Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Oliver at Christmas - When hanging around a school hall for 2 hours starts to seem like fun.

Time for a short diversion back to the other source of the blog - amateur dramatics.  In the lead up to Christmas 1991, I started to get my first real insight into how a show was put together.  Admittedly, this was still within the protective cocoon of a school environment where discussions over all the issues that made up a performance run (technical, costumes, props etc) were taking place out of my, or anyone else's consciousness.  All I had to contend with was learning lines and trying to act. In short, to enjoy rehearsals.

Nowadays, I rarely spend more than 2 months rehearsing a show, but in the days when I did musicals, rehearsals could last up to 8 months!  This was usually because of the time spent on things like pre-auditions, where several weeks would be spent running through songs so that no one forgot the tune when it was audition time.  Then when rehearsals started, a lot of the time was spent on putting together the musical numbers, usually by devoting some rehearsals to singing, then other rehearsals to staging (this was particularly relevant if it was a duet or a small number of people singing something which didn't merit a full dance routine) and then other rehearsals would concentrate on the big production numbers, but these could still be split up into smaller subsections: one for singers, one for chorus dancers etc.  Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the whole thing would be spread out and then slowly, painstakingly put together.  And when you were called you had to be there, even if you were going to have to wait for an hour for your bit to be covered, because another part of the show was going to be worked on first.

One aspect of performing which you got over pretty quickly in rehearsals was nervousness at performing in front of other people.  Your fellow cast members made for a pretty captive audience given that the only real distractions they had at that time were talking to each other (and they couldn't do that very loudly), reading or in some very enterprising cases, doing their homework.  What was best about doing a school show was the way it broke down the "across the school years" divide.  Those unspoken barriers which meant you never really spoke to anyone outside of your year group
unless it was a life or death situation, didn't apply here.  And in this environment, friendships were easier to strike up, anywhere other than during school enrichment weeks.  This hobby scratched so many itches particularly artistic and social ones.  I quickly began to wonder whether I would ever want to be doing anything else.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Sunday 15 December 1991)

It's pretty slim pickings from this, the final "regular" show of 1991.  The recording I used only captured the first 45 minutes of the show.  I could have selected more stuff if I didn't use such a pernickety criteria with the recordings.  Because of the mixtape idea, I don't listen to files from Peel shows which are under 40 minutes long, I want to use something which will be at least one side of a C-90 tape as the basis for my selections.  I know if I was being slavishly faithful to this rule, I wouldn't include anything from files where uploaders have got the whole 3 hours uploaded on one file but I don't want to get too self-denying.

The one benefit of working with a short file is there's less danger of missing out on selections.  In this case the only pick I can't bring you is another African record, namely:

Knowledge Cunin Yate - Gejo

There's also the curious case of a Sonic Youth track which I initially rejected only to decide to put it in, change my mind again and then see it's scheduled for inclusion in the first set of selections from 1992.  I'll hold it over till then, though you'll probably guess what it is when you jump to the tracklisting.

I was disappointed not to be able to include Into the Tunnel by The House of Love, the only track from their Peel session which featured on the recording that I heard.  Unfortunately, as much as I love them, it was just too dull to include.

I've started to put together selections from January 1992, as I write this I'm listening to a recording from 18 January 1992.  But before the new sounds of 1992, the next four shows saw Peel showcase his favourite tunes/sessions from 1991 and there's plenty for us to get through from that lot.

Oliver: Elmore James - Shake Your Moneymaker (15 December 1991)

Having kicked off the 15/12/91 show with a track by The Action Swingers that included the line "Shake your moneymaker", it was only natural that Peel should play the Elmore James song of the same name from 1965.

It's nice to hear James doing his stuff since to many people, he would have only been a name referenced laughingly by George Harrison during The Beatles's song, For You Blue, "Elmore James got nothing on this, baby".  It also has a personal memory in that the first time I ever saw a group perform in a pub, The Jacob's Ladder in Falmouth, this was the song that they performed.  An effect only spoiled by the group, whose name is now lost to memory, lacking a slide guitar.

