Saturday, 30 January 2016

Oliver: Sofa Head - Mommy Hurt My Head (12 January 1992)

I've been flicking through Goodnight and Good Riddance lately, looking mainly at the entries from 1979, a particularly spectral year for music on the Peel Show and beyond according to David Cavanagh.  To read his account is to believe that the shows were awash with curdled and rancid punk and post punk tracks detailing abuse, violence, paranoia and mental disorientation.  When he was interviewed by Steve Lamacq on 6 Music while promoting the book, he highlighted the extraordinary Violence Grows by Fatal Microbes, a record which elevated the yobbish Oi! principle that we associate with punk in 1977 and which is labelled on all footage of the time to something closer to the colder impulses of A Clockwork Orange.  It's a record still relevant today, though the Fatal Microbes couldn't have predicted that people getting kicked to death in subways (or Subways for that matter) would be having it filmed on mobiles today.  Cavanagh also cites tracks from The Poison Girls' 12" EP, Hex, whose lead vocalist was the mother of the guitarist and drummer of Fatal Microbes for further evidence of 1979 as a year in which the sound pictures evoke images of women and children, huddled in a corner, burying their heads in the crook of their arms so that no one sees the bruises.  They are tracks and images which all too easily evoke that Winter of Discontent feel.

I thought of these records and Cavanagh's words when listening to Sofa Head's Mommy Hurt My Head, an early 90s update of these concerns, which could easily have fitted into a Peel playlist from 1979-80.  Over a skittering drum beat and rumbling bass and guitar lines, vocalist Claire Sykes reels off a list of abusive acts perpetrated by a mother to her child, coming back each time to the heartfelt refrain of "What'd I do wrong? Please tell me" before chillingly going on to confide in the final verse that if this is how mothers treat their daughters, she will do exactly the same when she has her own, thereby proving Fatal Microbes' theory to the max.

A true one off.

Videos courtesy of HenryMitDemSpaten (Sofa Head) and WallakAt (Fatal Microbes)

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Oliver: Shut Up and Dance - The Green Man (12 January 1992)

Curiously, this is the 4th mixtape selection post of 2016 and as with the others, there's a link to a film in it.  When Peel played this enthralling piece of breakbeat tribute to a well known British pub name (or maybe it was inspired by the BBC drama of the same name starring Albert Finney which stunk up the Sunday schedules in 1990) someone wrote in to tell him that the string part which links the beats and hollers together was lifted from Ryuchi Sakamoto's composition, Rain I Want a Divorce, as featured in Bernardo Bertolucci's multi-Oscar winner,  The Last Emperor(1987).  Peel concurred and gave it a spin, a rare example of modern classical music, in the sense that strings dominated, getting an airing on Radio 1.  All very impressive, but not half as phat as The Green Man.

Won the Oscar for Best Original Score.

Videos courtesy of Vadim Vadim and ditti86.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Oliver: Silverfish - Rock On [Peel Session] (12 January 1992)

Silverfish's cover of David Essex's  signature 1973 hit is lumpen and rockist.  It adds nothing new to the original, merely burying itself in weak whistling and dull feedback loops.  It's not a patch on their own majestic Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal.  So why does it take its place on the metaphorical mixtape?  To paraphrase The Importance of Being Earnest, "Nostalgia, purely nostalgia."  After all, I had grown up with Rock On in its original and best form.

My parents were teens of the rock 'n' roll era.  Their 17th birthdays falling in 1958 (Dad) and 1963 (Mum) respectively.  But you wouldn't think it to look at the record collection they had assembled between them before my birth in 1976.  My father served in the navy on H.M.S Plymouth from the late 50s to about 1967, he travelled the world - mostly Africa and the Far East but there were no Fela Kuti like discoveries brought back from any of these tours.  My mother bought With The Beatles and A Hard Day's Night but stopped after this.  She saw The Beatles play live as well, but didn't enjoy the experience because the screaming stopped her hearing any of the music.
It seems that when they got married, the early 70s saw a resumption in their record buying, but it would take me a number of years before I grew to appreciate The Carpenters, a band that Peel loathed.  There were several K-Tel compilations of contemporary early 70s hits, mainly featuring distinctly second division contributions from MudMungo Jerry and others.  It wasn't, Beatles' records aside, a terribly inspiring collection - apart from one double album....

