Monday, 24 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Orson Karte - Tonight (22 May 1992)

When it comes to assessing this wonderfully dreamy, chilled out piece of techno house, we need to talk about names.  Artist names and track titles are the listener’s first point of contact with any musical artefact.  If a person is record shopping in a laissez-faire, ‘surprise me’ mindset then names, titles and cover art all have their part to play in sealing the deal.  John Peel admitted that whenever he went out and shopped for records, he would, quite naturally be drawn to records that stood out in this way.
Alas, had he seen the debut release by Lex Blackmore and Julian Dembinski on one of these trips, he would probably have passed on it.  He confessed to dreading having to cue up a record by a collective with the name Orson Karte (say it quickly if you’re puzzled as to why).  I’m still of the childlike mindset that finds the name quite smart, but I would have probably thought twice at seeing the track title, which is one of the most overused in popular music.  Wikipedia lists over 70 examples of songs called Tonight and you can guarantee that there will be many more from artists who haven’t yet or never will deserve their own wiki page.  It may be irrational of me, but I feel instinctively prejudiced against songs called Tonight.  It shows a lack of inventiveness though Blackmore and Dembinski could argue that they saved all their invention for the track itself, which I love, especially when the counter-synth line comes in around 3:32.

They do such a good job that the track may just be able to find a place among my own, resentfully admired songs called Tonight.  However, I’m not sure which of The MoveSupergrass or McAlmont and Butler it would dislodge.

Video courtesy of Duckkkarma

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Family Cat - Too Many Late Nights [Peel Session] (22 May 1992)

This track’s been knocking about on this blog for two years.  When I covered two other tracks from this session’s original broadcast, I had to share them using the video of the complete sssion.  Too Many Late Nights was another standout, but under the terms that I set myself - only select and blog about tracks you hear on Peel recordings - I couldn’t devote any special attention to it.  Happily, the repeat of the session on this night’s show means that it can now get its moment in the sun.

What comes across to me about The Family Cat’s Peel Session is both the novelistic, storytelling feel of their lyrics and their strident melancholy.  Both Furthest From the Sun and Prog One on the earlier post were structured like character studies - the lamentation of a dead woman and a forced break-up respectively.  They contained achingly sad sentiments but blasted through an invigoratingly powerful racket.  Too Many Late Nights continues this approach setting its protagonist amidst debauched late night excess and in the company of dozens of people who are his best friend for that night.  There’s plenty of sex and substances on offer and he takes his fill of it, but all the while, he knows that it’s empty and unfulfilling.  Somewhere along the line, a true love has got away and each lonely morning that follows the frenzied evening brings that reality home like rainfall coming “through the cracks in the frame” of the bedroom windows.
The only thing that works against it slightly is that Paul Fredrick doesn’t have the lived in voice needed to fully convey the debauchery, but this doesn't really matter given that the track is about emotional hollowness and the desperate need to fill that.  While the pain of the break-up has to be endured, then sybaritic means will have to do, despite the fact that they ultimately lead to another kind of loneliness.  He does a fine job of getting this emptiness across.  It probably wasn’t their intention, but the final result comes across as an excellent, hard-rocking update of similar themed songs of excess and emotional emptiness such as Herman’s Hermits No Milk Today or Another Night by The Hollies, both of who were to become important bands to me in 1992.

Video courtesy of Vibracobra23Redux.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Capris - There’s a Moon Out Tonight (22 May 1992)

It’s a curious quirk of timing that shortly after this blog has covered Peel’s favourite ever song, we now come to consider one of the most important songs in his life.  Like Teenage Kicks, this 1960 slice of doo-wop was included by him on his 2002 FabricLive compilation.  Indeed, if like me, your first hearing of it was on that album, it’s impossible not to listen to the final drum beat on There’s a Moon Out Tonight without expecting to hear it immediately cue up this.

