Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Oliver: The Pixies - Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons (29 December 1991)

This track from The Pixies's Trompe Le Monde album is the type that wears rock critics' warmest adjectives like a pair of gloves: "Full flowering of their talents", "a mature, fully formed work", "essential listening", "at the top of their game".  All these and more fit this piece of music.  It all starts with that contrast between the initially mournful organ chords and the solidity of the drum-bass line.  A piece of backing rhythm so solid, you could build a house on it.  And then, Black Francis starts the vocals, originally down low in his chest, but progressively soaring higher and higher like Icarus.
By this time, The Pixies were as big as they were ever going to be and, inevitably, all that was left to follow was the fall.  This was a valedictory play on the Peel Show.  As the John Peel wiki shows, from 1992 onwards, The Pixies became a band of the past.  Purely because they were now set to fly into their own mountain of a break-up within a year or so of this broadcast.  Perhaps, they knew it themselves, especially given this track's ending which evokes all too well the final moments of serenity before impact, which arrives by the pulling of guitar leads.

Video courtesy of Crackerdamus101.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Oliver: Organised Konfusion - Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken? (29 December 1991)

You may be tempted to groan with apprehension when Pharoae Monch kicks this cut off by lamenting that back in the 70s "the only AIDS you used to know was Kool-Aids".  The hip-hop/rap community of the late 80s/early 90s were notorious for not being particularly sensitive in their treatment of such topics.  But, you can relax.  Peel wouldn't give house room to anything that crass and neither do Organised Konfusion, who turn in an absolute treat here.
When I reviewed The Rough Side of Town having already heard Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken? I wondered whether nostalgia for simpler, innocent times was the main focus of their work.  The former reflected on neighbourhood changes; this recalled the pleasure of Momma's fried chicken and their childhoods.  Having listened to their debut album today, the nostalgia angle doesn't fully sum up their over-riding theme.  Rap battles, religion and chemical weapons all pop up through the record, but its Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken? that stands out best.  A funny, charming track reminiscing about childhood games of SWAT; fat, nosy neighbours with baseball bats; rude games of Show'n'Tell with equally curious eight year old girls and the allure of that titular dish.  Yes, it could be said that it's, at root, a more cutting edge version of The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff's, Summertime, but it's a rare example of a track that merits having a remix of it on the same album.

Word of caution about the end of the video, for some reason the director's seen fit to get one of the more overweight members of the juvenile cast to do something rather lewd with a chicken drumstick.  What do they think they're making?  Killer Joe? (Link definitely NSFW).

So good, they gave it to us twice.

Videos courtesy of cocaineblunts and CaNPaLetFiNeSt.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Saturday 28 December 1991)

The penultimate Peel show of 1991 and all selections were taken from a 90 minute mixtape.  I made 12 selections and present 11 of them in the next batch of posts.  The only one I haven't shared is on YouTube but is in incomplete form:

Daddy Yod - Ragamuffin : this features the Guadeloupe born ragga toaster giving it his all.  French speaking ragga fans may also enjoy the fact that his series on the history of French Ragga is also up on YouTube, it appears going by its duration to be an epic on a par with The World at War.

One other selection missed the cut between initial choice and posting.  Streetsweeper by Unsane was that rarest of things: a dull Unsane track.  As you will see below, Unsane did get used in this programme, but I give due warning that the video that accompanies the track is taken from one of the most notorious horror films of the 1970s, Cannibal Holocaust.  Those of a squeamish disposition, take note!

Programme tracklisting.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Oliver: Smashing Orange - Only Complete in You (28 December 1991)

So in the great battle of the early 90s, what side were you on?  Were you a Pumpkinhead or an Orangina?  Alas, there was only room for one band named after an act of violence against a piece of grocery, and ultimately it was Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins who took the spoils, while Rob Montejo and Smashing Orange were forced to trudge back to Wilmington, Delaware with the label, "America's best kept secret" ringing in their ears.

