Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Oliver: Nu-Tekk - Pied Piper (17 November 1991)



The words "Novelty dance record" may be anathema to many right thinking people but they turned up on Peel's show with great frequency and this tune from the Sheffield collective would have made it on to my mixtape.

It's almost electronic Gaelic in tone with the penny whistle ramped up to super accelerated speed all underpinned by steel drum beats and squelchy keyboards.  This should surely have been a chart hit, let alone a club hit.  I can just see the potential Top of the Pops performance with the singer done up as the Pied Piper and a chorus of scantily clad rats going through their moves.  I could have lent them my prop piece of cheese from 1987 had they asked.

Video courtesy of Kenny Redz.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Oliver: Wckr Spgt - Francis Mitterand (17 November 1991)



When this blog reaches 1995-96, I may very well regale you with tales of the days when I was in a band. We were called Extraordinary and we were a garage band.  Mainly because we never got further than the garage we used to rehearse in.  Our songs veered between heartfelt love songs and sub Blur Great Escape era "character songs" about obsessive chess players.  Had we been any good, I would have loved to try and take things further but we were hampered by a lack of talent and a lack of equipment - three acoustic guitars, a violin, a recorder,  a keyboard with the settings for animal noises on and a child's drum kit.  How on earth were we going to win a BRIT Award with that set-up?

Had we been doing it 10 or 15 years earlier we may have consciously realised that this was all we needed to put music out there for consumption, even if it wasn't going to make our fortune. Unfortunately, we were unaware of the Messthetics genre.  Coined by Scritti Politi singer, Green Gartside to define the DIY athstetic of disorganised, cheaply made but passionately felt music of the post-punk scene from the late 70s/early 80s.  Eventually this phrase gave way to the more pronounceable definition of lo-fi, music which sounded the way it was recorded, on 4 track recorders or straight onto a cassette.

This was how the "anyone can do it" principle was made available to wannabe bands long before the days of MySpace and Extraordinary would regularly tape rehearsals which would feature songs, conversations and general mucking about.  Had we possessed a TARDIS, we could have gone back to a time when cassette only material was doing a healthy trade among the curious.  The hey day of cassette only labels like Smelly Tapes, Deleted Records or Fuck Off Records.  These labels were homes to an array of bands across the UK with such memorable/puerile names as God & the Turds, Anthrax For The People and The Scrotum Poles.  An Extraordinary recording session would most likely have found its home at Fuck Off Records considering that one of its releases was of an argument between the singer and bassist of a band called The Teen Vampires, which label head, Kif Kif described as the worst tape he had ever heard, but which he felt he had to release because of its awfulness.

The cassette scene was just as strong in the USA and it was from that scene that Wckr Spgt emerged. Formed in Claremont, California in 1981, Wckr Spgt's brand of absurdist whimsy and punk attitude found its way out on a number of cassette albums through the 80s, although at the point that we meet them in November 1991, they were making their first vinyl release on the Untitled EP which includes this song, a demented paean to then French president, Francois Mitterand.  The song bears all the hallmarks of something made up on the spot due to someone working out a functioning rhyme for the name, Mitterand.  Extraordinary wrote some of our best songs this way, but while we were tied to the convention of love for the unobtainable girl, Wckr Spgt used it to query whether the President of France was physically warm enough.

Video courtesy of beardlessless.

Some more information about Wckr Spgt's exposure on the Peel show.

Wckr Spgt's website is well worth a visit, not least because all their work is available for free download there.

Messthetics can be discovered in greater sonic detail through pages such as this.

Extraordinary's contribution to Messethtics

Cassette culture was still thriving on Peel's show in 1991. Throughout November of that year, he played tracks from a cassette EP recorded by a young Missouri resident called Boone Stigall.  The EP was called Transient Man and consisted of Stigall singing rather funky tunes over his own wah-wah guitar and providing between song commentary.  Some tracks were performed live to an audience of units.  None of them would have made the cut on my mixtape

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Oliver: Festive Tunes 1991

When I was a kid, Australian soap opera, Neighbours was one programme everyone watched.  Even if you hated it, you couldn't avoid it given that it was given a repeat each day at 5:35pm, straight after Children's BBC had finished for the day.  Next day at school, there would be a clamour to discuss and debate the previous night's episode.  "Lucy fell in a hole and got blinded!", "Helen's been abducted by a religious maniac!", "Scott and Charlene have fallen out again" "Did you see Bronwyn belly dancing last night?"  (I'll leave you to guess which of those incidents is most seared into my memory...).  The programme's hold over my generation was inescapable and seemingly, unbreakable.  I spent several break times in my second year of secondary school recreating with friends, the barbecue opening titles during which one of the girls said she was prepared to be Gail Robinson in the recreation, which was a big deal because she was quite widely desired by the boys in my class.  I got to romance her as St. George after defeating the Turkish Knight (see Bitten by the Acting Bug - 24 November 2014). However, despite the fact that whoever played Paul in said sequence would get to kiss her, a mass fit of shyness descended on us all and the re-creation was abandoned.  I'm guessing the sports field was too wet to play on as to the reason why a bunch of 13 year olds were pretending to be an Australian soap opera rather than playing football, but I can't believe 13 year olds today are trying to recreate the opening to Hollyoaks.

Inevitably any discussion about Neighbours would result in some pedant saying, "Of course, you realise they're a year ahead of us.  Daphne is dead and she and Des have had a baby too!".  This blog is in a similar position, hence the tortuous metaphor.  I may be writing about mid November 1991 Peel shows, but I'm listening 5 weeks ahead and coming towards the end of 1991.  This has meant a few Christmas related tunes have cropped up.  Rather than posting these in February when they'll be as welcome as two tickets to Jack and the Beanstalk on Valentine's Day, I'm bringing these tracks forward to Christmas Eve.  I hope you enjoy them, at least one of them is festive anthem to rank alongside yer Slade's and Wizzard's.

Merry Christmas from The Smell of the Greasepaint and the Sound of the Peel.






Oliver: Festive Tunes 1991 - Half Man Half Biscuit - All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit



Even people who don't know Half Man Half Biscuit (poor misguided fools) know this tune.  Peel felt that the end of this song was one of the great endings to any song ever.

Video courtesy of twinnedwitherlangen.

Oliver: Festive Tunes 1991 - Shonen Knife - Space Christmas



This piece of Christmas pop brilliance from the female Japanese trio was played by Peel on the show he recorded for Austrian station, O3, broadcast on Monday 2 December 1991.  There will be more to come from Shonen Knife in future posts, but in case the words, "female Japanese trio" have alerted your politically incorrect humour instincts, I should warn you that some vocal coaching was evidently offered to the girls before they attempted the words, "Merry Christmas".

Video courtesy of Alex Scarbrough.

Oliver: 1991 Festive Tunes - Henry Rollins - 'Twas the Night Before Christmas



This was taken from a 1991compiliation album on First Warning Records called A Lump of Coal, which featured various alternative acts presenting their takes on Christmas songs (The Crash Test Dummies performing The First Noel, The Wedding Present covering Step Into Christmas etc).

Peel played this on Sunday 1 December 1991 and I think it's a really novel take on Clement Clarke Moore's poem as Rollins intones the poem through a sound collage which equates Jolly Old St. Nick with a burglar visiting a crime ridden neighbourhood. Either that or a more sinister Nick. Old Nick perhaps...

I was shopping in Sainsbury's a week or so ago and the staff member manning the self serve tills was bemoaning the fact that he had heard the same traditional Christmas CD for the duration of his shift.  I recommended A Lump of Coal to him and you can find it here.

Video courtesy of cakeworm1200.

