Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Oliver!: PJ Harvey - Victory (6 April 1992)

There is already a version of the Peel Session version of PJ Harvey’s boat-party track on this blog, so taping the version from the Dry album, aired by Peel on 6/4/92, would have been a completist gesture but not an empty one given the brilliance of it.
When Peel was beguiled by a talent, he invariably fell hard for it.  Nachtexpress listeners were left in no doubt of just how much of a gibbering idiot Polly Jean Harvey had made him into: “I had lunch with her recently and was so nervous that I talked throughout the entire meal and didn’t hear a word she said”.

Video courtesy of TheSampler2010.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 4 April 1992)

After this day, I would be spending at least part of the following 6 days dressed as, variously: an undertaker, a Bow Street Runner and a street vendor -  “Knives. Knives to grind.”  Oliver! would have its dress rehearsal on Sunday 5 April, with a preview performance for local junior schools on Monday the 6th.  My main memory of the time spent at the dress rehearsal was crowding round a mini-television, squinting through the static at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Portsmouth, the thought of which was giving Peel great anxiety.  Not only that, but he was still deeply uneasy about the concept of “the Super League” that Ipswich Town took another step towards on this day.

Centrepiece of the programme was the drawing of winners for copies of PJ Harvey’s debut album, Dry, with the added bonus of limited edition copies of demos for the album being given out as well.  To win a copy, listeners had to answer the question, where do PJ Harvey come from?  Peel gave mention to someone called “either J or K Taylor, who sent in 31 entries - all of them incorrect - any gave their address variously as either Aviemore, Scotland or Grovesnor Gardens, London”.  He felt that Taylor almost deserved a prize of some sort “for persistence, if not impudence”.  The answer turned out not to be Yeovil, as I have previously thought but Corscombe.

I was interested to hear him play a tune by The Rev. Buck Naked called The Wire Head Conspiracy.  In 2002, when I finally got around to making my own Peel mixtapes, he played one of his songs called Work On Your Car inspired by an email from a listener trying to remember where some of the lines from it came from.  Peel often used to joke about people asking him to dig out old reggae records that he had once played and which they could never remember either the title or artist - only that the track had the word, “jah” in it somewhere.  As for Rev. Buck Naked, Peel only had regrets,
“I wrote him a rather creepy letter to encourage them, and they immediately went out of business.”

Curve had played a gig in Ipswich  the night before this programme was broadcast.  Peel apologised to the band for any stage-diving that may have spoiled their set.  He attributed the possibility of this to his eldest son, William and his friends.

The selections from this programme were taken from a 94 minute file.  There were two items I’ve not been able to share:

Freefall - Our Eyes (Peel Session) - Whatever my previous carping about the singer of this band, they clearly had something about them, as this is the second of their contributions to a Peel show that I earmarked for inclusion.  My notes describe them as being “ 1984 never ended”.  Alas, one EP was as good as it got for them.

The Mike Gunn - Tom’s in the Bathroom - Taken from their album, Hemp For Victory, Peel was initially uncertain whether he had played this or the preceding track on the album, Song About Horses, “One of those albums where the number of tracks doesn’t marry up to the number of titles we’re given”.  However, having heard mention of “Tom” in the recording, he announced it finally as Tom’s in the Bathroom.  It was a borderline inclusion, but I loved it for the sax-led cacophony at the start of the record.  The band were named after someone who suggested they call themselves after him, though he wasn’t actually a member of the band itself.  I wonder if they would have taken him up on his suggestion had his surname been Hunt?

One track fell from favour:

Richard Hell - Baby Huey (Do You Wanna Dance) - I was sitting in an Italian airport in September 2008 when I first listened to Peel’s Punk special from 10 December 1976.  Of all the names that stuck in my head from that show, I always regarded Richard Hell and the Voidoids to be the most inspired of them.  It may well have been residual respect for that which initially saw this track, recorded with Dim Stars featuring members of Sonic Youth and Gumball, make it on to my lists. But listening to it again, it just sounded like a lazy parody.

