Saturday, 30 December 2017

Oliver!: Fluke - The Allotment Of Blighty/Time Keeper [Peel Session] (4 April 1992)

The 4/4/92 show featured a repeat of the second Peel Session recorded by the electronica collective,
Fluke.  The session catches them somewhere between the frenetic activity of 1991, which saw them release both a studio album (on Creation Records) and a live one, with them considering their next sonic moves.  In the best traditions of the exercise, they gave Peel a mix of past, present and future tunes to chew on.  I only heard the first two that were put out on this show, but they were more than adequate.  The Allotment Of Blighty may be a riff on their live favourite, The Garden of Blighty, but I haven’t been able to confirm this.  It’s a marginal inclusion, featuring as it does a keyboard sample that may very well have inspired the main riff in Riverdance, two years hence, (or maybe Nu-Tekk?).  I suspect ultimately it owes its place here by acting in the function of a curtain raiser for a track which never saw release on any of Fluke’s subsequently releases, but which stood head and shoulders above everything else in the session.

Time Keeper (or The Timekeeper as Peel called it on the show) builds on a number of the themes heard in Fluke’s The Techno Rose Of Blighty album.  A number of tracks on that record based themselves less on acid house and more on jazz.  Amid the beats and bleeps, Fluke would throw in squeals of trumpetsax/flute and acoustic guitar.  Above all, there was a focus on the use of time signature and syncopation, which this piece takes on to thrilling effect with synth work to give The Orb a run for their money.

The other tracks broadcast in the session were Top of the World which would turn up on their next album, 1993s Six Wheels on My Wagon and The Bells which came out in a range of mixes on an EP called, cunningly, The “Peal” Sessions.

Videos courtesy of fractal76BG and jammin023.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Oliver!: The Wedding Present - Falling (4 April 1992)

Question for anyone who keeps abreast of these things: when did boxsetting become a thing? Was it this year or in 2016?  I don’t watch much television now, and I don’t have Netflix, Amazon Prime or anything like it.  I never West Winged, Broke Bad or made a date with a Mad Man.  House of Cards to me meant Ian Richardson  (and recent events mean that’s what it’ll probably mean to many others again in future), while if you ask me my opinion of Game of Thrones, I’m likely to say “That’s me playing Snake on my mobile during a long shit”.  I’ve always been more of a dipper inner than a glutton when it comes to watching episodes of a TV series over time - if only the same was true of me round a biscuit tin.  I prefer to keep the intrigue drawn out as something to look forward to rather than devour a series in one sitting.
2017 saw another show enter the pantheon of, “You want it all?  You can have it all!” broadcasting with the return of Twin Peaks after a gap of 26 years.  I didn’t see any of it, just as I only saw snippets of the first iteration.  Whenever I turned over in the 90s to watch any of it, I always seemed to come in at a scary moment which would send me scuttling back to the news ASAP.  The only bit of Twin Peaks that I’ve ever seen was the 1992 prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and I only did that because Mark Kermode asked me to - and I’m glad he did, I thought it was excellent.

On several occasions during his run of shows from November 1991 to April 1992, Peel alluded to certain atmospheric records, usually dance based ones as having “Something of a Twin Peaks influence” while one of his dance picks in December 1991 used one of Twin Peaks’s musical cues as a key sample and under his better known name got a Top 10 hit single out of it.
The Wedding Present recorded Falling, the main theme from Twin Peaks as a B-side to single of the month, Silver Shorts.  On the face of it, this is an ideal match of song and artist.  Lynch’s lyrics could have been copied from a David Gedge notebook given that it starts with a self-plea to be careful and not get emotionally hurt, only for such caution to fly out the window once he sees the object of his desire.  In typical Lynchian style, and a neat bit of underplaying the situation, he notes that while everything seems familiar in the grand scheme of things (the colour of the sky, the movement of the clouds etc) something fundamental has changed - “Are we falling in love?”  And in Lynch’s world that change could prove to be either the salvation of his characters or their downfall.  It’s a truly beautiful song, poised over Angelo Badalamenti’s bass like refrain, which becomes a ringingly bright guitar refrain in the hands of The Wedding Present.
The first version of the song was popularised by Julee Cruise, a collaborator with Angelo Badalamenti.  Lynch and Badalamenti wrote the song with her in mind to record it and she imbues it
with an almost angelic level of fragility - gently soaring into the stratosphere alongside the icily ecstatic synths.  This sense of love and gentleness breaking through chaos, violence and terror is a key theme in several of Lynch’s films.  The next paragraph contains SPOILERS and links to scenes that some viewers may find upsetting.

Blue Velvet (1986) is awash with romance, love and tenderness amidst an ocean of reprehensible acts - indeed some of that love is delivered by the most terrifying character in 80s cinema.  Wild at Heart (1990) features further grotesque characters and moments of unsettling insanity, but at its centre is the loving, tender relationship between Sailor (Nicholas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern).  Their love and belief in one another is what stops the film being overwhelmed by dark malignancy.  Lynch in these films appears to be on the side of love and tenderness.  The heroes and anti-heroes of both movies get put through hell, but a happy ending is waiting for them, ultimately.  Even in a film where no happy ending is possible like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me there is still time for moments of tenderness and genuine caring interaction between characters, before the inexorable slide back towards madness.  Having missed all of Lynch’s feature films since Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, apart from The Straight Story (1999), I have no idea whether this motif is prevalent in the likes of Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Dr. (2001) or Inland Empire (2006).

Julee Cruise’s vocal suggests love being strong enough to rise above the cruelty of everyday existence.  One can imagine it as an ensemble piece sung by The Lady in the RadiatorSandy’s robinsThe Good Witch and the angel in the Red Room.  If Lynch’s work could be said to be a revolving round of dream/nightmare states, joined together like Siamese Twins and allowing him to acknowledge the very best and worst of human behaviour, then Cruise’s version of Falling is the dream state, while The Wedding Present’s is the nightmare state.  After chocking out that instantly recognisable riff, their version proceeds with David Gedge’s vocal barely rising above a murmur and he struggles to be heard above the sustained guitar notes that drape themselves over the choruses like one of Laura Palmer’s malevolent visions.  Around the 4 minute mark, the band go full noise rock, leaving Gedge quietly intoning his surprise at, potentially, falling in love.  The effect is to push all the cruelty, violence and menace in Twin Peaks, and Lynch’s other work to the forefront, while reminding the listener that, even when buried behind a seemingly horrific world, love is never far from the surface.  It’s a very clever inversion of Cruise’s version and both could be held up, by optimists and pessimists alike as representative of Lynch’s worldview.

This will probably be the last post before Monday, so it’s as good a time as any to wish anyone reading this a merry Christmas.  Please could I have DVDs of Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire for my gifts this year, please? xxx

Videos courtesy of Andrew077 (Wedding Present) and L Y R I X (Cruise).

Lyrics copyright of David Lynch.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Oliver!: Po! - Look For The Holes (4 April 1992)

When putting together their Grains of Sand EP, Rutland’s second best known cultural ambassadors clearly recognised that Look For The Holes was the ace of the record, and accordingly gave it a side to itself.

On the surface, the song is a post-breakup farewell; that moment in any emotional parting where it is made clear that lives will now travel in opposite directions and that any future meetings will be in the company of others and most likely on neutral ground.  It belongs to that pantheon of amicable break-up songs.  While there are hints that the relationship and its aftermath may have been traumatic:
“I’m brave/I’m not your slave...”
We really get the sense that all sound and fury has been spent.  There are no more fights to be had, just acceptance to be shared.  Ruth Miller is still trying to cajole her ex to reflect on their shared history positively and without casting her, needlessly, as the villain:
“Think of the good times we had/You could never ever hate me.
Be sad/Please don’t get mad.”