Ironically, I was drawn to the soundtrack album of That'll Be The Day, a 1973 film by Claude Whatham,  because it had a portrait of Ringo Starr standing rather gormlessly next to a gloweringly cool David Essex, while in the bottom corner, the devastatingly handsome Billy Fury was singing into a mic while standing on a dodgem car track.  The record stayed unplayed until I had to accompany my parents to a party in early 1987, about a year or so before I was an age that I could be left at home when they went out.  I was in another room with some other children when I suddenly heard Bobby Vee and the Crickets' version of That'll Be The Day playing on the record player of the room where the adults were getting drunk.  "That's my mum and dad's record!" I announced to general indifference.  But it was a Eureka moment to me.  In the late 80s, I'd discovered rock 'n' roll.  Over the following couple of years, I played the album incessantly at home, soaking up the mix of late 50s/early 60s tracks.  It was a curious hybrid of a record.  There were legends and pioneers on it (Little Richard, Larry Williams, The Everly Brothers), of the moment sensations (Del Shannon, Dion and the Belmonts, The Big Bopper) and other artists I never heard of again (Buddy Knox, Ray Sharp).  I loved it and could still sing most of it to you now.  But it was the fourth side which I started to play more frequently, featuring as it did contributions from some of the stars of the film: Billy Fury weighed in with 5 tracks including the Pete Townshend written Long Live Rock, though typically the track of his that resonanted most with me in my early teens was the more lushly romantic 
Thousand Stars.  Vivian Stanshall, before I heard of The Bonzo Dog Band provided a pitch-perfect track to sum up the era called Real Leather Jacket:

And on his leather belt was spelt, "Don't"
And no one did.

Top of the side though, and reeking of cash-in, was David Essex's incredible Rock On.   A minimalist 70s masterpiece fusing dub basslines, zither like string parts and Essex's scat-like vocals to produce a track that was a whole planet away from the majority of the tracks it was sharing space on the album with.  It understandably stuck out like a sore thumb on That'll Be The Day but for all the right reasons.  Not least because it cannily tapped into the retro vibe of the early 70s which had sprung up as a reaction to the excesses of prog rock, but did so in as contemporary and futuristic style as possible.  A musical career high, which Essex never equalled in terms of quality and which showed one of the fascinating directions that the rock 'n' roll celebrated in That'll Be The Day had moved in.  Through 1992, I would start to move closer in my musical interests towards the Rock On era, swapping the Frankie Lymon's for Beatles and Stones.  But that album and that track, brilliantly written about in greater detail at Then Play Long remain huge influences on my musical taste.

"Slowly evolving into something between Chinese opera, Link Wray, Can and dub"

Videos courtesy of Drew Gordon (Silverfish) and Ulysses Joven (Essex)

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Peel and Bowie at the Beeb

Millions of words have been written about David Bowie in the last 24 hours.  I have to confess to being shockingly unversed in his music, in fact I only possess one Bowie record and that is split into sections on a mixtape, unsurprisingly.  However, the subject of this blog features prominently on it and it's a memory of halcyon times for me.

In early 2001, I made the acqauintance of a guy studying at Falmouth Art College called David Stent.  He was friends with another art student who cut my mother's hair, called Sharon.  Sharon brought us together because he was looking for someone to act in some of the short films he was making for his portfolio.  We hung out a lot together during 2000-01, going to the cinema mostly and talking a lot about music and movies.  I loved his record collection which turned me on to a number of bands I'd never previously paid much mind to - late 60s Beach Boys, Hendrix, Spiritualized and others.  It was a time in which I could swing by his place on a Sunday morning, drink coffee and consider the world with someone of a like-cultural mind while the lightly warm, April morning sun shone through the window over my shoulder and Electric Ladyland unfurled its mysteries on the turntable.

