Thursday, 10 August 2017

Oliver!: Sugar Shack - You're a Freak (21 March 1992)

Played by Peel on pressed purple vinyl, I'm dedicating this track by Houston band, Sugar Shack, to the woman I saw on the Tube in London on June 23 this year.  It was not a Brief Encounter moment - illicit romance was the last thing on my mind considering I was coughing my lungs out with some kind of chest infection, a mere 24 hours before my wife and I were due to leave for Portugal on a long-delayed honeymoon.  I would have preferred to be at home, packing, but had had to come into London for a job interview.  Considering my interviewers were coming down from Leicestershire and Yorkshire, I felt I couldn't really ask for a reschedule of the interview - not least because they had brought it forward for me before I went away.  The interview went OK, despite being conducted in the bar of a Travel Inn.  I was there for nearly 2 hours though, so was glad to start my journey home.  While taking the Tube back to Victoria, I was sat opposite a woman in her late teens/early 20s who stood out a mile amongst everyone.  On a pleasant summer's day, she was rocking some kind of summer Goth look, with boots that looked like they had come from Milla Jovovich's wardrobe from Resident Evil.  Her hair was dyed black, her lips were painted black, her eyes were almost submerged in black eye shadow, but what made her stand out were the tattoos.  She didn't have the kind of flowing body tapestry of interconnected squiggles, stars and quotes, much beloved of footballers - Luke Chambers, the captain of my team, Ipswich Town has progressed his own transmogrification from arms to upper thighs over the summer, though there are worse offenders.  Instead, this lady had tattoos dumped at random parts of her body, or at least where I could see them.  On her arm, on her knee, on her chest - there was no consistency or pattern to it.  Just random quotes, book titles and band names dotted about here and there with pieces of artwork cropping up in places where text would have been too cramped to fit in.  Written across her face, though not in ink form, was a great sense of vulnerability.  Despite the Goth/Punk look, she didn't look unapproachable, but rather more that if you approached her, she might crack and break apart in front of you.  If the tats and boots were intended as an armour defence, she hadn't quite grown into it yet.   I did what I always do when I see people celebrating their individuality/trying too hard (delete as applicable) and mentally speculated over what had led her into this extremity of look - rebellion against a repressive home life? A reaction to being bullied at school?  Falling under another's influence and trying to copy it?  - the possibilities were endless.  What was apparent though was that this was her.  Some old form of this woman had been jettisoned somewhere along the line and this was how she was going to represent herself for the foreseeable future.  And why not?  I may not have been able to stop looking towards her and constructing life stories in my imagination,  but to her, she wouldn't be seen any other way on that Tube train.  Her life so far has built to that look and if it's the right direction for her, then that is all that matters.

All of which cod-sociology leads me to wish that You're a Freak had been sound tracking the journey, not least because it might have brought a smile to her glum features.  Built around a classic sludge-
rock riff incorporating the guitar equivalent of that comedy trumpet "wah-wah-wah-wah" effect on the title line, this is a song which is by turns slightly awed of those with the black lipstick on and the chalk white faces, while mocking those looking on at them.  The chorus is a neat reversal of what the title implies - they don't know they're freaks not due to a lack of self-knowledge, but rather more appropriately because they don't give a damn. With its lines about freaks holding lattes* as they move obliviously through the streets, Sugar Shack are ahead of the curve when it comes to predicting hipsterdom but the sting in the tail comes through a false ending in which singer, Mark Lochridge, speaks the ultimate universal truth.

* Turns out I misheard Lochridge sing "light of day" as "latte" which takes away a little bit of the song's satirical bite, I feel.

Video courtesy of FEBear1

PS - I didn't get the job. Serve me right for imagining alternative life histories...

