Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Oliver: Sonic Youth - Pipeline/Kill Time; Lucky Sperms - Walking the Cow (8 December 1991)

A double burst of Sonic Youth related selections.  One coming from the group themselves, the other from a one off side project with Mike Watt from fiREHOSE.
Peel in the early 90s may have claimed not to be one for nostalgia, but he'd evidently had his memory tickled of Sonic Youth's 1987 album, Sister, around this time as tracks from it got played on both his shows that weekend.  Pipeline/Kill Time is, as its title suggests, a song of two halves, starting out with an urgent attack as Lee Ranaldo tries to set up a meeting with someone who he has a "pipeline straight to the heart" of.  There's an unmistakably druggy edge to the lyrics with talk of passivity, not worrying that "I'm not moving, doesn't mean I don't care" and the speedy freakiness of the guitar and drum patterns.  Things get a good deal more macabre as the Kill Time section is heralded by the clanging guitar note, like the body's own cloister bell, reflecting dark substances entering the bloodstream.  The trip itself is represented by prolonged feedback, so much of it that Peel was moved at the end to remark, simply, "Wierdos".  For all that, it's the compelling nature of the opening half, which does such a good job of laying the ground work for the more challenging second half that sees it included.  And I like the radio static finish at the end. Edit - having listened to the song again, the
day after posting this, the drug analogy might be too obvious.  Some of the lyrics point towards a mutual suicide pact. The mentions of glass wrapped round a chain and the feelings of guilt and futility in the spoken word section.  All before concluding with that superambiguous whispered "Shoot. Kill. Time".

Peel encouraged the Sonic Youth completists to get down to finding the 7" EP, The Man which saw Sonic Youth team up with Mike Watt to cover the evergreen Daniel Johnston standard.  They give Johnston's typically bucolic take on his schizophrenia/bipolar disorder a really appealing country feel
featuring an ostrich necked bassline that moos like Johnston's metaphorical cow.  It astonished me
just how many artists have covered this song: TV on the Radio, Eddie Vedder, A Camp (Cardigans singer, Nina Persson's side project) and fiREHOSE themselves.  It shouldn't work, and that applies to most of Johnston's music, but it does. One of the few given the label who is truly a savant first and an idiot, second.

Johnston's hopefully going to feature a lot on this blog, not least in more of the December 1991 posts.

Videos courtesy of Kibalcic23 (Sonic Youth), lujmroku (Lucky Sperms) and Christine Colaianni (Johnston).

Friday, 24 April 2015

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Saturday 7 December 1991)

9 selections from a 90 minute recording, heavy on the rock side of things.  My initial list of selections included another 7 tracks, five of which I couldn't share:

The Seaside Band - Mkadzi Nwango
New Mind - Body Politic
Krispy 3 contributed three tracks as part of an outstanding Peel session which doesn't seem to be available anywhere and which, unless they gave them new titles, were not re-recorded anywhere else.  The tracks were titled:
Where We Going?
Too Damn Ignorant
Hard Times

There were two tracks which fell from favour between initial hearing and re-hearing:
Tar - Goethe
Ilo Pablo and Zaiko Langa Langa Family - Kenya Safari  This became the first soukous selection to be rejected after initially capturing my attention, perhaps because of the poor quality of the clip.

Full tracklisting

The weekend of 7/8 December 1991 was a very exciting, nerve wracking and ultimately disappointing one for me.  The events of the 8th are the ones which had the greatest importance for me at that time, as will be revealed soon, but the 7th was an equal case of big build up leading to disappointment.  Long before I knew anything about the Ravenscroft family's support for them, I had been and remain an Ipswich Town fan since the mid 1980s.  A curious choice considering that Falmouth was some 300 miles away from Ipswich and apart from my father doing his naval training in Shotley, Suffolk in the 1950s, we had no connection to the area.  I can date my support for Ipswich back to March 26 1983, the day before my 7th birthday.  My mother and I had gone up on the train from Truro to Paddington to visit relatives in Welwyn Garden City.  My uncle, Dennis and my cousin, Tracey met us and drove us out to stay with my mum's sister.  In the car, the conversation got on to football, which I liked, but when Tracy asked me which team I supported, I realised that I didn't have one and resolved to choose one that day.
When we got to my Auntie Mary's house, I asked to put the telly on and tuned it to World of Sport which I watched most Saturdays from 4pm so I could see the wrestling.  However, I was now using it to run my eye over prospective teams to support.  All the kids, and a number of adults I knew, supported either Liverpool (Peel's team) or Manchester United.  Being a contrary child, I didn't want to follow the herd on this.  I wanted a team that was mine - unique.  Typically, I took no notice of the likes of Arsenal or Tottenham, clubs who've won things since 1983, but my eyes alighted on Ipswich who were playing Manchester City at Maine Road.  I had a vague recent memory of Ipswich being a good side (they had been First Division Runner's Up in the previous 2 seasons, but had lost their manager, Bobby Robson, to the England job just before the start of the 1982-83 season).  Also there was something about the name, Ipswich, that appealed to me.  Something on a gut level about those 2 syllables.  It was goalless at half time but I decided that if they won the game, they would be my team.  I watched the wrestling and waited for full time.  The score duly came up, solemnly intoned by Bob Colston:  Manchester City 0 Ipswich 1.  That was my team sorted.
How did your team do?