One day he lent me a CD he'd borrowed from the Art College library - Bowie at the Beeb - 1968 - 1972.  I hardly recognised anything on the first CD, though I'd heard of Kooks.  The second CD was full of more stuff that I was familiar with, but I was still struck by how little of Bowie I had heard.

The liner notes revealed that a number of the tracks came from programmes hosted by Peel.  As the battering drums and hot Hammond organ kicked off In the Heat of the Morning, backed by a full BBC Pops orchestra, it was clear that we were in another era entirely for Bowie, for Peel (whose show, Top Gear, was what the track had been recorded for), for Radio 1, pop music the whole shebang.  But I enjoyed enough of Bowie's - Anthony Newley persona, in its dying days by 1968 to record that and London Bye Ta-Ta, one of the corniest but catchy tracks on the album.

I picked my way carefully through most of the first half.  If you say Bowie's name to me now, I'm likely to sing back the "Doo-de-doo-un-doo-un-dun" refrain from Let Me Sleep Beside You.  EXTRA! EXTRA! BBC do decent thing and provide link to the version I'm talking about. after a short interview with Brian Matthew circa 1969.

Two live sessions featured on the first CD and Peel hosted them both, his Perfumed Garden hippy chrysalis starting to strain by early 1970.  Most of the first concert washed over me with its bread and barley sentiments, but Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed rocked like a bastard, while Cygnet Committee, even within the confines of the BBC Paris studios grew into something suitably monolithic by its conclusion.

By the second concert that Peel hosted in mid 1971, the seeds of Ziggy Stardust were being sown, though Peel seemed more enthused by Bowie and his band's blistering cover of Chuck Berry's Almost Grown.  The change in Peel's approach towards rock 'n' roll excess was highlighted by him leaving a pause of just enough length to draw disbelieving guffaws out of the audience after telling that Kooks was written to celebrate the birth of "a baby boy called Zowie, spelled Z-o-w-i-e to rhyme with Bowie of course.  And er... well that's nice I think, it's really quite good."

The second CD cuts to the meat of the action and if I was choosy on the first side, I gorged myself on the second as diamond after diamond came out from Ziggy and the Spiders from Mars: Hang on to YourselfStarmanChanges, the sensational Suffragette City and my favourite Bowie track of the era, Queen Bitch.  It was impossible by the end not to "get" it with regards to why Bowie was so venerated.  Curiously though, I can see why fans would not have necessarily gone with him when he went in his subsequent directions.  After the pop brilliance of the period captured in Bowie at the Beeb, you need to be in a particular, John Peelesque mood to want to listen to the second side of Low, the beauty is that it's all there waiting for us, when we're ready to catch up with him.

RIP, Mr.Bowie.

"Like the ragged soldier catching butterflies"

"Oh...that's very good!"

"In her brown coat and bibbly bobbly hat"

"Wham! Bam! Thank you, Mam!"

Videos courtesy of Enrique Guevara, VfortheShadow and Stardustdays.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Oliver: Daniel Johnston - My Life is Starting Over (12 January 1992)

By watching Jeff Feurerzeig's 2005 documentary about Daniel Johnston, I've been given a completely different perspective on his work.  I never claimed to be an expert on bi-polar disorder and even after watching the documentary I still couldn't claim to be, but I had been guilty of assuming that Johnston's entrancingly childlike songs made his illness seem like a harmless musical on mental health issues.  This was a man who after all sent his manager a recording asking him to contact Yoko Ono to ask her to get the Beatles to reform so they could act as his backing band.  But to hear the man himself telling West Virginia District Attorneys that he forced an elderly woman to jump from a second floor window, breaking her ankles in the process, in order to "cast out her demons" or discovering that his first manager stopped working with him after a schizophrenic episode caused Daniel to hit him three times with a lead pipe, presents a picture which is a million miles removed from the cuddly voiced figure who sings about illness, God, the Devil and his lost love and muse, Laurie Allen.

