Friday, 30 December 2016

Oliver: Jacob's Mouse - The Vase (1 March 1992)

More evidence to suggest that contrary to what they may have said, Blur's artistic left-turn in the mid-90s had nothing to do with Can or Pavement, and more to do with listening back to Jacob's Mouse album, No Fish Shop Parking. Last time we looked at this comparison, it was over a B-side.  But here, the aggressive, elbowing-people-aside riff that frames this song, gets recycled by Damon and co. in the song, Chinese Bombs, albeit without the drum solo of The Vase.  Although the drumming in parts sounds like Commercial Break, the closing instrumental on Modern Life is Rubbish.  So you could say that Jacob's Mouse are the big unacknowledged influence on Blur's sound through the 90s.  But I guess it's cooler to reference The Kinks and Pavement...

Videos courtesy of Michael McDonnell (Jacob's Mouse) and Zudeare (Blur)

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Oliver: Happy Flowers - I Dropped My Ice Cream Cone [Peel Session] (1 March 1992)

I never intend this blog to be topical.  It just falls out that way.

It's fair to say that the words "an acquired taste" best sum up the work of Charlottesville, Virginia duo, Happy Flowers.  If you listen to this selection and dismiss it as unlistenable rubbish, I urge you to listen to it in context, namely the Peel Session they recorded in June 1990 and which had been issued through Strange Fruit a year later.  When I first heard I Dropped My Ice Cream Cone, I had so many instincts telling me to ignore it, but a couple of tendrils trailed out behind it which wouldn't let it go.  One of them is quite prosaic; namely that its guitar improvisation roots itself at a low pitch rather than an atonal one.  It's scrambled and desperate, but it sounds good.  It also operates as a perfect contrast to the vocal by Mr. Anus (Charlie Kramer) which, in recounting the excitement and catastrophe of buying and dropping TWO ice-cream cones, also sounds scrambled and desperate, but absolutely right.

Mr. Anus and his band mate, Mr. Horribly Charred Infant (John Beers) wrote from the perspective of post toddler/pre double digit age children.  They understood that children at that age are, as in their toddler stage, only a scintilla away from a full-blown psychotic meltdown when their universe is disrupted.  Furthermore, at ages 6-9, they can start to give voice to their frustrations.  Their work chronicles by degrees the different levels of resentment, distress and nuclear anger that beats within the body and soul of children.  The trivial tragedies that occupied Happy Flowers's world could most likely be found in Greg Pembroke's 2013 photo-book, Reasons My Kid Is Crying, though they also touched on more understandable causes for childhood trauma.

In listening to some Happy Flowers music, I've been struck by how much the mood of their songs seems to have penetrated beyond childhood behaviour into daily communication between adults nowadays.  Rage. Spite. Irritation - it's everywhere and on both sides of the divide; whether you're slagging off the Snowflake Generation or getting irate about whinging white, middle class voters.  It feels like a Happy Flowers world now.  And it doesn't promise to get any better in the near future.

Last word to Peel:  "Sometimes, I lie on the ground and wave my chubby little legs in frustration that the Happy Flowers (sic) no longer exist."

The characters in Happy Flowers's songs grow up to produce songs like this:

Videos courtesy of Vibracobra23 Redux (Happy Flowers) and Alan Ruiz (The Heats).

Friday, 23 December 2016

Oliver: The Soka Band - Linga Linga/Gene Vincent - Git It (1 March 1992)

Two tracks brought together by a genius John Peel link.  Linking is very important in radio, enabling the disc jockey to effortlessly glide from one item to another.  My own favourite came from Brian Matthew on Sounds of the Sixties, about 20 years ago.  He was reading the questions for a competition and promised to repeat them in next week's programme.  "And if you can't listen again next week, you'll  have to get someone to tell you the questions.  Perhaps, the mother in law?"  Cue Ernie K. Doe.  Gloriously awful, but effective given it's lodged in my head for 20 years.

On Peel's show, linking usually came in several forms:

The musical connection - this could cover contrasting versions of a song together.  If anyone ever covered the Peter Gunn theme for instance, you could guarantee that Duane Eddy's version would follow it.  Songs with shared themes would be sequenced by his producers.  John Walters was particularly adept at this as this April 1980 running order shows.  4 songs about depression and nervous breakdowns followed by a brace of school themed songs.

Coincidence - usually the result of something like people's names rhyming.  Hadda Brooks followed by Madder Rose etc.

"This next record is by..." - the bread and butter of his delivery.  No messing about just cueing up the next track, but when the opportunity to subvert it came up, he would take it.  Such was the case on 1/3/92 when after playing the delightfully sunny Linga Linga, sent to him from "my earthly
representative in Zimbabwe", he told us Linga Linga translated as, "Well oh well, oh wop, whip whip" and then sent us tumbling into the brilliant Git It from Gene Vincent.  Arguably, the catchiest tune of the evening, that chorus is irresistible.  Vincent's exquisite phrasing over the top of those Great Balls of Fire-esque piano runs.  There's very little in the way of histrionics here, but he captures magnificently that sense of desperation which kicks in when the girl of your dreams is making demands that you can't satisfy at that moment, but give me an hour and I'll have what you want - anything you want.  This is a girl worth stealing cars and jewellery for, despite the fact that poor Gene will doubtless be run into the ground by her. It's a generous performance, because one of the great rock 'n' roll bad boys is offering himself up for the slaughter so readily.
Even more than in his performance of Who Slapped John from 22/2/92, after hearing this there's no way to argue with Peel's assessment, "There really was no-one better.  Gene Vincent."

A very merry Christmas to you all, especially to YouTube uploader, Webbie, who not for the first time this year, came up trumps with a request for a particular track that I desperately wanted to include on this blog, and did so with The Soka Band.  Check out their Keeping It Peel site and podcasts..

Gene Vincent video courtesy of Luis Alfonso Barragan.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Oliver: King Tubby - Dubbing With The Observer (1 March 1992)

This gets on the mixtape purely on the strength of the recurring brass fanfare, which mixes 9 parts downtown Kingston with 1 part Aaron Copland.  The rest then bimbles on in familiar King Tubby style - all subterranean squelches and bang your head on a sink thumps, along with the usual bobbing saxes.  It's slim pickings really apart from that brass refrain and it has to be said that this version, which turned up on the King Tubby's Special 1973-76 compilation album featuring work done with Observer All-Stars and The Aggrovators, wasn't even the best dub of the track.

Video courtesy of Jimmie B.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Oliver: Smashing Orange - Not Very Much To See (1 March 1992)

It's our "ear-heart" specialists, back again.  With it's wah-wah washes, battering drums and sudden, swooping lurches of tempo, especially around the 30 second mark, Not Very Much To See put me in mind of one of 1992's great cultural white elephants: Brett Leonard's film, The Lawnmower Man.

I haven't seen it in over 20 years.  Based, microscopically, on a short story by Stephen King (it bore so little resemblance to his work, that King won 3 court actions designed to get his name taken off promotional material for the film and its video), the film is about how computer technology and advancements in Virtual Reality software, when plugged into the mind of a gardener with learning difficulties can turn him into a God-like being.  Inevitably, this increase in power turns him rogue and the battle is on to prevent him from taking over the world.  This film was big news in 1992, where huge attention was lavished on the VR effects, which were seen by their creation of new worlds and environments, to have pushed special effects to hitherto unseen heights.  A year later though, when Jurassic Park had T-Rexes walking around and sniffing petrified children without you being able to see the join, the blocky, primary colours of those VR effects effectively dated The Lawnmower Man to an early 90s period piece.
 I wanted to re-watch it before writing this to check whether my associations were sound, but iTunes doesn't have it, and although a smoky looking copy, designed to put copyright holders off on the grounds that it isn't a mint version, has turned up on YouTube; I felt it would be defeating the point somewhat to watch a debased copy of a film whose visual splendour was one of its great selling points.  Therefore, I have to return to my memories of the film and most of those are based around Jeff Fahey getting bounced around in an Aerotrim as his mind expanded and he breathlessly blurted out lines like, "I saw God!"  This sense of a mind being moulded and turned inside-out runs right through the opening minute of Not Very Much To See.  The impression of intelligence gone awry is maintained as Rob Montejo sings about there being nothing behind his eyes.  And yet seconds later, the "I'm on top of the world" refrain suggests that somehow that intellect is growing.  A power is being nourished.  But with power comes responsibility. Not only that but an awareness that the window to use that power is a short one - "You've got to get it together/Stop misunderstanding/The chance has just gone." (Lyrics by Rob Montejo/Stephen Wagner).  It's an anti-ennui song, calling for action and self-determination. Did it resonate with an audience ready to enjoy the end of history at the time it was released?  Unlikely, especially with distractions like Virtual Reality to temporarily occupy them.

