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 and 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 Slades and Wizzards.

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)

Video courtesy of

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 Irresponsableful.

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 Wim Hofstede.