Update as of March 2015 - I didn't realise that Rollins was a poetry and prose writer until quite recently.  I bought a copy of the album, Everything, which contained work from Rollins's ongoing book, Eye Scream, which he had been working on over a period of 9 years between 1986 and 1995.  Normally, I'd do a separate "Reflections on..." post, but I couldn't stand the prospect of listening to it a second time.  This is one angry diatribe and it is an exhausting and dispiriting listen.
Rollins is a good writer and his anger is palpable towards a variety of targets.  What starts out as an initial "The city (in this case, Los Angeles) is a cruel place" cautionary tale broadens out into an attack on..well.. everything.  The cast is made up of mad men, foolish hipsters, abusive fathers, desperate teenagers and lots of corrupt members of the Los Angeles Police Department (something tells me that Rollins did a lot of writing during the Rodney King/OJ Simpson trials).  And Rollins's ultimate purpose is to tell us how weak and pathetic we are.  There is one passage towards the end where he rants about how much he loathes the "weak" in all its forms - physical, mental, emotional.  He makes it clear that it's all our fault that we let the powerful (especially the LAPD) abuse us and the implication is that we deserve it for being such a bunch of losers.  There are many striking images (the stupidity of heroin parties which inevitably lead to a death by overdosing, which goes unreported because it will bring too much heat down on the dealer's head; how a 17 year old boy runs away from a violent and abusive home to the LA streets only to find himself descending into another kind of hell altogether; a call to arms against the LAPD, using rocket propelled grenades against their surveillance helicopters) and Rollins is a characterful narrator, you almost hear the choking smog of LA in his telling of the tale.  It struck me that Everything could be written from the perspective of an LA crazy, the last section sees the man who shot at the White House in 1994, celebrated.  That gives you an idea of how difficult this album is to listen to, more than once.
And just when our spirits have been thoroughly trampled, we get to hear the dreadful modern jazz score provided by Charles Gayle and Rashied Ali, which had been honking away obtrusively behind Rollins, in all its glory.  By the end of Rollins's story, I'd have been happier to hear the traffic sound effects in full than the music score.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Saturday 16 November 1991)

The recording I heard for this show was about 45 minutes long and seemed to be edited to the tastes of the original taper.  It's the least impressive of the shows I've heard so far with only 2 selections making it onto my mixtape, which is convenient when writing this 2 days before Christmas Day.  This recording featured a lot of fairly forgettable rock, session tracks from The Wedding Present off-shoot, The Ukranians and one track which could only be played by John Peel which consisted of the sounds of a seaside town in the Algerian Sahara!

Was I being too picky?  Decide for yourself.

Things start to look up again in terms of quantity and variety from here. I'll post a couple of festive tunes from the late 1991 shows on Christmas Eve, then normal service will resume in a couple of days time.

Oliver: Circle - DNA (16 November 1991)



Unfortunately, this rather ropy rehearsal video is the only clip, to date, I could find of Finnish band, Circle performing their debut single, DNA, a space rocker propelled by a riff that sounds like someone hyperventilating.  Even hardcore rockers may find themselves put off by the slightly muddy sound and the flashing amber light, which must have really made the atmosphere if you were there in the garage with them...

Circle have gone on to be an astonishingly durable outfit, still recording in 2014 and producing work which has become more experimental.  Peel remained a fan and the band recorded a session as late as 2002.  I hope that I can bring you more content from them as the years go by.

Video courtesy of JT78.

Oliver: Smudge - Don't Want to be Grant McLennan (16 November 1991)



Songs about songwriting can bring me out in the same kind of rash that novels about novel writing and films about film-making can.  "Don't you have any original ideas?!" thunders my inner philistine.  Too often it seems the lazy refuge of the sated artist with nothing to say about anything beyond "Can't you feel my struggle.  Dear God, I wish I didn't have to go through this hell of creating something which could extend my fortune further.  Wouldn't life be simpler for me if I worked in IT or something?"

Australian band, Smudge receive a pass on this as they were far further down the culture-finance food chain when they recorded this 7" single.  Ironically, singer Tom Morgan's fortune wasn't far off being made given that he had befriended Evan Dando of the Lemonheads in the preceding years and would co-author songs with him including It's a Shame About Ray.

I know very little about the late Grant McLennan or his band, The Go-Betweens, but will rectify that in future as an aspect of this blog is that it will look at work referenced by bands Peel played, either directly or indirectly.  So, you can expect to see work for the other Katch 22 (a 60s power pop band) and Hank Williams ( whose "a tape of Hank of Williams is included" was a lyrical highlight of Eton Crop's song, Hey Hey) feature on this blog in future posts.

Don't Want to be Grant McLennan takes its place on the mixtape due to the brilliance of its chorus.  Have a think for a moment about what you would rhyme McLennan with.  When you hear what they use, you may cry foul, but I think it's genius.

Video courtesy of alanhanthony.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Sunday 10 November 1991)

The recording I've based selections on for this edition was around 90 minutes long and was from another mixtape made by someone who, again, was leaning heavily towards the guitar based material, indeed the Lee Perry track is a very pleasant surprise.
For all that though, I found myself drawn towards 9 tracks which I would have included on a mixtape of my own.  7 of them are presented in the following posts, the only ones, I've been unable to share are:

The Eggs - Ocelot
Superconductor - The Most Popular Man in the World

In this show, Peel announced that voting was open for the 1991 Festive Fifty.  Coming into his shows for the year so late, my own potential selections for that year would have been limited, but this show features two tracks that would have gone on my shortlist:

The Farm - Love See No Colour (Peel session)
The Blofelds - The Dog is Dead

The Farm were session guests on this show together with Bizarre Inc. The rest of the night's show looked like this.


Oliver: Dr. Phibes and the House of Wax Equations - Hazy Lazy Hologram (10 November 1991)



This piece of drug soaked guitar pop from  the Crewe based three-piece nearly didn't make the cut.  It was the opening track of Peel's show on 10/11/91 and the closing track on 24/11/91, but it took its time to work its way into my affections.  It may well have been that long guitar wash at the end of the song, what I call the Back in the USSR effect that sounds like a plane landing, which finally clinched the deal.  I've always been a sucker for things like that in songs.

In the words of the great man himself, the video for this fades in slowly after around 20 seconds.  I was going to write some joke based around the line that some of the people in this video may have been on drugs when it was filmed, but having discovered in subsequent research that singer, Howard King, was committed to psychiatric care after murdering his mother, six years later, I shall refrain.

Video courtesy of FishesEyes.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Oliver: The Farm - Love See No Colour [Peel Session] (10 November 1991)



Maybe because I'm a cynical Southerner, I've always found the community based, "We're all friends here" pop of The Farm to be too cloying for my tastes.  Nowhere is this saccharine sentimentality better exemplified than by their biggest hit, All Together Now, with its video of monochrome pensioners, singing along and bearing their cares nobly over dominoes in the social club, while Peter Hooton patronises them.
So when Peel announced they were repeating the band's session from 31 August 1991 on 10/11/91, I groaned.  And then he started playing Love See No Colour....

On the surface, this song is all the things that annoy me about The Farm.  It's blandly universal in its themes and deals mainly in cliches.  But, as a live version, it stood out as irresistible: working in a tangible sense of melancholy to an otherwise optimistic song. Somehow, all those details that make a Farm record usually so annoying come together in this tune to strike the kind of universal chord that they normally drive me mad with when they try to find them in everything else they recorded.
"Should make a dandy single" was Peel's verdict after playing the session version.  Unfortunately, it didn't strike that chord with the record buying public, stalling at number 58 in its first release run and then a year later, a remix peaked at number 35.