Most of Johnston's life has been a series of re-starts and re-sets, usually occasioned by spells in institutions and hospitals.  My Life is Starting Over found him back at square one following a spell in an institution, brought about by Johnston nearly killing himself and his father, Bill, when they were flying back from the South by South West Festival in Austin, Texas in Bill's two-seater plane.  Daniel became convinced that he was Casper the Friendly Ghost and inspired by a comic book which showed Casper using a parachute, he tried to encourage his father that they should parachute out of the plane.  Bill demurred on the grounds that, for one thing, they had no parachutes on the plane.  Daniel responded by pulling the key out of the ignition and throwing it out of the window.

"He grabbed the controls, took the plane away from me; he's stronger than me.  We were kinda going straight up and then straight down.  But he kinda let go of it in time for me to get it out of the spin.  Nothing down there but trees..." Bill Johnston in The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005).

Bill managed to crash land the plane into the trees and both men escaped relatively unscathed, physically, though Daniel was committed to a psychiatric hospital for 5 months and to see Bill tearfully recount the story in the film shows that the mental scars would remain far longer than the physical ones.  On his journey home, the deeply religious Bill was amazed to drive past a church which had on its display board, a poster saying, "God promises a safe landing but not a calm voyage".  I love the symbolism of that.

By the time Daniel came out of hospital, his life was definitely starting over again.  Kurt Cobain was shortly about to make him very well known by virtue of spending most of 1991 wearing a T-shirt with the cover art to Johnston's 1983 cassette only album Hi, How Are You on it.  This raised wider
attention in Johnston's music and led to major label interest in signing him.  His manager at the time,
Jeff Tartakov, recalls in the film holding business meetings between Johnston and representatives of Elektra and Atlantic records in the hospital.

After coming out of hospital, Johnston recorded the album, Artistic Vice, backed for the first time by a full band who do a very good job, on the evidence of this track at least, of getting in step with the juddery rhythms of Johnston's music, the aural equivalent of bicycle gears stuck in mid-change.  While Johnston's illness caused him to make bad decisions in the future, not least professionally, where he rejected a multi-album-no pressure to tour-no being dropped from the label for refusing to tour contract from Elektra Records on the grounds that they were satanic because they had Metallica on their roster, in favour of one from Atlantic Records, who dropped him after one album (1994's Fun); he does not seem to have come close to repeating any of the potentially life threatening incidents which he suffered in the mid-80s/early 90s.  The song is an acknowledgement of the need to go easier on himself and to not let his demons drive him to an early death:

"I know that there's no place left to hide.
But I guess that it's better than suicide." (Daniel Johnston)

Video courtesy of M. Cullen.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Sunday 5 January 1992)

A new year in both real and Peel life senses.  And the similarities with the first weekend of the year both now and 24 years ago are hard to ignore.  In 1992, I was facing up to the end of the Christmas holiday and the return to school.  In 2016, I'm writing this, hoping that I have the gumption to follow through on my plans to return to work an hour or so earlier than I usually do, so I can use that time wisely and make sure I can go home at 5pm.
1992 heralded my 16th birthday and the imminent enormity of my GCSE exams.  2016 will herald my 40th birthday and a sense that I need to make some professional changes to my life.
Both years were linked by a show - 1992 would finally see Oliver come to the stage, though we will have to wait longer for it on this blog as it was staged in April of that year, and 14 months worth of updating this blog has only taken us from November '91 to January '92.  In 6 weeks time, the production of Dracula that I'm directing for Hayes Players in Kent will be staged.  Different disciplines, same excitement.  Only Peel is absent, though of course thanks to the wonders of the Internet, he's never truly absent.  What can Huw Stephens play that would allow me to write this up as the sound of Dracula?  Would it have the same level of variety?  I doubt it somehow, but I must start listening to his programme again.  I love what I'm doing on this blog, but I'm aware of the fact that I'm essentially living in the past with it and that Peel kept 9/10s of his sight fixed on the present and that this in turn, facilitated the future.  Perhaps one day, I'll start on Peeling Forward the Years, a blog focussing on Stephens/Rob Da Bank selections aiming at bringing the whole caboodle up to the present day.