Video courtesy of strangelove1976.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Oliver: Hank Williams (as Luke the Drifter)/The Fall - Just Waitin'/Just Waiting (1 March 1992)

Listening to these tracks with my wife in the room:

"God, David - that's a bit mournful".

"David, that's awful!  He sounds like that morose guy from the North with one name, what's he called?  Kennedy or something?"

And when I'd picked myself up off the floor, I could see her point on both recordings.  However, I don't agree with her in either case.

Luke the Drifter was a pseudonym that Hank Williams Sr. used when he wanted to record material that was some way removed from the country music that made his name.  Under this guise, he would rework spirituals, gospel music and talking blues songs to produce darker and more reflective pieces of work.  Bob Dylan described the Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter album as a collection of parables and a huge favourite of his.  If the mention of parables worries you, then relax.  Just Waitin' is performed with a lightness of touch and a sureness of feel which makes it seem wonderfully profound.  Like a Deep South Penny Lane, Williams takes us around a cast of characters, who could be dotted all over the world, but because they are all linked by an unfulfilled yearning for things
which are either imminent, but not ready yet, or pipedreams that may never be realised, it feels as though these spinsters, drunks, con-men, prisoners, goodtime girls and cattle all share the same town. But then Williams turns this attitude outwards on people away from this inanimate town, reflecting on how people wait for their opportunity to better their situation either through entering quiz shows or gaining an inheritance.  66 years ago, and he's nailed the entitlement culture that has had us in its vice-like grip for so, so long.

This mixture of subtext and social photography doubtless carried a lot of appeal for Mark E.Smith and The Fall's version of the tune is a charming electric country take.  As ever, Smith makes slight amendments to the lyrics- the cow becomes a gardener, a surfer makes an appearance, there are hares in a hole and flights of fancy about producers, blondes, pies and chips.  Furthermore, Smith makes explicit the sense of futility that many of those who are just waiting in this track feel, with his extemporisations about not being able to stand things anymore.  It sounds slightly incongruous against that chirpy country background, but then again "that morose guy from the North with one name" pulled that trick off time and time again, didn't he?

As soon as The Fall covered this track on their new Code:Selfish album, it was a shoo-in that Peel would play the two versions back to back.  He was excited enough to have a new Fall album to play throughout the 1/3/92 show, but covering the first Hank Williams record that Peel had ever bought, due to the man's ubiquity at the top of Liverpool's Top 3 records, in his childhood, sealed the deal.  A Pre-Pubescent Pick if ever I heard it.

Finally, if you're tempted to buy any Hank Williams, a word of caution to you: if his producers got the mike levels wrong, his voice could be excruciating to listen to.  In the early days of this blog, when I made a doomed attempt to buy every record I chose for selection as well as ones by artists who were referenced either by Peel or the people he played, I bought my own tape of Hank Williams.  Four songs into this compilation, I was wondering if I would make it to the end; each song had annoyed me in different ways.  But then he sang Kaw-Liga, the mike levels were balanced better, and things looked up from there.  So much so, that the exquisite bleakness of The Last Picture Show melts away when Williams plays the film out in the end credits.

Videos courtesy of AlanPaladin (Williams) and Kevin Kriel (The Fall).

Friday, 9 December 2016

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Saturday 29 February 1992)

If you were listening to a radio on most of the Leap Days between 1968 and 2004, you wouldn't have heard John Peel on many of them.  If they fell on a weekday, he was usually on at the weekend or it was one of the nights he didn't broadcast.  If it fell on a weekend, he was broadcasting during the week.  The John Peel wiki throws up some interesting details though, including the fact that Peel kicked off his Leap Day 1972 programme with a record by Rodriguez, later the subject of the Oscar winning documentary, Searching For Sugar Man.  The show on 29 February 2000, which won't feature on this blog as I wasn't rehearsing anything at that time, saw a session from The Samurai Seven in which they covered tunes by ABBA, Freddie and the Dreamers and Elton John & Kiki Dee.
No record currently allows us to see what Peel broadcast on Leap Day 1988, but while browsing a tracklisting from a show broadcast on 15 August 1988, while I was on a French holiday, Peel's endless capacity to surprise showed with a track by Queen Latifah.  This 1992 show though, is the only Leap Day show that will feature on this blog.

For a special day, I was blessed with a special recording, running to 2 and a half hours.  Perhaps as a treat to mark Leap Day, the programme started with the increasingly rare Pickin' the Blues theme tune, possibly in its last appearance.  Change was afoot on the Peel show with his transmission dates set to move to Fridays and Saturdays as of Friday 13 March 1992.  "That's a great omen, isn't it.  I shall probably spontaneously combust and then somebody shall leap to the microphone and say something like, 'John Peel died as he would have wished - at the microphone."
He played a track from what he described as "the first essential album of 1992".  This was Slim Whitman's, Chime Bells from a compilation album called Yodelling Crazy, which had held him and Andy Kershaw spellbound on the previous weekend.  A lot of this had to do with Whitman holding a note for 40 seconds towards the end of the song.

As always, there are some tracks, I'd love to include which can't be with us today:

Dashing Marbles - On My Couch - or On My Cou Cou as someone had written it on Peel's running order.  Recorded over 2 years previous for a 4 track EP at, in the record's words, "some frigging hole in the ground, Chicago".  Sounds like a grungy version of Suzi Quatro.

Mantis - Regaliar - the title is given as Peel spelt it, but as the Discogs link shows, he might have confused the exclamation mark in Regalia! for a letter r.  The font on the label didn't make the matter clear.  As for the track itself, it's a bit like a chaotic rewrite of Desire by U2.

Daniel Johnston - The Dream is Over - this may have ended up as a borderline case, because listening back to it, I found the performance falling into tweeness at points.  It sounded like the whole song had based itself around the brass break in Down In The Churchyard by The Flying Burrito Brothers.  On the flipside of that, the song's lyrics do a brilliant job of conveying that moment when you know your romantic hopes - whether they be to start a relationship or rekindle an old one - are over, purely by the body language of the object of your intentions.  I've never heard the description of the journey home on the first night of realising that your hopes and dreams have all been for naught, bettered than it is in this song.  The Wave Pictures, who backed Johnston on a tour, and who covered the whole of the Artistic Vice album that The Dream is Over came from, brought out the fragility and sorrow of this track, extremely well in their cover.

Titus Zihuite - Zihuite Echoes - more tinkly African goodness, played on a bad pressing according to Peel.  No record of Titus on Discogs or anywhere else though, sadly.

WBI Red Ninja - Look Black in Anger/Trenton Dub [Peel Session] - Their session of 1/12/91 was repeated on this show.  When I first heard the session,  I only wanted Look Black in Anger, a call to young black people to learn their history and learn how much black people had accomplished.
Notable for its egalitarian message, "You have no superiors/you have no inferiors", minimalist beats and feel of low-key urban dread.  I still wish for it as much as I did 18 months ago when I lamented its loss from my 1/12/91 selections.  In the intervening time period, Trenton Dub has joined it on the want list.  As its title suggests, the foundation of this track is rooted in dubstep, but quickly embellished with parps of Egyptian tinged saxophone, diddles of melodica, thumping drums and samples of  boxing MC, Michael "Let's get ready to rumble" Buffer.  I'm sad that it's not shareable at the moment, as I have a mate called Trenton, who appeared in several of the productions  that this blog will chronicle through Peel's playlists, and it would be nice to let him know he has a song named after him.  Everyone should be in a position to sing a song with their name in it at the drop of a hat.  Although, he may struggle to "sing" Trenton Dub. My own options are limited to The Kinks or a Pulp song that l can only sing one line out of.  Meanwhile, my wife does not appreciate being serenaded by this, but Left and To the Back gave us this much better option.

