Saturday, 28 March 2015

Oliver: John Peel's Nachtexpress - O3 [Austria] (Monday 2 December 1991)

The Nachtexpress was a monthly show which John Peel presented for Austrian station 03 between 1989 and 1994.  As with the Radio Mafia programmes it was an hour long.  I selected 5 tracks, one of which has already been posted here before.  The 2 I can't share on the blog and write brilliant dissertations on are:

Naked Lunch - Silvertown
Brown Eagle and Spear - History

but if you know where to click, climb aboard the Nachtexpress and see what you would have picked out.

Oliver: Milk - Claws (2 December 1991)

Considering that this blog plays out to a background of adventures in amateur dramatics, it's wholly appropriate that I've always been drawn to "dramatic" tracks.
These can take many forms.  A dance track might make use of a particularly thrilling sample or it could be the urgency of the beat that catches the attention.  Hip-hop music has long understood the value of "drama" as a part of its texture, ranging from use of samples to spoken word vignettes within and around tracks.

Rock music runs the full gamut of "drama" as well.  At its silliest that means Meatloaf or Aerosmith (both of which I enjoy in moderation), at it's starkest it can mean Suicide or PJ Harvey's more extreme output.  But at it's most nuanced and thrilling it means one of my favourite bands, Marion or London trio, Milk, a band who, in the words of Discogs, sought to make "art metal". They made a pretty good fist of that concept in their handful of releases.

For me, the best "dramatic" rock music has nothing to do with histrionics, theatricality or storytelling.  What draws me in is a clash of ideas within a track, the sense that the artist is battling with multiple points of view in the search to resolve whatever is driving them to create the track.  Claws is a peerless example of what I'm talking about.  What starts out as something which Peel himself described as "veering dangerously close, at times, you may think to heavy metal" takes a turn into something more anguished and compelling.  Whether the metaphorical claws refer to pressure, expectation, addiction, head-fucking or aggressive sex, Vick Kemlicz's impassioned vocals and guitar showcase someone simultaneously licking their wounds and showing them up for further gouging.  I LOVE the mid-section of this song, the rising guitar line evoking the protagonists circling one another ahead of their next confrontation before the explosion of the solo riff reflecting the battle only for us to end on an exhausted chorus reprise suggesting that the claws can be retracted again till another day.

It's a wonderful track - thrilling, brutal in parts and nakedly emotional.  I don't think I've played a track more often in the run up to to blogging about it than this one. When this blog finishes its 13 year trawl, I can say with utter confidence that this track will be in an all-time top 20 of my selections.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Oliver: Pepe Kalle - Roger Milla (2 December 1991)

"Last winter, I took most of my family to Wembley to see Cameroon play [England].  I've never been to an international football match again.  It was bitterly cold; Cameroon were really terrible, didn't have a single shot on goal throughout the entire match and Roger Milla didn't play.  By and large,  a disappointing evening, I think it's fair to say."  John Peel - 2 December 1991.

John and family shiver through a 2-0 win in the early, halcyon days of Graham Taylor's management.

Edit - In a talk with DJ Jeff Mills for FACT Magazine in 2003, Peel named this track as one of five records he would play if he was DJing at a wedding.

Videos courtesy of sir82000 and cestrian81.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

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

For the first time, I had a full 3 hour show to listen to and make selections from.  Naturally, I came up with lots of selections from it that I would have wanted to keep, though there were longuers and sequences of tracks I didn't care for.  In the event, I found 20 tracks that I would have wanted to keep.    I had already posted Henry Rollins's reimagining of T'was the Night Before Christmas as part of the Festive 1991 Tunes article, just before Christmas.  This article has recently been expanded to include a review of Rollins's audiobook, Everything.

Out of my 20 selections, there are 5 that I can't share. They are:

F.S.K - When It Rains in Texas, It Snows on the Rhine
Ultraviolence - You'll Never Sleep Tonight
Ultramarine - Panther
Gospel Fish - Gimme Pass
Red Ninja - Look Black in Anger

As for First Impressions Which Didn't Survive a Second Hearing, it was Hog Leg by Melvins which fell from favour.  It sounded very exciting first time around but when I heard it again, it just sounded a mess.

You can make your own selections by going to the tracklisting.