But for now, we ring in 1992.  Due to the vagaries of the time boundaries I've put on the shows, I've listened to, I've had to skip the first show of the year on Saturday 4 January, one which David Cavanagh wrote about in Good Night and Good Riddance and which means I've yet to hear the fabled KLF/Extreme Noise Terror collaboration, which looks a right bag of shite going by the clip from the Brits 1992 (includes traces of Simon Bates).  I was also unimpressed at time of writing anyway, with the Festive 50 winner for 1992 which sounded incredibly ordinary to me.
I was spoiled by Peel's late '91 shows which included track after track which was available for sharing.  However, 5 January 1992 saw a number of selections which I couldn't share.  The missing tracks include:

Calton Sounds - Mediwa Jose (African soukous music - "a most agreeable 7-inch single")
Milk - Wrong Again (Peel Session - "Love those kids") this fantastic group about to end their recording career as spectacularly as they began it.
Calamity Jane - You Got It Rough (female fronted grunge rock from Portland, Oregon)
Nothing Painted Blue - Let's Kiss (a song which included the line "I struck a fender with a pipe wrench".  Peel described this as one of the greatest lines in popular song).

The selections were taken from the first 45 and last 45 minutes of the 5/1/92 show.  What nuggets did I miss in the time between?

Friday, 1 January 2016

Oliver: Juvenile Committee - Flipside (5 January 1992)

John Peel was not a noted film buff. After playing a track called The Sermon by The Jimmy Smith Trio on 2 September 2003, he told us that the selection came from the soundtrack of a 1964 film called The Swinging Set aka Get Yourself a College Girl. Peel hadn't seen it, indeed, "You'd be astonished at some of the films I've never seen".

I don't know yet whether Peel ever saw Ernest R. Dickerson's early 1992 film, Juice, but his decision to open up his 5/1/92 show with Flipside by Juvenile Committee was an inspired one, not least because it pretty much lays out the story of the film in under 4 and a half minutes.

Juice is set in Harlem, New York and introduces us to 4 friends: Quincy aka Q. (Omar Epps), Raheem     (Kalil Kain), Steel (Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins) and Bishop (Tupac Shakur).  They're not quite a gang when we meet them, mainly because their priorities are different: Q wants to become a DJ, Raheem would like to get back with the mother of his child, Steel wants to be a street face but lacks the wardrobe for it and Bishop? Well he wants the "juice".  What these guys call power and influence, but most of all, he wants to stop running: from the police, from other gangs, from their responsibilities and lack of opportunity - "All we do is run.  I feel like we're in a Goddamned track team!"  If crime will help them get the juice, then Bishop is all for it.  Things come to a head when Raheem and Bishop persuade Steel and Q to help them rob a grocery store, using Q's appearance in a Mixxmaster Massacre DJ contest at a local club (run by Queen Latifah) as a cover.  Needless to say, things do not run as smoothly as hoped and the night sees one of the gang move to the Flipside described in this joint and after that, things can never be the same among them again.

It's a really good movie which avoids glamorising its subject and shows that at street level, the search for the juice can be immensely damaging - it can cost people their friends, their sanity and their humanity.  Here's the evidence.

The soundtrack was put together by former Public Enemy alumni, Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad and does a fabulous job of reflecting the tone of the film rather than just being a grab-bag of tracks.  Flipside features throughout both in complete and cut up form, its refrain of "He wanted all the juice" serving as an ongoing chorus to the action.

Video courtesy of kanaloa92.