Ninjaman - Gun Talk and Lip Service - Now, I could have included this, but the 100 second version in the link is at least 2 and a half minutes shorter than the one Peel played. I hope that the record itself was considered as a reply to Gospel Fish's tune, Too Much Gun Talk, from 12/1/92.

Cheeze - MacArthur Park - Peel hoped that any listeners who remembered Richard Harris's version of Mack Arthur Park as a colleague of mine called it earlier this week, "would cordially hate it".  He then ended the show by playing Cheeze's version of it.  The Chicago band had already overhauled one acknowledged classic with their take on ABBA's Dancing Queen getting airplay on Peel's show around this time.   For me, MacArthur Park is the better one of their two takes in subverting the kitsch nostalgia that both tracks can provoke and which in 1992 started to gain serious currency in the pop charts again through releases like Abba-esque by Erasure, although thinking back, Andy Bell was a good enough vocalist to draw enough out of those indestructible songs to avoid the exercise being completely redundant.
MacArthur Park is a vast smorgasbord of a song and Cheeze did it magnificent justice.  Marc Almond style vocals slithering under Eastern string parts before bringing the whole thing home in a raucous rock out ending with histrionics aplenty over the meaning of that sodden cake.  So good that I suspect that Harris himself would have wanted to have a go at the song in that style were he given the opportunity to try it again.  Mind you, the best version of MacArthur Park I heard from 1992 was on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, in those dim and distant days before it got so horiffically self-indulgent.  A verse from the song was used in the game, Next Lines, wherein Humphrey Lyttleton read lines from a song and the panellists had to provide the final line.  All lyrics in the following extract are copyright of Jimmy Webb, except for the very last one:

Humphrey Lyttleton: MacArthur Park is melting in the dark/All the sweet green icing flowing down.
Someone left the cake out in the rain.
I don't think I can take it/Because it took so long to bake it.
And I'll never see that recipe again/Oh....

Willie Rushton: Bugger.

Full tracklisting. Ladies, which of these would you have proposed to your loved one to?

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Oliver: Curve - Arms Out [Peel Session] (29 February 1992)

Peel's near month long run of airplay for tracks from Curve's debut album, Doppelgänger reached its logical end-point on 29/2/92 with their second session for him.

I spoke about "Curve fatigue" setting in for me in my notes for the show on 23/2/92.  A sense that, as Peel himself had been moved to hint in response to an excitable press release, the band were a bit one-note when listened to over an extended period.  It's certainly happened between my first hearing of the session, and the time for selecting and writing about it.  On first listen, I had 3 out of the 4 tracks earmarked for inclusion, with only Die Like a Dog failing to make the cut.  But after listening again, I found myself going cool on Split Into Fractions which seemed too formulaic, while the session version of Horror Head felt inessential next to the album version.

But Arms Out, a B-side to the Fait Accompli single was never in doubt.  Built around a battering, trebly riff, it showcases something that all too often got buried among the shoegaze wall of sound: a genuine sense of feeling and emotion.   It helped that Curve were blessed with a singer in Toni Halliday who wanted to be heard and who conveyed in her performances a mix of urgency, frustration and protectiveness towards the subjects of her songs which meant Curve were never anywhere near as fey as some of the waifs who whispered along with the storm of noise that the guitars and their pedals kicked up in lieu of any other ideas.
The psiren lead singers of many of the shoegaze bands of the time often sounded like mirages offering succour to the wounded and the heartsick, but the thinness of their voices made them seem like the friendly would-be lover you couldn't actually go near for fear of breaking them or turning them away with your own frustrations and rage.  Toni Halliday, as her performance and sentiments show here, was a safety net, a life jacket, a warm massage and protective embrace all in one.

Video courtesy of Felix Stairs.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Oliver: Sonny Til and The Orioles - Crying in the Chapel (29 February 1992)

This 1953 recording was played by Peel as a trial run for a feature that he and his producer, Mike Hawkes were conjecturing in which Peel would play favourite records from his childhood and teenage years.  One sticking point was over a title for the feature, with Hawkes favouring Formative Favourites against Peel's idea of Pre-Pubescent Picks.

I'd never heard this track until listening to the 29/2/92 show.  I had seen the title and knew Elvis Presley had had a UK number 1 with it in 1965, but I had always assumed it was about somone being jilted at the altar.  Instead, and in a most gorgeously simple and touching way, the song is written from the perspective of someone overwhelmed by the glory of God.  Peel was an atheist by all accounts, but he was fascinated by religious music and often quoted scripture in episodes of Home Truths.

From a Pre-Pubescent Picks point of view, Crying in the Chapel offers a reminder that outside of balladeers and country music, doo-wop was the next link in the chain of Peel's, and by extension, post-WW2 popular music's journey.  Simple backings, velvet-voiced lead singers, harmonies stretching from the free-wheeling to gallows-tight - many times over the years, the Peel show would check out and reduce its soundscape to the aural equivalent of people singing under a streetlight. And time after time, the results would sound magical as this.  So much so that 1992 saw something of a revival in the form.  Boyz II Men were packaged as a gospel act but it didn't defy imagination to picture Sonny Til and the Orioles running through a track like End of the Road.  While that glut of boyband acts that broke through in 1992/93 - Take That & East 17 at the top end; Bad Boys Inc. and Worlds Apart at the bottom end - may have been marketed as teenypopper Beatles/Stones...err...Freddie and the Dreamers for the 90s, but essentially they had their roots in doo-wop: One prominent voice out front and four others standing behind him and going "Oooh".

My own favourite Peel doo-wop selection predates the time of this blog.  He played this in May 1981.  An incredible performance and a wonderful melody.

Videos courtesy of Manny Mora (Sonny Till & The Orioles) and TheNickNicola (The Jive Bombers)

A recent upload by keepingitpeel on their Wordpress site features several episodes from Home Truths, potentially featuring Peel's encyclopaedic knowledge of quotable scripture.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Oliver: One Dove - Fallen [Dawn] (29 February 1992)

The version of this track by the Scottish electro trio which Peel played on 29/2/92 is a real rarity.  So rare in fact that it was withdrawn from sale in the week after its release due to an uncleared sample.  This mix is as close as I can get to the one Peel played, but still contains all the elements which made this track so appealing to me.  Most of them are tied up with Dot Allison's breathy recollections of meetings with strange singers, angels and ghosts.  There's also a lyric which every young generation feels is talking about them: "They say we're hard to please/They say we want too much/As if all this would do/When all we want to have is fun."

Very much an end of evening mix, Peel promised to play a different mix of this tune on his next programme if he could remember.  He didn't but if he had, it should probably have been the ubiquitous Andrew Weatherall mix.

Video courtesy of markwo74.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Oliver: Gag - The Corner Hot Dog Stand (29 February 1992)

I've seen a few tweets recently linking to songs from the past that predict Donald Trump and the alt-right.  I'd like to add this track by Gag, the brainchild of Sue D, who also performed as part of a band called Tasty Bush, as well as Bald Cow.  According to the publicity notes, "Sue generally had lunch at Taco Bell, and dessert at Dairy Queen".