Video courtesy of RAGGMUNKoFLASK.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Oliver: Culture - Life (15 December 1991)

I was having dinner last week with a friend from Cornwall, who was up here (Orpington) visiting her daughter and son in law.  We met the three of them at an Indian restaurant where during the course of the evening her son in law, Simon and I got talking about music.  He's the guitarist in a band called Amy Blue whose sound he described as "noisy shoegaze stuff".  Hearing the words, "shoegaze" took me back to 1991 and so I told him about this blog.  We had a good chat about his band and what they've tried to do over the last 10 years, but when talking about Peel, he said something which I had cause to reflect on as true in a lot of different ways.  "I've got a few tapes of his", he said "and the thing is, he definitely followed a formula.  Whenever he played a kind of safe, indie track, he always followed it up with a piece of hardcore German electro.  Just to stop things getting too safe."  It's true and it was a formula which kept listeners constantly off balance.  There were other elements to the Peel formula you could rely on too, usually over the appearance of acts on his playlists.  As demonstrated here, if he played Culture on the Saturday night,you could bet your bottom dollar they would re-appear on the Sunday....

Whereas the Culture track on the 14/12/91 was a classic cut from one of their keynote albums, tonight's selection brought things up to date, coming as it did from that year's release on Shanachie Records, Three Sides to my Story.  Playing out over a bassline which would later inspire Sinead O'Connor among others, Joseph Hill and friends document the unfairness of life and notions of how "community" and "society" surely cannot countenance such unfairness, particularly when you work for your place in society; a stance which led Peel to remark wryly, "No such thing as society, Joseph, Mrs Thatcher said so" and which appears to still be the case today.  Most curious of all is the pro-life line, "I love even the unborn babies", which causes me to think that the "life" being talked about is that which refers to the fellow man, rather than "life" as fate.  The allusions to community and society appear to reinforce this.

Sinead seemed to have reggae on her mind a few years after hearing Life's bassline.

Videos courtesy of Marco Weststar (Culture) and Sasha Charan, whatshapeami (O'Connor).

Monday, 22 June 2015

Oliver: Unsane - Cracked Up (15 December 1991)

Peel's championing of Unsane and their debut album continued unabated through December, and rightly so.  This may be the finest track of the lot.  Starting out with the low sound of scrap metal squeals, the track quickly takes a leap into what might almost be termed metal mariachi territory.  Such is the propulsive drive of the track that by the end, particularly with the rotor-blade ferocity of the guitar lines and Charlie Ondras's relentless drum patterns, it sounds as though Unsane are riding to hounds.  And I have a fair idea just where they may have summoned those dogs from.

Video courtesy of Sandro Brincher

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Oliver: Ivor Cutler - Thick Coat/Eyes Shut Tight [Peel Session] (15 December 1991)

"In a decently ordered society, he'd be living courtesy of some sort of government grant".

The recording for 15/12/91 is only 45 minutes long, meaning I only got to hear 4 of the 10 tracks Ivor Cutler recorded for his 18th Peel session.

In my opinion, no one in the history of music has surpassed Cutler's genius for catching conversation within music.  Whether it's discussion over a thick coat or fellow players on a football team calling to one another, Cutler's skill at making short, odd songs around such everyday interactions is what lifts his work beyond whimsy to the elevated brilliance that it is.

It's not just the music of course, that Syd Barrettesque gift for finding simple internal rhymes that allow the songs to tumble charmingly along, but the look and sound of the man.  The explanation over the meaning of the word, "dunt" in Eyes Shut Tight initially led me to wonder what "knuck" meant as well, until I realised that I'd misheard him.  Nevertheless, the meaning would fit regardless.  Given my own predilection for conjuring up nonsensical phrases on this blog when I can't think of accurate words to describe what I mean, I can certainly relate to his thinking.  "Ostrich necked bassline" anyone?

Cutler was a shopping trolley troubadour, a one man Last of the Summer Wine, wandering around the shopping precincts of North London and observing, the whole of everyday life, in its mundane detail. All while the ghosts of a Scotch sitting-room chattered at his shoulder.  He never made the mundane beautiful, though there are some gorgeous notes in both of these songs: "I'd like to stretch my feet" in Thick Coat, or the title line in Eyes Shut Tight; but by writing about it and presenting it in short, unromantic bursts, he succeeded in capturing life as we know it, possibly better than anyone else ever has.

Cutler's appearance on Peel's 60th birthday documentary.  When I go to football matches, it's scenes like the ones captured here that I still hope to be part of.

Videos courtesy of twattyplops and ChonburiFCTV.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Oliver: D-Nice - 25 ta Life (15 December 1991)

One to file under "Hip hop's cautionary tales" as Derrick Jones aka D-Nice relates how self defence can turn fatal.  It's a little bit like what would have happened in the opening titles of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air if Will Smith had gotten into more than a fight with those making trouble in his neighbourhood.  Taken from his second and final album, To Tha Rescue and using The Isley Brothers, I Turned You On as its source.  It's a fine track with a sense of responsibility and nobleness running through it which eschews sexism and swagger, ending on a note of resigned responsibility.

