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

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Oliver: Smith & Mighty - Too Late (22 February 1992)

Had I not been brought up in Falmouth, then Bristol would have done just as nicely for me.  Beautiful area around it, thriving city centre, easy to get out of and back into, situated perfectly when it comes to reaching the rest of the country, plenty of sport to get interested in and a wonderfully diverse cultural scene - not least its music scene.

In the 90s, the focus on Bristol's music scene began to shift away from Snakebite quaffing heavy-metal biker band cliche and onto a strain of dance music that sold by the shedload, made stars of its leading exponents and which produced some sounds which by their very texture and tone could have come for nowhere else but the M5/M4 interchange.  However, we're still a few years away from the word, "trip hop" making its presence known.  Instead, Smith & Mighty, who knew all the right people in Bristol, but who never quite got the same exposure, serve up a delightfully eclectic mix that while fusing together Lynchian style drones, horror movie vibes, Florida Soul and more, sticks to one of the fundamental but little known rules of music: there isn't a record in the world that can't be made even better by sampling This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us by Sparks.

Videos courtesy of Anonymous (Smith & Mighty) and Sparks.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Oliver: Zimbabwe Cha Cha Cha Kings - Vimbiso (22 February 1992)

When I listened to John Peel's radio show, I experienced many different emotions ranging from excitement and amusement through to irritation and boredom. It is to my lasting regret that the negative emotions won out on me (combined with a defective tape player) and caused me to ignore his last two years of broadcasts until I was too late to effect a rapprochement.  This blog remains, among many other things, an ongoing act of contrition for that period of small-minded idiocy.

One negative emotion that all Peel listeners must have succumbed to over the years would be envy.  How many great records by bands/artists you had never heard of would be followed by Peel talking about how it had come in on an import or that listeners may have to go to mail order catalogue in order to add the record to their own collections.  Not to mention the fact that he had access to as many major or independent label records as he wanted.  When I was taping Peel shows in 2002, I remember him playing a track by Brendan Benson and genuinely feeling riven with envy that he had that record.  I've never listened to a Brendan Benson song since, but it was the fact that he could and I couldn't that made me rage at the injustice of it.  Ridiculous really, since Peel was always very candid about records he had never got his hands on or which record companies had by-passed him in order to send them for first plays to younger disc jockeys at Radio 1.

When it came to African music, he had to be as patient as the rest of us, with the exception of Andy Kershaw.  This delightful piece of jit music by Zimbabwe Cha Cha Cha Kings came from an album released in 1989.  Vimbiso translates as the Shona girl's name, Promise and its presence makes up for the fact that I've not been able to share their superior track, Abamwe.

Video courtesy of Tadie Wacho.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Oliver: Voice of Reason - Evident Truth (22 February 1992)

When I started listening to this track by Amarillo, Texas band, Voice of Reason, I really thought the opening line went, "Don't bend to the rule of Trump". That piece of mishearing made me nostalgic for the days when bands writing political songs could be gently patronised and we could all content ourselves that with the Cold War won, we were ideally set up through the coming decade to take care of local and green issues only.  Voice of Reason come across as a punkier version of Consolidated, though they didn't have their longevity - only releasing 2 EPs and Evident Truth appeared on both of them.
I like the way this track rocks out, but have trouble pinning down the lyrics - successive listens have seen me yo-yo through a number of potential interpretations ranging from dismay at environmental disaster through to a pro-life, anti-abortion screed.  They were from Texas, after all. All in all, hard to pin down.  Though they had a fairly catchy mission statement: "Renounce allegiance. Stay Angry. Fuck America."  That second command seems, 24 years on, to be giving Trump the chance to carry out the third command, doesn't it?

Video courtesy of John Peel

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Oliver: Dub Syndicate feat. Prince Far I - Glory To God (22 February 1992)

Pioneers lay the road, and diligent students pave them.  That's my reasoning as to why I prefer the warmer, fuller work of Dub Syndicate when compared to, say, King Tubby. Although by the time they released their Stoned Immaculate album, Dub Syndicate were veterans, with plenty to offer anyone studying their work.  To my untutored ear, the improvement is in the way everything is held together rather than running down blind alleys.  The sudden piano stabs and electro drum beats serve to enhance the track, originally recorded by Prince Far I and The Arabs.  It helps to have Prince Far I on any track because of his sage like qualities.  In that voice, one can hear thousands of years of experience and wisdom.  Whatever, he calls "good music", you feel would be worth listening to.

But ultimately, I can only come back to what I alluded to in my opening line.  As someone who has only developed any kind of appreciation or hearing of dubstep through Peel, what I love about this track is the way in which it expands the possibilities that King Tubby and others threw out there, and makes them into something catchy, communal and exciting.