24 years ahead of Trump, The Corner Hot Dog Stand touches on many of the themes that have facilitated his rise and occupy the minds of the Left at this crucial moment in history.  The titular business, owned by a family of Mexicans, has gone up in flames, victim of an arson attack due to a refusal to pay for protection either from the Mob or the police.  New York Daily Times journalist, Shaun King's Twitter feed has been my source of news about the racial abuse doled out to Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans etc since Trump's victory.  Gag talk in this song about people watching the conflagration either in prayer or silence.  If they were to chronicle something similar now, they would have to think of something to rhyme with "Build the wall".  Though if we aren't careful, who's to say the alt-right won't lay claim to "Burn out the old/bring in the new"?

The family go back to Mexico and in their place a shiny, new chain hot dog place - spotlessly clean, gaudily neon and one more link in the chain of faceless globalisation, goes up - further inspiring another set of protestors and objections, at least on this side of the song.

You can take so many things away from this song and the fact that that it has continued to resonate more presciently in 2016 than could ever have been thought possible when it was recorded make it as socially an important record as any that Peel had played in 1992.

If you're nostalgic for the days when a Clinton could overcome both the political establishment, and a non-racist billionaire presidential hopeful, then BBC iPlayer is currently hosting The War Room, the inside story of Bill Clinton's victory over George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in the 1992 U.S. Presidential election.

Video courtesy of FEBear1.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Oliver: Lucien Bokilo - Adidja (29 February 1992)

Listening to this track from Lucien Bokilo, I find myself thinking back to French lessons at school.  In particular, those moments when the teacher would bring out a tape recorder and bung on a tape to assist the class with its French listening exercises.  The lower school years at Falmouth Community School saw us use the iconic Tricolore books which are still going today.  13 years ago, I saw the comedian Ian Moore mention them in a throwaway line about how he was using them to help him, since he was moving to live in France.  I and a few others cheered the mention of Tricolore, and to a huge laugh he responded, "In case you're wondering, Jean-Claude is still living in La Rochelle.  Hoovering la fenetre.  What a disappointment he must be to the DuPont family.  No wonder they can't get a fucking army together".  This being the time when Jacques Chirac decided that following ourselves and the U.S. into a war in Iraq wasn't really something he wanted to be part of.
When I went to the upper school building of Falmouth Community School, there was a new kid on the French textbook block called Studio 16.  Funkier, hipper, more up to date.  The flared trousers and sideburns of the cast of characters in those Tricolore books replaced by vaguely preppy/or shell-suited teens pointing the way to the 1990s with lengthy dissertations about whether they liked British television or not.  I remember they liked ours considerably more than I liked theirs whenever I watched it on holiday.
What has stayed with me most about them were the musical stings on the accompanying cassette tapes.  Tricolore linking its sections with a jaunty acoustic guitar polka that ran throughout the tape.  Studio 16 was more varied.  The stings were more jingle like ensuring that you never forgot what you were listening to, but some would be done as bright electro-pop numbers; others as slower, bluesier efforts and every so often there would be a few bars of delirious Afro pop - Studio 16 doing a better job of reflecting France's racial make-up than Tricolore did.  Even now, Ousmane Seck of Senegal remains a clear memory of my education.
Adidja catches Lucien Bokilo channelling the spirit of those Tricolore/Studio 16 stings...and I can offer it no higher praise of comparison then that.

Video courtesy of soukousnostalgie.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Oliver: The Nightblooms - Butterfly Girl (29 February 1992)

I had a question mark against this when I first heard it.  What tipped the balance was listening, in error, to the 8 minute long version which showed up on The Nightblooms' debut album.  I adored the slow, meditative build up conjured by that 1-2-3/1-2-3 guitar figure, and the voices coming slowly into focus, like reverse radio waves eventually crystallising into the vocals.  The single version, which Peel played on 29/2/92, dispenses with that and comes straight in on the loud clanging guitars, but as you will hear, sound and fury doesn't really have a place here.  Putting their trust in Esther Sprikkelman's unadorned vocal (if this had been a British band at the time, it would have been drowned in reverb, I expect), the sun/rain/snow metaphors drift by like clouds in a Yoko Ono lullaby.

It all sounds horribly kitsch, the kind of winsome "slippergaze" that grunge was sent to obliterate, but instead it achieves a kind of beautiful serenity, even through the nihilistic lines: "I don't think and I don't mind.  I don't feel and I don't care."  I'm also tickled by the fact that the track was apparently recorded over the first two days of 1992.  There's a sense of moving from the old to the new, as in from last year to this year.  The sudden cut-off at the end encapsulates this completely, as though the butterfly girl has emerged from her chrysalis over the course of the Christmas period and is ready to fly into the new year, at least until the butterfly net of failed resolutions falls on her.

Video courtesy of fastfoodsblips

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Oliver: Bald Cow - Speed Skull (29 February 1992)

Sometimes, it's a mistake to be doing the ironing while making selections for this blog.  When first listening to the show from 29/2/92, this track bypassed me entirely and would have continued to do so if Peel had played the track he intended to from Bald Cow's 4 track EP, The Wrath of Achilles.  Instead of a take on Homer's Odyssey called Return of the Gone, we got a garage rock tribute to Albert Einstein called Speed Skull.  This was clearly a band looking to marry intelligent dissertations on science and literature to a biker bar musical ethos, and they do it brilliantly.  I nearly missed it, only hearing it and enjoying it when I was listening to clarify a point on the selection that will follow this track on to the blog.  I can only share it as a live recording from a gig that Bald Cow played in Chicago in 2011, but it captures the essence of the track perfectly.  Their full set from that gig is on YouTube together with some other recordings under their name.  Check them out.

Video courtesy of mmravic.

Oliver: Spitfire - Wild Sunshine (29 February 1992)

A few weeks ago, I downloaded the Oasis documentary, Supersonic.  It was great, though I wished we could have heard more from Tony McCarroll.  It did the right thing by focussing on the imperial years, simply because there really was nowhere to go but down post-Knebworth and they really did plummet in the last decade of their existence.  But what Supersonic did particularly successfully was consider how fast and stunning their rise was - and the appearance, at least superficially, of how easy it looked.  First single to headlining in front of 125,000 people in two years?  Piece of piss, mate.  Except that it wasn't of course.  It was hard work, dedication, a handful of stunning songs and a bit of luck.  Luck that Alan McGee happened to be in King Tut's Wah-Wah Hut in Glasgow on the pretext of going to freak out his ex-girlfriend, whose band were playing the night McGee first clapped eyes on Oasis. Luck in that Supersonic came out a week after Kurt Cobain's death upended everything and left the music media in need of a new cover star.  And these ones didn't do doubt or vulnerability, which must have seemed refreshing in comparison.  Correction - it was refreshing, because I remember it.

But as with Oasis, as with The Beatles, the question has to be asked: why did fate reward them, especially?  Was it timing?  I mean The Beatles were seen as a band who stepped in when their heroes from the previous decade either found themselves in the army, in disgracegetting religionin jail or dead and took the spoils home with them.  If the floor isn't clear, you need to do something exceptional to stand out.  And it's for that reason I declare Spitfire as our first entrants into The Smell of the Greasepaint and the Sound of the Peel's prestigious Should Have Been Oasis Before Oasis Hall of Fame.
Wild Sunshine is the sound of Britpop before anyone would have thought of it.  It is the spiritual father of one of Oasis's last truly great songs as well as one of the best songs produced by the era's whipping boys.  They also had plenty of admirers among the bands that followed in their wake - and which had greater success than them.  It's all here - the anthemic chorus, vocalist dripping with attitude, guitar pyrotechnics, whippy tempo and they look terrific, if slightly more indebted in their visual styling to The Ramones mixed with Moby Grape than the Beatles.  And yet, in 1992 what should have been a Top 10 hit and an iconic Top of the Pops moment, instead served as a jolting, uplifting record on a John Peel playlist.  He, naturally, recognised the gifts they bore.  Or perhaps, he just appreciated that it stood out from most of Spitfire's other work at the time.  Tracks like Superbaby and Sunflow sounding a little more stodgy and fussy in comparison to the thrilling directness on offer here.  If Wild Sunshine was meant to be Spitfire's ticket to the big time, it is a huge indictment on the state of the music business at the time that it slipped through the cracks.  If the timing was wrong, then people should have been making time for them. Just like John Peel did.
It was originally released on a 4 track EP called Free Machine which included a track called Rocks Off Baby - was this a legal requirement in the 90s?  A period when a single Rolling Stones track held the next generation in its thrall.