I've got another D-Nice selection scheduled for this blog soon.  I only hope that it was own decision to stop releasing records because in his style and rhythmic flow, he should have been massive.

The Isley Brothers - a long way on from Twist and Shout.

Videos courtesy of N3r0nferdy (D-Nice) and David Boruki (The Isley Brothers).

Monday, 15 June 2015

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Saturday 14 December 1991)

The selections from this show came from a recording of the last 90 minutes of the 14/12/91 show and provided plenty of variety.  In all, I would have chosen 16 tracks for inclusion, but 4 of them cannot currently be shared.  The missing quartet are:

Cud - Love Mandarin (I am enormously pissed off about this as there have been shareable versions around for ages, but they got pulled, literally the day before I was due to write the post on it.  All that is currently available is this middling quality live clip from last year which doesn't showcase the final "I" anywhere near well enough)

Supabeat - Selafe (Another African record which doesn't seem to be available even in physical form anywhere.  Peel mentioned that it was part of a consignment of records including "some awful ones.  The first awful records I've had from Zimbabwe").

Unsane - HLL (a track from their debut album, but there was plenty more from them on 14/12/91 and on this blog).

The Spider - Help (a fine dance record, currently only shareable through this remix)

The show featured an invitation for Peel to return to the venue of "One of the worst nights of my life".

Make your own selections or mourn for the fact that I didn't get to choose anything from the first 90 minutes by going to the original tracklisting.

Oliver: Culture - See Them a Come (14 December 1991)

In many respects, it doesn't seem such a leap to link from Culture to Cliff Richard.  Think about it; religion played a huge part in their lives and music.  Where Joseph Hill and his compadres stole a march on Cliff was by also tackling politics and drugs.  I'd love to have heard it, but can't picture Cliff singing "Legalise it" in a cover of The International Herb somehow.

Culture were the closet thing to reggae superstars on Peel's show and I've yet to hear a Culture track I didn't like.  Joseph Hill had a certain quality of wisdom about him which meant when he sang you listened and responded.  With the exquisite harmony work of Roy "Kenneth" Dayes and Reginald Taylor (later Telford Nelson and Albert Walker) alongside him and the spare but precise backing engineered by The Mighty Two (Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson), they hit the mark time and again.

See Them a Come was recorded for Culture's debut album, the iconic Two Sevens Clash (1977).  Lyrically it's a little hard to follow, but there is a definite subtext about police brutality and their ways of confronting people with false charges:

Jah Jah see dem a come, but I an I ah conqueror 
They are coming to accuse I, for tings I know not about
They are coming to lock I down, and tell I that dem suspicious yeah

Hill continues by associating his situation with that of the similarly incarcerated Marcus Garvey, who was sent to prison for a time on fraud charges which Garvey felt were politically motivated.
Eventually, the legal element is sidelined as Hill places his trust in Jah to protect him and keep him safe, regardless of what his accusers try and do.  It's a classic Christian Rock trope, but somehow it always seemed to carry more credibility and likelihood in a reggae track and especially when Culture were bringing the message.

Video courtesy of 5446 Robo's Channel.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Oliver: Cliff Richard & The Shadows - We Say Yeah (14 December 1991)

Another example of "I didn't expect to hear John Peel play that" though in this case, it owed its inclusion in his programme to one of Peel's tenuous links as it was played after a dance track by  The Pied Piper called I Say Yeah which failed to make my cut.

This seems to have been Peel's favourite Cliff song, as it got a number of plays over the years.  Indeed, he had a particular fondness for Young Ones era Cliff for reasons closer to home:

One of the many reasons I was initially attracted to the Pig, my wife, was the fact that she knew the entire opening sequence to The Young Ones and could sing it and do all of the voices and things; still could if prompted to do so.

Moreover, when Peel played The Pied Piper's track on his Boxing Day 1991 show for Radio Mafia of Finland, he played a snatch of The Young Ones soundtrack to illustrate Sheila Ravenscroft's party piece.  He followed this up with a track from Extreme Noise Terror, naturally.

Regardless of what you may think of Cliff's subsequent work, his rock 'n' roll stuff still stands up well and for a schoolboy, the "Maybe they're not so square" line would have stood out.  Furthermore, while writing this, I've recently gone through a period where after saying no, I've started to say yeah instead.  And I feel much better for it.