Several Farm sessions are available for sharing but regrettably the 1991 one isn't among them so it's the recorded version, which was the title track to The Farm's 1992 album that I am presenting here.

Video courtesy of MarkTurver1990.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Oliver: The Blofelds - The Dog is Dead (10 November 1991)



It's the sound of 1981 in 1991!
This marvellous tune from the cross UK four piece brings to mind the sounds of bands who ruled the Peel show playlist a decade earlier.  Post punk marvels like Orange Juice, Jozef K, The Subway Sect and others whose "skinny guitar" tunes were not cut from muscular riffs of rock the shape of Marshall stacks in luxury studios but instead were cut in garden sheds in such a way that you could hear the plectrums scraping over the strings as strikingly plangent riffs were chocked out.  The basses still sounded like they were being recorded on a single amp over the producer's shoulder and the drums were tucked behind makeshift baffles so thick, it meant they could only be picked up the singer's microphone.  And through it all came tales of everyday woe and poetry; year 11 poetry but poetry nonetheless about broken relationships, miscommunication and all round hopelessness.
The Dog is Dead has all that in spades and I love it for it.  How ironic that two of my Festive 50 contenders should follow one another in quick succession.  When he played this, Peel read a spoof press release from the band claiming the title of the song came about when the bassist's dog, Voluptua  had died during recording it.  Peel claimed that in the late 60s/early 70s he used to write "fantastically sexist pieces for Sounds Magazine" about an imaginary woman called  Voluptua and this may be what inspired him to play the record.

The excellent blog, Cloudberry Cake Proselytism has an interview with Blofelds singer and guitarist, John Hodgson including a link to their SoundCloud page.

Video courtesy of Doc Cortex.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Oliver: Tar - On a Transfer (November 10 1991)



Before playing this, Peel instructed his listeners to play it "stupendously loud".  I have little more to add except I'm writing this with a hangover and wonder whether it may serve as a potential cure...

On a side note, I'd like to put on record my thanks to whichever YouTube bod has set up the topic generators which have lead to me being able to share clips of songs which weren't available when I was planning this blog.  The Dodgy, Eton Crop and Tar tracks have all come up in the last few weeks and a few of the future selections have also been readied because of the topic generators.  I keep hoping with all my heart that 44 Long by Rufus Thomas is generated by the time we reach the show for December 8 1991.

Video courtesy of #Tar.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Oliver: Duane Eddy - Forty Miles of Bad Road (10 November 1991)



A filler instrumental from Peel's favourite Titan of Twang.  This track was included on his playlist for 10/11/91 due to him playing a track called The Place of Dead Roads by The Becketts, which didn't make the cut for my hypothetical mix tape. He was a great one for making links from a contemporary record to a vintage one in such ways which will see tracks from such diverse sources as Cliff Richard and Joy Division pop up on this blog in the months to come.
Forty Miles of Bad Road isn't a bad track, though it doesn't really represent Eddy at his best in my opinion.  Nevertheless, it's inclusion in this blog means I get to eventually review the brilliantly titled 1960 Eddy album, $1,000,000 Worth of Twang, which as album titles go, is up there with 12 Inches of Snow.

Video courtesy of carlsoldrecordclub.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Oliver: Lee Perry and the Upsetters - Return of the Super Ape (10 November 1991)



Our first reggae selection on this blog comes courtesy one of the genre's most revered practitioners.  Lee "Scratch" Perry and the Upsetters had worked together over a period of some nine years when they came to release their final album together, 1978's Return of the Super Ape, which was a sequel to Super Ape, released two years previously.
It's a thin line between pioneer and crackpot.  Perry's dub techniques walk that line expertly.  It takes a singular mind to think, "I know what will work on this track.  We should make the whole thing sound like it's being played on a radio which can be heard at the end of the street and which the listener will try to hear though squelches, blamps and the sound of someone doing some greivous bodily harm to a set of water pipes."
It's typical of Peel that he played this track in response to a listener request on the November 10 show, rather than some of the album's more palatable cuts like Tell Me Something Good or Jah Jah Ah Natty Dread.
What draws me in is that aforementioned distance on the saxophone, bass and drums - the melody being carried woozily in another section of the mind and heard through the fuzz of other sounds - chased like a through line on an Escher pattern where all else is minor chaos.  It's these threads of sense that can be held onto while listening to the "strange stuff" that can be the difference between retention and rejection on a mix tape.  The album as a whole is a wonderful piece of work.

Video courtesy of jam1tune.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Oliver: Teenage Fanclub - December (10 November 1991)



Coming in late in the year, Glasgow's Teenage Fanclub grabbed a lot of attention in late 1991 when their album, Bandwagonesque, beat out Nirvana's Nevermind to top several best of the year polls.  Kurt Cobain was a fan, Nirvana covered some of their songs and great things were predicted of them.  In commercial terms, they never quite delivered on the expectations that Bandwagonesque aroused, but they remain a byword for top quality guitar pop and I look forward to reviewing Bandwagonesque and other Teenage Fanclub records on this blog in due course.

December (blogged in December, how cool is that!) serves as my introduction to Teenage Fanclub.  The first thing to say about it is that could only be the product of a Scottish band.  It's hard to imagine that violin featuring on something coming out of Seattle.  It even sounds pitched to a particular blend of melancholy that could only be born in Glasgow.  And as the Christmas mania takes over, which of us hasn't wanted to "assassinate December"?

Video courtesy of joevideo65.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 Saturday 9 November 1991

Unfortunately, I've not been able to find a working recording for Sunday 3 November 1991, which is a shame as that show featured Peel sessions from Nirvana and PJ Harvey.  So we shift on to the following weekend and another Saturday show.
In session that evening were Dr. Oloh and his Milo Jazz Band all the way from Sierra Leone and whose performance prompted Peel to try and get issued through Strange Fruit though he suspected that economic reasons would stop it happening (he was right). Subsonic 2 were the other session guests.

The recording I've made my mixtape selections from is about 90 minutes long and again was heavier on the guitar based stuff rather than giving a full overview of what was available on the programme.  In all, I would have added 6 tracks from the recording to my mixtape, 5 of which I present below.  The only choice of mine which I cannot currently share is:

Pay the Man - Popeye

I am considering setting up my own YouTube channel so that I can play unshared tracks when I get hold of the records themselves, however this is such a minefield, so I make no promises just yet.

You can make your own decisions over what you would have put onto a tape by going to the tracklisting.




Oliver: Eton Crop - Hey Hey (9 November 1991)



You've almost certainly heard Hey Hey by Eton Crop, or at least you probably think you have.  That piano figure that runs throughout the song was in many ways the signature sound of so much dance pop in 1991/92 and soundtracked the early to mid 90s end of season retrospective videos of football clubs the length and breadth of Europe.  It's a  surprise to see it turning up on an Eton Crop record, but the Dutch band were astonishingly perceptive to pop trends throughout their career - reeling from punk to post punk onto indie pop and by the turn of the 90s incorporating samples and numerous other delights into their work.  Having had a cursory listen across the ages, I think I'll be coming back to this band sooner rather than later.  Hey Hey is fairly unrepresentative of most of what they did in their first incarnation.  Apart from the reference to Hank Williams, there's none of the lyrical invention of songs like Cocacolanisation or Gay Boys on the Battlefield.  But it's a good dance song that will transport you back to any shitty nightclub you attended on a non party night when you were 17.  As I say, it's worth it for that of it's time piano piece.  And the vocalist sounds like a bloke I act with in Hayes, Kent.

I had thought of doing a load of research about Peel's support for Eton Crop but the band beat me to it.  Erwin Blom talks about discovering Peel, gaining his support and friendship and how he inspired the band to reform this year, especially for a Peel related festival.