Video courtesy of EVEvideoproductions.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Sunday 23 February 1992)

John Peel's Sunday ritual usually included spending his morning listening to Radio 4.  Invariably this meant The Archers omnibus and Desert Island Discs.  On this day, the castaway was Elvis Costello.  For anyone unable to hear the repeat scheduled for the following Friday, and with iPlayer Radio a mere fantasy at the time, Peel passed on a quote from Mr. MacManus which had stayed with him from that day's broadcast, "Sometimes music doesn't seem to have a place in the [record] industry's plans".  Tonight, my Twitter feed has seen people sounding off about X-Factor contestant, Honey G.  I haven't seen or heard her, although she visited my workplace just a week or so ago, and colleagues went to meet her.  They came back genuinely excited to do so, despite being in unanimous agreement that she had no musical talent.  The producers of that show, who to a large extent are the music business now, would probably feel that the being of Honey G, and the reaction it engenders, would be more than enough to validate Costello's statement.  This is nothing new of course.  Just the presence of Beatles, Stones, Michael Jackson, Prince - hell even the recently departed Leonard Cohen would whip people in to a frenzy.  But it was about what they could do, just as much as who they were that mattered.  It felt like the music industry understood that.  If Costello was talking, a quarter a century ago, about the focus shifting more to marketing, then at least it was marketing artists who had produced music that merited whole floors of record companies discussing image rights and advertising deals.  Whereas now, you can have the X-Factor treatment and a whistle-stop version of what Madonna would have been actively controlling, at least till the end of the series.  And then when your second record dribbles out with no promotion, and you're reduced to PA spots at a local Center Parcs for the whole of a summer season, and you look to the music business to help - they will simply ask, "Well, what did you do before we found you?"

Selections from this show came from a 92 minute file that caught different halves of the show.  Tracks I would have liked to share, but couldn't included:

Big Chief - Bong Wrench/Into the Void/Destination Poon [Peel Session]. The Ann Arbor - any band from Michigan which Peel played that didn't come from Detroit usually came from Ann Arbor - band had already made an impression with Reduced to Tears on 7/12/91 but this session was tremendous comprising a muscular rocker, a Black Sabbath cover and a wonderfully powerful instrumental.  All that and they managed to work a Simon Bates jingle advertising Radio 1's discontinuation of broadcasting on medium wave to play simultaneously alongside them during Bong Wrench.  Peel was impressed, "I wonder whose idea that was...."

Gush - Hell I - or Hell 1 as Peel pointed out.  A short burst of tremendously powerful, loud and thrilling, female Japanese noisecore.  And it led into another Japanese based artist, albeit one working a different style of music to Gush....

Tokyo Original Don Gorgon - Junk Rock - in the words of Peel, "Japanese reggae; we don't hear nearly enough of that...a concept almost too bizarre to grasp".  This tended more towards the full brass section side of the genre, with a "sweet sweet" refrain which had it come out a year later could easily have sat alongside Oh Carolina/Mr.Loverman/Informer in the top end of the charts.  A shame because this is pulled off really rather well.

Peel again played Gejo by Knowledge Kunenyate and Kasongo, but as on 15/12/91 this lovely African tune has not turned up.

And then there were those that were in, but when it came down to it, they were out:

The Gories - Telepathic - this garage blues tune had a question mark next to it when I first heard it and it stayed there after listening to it again.  I liked the very end of it though.  Recommended, if not included.

Strobe - The Cry - The Hitchin based space-rockers were getting correspondence from places as far-flung as Israel apparently.  "Blowing minds to a rainbow" according to Peel with a phrase he can't have used since 1969, at least not without smirking.  Unfortunately, I found this too much of a space rocker  noodling though empty blackness instead of catching the tail of a comet.

Curve - Lilies Dying - a case of diminishing returns for this listener.  Peel had caned the Doppelgänger album over previous shows and maybe Curve fatigue was beginning to settle in.

Bunny General - Mek Them Rock - although not quite as objectionable as the explicitly anti-Asian track, Pon Mi Border, its talk of forced integration made this feel like Norman Tebbit's Cricket Test transposed to the Carribean and set to music.  I could not support it.  "I seem to have a lot of Bunny General records to play you at the moment".  Yes John, but how closely did you listen to any of them?

Full tracklisting

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Oliver: Ivor Cutler - Jumping and Pecking (23 February 1992)

From what I can tell of it, Ivor Cutler's work essentially covered three topics:

1)  The monastic absurdity of his upbringing - see Life in a Scotch Sitting Room
2) Mudanely deranged encounters in the urban jungle - see Thick Coat/Eyes Shut Tight
3) The petty jealousies and mini battles waged in nature - see below...and above!

Whether it be hiding fugitive sparrows or providing advice on how to deal with an owl attack, The Great Outdoors played a huge part in Cutler's world.  But while his take on nature may have been surrealistic, it was never sentimental.  This was no bucolic paradise, rather a world with as many questions, absurdities and irritations as could be found in a teeming city.

This jaunty observation of the eating habits of birds and flies' resentment towards pips and seeds briefly threatened to miss the cut when I listened back to it - silliness for silliness sake, I felt.  But that honeyed refrain of "Nature, nature, nature, nature" has clung on to me like a Sleepy Old Snake.  I can't resist.

Video courtesy of ivorfan.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Oliver: The Ragga Twins - Bring Up the Mic Some More/Ragga Trip [Peel Session] (23 February 1992)

Greetings fellow citizens of the new world order... You're going to have to wait a couple of posts or two before I come to my cast iron "Now this is soooo apposite in this post-Trump election victory world" selection, but hearing The Ragga Twins launch into the first half of the session they recorded for "John Orange Peel" and them dedicating it to "The England posse, the Great Britain posse and all over the world..." before concluding with "We love all people" made me nostalgic.  There hasn't been enough of that in 2016, has there?

So enough with the politics and philosophy - on with the music.  I missed the second half of The Ragga Twins session on this date, which included tracks called The Truth and Tansoback, but the first half, represented here by the studio versions, was a doozy.  Bring Up The Mic Some More had, in its session version, some more vocalisations with Flinty Badman and Deman Rocker bantering with the sampled sound system MC, warbling diva and providing exhortations to those listening at home at 11:30pm on a Sunday evening to get up and dance.  But even with the embellishments, the core strengths remained in place: the jungle drum 'n' bass rhythms, the Missy Elliottesque synth lines, the  ominous compression of the "farting wasp warp".   A standout track from their Reggae Owes Me Money album, which showed these veterans of the London Sound System scene very audibly switching horses to the electronic rave scene and playing a huge part in starting off Jungle music as a result - something which squares like myself, and most of Radio 1, wouldn't cotton on to until the mid 90s; 1 in the Jungle and all that. Even then, I wasn't listening anywhere as closely as I should have been, simply associating the whole thing with Goldie's teeth.  Ah well, the benefit of age over youth is that it allows you to repent at leisure.
The second track, Ragga Trip, one of their earliest releases on Shut Up and Dance is less sonically interesting than Bring Up The Mic Some More, but offers a cracking narrative with Flinty and Deman trading lines about the tribulations of Ecstasy parties in Finchley and how their music could widen eyes and minds more effectively and more healthily than any little pill.

Videos courtesy of indiedancepop and bassbytes.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Oliver: The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy - Television, The Drug of the Nation (23 February 1992)

Now we come to a big gun, one of the best hip-hop tracks of the decade and as relevant today as it was 24 years ago, possibly even more so.

