steven Williams has a hairstyle that’s quite similar to Mani’s. With the genuine article still eking out singles from a three year old album in the weeks before Sunshine Smile was released, there was a definite opening for Adorable to come in and seize the spotlight, but two years of legal purgatory had not quite torn people’s gaze away from the Roses and besides, once the guitars really kick in they sound like nobody else except Adorable, apart from the quiet midsection, which leads me to suspect the band had been listening Haircut One Hundred.

2) Being the bridge means you’re nowhere - One YouTube comment I read about Adorable called them “the bridge between shoegaze and Britpop”.  Fijalkowski’s voice blew any number of shoegazers out of the park, he was made to be heard, not buried under the spacy thrash and he looked every inch the pop star who could have been gazing out from the front pages of Loaded, FHM and SKY magazines in the mid-90s.  But it never happened.  Whatever British pop music was looking for in 1992, Adorable didn’t embody it for enough people in the way that they may have done 2 or 3 years later.  It’s worth remembering that 1992 was an odd year when the thought of presenting yourself as a pop star within a guitar band meant you weren’t to be trusted and to willingly present yourself as a shoegaze act was to invite open derision.  Pop music thrived on scene culture for years, but if you happened to break before a scene could be comfortably built around you or you could be fitted into one, you had every chance of falling through the cracks.  Ironically, by the time a scene sprang up that genuinely wanted pop stars, Adorable had become so fed up with it all that they split before they started hating each other.

3) No tastemaker ever went to Coventry - I like Coventry and have been there several times, but it would never have the same cache as London, Manchester or Liverpool.  Even Birmingham has to try really hard in order to get the credit deserves.  Pity Adorable.  They were the most exciting band in Britain in a year where no-one whose opinion could have set them on their way, gave a damn.  Spitfire would at least have known how that felt.

4) Was it the greatest love song of the 1990s or did the heroin overtones turn people off it? - It’s a tremendous piece of music and the “smile that lights up the corners of my cold room” is a terrific image, but there’s a con trick being discreetly pulled off here with themes of listless ennui and inability to feel anything being covered with a sparkly, noisy tablecloth of guitar noise.  The Some Candy Talking trick for the early 1990s in other words.

But if it is a love song and nothing more, I dedicate this blogpost to my own 5ft 2in of sunshine xx

Video courtesy of AdorableVEVO

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Oliver! Terry Edwards - Four/Knife [Peel Session] (10 April 1992)

The mix of political and domestic news on 10/4/92 left Peel in a state where it wasn’t safe for him to be alone around sharp objects.  Fortunately, he had some company to distract him from his despondency, as session guest Terry Edwards joined him for a chat throughout the show.  Without the pressure of a schedule to keep to, the conversation was much more engaged than Peel’s car crash phone interview with Lesley Rankine of Silverfish had been three months previously.  Edwards, a personable chap with a disturbing laugh, revealed that his old band, Serious Drinking, were reforming to make an album.  Indeed, Edwards had spent the evening playing with them.  The album never saw the light of day, though an EP did.  Peel reminisced about Eugene McCarthy, guitarist with Serious Drinking, selling him some seriously large shirts.

This session proved to be very popular having initially been broadcast in February 1992, it would get three further airings through the course of the year.  The only tracks from the actual session that I’ve found were Edwards’s Napalm Death medley - death metal through the medium of saxophone, it doesn’t seem obvious until you’ve heard it.  Edwards was playing solo on this session, but the recordings presented here were taken from solo records and his work with The Scapegoats.  Four is a Miles Davis composition taken at, well, four times the tempo of Davis’s original.  Of greater interest was Knife, an Edwards composition which in the session concentrated on the descending saxophone phrase (transposed to the bassline in the recording) supported by shrieking horn embellishments. Given more life and support by The Scapegoats when recorded for My Wife Doesn’t Understand Me, it becomes a thrilling, noirish jazz/funk hybrid in search of a TV detective series to soundtrack.

Miles Davis and friends - four times slower than Terry Edwards:

Videos courtesy of Terry Edwards - Topic (so enjoy them while they last before the bots reset themselves) and jazzman2696 (Davis).