Video courtesy of #Eton Crop.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Oliver: Dodgy - Easy Way (9 November 1991)



Dodgy - or fucking Dodgy! as they would come to be referred to by the mid 90s - released their debut single in late 1991 through their own label, Bostin'.  When Peel played it, he read out a postcard which drummer Matt Priest had sent him asking him to play the record and "make us famous, you mad bastard!"

Easy Way is not a million miles away from the sound with which the Midlands trio had their greatest period of success with by the mid 90s.  It's a well played pop song with a few surprises along the way.  Almost an upbeat stoner anthem in some respects.

I have my own theories as to why Dodgy inspired the fucking Dodgy! label (at least in my head) and will expand on those when I review more of their content in the future.  The recording in this video is not from the record but from a recording they made for The Evening Session on October 26 1991.

Video courtesy of #Dodgy.

Oliver: Levitation - Squirrel (9 November 1991)



On November 21 2000, I was driving home from the dress rehearsal for St. Austell Players's production of She Stoops to Conquer.  While driving through Tresillian, Peel played a track by a band   I hadn't heard before.  They were called The House of Love and the song was Destroy the Heart.  It was taken from a forthcoming release of the band's Peel sessions from 1988-89.  Destroy the Heart lodged in my head for its strange lyrics and the force of its playing - highly melodic but with an underlying forcefulness that spoke to me in that rare way that happens when a band gets under your skin and makes you a convert to their music.

A few months later, I bought a Best Of album for The House of Love and in the sleeve notes read more about how the band's story was essentially split into two eras - the Terry Bickers years and the post Bickers years.  Bickers was the lead guitarist for The House of Love from 1986 to 1989 and his playing was seen by many critics to be as essential to The House of Love's early appeal as Guy Chadwick's songwriting was.  Described by David Cavanaugh as being able to pull guitar sounds out as though from the belly of a whale, it's certainly true that Bickers's incredibly dense playing gave the group a more definitive aural sound than they had after he left; although I agree with Cavanaugh that The House of Love's best album was made after Bickers's departure.  Cavanaugh provided more detail to  the story of The House of Love in his peerless 2001 biography of Creation Records: My Magpie Eyes  Are Hungry For The Prize.  Here was the classic tale of a band making an early splash, being tipped for huge success and messing it up despite having the songs and the musical chops to make it happen.  The House of Love were crucified on the altar of having the temerity to go from releasing one album on an admired independent label (Creation) and then seeing their support fragment and fail to expand when they moved to a major label (Phillips via Fontana).  How else do you explain a record as wonderful and radio friendly as I Don't Know Why I Love You peaking in the charts at number 41?

Compounding all this were problems with drugs, Chadwick's egomania and Bickers suffering a nervous breakdown over the new expectations that The House of Love had to fulfil as a major label act.  His breakdown manifested itself in ways that bassist Chris Groothuizen described as "annoying" and which critically harmed communication within the band, particularly between Bickers and Chadwick.  
Bickers recovered from his breakdown, but his relationship with his bandmates remained fractious.  When the band went out to promote their second album with a 70 date tour through late 1989 and early 1990, Bickers's behaviour became more and more provocative towards his colleagues.
Things eventually came to a head in December 1989, when Bickers went on an extended rant in the tour bus and burnt a £50 note in the face of drummer, Pete Evans, who responded by punching Bickers when the van pulled into a service station.
Although Evans initially used the incident as a pretext for leaving the band, he was retained while 
Bickers was sacked in a service station car park, to be replaced by Simon Walker.

For Bickers, it meant a new start and a a new band.  One which he claimed was closer to what he would have liked The House of Love to be doing instead of bowing to what he claimed was a commercial agenda.  Levitation certainly seemed like a logical extension from the sound of The House of Love's first album, on Creation Records and Squirrel features the denseness of Bickers work on that album.
Levitation were widely sneered at by the music press who saw them as closer to prog rock than shoegaze or grunge.  The fact that the band had a number of bad haircuts in their ranks can't have helped either.

For me, this gets on the mixtape, mostly out of loyalty to an ex-House of Love alumnus rather than because it's a great song.  There are some interesting shifts along the way and Bickers remained an innovative guitarist, but he was no great singer or songwriter as you shall hear.

We will come back to the Levitation and House of Love story another time.

Video courtesy of Awkwardist Productions.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Oliver: Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Mansion on the Hill (Live) (9 November 1991)



What I know about Neil Young:

1) His presence in a renowned supergroup leading to the peculiar dichotomy that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sounds a worse name than Crosby, Stills and Nash, but that CSNY makes a better acronym than CSN.

2) I can never remember whether it's Young or America who wrote Horse With No Name.

3). His astonishing levels of productivity. 13 albums since the year 2000 and 2 in 2014 alone.

4). He's always on the cover of Uncut magazine. (Edit - I just bought Uncut's Review of 2014 issue, mainly because it contains a review of a reissue of an album by Ultramarine from 1991 which I will review here one day.  For the umpteenth time, it's cover star is Neil Young).

5). The opening track of his 2012 album, Psychedelic Pill is 27 minutes long.

6). He covered God Save The Queen (the anthem not the Sex Pistols song) on his other 2012 album, Americana.

7) He reduced Steve Lamacq to tears of frustration at the 1996 Phoenix Festival.
"Neil Young is on stage.  Neil Young has been on stage for what feels like three weeks.  For the past two days he's been doing Like a Hurricane.  We can't go till he's finished.  I'm lying on the floor backstage by the BBC truck, pounding the ground with my fists. 'For the love of God, somebody stop him!'"  (Steve Lamacq - Going Deaf For a Living.  BBC Worldwide, 2000)

In 1991, Young  released a triple album called Arc/Weld.  Arc was the name given to one of  the discs which featured a 34 minute composition of the same name.  Weld comprised 2 discs of live concert material comprising older material such as the aforementioned Like a Hurricane with material from his most recent studio album, Ragged Glory, released the previous year.  Mansion on the Hill was one of those numbers and you will be relieved to hear clocks in at somewhere around 5 minutes, so relax.  Rocks like a bastard in the meantime though.  A few weeks before broadcasting Mansion on the Hill on his show, Peel said of  Young:


What I like about him is that you feel he can hear certain noises in his head that he knows are somewhere in that guitar and by God he's going to get them out of it if it kills him."
 It's the search for those noises that makes Mansion on the Hill such a good listen.  The video comes from 2009 and is shot from crowd level but it's done well enough to make you not only feel you were there but wish you were too.

For more information about Peel's enjoyment of Neil Young please click here

Video courtesy of David Towl.

Oliver: The Cranberries - Uncertain (9 November 1991)



The title of this track reflects my own feelings over its inclusion on this blog.  The first couple of times that I listened to the recording from 9/11/91, this song pretty much by-passed me.  It wasn't until the 4th or 5th listen that it struck me as a selection for that metaphorical mixtape.

From 1993-96, The Cranberries were one of the great marmite bands and it was all around That Voice.  For every Linger that made you want to clasp Delores O'Riordan to your breast and never let her go, there was an Ode to my Family or Zombie which made people push her away and reach for the aspirin.  (I just re-listened to both of those songs while writing this post and found them both much better than I remembered them being.  Perhaps, it's a consequence of getting older).

Uncertain is closer in tone to the sweeter end of the Cranberries sound than any of their more abrasive or socially conscious songs.  Indeed, I vacillate from listen to listen between finding it blandly saccharine or beautifully stirring.  It makes it on to the mixtape, but I think I would probably wonder how, 90% of the time.  See what you make of it.