Laid down over an instrumental bed that sounds like a dry run for Beck's Loser, vocalist Michael Franti takes aim at all the ills which can be laid at television's door - rampant commercialisation, the corruption of innocence (the number of murders a child will see by the time it's 12 years old), political spin, mangled language and the general dumbing down of the passive drones that soak it all up. They may be easy targets, but the bullseye is hit all the way through.  It may also be the first track to reference the whole "150 channels and nothing worth watching" line.

Nothing has changed since The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy recorded this and the feel of the track is such that if you were to tell Franti that in 2016, it would be possible to get your fix by turning on a mobile phone, small enough to fit into a breast pocket, he would probably just shrug.

Video courtesy of Elgroover.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Oliver: Dirtsman - Mi Gun Nah Stick (23 February 1992)

Strictly speaking, this isn't the exact version played by Peel on 23/2/92, which featured a few more repeated lines of the title before launching into the track itself, but I liked it too much not to include it.

My relationship with dancehall music has become considerably more complicated since I started looking up  Rasta patois.  The realisation that Bunny General was carrying on like some kind of Carribean fusion of Norman Tebbit and Nigel Farage was a considerable shock.  I briefly entertained hopes that Mi Gun Nah Stick might be a sex song about the difficulties of getting it up, what with the "B'pum-pum" refrain (pum-pum refers to female genitalia) but with the song abounding with references to 38s, magazines, iron pills and "comedy" gun shots, I then had to try and work out whether the song was pro or anti gun.  If it was a hip-hop track around the same theme, how would I feel?  The speed of Dirtsman's toasting has left me floundering on what his intentions were.  However, the fact he also cut a track called Gun Legalise! suggests where his sympathies lay.  Sadly, he would become one of the large number of Carribean musicians who met violent ends when he was robbed and killed in December 1993.

Again, it all comes back to whether choices should be motivated by what the 16 year old me or the 40 year old me likes, and whose moral compass should guide the decision.  Unfortunately, at either age, I would have been shallow enough to include this because I love the way it works Nick Nack Paddy Whack into the melody.

Video courtesy of 1dubplate.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Oliver - Sonic Youth - Shaking Hell [Live] (23 February 1992)

This treat for "Sonic Youth completists" was taken from a live bootleg recorded in Groenigen, Belgium, circa 1983-84. It comes from their second album, Confusion is Sex.  So much of this came through in the selections that Peel played from 1987's Sister album over December '91/January '92 that I'm left wondering if they went in any other directions over the intervening four years.

Once again, it seems to me, that Sonic Youth perfected a narrative within their songs that fixated in the terrors of personal interaction and sexual attraction.  Terror was the apt word for something like Pacific Coast Highway, but here the landscape is far more intriguing.  That opening embrace between guitar and drums conjuring images of CBGBs in the early 80s where the freaks danced to blistering art-rock while facing each other down and touching tongues to decide if they would leave the club together.  It's 20 seconds of bump 'n' grind in which you can almost audibly feel the sweat pouring down the walls.  And then while that dance riff keeps on, in come the doubts - represented here by rolling shots of guitar blasts, like a flamethrower in a discotheque - "is this safe?" Can I trust them?""Do I love them?"  All these questions and more butt their way into the heads of our unseen pair.
There may be reasons to leave early, but in Sonic Youth's world, you will never get away in time - the rhapsody comes down with the classic Sonic Youth blast of guitars - a rush of noise which sounds like something trying to push through the membrane of the Earth and into the heavens beyond.  And then there's Kim Gordon - there's always Kim, but she offers no respite.  Her breathy vocals becoming more unhinged as she exhorts fabric and bodily disrobing, "Shake off your flesh", like a rock chick Isabella Rosellini. It's freaky, funky, euphoric, unsettling and utterly compelling.

Video courtesy of sonicboy19.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Oliver: Material with Shabba Ranks - Reality (23 February 1992)

If things had worked out as originally planned, this would have been by Sly and Robbie.  The legendary duo were recording an album to be produced by Bill Laswell but found, as time went on, that the record was closer to Laswell's conception than their own.  Although they retained their co-composer credits with Laswell on the majority of tracks, they took their names off the name of the album.  Laswell put the record out under the name of the collective that he had worked under since 1979, Material.

This has been a welcome rediscovery for me today.  I hadn't heard the track since listening to the 23/2/92 recording, but already today I've listened back to tracks that I originally earmarked for inclusion but have rejected on grounds of sameyness, boredom and dubious racial politics respectively. So to hear the bounce and discreet funk of Reality, topped with Shabba Ranks virtuoso patter and interspersed with samples from Morricone's Once Upon a Time in the West and Sly Stone's  In Time has been a wonderful restorative.  Most importantly though it has served as an introduction to the wonderful world of Bill Laswell and Material.  Reality isn't even the best track on The Third Power but pretty much everything I've heard from some of the supplementary listens to some of their other tracks has made them stand out as a discovery that I, and you, need to track down more of.  "Punk-funk-jazz-electro-noise" is the kind of label that Peel might have struggled to say with a straight face, but I have everything crossed that more from Material pops up on his playlists in the future, because this is an outfit to savour.

Video courtesy of Scha De.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Oliver: Drunk Tank - End Bits (23 February 1992)

Housekeeping note - this video has been mistimed, the track is 3:25 in duration, not 6:55.

An early candidate for riff of the year from Unsane's less cultivated brothers in sound.  Barrelling unstoppably onwards while the vocalist gives birth to The Brakes some 15 years later. There's talk of food, wastage, a rather horrifying form of feng shui and this ends up sounding like a deranged cannibal's lament.

The band had written to Peel and he particularly appreciated the fact that, like many American bands apparently, they had begun their letter by addressing him as "Mr. Peel".

Video courtesy of belchtron.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Oliver: Nirvana - Drain You [Live] (23 February 1992)

A completist's selection given that this track already turned up on a Peel Session.  This live recording from their Halloween 1991 performance at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle was included on the Come As You Are single.

What the radio play didn't include, as this video shows, were the BOY/GIRL dancers, which make this performance look like a grunge update of Mud performing Tiger Feet on Top of the Pops circa 1974 with dance accompaniment from their road crew.

Videos courtesy of Jean Micheal Shuster (Nirvana) and 70s & 80s Music + Kate Bush (Mud)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Saturday 22 February 1992)

February half-term week in the 1991/92 academic year which means Oliver was now getting in sight of its opening night.  I have a very distinct memory of that half-term, one of sitting at home listening to South Africa thrash Australia in the cricket World Cup.  A further reminder of a distant time in which the Springbok return to world sport seemed a further reflection of a world at peace with itself and committed to throwing off the poison that seemed to have infected 20th century politics from between the end of the Second World War up to around late 1989. I'd fallen for a girl that I was in the show with and was writing down my reflections on it while listening to South Africa knock off the runs with ease, and felt excitedly and contentedly happy.  However, I won't dwell on the girl that much, because as soon as she got wind of my interest, her previously friendly demeanour towards me was replaced with something close to utter terror.  I backed off, mentally kicking myself to pieces and trying to pretend that I knew this would happen all along.
But that was all in the future during that half term.  I'd also bought my first compilation tape of a particular band.  Not anyone contemporary, but rather Birmingham's finest band of the 60s, The Move.  A love affair brought about by being utterly beguiled by their rendition of Blackberry Way on Sounds of the Sixties.  It must have made an impression given that the same episode also featured memorable performances from The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and The Mothers of Invention.  Needless to say I caned the tape over the summer and beyond - and even thought that doing an exaggerated impression of singer Carl Wayne's dancing would be a way to impress women.  They laughed all right, but whether it was at me or Carl, I could never be sure.

