Monday, 18 September 2017

Oliver!: Shake Inc. - Twin Rave (28 March 1992)



There's something about the opening synth chord in this record by Dutch producer Aad de Mooy that makes me convinced that Angelo Badlementi was influencing ambient dance music more than anyone else in the early 90s.  However such thoughts are dispelled within seconds here once the twinkly synths start in over the top of that Fire Walk With Me-like chord, and then when the beat drops around the 50 second mark, our move from Lynchian despair to a full on rave sound system head to head is complete.

Video courtesy of E for Free.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Oliver!: Marcia Griffiths - Closer to You (28 March 1992)



I've focused so much of my attention on John Peel's radio programmes over late 1991/early 1992, that I have been somewhat slapdash when it comes to other opportunities to appreciate him.  I still haven't listened to any of 6Music's current retrospective series The Evolution of John Peel, partially because I fear that it will just end up being a greatest hits collection through the decades - though I will pull myself together and listen to it soon.  Perhaps even more unforgivably, I've been equally tardy when it's come to watching him on BBC Four's repeats of Top of the Pops.  This damns me heavily because when BBC Four kicked off the run, back in 2011, with the announcement that they were going to start with shows from 1976, my initial reaction was "Bloody hell, it'll be 6 years before they get to Peel hosting it!"  In the event, once episodes that had either been wiped or hosted by Jimmy Savile or Dave Lee Travis were skipped past, they reached Peel's 1982 return within 5 years.  He had co-hosted the show on one fateful occasion in early 1968, and, by his own admission, did a terrible job of it - forgetting who Amen Corner were at one point.  But after a mere 14 years, he was back and I was keen to see the repeat of his first, well second, appearance on the programme, especially considering that the opening sequence of him introducing Theatre of Hate was one of the first Peel related clips I remember seeing on YouTube, some 11 years ago.  Peel acquitted himself well - there were tracks I was pleased to see and others that were completely new to me including a band clearly put together to try and cash in on Shakin' Stevens popularity.  At the end of it, I was pleased to see that Peel was finally on the Top of the Pops list and looked forward to catching his Rhythm Pals act with David Jensen once they got to 1983.  I think I caught one more of Peel's 1982 TotP shows before they were suddenly in 1983 and he was paired with Jensen.
They hosted the show 13 times that year but I only caught two of them, which is silly considering that I would have been watching the show as a curious 7 year old at the time, and the original broadcasts would have been my first awareness of Peel in any form, beyond possibly hearing snippets of his show on the radio I used to play at bedtime when I was even younger (that's a story for another time, I expect).  Now the Pops repeats have got to 1984 and aware that Jensen moved from Radio 1 to Capital Radio - to Peel's great sadness - and subsequently off Top of the Pops as a result, I made great efforts to catch their last few shows together.  The Rhythm Pals were essentially Top of the Pops version of Morecambe and Wise, with Peel free to engage in whimsy and gently absurd piss-taking, while Jensen could guide things back to Earth, with a"What can you do?" air about him in regards to his sidekick.  Their affection for each other, and enjoyment in hosting the show was obvious, despite the fact that their natural radio environment was, to varying degrees, some way removed from the neon and party balloons environment in which they hosted the show.  For all that, it's worth remembering that regardless of how frivolous or dour, depending on the approach producers took with the show, its great strength was that the credible would follow the cheesy without comment - it was an open house to pop and popular music, and the likes of The Clash and The Arctic Monkeys lessened themselves by not appearing on it.  In terms of 1984 pop music, I often think that one reason why the early appearances of The Smiths on the show are so fondly remembered is the fact they would either be following or leading on to Black Lace.  Right up to its dying day, I always regarded the Top of the Pops studio as simultaneously the most exciting/naffest place in the world.  It clearly had something about it, just look what it did to Danny Baker.