Oliver: U.H.F - U.H.F (1 December 1991)

At the date this blog takes as its starting point, 2 November 1991, the composer of this storming piece of techno happened to be moonlighting in the in the UK Top 10 Singles Chart. Richard M. Hall went under several ailases in the early part of his career.  U.H.F didn't stick probably because no matter how banging the beats and how Baleric the piano samples, you can't conquer the pop world when you're named after a Wierd Al Yankovic film.

So, U.H.F remained an impressive footnote in Richard M. Hall's career and instead he went by the moniker, Moby; sampled liberally from the soundtrack to Twin Peaks; gave his next release a short punchy title, and the rest was history....

U.H.F moonlights in the charts, there to remain.

Videos courtesy of theacidhouseone (U.H.F) and specht1958 (Moby).

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Oliver: The Fatima Mansions - Bertie's Brochures (1 December 1991)

Once again, a little research means that I've had to change the theme of a post on this blog.

When I first heard Bertie's Brochures, the title track of The Fatima Mansions 1991 mini-album, it caught my attention for the clear debt it owed Prefab Sprout.  The sophisticated lyrics, the sweeping melody, near lounge-lizard vocal style and the finely cut nature of the song - as stylish and chic as a bespoke suit, all seemed to point to a group that could trade blows with Paddy McAloon.  Cathal Coughlan's tale of a young lab technician's fight to continue his father's work is a thing  of ravishing beauty, despite the questions that the never revealed contents of the brochures raise.  Are they political?  Artistic?  Gay lib?

I was all set to write about how rarely it seemed that pop music so glossy and professional turned up on Peel's show.  This isn't music for the sweaty basement or the club, but for the London Palladium or an upmarket cabaret.  He had played Prefab Sprout in their Steve McQueen heyday, The Fatima Mansions were on the same label as Prefab Sprout - Kitchenware.  I was all ready to acclaim this label as the place to go for "gorgeous" pop - pop that's produced to just the right degree but which still engages the brain and the heart - and to anoint Coughlan as a true exponent of it when I heard some more of The Fatima Mansions work, especially their covers of some of 1991's biggest hits.  Theory promptly blown out of the water.

Reading interviews and articles about him and his work with Microdisney and The Fatima Mansions, words like "cynical", "twisted" and "nihilistic" cropped up endlessly.  I think I may have a new idol.

If only this had been No.1 for 16 weeks....

Prefab Sprout's Hallelujah - An example of "gorgeous" pop.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Oliver: Even As We Speak - Beautiful Day (1 December 1991)

"A mini-drama within a mini-drama" was how Peel described this track from Australian band, Even As We Speak.  It's true that what starts out as a piece of bright, breezy sunshine pop takes a strange lurch into carnival grotesquerie with an apparently unrelated mid-section about the alcohol related death of a Japanese man.  Grotesque enough to make my fiancée look up from her Kindle when I played this earlier, which is always a sign that a song is working.

Video courtesy of Illuviaswittas.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Oliver: Curve - Already Yours [Basement Mix] (1 December 1991)

Another dose of quality shoegaze from Curve with a track which Peel played from the compilation album shown in the clip, but which went on to be the opening track on Curve's debut album, Doppelgänger.

When I was planning this post, I initially thought it would be about how the Curve sound was a clear influence on Butch Vig and Garbage, but a listen to Garbage's debut album today showed me what a flawed comparison that was.  Thank God I'm only a blogger and not a music journalist who would have to follow that theory through due to deadlines and the promise of a fee.
Instead, I'll tell you about my meeting with a former member of Curve, which took place yesterday.  I'd been leading up to it for months though.  I work for a charity and as part of that, I do plenty of outreach work in boroughs across London.  A regular fortnightly booking in East London had seen me working out of a library.  The black lady working there with the shaven head and spikes on the fringe would have attracted second looks regardless but when I realised that it had to be Debbie Smith, former guitarist with Curve and Echobelly, my only thought was how would I get her autograph without looking like too much of a dweeb.  I also needed to let some time pass given that my first interaction with her was to witness her stoicism when I took the chair that she had only temporarily vacated during a lunch break.  Well six months seemed adequate and given that yesterday was potentially our last day working there, it was now or never.
I approached her, told her who I worked for and explained that this was potentially our last day working at that venue.  "I've seen you around here and wanted to have a word with you for ages", at which point my brain screamed at me to get to the point before she got the wrong impression, which could have been disastrous with Debbie Smith.  I continued, "And I wanted to catch you because the On album (which Smith played on with Echobelly) is a big favourite of mine."  She burst out laughing and thanked me.  I'd always meant to take my copy of On, which I have on cassette, for signing, but forgot so had to make do with a compliments slip for the venue.  "That's made my day" she said after signing the slip.  Thanks, Debbie, it made mine too.