Friday, 4 August 2017

Oliver!: Dyke and the Blazers - Shotgun Slim (21 March 1992)

Whenever Peel cued up a record as being "From the Kent compilation...", my interest would be piqued.  It usually meant there was a good chance of a fascinating slice of pure funk or soul following on.  For years I associated Kent Records with the best segue I ever heard on a Peel show.  On 27 June 2002, he followed Sandbar by Derrero with Woman to Woman by Shirley Brown, an almost perfect tonal matchup from the conclusion of the former to the beginning of the latter.  Shirley Brown's track was taken from a Kent compilation called If Loving You is Wrong, an album packed with intriguing titles like If We Get Caught, I Don't Know You (sung by a man naturally).  10 years before this, Peel was playing tracks from a reissue of an early Kent compilation called So Sharp which showcased the work of "Dyke" Arlester Christian and his band The Blazers.
In the late 60s, Dyke & The Blazers would have been the soul band of choice for anyone who feared that James Brown was becoming too indulgent or that Sly and the Family Stone was soul music for hippies.  In the age of Aquarius, they provided a home for displaced Mods and a soundtrack for the Northern soul movement.  Playing them in 1992 leaves me hoping that Peel would have inspired any of the soul bands who formed after watching The Commitments.  Not such a leap of imagination when you consider that Dyke and the Blazers' best known song was covered by Wilson Pickett, who (SPOILER) may very well have sung it with The Commitments if they hadn't broken up before he arrived at their last gig.

Video courtesy of FunkNationZ.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Oliver!: Sebadoh - Kath (21 March 1992)

I wouldn't want you to think I was obsessing on names of people I've known through drama; it's just the way that selections have worked out.  Unlike the Ruths, I was never romantically involved with the Kath I knew on the Cornish drama circuit, but she did give me a cracking part in The Diary of Anne Frank which this blog is still, chronologically, 2 years away from.  I had a huge amount of respect for her because she was fearless as an actress, highly imaginative as a director and endearingly devoid of any confidence in herself in either discipline.  She wore her fear heavily and visibly even when she had pulled off something brilliant onstage or had put together a production full of innovative touches - especially in pantomime.  Goldilocks and the Three Bears set in a circus or Aladdin in which the set was a scaffold tower - cue much grumbling from people within drama committees about doing a traditional panto the following year.  But invariably the shows would scoop  awards at the county pantomime awards evening - sponsored by Calor Gas in my day, and now revived - at least in one part of Cornwall, meaning that they would be remembered fondly, rather than as arty folly.  She has now started writing and directing her own work as well, and one of my greatest regrets about not acting in Cornwall anymore is missing out on the potential chance to have played in some of her writing - or at the very least wonder why I hadn't been approached to.  I write this on a day when I have worked in a job that leaves me uninspired, directionless and pissed off.  I really need to start doing more of what Kath is doing.

While I wouldn't rush to play Goodbye Ruth to either of the Ruths given the rather downbeat nature of the song, I'd happily play Sebadoh's Kath to Kath.  Simultaneously haunting and calming, with its beguiling mix of spine-tingling acoustics, metronomic percussion and a lyric poised somewhere between romantic cherry popping ("I'm so glad the wait is through/I'm so glad I waited for you") and pagan sacrifice (allusions to chicken heads and killing the jealous) this is a superior piece of U.S. acoustic gothic complete with live cicadas providing an alfresco choral feel to the recording.

Video courtesy of jakmgrunge.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 20 March 1992)

One book on my To Read list is Ken Garner's 2007 book The Peel Sessions which chronicles all the sessions recorded and broadcast by Peel during his time on Radio 1.  15 years earlier though, Peel Sessions had been one part of a more comprehensive work of Garner's called In Session Tonight which attempted to present a full history of ALL sessions recorded for Radio 1, regardless of host and/or size of act.  During early 1992, Garner was observing sessions and writing about contemporaraneous Radio 1 for the opening chapter of his book.  He wrote to Peel about the Spiritualized session broadcast on 14/3/92, of which precisely no tracks turned up on this blog, because none of them were on the recording I made my selections from.  Garner had sat in on the session at Maida Vale, recorded on January 7, 1992 and one which Peel had particularly enjoyed because Jason Pierce and co. had taken his words to heart about using sessions to push beyond their comfort zone by bringing in outside musicians to bulk up their sound.  According to Garner, Kenneth Branagh had been recording a radio adaptation of Hamlet for broadcast on Radio 3, in the next door studio.  The first anyone knew of this was when Roddy Lorimer, one of the trumpet players that Spiritualized had drafted in for the session announced to the assembled company that he had just bumped into Michael Hordern in the Gents toilet.  Peel replied that his only lavatorial encounter with a famous person had been at Wembley Stadium a few years previous, when he had met Matt Busby.