One feature of the TotPs I've seen with Peel in them is a performance of a record described either by himself or Jensen as "coming up through the clubs".  Four years on this would invariably mean an acid house or techno record, but in 1984, it was usually something that attempted to meld together Hi-NRG beat with soul vocal. Exhibits from the time, cued in by Peel include I'll Be Around by Terri Wells and the stone cold classic High Energy by Evelyn Thomas.  Such records seemed pertinent when we bring ourselves back to Peel broadcasting in the middle of the night from a Radio 1 studio, eight years after he was taking the piss on prime time BBC 1. A record like Closer to You seems closer in tone to those Top of the Pops club classics, even though its much more laidback and fuses dancehall with lovers rock.  Such an expression of unadulterated sweetness and love always seemed vaguely shocking on a Peel playlist, as though he decided to aurally airfreshen his airwaves for a moment after all the expected rock, racket and rave.  But as BBC Four have shown us, there were plenty of occasions when Peel found himself engulfed in "sweet" music.  He was just better at picking out the nuggets amidst the chintz than many others.  And Marcia Griffiths' voice was pure gold.

The video is of someone playing a record, which I appreciate is a bit unsatisying, though good for the   ear heart.  The record plays twice, but is around 3:40 in duration. There are other versions which include toasting by Buju Banton.  If you find it visually dull, then enjoy the best clip I've seen from Peel's '84 shows so far, featuring Zoo, the final dancing troupe used by Top of the Pops in order to boost a rather dull Pointer Sisters video for their terrific track, Automatic.  Sadly, no videos from the programme include Peel's hilarious attempts at robotic dancing at the end.



Videos courtesy of 777SKA (Griffiths) and memorylane1980s (Pointer Sisters).

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Oliver!: Swell - Down (28 March 1992)



Peel played this as the last of a medley of three records by bands who he described variously as "A consumers guide to what you're going to pretend to like next" and "The next big thing after the next big thing".  When he said that two of the bands began with the letter S, I found myself wondering whether one of them might have been Suede, despite the orthodoxy that Peel had never played them.  Anyway, the run started with Conduit for Sale by Pavement followed by Decatur by Seam.  Nothing in either of those tunes to distract me from the washing up.  However, when Decatur was followed by  the cavernous guitar riff at the top of the third track supplemented by an acoustic guitar strumming confidently away underneath, I really did think for a moment that it might be Suede as it seemed to encapsulate all those breathless adjectives that journalists used to use about the world beating possibilities that they had.  And then the vocal came in, several octaves down from Brett Anderson's range and I could relax and take the track in on its own terms.
To be fair, after such a stunning opening, the verses, which seem to focus on a long, enjoyable night getting stoned and trying to make it through to the next day, couldn't help but seem like a slight anti-climax.  But for its air guitar possibilities alone, Down would be guaranteed a place on the metaphorical mixtape.
Swell never did become the next big thing, but continue to release albums and EPs into the 21st century.  Hopefully more of their work turns up in future Peel shows.

Video courtesy of pierolivio.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 21 March 1992)

One of my favourite chapters in The Olivetti Chronicles was a 1994 article for Radio Times in which Peel drove from Suffolk to Glasgow and chose to soundtrack his journey not with demo tapes from acts hoping to get a play on his programme, but music from commercial radio stations based in the various counties he drove through.  In cultural terms, it was not a transportive experience:

"(Visitors from outer space) would assume that, judging by the records playing during the day, either life had come to an end in 1980 or the ultimate human dream was to get it together with the only one worth thinking of, with a view to making it through the night." (John Peel - Local Radio, p.144, The Olivetti Chronicles, Bantam Press, 2008).  If I tell you that he pledged to change channels every time a Cyndi Lauper record came on, it should give you some idea of the musical diet he was served up by stations as diverse as SGR FM (Suffolk), Q-103 (Cambridgeshire), Lincs FM (Lincolnshire) and Viking FM (Yorkshire).  Speaking as someone who really can't abide local or commercial radio, I can only admire Peel's tenacity at undertaking such a journey with nothing but "trite radio with play-safe musical policies" to listen to.  He wrote the article, apparently in defence of a Radio 1 which was still taking flak and losing listeners as Matthew Bannister's changes and updates continued to take hold.  Those departing listeners may have been going to commercial and local stations.  The roots for the article though were first brought to my attention on this show when Peel denounced "oldies" radio stations as they used to be called for not playing anything by The Big Three.  However, given that JFM bore him through Manchester with plenty of rhythm and blues while "Jenny-at-Drivetime" on West Radio over the Scottish border "played me three good (if elderly) records in a row", perhaps the balance was slightly redressed in the intervening two years.  He advised listeners who didn't want to listen to Radio 1, but who wanted to avoid listening to unadulterated wallpaper music to "drive from Preston to Glasgow a lot."  I can endorse this point of view.  Not from a musical perspective but the scenery from a train window between these two places is so breathtaking that Peel admitted to switching the radio off because of it, so that he could enjoy it more.

On this show, he told listeners about a mind-boggling TV preview in The East Anglian newspaper in which Jack Pizzey met a remote tribe in the Philippines who collected kneecaps as protection against bullets, "...and that's all it said!"
Amid the usual gig guides, he promoted an upcoming "anti-racism do" at Leeds University featuring Cook da Books who Peel was surprised to see were still going.
The show also kicked off a feature that would run for the next year and beyond on Peel's show, The Little Richard cover search.  Click the link if you want to find out in great depth, right now what the fuss was about, but in short - Peel became fixated in trying to track down a cover of a Little Richard song that he had, and which he thought was tremendous but which he couldn't remember the title of, or who had performed it.  As a result, he started working his way through his collection of 45s and started slipping in records he had forgotten about as a result until he found the one he was looking for.  The above mentioned Big Three were beneficiaries of this tonight.

The selections from this show came from an 80 minute file in which the taper, a person after my own heart, had made up their own mixtape of the show.  I only have one selection of my own which couldn't be shared:

The Meathooks - Tribute - or to give it its full, unbroadcastable title, Tribute to Gerogerigegege ->. Shithead..Dum Dum Noise..Pistol Fuck Attack...Meat of Meathooks...Shitface.  Taken from their album, Cambodia Soul Music.  Given the titles, you can probably guess what the music was like.  Listening to the track again last week for the first time in several months, I found myself thinking - perhaps unsurprisingly given the band's name, that this track would have made a perfect accompaniment to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had the late Tobe Hooper chosen to use hard, noiserock, grindcore as the soundtrack, because Tribute is essentially a rock music horror soundtrack taken at breakneck speed with pure noise and shafts of melody chasing the listener into the abbatoir.  And rightfully so given that Peel's show and this blog recently featured the sound of Leatherface.

If the thought of Texan cannibals is too upsetting to finish on then why not enjoy a little sport.  The last half hour of Grandstand going out around 6 hours before Peel's show did on this day.  I don't know what it is but there's something incredibly restful about David Coleman and Brendan Foster's commentary on the Boston cross country race.  As for the football results, Peel would have been cheered by Liverpool beating Tottenham. The Pig may have taken a jaunt up to Cambridge to see Ipswich draw up there, unaware, as I was, that the next five games would take us to the brink of promotion....



Video courtesy of BiroWybz.

Full tracklisting

Monday, 4 September 2017

Oliver!: Spawn - Infiltrator; Silverfish - Vitriola [Peel Session] (21 March 1992)






2 tracks with very little in common, musically but what links them is that I had previously passed on including them in earlier shows.

Infiltrator by Spawn, a dance act which included future Plastikman, Richie Hawtin as composer and producer, should have featured on the 8/3/92 show, but the fact I found myself wishing that I could write about a completely different track saw it fall from favour.  Peel kept the faith, and eventually I caught up with him.  All the things that drew me towards it originally - the drum and bass vibes for example - were supplemented by effects that I had missed originally.  I particularly like the sci-fi lab feel to it as it progresses.  Field of Vision by Nico is still a better tune though.