As is often the case with doo-wop, you’re paying for charm and loveliness in lieu of any great profundity.  The Capris originally wrote and recorded the song in 1958 and signed the rights over to two men who wanted to manage them with the promise of wider exposure.  Inevitable silence followed and the group disbanded.  As tenor Frank Reina tells it, in 1960 he was driving to work with the radio on only to hear to his amazement, a disc jockey called Alan Fredericks playing it on the radio.  The track caught the imagination of the public landing at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961.  Despite being a quintet of Italian-American New Yorkers, The Capris’ sound was rooted in a more African-American style.  This led to them getting booked to play in front of black-only crowds in some states including a memorable date in Washington, where they found themselves as the only white act on a bill with  Aretha Franklin and Ike and Tina Turner.  There was to be no follow-up hit though the group has continued to perform live up to the present day and their 1982 composition, The Morse Code of Love garnered a lot of attention only for CBS Records to wimp out on giving it a big release.  Who knows, Peel could have ended up introducing them on an edition of Top of the Pops had that record caught on internationally.

While Peel may have taken care not to over-expose Teenage Kicks once it became recognised as his favourite song, he admitted that he struggled to contain himself when it came to There’s a Moon Out Tonight.  On this night’s programme, he reckoned it was no more than 6 months since he had previously played it. I feel that its enduring appeal to him relates to the time and circumstances in which he heard it: as an Englishman in the United States absorbing a culture of hops and warm moonlit evenings that he would have struggled to find in Heswall.  Furthermore, after spending many years exclusively in male company, either through attending public school or doing National Service, America represented his first prolonged exposure to women.  At 20 years old on arrival in Texas, he was keen to make up for lost time, but was clearly sensitive enough to know that the rhythm and blues/straight blues records that he was buying may not be suitable for romantic assignations.  In the period where he was still just John Ravenscroft, office worker and insurance salesman, There’s a Moon Out Tonight was a perfect record for those days of drive-ins, Impalas and opportunities for sex: “The lucky woman was lying on her sofa as I tussled with her, and after thirty seconds or so, I opened my eyes to enjoy the look of ecstasy I expected to see on her face.  She had her head tipped sideways and with her left hand was leafing through a magazine on the adjoining coffee table.” (John Peel - Margrave of the Marshes (2005) p.184-185, published by Corgi).

Video courtesy of Miss Ellie.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Oliver! appendices: The K-Creative - Zen Flesh Zen Bones (16 February 1992)

Before we can continue to move on through The Comedy of Errors, we must and I mean MUST take a step back to the days of Oliver! and a track which was on my want list when the blog covered Peel’s show from 16/2/92.

As promised you get funk drum beats and guitar (sounds very James Brown to me, but I’m not sure from where), sales slogans, Tibetan children singing, flute scales and in its final movements, an attempt to try and aurally distill the dread of a Lucio Fulci film.  The recording has been taken directly from Peel’s show and ends with his (cough) endorsement.  It’s a gem and I’m so pleased to be able to include it here at last.

Video courtesy of Zen Bromley (who was part of the K-Creative)

The Comedy of Errors: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 16 May 1992)

I won’t keep you long with these notes because most of the interesting stuff from the 90 odd minutes of the show that I heard are to be found dotted among the various selections from it that I’ve been posting over the last few weeks.

Only one track out of those on my original lists ending up falling from favour:

Dennis Brown featuring Maxi Priest and Shabba Ranks - Fever - with that cast list, this should be a shoo-in for inclusion.  Shabba Ranks played a major part in one of my favourite selections from the Oliver! shows after all. But this track from Brown’s Blazing! album always had a question mark against it and when I went to listen to it again, a week or so back, I just wanted to curl up and hide from it within the first 15 seconds. A little too busy for me, I guess.

