Tuesday, 15 January 2019
“In that golden year, 1988, I saw (Shalawambe) playing in a community centre in the middle of Leicester and they set the place alight, I mean lit it up, they really did.”
Peel had spent the week leading up to this programme in a state of great anticipation because a friend was sending him a group of records from Zambia. However, they had not arrived by the time of broadcast so he had to fall back on a track from the brilliantly named Zambiance compilation album of 1989. Furthermore, he was able to provide some background information about the song he played. A kambowa is a small bird found in the north-west province of Zambia. The song, Kambowa, is about the funeral procession for a deceased mother which passes by a tree in which a kambowa is perched. The bird detects the sadness of the funeral party and bows its head in respect, a guesture much appreciated by the bereaved son of the mother, who sings about how the bird shares his grief. Clearly Kay Burley drew inspiration from this song after the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015.
Musically Kambowa is rather more skeletal than most of the African music tracks that I like to include here. There are no catchy arpeggios to play out the last couple of minutes. Having some context to the lyrics helps because it’s a track that relies on the singers to get it across more than the music. My notes say the persistence of the chorus won me over. It certainly does a good job of evoking an African funeral with the chorus suggesting the ecstatic sense of comfort that the party takes from the bird’s apparent attentions.
Video courtesy of ERML 2000 International.
Thursday, 10 January 2019
John Peel was indebted to music. It gave him - to varying degrees - fame, security, status and influence. But there were prices to be paid in this relationship and on this programme, Peel ruefully lamented one of them. He made his living passing judgement on the musical and artistic quality of hundreds of records, across dozens of genres, through decades of history and yet he had no real musical talent himself. He never mastered a musical instrument, his singing voice as evidenced by his backing vocals on Altered Images’ 1982 cover of Song Sung Blue was workmanlike rather than melodic (good whistling though) and he only danced on rare occasions. This vexed him considerably and on this show, the frustration reared its head thanks to a record which Peel had spent two months underselling to his audience.
On 1 March 1992 Peel played I’ve Had It, a track from a reissued compilation album of recordings by Lonnie Mack called Lonnie On the Move. While declaring his admiration for Mack as a guitar player, Peel ensured that the pluggers at Ace Records, who issued the album, would be throwing themselves from the window in despair after he said that the album was “for students only. I mean there’s nothing on there that’s going to fundamentally change your life”. All the same, I would have included it here on the blog had there been a recording of the tune to share. Two months later, another selection from Lonnie On The Move found its way onto his playlist and yet again, Peel did his best to kill interest in further research into the album by warning listeners that there “Wasn’t much to get the pulses racing”. However such talk appears silly once Sa-Ba-Hoola gets started.
An instrumental released in the UK through Stateside in 1964, it’s a marvellous example of Mack’s funky jazz-blues guitar skills. No wonder they called his first album, The Wham of That Memphis Man (1963), because his riffs land with a wallop and keep jigging on from there, especially in the euphorically escalating bridge at 1:15.
“Why can’t I do that and why didn’t someone give the orchestra a dime and tell them to go to the pictures?” wailed Peel after playing the track. For my sins, I like the orchestra’s contribution - it provides an extra kick to the recording and doesn’t obscure Mack’s skill at all. Best of all is the economy of the whole thing. 121 seconds in total and this struck me after seeing a picture on Twitter earlier in the week of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton circa 1967 and labelled, “When it felt like guitar solos could save the world”. Superb players both of them of course, but the moment they decided to take 10 minutes to do what Mack did in 2 was a detour that I often wish rock music hadn’t taken. I also know exactly how Peel felt in regards to wishing I could play the guitar - the urge usually hits me after hearing The Mono Men.
I’d still rather listen to Peel sing than Clare Grogan though.