Full tracklisting

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Oliver!: Bunny & Ricky - Freedom Fighter (4 April 1992)

Even if I hadn’t liked this track, I would have applied Peel logic in order to include it.  Whereas, the great man was first drawn towards Birmingham based skiffle duo, Terry and Gerry, because they were the names of his former flatmates, so I found myself smiling for similar reasons when Peel back announced this track by Bunny & Ricky.  After all, the reggae duo shared names with my former next door neighbour (Bunny) and a plumber friend of my father (Ricky) who in 1999 came round to the house to do some work while my parents were away on holiday and turned off the water supply to the bathroom.  “I’ll put it all back on tomorrow, Dave, is that all right?” he asked me as he left. “No problem”, I replied.  Except he didn’t come back tomorrow.  Or the day after. Or the day after that.  And my parents were still away for another 10 days.  He wasn’t picking up his phone either.  Anger at the lack of water in the second most important water feature in the house - fortunately, neither the toilet or kitchen sink were affected - was tempered with worry that something might have happened to him.  But 2 days before my folks were due back, he phoned to apologise and say he’d be over later to complete the work.  But he didn’t show and my parents arrived back from a lengthy journey home from the Dordogne to find they couldn’t have bath after passing on the facilities offered by P&O Ferries.  I was just grateful that I was out of work at the time, so could nip to my girlfriend’s house every other day for a shower.  The water was back on within 24 hours of my parents return.

But as it happens, I do like this track, a 1975 release on the Locks label, recorded by Errol Kong and William Clarke, who also saw the tune put out under another name, Bush Weed and Corn Trash.  Peel had come across it in the early stages of his Little Richard cover search.  He’d been playing a lot of records by the American noisecore group, The Meathooks in recent programmes, but nothing they were coming out with is anywhere near as casually bloodthirsty as the contents here, with Bunny & Ricky laying out their freedom fighter (another man’s...) credentials and basically giving instructions that they are coming to clean house.  There’s images of snipers in towers, crowds running for cover, zero-tolerance towards cheats (skanks) and all in the name of fulfilling the more extreme proclamations of Marcus Garvey.  I could imagine this getting plenty of play over at Katch 22’s house.  If Peel had had his wits about him, they probably should have been sequenced to run together.  But as brilliant as Katch 22 were, it’s this deceptively sweet record that carries the more incendiary message.

“Well worth tracking down in the second hand shops...well worth tracking down anything of theirs in the second hand shops.  Bunny & Ricky - who were they and where are they now?” - John Peel, 4 April 1992.

Video courtesy of toddvarrelli.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Oliver!: Mescalinum United - We Have Arrived (4 April 1992)

“That’s Mescalinum United.  I don’t think they had a match today.  In fact, I’ve got an awful feeling that I’ve used that joke every time I’ve played that track.” John Peel, 4 April 1992.

This blog wasn’t as busy in 2017 as it has been in previous years.  Part of that was down to work pressures and even during 3 months of unemployment between February and the start of June, I found myself thinking that I shouldn’t overblog, when I should be looking for work or using the free time I had more productively.  I ended up in a job I don’t really want to be doing and my house still has lots that needs to be done to it.  However, my main regret with the blog for 2017 is that I didn’t get to write about We Have Arrived a week or so earlier than I have, because it was one side of a record called Reflections of 2017 and that’s another open goal that I’ve missed.

This track was already two years old when it started featuring on Peel’s playlists over March/April 1992.  It’s doubtful whether he would have announced or recognised it as, in the words of Discogs, “the first hardcore techno track”, given that it would have nestled alongside similar sounding records by the likes of Transformer 2 or Shake Inc. He certainly didn’t mention the word, Gabber, when playing it.  Considered alongside its flipside, it certainly feels as though Marc Trauner (aka Marc Arcardipane) the man behind Mescalinum United who would feature on many more Peel playlists in future years under the better known alias of The Mover, could claim to be a soothsayer.  With its steamhammer beat predicting the fury of our age; the sound ‘n’ fury squawks reflecting the white noise of both social media and political discourse; topped off with soaring sonic crescendos sounding like the nuclear missiles that psychopathic leaders are itching to use and which, on this tune, fly off into the distance leaving only a tease but no explosion.  We’re entitled to ponder that, yes , we have arrived.  Could we go home now, please?

