Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Oliver!: 2 Too Many - Where's the Party? (20 March 1992)

This should have been an enormous mainstream hit.  It has bags of fun, charm and wit.  Was built around an infectious sample of The Isley Brothers' version of Stephen Stills's composition, Love The One You're With.  It also had the backing of Will Smith behind it, who had befriended this young West Philadelphia trio and signed them to his production company, before pairing them up with the producers of Summertime.  The love of socialising and rapping; of sharing your gift in a convivial environment with friends comes off this track in waves.  It shares Smith's disdain for those who want to use rap parties as an excuse to get violent or those who put machismo above looking good, feeling fine and having a good time.  There is some neat social observation though about the difficulties of hailing a cab when you're black.  But its primary concern, as it says itself, is making toes tap, which it does effortlessly.  Though not enough for a hit single surprisingly.  They also parted ways with Smith at the end of the year, though he took the "Work that body, work that body" line and piloted it to Number 1 a year later.

Peel was taken by the reference to Skip to my Lou from Meet Me in St. Louis, a musical and song which I starred in with a Falmouth youth theatre group in 1995.  He had tried in vain to find a good version to segue into after Where's the Party?

Basically, The Isley Brothers WERE hip-hop sampling at one point

Videos courtesy of mintunderground (2 Too Many) and koollatter (Isley Brothers).

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Oliver!: Th' Faith Healers - SOS [Peel Session] (20 March 1992)

This show featured a repeat of a Faith Healers session which had originally been broadcast on 11/1/92.  I only caught two of the tracks on this show: the rama-lama repetition of Hippy Hole and this rather enjoyable cover of ABBA's SOS, which gives the 1975 original a shoegaze makeover with feedback to spare.  It comes through as one of the more sincere efforts at "underground" covers of pop - see also things like the If I Were a Carpenter tribute album from 1994, which Peel despite his dislike for The Carpenters played tracks from.  Or you could compare it to Chumbawamba's (in)famous Peel Session comprised solely of covers of cheesy party songs in late 1993.

Peel was tickled by Th' Faith Healers choice of cover saying how much he enjoyed it when bands used the session as an opportunity to record something other than the latest single and three tracks from the forthcoming album.  I might have a higher opinion of Th' Faith Healers if they had chosen to go full Erasure in this session.  Considering that this session predates ABBA-esque by a couple of months, you could, at a push claim that Th' Faith Healers made the early running in a year which would see Erasure take an EP of ABBA covers to Number 1 in the charts and end with the release of Gold: Greatest Hits, one of the biggest selling compilation albums of all time.  It's clear, 1992 wasn't about Ebeneezer Goode, it was about Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anni-Frid.

Inspired by Th' Faith Healers?

Videos courtesy of Vibracobra23Redux and ErasureVEVO.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Oliver!: John Peel's Music - British Forces Broadcasting Service [BFBS] (Sunday 15 March 1992)

For nearly 30 years, John Peel, lest we forget one of the last generations of British people to do National Service, broadcast a show on British Forces Broadcasting Service, hereafter to be referred to as BFBS.  He followed a long lineage of broadcasters whose shows were transmitted to servicemen: Alan Freeman, Kenny Everett and Tommy Vance were among his contemporaries on the network, which began broadcasting in 1943 and remains in operation today, with a wide number of services throughout the world.

By 1992, Peel had had a weekly show going out on BFBS for 20 years, primarily being transmitted in the German part of the network.  In keeping with his shows for other European stations, the shows featured no sessions, but plenty of records and stories.  In keeping with, what Peel always referred to as "my domestic programmes", there was also plenty of worry in the background over Peel's future on the station.  In this show, he thanked the German listeners for getting the programme back on to its  old timeslot after it had been moved, leading some listeners to write to him asking whether the show had been discontinued.

His cold from his holiday at Center Parcs continued to bother him, but nevertheless he had enjoyed observing the comical lengths people had gone to in order to protect their hairstyles on water slides.  One track which didn't make my cut was Tumbleswan by Jacob's Mouse.  According to the music papers, the band had been arrested for trying to steal the No Fish Shop Parking sign.

The selections from this show came from the full 2 hour programme.  I was unable to find...

Cords - Such a Fool - and I can't tell you anything about the track as the recording was taken down.  I can remember them requesting Peel play a track which I initially included but later dropped...

Rapeman - Inki's Butt Crack - yes, it's allround funster Steve Albini and friends with a musical joke based on Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture from Fingal's Cave and in keeping with most musical jokes, it's a tedious bore.  Peel anecdotalised about his usual beef with Rapeman in that he loved their music, but hated their name so much that he had once declined the opportunity to offer them a session as he couldn't face saying, "Here's another track from Rapeman" four times in a night.