Debbie Smith - finally approached after six months of dithering.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Oliver: The Fall - Jawbone and the Air-Rifle (1 December 1991)

For non Fall converts like myself, it's often the feel of a Fall song that makes an impression ahead of the content and if I have to listen to Mark E. Smith, this is how I want to hear him: buried under a barnstorming racket.  I did the decent thing and looked up the lyrics.  I had thought it might be a song about what happens when non-lethal firearms find their way into the hands of the terminally bored.  I mean when you hear about accidents with air-rifles, it's usually either the eye or the arse that gets hit, but I figured that with Smith being a poet, the jawbone appealed to his sensibilities as a potential source of physical pain.
Instead it seems to be a haunting tale of a meeting between an unemployed poacher and a Hamletesque gravedigger whose gift of a cursed jawbone leads to the poacher being plagued by nightmarish-voodoo like visions equivalent to the Wicker Man in Prestwich, a feeling re-inforced by the shifts in tempo throughout the song.  On a Fall message board, one poster said that the lyrics to this song were comparable to Edgar Allen Poe.  It's a measure of how good this song is that the comparison does not seem too far-fetched.

Update as of 16 March 2015 - listening to the track again today, I can't believe I missed the vegetarian/non meat eating subtext that runs through the latter half of the song.  The rabbit hunter's visions of advertisements becoming carnivores and road workers becoming jawbones make greater sense now.  The vegetarian angle is particularly interesting given that numerous rock magazines have been recently commemorating the 30th anniversary of the best known vegetarian album, Meat is Murder by The Smiths.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Oliver: Gumball - Light Shines Through/High or Low [Peel Session] (1 December 1991)

Not every American group in 1991 was trying to set itself up as a Nirvana clone.  New York based Gumball's second session for Peel showcased a band for whom glam rock had seemingly never ended.  With a vocal mike smothered in echo, and the guitars cramped up with a little bit of organ on the side, they delivered five "stompers" as they used to be called in 1972.

Their session may have been one of the most eclectic I've heard on any Peel recordings.  Their own compositions, showcased here, have a wonderfully lascivious rock'n'roll energy to them.  If there was a tortured psyche in this band, they were too busy trying to be The Sweet for anyone to notice.  The early 70s sound was clearly important to them given that they launched their session with a cover of The 39 Lashes section of Jesus Christ Superstar before later producing a muscular cover of one of the tunes from the time when Ringo Starr appeared to be on course to have a solo career every bit as successful as his former bandmates.  So impressed was I by the Gumball cover of Back Off Boogaloo, that I raced to hear the original.  It's a fine song for two-thirds of its duration at which point Ringo's self professed inability to come up with good endings for his songs kicks in.  But for all that, only Paul McCartney's My Love could equal it in terms of the "solo Beatles in 1972" discography.  I wish Gumball had had a crack at Big Barn Bed....

The best record released by a former Beatle in 1972?

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Oliver: Catherine Wheel - Let Me Down Again (1 December 1991)

If the raison d'être of shoegazing music was to allow quiet lads the chance to be noisy, then no band better exemplified that than the Great Yarmouth four-piece, Catherine Wheel.  Taken from their major label debut EP, Black Metallic, Let Me Down Again is a relentless wash of noise through which voices strain to be heard, breaking through the film of sound with the standard shoegazing vocal trope of "Ah-ahh-ahh-ah".  It's all very well done, but given the monolithic brilliance of the EP's title track (soon to be heard on this blog), it's very much the after dinner mint in the Catherine Wheel banquet.

Video courtesy of Constipateduck.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Oliver: Zentropa - Ecstatic (1 December 1991)

This is one of those tracks which should be buried in a time capsule with a note attached saying, "This is what an early 90s techno record sounded like".  It's got the lot: sirens/klaxons, that S-Express inspired bassline, squelches aplenty, a side order of sexualised female moaning, some stabbing keyboards... all rolled together to create an irresistible piece of club heaven.