However, the line which sticks out for me is:
“Some people cling to the past/Like a very hungry little puppy.
I know/I won’t be the last.”
Although it’s of a piece with the break-up theme, suggesting the bravery of leaving a relationship that’s gone bad rather than clinging on due to the memory of when it was good - I find that the clinging to the past metaphor strikes me and my generation very close to home.  In my case, it’s my own individual concern at spending too much time looking back to lost eras, halcyon days and memories.  Those days of warmth and safety that the snore-like guitar strikes on the verses are trying to take the listener back to.  I’ve tried, for my own good this year, to embrace more of the times that I live in now, even though they’ve gone through more substantial changes in the last 2 years than we could expect in the quarter of a century (yes, really!) since Peel first played this track.  Speaking more generally, I feel that my own generation, those who came of age in the 1990s, has cast itself as nostaglialists as severely as the most charactured Brexit pensioner.  It’s in the clothes we wear, it’s in the music we listen to, it’s in our cultural totems against which today’s are compared and found wanting.  And the root cause for this perpetual retreat to 25/30 years ago?  Fear.  Nothing more or less than that.  Fear of change, perhaps, but more likely fear of expanding horizons and looking beyond that which we know we enjoy.  Because to find pleasure in today risks losing the comfort blanket of the past.  Thank God for John Peel though.  Because even listening to him retrospectively, one is still being led somehow both into the present and the future.  But many of his audience would be coated by Ruth Miller’s clear-sighted lyric.  Maybe those holes are just what we’re looking to fill our lives with?

As an example of feyly incisive indie folk, Po! put me in mind of the Sarah Records act, The Field Mice, another band who peddled emotionally taut songs under the cover of deceptively gentle arrangements.  I see Look For The Holes as a female centred counterpoint to The Field Mice’s Think of These Things.  One can almost imagine that the narrator in Think of These Things managed to break through the outer ring of people who knew the object of his love longer than him, and yeah, times were pretty good for a while, but eventually his jealousy and possessiveness forces the girl to break away.  In keeping with the aesthetic of the scene though, there’s no triumphalism here.  She has to go, and nothing he can do will bring her back.  Listen carefully, and the sense is not of a new start after a turbulent time, but mere peace of mind - “I’ve grown/Oh, how I’ve grown”.
Achieving a sense of grace through its mature reflectivity, this is a stunningly perceptive piece of emotional songwriting.

Video courtesy of my lifesaver and benefactor, Webbie, who provided the clip directly from Peel’s 4/4/92 show.

All lyrics quoted in this post are copyright of Ruth Miller.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Oliver!: Chuck Brooks - Love’s Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down (4 April 1992)

Time once again for another round of lyric word association.  I’m going to say a word and I want you to tell me another word you associate with the first word in any song setting.  OK, are you ready?  Here we go:

No not tear as a noun, but tear as a verb, like rip.  Try again:

When I was a child, I found the song title, I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, as covered by Paul Young to be both fascinating and confusing.  What could cause someone who seemed so mild-mannered and normal to demolish a Wendy House?  I didn’t have access to Urban Dictionary in 1984 so was blissfully unaware of concepts like fur lined porn dungeons. But the moment I heard John Peel play Love’s Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, I had to do further research.  Was I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, originally recorded by Ann Peebles in 1973, in any way a reply record to Chuck Brooks’s 1970 recording of Love’s Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down?

Alas, no.  While Peebles (and Young) threatened retribution on someone who had been playing them for a fool, Brooks is the player shaken to his very core by feelings of love.  If Melvin Van Peebles or Fred Williamson had chosen to make a blaxploitation version of Les Liasons dangereuses in the early 70s, this may very well have featured on the soundtrack when Valmont starts to fall in love with Madame Tourvel.

Peel actually restarted this record, when he played it, because he was convinced that the wound up opening note was because of an error on his part, but, “It really does start like that. Incredible!”  He only played up to 3:14 which covers side A of the original single.  The video covers both sides, but the last three minutes is pretty repetitive grooving with Brooks trying new metaphors for the tearing down of the playhouse.

“Leave it, Paul.  It’s only a Wendyhouse”.

Videos courtesy of losmoutinhos (Brooks) and PaulYoungVEVO.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Oliver!: Midway Still - Better Than Before (4 April 1992)

Let me take you back to the early days of this blog and the sense of excitement I felt when I listened to the Peel show broadcast on 2 November 1991.  The file picks up from the end of a news bulletin and goes straight into Pickin’ The Blues and after the initial guitar notes, in comes John Peel, “Do you know at half time I thought Liverpool were on for a record breaking 2 wins in a row but it was not to be.  Katch 22 in session together with Foreheads in a Fishtank along with three hours of top quality...well not quite three hours, but a lot of good records.”  And then he played the first of them, and this blog was, suddenly, really happening...but it wouldn’t be marking its first post with Wish by Midway Still, which sounded ditheringly morose to me, certainly in comparison to Howlin’ Wolf who was up next.
However, having been the first group played in this Oliver! odyssey, it’s nice that Midway Still turn up as the production comes out of 5 months of  rehearsal and rounds the final bend into the production week - opening night was on 7 April 1992.  Better Than Before is a huge step up in quality from Wish, fizzing as it does with energy and attack.  The powerful backing plays off Paul Thomson’s vocal so well, it made me think that if Buddy Holly had lived long enough to record music in the grunge era, this is what it would have sounded like.

Video courtesy of Anderson bertolin.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Reflections on listening to American Rock bands from the early 1970s, having previously dismissed them out of hand AKA a blogger does penance

“...Grand Funk Railroad are one of those band names which can fatigue me without hearing a note - see also the likes of The Eagles, Quicksilver Messenger Service and (Chicago)”.

As soon as I wrote that alarm bells went off.  “You should delete that”, I thought to myself, but I kept typing.  “Think again”, I said as my finger poised above the Publish button, but to no avail.  I published and was damned by my own integrity.
To dismiss early 1970s US rock groups is easy, cheap and lazy.  It’s especially lazy when, as in my case, you haven’t listened in any real depth to anything those groups recorded.  I put some blame for this at John Peel’s feet. Having played some of those bands in the early 1970s on fairly heavy rotation, he, perhaps understandably, cut many of them loose once he heard The Ramones for the first time.  In many cases, he had moved on even earlier than that.  By late 1977/early 1978, he could barely remember any affection he may have held for them as he gorged himself and his audience on a diet of punk, reggae and post-punk music.  In the last 25 years of his life he appeared to dismiss a lot of the stuff he played between 1970 and 1976 with a “What was I thinking!” level of insouciance, while still continuing to wrongfoot 21st Century listeners by throwing in a Jackson Browne track when it was least expected.
Needless to say, I fell in with this orthodoxy that many of those US bands of the early 1970s were rubbish. Looking at my record collection, the majority of the stuff I have from that period is by 60s bands that were continuing to record into the new decade: my beloved Move of coursethe best of The Rolling Stones and some solo Beatle brilliance - all of their records exhibited the flaws of the periods such as extended wigouts on guitar and any other instrument to hand, The Move were partiularly guilty of this at times.  But I forgave them because they had paid their dues as pop acts and served up enough slices of brilliance in 2 and a half or 3 minutes in the preceding years that they had earnt the right to stretch out over 5, 6 minutes or longer.  It was those Johnny Come Latelys that pitched up in 1969 believing that extended drum solos were their birthright which got my prejudices flaring.
Nevertheless, my closed-ear dismissal of those four groups gnawed away at me.  I couldn’t escape the realisation that any piece of cultural review, even one as squashed into the back corners of the World Wide Web as this blog, cannot hope to retain any sense of credibility if it doesn’t listen to that which it would seek to belittle, if only to see whether the belittling is justified.  And who knows, maybe, just maybe, this music may not be as bad as I guessed it to be.  I might even like some of it, and then how would I recognise myself?
So I set myself a challenge.  I would listen to 3 albums each from the oeuvre of Grand Funk Railroad, Quicksilver Messenger Service Service, Chicago and The Eagles.  I would choose albums released by the groups between 1970 and 1976.  This seemed appropriate given that The Eagles released the Hotel California album 3 days before Peel’s first Punk special. The symbolism was irresistible.  So here are my field notes from my excursion into hair ‘n’ beards early1970s American rock music, and we begin where all this started:

Grand Funk Railroad
Albums listened to:  Closer To Home (1970)Survival (1971) and We’re An American Band (1973)
Prejudices prior to listening: monster riffage and funk stretched out to epic length.
Expectations confounded?:  Absolutely.  Of the four groups in this experiment, Grand Funk Railroad rocked the hardest and although they liked to top that 5/6 minute mark, they only did so when they had something worth listening to.  In the case of Closer To Home that something is the final two tracks - the outstanding rock/soul hybrid of Hooked on Love and the epic title track I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) which manages to fuse together early 70s sunshine pop, Cream-style power trio dynamics, Space Oddity and Sailing By.  15 minutes listening for 2 songs and 2/3 of that is for I’m Your Captain which falls into the early 70s trap of bunging on several additional minutes for 1
repeated line, but they pack in enough ideas for twice that number of songs.

In discussing Survival, I need to broach a difficult subject - one that some of you may feel queasy about but it’s simply unavoidable when looking at this record, because it underpins most of what drives the thrust of the album.  Christian rock.  Wait! Come back, please!  Honestly, it’s really good.  For lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter, Mark Farner, a relationship with God informs the best songs on this record, most explicitly in I Can Feel Him in the Morning, a fusion of Revolution 9 and a stab at a contemporary hymn which works far better than a description like that makes it sound.  Comfort Me swims with palpable joy and relief at having found a way back to God, it almost makes you wonder why we don’t all do it.  However, any cynicism can’t stand up for long when set against the effervescence of Farner’s vocal.  If it doesn’t convert you, it at least makes you pleased for him.
Throw in the tremendous anti-war rocker Country Road, the audio-verite state of the nation gospel thrills of I Want Freedom and a cover of Gimme Shelter which sounds like the leads in Hair backed by Black Sabbath’s rhythm section and you have an album so full of interesting sounds and ideas that it stood out as the only album of the lot that I would actually go out and buy.
I’m actually listening to We’re An American Band as I type this, for a second time.  This was partially because, apart from the title track, which I already knew through Peel endorsed cover versions, none of the other tracks had grabbed me when I first heard it, which didn’t bode well.  It sounds like an entirely different band from that on the other two albums.  In large part this may be down to the change in producers, this album being the first one recorded with Todd Rungren, who tried to make every record he worked on sound like the most complete pop record ever made, and the artists themselves sound like the biggest acts in the world.  It takes aim and fires at stadium rock and in terms of sales figures, it hit the mark, reaching Number 2 in the Billboard Top 200 albums - the other two albums covered here both got to Number 6.  It’s all got far more virtuosic and rockist compared to earlier albums and that’s not to say that is necessarily bad, especially on tracks like The Railroad or Ain’t Got Nobody but I did find myself missing the more intimate settings that Terry Knight placed them in.

Video courtesy of tmrw33

Quicksilver Messenger Service
Albums listened to: Just For Love (1970)Quicksilver (1971) and Comin’ Thru (1972).

Prejudices prior to listening to: aimless Americana that would go on for decades
Expectations confounded?: Yes.  I hadn’t thought that any of these bands would be waving a flag for guitar pop as opposed to rock indulgence, but Quicksilver Messenger Service did just that to decent
effect across all three of these albums.  One of the last acts to be signed up in the rush to mine the San Francisco sound of the late 60s, QMS were still keeping those sunshine vibes going with tracks that sounded 1967 in 1972.  At its best this meant the fantastic 1970 single, Fresh Air, a back to nature rocker with a chorus that should have had all those with and without tickets at The Isle of Wight Festival punching the air that summer.  Just For Love’s other highlight for me is Cobra, a fast country blues instrumental that clearly influenced The Doug Wood Band’s most famous piece of work.  When QMS were good, they were really good.  But the issue for me is that too often, they were pleasant but little more.  That’s still better than being boring though and the Quicksilver album featured two gems in Song for Frisco in which the band lament the end of the Love era in their home city and Don’t Cry My Lady Love with its gorgeous barroom piano sound.
Comin’ Thru, their penultimate album, highlights the pleasantness conundrum.  It’s very funky in
places and has a lightness of touch about it, common to most QMS albums.  But I’d struggle to name
a single outstanding track from it.  Maybe, the topical Doin’ Time in the USA which formed a neat
opening salvo with their take on the traditional song, Chicken, but it was a bit of a meander from
there.  The musical equivalent of a walk through St Austell town centre: pleasant but unremarkable.

Video courtesy of ScreamDream3000


Albums listened to: Chicago ll (1970)Chicago Vll (1974) and Chicago Vlll (1975)
Prejudices prior to listening to: eggy sub-stadium rock pop played by people in skinny shirts, wide lapels and all looking like Gene Wilder.
Expectations confounded?:  Yes, although I find listening to any of their albums more than once and
in one go difficult to recommend.  But that shows up the shallowness of my ability to listen, I think, because Chicago’s early 70s albums really want you to listen.  They are packed with ideas, flourishes
and interest.  At the risk of sounding like Joseph ll in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, there’s almost too
much music on offer here.  What stops it from sliding into double/triple album purgatory is the way
that it incorporates its brass  section and never stays still long enough for an idea to become boring or repetitive.  In trying to distinguish their sequence of numerically titled albums, all you need to know is Chicago II is the one which brings together politically charged jazz funk workoutsHair-inspired  
musical numbers and  rejected television show theme tunes.  Chicago VII opens with six instrumental
numbers but these run the gamut from the Afro-Soul of Aire  to a terrific Lalo Schifrin inspired piece
called Devil’s Sweet, so it’s all good.  Chicago VIII is the one which could take the much derided title for Best Album of 1975. A lush, thinking pop record with bags of romance, humour and intelligence. Unlike their other records, it contents itself with a mere two sides rather than four and it is a more straightforward rock record content to play out its ideas in 4 minute bursts rather than 7 and a half
minutes.  It also features Brand New Love Affair Parts 1 & 2, one of the best of those lush 70s orchestral ballads that sound like the NewYork Symphony Orchestra had been drafted in on a pop contract.  My favourite of this type is God Bless the Absentee by Paul Simon.  In conclusion, I went
in thinking Chicago would be dull, beige lightweights but the evidence of the early 70s suggests that they would have been what Pink Floyd would have sounded like had Syd Barrett kept it together  and been able to steer them towards the kind of free jazz, large number collective he wanted them to be when trying to write pop songs became too much for him.

