Thursday, 26 November 2020

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Coupé Cloue - Claudie (25 October 1992)

During this edition of John Peel’s Music, our esteemed host received a postcard from a regular contributor called Oink.  Whether they called themselves this because they were readers of the  anarchic mid 1980s UK comic of the same name which Peel was an occasional contributor to is unknown, but Peel was disappointed that during his recent drive around Europe, he’d been unable to make time to meet up with Oink in Berlin for a drink.  He proposed taking another tour around Europe at the earliest opportunity in which he intended to meet up with and get drunk with as many of his correspondents around the continent as possible.   
Oink’s postcard contained a question asking why so much of the African music Peel played was concentrated in the same regions.  Peel attributed it to cost and a tendency to fall back on French-DRC connections because he was more certain that he would like the music.  He agreed to take Oink’s point on board and given his friendship with Andy Kershaw, he certainly had a gateway to music from all over the continent if he wanted to exploit it.

Peel certainly gave credit to Kershaw after playing Claudie by the Haitian compas musician, Coupé Cloue, who had been a star in Haïti  for several decades, but was now seeing his work gain appreciation in Europe due to exposure on Kershaw’s programme.  It wasn’t only Kershaw's musical judgement that Peel admired but his globe-hopping bravery.  Kershaw had come across Cloue’s music on visits to Haïti, a country Peel had always wanted to visit but admitted to being too timid to do so.  Kershaw’s mix of intense curiosity and headstrong attitude towards foreign travel had, during the previous two years, landed him a gig presenting Channel 4‘s live travelogue show, As It Happens, albeit with a presenting style described by TV Cream as “forever heading down the first dark alley in sight and swearing profusely.”  

Video courtesy of Coupé Cloue - Topic

Saturday, 21 November 2020

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Fall - Hit the North (Part 1) (25 October 1992)

Throughout 1992, I’d got progressively more interested in music from the 1960s.  One of the bands which I started to become curious about was Manfred Mann.  My interest having been piqued by watching footage of their rather campy performance of My Name is Jack on an episode of Sounds of the Sixties in late 1991.  By the autumn of ‘92, I’d bought a vintage compilation album which gathered together all of their hits and would have been content to leave things at that until I heard, by chance, on the radio that over December 1992, the band would be going out on a tour in support of  a new compilation album with a lineup that featured both Paul Jones and Mike d’Abo as well as a number of other musicians that had been part of the band during the 60s. They were calling themselves The Manfreds, ostensibly because  Manfred Mann himself was not participating.  On December 29, the band were due to wrap up the tour with a gig in Torquay, so I asked if tickets for the show and a trip up there with my parents could count as a Christmas present.  It was a cracking night, even if me and my mate Martin, who came with us because I'd been due to go to the pub with him that night, so we offered him the chance to come to the gig instead, were the youngest people there.  Nevertheless, Martin’s comment about the then 50 year old Jones, “I hope I look like him at that age” will hopefully give you some impression of how joyous and fun the night was.  The bulk of the tunes were recently familiar to me, but they played a couple of songs I hadn’t heard before.  In one instance, Jones went into a spiel about how gratifying it had been to have hit singles (3 UK Number 1s, a US number 1 and 12 other singles which charted in the UK between Number 2 and 11 over a 5 year period between 1964 and 1969), but that the band had always maintained that if the listener wanted to get a true sense of who the band were and what made them tick, they had to turn the single over and listen to the b-side. And then they launched into, arguably the best of their b-sides, I’m Your Kingpin, a bluesy, misogynistic, slightly threatening track which is a million miles away from Do Wah Diddy Diddy

They may seem unlikely bedfellows, but it struck me while listening to Hit the North (Part 1) that The Fall were another outfit who were perhaps ill-served by judgements made about them based on their hit singles, even though they were more modest than those achieved by Manfred Mann.  Hit the North scraped into the Top 60, though it arguably deserved a higher placing due it’s splendidly distinctive sax sample which propels the track forward but is insanely catchy enough to merit afternoon radio show play. However, the track sidelines Mark E.Smith to the extent that he sounds like an interloper in his own band, bawling on about nothing very much at all. This may have worked well in terms of releasing something palatable to wider markets, but it doesn’t make the track especially distinctive as a Fall song.

Nevertheless, it’s a good example of the way in which writing a hit, of any description, is a tough thing to pull off.  As Smith confessed in his 2008 memoir, Renegade, There are times I’ve wished I could knock out hits. But I can’t. There’s a skill to it and it’s not in me.....I always try to write a Eurovision every two years but there’s no way it’s going to happen. (Smith, p.63, Renegade, Penguin, 2008).