I must have been on my period or something when I first heard the Silverfish Peel Session broadcast on 12/1/92.  The only track I liked from that session originally was on there because of nostalgia for something else.  Eventually, Jimmy, albeit a non-session version, made its way on to my virtual mixtape.  Now, inspired by Peel's repeat of the session on this show, Vitriola joins them.  I suspect it was artist fatigue that was the issue for me at the time - a man can only take so many of Silverfish's aural punches in the face in a confined space.  Vitriola is perhaps their most violent expression yet arising out of the band's standard hammer on anvil drums and thunderclap guitar sound.  Lesley Rankine uses words as pure violence in this track - one moment a gun, the next a blade and then a burning sun.  Whoever has betrayed her is in real trouble as evidenced by the ongoing refrain, "You don't want to be around here when I get out", all topped off with the Silverfish "Uh!"  It's primal, exciting, thrilling and drips with danger.  A track that cannot be reasoned with or watered down, and as those final cymbal tinkles suggest at the end, it's already sprinkling the earth on your grave.

Videos courtesy of Sound of 88/92 (Spawn) and Vibracobra23 Redux (Silverfish)

Friday, 1 September 2017

Oliver!: Scarface - A Minute to Pray and a Second to Die (21 March 1992)



NOTE - the lyrics in this video are uncensored.

As I write this (28/8/17), the city of Houston in Texas is currently experiencing serious flooding due to Storm Harvey.  It remains to be seen whether this reaches Hurricane Katrina proportions, but the world will be watching to see if the level of response from the authorities is sharper than it was in New Orleans, 12 years ago - and if it isn't then expect Houston's very own Brad Jordan AKA Scarface to tell us all about it.  In his 2015 memoir, Diary of a Madman, he has plenty to say about where America found itself at the end of Obama's tenure and his words take on even greater resonance after 6 months of Donald Trump:
"America is always looking for something to blame for the reason it's destroying itself.  First it was jazz that was destroying America, then it was rock and roll, then it was disco, then it was rap.  But you know, I think America is destroying America.  Our country is built is built on a foundation of rules and laws and belief systems that date back to the 1700s and 1800s, back to the time of slavery and it's fucking us up.  It's breeding hate.  It's deeper than a record.  Hate goes deeper than that." (Page 37, iBooks - Diary of a Madman: The Geto Boys, Life, Death and the Roots of Southern Rap by Brad Jordan with Benjamin Meadows-Ingram; Dey St through Harper Collins, 2015)

In March 1992, Peel visited an exhibition of photography by rapper and TV presenter, Normski.  He didn't say whether he bought any of Normski's work, but he certainly picked up this 12" release taken from the Geto Boys alumnus's official solo debut, Mr. Scarface is Back.  Peel put the track on heavy rotation over March/April 1992 and deservedly so.  Using samples from Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues and the greeting at the top of What's Going On, this is an outstanding take on the realities of gang violence which weaves its way through three different viewpoints - the hustler who ends up dead leaving behind a daughter who he will never see grow up; the thankless lot of the women who love the dealers and criminals, thinking that they'll get to enjoy the fruits of their money, only to find themselves targets of abuse for spurious, paranoid reasons and ultimately left holding the baby; and lastly there's the foot soldier who recovers from a shooting, but instead of using his good fortune to take a righteous path pursues vengeance and takes it in shocking directions before finally being taken down for good.