If anyone thinks that, for a pioneering record, Trauner’s original isn’t hardcore enough - one of Aphex Twin’s remixes of it, could be right up your street.

Video courtesy of monotek darkmatter.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Oliver!: Katch 22 - Biting The Hand That Feeds (4 April 1992)

“The Katch is back!”

Yes, they were and given Peel’s appreciation of everything coming off the Kold Sweat label, I can imagine that Katch 22’s Return to the Fundamentals EP must have been one of his most highly anticipated releases of the month.  He may have felt a little shortchanged at the resulting disc offering up just one “new” track together with a batch of instrumentals and remixes from the Diary of a Blackman Living in the Land of the Lost album.  Over a killer drum pattern and samples that conjure up 60s slasher movies, Biting the Hand That Feeds continues the themes of that earlier album - the constriction of opportunity for black people and how black assimilation into white society can equal black submission. Touching on themes as widespread as capitalism, genocide, cultural displacement, family breakup, slavery and poverty, it’s  all a bit scattershot until a storming final 90 seconds brings the track home.  I like it, but if Biting the Hand That Feeds is the tubthumper, the remix of State of Meditation is a better attempt at raising the awareness in its listener as to why a revolution may be needed.

Videos courtesy of Kove Graff and U3.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Oliver!: Fluke - The Allotment Of Blighty/Time Keeper [Peel Session] (4 April 1992)

The 4/4/92 show featured a repeat of the second Peel Session recorded by the electronica collective,
Fluke.  The session catches them somewhere between the frenetic activity of 1991, which saw them release both a studio album (on Creation Records) and a live one, with them considering their next sonic moves.  In the best traditions of the exercise, they gave Peel a mix of past, present and future tunes to chew on.  I only heard the first two that were put out on this show, but they were more than adequate.  The Allotment Of Blighty may be a riff on their live favourite, The Garden of Blighty, but I haven’t been able to confirm this.  It’s a marginal inclusion, featuring as it does a keyboard sample that may very well have inspired the main riff in Riverdance, two years hence, (or maybe Nu-Tekk?).  I suspect ultimately it owes its place here by acting in the function of a curtain raiser for a track which never saw release on any of Fluke’s subsequently releases, but which stood head and shoulders above everything else in the session.

Time Keeper (or The Timekeeper as Peel called it on the show) builds on a number of the themes heard in Fluke’s The Techno Rose Of Blighty album.  A number of tracks on that record based themselves less on acid house and more on jazz.  Amid the beats and bleeps, Fluke would throw in squeals of trumpetsax/flute and acoustic guitar.  Above all, there was a focus on the use of time signature and syncopation, which this piece takes on to thrilling effect with synth work to give The Orb a run for their money.

The other tracks broadcast in the session were Top of the World which would turn up on their next album, 1993s Six Wheels on My Wagon and The Bells which came out in a range of mixes on an EP called, cunningly, The “Peal” Sessions.

Videos courtesy of fractal76BG and jammin023.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Oliver!: The Wedding Present - Falling (4 April 1992)

Question for anyone who keeps abreast of these things: when did boxsetting become a thing? Was it this year or in 2016?  I don’t watch much television now, and I don’t have Netflix, Amazon Prime or anything like it.  I never West Winged, Broke Bad or made a date with a Mad Man.  House of Cards to me meant Ian Richardson  (and recent events mean that’s what it’ll probably mean to many others again in future), while if you ask me my opinion of Game of Thrones, I’m likely to say “That’s me playing Snake on my mobile during a long shit”.  I’ve always been more of a dipper inner than a glutton when it comes to watching episodes of a TV series over time - if only the same was true of me round a biscuit tin.  I prefer to keep the intrigue drawn out as something to look forward to rather than devour a series in one sitting.
2017 saw another show enter the pantheon of, “You want it all?  You can have it all!” broadcasting with the return of Twin Peaks after a gap of 26 years.  I didn’t see any of it, just as I only saw snippets of the first iteration.  Whenever I turned over in the 90s to watch any of it, I always seemed to come in at a scary moment which would send me scuttling back to the news ASAP.  The only bit of Twin Peaks that I’ve ever seen was the 1992 prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and I only did that because Mark Kermode asked me to - and I’m glad he did, I thought it was excellent.