However, The Fall had in their midst a musician who was subtly guiding them towards both a minor hit and an increasing integration of machines into their sound.  Simon Rogers had joined the band in 1984,  initially on a short-term basis to cover for bassist Steve Hanley during a spell of paternity leave, but he proved so versatile and enjoyed a good relationship with Smith that he remained in the band once Hanley returned and by the time The Fall came to record Hit the North (Part 1) in 1987, he was entrusted with production duties for the track, as well as the attendant album which the band recorded at the time, The Frenz Experiment. The distinctive opening riff was cooked up by Rogers while he was experimenting with a new sampler.  It was a random collection of sounds, but one which Smith picked up and ran with straightaway.  As Rogers explained in a 2015 interview with Sound on Sound,  I’d just got this [sampler] and literally the first thing I put into it was a bass and a snare just on two pads, a little tiny Indian bell -which I’ve still got - and a sax note and a bass note from a Gentle Giant record.  Mark came round to my bedroom studio and I said, “Oh here’s the new sampler, have a look at it,” and just pressed play and out comes the basis for Hit the North.  He said, “What’s that music?” And I said, “Well that’s the first thing I put in.”  He said, “I’ll have that, just do me a tape.

Once in the studio, the band saw their instruments, especially the drums, going through the sampler and even Smith’s vocals were not immune from this - a process of necessity in some cases given that Smith’s preference was to sing into a hand-held microphone.  Rogers is particularly proud of the hi-hat sound being fed through a vocoder left in the studio by Marc Almond.  Although, Rogers left The Fall after the release of The Frenz Experiment in early 1988, he would return to produce two Fall albums across 1992/93. The work done on Hit the North (Part 1) would be put to even more impressive effect on the single, Free Range which would crack the Top 40 in 1992.

Video courtesy of indiedancepop.  

Saturday, 14 November 2020

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Beres Hammond - Double Trouble (25 October 1992)

Did he really just sing, ‘She’s somewhere taking a pee’? I think he did, you know.” - John Peel after playing Double Trouble on 25/10/92*

In the unlikely event there are any heterosexual teenage boys with an interest for joining their local amateur dramatics groups, who are reading this post, I have good news and bad news for you.  Well, maybe bad news is overstating it somewhat, but based on personal and witnessed experience mark well what I say.
The good news is that if you join an amateur dramatics group at any age between 15 and 18, you stand a very good chance of seeing girls get interested in you.  It happened to me over 1993/94 when I was 17/18 years old and I saw it happen to another friend of mine, a year or so later.
The bad, or at least harsh news, is that you will only be able to enjoy this status of being the centre of half a dozen crushes for a very short time before you have to decide how much of a bastard you are going to be.  You start out by noticing a girl among the throng that you like and start making moves towards them, trying to gauge interest etc.  Maddeningly, they are usually completely inscrutable in return, so nothing appears to be possible.  Then you hear rumours about other girls fancying you, so you start preparing the ground with one or more of them.  Things start to look promising in one direction, while other girls fade into the background and then just when tentative steps are taken towards romance, you hear that the first girl who you really liked - the inscrutable one, you remember? - actually really does like you.  But by now, kisses have been exchanged or a date has been arranged which you’re going to have to attend while thinking about another girl and having to reconcile heart, self-esteem, lust and brain. There’s too much choice and you’re in the position of having to decide who wins and who loses the prize. The prize being you.

I was too cowardly to string several girls along, so always ended up making a decisive choice towards who I wanted to spend time with.  Honesty was the best policy in my eyes, but the few times I did break girls’ hearts because I fancied someone else, I felt as wretched as it’s possible to be.  So much so in fact, that my period as teen heart-throb was calmed down by me because it was just too much aggro. I cooled the heat down by dating girls who weren’t involved with amateur dramatics. It was the right thing to do as well because the relationships I did have with girls who acted usually fizzled and burnt out within 6-8 weeks and were invariably ended by the girls themselves.  It’s not nice to find you’ve failed to live up to the expectations of someone who’s still to take their GCSEs.  We’re talking low-stakes stuff though.  Enduring friendships were built out of these teenage affairs and no one was left holding any babies or never talking to anyone again.
My friend, T, did try and play both sides against the middle when he inherited the role of teen heart-throb among the Cornish am-dram community and while he had more short-term fun than I did, he found himself similarly chasing situations he thought he wanted but could never quite pin down while having to satisfy relationships that would do to be going on with but which were not quite what he wanted.  It messed him up for a spell simply because of how exhausting it is to keep that many plates spinning while admiring other crockery that’s for display only instead of eating off - or out ....Urgh!!! That’s enough twisted metaphors, how does this link to Beres Hammond?