I promptly ignored Ipswich for the next two seasons while telling anyone who asked that they were my team.  It wasn't until the 1985-86 season that I started following their results fanatically, and the stupid berks rewarded me by getting relegated!  In the pre-saturation days of football coverage, to be following a Second Division side when you lived 300 miles away from them seemed to make as much sense as following a side from Liechtenstein.  Nevertheless, I stuck with them, attempting to
see some kind of exoticism in the fact that my team were now playing sides like Grimsby and
Shrewsbury, something which those Man Utd and Liverpool fans would never get to experience.  The sting of relegation was slightly softened by the fact that we were joining the Second Division at the same time that Plymouth Argyle were being promoted into it.  They were the nearest football league club to Falmouth, a mere 65 miles away and it meant that I could at least see my team play in the flesh, something else that would be denied to those Liverpool and Man Utd fans who had to make do with seeing their teams dominate the TV schedules in the way that they did in those cruddy "Big Five" days of the late 80s.  Those who think the Premier League has a stranglehold nowadays should think back to the days when ITV decided that what all fans really wanted to be watching was any combination of Liverpool/Man Utd/Arsenal/Everton/Tottenham season after season.  I remember that forced lack of variety whenever I hear someone complain that SKY's Sunday 4pm game is Stoke vs Sunderland or what's the point of showing Football League games to an empty pub.  For all its venality, hype and ubiquity, I wouldn't trade the level of coverage we have now for what we had then.

Ipswich and Plymouth were division mates for six seasons.  I went to half of the games they played against each other and was rewarded on each occasion by a defeat in which we failed to score.  I did get the autograph of Town midfielder, Nigel Gleghorn, on the first trip.  Or rather my mother did as I stood there, too awed to move as the Town players got off their coach.  In the three games I didn't go to, I missed a 1-0 win and two goalless draws.  We never played well at Home Park and this day was no exception.  Despite the fact that we were 4th in the table after thrashing Tranmere the weekend before, a match which Peel attended, we conceded an early goal to a side who were in the relegation places at start of play, and despite having an hour to recover, we never looked like doing so.  In fact we didn't start playing until we had Steve Whitton sent off for a deliberate elbow.  John Wark, now in his third spell at Ipswich, had a header cleared off the line in the last minute.  I began to wonder if I would ever see an Ipswich victory....

But as later posts will show, I walked away from the game, which was the last one Town would play at Home Park in Peel's lifetime, prepared to suck up the defeat if it meant that I won a greater
personal victory the next day.  I was officially poised to ask a girl out!

Plymouth 1 Ipswich 0

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Oliver: Velvet Crush - Drive Me Down (7 December 1991)

I chose this track because it's an interesting reminder of the days when Creation Records licenced a number of left field international acts to go with their homegrown roster.  Shonen Knife were one beneficiary before a doubtless apocryphal tale that Noel Gallagher insisted they be dropped from the label before Oasis would sign for it.  Incidentally, Rhode Island band Velvet Crush released their second album, Teenage Symphonies to God in the same year that Definitely Maybe came out, but they'd been on their turf considerably earlier than that.  Their own debut album, In The Presence of Greatness promises great things to this newcomer if Drive Me Down is anything to judge it by.

After a near classical minuet opening, the track barrels down into a sparkling piece of indie rock, working that classic indie trick of marrying sad lyrics to uplifting music as singer Paul Chastain reflects on that horrible feeling of seeing someone who's out of your league and having that dispiriting realisation compounded by the object of his desire. The whole piece has a kind of "convertible roof down while driving to ruminate over the sea view" feel to it which works wonderfully well.  Why Velvet Crush can pull this off so effortlessly, whereas someone like Dodgy made the listener harrumph their appreciation, is something I can't quite put my finger on.

As sure as night follows day, and with voices straining at the seams, there's a "softer" version too.

Videos courtesy of MrAlstec and oseriu.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Oliver: Shonen Knife - Public Bath (7 December 1991)

Coming on like a fusion of The Champs's, Tequila and The Who's, Magic Bus, this paean to the delights of the municipal swimming pool from the all-girl Japanese trio refreshes the soul like a dip in the warmest of Lidos.

Take the riff from this...