After the October 1991 release of this EP, the Cranberries spent most of the following year working on their debut album, which when it finally emerged in March 1993 would make them into stars and O'Riordan into, briefly, one of the most recognisable women in the world.

Video courtesy of Delores O'Riordan TV.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Oliver: John Peel Show, Radio 1 - Saturday 2 November 1991

I auditioned for Oliver either side of the October 1991 half-term break.  I can't remember which but for reasons of neatness, we'll say it was before it and the start of rehearsals was November 1991.

The recording I've heard from 2 November 1991 is only 45 minutes long and like the ones I was making in 2002 is a mixtape of the evening's programme, biased heavily towards guitar music.  Complete programmes covering the whole range of music available for selection were still a few weeks away.

Only 4 tunes would have made onto my metaphorical mixtape and they can all be found in the posts below.

A complete tracklisting for the night's programme can be found here



Oliver: Howlin' Wolf - Down in the Bottom (2 November 1991)




It's no surprise that the first selection for a mixtape from those Peel shows should be something like this.  Maybe you were expecting The Fall.  

Peel clung passionately to roots music and the likes of Jimmy Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins and Howlin' Wolf were staples of his playlists from his first days on radio to his last.  Perhaps it's because the blues can never truly disappoint and it sounds credible no matter where it's played or when it's played.  Oh, it can be parodied and sent up, but for those fortunate enough to be able to sing and play it to any kind of standard, there will always be people who want their misery and pain processed through a stew of bourboun, cigarettes and hard fought experience.  The experience that men such as Howlin' Wolf (or Mr. Wolf as Tony Hawks calls him) seem to possess when they open their mouths to sing.

Down in the Bottom is not a miserable song at all.  Quite the contrary in fact.  This tale of trying to escape from the irate husbands/fathers etc of women that he's been making love to dates back to 1934 when it was recorded as Hey Lawdy Mama by Buddy Moss.  Two years later, Bumble Bee Slim reworked the lyrics and recorded them as Meet Me in the Bottom.  He seems to have introduced the element of trying to get away from someone.  Both songs featured the singer requesting that they be brought shoes and clothes, but it wasn't until 1961 when Willie Dixon rewrote the lyrics again that the shoes became running ones.
Wolf recorded the song as a single for Chess Records in 1961 and it was included in the compilation album of Wolf's early singles for Chess, released the following year and which will be reviewed on this blog soon.

When he played the song, Peel remarked on how oddly recorded the vocals sounded, "As though Howlin' Wolf had phoned the vocals in in some way".  For me what stands out are the guitars which have been recorded in such a way that they sound like a brass section.  And all this six years or so before the Beatles went around telling engineers to make pianos sound like guitars and guitars sound like pianos.  Unless, it was a brass section tucked away there all along...

I recommend this song to anyone with a new baby or infant child as it has a perfect dandling refrain running through it.  Puppeteers and marionette artists could devise routines around that refrain.  And if you can get through the recording without imagining Warwick Davis dancing around in oversized
clothes to it, you're a better person than I am.

Video courtesy of SlowSyrup.

Oliver: New Fast Automatic Daffodils - All Over My Face (2 November 1991)



In an earlier post, I said that the emergence of shoegazing in 1991 had begun to replace baggy/Madchester as the attention grabbing sound of UK guitar music.  But there was still plenty of evidence of bands that had come to attention in 1989-90, who by late 1991 were attempting to consolidate their gains and make progress in a market that was turning its attention towards the United States globally and away from them domestically.

This tune from Manchester's New Fast Automatic Daffodils was released as a standalone single in November 1991 and features all the hallmarks that you would expect from a Manchester band of the time: big Guitar Hero opening, loping basslines, percussion in the background, heavy on the Manc vocals and some bloke acting the professional Northerner in the background shouting random bollocks through a megaphone. Should have been a hit....

Video courtesy of Rand Johnson.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Oliver: Katch 22 - Mind Field (Peel Session) (2 November 1991)



The first example of hip hop on this blog comes from a Peel Session that Katch 22, a UK based hip hop posse, recorded for Peel on 17 September 1991. On the day of recording, their ranks were swelled by a dancer called Cavey, who as Peel commented, "Won't come across terribly effectively on the radio."

The Peel session is not available for sharing, so the recording comes from their 1992 album, Diary of a Blackman Living in the Land of the Lost.  (Reflections on the album can be found here.).  The Peel recording differed from this clip as it factored in contributions from all of the Katch 22 crew and snippets of other tracks from their forthcoming album.

I have a slightly ambivalent attitude to hip hop.  I loathe the misogyny and violence of it.  I find the celebration of material wealth equally queasy.  But I love the humour that can be found there, the social awareness which no other form of popular music is able to pull off.  But most of all, I love the poetry.  In many respects, hip hop is the logical direction that folk music had to go in.  And I truly believe that many of the great hip hop artists deserve to be spoken of as poets in the same breath as Dylan and Cohen.

Video courtesy of LordInfamousYattaro.







Oliver: Wenge-Musica - Nouveau Testament (2 November 1991)





If there is one genre you can expect to find dominating this blog, it will be African soukous music.  Based on high intensity guitar patterns and call and response vocals, soukous is dance music for those who do not like to dance.  And I feel that anyone who doesn't get up and start giving praises to the ceiling on hearing a soukous track is incapable of feeling any musical joy.

If there is one criticism which could be levelled at soukous music is that its formula could be said to be rigid. A sudden drum beat with the vocalist intoning quick phrases over it, then into 3 minutes of story before a long fade out usually of the same riff  being played over and over again mixed with calls to dance.  But for me, it works like a charm 99 times out of 100.  

Through his friendship with Andy Kershaw, Radio 1's world music authority of the time, Peel became an enthusiastic supporter of this music, you can expect to hear plenty of Diblo Dibala and Kanda Bongoman  over the coming years.
"Musical wallpaper" my father-in-law to be described Kanda Bongoman when we had him playing along to dinner one evening many years ago.  Perhaps so, but what irresistible patterns.

Video courtesy of clanwenge.

Bitten by the acting bug


For as long as I can remember, I've lived in my head.  There's no 90th minute winner, Ashes securing wicket, knockout punch I haven't effected.  I'm still prone to do it nowadays as I career toward my 40th birthday.  In some alternative universe, I am a polymath, effortlessly straddling the worlds of culture and sport.  The only Ipswich Town player to simultaneously play Test Match cricket for England while managing to host an eclectic music show on the radio and a widely read writer of film criticism.  I suppose as a fantasy life goes, it's less harmful than it could be, no matter how many my times my fiancĂ©e catches me in the act of pulling off a diving penalty save in the kitchen when I should be doing the washing up.

As a child, I watched television and read comics voraciously.  I soaked up so many influences, from Doctor Who to Terrahawks; Sorry to Only Fools and Horses; I was Superman, Spider-Man especially when that shitty live action version was doing the rounds on ITV in the early 80s, the Hulk, Knight Rider, Street Hawk, Indiana Jones, Egon Spengler (yes, I know), Manimal, Dempsey and Makepeace - I was all of them (well I wasn't Makepeace obviously).
I didn't  own a video till I was 12 years old and once I did, I recorded and re-watched stuff endlessly, committing it to memory and reliving it in my head and in my bedroom.  Don't get the wrong impression about my childhood, I had plenty of friends and was raised in a loving household by the best parents anyone could ever ask for.  I wasn't lonely and I wasn't escaping from anything beyond the mundanity and trivial annoyances that afflict the fortunate ones who don't have to contend with divorce, abuse or serious illness in their childhood.  I just retained all this make believe stuff in my head, together with other stuff that was real but which I had no control over - such as sport.