Leaving aside the problems of having nearly the same associative name as another, more successful band, it's worth noting that for a time, Smashing Orange enjoyed a higher level of professional respect, particularly in Britain where their records were seen as meatier, heavier, rockier shoe gazer tunes than pretty much any other British band of the time, outside of My Bloody Valentine.  Unlike Kevin Shields and co. the mixing on Smashing Orange records allowed you to hear every word that Montejo sang, as well as doing a pretty poor separation job between the drums, which are pushed up in the mix, and the guitars which form a rather mushy background.  However, what made this track stand out for me was the use of what sounds like an organ, but could be another processed guitar part.  It drives the song in dementedly determined fashion like Willy Wonka's paddle-steamer.  I just wish it could be presented here as it sounded on the radio.
  Shoegaze records are made to be heard through a radio and on a mix-tape.  One reason I've always made mixtapes from the radio  is because of the enveloping aural hug it gives to the listener; that teasing of what Thurston Moore in his 2004 curated book, Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture calls the ear-heart, that part of your brain that receives the analogue stimulus that a tape can provide.  I've had plenty of those resuscitations down the years, both from Peel and his successors.  Tracks which sound fine when played on a CD, but which take on an extra layer of frisson when heard on a tape, recorded from the radio.  I could cite examples like the keyboards on All Change of Heart by Lianne Hall and Pico, the opening guitar attack of Forget It by Corrigan or Trouble by The Madeleines, the trumpet part on a live recording of the Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager by Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly or the reverb vocal on Need U by Oceaan. They've all tickled my ear-heart and ended up on a tape.  Here, it's that organ effect that shoots the arrow straight to my ear-heart.

There's reason to believe that all shoegaze tracks are essentially about drugs, and the ones here about loving the mirror more than life itself are Exhibit A as far as I'm concerned.

Video courtesy of sadmindSCM.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Oliver: Billy Bragg - Accident Waiting to Happen [Peel Session] (28 December 1991)

Over the last year, this blog has enjoyed some moments of fortuitous timing.  I started it almost on the 10th anniversary of Peel's last Radio 1 show.  I wrote about Public Enemy the week they brought out a new album.  Now, our first selection from Billy Bragg comes a few days after the Labour Party, for the first time in well over 25 years, elects a leader that one can really see Bragg getting comfortably behind.

Like Peel's programme, this blog's relationship with politics will only be touched upon occasionally.  The main reason for this is that my own politics are all over the place.  If it's possible to be a capitalist, liberal, socialist then that's me.  I want to live comfortably and to get on in life, but I want a  society that supports its most vulnerable and keeps the safety net in place for those who cannot work, all while allowing people to say and think what they want (providing it does no harm to anyone else).  So, the moon on a stick basically.  But if that all seems rather woolly, a look at Billy Bragg's Twitter page provides a quote which sums me up in a nutshell: "A progressive is someone who wants to see society re-organised so that everyone has access to the means by which to reach their full potential."

When you read a quote as clear-sighted and warm-hearted as that, it makes me want to bang the heads together of those Labour MPs who've responded to Jeremy Corbyn's victory by saying, "I'll sit this one out thanks, until we can project nothingness as what we stand for again".
Even if I was completely diametrically opposed to Billy Bragg's politics, I'd still respect him and even more now.  After all, in 1987  he appeared on Channel 4's open-ended discussion programme, After Dark, the night after the Conservative Party had won a third term in government under Margaret Thatcher.  On the show, a potentially sleep-deprived and triumphalist Tory MP, Teresa Gorman told Bragg, "You and your kind are finished.  We are the future now." before walking off set. I can't imagine how he must feel to hear members of his own party all but spouting the same thing, throughout this summer.  Regardless of how things turn out in 2020, Bragg deserves a week of quiet satisfaction before the hard work really begins.