Video courtesy of Riccardo Cassanova

Albums listened to:  On The Border (1974)One of These Nights (1975)Hotel California (1976)
Prejudices prior to learning: as for Quicksilver Messenger Service but far beardier.
Expectations confounded? No, but not as painful as feared.  In a sense, while 1976-77 may be remembered as the period when punk came and swept everything aside,  the reality is that US Country Rock was arguably holding it to a draw when the sales figures and interest in the Hotel California album are taken into account.  That album was something of a vindication for The Eagles, who had agitated for a move more towards rock than country over the preceding three years.  In fact
so much so that it caused them to part ways with the legendary producer, Glyn Johns and perhaps
more tellingly, lose Bernie Leadon, a country roots musician of astounding versatility. Listen to any
early 1970s US rock album featuring banjo, or steel guitar and the chances are it was played either by  Leadon or Clarence White.  At the point where I started listening to the band for the On The Border album, it’s the tension between the country and rock elements that makes for the more interesting
tracks.  For the first 3 minutes of its 4 minute running time, Midnight Flyer is a straight country
shuffle driven on by Leadon’s banjo, but the last minute sees a tonal shift and heavily phased electric
guitar plays the track out.  Elsewhere, Eagles set out their stall with tracks like the terrific You Never
Cry Like a Lover or Best Of My Love which sounds like it was created to be exactly what it was, a
(US)  Number 1 hit single.
One of These Nights attempts to build on this success, but its best moments are those where Eagles
flirt with psychedelia in tracks like the supercharged wooziness of Visions or Bernie Leadon’s swansong instrumental, Journey of the Sorcerer, otherwise known as the theme to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  Set against that, the album’s title track sounds like the most 1975 thing ever committed to vinyl.
And so finally to Hotel California.  It’s a bit unfair to hold this monster selling record up as one of the exhibits in the Why Punk Had To Happen trial, but the decadence of the album is pretty nauseating.  In a track like Life in the Fast Lane, the cocaine reality that these guys lived with every day is directly quoted and amidst the stodgy rock tunes and sanctimonious nonsense of the closing track, The Last Resort, it stands out as the album’s most revealing tune for lifting a lid on the inherent emptiness that comes with great fame.  The title track might have become over familiar through years of bad karaoke, but listened to in context, with its  shimmering arpeggios and brilliant voodooesque lyrics - one of Eagles’ strongest suits throughout each of their records - it does  a brilliant job of highlighting the sense of bloat that had swollen so much of  rock music into something which had gotten away from its audience and which punk rock of the kind John Peel played on that December 10 1976 show, broadcast in the same week that copies of Hotel California were first placed on record store shelves, tried to close the gap.  41 years on, we can afford to be more generous to these and other exponents of “good singing, good playing”.

Video courtesy of huntertom.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 3 April 1992)

There are times, dear reader, when I feel that I fail you in terms of what you might basically expect from a John Peel blogger.  Whether it be not listening to any of the recent glut of Peel retrospectives through 6 Music or Radio 1 Vintage; not providing regular updates on his appearances on the latest repeat of Top of the Pops or most pressingly in the case of the programme Peel broadcast on this night, not selecting the track Rahm by Attwenger.  I mean Austrian accordion led rap music was what the Peel Show was essentially for wasn’t it?  Well, in some respects, yes, but it wouldn’t have got on my mixtape, I’m afraid.  And in light of Attwenger’s subsequent behaviour towards our hero, maybe it’s for the best.

If we file the Attwenger track under Foreign Novelty, it has to be admitted that Peel was indulging his musical funnybone in this show given that he chose to end it with an extraordinary record from 1963 called When I Did the Mashed Potatoes With You by Larry Bright in which over a lush background, Bright reminiscences about performing novelty dances with his lost love.

The file I made my selections from came from the last 45 minutes of the show.  There were two tracks I would have liked to include but wasn’t able to, and in the case of the first of them, it’s most irritating:

Sanchez and Shaka Shamba - No Bun It Down - Described by Peel as “a plea to the Jamaican authorities not to burn the marajuana crop”, you can hear an abridged version of the track by clicking on the link.  With its dancehall beats and stabs of electric guitar, this is a business proposal to the Jamaican government about why they should legalise ganja, where they could grow it and the export strategy they could follow (Britain, America and Canada would be great markets apparently).  Shamba plays the part of the businessman, outlining the benefits of legal ganja, while Sanchez plays the satisfied customer - happily getting blissed out and inspiring the writers of Just a Little by Liberty X a decade later - see if you can hear the lift.  The track could be accused of irresponsibility, though it makes it clear that harder drugs than ganja are not welcome, but I love it for the fusion of riddim, politics and social issues.  An audacious gem, please can someone put the full version up, especially if it links into...

Wingtip Sloat - M31 - Peel followed Sanchez and Shaka Shamba with this track from the Washington D.C. trio.  He wondered what a sloat was, and it turns out that it’s not anything complimentary - at least this side of the Millenium.  M31, in the style of this band, is a driving song which starts out as jangle before moving to clangle with added feedback and dissonance before it comes off the musical motorway and arrives on calmer roads.  I’ve not been able to play any of the Wingtip Sloat tracks that caught my attention so far.  If you have 37 minutes to spare, I can recommend a listen to User Friendly Bowl Wrapper, a collection of originals, covers, works-in-progress and outakes from 1991.  Peel was still raving about them when he spoke to Rolling Stone in 1993, so I’m hopeful that they will be able to turn up here soon in some form.


The wonderful Webbie @keepingitpeel  and especially, came up trumps again by uploading both tracks for us all to hear.

That Rolling Stone interview is notable for its final paragraph in which Peel reflects back to the early 70s and considers that, in the long run, Tony Blackburn was right and he was wrong.  But the mention  of Quicksilver Messenger Service provides me with a nice preview for the next post I’ll make here where I reflect on a few of my own musical prejudices and what I found when I confronted some of them.  Required reading for advocates of Grand Funk Railroad, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Chicago and The Eagles.

Full tracklisting

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Oliver!: Swell - Turtle Song (3 April 1992)

Peel was in one of his lightly sarcastic A & R man moods on this show as for the second week running, he made pointed reference to Swell’s status as potential Next Big Things: “Tipped as the next big things but one” as he put it, before going on to play the next big things, later in the programme.

Compared to the epically panoramic sweep of the previous week’s Down, a track which in parts hints at U2esque levels of mass-marketism, Turtle Song is more one for the fans.  It starts off with a drum practice in a factory cafe before going into a tightly packed riff suggesting an emotional face-off between David Freel and the target of his entreaties.  In typical Swell style, the tension appears to be a bluff though given the “beautiful day” that plays out over the scene.  It’s evidently still a stoners’ paradise.

Video courtesy of MrAlstec

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Oliver!: Kalaeidoscope - I’m Gonna Get You [Remix] (3 April 1992)

“There have been dozens of people called Kalaeidoscope down the years, and this is the latest of them” - John Peel prior to playing this tune on 3/4/92.

A look at Discogs shows Peel was right about this with at least 25 sets of artists sharing the name across the decades.  This dance act from Bedford, a fact which Peel always mentioned whenever he played them, upset the apple cart somewhat by using a different spelling from the more widely known Kaleidoscope.  As they used it on both of their releases for the Bass Sphere label, we shall use it too.

Listening to their work here I’m becoming convinced that it was the likes of DJ Ramin and others within the hardcore dance community who were the true musical geniuses of the last decade of the 20th Century.  Although starting out from the computer game intro beloved by their contemporaries it’s the flourishes provided by perfect samples such as “Who’s a potty mouth” one that lift it to another level amidst all the breakbeats and synthesiser riffs.  It also contains a snippet from Bizarre Inc’s wonderful chart hit of the same name. The precision and artistic ear needed to blend that together and make it work will never fail to impress or thrill me.

It’s interesting that although the big voiced female “Come on”s help date this song to 1992 like a stick of rock, I find myself more drawn to it than a lot of the guitar based stuff that I picked out recently.  It sounded like the future then, and it still does today.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Oliver!: Moe Tucker - Too Shy [Peel Session] (3 April 1992)

Spoiler alert - she isn’t doing a cover of this - more’s the pity.

If I had been looking to buy a car in the late 90s/early 00s then I can categorically state that I wouldn’t have gone near either a Mercedes Benz or a Hyundai.  My stance had nothing to do on either mechanical or ethical grounds, but solely due to the fact that their advertising campaigns caused me to reach for the off switch whenever they came on TV.
In the case of Mercedes, I often wasn’t in the mood to have Janis Joplin bellowing at me over my TV dinner.  However, I’d often want to throw said dinner at the television when they used the ad that replaced Janis with grannies, shepherds, bricklayers and sundry others all having their own crack at the tune.