For Winston the Ferryman.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Oliver!: Dashing Marbles - MTV Girl (15 March 1992)

This wonderful piece of punk-pop, apparently recorded "in a frigging hole in the ground, Chicago" according to its liner notes was about 3 years old when Peel played it on this show.  I adore it for a number of reasons: the compellingly direct vocal performance from Jeanette Alfred and the virtuoso playing of Russ Forster, particularly that funky-punky duologue between guitar and bass going into the last 30 seconds of the track.  In our Instagram-anyone-can-be-famous-if-they-know-how-to-court-the-right-social-media-crowd world, I felt huge nostalgia for songs that focus their ire on starfuckers who would do anything to get through that gilded gate and into that gilded world.  The rarefied, super cool world that MTV once beamed into homes and lives.  Those impossibly glamorous and hip young things who didn't feel awkward walking around holding a stick microphone the size of a railway sleeper through the late 80s and early 90s while they talked to movers and shakers across what was either an ongoing snapshot of youth culture or a symbol of the McDonaldsisation of it, despite the best efforts of Beavis and Butthead.  Either way, it felt like something that mattered back then.  Now, the only access I have to music TV channels is when I go to my local barbers or the odd pub, and none of them are tuned to MTV, instead choosing The Box and other low calibre variations.  But what does it matter?  As Noel Gallagher remarked during his hilarious video commentary of Oasis' Whatever, "Who fucking watches videos (on TV) these days?"  I mean we could all do it through YouTube now, couldn't we?  Yes, but the point is, it was harder in those days.  You did have to have something about you to get onto MTV.  It seemed as though you had made it, regardless of whether you were a performer in a band, a solo artist or just one of the entourage.  How far would you go to get on it?

Jeanette Alfred was convinced that the price some people were willing to pay was too high.  She told me recently:
"MTV Girl came about when MTV was so popular and all the girls on these (channels) looked the same to me. I wrote a lot of fuck you type of songs though I was not a fuck you type of person. That is why, when Bikini Kill wanted me to sing on an album with them, I thought that singing was really not what I saw in my future.  I asked Michael (Cornelius, her husband at the time) to help me make it a song and we kind of put that song together. Everything has to do with the time back then like the line, "Dancing with Bruce" that would be Bruce Springsteen and "raped by Dee" would be Dee Sneider of Twisted Sister. Some videos must have alluded to that."

Jeanette went through quite a journey to get to recording MTV Girl after arriving in the US from her native Germany:
"I moved to the US (Arizona) in January of 1981 and was bored out of my mind. I wanted to return back to Germany but didn't have money. After a couple of years, I meet some punk-rockers and ended up marrying the bass player (Michael Cornelius AKA Michael Cx)  from JFA (Jody Foster's Army). Our house was the band house.  Every band and skaters who came to Phoenix to play, stayed at our place. I didn't know any of those people but remember the band names (Feeders, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Black Flag, Tony Alva, etc). There is a group on FB that still keeps up with the scene from back then. 
I was surrounded by music and Michael, my then husband, had a zine.  I wanted to do all those things too. I put out a zine in half English and German and helped design JFA's album cover. When I didn't get credit for it, I was kind of mad and said, "Forget you all, I can do my own music." So I started writing."

After her marriage to Cornelius broke up, Jeanette moved to Chicago and continued her musical adventures under the eye of a big favourite of John Peel's:
"I started recording with Russ Forster of Sponge. Our producer was Steve Albini. Steve is kind of a big shot in the Punk music business here in Chicago. I spoke to Russ last year to get all the tracks off of the remaining spools but we never made a definite plan. I will talk to him some more about it."

Jeanette currently manages a world music outfit called Kreyol Roots led by her husband. I'd love to hear a world music take on MTV Girl, a track which retains its relevance, even though its original targets are now more simultaneously widespread and local than ever.

Video courtesy of John Peel. 

My deepest thanks to Jeanette Alfred.

Photo credit - Renata Golden

Kreyol Roots website

Friday, 2 June 2017

Oliver!: Esperant - Eloucha (15 March 1992)

Looking back through lists of tracks written down months ago, it can be a dreadful feeling when you see a track title and realise that you remember nothing of it.  This is particularly true of foreign language tracks and on the page, Eloucha brought back no recollection at all.  There was no distilled joy as in the mid-section of La Joie de Vivre, no plangent ringing riffs from Leonore or even the wonderful coda to Ngonda from the same 15/3/92 show wending through my unconscious.  The lack of those instant associations made me wonder whether this would see the track fall from favour, but it romped it straight from the very start with an explosion of floor-filling joy like a Fanta bottle that's been shook up for an hour.  It's a fun track, swapping virtuosity for a kind of French-African soul music, complete with xylophone and comedy Italian phrases (though not in a Joe Dolce sense).  Even the synthesiser, always an obstacle to Peel's enjoyment of a soukous track feels right before the guitars come in to take us home.