Well, in Double Trouble, we find Hammond at the end of his rope.  He’s sneaking back home to his wife or partner after spending an evening with his lover.  He’s now at the point where he realises that awkward questions will be asked about why he’s been out till quarter to three in the morning and can he get the lipstick marks off him without his wife noticing them.  Double Trouble looks at adultery from a perspective that I can’t remember being presented too many times before - and I would gladly welcome any other examples in the comments.  Namely, the cheater coming to the conclusion that whatever excitement there may have been when the affair started is now being outweighed by the nightmare of logistics.  Does he want to leave his wife?  No.  Does he want to end the affair? Possibly, but is that because he loves his wife and hates deceiving her or because he’s finding the concealment too much of a pain in the arse?  It appears to be the latter, and Hammond knows what a cruddy reason that is.

When considering adultery, there are two questions I want to ask of committed adulterers:
1) How do you handle the guilt?
2) Where do you find the energy to cover your tracks and come up with all the lies and stories you have to tell?
In Double Trouble, Hammond has reached the point where that energy is starting to fail him.  He knows that tonight’s story needs to be the best one he’s ever come up with given that the woman at home has made him something special and that he should have been home hours ago.  Although there are allusions to tiredness (either physical or mental) and a wish for death to free him from the awkwardness of what he has to go through once he gets home, ultimately Double Trouble works best as a comment on the mundanity of adultery and how it ultimately becomes less about love, lust or guilt, but self-preservation. No wonder he’s exhausted.

*Sadly, this lyric video shows that the line was something less surprising.

Video courtesy of OneLove.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: I, Ludicrous - Bloody Proud (18 October 1992)


Buy this at Discogs

By request of The Jukebox Rebel and supplied by the ever generous Keeping It Peel, I’m delighted to be able to post an additional, much desired track from the BFBS show of 18/10/92 in which I, Ludicrous tell us all about how they smashed it out of the park supporting The Fall on an odyssey which took them around such rock ‘n’ roll hotbeds as BradfordNottinghamReading - albeit out of festival season - and Cambridge.  Along the way they discover that cash doesn’t stay in hand very long but that by the end of the tour, they’ve grown to relish their status as the“second best band around.” 

Video courtesy of Webbie

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: John Peel’s Music - BFBS (Sunday 18 October 1992)

I live my life by several different creedos. Arguably, the one which gives me most pleasure when I’m able to do it guiltlessly is, “Life’s great! I’ve got somewhere to sit, I’ve got something to drink and other people  are doing things.”  So this is one of the rare occasions in which I can claim to know precisely how John Peel felt when he related how much he and his BFBS producer were enjoying watching a triathlon on television while they recorded the programme.  “It’s quite reassuring sitting here with a cup of tea and a sandwich watching them running and cycling and swimming, because they do need to sort of feel superior so they can point at people and say, ‘Well at least I look better than that bloke sitting in the corner’ and I’m happy to be that bloke sat in the corner. It’s a public service really.”

The programme featured a lot of cover versions and older records, as you’ll see if you read through most of the selections I made from the show.  One of the covers which didn’t make my cut was Gallon Drunk’s version of Ruby originally recorded by Silver Apples.  Peel had been an enthusiastic supporter of Gallon Drunk up to this point, but admitted that he was starting to go off them, “Their moves toward Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are not something I enthuse about...I’m sure their career prospects will lie in ashes as a result.”  However, this appears to have been a passing disenchantment. I’m currently listening to Peel shows from February 1993 as part of prepping selections alongside Equus by Peter Shaffer and he’s been enthusiastically championing tracks from their From the Heart of Town album.

Another oldie which turned up on the playlist for this show was Alamein Train, a 1980 track by the brilliantly named Pete Best Beatles.

From my original selections, there was 1 choice I couldn’t share and 2 which fell from favour.  I would have liked to share:

I, Ludicrous - Bloody Proud - Taken from their album, Idiots Savants, this is a wonderfully entertaining account of their adventures while supporting The Fall on a tour, something they would have the pleasure of doing on a number of occasions. Peel received a letter from his friend, Robert Lawson who was based in Taiwan, but was occasionally to be found, “...buying me Indian meals in London.”  Lawson asked Peel what he thought of the I, Ludicrous album, but Peel was in such a hurry to play something from it, he didn’t venture an opinion.  (UPDATE - The track can now be heard on the blog.)

As for the two tracks which fell from favour:

The Groove Corporation - Hypnotherapy - played by Peel because “I always like to have something relaxing to play you near the start of the programme to get you in the late night mood.  Of course, it may not be late night where you are...”  Unfortunately, when I listened to this a few times, it went from relaxing to soporific. A shame.