For Scarface this track would crystalise two of his obsessions - the hold of the streets and death.  He witnessed it several times growing up, having been working in a convenience store as a child when a
cashier was murdered in a bungled robbery; seeing a neighbour come out of her house and die on the street after being shot inside the house by her husband and losing a number of friends and associates both to heat of the moment rows that escalated or cold-blooded executions.
"When I write about death on my records, it's almost never from a rapper's standpoint.  I write about what I know, what I experienced, what I thought, or what I saw.  But when you've had the opportunity  to see life come into this world, and you've seen it taken away, you start to look at life in a different way.  I know I did.  Just watching somebody who's getting ready to die who doesn't want to die fight for his life even though he knows there's nothing either one of you can do and all you can do is watch him go...To look them in the eyes and see life there before it's gone and then to watch it take off and to see those eyes turn into a blank stare....  I can't describe it.  It's like watching a birth.  That instant of life and death and creation and destruction -...I've seen a lot of people go out.  And it's a cold feeling.  It will give you a whole new respect for life." (Page 69, iBooks - Diary of a Madman).

The fragility of the human condition that Scarface talks about here underpins this track beautifully just as it does in all of Scarface's best work.  Although he himself talks about confrontations in his own life, he says that he's always ready to stand down if the other person will, but if they won't then he's ready to die.  A Minute to Pray and A Second to Die looks at the consequences of those who are only prepared to die.  It pities rather than glorifies, but as Scarface says, he and his contemporaries never sought to glorify violence, they only related what they had seen.  And in doing so here, he created great art.

Video courtesy of toxicofera.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Oliver!: Boss Hog - Fire of Love; Tar - Deep Throw; Helmet - Oven; Vertigo - Dynamite Cigar (21 March 1992)










Just as Peel did, I present these 4 selections from the Sub-Pop compilation of Amphetamine Reptile acts, Smells Like Smoked Sausages  in a batch for your delectation.  Given that Nirvana parodying title, it's tempting to see this as a grunge collection only, but the choices themselves and the rest of the album too, are a bit more interesting than that.  Boss Hog give a blues makeover to Jody Reynolds's moodily twangtastic 1958 track Fire of Love, with its drawled female vocal and stabs of harmonica.  It's only in the turbo-charged coda, when that harmonica is turned into an instrument as rocking as any guitar that its place on this album makes any surface sense.  I suspect it may have been Peel's favourite track on the album, given that he re-played it at the start of his 4/4/92 show.  I can imagine him and Andy Kershaw approving of those modern 
whippersnappers paying homage to Jody Reynolds.

The last time Tar were on this blog was with the thundering, if slightly ponderous On a Transfer.  By contrast, Deep Throw is a more exciting piece of music, but it escapes being lumped in as grunge through what appears to be a mix between hard rock and shoegaze, especially given the "Do you wake up dreaming?" refrain that keeps cutting through and lodging in the listener's ear.

Helmet offer a reminder of the source of what American guitar music was being celebrated for in 1992-93 with their cover of Melvins' track, Oven.  Their take on domestic passive aggressiveness is very faithful to the original, but 
loses none of its unsettling sense of estrangement.

Vertigo's Dynamite Cigar has been bugging me because it reminds me of another record which I can't place. Curiously, I keep thinking it's a Half Man Half Biscuit tune.  Certainly they share the Wirral outfit's gift for quickfire verbiage as this tune is closer to rap'n'rock than grunge, though the vocals are disappointingly low in the mix.
Taken as a whole, none of these tracks or any of the others on Smells Like Smoked Sausages with the possible exception of Our Demise by Surgery looked like cracking the top of the Billboard charts, but as a snapshot of US guitar rock and insight into some of the bands' influences, it's an essential record.  Mind you, I recommend skipping the misanthropic album closer by God Bullies.

This has been a hard blogpost to write, because it's the first 
one I have done since the sudden, unexpected death of my beloved cat, Saoirse, on August 19.  In the 3 years I've been doing this blog, she mastered the art of sleeping through whatever unholy racket I would be listening to near her, in the name of research.  These tracks are dedicated to her.

Videos courtesy of Irresponsableful (Boss Hog & Vertigo), Jon Boucher (Tar) and Stoopid (Helmet).




"You're not listening to Claws by Milk again are you?"