1991/92 saw Bragg brace himself for another unsuccessful general election by releasing an album called Don't Try This At Home, which could be called the Billy Bragg overground album: Bragg backed by a full band on some tracks; by a string quartet on others; releasing singles and videos including the delightfully playful, Sexuality.  Inevitably a session for Peel, his seventh was recorded and transmitted in June 1991 and showed that even attempts to package Billy for the Our Price crowd couldn't dull his political or romantic edge.  Accident Waiting to Happen, the only song from the session that I heard on the 28/12/91 recording was from the former branch of his songwriting.  The Bard of Barking is on fine lyrical form:  "I've always been impressed by a girl who could sing for her supper and get breakfast as well" is a cracking opening couplet.  In trying to read the song, I veer between thinking that its addressed to right-wingers in one hearing, "Goodbye and good luck to all
the rubbish that you've spoken", but in the next line, I think that it could be addressed more to former comrades who may have switched sides from left to right, either at local or national level, "Goodbye and good luck to all the promises you've broken."  An impression which seems to be confirmed as we head into the title line, "Your life has lost its dignity, its beauty and its passion".  And then, well Blairites and Corbynistas can split the vote on who the title line should be bellowed at.  One thing's for sure, though, we're going to be seeing a lot more of Billy over the next 5 years.  Hope Huw Stephens is poised with the keys to Maida Vale...

The '91 Peel Session is available but this version is from an appearance on Australian TV.  It's tremendous and connoisseurs will be delighted to see the Billy Bragg bow is present and correct at the end.

The full Peel session from 1991 featuring The Few, Accident Waiting to Happen, Tank Park Salute and Life with the Lions.

Videos courtesy of Peter Demetris and vibracobra23 with thanks to @keepingitpeel.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Oliver: Unsane - Jungle Music (28 December 1991)

CAUTION - Video is definitely NSFW

First of all, apologies for the video.  It was the only one I could find which just had Jungle Music on its own.  Most unforgivably, it gives away the end of Cannibal Holocaust, a movie which many have praised for its political slant in showing how civilised society's sees "uncivilised" society as something to exploit for ratings and sensationalism, but which director, Ruggero Deodato said was just an excuse for him to make a film about cannibals.

As for the music, a final flourish for the year from Unsane, also named after a horror movie, Dario Argento's 1982 film, also known as Tenebrae.  It would have been remiss of me not to include something from Peel's end of year shows for them.  This frenetic and thrilling tune would be a good match for a horror film soundtrack and with good reason too, as by the middle of 1992, events within the Unsane camp would also take a turn for the macabre with the death of drummer, Charlie Ondras from a drug overdose.

Video courtesy of Drew Gordon.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Oliver: The Ukranians - Hopak (28 December 1991)

When I reviewed The Wedding Present's version of the Orange Juice song, Felicity, I was a bit dismissive about The Ukranians offshoot.  To me, it seemed like they were trying too hard to show how kerr-azy they were.  But in music, as in life, it pays to do a little research.  The Wedding Present's then guitarist, Peter Solowka, who has a Ukranian father used to play this song to entertain his friends.  It was recorded for the Wedding Present's November 1986 session and provoked such a strong reaction that the group embarked on a further three sessions devoted entirely to Ukranian music between 1987-89.  Some of these sessions are commercially available.  Somehow, knowing that one of the band was honouring his heritage makes the endeavour seem a lot less insultingly frivolous.

By the early 90s, tensions in The Wedding Present, saw Solowka leave and form his own group dedicated to performing compositions that respected the spirit of the music of Ukraine, while imbuing  it with an indie/punk sound.  They are still going today, though it seems that they have recently started to focus more on providing Ukranian flavoured versions of Western pop music.

Hopak is an old Ukranian folk dance. The Ukranians version of it appears to be based on one part of the dance.  Reading about it, I wish I'd known about it in advance of my wedding as it would have made a nice counterpoint to the Ceildh music we had the day after the service.  The Ukranians version is a real floor filler; a Zorba the Greek for the slacker generation.

We would have been storming this a fortnight ago in South Kerry.

Videos courtesy of Miik004 (Ukranians) and welcome2ukraine (dance).

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Oliver: The Boo Radleys - Towards the Light/Lazy Day [Peel Session] (28 December 1991)

"Wake up it's a beautiful morning.
Chris Evans on your radio.
Wake up, it's so beautiful.
Chris Evans with your breakfast show."   But I'm getting ahead of myself....

(Lyrics copyright of Martin Carr and some wonk in advertising who managed to peg their hack work onto Carr's talent).