Opportunities to do any proper acting in my childhood were fairly scarce.  I did all the usual rites of passage - nativity plays in which parts were given out on a seemingly arbitrary basis by teachers to the children who were most self confident, which invariably meant I was relegated to singing the third verse of Away in a Manger or playing one of half a dozen Frosty the Snowmen.  My big break came when I played second rat in a summer term production of The Pied Piper of Hamelin the year I left primary school, 1987.  I had the most lines out of the rats and had to handle a prop, an impressive fake piece of cheese.

But in the main, drama was just an occasional treat in English lessons and this continued into secondary school.  The exception was towards the end of the first two years in which the forms would have to participate in a drama showcase.  In the first year, as it was still called in 1988, this took the form of playlets that we had devised around the theme of school issues.  I was in one around the theme of honesty, which was a break from all the anti-bullying ones.  A year later, my form's contribution to this festival of culture was a presentation  of the sketch we had performed for the living history day at Pendennis Castle. This was a dramatisation of the battle between St.George and the Turkish Knight.  A curious choice given that the Queen at our living history day was based on Elizabeth I and while I failed GCSE History, the Turks were not seen as a valid threat in the 16th Century. Any historians who chance upon this blog, are welcome to comment below.  At the castle, the performance brought the house down, especially the unscripted bit in the sword fight when Norman Selwood as the Turkish Knight swung his sword and sheared the blade of St.George's sword clean off its hilt.  The roar of laughter from the assembled crowd still reverberates around my memory to this day.  Unsurprising really given that I was the poor sod stood there looking at the empty space where my wooden sword blade had been.  Fortunately, I'd seen an Errol Flynn film a few weeks previously in which the same thing had happened to him and he had continued to fight on with just the blade.  I took up mine and praying that the blade wouldn't get any shorter or I would have to win the fight by punching the Turkish Knight out, plunged back into the fight and duly won.  At the showcase, a fortnight later, my sword had not been repaired so I went into battle wearing a tabard made by the Textiles department and one of my bedroom curtains acting as a cloak, wielding a thin leafless branch I had found in the grounds of the school.  I feared that history would repeat itself and it did, but this time it was Norman's sword which broke.

Norman was a member of the only available outlet for acting that I was aware of outside of school.  The Young Generation (YG) was a youth offshoot of the Falmouth Operatic and Dramatic Society which staged a musical once, occasionally twice a year.  Before Christmas 1988, a group of us had gone from school to see him in their production of Scrooge - the Musical.  I was interested in getting involved with them, but lost my nerve when Norman told me that new members had to audition to show that they could sing.  My confidence in my singing voice had taken a knock since I was refused a place in the primary school choir because the teacher who ran it thought I had a flat singing voice.  This stung me to tears given that 3/4 of the class were accepted into it.  Norman made the YG audition sound a terrifying ordeal, like trying to get into the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Someone subsequently told me that if you could halfway carry the tune to Happy Birthday, you would be accepted into YG.  I tactfully withdrew and became entrenched in my position when my dad told me he had met a member of the YG committee down the pub who could ensure that I'd get in without the audition.  I was horrified by this.  "If I want to join I'll do it on my own merits, not because someone else got me in" I told him.  My dad chastised me for my ingratitude and I remained on my high horse for another 4 years where the YG was concerned.  More on them later....

I didn't think I would ever do drama until a shake-up in the curriculum going into the 1989-90 academic year saw Falmouth Community School as it was renamed get its first specialist drama teacher.  Her name was Jane Stevenson and she taught my class drama last lesson on Mondays.  Taught is a bit of an exaggeration.  She would get us to split into groups, then we would be given a scenario and have to devise a sketch around it.  These could be anything from realistic situations to completely fantastical ones.  Me and my friends would often go for the comedy option with most of our sketches and if I could have spent every Monday afternoon doing this, I would have.

But at the end of that year, we were told that some of the subjects we had taken in the first three years were now going to be optional subjects.  We could choose two of them to supplement the compulsory ones over the next two years.  Most of the optional subjects were from arts and crafts including Drama.  As I had a flair for languages one of my options was already covered in that I was doing Latin, which was seen as quite prestigious and had been invitation only based on skill in French.  Drama was tempting, but I chose instead to do a piece of useless shit called Pre-Vocational Studies, a City and Guilds course which I have never subsequently cited on any CV or job application because it turned out to be so useless.  The only reason I did it was because of a module dedicated to work experience which I thought might be useful but which I subsequently botched, failing to get a placement sorted and instead acting as an assistant to the teacher who ran the module, accompanying him on site visits, doing filing etc.

The school also replaced the old drama showcases with a proper school production.  In 1990, this was Julian Slade's musical, Salad Days, which I was to learn years later, inspired Cameron Mackintosh to want to go into theatre when he was a child.  I had no involvement in Salad Days or the following year's production of Grease.  In my fourth year, which by now was being called Year 10, I did a term of drama as part of a Thursday afternoon lesson which saw us alternate between Drama, Music and Textiles through the terms of that academic year.  I still enjoyed it hugely and it may have been during these lessons that I made vague allusions towards auditioning for the next show, but probably had no intention of doing so.

1991-92 was to be my GCSE year. I still remember sitting down in my first mock exam that autumn and thinking, "Wow!  So this is what it's all been for."  That constant battle to keep your head above water amid your tiny peers. To be interested in stuff you will never go back to.  Whole weeks of learning and not learning.  Passing some hours agreeably and enjoyably, passing others wishing that you could be cleaning the toilet with a toothbrush rather than listening to this boring drivel.
I clearly spent too much time philosophising because my mocks were a disaster.  An across the board failure, which left me wondering, particularly after a dressing down from my parents, how I would claw back the deficit...

Around this time, Jane stopped me near the drama studio in the school grounds and told me about the auditions for that year's main production, Oliver.  Was I going to audition?  I told her probably, but didn't actually follow through on this.  A few weeks later, she collared me again and told me that the final set of auditions were coming up.  If I wanted to be involved, this was my last chance.  I decided to do it, mainly because an acquaintance of mine, Martin Veale, who could go on to become a close friend off the back of the show, was going to be in it.  There were a few other people whose company I enjoyed doing it too, so I figured, what the hell.  There were only 2 main roles left for auditioning when I went: the thuggish Bill Sikes and Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker who takes Oliver into his employ when Mr. Bumble  (played by Norman), sells him from the workhouse.  I sang the songs for both of them and the "flat voice" held up OK.  I would have preferred to play Bill Sikes.  I was not a hard man at school, quite the contrary unfortunately, but the thought of being one onstage was quite appealing.  In the event, I got the role of Sowerberry as well as various chorus roles including the Knife Grinder in the song, Who Will Buy.  Martin got the role of Bill Sikes and I was pleased for him.  Sowerberry was on in the first half only and had a song called That's Your Funeral.  I had plenty of chorus work in the second half to keep me interested and so it was in November 1991 that rehearsals for Oliver got under way.

I had started to develop an interest in 60s music in the preceding years and the BBC's Sounds of the Sixties radio and TV show piqued that interest further.  John Peel was off my radar, a half remembered face from episodes of Top of the Pops and Noel Edmonds's Late, Late Breakfast Show.  It's a wonderful retrospective pleasure to go back and find what he was playing while I was taking my first tentative steps into acting.
We're ready to let the music play....