On several occasions during his run of shows from November 1991 to April 1992, Peel alluded to certain atmospheric records, usually dance based ones as having “Something of a Twin Peaks influence” while one of his dance picks in December 1991 used one of Twin Peaks’s musical cues as a key sample and under his better known name got a Top 10 hit single out of it.
The Wedding Present recorded Falling, the main theme from Twin Peaks as a B-side to single of the month, Silver Shorts.  On the face of it, this is an ideal match of song and artist.  Lynch’s lyrics could have been copied from a David Gedge notebook given that it starts with a self-plea to be careful and not get emotionally hurt, only for such caution to fly out the window once he sees the object of his desire.  In typical Lynchian style, and a neat bit of underplaying the situation, he notes that while everything seems familiar in the grand scheme of things (the colour of the sky, the movement of the clouds etc) something fundamental has changed - “Are we falling in love?”  And in Lynch’s world that change could prove to be either the salvation of his characters or their downfall.  It’s a truly beautiful song, poised over Angelo Badalamenti’s bass like refrain, which becomes a ringingly bright guitar refrain in the hands of The Wedding Present.
The first version of the song was popularised by Julee Cruise, a collaborator with Angelo Badalamenti.  Lynch and Badalamenti wrote the song with her in mind to record it and she imbues it
with an almost angelic level of fragility - gently soaring into the stratosphere alongside the icily ecstatic synths.  This sense of love and gentleness breaking through chaos, violence and terror is a key theme in several of Lynch’s films.  The next paragraph contains SPOILERS and links to scenes that some viewers may find upsetting.

Blue Velvet (1986) is awash with romance, love and tenderness amidst an ocean of reprehensible acts - indeed some of that love is delivered by the most terrifying character in 80s cinema.  Wild at Heart (1990) features further grotesque characters and moments of unsettling insanity, but at its centre is the loving, tender relationship between Sailor (Nicholas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern).  Their love and belief in one another is what stops the film being overwhelmed by dark malignancy.  Lynch in these films appears to be on the side of love and tenderness.  The heroes and anti-heroes of both movies get put through hell, but a happy ending is waiting for them, ultimately.  Even in a film where no happy ending is possible like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me there is still time for moments of tenderness and genuine caring interaction between characters, before the inexorable slide back towards madness.  Having missed all of Lynch’s feature films since Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, apart from The Straight Story (1999), I have no idea whether this motif is prevalent in the likes of Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Dr. (2001) or Inland Empire (2006).

Julee Cruise’s vocal suggests love being strong enough to rise above the cruelty of everyday existence.  One can imagine it as an ensemble piece sung by The Lady in the RadiatorSandy’s robinsThe Good Witch and the angel in the Red Room.  If Lynch’s work could be said to be a revolving round of dream/nightmare states, joined together like Siamese Twins and allowing him to acknowledge the very best and worst of human behaviour, then Cruise’s version of Falling is the dream state, while The Wedding Present’s is the nightmare state.  After chocking out that instantly recognisable riff, their version proceeds with David Gedge’s vocal barely rising above a murmur and he struggles to be heard above the sustained guitar notes that drape themselves over the choruses like one of Laura Palmer’s malevolent visions.  Around the 4 minute mark, the band go full noise rock, leaving Gedge quietly intoning his surprise at, potentially, falling in love.  The effect is to push all the cruelty, violence and menace in Twin Peaks, and Lynch’s other work to the forefront, while reminding the listener that, even when buried behind a seemingly horrific world, love is never far from the surface.  It’s a very clever inversion of Cruise’s version and both could be held up, by optimists and pessimists alike as representative of Lynch’s worldview.

This will probably be the last post before Monday, so it’s as good a time as any to wish anyone reading this a merry Christmas.  Please could I have DVDs of Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire for my gifts this year, please? xxx

Videos courtesy of Andrew077 (Wedding Present) and L Y R I X (Cruise).

Lyrics copyright of David Lynch.