Video courtesy of SweetSmoke.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Oliver: Drunk Tank - Honeysuckle (22 February 1992)

I had a question mark against this track when I heard it on the 22/2/92 show.  The question mark stayed there for a few more listens to be honest, but what guaranteed its inclusion was that it sounded like something else.  Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery and a means of acceptance towards those who may have been tempted to go, "Jesus, John, what is this clattery ould racket?"  I'm writing this in Ireland so may be prone to colloquisms.

Is the riff to Honeysuckle what critics used to call Motorik?  I'm not so sure.  It borrows from the "riding to hounds" riff of Unsane's Cracked Up mixed together with the congested vocal scream of Beeswax era, Nirvana.  Those vocals also hark forward to the strangled yelp of Clinic, who are bound to find a place on this blog in the decades to come.  And while we're looking forward, I find myself reflecting on that music business trope which declares that the more ferocious the performance, the more inappropriate the title of the piece will be.

Strictly speaking this should be held over till the very end of this blog, assuming I live to that age, as I heard it on the first Peel show that I recorded after his death, under Rob da Bank's auspices.  He didn't back announce it, but happily that anarchy was knocked out of him pretty damned sharpish.

Videos courtesy of Irresponableful (Drunk Tank) and Sniperskull1031 (Bury Your Dead).

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Oliver: Daniel Johnston - Happy Soul (22 February 1992)

Happy Soul is one of those tracks that turn up on the Peel Show and make me wish that I had known of it back in early 1992 - when I really needed it and when I could have used it as a manifesto for living.  With characteristic poetic inarticulacy, Daniel Johnston sums me up in this track, one month before my 16th birthday.  I was aware of a change in my mindset and how I looked at the world - I've already mentioned more than enough times that I was turning on to girls and how happy that made me feel - but it was more than that. I felt, as I got closer to 16, a great feeling of contentment. I wasn't a stroppy, moody or tormented teen.  I saw possibilities in life, even though I couldn't articulate them.  In retrospect, I was probably just beginning to savour the fact that I had reached the first of the age landmarks in which there were things I could do if I wanted to, and no-one could tell me that I wasn't allowed.  The fact that there were other age limits still to pass meant I was in a cushioned holding pen - moving away from childhood, or being regarded as a child, but not quite into adulthood, or being expected to act like one.  It felt like the best of all worlds, and it would only get better over the next couple of years.  I had that Happy Soul, Johnston was singing about.  Hell, I even started writing songs - well, lyrics in 1992.  Unheard (and rightfully so) epics like Parking Lot Lovemaking (No, I don't know Ricky Gervais).

Girls, rock 'n' roll and a changing mindset that felt gently exciting and different from what had gone before.  I relished them - well,  the girls took their time to turn up - and Johnston knew we would.  In short, this is one of the great, under-rated teen anthems in rock history.

Video courtesy of jameshunter93.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Oliver: Exposure - Peak Experience (22 February 1992)

The last track in any John Peel programme could be a mixed bag. If he was pushed for time before the news, it could be a perfect set up for a quick blast of noise rock.  Sometimes, he'd play something to set listeners up for the next programme - world music for Andy Kershaw/Giles Petersen, rock for Mary Anne Hobbs etc.  But if he had time and space, he would use the final track of the night as a chance to test his audience out.  A track which would ask questions of them, almost like he would say, "You've come this far, through so much variety.  Can you engage with this before you reach for the off switch?"

Peak Experience isn't exactly the most taxing piece of music Peel ever played, but it wasn't likely to follow The Orb or Altern-8 into the upper reaches of the singles chart.  Starting out with a low, rumbling hum that could be a brainwave, a racing heartbeat, a pulsing phallus or a fiery Earth core, the track takes 80 seconds to break this before letting loose as a tribal drum accompanied computer game soundtrack - the level ups signified by eardrum ringing electro gong strikes.  Within 18 months, all manner of opportunists would be having chart success with official tie-ins.  But none of them had anything like the beguiling strangeness of tracks like this one.

Video courtesy of Kanal van Tukkerhouse.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Sunday 16 February 1992)

A potentially stressful week in the Peel household was heralded with a face saving goalless draw between his beloved Liverpool and a resurgent Ipswich, cheered on by most of the rest of his family, in a 5th round FA Cup tie at Portman Road.  The photograph in Margrave of the Marshes of himself and his son, Tom, wearing Liverpool and Ipswich scarves respectively may have been in anticipation of this match.  I listened to it on the radio, but probably distracted by a final Valentine's Day salvo towards Carly, I didn't raise much of a flicker over a match in which a draw was a fair result - we (Ipswich) hit the post, they (Liverpool) had a goal ruled out for offside.  The draw meant I could face my Liverpool supporting friends with pride intact given that we hadn't lost the home match - and nobody, myself included, gave us much of a chance in the replay... With good reason as we lost 3-2, but we gave them a hell of a fright.