Videos courtesy of cimmamomimf (Mack) and James Parker (Altered Images)
Monday, 7 January 2019
Now this takes me back. Not so much the track itself, which came to me unrecognised but immediately embraced once I heard Peel play it on the 8/5/92 file, but the brief ubiquity that Utah Saints enjoyed circa 1992-93. That six-pointed star logo seemed to be constantly following me around at one point - in record shop windows, on festival-bills in magazines and on friends’ bedroom walls. But I wasn’t interested at the time, stupidly mourning the death of guitar pop and wishing the spirit of the 60s tapes I was devouring then could come back. So blame me for Britpop. By the time I did start to look interestedly in their direction with the release of Believe in Me and the Newman and Baddiel Unplugged skit, they were withdrawing from widespread attention. The occasional single release over 1994-96 and then nothing until The Millenium, by which point Britpop had absorbed my attention, and once I started listening to John Peel circa 1997, I really can’t recall him going back to them on any of my journeys back from rehearsal.
But no matter, because for that brief spell when they were a legitimate Top 10 chart act, they produced some wonderful slices of techno/electro/dance music. Something Good throngs with life and infectious energy from the moment that the opening rocket ascent to the sky explodes into a million sparks of light. Not such a bad metaphor really given that the vocal sample was taken from Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting.
Videos courtesy of Lance Trophy (Utah Saints) and imaginary92 (Bush)
Friday, 4 January 2019
In the words of a recent post from this very show, we now go back to Pod, who were intelligent enough to put out this debut release by trance duo, Sequential. In the next two years, Christian Thier and Peter Kuhlmann would put out a series of eponymously numbered releases, but to begin with they were happy to give their records titles with a little more thought and invention.
Prophet starts out like a product of its time - awash in new age vibes, rainforest FX and dreamcatcher spirit - indicative of the hippy ethos that was trying to reassert itself as a 90s lifestyle choice at the time as environmental concerns began to be packaged for the average family. This could all be a ghastly mistake in the wrong hands but Thier and Kuhlmann add pulses, life, mood swoops, spectacle and, from 3:54 onwards, lacerating stabs of frenetic synth. I don’t know what their prophet was foretelling, but by the end of this, I was buying in to it.
Video courtesy of scubadevils.
Thursday, 27 December 2018
My notes for this track when I selected it for inclusion talk of “techno reggae”. What a super idea - reggae flow over a drum and bass backing. How niche, eh? And then I listen to Hear the Vibes again and realise that plenty of other influential and creative people were thinking the same thing but they didn’t call it techno reggae, they called it jungle.
Peel wasn’t calling it that in 1992, but he had form for playing records that would fall under that label, especially if they were on a ragga tip. With Hear the Vibes though, he provided a showcase for Stephen Austin aka Stevie Hyper D, a man widely acknowledged as the finest jungle MC Britain ever produced. Ian McQuaid’s outstanding retrospective article does far better justice to the late Stevie than I am currently in any position to, but Hear the Vibes hits many of the fundamentals that seemed to make Stevie’s live sets so mesmeric - he hypes the room, giving himself space to build up his flow of ideas before launching, in double time into his flow of vocals. The speed flow beats me but he’s certainly shooting for the Millenium at one point. Sadly, he didn’t see it, dying of a heart attack at the age of 30 in 1998.
After releasing Hear the Vibes, Stevie sat out recording for three years by which point jungle was up and thriving both under and overground. I hope Peel went back to him or offered a Peel Session. As for Tigger Max, who provided the fantastic beats and beds for Stevie to work over, this record appears to be all they ever put out as an artist. Discogs turns up no further evidence or aliases. Maybe Tigger felt this could not be improved upon. Regardless, they left a mark.
Video courtesy of PitchlockmobileDJs Ireland.
Tuesday, 18 December 2018
With Christmas imminent, I must give thanks to this blog’s very own Santa Claus - the sainted Webbie - who has provided both of these tracks direct from Peel’s broadcast on 8/5/92.
On the one hand, we have Sleep by Australian power pop trio Not From There followed by Sleep as performed by one of the most influential jazz saxophonists of the 1930s-1950s, Earl Bostic. I can let Peel himself tell you about the significance of the Earl Bostic record and how it fed into his feelings of outsiderdom when he played it to his school’s jazz club. Needless to say this was of a piece with some of Peel’s other experiences of his upbringing which saw him being sneered at and snubbed by groups as varied as his army hockey team and Liverpool Ramblers A.F.C. In the former instance due to a combination of his inadequacy as a hockey goalkeeper and the fact that as the only non-officer in his team, none of them deigned to speak to him or treat him with any kind of respect:
“Before and after the games none of my team-mates spoke to me and they spoke rarely during the game other than to chide me for allowing the opposition to score. I was a crap goalkeeper and they were crap human beings” (Margrave of the Marshes, 2004, page 161).