Since the previous week, Peel had made the finals of a stock car racing event, in which he had beaten out Andy Kershaw.

The selections from this programme came from a 90 minute file.  The show included a track called Her Too by Greenhouse which takes the prize for track I've hated most on any Peel show, so far.  It's basic tune is good, but it becomes unlistenable due to their incorporating the sound of metal bars being struck.  Even Werewolf, Semen and Blood by Finnish group, Beherit was more enjoyable to listen to.

Tracks I would have liked to include but couldn't included:

Fun-Da-Mental - Janam (The Message) - Peel sounded like Sir Nicholas Soames as he attempted to enunciate Fun-Da-Mental's name.  The track though was fantastic: a compelling mix of Eastern drone, propulsive bassline and political agit-prop.  Essential listening - if you can find it.

The Megaton Men - So What - A venomous break up song, from Peel-described "Pride of Penarth" replete with gay subtext given that they sing about there being "another guy" at the root of their reason to break off the relationship, unless they're reading back a Dear John letter.  A good rocker, either way.

Manifesto - Pattern 26 - Peel heard traces of former Dandelion Records act, Medicine Head in this tune, but I thought it more closely evoked T.Rex myself.  Not quite hitting the heights of Walking Backwards but a strong ending would have recommended it for inclusion.

Tracks that fell from favour included:

The Hair and Skin Trading Company - Ground Zero - I agonised over this.  At times I loved it, especially when the ear-heart sound from the radio recording was in full effect, making the tune sound massive and exciting.  But too often, I felt detached from it - maybe because it's in that halfway house between major label sound and no budget one.  It's not a track that's going to die wondering, it has its eye on Wembley Stadium, and would probably sound amazing in that context.  However, it never held my attention when I was doing something else, so it was left out.  I have no idea whether this was my fault, or theirs.

PJ Harvey - O Stella - one of her key tracks from the start of her career, but on listening to it more closely, it just seems like a retread of the far superior Sheela-Na-Gig.

Full tracklisting

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Oliver: Hypnolovewheel - Candyman (20 March 1992)

This track from the Long Island band's Angel Food album allows them to showcase, as Peel noted, a remarkable similarity to The Fall, despite "...the remarkable preponderance of beards and facial hair in the band".  There's the opening burst of radio static cum audio sludge out of which Mark E.Smith would usually emerge barking out "Pander! Panda! Panzer!" or suchlike.  But here, we get a Fallesque scratchy guitar riff, which in no time at all is beefed up by its bigger, brawnier bass brother, before we get a lyric delivered somewhere to the right of Aubrey Woods and Christina Aguilera.  I can also hear a touch of Big Black in here as well.

It's difficult to make out too clearly what the content of the track is, but there's a vague update of The Beatles' Savoy Truffle with chocolate, flavours and wrapping being used as metaphors for human behaviours and an "it's what's inside that counts" message.
All in all, it's a borderline inclusion that wins through on the strength of that riff and the quality of the  Mark E.Smith pastiche.  It also appears to be an anomaly with the Angel Food album itself, which mostly seems to be made up of glistening guitar-pop and high harmonies including one track whose opening sounds like the the clear inspiration to Babies by Pulp.  I like the fact that in the middle of all that perfectly serviceable pop, there's this gnarly, snarly, difficult track like Candyman.  It made me wonder why any pop bands who complained about feeling constrained by their established image, didn't just do something like this extremis.  "There's three singles for the radio; the rest of the album's going to be lo-fi racket".  Blur managed it in 1997; any other suggestions are welcome.

Video courtesy of Oliv DeKaDe

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Oliver!: Some Paradise - Goodbye Ruth (20 March 1992)

Speaking as one of the unpublished, untalented ones, songwriters often have to remember a key rule when it comes to writing songs which mention women by name.  The rule is "One syllable name difficult; multi syllable name easier".
Go on.  Think of a song with a woman's name in it.  Bet you automatically defaulted to a song with a 2 to 4 syllable name, didn't you?  I don't blame you, I've already had LaylaRuby and Victoria (original version - sorry, Fall fans) going through my mind while writing this paragraph.  Incidentally, if anyone remembers this blog's last meditation on names in song titles, my wife now has another one to add to her own list courtesy of a collective of musicians called The National Gallery and a track from their sole 1968 album inspired by the work of artist, Paul Klee.