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Radio 1 - the state of play in 1991

In 1991, John Peel clocked up 24 years of unbroken service on Radio 1.  He was the longest serving disc jockey on the station, though 2 other DJs who had been there at the beginning of Radio 1, were back at the station for a second stint: the twin legends of Alan Freeman and Tommy Vance.
Peel's days of broadcasting on weekday evenings and effectively wrapping up Radio 1's output for the day had come to an end in September 1990 when his show was moved to weekends, transmitting Saturday and Sunday from 11pm to 2am.  Although the slot was effectively a graveyard one, according to his autobiography, Margrave of the Marshes, Peel had asked for the move ostensibly for family reasons.  By 1991, Peel had been married to his wife, Sheila aka The Pig for 17 years.  His oldest son, William was 15, oldest daughter, Alexandra was 13, youngest son and future 6 Music DJ, Tom was 11 and youngest daughter, Florence was 9.
June 1991 brought a major change to the world of the Peel show as his longstanding producer, John Walters retired from producing after 22 years to be replaced by Mike Hawkes.

Musically the two big records of the year were Nirvana's album, Nevermind (in terms of influence) and Bryan Adams's single Everything I Do (I Do It For You) from the soundtrack of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (in terms of sales).  Of the two artists only one of them was given house room on Peel's programme and it wasn't the Canadian.  Moreover, while the Seattle Sound which would be marketed as grunge within the year began to gain more attention, Peel could reflect that he had been playing records by Nirvana and their contemporaries since the late 80s when they had been releasing singles on the Sub Pop label.
In Britain, the Baggy movement of 1989-90, had been superseded by the less partified but sonically more thunderous sound of shoegazing, which substituted grunge's intensity for a more detached, ethereal ideal.  The year would also bring through the emergence of a couple of important figures on the British music scene in PJ Harvey, who went straight onto Peel's playlists and Blur, who had to wait a number more years to do so.

As with most perceived threats to the nation's youth, the acid house movement of the late 80s had become subsumed under an all purpose dance label.  Indeed techno music would go on to deliver a highly marketable sound which would dominate the charts for many years. Certainly my memories of Top of the Pops in 1991 nearly all relate to stages of dancers and some bloke called into call out a single line response over the beat.

Hip-hop continued to gain traction but the chart as of 2 November 1991 had only just seen Adams knocked off the No.1 spot by U2's The Fly.  The highest dance record was Get Ready For This by 2 Unlimited though Moby was also in the top ten with Go; the highest rock record was Wind of Change by the Scorpions and the highest hip hop record (of a sort) was Let's Talk About Sex by Salt 'n' Pepa.  Go on, admit it, you were singing along to each of those as you read them, weren't you?  It's alright, so was I.
Elsewhere the chart was packed with other dance acts (Bizarre Inc, Oceanic, SL2, Rozanna), established MOR (Lisa Stansfield, Cathy Dennis, Mariah Carey, Kiri ti Kanawa), surprise hits (Slade, Julian Lennon, Paul Young) and a glut of reissues (Monty Python, Queen, Don McLean). The chart for the week can be found
here

The Radio 1 of November 1991 looked from a distance to be as preserved in aspic as that chart was, with the approaching earthquake of Matthew Bannister's arrival still over a year away.  Weekdays were dominated by long running names like Simon Bates, Gary Davies and Steve Wright.  Dave Lee Travis was being tactile on the weekends.  The Peel weekday slot was now hosted by Nicky Campbell with a mix of album music and interviews and there was still space on the channel for Andy Peebles (with a soul music show) Richard Skinner (with an AOR show), Bob Harris (who had a whopping 16 hours a week between midnight and 4am, Monday to Thursday) Mike Read (hosting a record review show) and Adrian Juste (with 1 hour of comedy).
Apart from Peel, specialist shows were provided by Andy Kershaw (world music), Mark Radcliffe (indie on his fondly remembered Out on Blue Six), Pete Tong (rap it says here, but that can't be right) and The Man Ezeke (reggae).  Mark Goodier doubled up on The Evening Session and did the Top 40 on weekends.  Tommy Vance was still serving up The Friday Rock Show which Alan Freedman hosted on Saturday together with the evergreen format of Pick of the Pops on Sundays.
The indispensable guide to the vagaries of the Radio 1 schedule through the years can be found here

So that was where Radio 1 and John Peel were in late 1991.  Before we start getting some music posted, I need to tell you a little about where I was and my first tentative steps into the acting that will intertwine with the Peel show on this blog.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

DJ Preach - Return to the Source (14 October 2004)



The video IS working, I promise.

The Last Show - 10 Years On

But before we go to the start, let's take a quick leap forward to the end. As I write this on 14 October 2014 at 11:06pm, I have to reflect that 10 years ago, this date and around this time Peel was playing his second record of his last Radio 1 show, namely Jimmy Reed's Hush Hush. This blog was not set up to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Peel's death, it's just a quirk of timing. However, I thought it would be remiss of me not to mark it appropriately. Also, bringing up the last broadcast before we've reached the first (for the purposes of this blog) takes away that horrible sense of it looming in the distance like an approaching meteor. I will return to these tracks in due course to provide some more details about them once I've tracked down the 7", 12", EP or album they come from, but for now here are the tracks which would have made my mixtape from October 14 2004:

 Jimmy Reed - Hush Hush
 DJ Preach - Return to the Source
 The Fall - Powder Keg
 Horace Andy - Skylarking
 22-20s - Why Don't You Do It For Me
 Haze and the Acolyte - Executive

Tracks unavailable for listening but which would have been taped:
Black Diamonds - 3rd Density
Matoa - Mixed, Flipped and Twisted
Dollhouse - Shangri-La Tiger
Hoffmann - Dimlix

 Videos for the first 6 tracks be found below. I'm having trouble embedding them within the blogger posts at the moment.

 So this gives you some idea of how the blog will work once we get underway. You can make your own decisions on what you would keep from this date by going  Here

So here's where our journey is heading towards, now back to November 1991 and the shape of Radio 1 at that time.

Jimmy Reed-Hush Hush (October 14 2004)

The Fall - Powder Keg (14 October 2004)

Horace Andy - Skylarking (14 October 2004)

22-20's - Why Don't You Do It For Me (14 October 2004)

Haze & The Acolyte - Executive (14 October 2004)




Sunday, 5 October 2014

The relationship between amateur dramatics and a John Peel mixtape

This is the story of the link between the most important disc jockey who ever lived and an amateur actor whose progress through life and amateur dramatics was sound-tracked by the music played on his show.

"I always used to listen to his show, tucked up in bed with a single earpiece in my ear so my mum wouldn't know I was awake."  How often did we hear this kind of remembrance after John Peel passed away in October 2004.  In those pre-iPlayer days, the relationship between Peel and his listeners was one of immediacy.  Unless you were taping his show, you had no listen again feature.  Instead, you had to absorb a bewildering, beautiful, frightening, strange, exciting and, at times, terrible mix of music in the moment wherever that was - under your bedclothes, by a hi-fi, through a cheap transistor or while listening in your car.
The car radio was my point of entry to Peel's show.  By the mid 90s, 1995 to be precise, I was 19 and fortified by the Britpop records that were reflecting the 60s music which I had gotten into and which had lead me to what I regarded as my natural listening home - Radio 2 - I started listening to The Nation's Favourite.  I can reel the names back to you even now:  Chris Evans (on the days when his ego didn't keep him off air) Simon Mayo (with Mark Kermode ranting about cinema in 10 minute chunks each Friday), Lisa I'Anson (who appears to have fallen off the face of the earth since the mid 90s), Nicky Campbell (with the teasingly topical Triple Tracker), Mark Goodier (who I saw do a live DJ set at the Twilight Zone nightclub in Redruth that summer).  The Evening Session with Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley (was her move to daytimes really such a promotion?) and then Mark Radcliffe and the boy Lard to finish the day off.  I lapped it up and at the risk of sounding like an old bastard, I'd gladly have it as Radio 1's daytime nowadays (and I'm aware that those kids who love today's Radio 1 line-up will say the same thing themselves in 20 years time).