Selections from this show came from a 2 and a half hour recording.  With such a large amount of material to pick from, it's inevitable that some choices haven't surfaced yet. Potential appendices include:

Even As We Speak - Falling Down The Stairs [Peel Session] - I actually tried to upload this track to here myself, but I wasn't successful because I don't have Windows Movie Maker installed on the arthritic work PC that I tried to use for it.  I don't have administrator privileges either, so had to give it up as a bad job.  A shame because, while it's a million miles away from the Bongwater influence strangeness of their Beautiful Day single, it stands as a piece of sun-drenched, glistening Australian pop brilliance smack bang in the territory between Nick Cave on one side and Kylie Minogue on the other - because in 1992 it seemed inconceivable that the twain would ever meet.  It's worth imagining an alternative world where it was Even As We Speak who enjoyed massive international success a year or so on from this date, and Peel's other female fronted, non-English session guests from this programme had remained in the shadows.  I may have been unable to bring you Even As We Speak in session, but a quick trip to their Bandcamp page will allow you to download their Peel sessions, years before I get around to deciding which of their tracks I like enough to include, or fail to include, here.

Nardo Ranks - Dun Dog Hearts - a record which doesn't seem to exist when I looked up Nardo on Discogs.  If anyone knows what Dun Dog Hearts are please let me know.  According to Nardo Ranks they can be found in cities all over the world.  Slightly repetitive stuff, but the bass and the beat, both of which I was sure I'd heard on other reggae records on other Peel shows carried the day.

Freefall - Shine - a band which Peel had seen the previous week in the company of Mark Radcliffe, "We Radio 1 DJs are as thick as thieves".  Massive sound but disappointing vocals - like The Cure fronted by a teenage bingo caller.  But the bigness is what mattered, Robert Smith and co. clearly a big influence.

The Ungungungoloval Brothers - Passé Parleau - I suspect that my spellings might be miles off here.  The effect here is Ladysmith Black Mambazo but with a more intimate, serene feeling.  Simply stunning.

The Soka Band - Linga Linga - Delightful guitar pop from Zimbabwe and the great lost track from this show in my opinion.  Still, Peel wasn't about to rub it in: "Almost impossible to get hold of, but I've got one - so there!"

Sound Systemme - Get Down (Woodentop remix) - from a cassette release no less.  A wonderful fusion  of reggae hip hop and techno clubland diva intensity.  Being 1992, parts of the track sound like they've been sampled from someone's coffee table Nintendo unit.

The K-Creative - Zen Flesh Zen Bones - a fascinating mix of sale slogans, Tibetan chanting, funk
drum beats and guitar. "Bunch of weirdoes if you ask me".

70 Gwen Party - Get Sick On the Beach - more distorted, industrial, experimental dance walking the line between intriguing and irritating, but coming down more as the former, happily.

Several tracks fell from favour over time, including:

MC 900 Ft Jesus - The City Sleeps - Although I was initially taken in by the moody atmosphere that underscores this day in the life of an arsonist, I was ultimately put off by a sense of "plastic soul" about the whole thing.  I've got a horrible feeling that I only engage with white hip hop when it's being funny.  Not only that, but I also felt uncomfortable about talking up a track which glamorises arson as a lifestyle choice - albeit in understated fashion, but I felt it was guilty nevertheless.

PJ Harvey - Hair & Joe - A rare miss from my beloved Peej.  In playing these b-sides back to back, Peel hoped that "the Radio 1 funsters" of the daytime shift were giving Sheela-Na-Gig airtime.  In truth, Hair should have made the cut, as I enjoyed Harvey's take on the Sampson & Delilah story,  but I had another attack of queasiness over the image that the YouTube uploader chose to illustrate the track with, which makes me wonder if they have even listened to the song in the first place.  Joe was OK too, but put me too much in mind of the tracks towards the end of To Bring You My Love when the energy levels start to flag.  Ultimately, a victim of her own high standards.

The Dufflecoats - MotorbikeSong - This track cooks up a good racket, but I couldn't stand those vocals.  They sounded like those wimpy, dippy hippies that Jennifer Saunders used to play in various Comic Strip Presents/Girls on Top episodes, that Dawn French used to dominate.  No wonder Courtney Love was cleaning up.

Peel did quite a lot of shilling in this show: for bands' gigs, for the Peel programme of Radio 3 - Mixing It, and best of all for Spot the Bear, a spoof Pink Floyd magazine with a drawing of drummer, Nick Mason as a lobster, on the cover.  Great value for 80p.

Full tracklisting.