At the point that they enter my musical journey, The Boo Radleys were preparing material for their second album, and first on Creation Records: Everything's Alright Forever.  An inevitable step along the way was their third session for Peel, recorded in September 1991 and broadcast a week before the starting point for this blog on 26 October 1991.  The two songs I caught don't really stand out; they both clock in around 100 seconds apiece with Lazy Day marginally the better of the two.  Short, sweet and shoegazey, but at least Sice Rowbottom's voice already sounded otherworldly enough before the phasing effects were applied.  But even under all of that, Martin's Carr's gift for melody could not be suppressed.

The session isn't available for sharing, so it's the studio versions instead and the video for Lazy Day at least gives me opportunity to reflect on the issue of bad haircuts.  I was all set to slam the Boos,
particularly Sice and bassist, Tim Brown for their hair at that time, until I remembered that I wasn't doing much better, tonsorially in 1991 either.  For most of my childhood, I was a three haircuts a year man.  It was boring, sitting around waiting to have it done.  I usually got it cut when summer was kicking in but the rest of the year was a moveable feast.  I can't grow my hair long, well I can but it's thick Irish hair as my mother calls it and grows up faster than it grows down.  Boo Radley drummer, Rob Cieka does a better job of carrying off my hair than I do, but he had the best hair in that band, aided as he was by the fact that black men can carry off funky hairstyles which white men should never go near.  Martin Carr shrewdly adopted the ruse of wearing a hat over his mass of curls, thereby giving him the whiff of Lennon in '64.  But Sice and Brown were ghastly and success and its attendant stylists thankfully meant that Sice's mid-life crisis mullet on a receding hairline and Brown's rustic farm labourer look were soon on the barber's floor, and not a moment too soon.
I meanwhile was blissfully rocking a village idiot look with my unkempt bird's nest.  It took the school photo for that year to wake me up to how dreadful it looked.  The deal was sealed when some friends of my parents asked for a copy of that photo to send to a teenaged relative of theirs in the States.  I felt sorry for her in advance, knowing it would be the most repellent thing she would see that year and so as '91 rolled into '92, I started paying bi-monthly visits to the barber.
In recent years, as other expenses have accrued, haircuts have become scarcer again.  I ended up taking a photo at the end of one seven month period of growth.  It still looks wild and uncontrolled when I let it grow and I feel more virile when it's like that. It's due for the chop again after four months, soon, but I still prefer it to how Sice looked in '91 and he may look longingly for what was lost at it himself if we should ever meet.

Videos courtesy of #TheBooRadleys and TheBooRadleysVEVO.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Oliver: PJ Harvey - Dress (28 December 1991)

Although John Peel gave airtime to thousands of bands/artists during his career, only a miniscule fraction of them enjoyed what I would call a full-career relationship with him.  What I mean by this is that Peel was with them when they started and they were still with him when he died.  Leaving aside musicians whose careers predated Peel's, I can only come up with a handful of names: Captain Beefheart, Mark E.Smith, David Gedge, Billy Bragg perhaps.  1991 though saw another name join that tiny list, the incomparable Polly Jean Harvey, who burst out of the rock 'n' roll hotbed that is Yeovil to claim a place in Peel's affections for the rest of his life.  Through several different stylistic shifts, he stayed true to her, though I suspect his preference was for the jumper and Doc Martens era Polly of Dry and Rid of Me, ahead of the False Eyelashes phase of To Bring You My Love, which was when I got into her.
Harvey's songs occupied some kind of long, desert road which when travelled would bring the listener into contact with murderesses, prostitutes, criminals, missing children, artists, lovers, religious maniacs, Adam and Eve, God and the Devil.  No matter what guise she took on, whether she was storm tossed angel or painted vampire, she created sound pictures, often out of sketchy and raw instrumentation that were (are) compelling, dramatic, occasionally scary, often seductive and always fascinating to listen to.  Couple such immense musical invention with her very singular look -dressed up or dressed down; with either a quizzical, teasing smile or a careworn, world-weary frown; that lean nose and face made her look quite unlike anyone else around, it all added up to one of the great British rock music talents of the last 25 years.