Add the spirit of this and you get Shonen Knife!

Videos courtesy of huruken4989 (Shonen Knife), aaron m (Champs) and drage1862's channel (Who).

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Oliver: Johan Cruyff - Oei Oei Oei [Dat Was Me Weer Ein Loei] (7 December 1991)

Throughout late 1991, football loving John Peel played numerous selections from the debut release of   Exotica Records.  Bend It '91 was a collection of football songs recorded through the years by players, commentators, clubs and bands.  The majority of them were as terrible as you might expect, indeed Dutch football genius, Johan Cruyff's solitary 45 is a pretty abysmal piece of music unless you take it on any terms other than what it is.  So why have I selected it for inclusion on the metaphorical mixtape?

Part of it is down to my respect for Cruyff.  I wasn't even alive during his pomp years as a player - 1974 and all that - but if you have any interest in football and its history, the figure of the man in orange, with the big nose looms large.  He also gave one of the finest pieces of analysis I ever heard when working for the BBC at Euro 2000 after England had been eliminated after conceding a late penalty in a tournament in which their general pattern of play had been to give possession away as quickly as possible thanks to hoofing.  When it was put to Cruyff that England's panic had been down to them worrying about protecting their lead, he simply replied, "If you keep the ball and pass to each other, then you protect your lead.  Simple."

There's also the fact that when he recorded this in 1969, a mixture of nerves and poor technique led to the teetotal Cruyff accepting a few drinks in order to get him singing less self consciously.  And it works, with Cruyff honking away freely over the Oom-Pah background.  Cliche alert warning - as is obligatory in all Oom-Pah/Schlager tunes, the last minute is heralded by a slowed down reprise of the brass refrain and the title line.

Finally, I'm amazed to discover that the song has nothing to do with football at all.  Instead, as this article from When Saturday Comes reveals, it's about accompanying an unlucky friend on a night out to the boxing, the pub (which Cruyff wouldn't have been drinking in anyway, unless he had a single to make) and back to his mate's home where the thing that links all three is his friend getting beaten up.  The song translates as Oh Oh Oh (Yet Another Blow).  Try as I might, and even leaving aside the theory that it was a 1969 thing, I can't come up with a logical reason for how Cruyff came to be singing this song.  Nonetheless, it can be seen as part of a continuum in which football stars and music got into bed with each other; one which exists to this very day.

From Dutch Oom-Pah to London grime, a shorter journey than you'd think.

Videos courtesy of top401969 (Cruyff) and officiallordofthemics (Wright-Phillips)

Monday, 13 April 2015

Oliver: Raw Noise - [Peel Session] (7 December 1991)

Of all the musical genres that John Peel championed, death metal/noisecore is the one to which I was and remain the least enamoured of.  Nearly every time a Napalm Death/Extreme Noise Terror/Melt Banana noise apocalypse started its 90 seconds of aural destruction, I found myself marking time till it ended and he moved on to something more interesting instead.  To my ears, it sounded formless, pointless and, you know, I couldn't hear the lyrics, dammit!  Also, I associated a lot of death metal/noisecore with Satanism, which seemed a naff cliche even in 1991.

That being said, I admired the abilities of all the vocalists, whether they be demonic growlers or shrill male banshees.  It takes incredible skill to growl or scream your way through any song.  Try doing it to something like Old Macdonald Had a Farm.  By the time you get to the chickens, you'll be ready for a glass of water.

While listening to the Peel recordings, I disregarded a lot of these tracks, but the repeated Peel Session from Raw Noise, originally broadcast on September 14 1991 demanded inclusion in a way that no other examples had done previously.  I think the live nature of the recording helped.  Even under Maida Vale conditions, the ferocity and power of the playing and Dean Jones's vocal really cuts through.  Although there is one riff which seems to find itself used in every song, the set is brimming with ideas and invention.  I particularly like the shift to garage punk tempo midway through Under the Influence. Finally, for a music scene so obsessed with death and destruction, this set sounds joyous and life-affirming.  A glorious contradiction but then so much of the best music is.

This may turn out to be a rare highlight for me of the death metal/noisecore genre, but if Peel taught us anything, it's that there will always be something from each form of music that will appeal to you and if one example catches your attention, another one will do so eventually.

Video courtesy of  John Peel.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Oliver: Big Chief - Reduced to Tears (7 December 1991)

It was the opening minute of this track that stuck in my mind.  Whether it was staged or sampled, the spoken word scene in which a Mice and Men Lennie-a-like is, well...reduced to tears, and made to to act against his will by the calmly spoken dominatrix is so strange and unsettling that it leads the listener to beg for release (in a good way) for the music to come in.