The worst offender though was Hyundai which used the Moe Tucker sung half of The Velvet Underground out-take, I’m Sticking With You in its advertising for a while.  I loathed the song with a passion finding its apparent whimsy irritating in every respect - words, tune, Tucker’s vocal, the backing vocals.  You name it.  One of those pieces that will charm some and provoke others; it certainly got my slapping hand twitching.  Having heard the thing in full I’m (only) slightly more charitably disposed towards it.  It doesn’t surprise that it was unreleased for so many years - it doesn’t sound fully sure or formed in Lou Reed’s half - at least not in comparison to Tucker’s half at any rate.  I do wonder what pushed whichever marketing agency had Hyundai’s account to licence such a twee sounding piece of crap to market their vehicle.  If they had gone with something from Tucker’s solo career, they may have uncovered music similarly idiosyncratic, but a lot more convincing.

On 18 February 1992, Moe Tucker went into a BBC studio and laid down some tracks for a Peel Session which was broadcast on 3/4/92.  The tracks were in support of her third solo album, I Spent a Week There The Other Night.  On the recording I heard only this track, Too Shy, was available.
The whole session is available and I would draw your attention to the opening track, Blue All the Way to Canada in which Tucker plays our Chrysler based tour guide diverting our attention from the Cheyenne to the families enjoying the peculiar hell that is long distance car journeys. Trains though is the banal rubbish of I’m Sticking With You transposed to the 1990s.

As for Too Shy, it’s less the sound of 1967 and the Velvet Underground, and closer to the kind of girl fronted power-pop stuff Peel played circa 1978 as Tucker, whose voice developed far greater power as she got older, reflects on her lost opportunity when it comes to approaching the boy of her dreams.

Had I been listening to the Peel Show on this night, the track would have had some resonance for me as to what not to do.  With production week for Oliver! imminent, I was all set to ask out a girl that I had become attached to within the cast over February/March 1992.  Unlike Moe, I wasn’t going to die wondering.  However, I was headed off at the pass in the event.  Whether the girl got wind of my intentions, I never discovered, but as production week rolled around, she got very distant with me - almost an overnight change and not one which looked like it could be reasoned with.  I skulked away, a little saddened and a little more attuned to female psychology.  “Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye” as a great lady once put it... I wish I’d had the chance to say more than Hello though.

Video courtesy of Vibracobra23Redux.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Oliver!: Pavement - Two States (3 April 1992)

It was 20 years ago today
Damon Albarn said Pavement could play.
Blur in the market for a change of style
Cos they’d lost their shiny Britpop smile.
So may I introduce to you
The act for which I’d no idea.
The Pavement Lovers Career Reviving Band!

(Apologies to Paul McCartney)

In what is one of this blog’s many music-related “I’ve never seen Star Wars” moments, I’d never knowingly heard anything of Pavement’s music until they turned up on the recording of Peel’s 28/3/92 show.  For years they’d been tucked away in my subconscious as one of the influences that a battered and bruised Blur told journalists they were mining to help them draw a line under their pop-star phase as they trailed Blur (1997).  But I suppose it depended on which one of them you talked to.  I remember Graham Coxon being interviewed on The Evening Session one night in late 1996 and extolling the merits of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion who sounded terrific to my ears when Steve Lamacq or Jo Whiley cued in a record from them.  A look at Pavement performing in 1996 shows why they would have appealed to a pop star wanting to take a right turn - the tracks played at that gig walk a tightrope between indie-pop and jazz-rock performance art, but the unpredictability of the music and the “consciously loose live” (Tabitha Soren TM) feel must have seemed like the antidote to any band willing to step off the pop roundabout and enjoy the freedom to go down other routes - and in the case of that fifth Blur album, it worked like a treat both artistically and commercially.

However, the Pavement played by Peel on this night, sound less like innovators and more in hock to The Fall than anything else, but it sounds football-crowd-arms-in-the-air compelling with the bellowed title line - potentially advocating the partitioning of California - a three chord riff driving the track along throughout, stolid double-drum pattern underpinning the whole thing like some Glam Rock out-take, “Forty million daggers!” a vocal varying between the melodic and the narratorial.  And after all, Fall shows could be as unpredictable as anything going.  It all becomes clear now.  The Godfather of Song 2 was never Stephen Malkmus, it was Mark E. Smith.

Video courtesy of WeezerFan4Ever.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Oliver!: Wonky Alice - Caterpillars (3 April 1992)

“A big favourite of Radders of the North (Mark Radcliffe).  18 months ago they would have been from Manchester.  Now, they’re from Oldham and don’t you forget it!” John Peel after playing this track on 3/4/92.

I’d like to think that Wonky Alice based their name on a desire to parody Ugly Kid Joe.  It’s a better idea than that floated by the band’s former guitarist, Yves Altana, that the name wasn’t based on anything at all.

In parts, this track from the band’s second EP, Insects and Astronauts, ties into the blend of Northern Drama Music that Peel was playing a lot of in early ‘92 -see Red Hour and Some Paradise for further examples of this - its early verses focusing on someone whose mix of self and petty obsession either ends up killing them or leads to them casting a chrysalis around themselves from which no butterfly can either emerge, or in the case of the romance that’s hinted at in the mid section, penetrate.
If its bassline opening sounds like any number of scally Northern bands through the years, it leaves such parochialism behind with its guitar play which comes on in one 5 note refrain as though Pete Townshend had decided to set his mini-mini opera, Rael from 1967’s The Who Sell Out in Oldham.  Lyrically, it loses its way in the latter stages but it’s worth cherishing for the fact that it immortalises dour people behaving dourly in an excitingly, tender way.

The image in the video reminded me to link you through to Dave Bryant’s Indie Top 20 blog in which he not only reviews this song, but others previously featured here by the likes of Dr. Phibes & The House of Wax Equations and Th’ Faith Healers

Video courtesy of carlos rodrigues

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Oliver!: Shake Inc. - Adrenalin (3 April 1992)

Always with a techno record, what I’m listening out for is the contrast moment.  Once the initial beats and squelches have set out their wares, it’ll be the moment of change in the track that will decide for me whether I will include the track or not.  With Shake Inc.’s Adrenalin that moment comes at around 1:15 when a freaky, ghostly synth line - blasting out from a rave in the divide between this world and the next - makes its entrance into the blazing mix of noise in this banger.  Bringing a greater range of sonic variety than the previous week’s Twin Rave, there’s plenty of energy, life and...well...adrenalin surging through this track’s veins.  I love how the sound gets dirtier as it goes on too.  A mini-epic.

Video courtesy of E for Free.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 28 March 1992)

I turned 16 years old on 27 March 1992 (cards and presents to the usual address next year please, fans).  I didn’t spend it going mad on a moped or losing my virginity at the earliest opportunity.  Instead I went for dinner with my parents and watched a double-bill of the Doctor Who videos for Logopolis and Castrovalva.  One of the boys acting in Oliver!, Toby Haynes, was a Doctor Who fan and actually lent me videos of Who stories recorded off the television in the mid-80s.  It was like having access to YouTube, a decade and a half in advance.  My whole memory of that period can be boiled down into a series of word associations: new house, foolish romanticism, stage make-up, spring sunshine and 1980s Doctor Who.
John Peel broadcast a show on March 27, but all the available files failed the minimum time-limit test  (as near to a single side of a C-90 tape as possible), so we have had to skip on to Saturday 28 March 1992 instead.  My birthday isn’t particularly well served by the Peel share universe.  There are plenty of years where no record of what Peel broadcast on March 27 has shown up, or the files are very short.  1979 and 1980 provide some decent running times, but I’ll have to wait till 1993, when I was performing in a production of Peter Shaffer’s play, Equus to have a birthday Peel show to savour.

Selections from this show were taken from a 93 minute long file.  A news bulletin contained news about the 1992 General Election, only 2 weeks away at this point.  Des Wilson, campaign manager for the Liberal Democrats, implored the two main parties to focus more attention on Europe.  It was where our future was, according to him....  On that tack, I’m currently reading this and it’s shaping up to be a classic of its kind.