I wrote song lyrics to myself about all the women I went out with, and the one I eventually married.  Two of my muses were called Ruth, but by the time I wrote about the second one , I avoided the issue that dogged the song about the first one, and didn't try to crowbar her name into the lyrics.  I can't remember anything about the eponymous Ruth song that I wrote circa 1995, though I don't think I gave it a Flash  (Ahhh...) style chorus, and I'm hoping that I was savvy enough to avoid rhyming her name with "truth" or "strewth".  There's no guarantee of this good judgement - I once wrote a song and hit upon the idea of ending the verses with "Good (something)".  This was fine for the first two verses as the rhymes I needed led me to write "Good night" and "Good time" respectively.  So far so good, but I ran into trouble when my third "Good..." had to rhyme with the word, "look".  I racked my brain for a while before deciding that as I was writing about a woman, then "Good cook" would do fine.  I still thought it would when I showed the lyrics to my songwriting partner a week or so later.  But his snort of "Good cook?!" when he read through it consigned it to the dustbin.  I don't think it was much of a loss to music really - the last verse ended with "Good moon" (to rhyme with "soon" naturally).  That's the thing about songwriting - it never pays to overthink it.

The issue with one syllable names in song is that they either come out too sharp - as though the singer is spitting out the name - or they dribble out like someone dropping a blacmange onto a mattress.  Even the peerless Michael Jackson had delivery problems when singing about a pet rat - "Bin" anyone?  You have to put the name together with another word and ideally have it at the end of the line.  To their immense credit, Todmorden's Some Paradise - no stranger to Peel's show under their old name, Victory Mansions - do exactly this and when allied to a full bore performance full of driving guitar and strong vocals, serve up a little classic.
I have good relationships with both of the Ruths - the subject of the eponymous song came to my wedding and was in Extraordinary - but while I'm tickled to discover a song with their name in it which was played by John Peel, I'd be reluctant to bring this to their attention, regardless of how much I like it.  The main reason is, as you can probably guess from the title, this isn't a particularly
happy song from Ruth's point of view.  The song appears to be a lamentation about how Ruth used her youth (I didn't use that rhyme in 1995 either) and beauty to secure a lover which made her financially secure only to have her bright future torn up when her lover found someone else who had the youth and beauty that she had lost herself.  It plots the course of the trophy wife's journey from pearl of the oyster to burnt out cigarette in the gutter pretty unsparingly but with the dramatic eye of a Terence Rattigan play.  The sympathetic but unsentimental tone reaches its natural conclusion in the chorus, where it feels as though the farewell is not just to the memory of what Ruth lost, but possibly to Ruth herself.  Left with nothing but the scars in her mind after growing, blooming, wilting and being tossed aside, the piece as a whole has the feel of a damning funeral address.  It mines a similar vein of intensity to that of Red Hour albeit with a slightly poppier edge.  Something was brewing in the North of England circa 1991/92 - dark folk/pop tales which never got a chance to grow as grunge swept in over the next  2 years, but someone should gather these examples together and put them out in a compilation soon.

The video is taken from the 29/2/92 show, with Peel's link at the end.  My customary thanks to the wonderful Webbie (@keepingitpeel) for answering my specific request to upload this track.  They're a prince!

To finish on the multi-syllable name in song, I couldn't not include this bearing in mind how many times I saw it in rehearsal during the period this blog has covered so far.  Oliver.  3 syllables long, so it could be easily given not just the title, but whole lines of nothing but the name.

Videos courtesy of Webbie (Some Paradise) and maiza (Oliver!)

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Oliver!: Mav Cacharel - Boyoka Ba N'Deko (20 March 1992)

According to Peel, the former Loketo singer's first solo album was called Mav Cacharel (not strictly true).  This track came from his second album, also called Mav Cacharel, which suggests that he took his titling policy from The House of Love.

Peel also revealed some of the musicians on the record, including guitarist Bongo Wende, which got me thinking about Bongo Eddie from Kid Creole and the Coconuts.  Sometimes, I prefer the former, sometimes I prefer the latter - but which one is better?  There's only one way to find out...  (God, I hate myself for that.  I much preferred his Channel 4 show).

Video courtesy of lek kerdammer.