In the case of the Ramblers, Peel was trying to please his father in looking to extend his social circle by joining a football team made up of the type of public school figures who had likely sneered at Earl Bostic in the mid 50s. “The Ramblers were almost exclusively public-school types who were crap at football and met in a bar called the Crooked Billet. Upon entering the Crooked Billet, you found yourself at the top of a flight of steps leading down into the body of the bar and it seemed to me that, in the manner of figures in an H.M Bateman cartoon, everyone spun around to check out new arrivals at the top of the steps. On the third occasion I put myself through this ordeal, there was as I entered, I felt, a certain amount of tittering from my team-mates gathered on the floor. I froze in the doorway. Eventually, some languid oaf detached himself from the crowd at the bar and sauntered over. ‘Excuse me, old chap,’ he said. ‘Are you playing for the Ramblers this afternoon?’ When I nervously confirmed that I was, he raised his voice slightly to say, ‘Perhaps, then, you’ll be a good fellow and do your flies up.’ This was greeted with guffaws from, it seemed to me, the entire company. I never went back.” (Margrave of the Marshes, 2004, pages 174/175).
Peel’s reference to the Lord Palmerston pub in South West London before playing Not From There refers to a sleeve note on the Conned mini-album encouraging people to send “All offers of food, money and drugs” there. Anyone taking them up on the offer would have had a return to sender given that the pub closed in 1990 and was converted to flats by 1996. You can visit the North London variant though. What seemed to have escaped Peel’s notice is that Conned was produced by Mark E. Smith. It surprises me that he would have the patience to produce another act, but he does a fantastic job on Sleep which fairly tears along. Building around a refrain of “The point that I missed”, which leads me to feel that the track may have been better off being called Insomnia given
the many things, looks and emabarrasments that vocalist Heinz Riegler reels off. After releasing Conned, two-thirds of the band were deported back to Australia with Riegler, an Austrian, moving out to join them. It would be another two years before they released their next record and they continued to be active through the 90s. It will be interesting to see whether Peel returned to them.
If I had been in Peel’s school jazz club, I would have loved the Earl Bostic record, mainly because I love a good vibraphone solo. Originally recorded as the flip side to future sitcom theme The September Song for a 1951 release, its treatment sounds remarkably prescient and in its urgent grooves and propulsive melody it seems to foreshadow elements of both rock ‘n’ roll and soul music, in contrast to its croonerish A-side. His feelings may have been hurt, but even at school, Peel was showing an awareness of what was out there, musically, that would move things along. It wouldn’t be the last time he would hear sneers for his musical enthusiasms, but it could also be seen to be the first clear example of his judgement being absolutely spot-on in the face of opposition.
Video courtesy of Webbie.
Tuesday, 11 December 2018
“Let’s get on...”
The unidentified sample at 2:13 provides a definite hinge around which the two halves of this track work. The first half up to that point is the typical hybrid of “thump/thump/thump” with the approaching train feel of the start of Theme from S-Express. Thereafter, it noodles out with prominent hi-hat action, “wah-wah” vocals, birdsong that sounds like it’s been fed through an old ZX Sinclair computer game and samples telling us to get “back to Pod”. Promotion for the record label that put out the 137 EP that 303 We Hate You came from, perhaps? Well, I’m sure it worked for Mowtown.
I find myself hoping that Peel went back to Bi-Face - the two halves of the act being Pascal Dardoufas and Uwe Schmidt - if only because most of the other tracks they did under this name are better than 303 We Hate You. So far I’m listening and selecting from Peel’s show from 29/5/92 and haven’t heard any Bi-Face tracks on files of shows between then and 8 May 1992 (though not every file I listen to is from a complete show). I won’t link to them in case they turn up in June 1992 shows and can be blogged about here, but if 303 We Hate You is vanilla (pleasant enough but unspectacular) then more interesting flavours are to be found in tracks like Flota, 137 Ambience and Slo/Fast. It’s your move, John...
Video courtesy of CookiesJunky