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 would 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....