In the here and now of 22/2/92, John Peel permitted himself a little bit of nostalgia with an Otis Redding track which you will notice by its physical absence as you scroll down through the selections from the 3 hour show.  It holds the record, a mere 48 hours, for fastest takedown of any track that I have put up on this blog.
Peel had started the half-term admitting to problems sleeping because his eldest son, William was away on a skiing trip in Austria, though he suspected that the Austrians had more to fear from William than the other way round.
Radio 4 presenter, Libby Fawbert dropped her future colleague a recording of the announcer at Birmingham New Street Station, who she claimed sounded the spitting image of Peel.  He played the recording and there was a definite similarity.  Peel felt the announcer had a much better radio voice than he did and followed up with a session track by Loudspeaker called It Wasn't Me.
Peel had friends all over the world, some of whom would correspond with him through his show.  One of these, Ahmed, wrote to tell Peel that he was moving from Cairo to Newfoundland. Peel greeted this with dismay given that he doubted that any records Ahmed sent him from Newfoundland would be half as good as the ones he sent from Cairo.
The recording featured a nice bit of ephemera.  Given our digital radio present, it was interesting to hear a trailer featuring Tommy Vance promoting increased FM coverage for parts of the country that had not previously been able to hear Radio 1 through it.  "We're coming soon to the Channel Islands".  Hopefully this increased coverage meant Peel regained some of the listeners who lost contact with him when Radio 1 switched exclusively to FM frequency circa 1988.  Peel having received letters about it, as referenced in David Cavanagh's Goodnight and Good Riddance.

By the time I worked my way through the full show, I had 23 selections that were vying for inclusion.  The ones I haven't been able to share are:

Kar - Take Control - there should be an umlaut in Kar's name.  This horn led tinkly techno track was, according to Discogs, the only release that came out under this act's name.

Loudspeaker - It Wasn't Me/Strip Mind/No Time (Peel Session) - as you can imagine from their name, Loudspeaker specialised in loud, bluesy, bar room rock.

Flying Saucer - Sandy Says - With that name, I had expected Man or Astro Man style dynamics, but instead got Velvet Undergroundesque balladry.  Very nicely done and Peel called it his favourite record of the moment.

Burnout - Lounge - This blistering rocker was on a consignment of records from Drag City record label out of Chicago, all sent on vinyl. "No CDs for these blighters".

Sweet Sound and Dance - Zimbabwe - a tribute to a country which in those pre-Mugabe-losing-his-mind-days, Peel described as a place he would happily move to with his family if he could conquer his fear of flying.

And then there were the tracks which fell from favour on second, third or even sixth listen:

Bunny General - Pon Mi Border - initially I was quite taken by this reimagining of his own Played By This Ya Sound but as time went on, I got more and more uneasy that it was using its "reggae is better than Bhangra" theme as an unsubtle cover for more offensive sentiments.  "Tell them don't cross over" and talk of murder after crossing the border is too close to the bone in 2016 Britain, even with near 25 year old recordings.  If I've misread this or am barking up the wrong tree, then please feel free to correct me.  For now, Pon Mi Border is beyond the pale.

Babes in Toyland - Catatonic (Peel Session) - this track trailed the imminent release of their Peel Sessions album on Strange Fruit.  Cherry Red would subsequently release a complete collection of Peel Sessions in 2001.  Peel anticipated that this would be his favourite Strange Fruit release to date, but to me Babes in Toyland continue to be an exam question which Peel has set and which I cannot find a credible answer to except in acoustic form.  I see why Peel was attracted to them given the Slitsesque vibe, but all I hear is three girls screaming unintelligibly up their cunts and daring the listener to feel the art.

Billy Bragg - The Marriage (Peel Session) - in recent weeks, I've celebrated my first wedding anniversary and seen my wife's sister get married, so while I may have been initially taken by the Bard of Barking's dismissal of matrimony in comparison to straightforward living in sin, it's sentiments palled on me when it came to writing about it.  All that and the fact that Billy delivers a really annoying vocal here.  I mean it's Dolores O'Riordan levels of irritating.

Sideshow - Right - this sounded OK on the radio, but came across as lumpen and stodgy on subsequent hearings.

Cherry Forever - Cherry Forever - the opening dynamics of this track aren't bad, but those weak vocals kill it.  Besides, you can never trust a band which writes a song named after a character from Porky's.

Peel signed off ahead of the next night's show, promising to be "so unrelentingly cheery, I'll get a daytime programme out of it".

How many of these would the announcer at Birmingham New Street Station have played?

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Oliver: Curve - Horror Head (22 February 1992)

Geoff Travis, head of Rough Trade Records, once described Peel as "unpluggable".  There was no point in hustling him to play records by this band or that band - he would play what he wanted to play.  Peel admitted that this sometimes worked against him as major labels would decide against sending him records meaning he had to buy them together with the rest of us Joe Shmoes.
Nevertheless the perception that what went out on his show was his decision alone gave his verdict a greater degree of authenticity than other disc jockeys.

Another reason why record companies were wary of trying to pressure Peel to play their artists was his tendency to ride a coach and horses through their carefully laid plans. Whether it was playing the whole of Bob Dylan's 1975 album, Desire, the day before it was due to be exclusively played by Capital Radio, or abandoning his support of The White Stripes when their record company tried to tell him that he couldn't play tracks from their 2003 album, Elephant until they told him that he could,  Peel was no respecter of record company diktats.

Before playing this track from Curve's debut album, Peel ensured that the PR department at Anxious Records would have their heads in their hands when after reading out a press release which stated that     the Doppelgänger album would prove that not all Curve songs sounded the same, he stated that he wasn't entirely persuaded of this after listening to the record.  It's true that Horror Head is of a piece with a number of the other Curve songs on this blog, but it may be the best of its type, building as it does out of Toni Halliday's sweet opening vocalisations before bursting forward in an explosion of guitar pyrotechnics.  There would be plenty of opportunity to judge the degrees of similarity in Curve's album over the next couple of shows as Peel had tracks from it and a session from them booked in before the end of the month.  For myself, I'm just left wondering whether, when it came to naming their album, if anyone from Curve was a fan of Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

Video courtesy of Felix Stairs.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Oliver: The Aphex Twin - Digeridoo (22 February 1992)

"See, the problem is, the rest of the country thinks Britain stops at Plymouth" - every Cornish resident ever.

I loved living in Cornwall and was thrilled to grow up there.  While I always knew that there was something "other" about the place in relation to the rest of the UK, I was never a separatist.  Neither were many other people who lived there.  The quote at the top of the post was a fairly standard burst of frustration from a population that felt it was in a mutually distant relationship with the rest of the country.  Geographically this was unavoidable, but a lot of the time it felt like we were being left to rot in terms of wider British culture.  The Sex Pistols coming down to Penzance in secret was ancient history by the time I was a teenager. Not only were bands not coming down any more, but no one in Cornwall's music scene seemed to be getting onto the front page of the NME. I still remember feeling  a sense of indignation when Rootjoose, who were the band most tipped to break out from Cornwall got an album released and reviewed in Q magazine and were rewarded with a one star review.  Even Scatman John did better than that.

But that was 1997 and I was still a few years off realising that one man, originally based in Lanner, a granite strewn thoroughfare of a place between Falmouth and Redruth, had broken out and shaken things up massively in his field.  I just hadn't heard of him then, or I'd seen those fucked up pieces of sleeve art and hurried on to other things.

Richard D. James aka (The) Aphex Twin is without doubt Cornwall's best and most important contribution to British music of the last half-century.  He had been making his own records for a year previous to Peel playing Digeridoo on 22/2/92, which according to the John Peel wiki was the first time Peel had played him.  Peel loved the record but wondered how anyone could dance to it given its frenetic pace, up to 150 bpm.  He was unaware that James had recorded the track, almost to order from some of his friends who had been staging raves, as a floor clearer to get recalcitrant ravers to go home at the end of a long night.  Apparently, this track doesn't actually feature any digeridoos on it.  Nevertheless, there's a true sense of space and openness in it.  An aural Outback of shimmering heat haze and blood red sun, slowly rising.  You'll notice that the beat never fully drops, as you would expect from a piece of music designed to send its listeners out into the daylight after an evening's excess.  But it's that sense of anticipation, never fully realised, that makes this track so compelling.  Later described by Rolling Stone magazine as a formative influence in the birth of drum 'n' bass, this may well have been the most important record that Peel played all year.