I am still on the lookout for the terrific Go Work! by Sin City Disciples (goodness there’s a profusion of exclamation marks among these titles tonight, isn’t there?) which remains as stonkingly brilliant as it was when Peel played it two weeks earlier.  Maybe it will turn up once I’ve completed all the selections for The Comedy of Errors and it can be blogged as an appendix.  Speaking of which....

Peel’s full tracklisting

Sunday, 9 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Freefall - Love in Idleness/Our Eyes [Peel Session] (16 May 1992)

Note - my two picks run from 7:00 to 14:18 on the video.

This is a bit of an odd one. Freefall popped up in a couple of Peel programmes through early 1992 and recorded a session for him which was first broadcast on 4/4/92.  Up until 22 July 2018, nothing from them was shareable, but the redoubtable YouTube uploader, FruitierThanThou turned up trumps again.  Their channel is a treasure trove of sessions not just from Peel shows but a number of BBC disc jockeys up to the present day.

Freefall’s session was repeated on 16/5/92.  I only caught one track, Our Eyes, but as the whole session is available I’ve selected a bonus inclusion for this blog.  Regardless of the contortions that I put myself through in terms of citing tracks that would go on the mixtape, the whole session remains a good example of the wave of contradictory feelings that I have towards Freefall.

In the past, I mentioned that their sound was “like 1984 never ended” or that they “sounded like The Cure fronted by a teenage bingo caller.”  Oddly, while I gave a thumbs up to a previously unavailable studio version of Shine, I find that the session version of the same track makes it sound, to borrow from David Nobbs’s description of a politician’s voice, like the musical equivalent of a foggy day.  I found I could also live without the wannabe epic, 7 minute opening track, Green and Blue because, once again, the singer sounds like he’s got a cold and that aural snot ends up dragging the track into the realms of tedium.

And yet when it does come together, Freefall are a delight.  Rather than aping The Cure or trying to do restrained shoegaze, they sound at their best when they mine similar ground to that dug by The House of Love around the time of their seminal debut album from four years earlier.  Love in Idleness blends acoustics and delicately picked electric guitar around a lyric of such beauty that one has to wonder whether Guy Chadwick mentally projected it straight to them:
“In the pupil of an ugly eye.
Entranced on a bed of a heather.
An oasis of pebbles stuck on a fern (sic?)
Entangled by weeds and parasites”

From this somewhat unpromising pitch, the track goes on to set out an enchanting natural sanctuary for young lovers to escape and worship each other:

“Your white hot mind seduces me (sic?)
I fall forever to your kiss.
I feel the leaves, I can see the sky.
In the clear blue light of loving (sic?)”. (And if those aren’t the lyrics, then they jolly well should be!)

It’s so beautifully put together, I feel like petitioning the BBC to use it as a theme tune for Gardeners’ Question Time.

Our Eyes, by contrast, is a little more obviously shooting for mainstream success hampered by the extended opening and thin vocals in the verses. , However, I like the harmonies and chorus line and the fact that it’s about kissing.
For Freefall, a kiss off was about to come from the music industry.  Despite the presence of Boo Radley, Martin Carr in the producer’s chair, the Dehydrate EP, featuring both of the songs selected here, was their sole release.  A monument to a band who could sound simultaneously dated and timeless often within the same verse.

Video courtesy of FruitierThanThou.
Lyrics are copyright of their authors.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Undertones - Teenage Kicks (16 May 1992)

John Peel’s favourite song.  Many times over the years I’ve pondered just what was it about this 2 minute 27 second song that won Peel’s heart ahead of the millions of other tracks he heard over the course of his life and career.  His own pronouncements on the track gave little true insight.  There was the typical Peel non-sequitur that nothing could be added to or taken away from the song to make it better.  When he interviewed the band members in a documentary around the time of their Feargal Sharkey-less reformation, he declined to gush too much on camera to them but cited being drawn in by the twangy guitar as an initial hook for him, but if this was all then Duane Eddy’s Peter Gunn Theme might have been his favourite record.