It had been a long time since I heard the programme that this track came from that I genuinely couldn't remember what to expect.  The crunching guitars and drums of Michigan band, Big Chief, deliver something that rocks harder than anything I've selected so far, (but that will only last until the next selection, music lovers).  If I had to describe the performance, I'd say Goth grunge.  It's doomy, frightened, desperate and it rocks like a bastard!

Video courtesy of pawelyaho.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Oliver: Ed Robinson - False Alarm (7 December 1991)

Far and away the most compelling of the various reggae tracks I've heard in the Peel shows so far, False Alarm offers a masterclass in vocal phrasing wrapped around a fascinating narrative.  Within the urban crime drama that plays out here, with its clear mentions of cocaine, smuggling, battles with criminal rivals, and the indefatigable belief that "Prince Charm" will come through all his challenges, Robinson and his crew do a fantastic job of simultaneously updating the danger of classic "underworld" reggae (see and watch The Harder They Come for instance) and repackaging the Scarface influenced spirit of hip-hop for a reggae audience.  It's no co-incidence that within a few years, every hip-hop record worth it's salt, featured a toasting cameo from a dancehall/reggae act.

It's plausible that Robinson named this track in tribute to a song with the same title released by Dancehall artist, Nitty Gritty in the mid 80s.  The man born Glenn Augustus Holness was shot dead in June 1991 outside a Brooklyn record shop, lending an eerie undertone to Robinson's reggae crime drama.

Videos courtesy of blazesector74 (Robinson) and Killa Selector (Nitty Gritty).

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Oliver: Mono Men - Right Now (7 December 1991)

I can't play a guitar but I have to confess that if I had the ability to pick one up and start playing straight off, I'd want to play like the guitarist in a garage band. There's something about that whole "black leather jackets - fuzz tone guitar - accusatory vocal" that I find very appealing.  I think most of the garage rock records of the 60s have aged better than most of the punk records from the 70s, which were essentially updates of the garage rock tunes in the first place.

Washington based four piece, Mono Men (later to add the definite article) were between records when Peel played this track from their 1990 debut album, Stop Draggin' Me Down.  It's a typically brash and electric performance, though I shall be interested to hear whether Peel stuck with this band given that they supposedly moved in a more melodic direction after John Mortensen joined them ahead of their second album, 1992's Wrecker.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Oliver: Duane Eddy - Hard Times (7 December 1991)

A slavishly faithful cover of an R&B tune by Noble "Thin Man" Watts, Hard Times is a more engaging tune than the previous Eddy selection to turn up on this blog, Forty Miles of Bad Road.

As the leading guitar hero of the time, what strikes me when listening to Eddy is the economy of the recording and his generosity to his fellow players.  A decade later, Hendrix, Clapton et al would have strung something like this into half of the side of an album, more's the pity.  Perhaps such gargantuan sonic excess was necessary to remind us of how great these tracks were.  Peel's desire to return to such material frequently over the years, certainly from the early 70s onwards, gives an indication over where his sympathies lay.

Noble Watts's original minus the twang.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Oliver: Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (7 December 1991)

Peel ended his show on 7/12/91 by playing the full length version of this song and that's the one presented here.

Having already presented"the after-dinner mint" in Catherine Wheel's major label debut single, it's with great pleasure that I include the sumptuous main course.

Listening to this elegantly, monolithic rock song, I find myself shaking my head in bewilderment that in their native UK, no Catherine Wheel release (single or album) ever charted higher than number 35.   There are a couple of different theories to this:

1) They got lost in the pack as the guitar zeitgeist turned from shoegaze to grunge.  However, they achieved bigger success in America during that period, perhaps because there's always been a ready-made stadium rock audience there; more so than here.

2) Small voices set against big backgrounds never succeed.  Throughout music history, if a band has cranked up its sound, it only hits big if the singer can rise above it and make itself its master rather than its follower.  I love Rob Dickinson's vocal on this, but I can see why plenty others may well have    decided to ignore it.

3). They were a band out of their time.  Had Catherine Wheel emerged a couple of years later, they would have found an environment that would have been only too happy to plug them and champion them.  Jimi Goodwin must have been making notes while listening to this and planning out Doves's future if Sub Sub ever needed to change its direction.  Do my ears deceive me or is there more than a hint of the riff that Noel Gallagher would use throughout Live Forever wending its way through the mid-section?  There's influence on Coldplay, Embrace, Starsailor and all those other bands who came on "big" in the late 90s/early 00s in these grooves and to greater or lesser degrees they would all hit paydirt when they emerged.  But in the early 90s, this all seemed a bit rockist and vague.  They had none of the swagger of the true stadium bands, and lacked the raw intensity of the up and coming grunge groups.  I had never heard of them until I listened to these recordings, but I'm glad to have uncovered them.  A cult band who should have been superstars.

Video courtesy of MarkTurver1990.