Dress was her calling card single, apparently played by Peel for the first time on 28 September 1991.
It owes the majority of its interest to this listener on its adherence to the whip crack drum beat and whip line tight guitar figure of its opening 30 seconds before rumbling into the warm bath of Polly's voice and the meaty guitar wash that propels the song forward.  That opening verse, in which she talks about wearing the titular garment to go dancing and catch the eye of the object of her desire lays down one of Harvey's key lyrical themes of her work: the desire to please men.  In the battle of the sexes, many of her heroines seemed in thrall to men who in songs like C'Mon Billy seem either to be dangerous or unworthy of her.  But amid the glorious cliche trope of dressing up to go dancing, bedrock of hundreds of songs dating back to popular music's earliest days, she suddenly throws in the lyrical curveball about the dress causing her to spin over like "a heavy loaded fruit tree" - an image which may well be the best lyric I've heard in these 1991 recordings outside of The Field Mice summing up my unrequited love.
Straight out of the chorus and the muscular riff is supplemented by a Bernard Hermannesque violin,
played by Polly herself.  It's touches such as these which suggested that she had a vision for her
music that transcended mere rock chickery: somehow American without being American and leading me to wonder what they put in the water in Yeovil and can more of us drink it?  The PJ Harvey template continues to be sketched out as the song progresses: the increasing frustration/desperation at not being able to get what she wants; the attentions of a beer soaked/nicotine stained suitor reminding  her of what he has already given her; finally the suggestion of violence and rape - "a fallen woman in a dancing costume".  This last point is hammered home in the closing movement as drum, guitar and bass  beat out the rhythm together, while the violin squeals away over the top like an ejaculatory burst at the end of a brutal, grinding encounter.

The standout track of the 1991 Peelenium, if she had never recorded another note, Harvey would have secured a place in music history with this marvellous song, but there was more to come, much more and Peel took it with him, all the way to the end.

Video courtesy of TheSampler2010.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Oliver: First Offence - Round 'n' Round (28 December 1991)

We're back and we're married!

Yes, on the 28th of August, I tied the knot with my partner of 13 years and it feels fantastic.  I feel elated, loved up, very happy and ready for new challenges and fresh starts.  I'm returning to the blog with energy replenished and with loads of Peel selections to share and write about.  At time of writing, I am listening to the 25 January 1992 show and have a few choices already made.  Life couldn't be better and with this in mind, I return to my list of selections from the 28/12/91 Best of the Year show, ready for something to match my life-affirming mood.

A plasticine person with a plasticine life
With your plasticine kids and your plasticine wife.

It's a feeling of strife when you look at the wife
And she's laying next to you on the bed.
You think "Damnation, I want to start over"
And wishing that she was dead.
Lay back on your pillow and reminisce on the time you were young and free.
Never a thought of marriage and kids, now you have a wife and three.
(Lyrics - copyright of Steve Harris and First Offence)

This is a hard track for me to review at the moment.  When you're happy and you know it, you can't fully embrace a misanthropic track about marriage and the daily grind of work, regardless of how brilliantly done it is.  Nevertheless, I am conscious that a week from now "The six o'clock alarm call smacks you in the head" will be all too true.  It would have definitely made it on to a mixtape given its relevance to the school experience too.

First Offence were formed in Little Hulton near Salford and their story seems to be one of those terribly sad ones that litter the music industry of a group picked up and dumped just when they were ready to properly get going.   After releasing three singles, they were all set to release an album; the Fawlty Towers riffing, Flowery Twats, when in the words of vocalist Steve Harris, in an interview with Manchester Evening News in 2010, "Everything was on the way up then everything kind of folded really".  When listening to a track like Miracle on Kenyon Shops, which sounds at this distance like an ancestor to Thou Shalt Always Kill by Scroobius Pip and Dan le Sac, we can only lament the loss of a potentially wonderful album.  Happily, First Offence have a YouTube channel with most of their released and unreleased material on it.  Harris bounced back from the disappointment of First Offence's demise by going into stand-up comedy.  As these tracks show, his sour, quickfire delivery made it an ideal career choice.

Videos courtesy of FirstOffence.