Ultimately, I suspect it all comes down to the (misheard) lyric “Teenage Dreams, so hard to beat”, which as Peel requested, ended up on his tombstone.  Peel’s role on Radio 1 enabled him to continue to act like a teenager in a number of ways, not least a job involving immersion in music.  By the mid-1970s, he had become weary of a lot of what was turning up in record shops and by the couriers - “We were being bored to death without realising it” as he used to put it.  The Ramones debut album and the ensuing tidal wave of punk rock bands revitalised him through late 1976 and into 1977.  By 1978, his programme had become the place to go to hear the new three-chord wonders on the radio.  Peel had no problems with travelling on this train, but consider that for a long period of over a year his playlists were stocked with songs, of varying quality, that promoted violence and anarchy or which dealt in political themes along social and racial lines.  It was music that frightened people or brought out the bloodlust in others - though the theory is that the really dark stuff didn’t start to emerge until the post-punks got to work, which they certainly had by September 1978.

Peel maintained a sense of humour and proportion through all this, while continuing to champion both the big names and the dozens of wannabes and one-offs. By the summer of 1978, The Fall start making their first appearances on his show. Darkness, fear and the wearing of literary influences starts to loom on the horizon.  And then in the middle of all that, like a burst of sunshine in a monsoon of spit, The Undertones spring into his life.  They’re full of swagger despite the fragility of Sharkey’s vocals, their sound is muscular and they sing about something as innocent as desiring a girl.  The urgency to shag her wrapped up in sentiments which wouldn’t have been out of place 30 years earlier, “I wanna hold her, wanna hold her tight/Get teenage kicks right through the night”.  There’s no angst, anger, venom, mockery or disappointment here.  Only love, lust, joy - a zest for life’s possibilities as represented by a fanciable girl - and it sounds like a classic for the ages from the moment it begins.  In the words of Eamonn McCann, “This is a band that sounded beautiful coming from an ugly place....While many people may see their music as being something soft and mainstream, it was far from soft and mainstream in the Bogside in 1977/78.”
 Not just the Great Punk Love Song, but a Great Love Song full stop.  For Peel, it acts as the catalyst for the Bearded Perpetual Teenager to remember that life isn’t all gobbing and cynicism, but also joy and excitement.  It was a lesson Peel took to heart and it sustained him for the rest of his life.

Given how synonymous the song became with him, Peel was quite sparing in the exposure he gave to Teenage Kicks as the years went by.  It’s easy to imagine him giving it a spin every 6 months, but as the John Peel wiki shows, it was only an occasional presence each year.  The Wiki is incomplete so take the five year gap between 1982 and 1987 with a pinch of salt.  In Peel’s later years, Teenage Kicks was mostly played on the radio either for professional anniversariesmilestone birthdays or live events such as sets at Glastonbury or Sonar.  Its presence on the 16/5/92 show was to act as the signal for listeners to call Peel in order to potentially win the chance to accompany him to the final of the 1992 European Football Championships in Sweden as one of the prizes in Radio 1’s 31 Days in May extravaganza.  As always when he had to handle something outside his usual remit on his own programme, poor John was a bag of nerves and stricken with guilt about those he hadn’t chosen to answer the prize-winning question, “Where were the last European Football Championships held in 1988?”  Martin Behan, a sales rep from Dorchester, played safe with modern history and answered West Germany.  This not only won him the ticket to accompany Peel to the final, but as part of the prize they would be able to attend the official pre-match reception.  This set Peel into a further round of worry as he didn’t have a suit, which he was sure the occasion would demand.  Not having a suit in his wardrobe had caused him to pass up a recent opportunity to go to the Sony Awards.  “I know it sounds a bit of an old hippy thing but I really don’t have one.  Maybe I’ll have to buy one.  Maybe, Radio 1 will buy me one and that’ll be even better.  Martin will have a suit because he’s a sales rep.”

Video courtesy of sdd948
Lyrics copyright of John O’Neill.