There were several tracks that I would have been interested to share had they been available.  They included:

Brother Blue - Ons Het Hautuley - my notes describe this as an example of 60s South African skiffle, which sees discordant accordion played alongside a traditional soukous guitar line.  Peel had two copies of the record and had given one to Andy Kershaw.  Very difficult to find any record of it online, so may qualify as one of Peel’s rarest records.

Cul-de-Sac - Cant- this was the B-side of their 7-inch single, Sakhalin.  With its mixture of varispeeded organ and supermarket Muzak guitar, Peel preferred this instrumental to the A-side.  I agree with him, Sakhalin starts off well, but outstays its welcome.  He referred to Cul-de-Sac as a “String-a-Longs for the 1990s”.

Piss - Nightmare - Peel adored this all-girl Japanese punk band and the loss of the Women’s Liberation album on which they contributed pained him later in the decade by all accounts.  This was the first of their tracks to make any impression on me, supposedly because of a comedy vocal and hints of melody through the thrash.

Rise From the Dead - Full of Dirty Money - More Japanese rock goodness and I liked the start, which was fortunate as that was all I heard due to the tape on the file running out.

Falling from favour were:

The Wedding Present - Silver Shorts - on first hearing, this was a cinch to be included.  However, it lost its sheen on subsequent listens.  I feel bad about this, because the only post I’ve deleted from this blog was for The Wedding Present’s superb Blue Eyes (nothing that they had done, just I was a bit too open in what I discussed about myself and ended up causing un-nessecary distress to a loved one).  Perhaps Blue Eyes, which seems magnified in status because of its deletion, set standards that need to be met by this band if they are to feature here again. I certainly hope so, because Blue Eyes told me just why The Wedding Present mattered to so many.

Augustus Pablo - Black Gunn - it was Rob Da Bank’s Early Morning Dub Appreciation Society which first introduced me to the brilliance of Augustus Pablo.  I think some residual appreciation from that may have led to Black Gunn being earmarked for inclusion, but there was always a question mark next to it.  Despite the charming, music-box like quality given to the glockenspiel part, the ennui was palpable.

Happy birthdayish

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Oliver!: Monster Magnet - Sin’s a Good Man’s Brother (28 March 1992)

Like a dope, I missed the 1970s episodes of The Evolution of John Peel.  My suspicions that it would be nothing more than a John Peel greatest hits of the decade proving to be spectacularly wide of the mark.  At least with reference to this track, there was nothing from Grand Funk Railroad featuring in the programme, offering little clue as to why Peel gave airtime to covers of their tunes through late 1991/early 1992.  Grotus missed out with me on their version of We’re An American Band but three months on, Monster Magnet make the metaphorical mixtape with their version of Sin’s a Good Man’s Brother, the opening track on GFR’s 1970 album, Closer to Home.

Dispensing with the acoustic opening section and clocking in at a minute less than the original, Monster Magnet do a great job of conjuring up the mythical rock preacher sound in this song with its reflections on how good and evil are two sides of the same coin and calls for revolution - topic of the day in 1970 and seemingly acted out by 1992.  But ultimately everything is subservient to the riff that drives the track and which sets everything on course with the false ending and subsequent race to the end of the track.  The 16 year old me would have lapped that riffage up, though whether it would have inspired me to seek out the source material is a moot point.  Because, in my ignorance (and I am still moored in it) Grand Funk Railroad are one of those band names that can fatigue me without hearing a note - see also the likes of The Eagles, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Chicago Transit Authority (later just known as Chicago).  Just to look at the names conjures up images of triple or quadruple albums, guitar solos that go on for three hours and grim musicality.  Are they justified opinions to hold without having sampled much of any of their music?   No, of course they aren’t, and in Grand Funk Railroad’s case, they were hugely influential on a number of 90s bands.  In Monster Magnet’s case it fed towards their 1991 album, Spine of God, which managed to be thrilling, intriguing and irritating sometimes all within the space of the same track.  It’s my hope that those bands I’ve just slandered managed to be equally diverse when the time comes for me to hear them.  In the meantime, the John Peel quarterly meeting of the Order of the Grand Funk Railroad cover will hopefully reconvene in June 1992.

Videos courtesy of P.P. (Monster Magnet) and drwu1975 (Grand Funk Railroad)

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Oliver!: Capleton - Prophet (28 March 1992)

This track by Clifton Bailey aka Capleton would have turned up here much sooner if I’d been content to stay ignorant and write about how the patois had been too quick for me, but I loved the delivery and how it fitted with the Batty Rider Riddim.  However, I wanted to provide some attempt at analysis, for the 50 or so people who read and listen to the posts, so I made one final attempt to see what I could catch.  And early on, it was all pretty much par for the course: inspiration from God rather than Man, worship to the prophet, cursing the forced repatriation of Africans to the Carribean - oh, and adulterous women should be stoned.  Eh?...What? ...Did I hear that right?  And would I be comfortable including it here in 2017, when it feels at times like such misogyny could be given free reign again.  But on listening to the vocal again, maybe it wasn’t the woman on Mount Sinai who was going to be stoned but instead one of her accusers.  But on the other hand...  The ambiguity makes me a little queasy but I see enough parallels with Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (the origin of “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”) to wave it through. Anyone with a keener ear than me  is welcome to set me straight or confirm the worst.  And if we can’t be clear, then let’s just dance.

Video courtesy of kikiReloader.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Oliver!: Shut Up and Dance feat. Peter Bouncer - Love is All We Need [Peel Session] (28 March 1992)

Unlike their first session, from 1990, which features a mix of your favourite 1990 issues of the day (The Poll Tax) and more evergreen concerns (White domination), the second Peel session by Shut Up and Dance has to be represented by the original records.  Fear not though, there isn't much difference between the recorded and session version of the track presented here.

For their second trip to Maida Vale, DJ Hype, Smiley and PJ were joined by the dancehall singer, Peter Bouncer.  A strange kind of alchemy occurred whenever they worked together.  Compared to the dreariness of his own recordings on labels like Unity, Bouncer always sounded an artist transformed when working with the beats and production offered by Shut Up and Dance.  It was a combination that later in 1992, would see them an uncleared piano sample away from a potential UK number 1 single.  For this session though, they produced a come-down classic which must have sounded unbelievably moving in the clubs as the bliss started to take hold.  At its core is a mixture of restraint and gentle nostalgia for a past love affair which the singer is trying to come to terms with.  In keeping with the spirit of times, there's no animosity on the singer's part.  He tries to take the best of the memories from the relationship and use them to sustain him, going forward.  A heart-mender for recovering clubbers everywhere.

I haven't heard the full version of the session on the tape either, which only caught 93 minutes of the show, but it did include a session version of an earlier Shut Up and Dance recording, played by Peel on 14/12/91.

Video courtesy of AlvinAI3000.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Oliver!: Shake Inc. - Twin Rave (28 March 1992)

There's something about the opening synth chord in this record by Dutch producer Aad de Mooy that makes me convinced that Angelo Badlementi was influencing ambient dance music more than anyone else in the early 90s.  However such thoughts are dispelled within seconds here once the twinkly synths start in over the top of that Fire Walk With Me-like chord, and then when the beat drops around the 50 second mark, our move from Lynchian despair to a full on rave sound system head to head is complete.