Cliff ended up making his presence felt in a terrific production of Willy Russell's play, Stags and Hens, which I was fortunate to be part of in 2000 (how far off that seems now - both retrospectively and in terms of this blog).  The action takes place in a Liverpool nightclub in the late 70s and I remember spending a highly enjoyable evening with the directors and some of the rest of the cast going through the record collection of the co-director's parents to find suitable records to play.  We all laughed when someone pulled out a Cliff greatest hits album, but upon noticing that Devil Woman had come out a year before Stags and Hens was set, we put it on for a listen and all around the room, smiles widened as the plinky-plonk keyboard opening gave way to those dampened drums and Cliff's enigmatic vocal.  We made up a compilation CD of all the music used in the show and it sits dead centre of the 18 tracks we included.  Sadly, it doesn't appear that Peel played this, even retrospectively, but there's still time to find out...

Video courtesy of finetunestv.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Oliver: Sam Dees' Beauty and the Beat - The Homecomings [Peel Session] (14 December 1991)

Sam Dees's second session track selection (I didn't hear the third, One In a Million on the recording, but I didn't like it when I played it) has none of the political subtext of Child of the Streets.  Instead, it's a straightforward love song in which the protagonist looks forward to the end of the working day so that he can get back to the loving arms of his woman.  It's slick, glossy, exquisitely arranged and performed, and to paraphrase Danny Kelly, sounds every inch like a record made in California in 1974, though it was actually made in 1991.  You could picture this being played in upscale penthouses in New York and London, or at the end of romantic yuppie dinner parties.  It's a potential Smooth FM standard and the last few seconds of the track sound like they should be soundtracking a luxury bubble bath commercial.  In other words, it doesn't sound like typical John Peel fare, which makes it an automatic inclusion on a mixtape.

Peel's relationship with soul, funk, and disco was a cautious one.  Soul music didn't do too badly, and his late 90s/early 00s shows threw up some wonderful discoveries, but by his own admission, funk and disco didn't receive much attention from him in the 70s. As production got smoother into the 80s and "blue eyed soul" started to dominate the market (you know the kind of stuff I mean - pin drop synthesisers, gated drums, tenor sax solos, guitar way down in the mix, two female backing singers and a pony-tailed bassist with his instrument slung under his chin), the divide became even greater.  I actually quite like some of that stuff - Its critics attacked it as a white take on soul, sucked dry of any oomph and I can agree with that up to a point, but sometimes, simple melody as practiced by say, Black in Wonderful Life or Paradise, carried the day.  I also feel uneasy about music which gets attacked for being what white gas fitters in Essex listen to.  Sod the audience, does the music move you?  And if it doesn't, can you see yourself singing along to it, when you least expect it?

When black artists who had released records which had some genuine aural heft to them in the 60s and 70s, started to use the same blue eyed techniques in the 80s, the sneering was at least accompanied by sorrowful disappointment.  With such a fabulous heritage, black soul artists were offering up this?  Stevie Wonder's I Just Called To Say I Love You, being perhaps the most famous example, but there were plenty of others too.  The genre defaulted to ballad status, with everyone aspiring to be Lionel Ritchie.  Which would have been fine if they'd tried to be All Night Long, Lionel instead of Hello, Lionel.  Marvin Gaye might have saved us all because what is Sexual Healing if not a synthed up version of Let's Get It On, but it would have asked a lot of him to pull that off consistently.

By the 90s, the genre appeared to be dying out until R'n'B revived interest, sales and credibility from the mid 90s onwards.  After this, it became de rigeur to have a "proper" singer guesting on your track.

The Peel session version of this track, which is not available for sharing, was furnished with some fine horn work which doesn't feature on the recorded version.  The Homecomings EP was a rare release from Alabama born Dees, whose recording career had been sporadic since The Show Must Go On album, though he had made a good living as a songwriter through the aforementioned One In A Million You giving former Sly and the Family Stone bassist, Larry Graham a U.S. Top 10 hit, as well as writing for the likes of Whitney Houston.

Beauty and the Beat refers to Dees' all female backing band.

Colin Vearncombe aka Black - just for the gas fitters?

Videos courtesy of Bren106 (Dees) and Steve Chase (Black).