I'd love to tell you of stories where I spent my teens/early 20s hanging out with Aphex Twin, dancing to his sets across the Cornish club scene, but it never happened.  Nevertheless, it gladdens my soul that if anyone was ever to say, "Cornwall did nothing for contemporary music", I could point out Aphex Twin and there would be no comeback to it.

For the definitive word on Aphex Twin and Cornwall's role in his music, I urge you to read this splendid piece by Laura Snapes.

Q seemed to hold their version of this song against them for some reason:

Videos courtesy of HouseMaster75 (The Aphex Twin) and Darren Curgenven (Rootjoose).

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Oliver: Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps - Who Slapped John (22 February 1992)

Gene Vincent was maybe the width of an eyelash behind Captain Beefheart in any list of Peel's greatest musical heroes.  Certainly, he could lay claim to being the key influence on Peel's musical tastes, prior to him becoming a disc jockey.  There was no particular reason, not that there needed to be, for Peel to play Who Slapped John, beyond the fact it allowed him to link a Revolver session track called John's Not Mad.  To a near 16 year old who would still have been wearing out a parental copy of the soundtrack to That'll Be The Day, this would have been an automatic inclusion.

Video courtesy of Lilly Blue.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Oliver: Verve - All In The Mind (22 February 1992)

We're in to Smashing Pumpkins/The Smashing Pumpkins territory here, but given that Peel dropped them from his playlists before they added the definite article, I'll give Wigan's finest their initial name here and in subsequent blog titles.

If truth be told, I never really warmed to Richard Ashcroft and company.  The first I heard of them was when I read that they were celebrating the release of their 1995 sophomore album, A Northern Soul by splitting up.  "See ya then", I thought, but clearly I should have been listening more closely given that man of the moment, Noel Gallagher dedicated the best song on (What's The Story) Morning Glory to him.  However, when The Verve re-emerged in 1997 with Bittersweet Symphony, I recognised the quality while remaining resolutely disengaged throughout.  It took me a decade to get round to listening to Urban Hymns and I came out of it feeling the same way I felt after the last of the Harry Potter films had finished - glad to have experienced it but once was enough.  I think it was the fact that they looked like they were hating every minute of it which put me off.  A suspicion that seemed justified when they split again in 1999.
This time they did splitting up properly, waiting 8 years before coming together to make the album, Forth heralded by the fantastic Love is Noise, my favourite Verve track by some distance, for what it's worth.  Alas, having finally achieved their goal of making me actually love something that they had created, with no further worlds to conquer, The Verve split again.

Listening to All in the Mind, their first single, I can see why Love is Noise resonated with me in a way that Urban Hymns era Verve didn't.  While that record was made for sharing among the largest possible group of people as could hear it - notwithstanding the fact that it touches on troubling emotions and themes - All in the Mind is a much more intimate and disturbing piece of music. It's as far removed from 33,000 people at Haigh Hall as it's possible to get.  Despite starting out with the obligatory, for the time, feedback, it's antecedents feel closer to something like The House of Love rather than shoegaze.  The action takes place over the course of a decade, starting from the perspective of Ashcroft being picked up by a mystery woman, and mixes together several possible interpretations including childhood abduction and grooming given that it's five years from that initial car trip till the subjects becoming lovers and then the woman assumes a disturbing parental role.  Ashcroft sounds disarmingly young here, his vocal proceeding at a level just above a whisper for long periods allowing him to play both roles, before bursting out in the choruses.  The music too is equally unsettling, hinting at dark rituals and abuse especially in the Who-like Morse guitar solo, while the closing squall of feedback sounds uncomfortably like a child being dragged down to the cellar.  It manages to be both horrifying and weirdly sexy.  Compared to their later work, it's doubly effective at
50% of the fuss.

Video courtesy of emimusic.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Oliver: Otis Redding - There Goes My Baby (22 February 1992)

"Remember when you showed me that poster where you were top of the bill with Otis Redding at The Talk of the Town, London."
"It was Laurie London at The Talk of the Town, Reading!"
Only Fools and Horses - Stage Fright written by John Sullivan.

Peel was playing some intriguing sounding "unreleased recordings" compilations by prominent soul artists in late '91/early '92.  I'm still mourning the fact that 44 Long from the Rufus Thomas compilation, Can't Get Away From This Dog, which Peel played on 8/12/91 hasn't turned up yet for sharing.

This track was taken from a compilation of unreleased Redding recordings called It's Not Just Sentimental.  Listening to it, I can see why it didn't come out in Redding's lifetime - lyrically it peters out and there's a sense of "We may come back to this, later" about it by the end.  But the performance is irresistible with the Bar-Kays horn section in great form.  At the end Peel found himself having to mute the next track, Remember Me, when it crashed in over his back announcement.

Video courtesy of kaffehaken.

EDIT - well, I'm sorry about this folks, but as I'm sure you'll understand, I have no control over the activities of video uploaders on YouTube.  So only 72 hours of Otis Redding, but will you accept this original version of Love Mandarin by Cud which Peel played on 14/12/91 and which was pulled the day before I went to post about it.  Back with a selection which I can confidently predict will be going nowhere, at the weekend. xx

Video courtesy of Cud - Topic

Friday, 30 September 2016

Oliver: Revolver - Peel Session (22 February 1992)

Mixtaping is supposed to be easy.  Listen to tracks - those you like are kept, those you don't like are rejected.  At its root, it sounds simple, but every so often nuances crop up which leave you questioning your instinct, judgement and taste - while living with the spectre of the question that hangs over every mixtaper: why did I choose to preserve this?

Such has been the case with the band Revolver, formed in London, circa 1990 and their session for Peel recorded on September 12 1991.  Revolver have been chafing at my ears almost since I started this blog when Peel played the track, Drowning Inside on one of his November 1991 shows.  From its beautifully classical arpeggios through to the little key change towards the end of the song which made me think of the way my mid-90s band, Extraordinary, would try and do similar things in our songs to make them seem more harmonically interesting (unfortunately, we couldn't really do any of the things that Revolver would do before they reached their key changes, hence why we stayed in the garage while they went out and got signed and did Peel Sessions), 95% of my brain said in response to it, "This is a great pop song". But somehow the 5% going, "It's by the numbers indie" won out.  The same thing happened when I heard bits of their session on the 23/11/91 show.  In fact, the live version of Drowning Inside saw my brain capacity jump to 10% worth of derision.

It took until the repeat of the session on 22/2/92 for me to wake up and fully appreciate how good these tunes were.  These four tunes, at times, sound like what an electric guitar was made for.  There's grandeur, compassion, longing, empathy for the outsider and the disaffected in this music.  The third track, Wave, even manages to pull off that George Martin trick of creating sound pictures - the opening minute wonderfully evoking the approaching ocean as the listener lies waiting for it to break over you.  And once it does so, the restorative power of the waters has you up and running through the spray like you could swim forever. But just in case this all feels too elemental and ethereal, there's the brute force of instrumental session closer, John's Not Mad, which channels The Mono Men, The Stooges and the whole garage movement, though the excessive feedback wankery at the end almost spoils it for me.
And it's details like that which have meant that while trying to prepare this post, I've turned mental cartwheels and flip-flopped constantly over this session.  I've veered between liking none, half and all of the tracks.  The big problem has been Matt Flint's vocals.  In among this stirring, majestic, powerful musical background, they are either too nasal, too high or too whiny - but he can still floor me with lines like "The words just stumble out my mouth/I've never been upset by sounds" in session opener, Crimson.  A pean to awkward communication worthy of Daniel Johnston.  And even when he's straining for that key change in Drowning Inside, I can't help but think back to 1992 and know that the jump on "Lie on the ground with a light in my head" would be the template for my own doomed attempts to be a singer by the middle of the decade.  And I can only, ultimately, acknowledge
the unspoken debt, put the carping aside, and give in to a magnificent session.

Video courtesy of Vibracobra23