The inspiration for so much 90s techno?

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Oliver: Midi Rain - Always [Club Instrumental mix] (1 December 1991)

I started this blog by listening to the Peel recordings on an iPad.  However, when I did a settings update, a compatibility issue meant I could no longer access the server I'd been listening to shows, up to 7 December 1991, on.  It wasn't till today that I had a chance to listen to the whole show again for the first time in 3 months and while all my original selections, bar 1, survived the initial impressions test, this club land techno beauty from John Rocca aka Midi Rain slipped through the cracks.  It could be because Peel, by his own admission, only played "some of it".  Or the fact it was the penultimate track in a three hour show, but that theory doesn't hold water either.  All I can say is that I'm glad I was listening with fresher ears today than I had been 3 months ago.

Peel played the club instrumental mix and I love that, but the vocal mix is worth a listen as well.

With vocals!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Oliver: Th' Faith Healers - Reptile Smile (1 December 1991)

In Love version - definitive for me.

Well, first things first.  What chutzpah to dispense with the letter e from their name, obviously not caring a fig about the charges of pretension that would come thundering down on their heads.  The Beatles, The Sex Pistols et al may have tried to shake things up musically, but on the name issue they were crushingly conservative in comparison to Th' Faith Healers.  Did anyone make the joke at the time that had they been a Northern band, it would have been T' Faith Healers?  No?  Well, that's what I'm here for.  Maybe they just really liked sixteenth century poetry.

Having given the public such an open target, Th' Faith Healers did at least provide themselves with a useful shield with tunes like Reptile Smile.  It's a bit of a shoegazer stew but that howling riff, coming on like a cat bellowing into a vocoder helps lift it up.  The lyrics seem disappointingly banal compared to something like Bleach's  Wipe it Away but that playground singalong verse gets into your brain.

There are a couple of different versions available.  This version comes from the picture disc 12" only release of Th' Faith Healers second single, In Love.  There's another version released through the Mr. Litnanski EP from 1992.  I'm not entirely sure which version Peel played, so have gone for the one which appears to be on the EP compilation L', put out by Too Pure Records in 1995.  The Mr Litnanski version has a longer opening before the vocal, mixes the vocals right down in the sound and almost completely ignores the "cat on a vocoder" riff.

Update from 4/3/15 - Peel played the In Love version.

Mr Litnanski version - holding back the best bit.

Videos courtesy of MarkTurver1990 and diuriox.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Oliver: The Orb - Little Fluffy Clouds [Cumulo Nimbus mix] (1 December 1991)

"Welcome to MTV's Unplugged. A show in which some of the world's top bands perform acoustic sets, entirely unaccompanied without any electronic instruments.  Tonight, on MTV Unplugged, will you please welcome, The Orb."  (Newman and Baddiel in Pieces, 1993)

Three sentences which served for many years to reduce The Orb, and Utah Saints who were spoofed in the same programme, into figures of incompetent fun.  Totally unfair of course given the pioneering work the former had done in ambient dance.  No Orb = no Roykssop, no Lemon Jelly, no Sigur Ros etc.  You can't blame them for Chillout Vol 4 accompanying a million dinner parties.  

Although I knew of Little Fluffy Clouds, I didn't actually KNOW it until hearing this recording.  The Cumulo Nimbus mix of this track was taken from a remix album, Aubrey Mixes - The Ultraworld Excursions, which in a marketing strategy which sounds like an Eric Idle joke, was released and deleted on the same day.  However, this rarity is still available at a decent price on Discogs.

It doesn't sound massively different from the original release: a slight change in tempo, less pronounced beats, some cuts to the spoken word samples, the replacement of the Ennio Morricone sample at the start with something which sounds like the beginning of Reflections by The Supremes.  But, that beguiling, hippy girl voice recounting memories of sunsets in Arizona remains front and centre.  She sounds like the dreamier sister of Phoebe Buffay from Friends, and you can imagine her sitting in a coffee shop with an acoustic guitar over her shoulder, relating tales of her childhood between songs.  Get MTV on the line now, and get The Orb for me, tell them I've got some good news for them.

The original version - "What were the skies like when you were young?"