Monday, 8 June 2015

Oliver: Mudwimin - Have a Good Time (14 December 1991)

This remains a marginal call for inclusion.  When I first listened to the 14/12/91 recording, this piece of swamp rock caught my ear but not my interest.  It wasn't until I listened to the show again that I found myself drawn to the track, if not entirely seduced by it.  It's rare to find a track which you go from liking to cold-shouldering almost on a line by line basis.  I think it's the "give out, take in" refrain that does the trick.
It may also be because it reminds me of a track from the 9 November 1991 show that I turned down, but which has been bothering my memory.  Play Have a Good Time back to back with Sacrificial Shack by Pain Teens and you have a great split single that never was.

Videos courtesy of Richardchancy1 (Mudwimin) and redhenna1 (Pain Teens).

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Oliver: The Pixies - Bone Machine [Live] (14 December 1991)

There's a Peel session from this band coming up in a few posts time, so I'll leave the analysis till then, but in the meantime all I can say is how did anyone refrain from choosing The Pixies as their favourite band ever, when they emerged in 1988?  I'm not sure why Peel was playing this track from 1988's Surfer Rosa album, when their Trompe le Monde album was less than three months old at this point, but I'm glad he did.  The grab bag of abrasive guitar, three minute melodies and Lewis Carroll style nonsense filtered through an East Coast sensibility shouldn't work anywhere near as well as it does here, but somehow it pulls off the miraculous feat of making the listener think hard about what's being said while simultaneously turning off one's mind and floating into the carnival, crazy house that characterised so much of the Massachusetts four-piece's early work.

Video courtesy of Brad SuperFreedomRock.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Oliver: Spanner Banner - Battle Field (14 December 1991)

It's a battlefield in life.
All guns are aiming at you.

Sentiments which Unsane would surely agree with, indeed I think we can all agree with this slice of dancehall homily.  Ironic sentiments given that it was written at a time of apparent peace.

On the personal front, I would have definitely gobbled this up on any mixtape.  Although, I look back on my GCSE year with contentment over the fact that I'd finally reached the top of the school chain -sixth form excepted, and they weren't really a problem to any of us still in the year 7 - 11 cycle - school always was a battlefield.  I wasn't one of those kids who was in danger of having his head shoved down the toilet, but there was always the fear that if I dropped my guard or breathed out for a second, that I could be.  So my school days, saw me glide through the waters like a swan - relative serenity on the outside, kicking furiously underneath.  But with the GCSE year providing distractions like acting and interest in girls suddenly a world beyond the school gate started to make itself known. Through the autumn and winter of 1991, I wrapped this around me like a warm, comfortable coat, only to see it pulled off and hung in the distance like an out of reach washing line in spring 1992, but we'll come to that in due course.

Edit - I cannot let a post about Spanner Banner aka Joseph Bonner go by without including this, his biggest hit as a writer.

Videos courtesy of Killa Selector (Spanner Banner) and ole50centownu (CD & P).

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Oliver: Unsane - Exterminator/Vandal X/AZA 2000 (14 December 1991)


Vandal X

AZA 2000

I stand to be corrected while we tour through 13 years of Peel shows, but one aspect of them that seemed to fade out over the years was the multi-track play.  This was usually Peel taking up some air time by playing three tracks in a row from whichever record was thrilling him most.  The selections were normally from a current record, but in shows on 23 and 24 November 1991, he had played trios from  Mono Men's Stop Dragging Me Down (1990) and Nirvana's Bleach (1989) albums.  Earlier in his career, Peel had played whole sides of albums such as Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and had defied an exclusivity order for another radio station to play the whole of Bob Dylan's 1975 album, Desire.  This practice seemed to have died out by the time I started hearing him in the late 90s, but could well have been resurrected for the likes of The White Stripes.  We shall see.

As previously posted Peel was dazzled by the debut album from Unsane, and with a show lasting three hours, he had plenty of scope to give them as much airplay as he wished.  On this night, he played four tracks all of which I would have kept.  One of them, an industrial rocker called HLL isn't available for sharing but I hope you'll like the other three selections.

What's great about these tracks is how they show off Unsane's versatility.  A quality which helped them produce such a stunning album.  From the on manoeuvres opening which falls into the perfect rock storm of Exterminator; the storming punk scream of Vandal X, a tune so good it inspired two Belgians to start their own band (though this guy trumped them all) and finally the inspired proto-grunge of AZA 2000 which rounds off its alt-rock stomp with the perfect sinkhole finish.  What can one add, except to echo Peel himself, "What a band, eh listeners?"

Videos courtesy of arkham1789, 1mullenix and the holy terroriser

PS - to anyone upset over Unsane's cover art on this blog, all I can say is you should see the shots I didn't use. (Contains upsetting images).