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.