Video courtesy of E for Free.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Oliver!: Marcia Griffiths - Closer to You (28 March 1992)

I've focused so much of my attention on John Peel's radio programmes over late 1991/early 1992, that I have been somewhat slapdash when it comes to other opportunities to appreciate him.  I still haven't listened to any of 6Music's current retrospective series The Evolution of John Peel, partially because I fear that it will just end up being a greatest hits collection through the decades - though I will pull myself together and listen to it soon.  Perhaps even more unforgivably, I've been equally tardy when it's come to watching him on BBC Four's repeats of Top of the Pops.  This damns me heavily because when BBC Four kicked off the run, back in 2011, with the announcement that they were going to start with shows from 1976, my initial reaction was "Bloody hell, it'll be 6 years before they get to Peel hosting it!"  In the event, once episodes that had either been wiped or hosted by Jimmy Savile or Dave Lee Travis were skipped past, they reached Peel's 1982 return within 5 years.  He had co-hosted the show on one fateful occasion in early 1968, and, by his own admission, did a terrible job of it - forgetting who Amen Corner were at one point.  But after a mere 14 years, he was back and I was keen to see the repeat of his first, well second, appearance on the programme, especially considering that the opening sequence of him introducing Theatre of Hate was one of the first Peel related clips I remember seeing on YouTube, some 11 years ago.  Peel acquitted himself well - there were tracks I was pleased to see and others that were completely new to me including a band clearly put together to try and cash in on Shakin' Stevens popularity.  At the end of it, I was pleased to see that Peel was finally on the Top of the Pops list and looked forward to catching his Rhythm Pals act with David Jensen once they got to 1983.  I think I caught one more of Peel's 1982 TotP shows before they were suddenly in 1983 and he was paired with Jensen.
They hosted the show 13 times that year but I only caught two of them, which is silly considering that I would have been watching the show as a curious 7 year old at the time, and the original broadcasts would have been my first awareness of Peel in any form, beyond possibly hearing snippets of his show on the radio I used to play at bedtime when I was even younger (that’s a story for another day).  Now the Pops repeats have got to 1984 and aware that Jensen moved from Radio 1 to Capital Radio - to Peel's great sadness - and subsequently off Top of the Pops as a result, I made great efforts to catch their last few shows together.  The Rhythm Pals were essentially Top of the Pops version of Morecambe and Wise, with Peel free to engage in whimsy and gently absurd piss-taking, while Jensen could guide things back to Earth, with a"What can you do?" air about him in regards to his sidekick.  Their affection for each other, and enjoyment in hosting the show was obvious, despite the fact that their natural radio environment was, to varying degrees, some way removed from the neon and party balloons environment in which they hosted the show.  For all that, it's worth remembering that regardless of how frivolous or dour, depending on the approach producers took with the show, its great strength was that the credible would follow the cheesy without comment - it was an open house to pop and popular music, and the likes of The Clash and The Arctic Monkeys lessened themselves by not appearing on it.  In terms of 1984 pop music, I often think that one reason why the early appearances of The Smiths on the show are so fondly remembered is the fact they would either be following or leading on to Black Lace.  Right up to its dying day, I always regarded the Top of the Pops studio as simultaneously the most exciting/naffest place in the world.  It clearly had something about it, just look what it did to Danny Baker.

One feature of the TotPs I've seen with Peel in them is a performance of a record described either by himself or Jensen as "coming up through the clubs".  Four years on this would invariably mean an acid house or techno record, but in 1984, it was usually something that attempted to meld together Hi-NRG beat with soul vocal. Exhibits from the time, cued in by Peel include I'll Be Around by Terri Wells and the stone cold classic High Energy by Evelyn Thomas.  Such records seemed pertinent when we bring ourselves back to Peel broadcasting in the middle of the night from a Radio 1 studio, eight years after he was taking the piss on prime time BBC 1. A record like Closer to You seems closer in tone to those Top of the Pops club classics, even though its much more laidback and fuses dancehall with lovers rock.  Such an expression of unadulterated sweetness and love always seemed vaguely shocking on a Peel playlist, as though he decided to aurally airfreshen his airwaves for a moment after all the expected rock, racket and rave.  But as BBC Four have shown us, there were plenty of occasions when Peel found himself engulfed in "sweet" music.  He was just better at picking out the nuggets amidst the chintz than many others.  And Marcia Griffiths' voice was pure gold.

The video is of someone playing a record, which I appreciate is a bit unsatisying, though good for the   ear heart.  The record plays twice, but is around 3:40 in duration. There are other versions which include toasting by Buju Banton.  If you find it visually dull, then enjoy the best clip I've seen from Peel's '84 shows so far, featuring Zoo, the final dancing troupe used by Top of the Pops in order to boost a rather dull Pointer Sisters video for their terrific track, Automatic.  Sadly, no videos from the programme include Peel's hilarious attempts at robotic dancing at the end.

Videos courtesy of 777SKA (Griffiths) and memorylane1980s (Pointer Sisters).

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Oliver!: Swell - Down (28 March 1992)

Peel played this as the last of a medley of three records by bands who he described variously as "A consumers guide to what you're going to pretend to like next" and "The next big thing after the next big thing".  When he said that two of the bands began with the letter S, I found myself wondering whether one of them might have been Suede, despite the orthodoxy that Peel had never played them.  Anyway, the run started with Conduit for Sale by Pavement followed by Decatur by Seam.  Nothing in either of those tunes to distract me from the washing up.  However, when Decatur was followed by  the cavernous guitar riff at the top of the third track supplemented by an acoustic guitar strumming confidently away underneath, I really did think for a moment that it might be Suede as it seemed to encapsulate all those breathless adjectives that journalists used to use about the world beating possibilities that they had.  And then the vocal came in, several octaves down from Brett Anderson's range and I could relax and take the track in on its own terms.
To be fair, after such a stunning opening, the verses, which seem to focus on a long, enjoyable night getting stoned and trying to make it through to the next day, couldn't help but seem like a slight anti-climax.  But for its air guitar possibilities alone, Down would be guaranteed a place on the metaphorical mixtape.
Swell never did become the next big thing, but continue to release albums and EPs into the 21st century.  Hopefully more of their work turns up in future Peel shows.

Video courtesy of pierolivio.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 21 March 1992)

One of my favourite chapters in The Olivetti Chronicles was a 1994 article for Radio Times in which Peel drove from Suffolk to Glasgow and chose to soundtrack his journey not with demo tapes from acts hoping to get a play on his programme, but music from commercial radio stations based in the various counties he drove through.  In cultural terms, it was not a transportive experience:

"(Visitors from outer space) would assume that, judging by the records playing during the day, either life had come to an end in 1980 or the ultimate human dream was to get it together with the only one worth thinking of, with a view to making it through the night." (John Peel - Local Radio, p.144, The Olivetti Chronicles, Bantam Press, 2008).  If I tell you that he pledged to change channels every time a Cyndi Lauper record came on, it should give you some idea of the musical diet he was served up by stations as diverse as SGR FM (Suffolk), Q-103 (Cambridgeshire), Lincs FM (Lincolnshire) and Viking FM (Yorkshire).  Speaking as someone who really can't abide local or commercial radio, I can only admire Peel's tenacity at undertaking such a journey with nothing but "trite radio with play-safe musical policies" to listen to.  He wrote the article, apparently in defence of a Radio 1 which was still taking flak and losing listeners as Matthew Bannister's changes and updates continued to take hold.  Those departing listeners may have been going to commercial and local stations.  The roots for the article though were first brought to my attention on this show when Peel denounced "oldies" radio stations as they used to be called for not playing anything by The Big Three.  However, given that JFM bore him through Manchester with plenty of rhythm and blues while "Jenny-at-Drivetime" on West Radio over the Scottish border "played me three good (if elderly) records in a row", perhaps the balance was slightly redressed in the intervening two years.  He advised listeners who didn't want to listen to Radio 1, but who wanted to avoid listening to unadulterated wallpaper music to "drive from Preston to Glasgow a lot."  I can endorse this point of view.  Not from a musical perspective but the scenery from a train window between these two places is so breathtaking that Peel admitted to switching the radio off because of it, so that he could enjoy it more.