In broadcasting though nothing is set in stone and through 1996 and into 1997 that schedule changed.  The most seismic change saw Radcliffe and Lard move from 10pm to replace Evans at breakfast.  The Evening Session moved forward to 6.25pm and that left the way clear for John Peel to move back into weekday evenings for the first time since 1990.  At this point, with his show running from 8.40 to 10.30pm, I only caught snippets of his show while driving to see my girlfriend in Truro, 20 minutes away from where I lived in Falmouth.  Other times I would hear him were when I would be driving home from rehearsals for plays I was doing with various drama companies dotted around Cornwall and it's these times that form the basis of this blog.

I've been doing amateur drama since 1991.  I started acting during my GCSE year, using it as a way of releasing the pressure of the exams.  I followed this up by doing a BTEC in Performing Arts at Cornwall College and through this started making contacts which got me invited to start performing with some of the local amateur dramatic societies - Falmouth Young Generation and Carnon Downs Drama Group were my main societies, all very local and easy to reach after I passed my driving test in 1994.  My horizons started to expand a little in 1997 when I was asked to take part in a production of A Tale of Two Cities with West Cornwall Drama Group based just outside Penzance.  This meant a 90 minute round trip and on the journey home, my company was John Peel, which meant drum and bass while driving through Rosudgeon and death metal in Helston.  A year later, I started acting with St Austell Players, which meant another 90 minute round trip and Peel on the journey home - reggae in Grampound and Indie pop in Tresillian.  2 or 3 times a week, every couple of months, I was exposed to an incredible onslaught of music across every concievable genre by someone who it felt as though was in the car with me.  The best possible company while driving through quiet Cornish villages on the long and lonely A30 or A390.

Why this sticks in mind is that once the productions were over, Peel and I would go our separate ways until the next time I was in a play.  I didn't listen to his show at home.  Sometimes, I would go to Compact Records in Falmouth High Street to try and order a record I'd heard on Peel's show.  But
it wasn't till 2002 that I finally did what I should have been doing all along and started taping his
show at home.
I had no interest in keeping complete episodes of his show because invariably there would be stuff I didn't want to hear again.  What I was looking for was the stuff that connected with my ears, with my feet and with my soul.  Some of it weird and novel, some of it traditional and everyday, but all I knew was that I would know it when I heard it.  And if I could bundle it all into mixtapes with his links included, I would be able to make my own Peel Shows for posterity.
I started on 14 May 2002 while I was acting in a play with West Cornwall Theatre Company called The Shaugraun at Minack Theatre on the cliff tops near Land's End.  The first track to go onto a mixtape of mine was This Girl's on Fire by Dayglo Superstars released as a split 7" single on Versechorusverse Records with Seedling.  At various points through the year, I made recordings and picked out the tracks I liked, putting them on to mixtapes.  Mainly guitar based but with enough dance, reggae, electronica and vintage material to avoid sterility.  By the end of that first year, I had 4 mixtapes worth.

However, storm clouds were gathering for a variety of reasons:
1) I didn't have a particularly happy year in 2002 apart from meeting the woman I would eventually go on to marry, but that seemed a long way off then.  For the most part, the year was characterised by loneliness, isolation, disappointment, poor choices and blind alleys.  Peel was a comfort during this time but he also became an association with these bad emotions and as I cautiously looked  for an improvement in fortunes going into 2003, I started to move away from listening to his show.

2). I had also started to become a bit irritated with him.  All the talk about life at Peel Acres and his family seemed to me to be as self-indulgent as those disc jockeys who went on about their celebrity mates and apparently guilded lives.  I knew that this element of home and hearth was crucial to who Peel was but it still grated.  I don't know why, probably because I'm a dick.

3). My stereo system's tape function was starting to play up.  I recorded a fair wodge of the 2002
Festive 50 show (which won't feature in this blog as I wasn't doing a show at the time) but I was only able to preserve one song, Jeffrey Lewis's The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song because the tape became scrunched up and compressed just at the point that The Datsuns launched into In Love.  I tried to record an early 2003 show but the same thing happened.  I didn't have the funds to get a new unit and so we drifted apart.

I even stopped listening to Peel on the journeys home from rehearsals through 2003-04.  It seemed that whenever I turned on to him, I'd always be coming in just after the start of a
lengthy DJ set.  No variety to see me home or I would reflect that there was no point listening as I had no means to record the next night's show.  The last Peel show I heard was on March 16 2004 when I was driving back to Cornwall from Walsall having gone up to see my favourite team, Ipswich Town, play there.  But this absence didn't really matter because I could always go back to him eventually, he wasn't going anywhere was he?

In October 2004, I was reading the TV supplement from a newspaper and saw a picture of Peel in the radio listing Pick of the Day.  It explained that while he was away on holiday, his show would have guest hosts for the week, namely Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of Underworld, Robert Smith of the Cure and Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees.  "It's time" I decided.  Some more tempestuous times were round the corner and I realised that it was now nearly 2 years since I had last listened to Peel.  I decided to start taping again when he got back from his holiday and if the machine was still playing up, I would ask for a new unit as a Christmas present.

When the news of his death came through the following week, I felt as shocked as everyone else, but I also felt responsible.  I'd neglected him for some seriously stupid reasons and now, just when I wanted to make it up with him, he was gone.  The 4 mixtapes were precious to me, but undercut by the realisation that if I hadn't been such a dick and been a bit more proactive in replacing my wonky tape machine, I could have had a dozen mixtapes to enjoy.

However, despite the proclamations that Peel's passing was the end of an era, I stuck to my decision and started taping and making mix tapes again, reasoning that just because Peel was gone, it didn't mean that music would stop.  I taped Rob Da Bank when he saw the Peel show through to the end of the year.  I was there for OneMusic in 2005-06 and I supported Huw Stephens's Introducing programme and Da Bank's Sunday night show.  However I did still miss Peel and found Radio 1's decision to replace OneMusic with Colin Fucking Murray's Evening Session-lite shit deeply depressing.

It was while lamenting this state of affairs that I went to the interent and typed the words "Peel Tapes" into Google.  It brought up a website called The Peel Tapes, which featured to my amazement a selection of Peel shows from the final Perfumed Garden  in 1967 up to shows broadcast a few weeks before his death.  It was my entry into the online world of Peel, a worldview that would expand significantly when I came across the John Peel Wiki a few years later. I was soon to discover many more dedicating to sharing and celebrating his legacy and the music he championed.

When listening to old Peel programmes, I found myself hearing certain tracks and thinking, "That would have definitely gone on a mixtape".  We have now reached a point with YouTube, iTunes and Discogs where such tracks can be shared, kept and found more easily. With this in mind, I've decided to embark on a challenge to listen through Peel programmes from a certain point in time and identify the tracks that would go onto a mixtape.  Further to this, I am going to try and track down further examples of each artist's work so that I can get a better picture of their work at the time Peel played it.

The choice of tracks will be subjective, I don't expect anyone to agree with me on their merits, though I hope anyone who does find this blog and listens to any of the clips finds more good things than bad things.
Given that it was drama that introduced me to John Peel, I have decided to start this endeavour from November 1991, which is when I started rehearsals for the first show I ever did, Lionel Bart's musical of Oliver, which was a school production staged in April 1992.  Along the way, I'll provide context about the shows and the times as well as the music.  But before we start with that, let's look at where Peel was in November 1991.


John Peel Wiki

Saturday, 4 October 2014

In the beginning....




John Peel in 1991 when our story starts.....

Image taken from John Peel wiki.