Jimmy Reed - I Know It’s a Sin - Now I said at the start of this post that myself and Peel appeared to be of one mind when it came to relaxing with a cup of tea and letting others get on with doing stuff.  However, the realisation I came to while listening to I Know It’s a Sin, recorded by Reed in 1959, would have had Peel cursing me as someone who shouldn’t even share a planet with him, let alone a mindset.  And yet, I’m afraid it cannot be avoided.  Come closer so I can whisper it to you.  But I learnt the undeniable fact: all Jimmy Reed songs sound the same.  And once you’ve learnt that, it cannot be unlearnt.

Before the next edition of John Peel’s Music, Peel reported that he would be undertaking some driving around mainland Europe over the course of the next week and that he hoped to meet up with the Austrian folk-music/hip-hop duo, Attwenger.  As we would discover, it did not go well...

Full tracklisting

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Curve - I Feel Love/The Jesus and Mary Chain - Little Red Rooster (18 October 1992)

Buy this at Discogs

Two more selections taken from the NME’s 40th anniversary compilation celebration album, Ruby Trax. Peel also played The Wedding Present’s version of Cumberland Gap from the same album, on this programme.

I don’t know whether the bands who participated made their own choices or whether the NME sent out specific requests over which artist should cover which track, but in 1992 the idea of Toni Halliday, lead singer of Curve, ethereally cooing Donna Summer’s game-changing, colossal 1977 hit, I Feel Love would have been like something out of Central Casting.  Possibly only Marina Van-Rooy could have come close to sparking the same amount of endorphin/pheremonic aural release among the album’s core male target audience. Or at least that would have been the case had I known about any of this in 1992.  When the idea was floated of Curve covering the track, I’m sure it was high-fives and Charlie all round.  What’s more, unlike the ultra-faithful cover of The Model by Ride, which Peel played the week before, Curve do attempt to stamp some of their own musical identity on the track with synth effects that sound like someone machine-gunning a hail of ping-pong balls on a corrugated roof as well as what I can best describe as a shoegaze cloud that passes over the track like a cloudburst in waiting - ominously poised but never quite ready to unload.  Nevertheless, the band realise that even with Halliday on vocals, the whole enterprise will be sunk unless they incorporate that unforgettable Moog synthesiser line as the foundation stone of the whole thing. And rightfully so, after all that synth line wasn’t just the foundation for I Feel Love, but effectively for modern dance music itself, which in 1992, was still firmly in hock to the offcuts from Giorgio Moroder’s ideas.

On the face of it, to hear The Jesus and Mary Chain produce a Delta blues, sludge-rock version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Little Red Rooster after hearing Curve’s version of I Feel Love may feel like the epitome of landing in the muddy swamp after being caressed by an angel in Heaven, but there’s less to separate them than might otherwise be imagined.  I’ve seen two readings floated about Little Red Rooster. The title character represents either an enforcer figure within the context of the farmyard (and Sam Cooke’s slinky take from 1963 feels like a template for Trouble Man, 13 years early) or it’s a sex song.  The Rolling Stones saw their UK Number 1 single version of Little Red Rooster banned from American radio stations in 1964 as it was felt that the lyrics were sexually suggestive.  It was absurd, especially given that the feel of the Stones’s version was that of a late night cruise around looking for sex, but Mick Jagger sounded as though he knew deep down that he’d have fruitless night traipsing around and failing to find action.  

But with the Jesus and Mary Chain, the cock of the walk is getting his rocks off in no uncertain terms.  The bassline sounds like a headboard slowly but rhythmically banging against a wall. Everything’s smothered in fuzztone: vocals, bass, guitar which rumbles and ruts away like a groaning lover under the relentless thump of the bass headboard.  You can feel the sweat on the naked bodies as the East Kilbride boys succeed in conjuring up the feel of an endless, erotic Georgia coupling. It’s a real grower of a version, possibly the best one I’ve heard for unleashing the pent-up sexuality of the track which, with no trace of irony, culminates in a feedback orgasm. 

So Love and Sex in music form, but who’d have guessed that it would be Jim and William Reid bringing the latter....

Videos courtesy of opalstardream (Curve) and lagustatu (Jesus and Mary Chain)

Friday, 30 October 2020

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Zaiko Langa Langa Familia Dei - Rich Avedila (18 October 1992)

I had a question mark against this track together with the withering note, “Goes on a bit.” But ultimately it’s catchy and enjoyable enough to merit inclusion.

In the absence of any deeper analysis, I can only encourage you to try and enjoy the music alongside the lo-fi visuals which showcase a time capsule of awful early 90s fashions - you can still get shirts like that if you wander round most urban London markets -, a brief glimpse of what looks like Brussels version of the  market at Elephant and Castle, some rather interesting close-ups of the fingering style used in playing soukous music and in its final shots, we see someone playing a guitar whose shape seems to have given Prince the idea for Love Symbol#2, which is rather apt given the track was recorded for an album called Au Revoir Prince.

Video courtesy of lengos papa