On this show, he told listeners about a mind-boggling TV preview in The East Anglian newspaper in which Jack Pizzey met a remote tribe in the Philippines who collected kneecaps as protection against bullets, "...and that's all it said!"
Amid the usual gig guides, he promoted an upcoming "anti-racism do" at Leeds University featuring Cook da Books who Peel was surprised to see were still going.
The show also kicked off a feature that would run for the next year and beyond on Peel's show, The Little Richard cover search.  Click the link if you want to find out in great depth, right now what the fuss was about, but in short - Peel became fixated in trying to track down a cover of a Little Richard song that he had, and which he thought was tremendous but which he couldn't remember the title of, or who had performed it.  As a result, he started working his way through his collection of 45s and started slipping in records he had forgotten about as a result until he found the one he was looking for.  The above mentioned Big Three were beneficiaries of this tonight.

The selections from this show came from an 80 minute file in which the taper, a person after my own heart, had made up their own mixtape of the show.  I only have one selection of my own which couldn't be shared:

The Meathooks - Tribute - or to give it its full, unbroadcastable title, Tribute to Gerogerigegege ->. Shithead..Dum Dum Noise..Pistol Fuck Attack...Meat of Meathooks...Shitface.  Taken from their album, Cambodia Soul Music.  Given the titles, you can probably guess what the music was like.  Listening to the track again last week for the first time in several months, I found myself thinking - perhaps unsurprisingly given the band's name, that this track would have made a perfect accompaniment to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had the late Tobe Hooper chosen to use hard, noiserock, grindcore as the soundtrack, because Tribute is essentially a rock music horror soundtrack taken at breakneck speed with pure noise and shafts of melody chasing the listener into the abbatoir.  And rightfully so given that Peel's show and this blog recently featured the sound of Leatherface.

If the thought of Texan cannibals is too upsetting to finish on then why not enjoy a little sport.  The last half hour of Grandstand going out around 6 hours before Peel's show did on this day.  I don't know what it is but there's something incredibly restful about David Coleman and Brendan Foster's commentary on the Boston cross country race.  As for the football results, Peel would have been cheered by Liverpool beating Tottenham. The Pig may have taken a jaunt up to Cambridge to see Ipswich draw up there, unaware, as I was, that the next five games would take us to the brink of promotion....

Video courtesy of BiroWybz.

Full tracklisting

Monday, 4 September 2017

Oliver!: Spawn - Infiltrator; Silverfish - Vitriola [Peel Session] (21 March 1992)

2 tracks with very little in common, musically but what links them is that I had previously passed on including them in earlier shows.

Infiltrator by Spawn, a dance act which included future Plastikman, Richie Hawtin as composer and producer, should have featured on the 8/3/92 show, but the fact I found myself wishing that I could write about a completely different track saw it fall from favour.  Peel kept the faith, and eventually I caught up with him.  All the things that drew me towards it originally - the drum and bass vibes for example - were supplemented by effects that I had missed originally.  I particularly like the sci-fi lab feel to it as it progresses.  Field of Vision by Nico is still a better tune though.

I must have been on my period or something when I first heard the Silverfish Peel Session broadcast on 12/1/92.  The only track I liked from that session originally was on there because of nostalgia for something else.  Eventually, Jimmy, albeit a non-session version, made its way on to my virtual mixtape.  Now, inspired by Peel's repeat of the session on this show, Vitriola joins them.  I suspect it was artist fatigue that was the issue for me at the time - a man can only take so many of Silverfish's aural punches in the face in a confined space.  Vitriola is perhaps their most violent expression yet arising out of the band's standard hammer on anvil drums and thunderclap guitar sound.  Lesley Rankine uses words as pure violence in this track - one moment a gun, the next a blade and then a burning sun.  Whoever has betrayed her is in real trouble as evidenced by the ongoing refrain, "You don't want to be around here when I get out", all topped off with the Silverfish "Uh!"  It's primal, exciting, thrilling and drips with danger.  A track that cannot be reasoned with or watered down, and as those final cymbal tinkles suggest at the end, it's already sprinkling the earth on your grave.

Videos courtesy of Sound of 88/92 (Spawn) and Vibracobra23 Redux (Silverfish)

Friday, 1 September 2017

Oliver!: Scarface - A Minute to Pray and a Second to Die (21 March 1992)

NOTE - the lyrics in this video are uncensored.

As I write this (28/8/17), the city of Houston in Texas is currently experiencing serious flooding due to Storm Harvey.  It remains to be seen whether this reaches Hurricane Katrina proportions, but the world will be watching to see if the level of response from the authorities is sharper than it was in New Orleans, 12 years ago - and if it isn't then expect Houston's very own Brad Jordan AKA Scarface to tell us all about it.  In his 2015 memoir, Diary of a Madman, he has plenty to say about where America found itself at the end of Obama's tenure and his words take on even greater resonance after 6 months of Donald Trump:
"America is always looking for something to blame for the reason it's destroying itself.  First it was jazz that was destroying America, then it was rock and roll, then it was disco, then it was rap.  But you know, I think America is destroying America.  Our country is built is built on a foundation of rules and laws and belief systems that date back to the 1700s and 1800s, back to the time of slavery and it's fucking us up.  It's breeding hate.  It's deeper than a record.  Hate goes deeper than that." (Page 37, iBooks - Diary of a Madman: The Geto Boys, Life, Death and the Roots of Southern Rap by Brad Jordan with Benjamin Meadows-Ingram; Dey St through Harper Collins, 2015)

In March 1992, Peel visited an exhibition of photography by rapper and TV presenter, Normski.  He didn't say whether he bought any of Normski's work, but he certainly picked up this 12" release taken from the Geto Boys alumnus's official solo debut, Mr. Scarface is Back.  Peel put the track on heavy rotation over March/April 1992 and deservedly so.  Using samples from Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues and the greeting at the top of What's Going On, this is an outstanding take on the realities of gang violence which weaves its way through three different viewpoints - the hustler who ends up dead leaving behind a daughter who he will never see grow up; the thankless lot of the women who love the dealers and criminals, thinking that they'll get to enjoy the fruits of their money, only to find themselves targets of abuse for spurious, paranoid reasons and ultimately left holding the baby; and lastly there's the foot soldier who recovers from a shooting, but instead of using his good fortune to take a righteous path pursues vengeance and takes it in shocking directions before finally being taken down for good.

For Scarface this track would crystalise two of his obsessions - the hold of the streets and death.  He witnessed it several times growing up, having been working in a convenience store as a child when a
cashier was murdered in a bungled robbery; seeing a neighbour come out of her house and die on the street after being shot inside the house by her husband and losing a number of friends and associates both to heat of the moment rows that escalated or cold-blooded executions.
"When I write about death on my records, it's almost never from a rapper's standpoint.  I write about what I know, what I experienced, what I thought, or what I saw.  But when you've had the opportunity  to see life come into this world, and you've seen it taken away, you start to look at life in a different way.  I know I did.  Just watching somebody who's getting ready to die who doesn't want to die fight for his life even though he knows there's nothing either one of you can do and all you can do is watch him go...To look them in the eyes and see life there before it's gone and then to watch it take off and to see those eyes turn into a blank stare....  I can't describe it.  It's like watching a birth.  That instant of life and death and creation and destruction -...I've seen a lot of people go out.  And it's a cold feeling.  It will give you a whole new respect for life." (Page 69, iBooks - Diary of a Madman).

The fragility of the human condition that Scarface talks about here underpins this track beautifully just as it does in all of Scarface's best work.  Although he himself talks about confrontations in his own life, he says that he's always ready to stand down if the other person will, but if they won't then he's ready to die.  A Minute to Pray and A Second to Die looks at the consequences of those who are only prepared to die.  It pities rather than glorifies, but as Scarface says, he and his contemporaries never sought to glorify violence, they only related what they had seen.  And in doing so here, he created great art.

Video courtesy of DeepNdaSouth.