Video courtesy of mrbobodigital.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Oliver!: The Vinyl Vandals - Don't Be So Serious [Rasta Mayhem mix] (15 March 1992)

When I used to listen to Peel in the early part of the Millenium, he seemed to be one of the few disc jockeys who was given licence to swear on air.  He didn't abuse this freedom but I thought nothing of the fact that he could back announce something like The Immortal Lee County Killers album, The Essential Fucked Up Blues! without censure.  I figured this was down to a combination of the time slot his show went out at (10pm to midnight back then - 11pm to 2am in 1992 - and these BFBS shows went out late in the day too), the fact that he only did it when announcing swearwords as parts of song/album titles or band names and the fact that he was, after all, John Peel.  He'd earned the right.  How surprising to learn that he only really had permission to do this after the turn of the Millenium.  Californian band, Fuck, were "Feck" on Peel's show for most of the 90s and the likes of Prosthetic Cunt could make some of Peel's last playlists but never get a session so as to avoid the C-word being said more than once a show.
Up to the 21st century, swearing in a record could have a huge impact on what Peel could play on air.  This was despite the fact that, even taking into account the large number of under 18s who listened to his show, he was broadcasting after watershed hours - after the pubs had closed in 1992 for that matter.  However, Peel was bound by rules like everyone else, even on the British Forces Broadcasting Service.  Before playing this splendidly enjoyable fusion of Rasta preaching and hard trance, Peel read a letter from a listener called Hughie requesting that he play a different Vinyl Vandals track from the one he had been doing.  Peel explained that he couldn't do this due to the amount of bad language on the other Vinyl Vandals tracks that he had.  He expressed a hope that an imminent single from them called Headstrong would be "as pure as the driven snow."  It turned out to be their last release.

The frustration is justified but any mix of Don't Be So Serious is worth listening to.  The radio friendly Rasta Mayhem mix features Rasta scatting, water bubbles, a memorable refrain for a whole nightclub to chant, "You are drugging our water" and a mix of beats and processed synth sounds that drive the thing on superbly.  The sweary mix is even better, evoking the feel of an illegal rave right up to the arrival of the police.  I include it below and salute The Vinyl Vandals for their refusal to compromise. I only hope Hughie got to hear it in the end.

Videos courtesy of DJDreadnought and skunkassociation.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Oliver!: The Fall - Return (15 March 1992)

Peel was still getting plenty of mileage out of The Fall's Code:Selfish album and he programmed two tracks for inclusion in this programme.  In doing so, he put me into a position similar to that when I was trying to select tracks from Revolver's Peel Session.  One minute, both tracks were in, then only one of them, then it was a different one from the one I thought I liked more, then I would go back to liking them both before briefly considering skipping them altogether.  Ultimately though, the Twilight Zone referencing Time Enough At Last misses out and instead we have Return, a tune which my initial notes on the show lauded as featuring Mark E.Smith's vocal at his most lushly romantic.  Being that this is a Fall song though, nothing is quite so straightforward.

What's clear is that there has been a major row between Smith and his lover.  References to "Hellas" suggest that she was Greek, perhaps foreshadowing Smith's subsequent marriage to Elena Poulou.  The tone of the track is broadly speaking, one of reconciliation, but Smith manages something very interesting in his vocal line - a skill he would lose as the years passed - listen out for the slightly pleading nature of his "Baby, baby, baby, come back to me", but note how he follows that with the single word, "Return", which by contrast, comes out like a command.  It's a nice, subtle touch - and it suggests that the detente between them may be a fragile one.  I also like the touch of male fantasy that  crops up when he talks about the object of his desires leaving because she found it difficult to stay calm while doing the ironing.  Even misanthropes from Prestwich want their gorgeous women to do whatever housework they can.  The final verse finds Smith in the unusual position of the solicitous lover, "Sparkle and pander her", while the line, "I'll change the latch on the door/I'll get locks all over" can be read either romantically - the girl returns through an open door and he buries himself in her golden hair, showering her in sweet nothings - or more cynically that he will keep her locked up so that she can't leave him again, but he'll keep spinning her sweet words so as to distract her from the realisation that she is his prisoner.  Given that the album has a few tracks in which Smith attempts to play something close to a balladeer, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it's a romantic track.  Any other interpretations are welcome in the comments box.

Video courtesy of Jake.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Oliver!: The Werefrogs - Forest of Doves (15 March 1992)

Nothing made The Frank and Walters sound so anodyne and pointless to me than hearing Peel follow their session version of Happy Busman with the title track of The Werefrogs' first EP.  That was on the 1/3/92 show, but it wasn't available anywhere when I first heard it.  Thankfully, our next selection from this 15/3/92 show turned up on YouTube, and I asked the uploader very nicely for The Werefrogs, and here we are, to my everlasting gratitude, because this is a huge favourite of mine.  223 views on YouTube, and at least 3/4 of them have probably been made by me.  It's high time Forest of Doves was better known.

The Werefrogs formed in New York but were one of those bands who, if not more popular in the UK than in their homeland, found that Blighty offered them the opportunity to record and distribute their music.  Ultimate, home to groups like Senser and the 1992 Festive Fifty winners, Bang Bang Machine put out virtually all of The Werefrogs material starting with this superb, unashamedly romantic, psychedelic rocker.

The first thing that strikes you is the massiveness of the initial burst of sound after the preliminary drum pattern and bass prodding; once singer, Marc Wolf's guitar bursts forth, strap yourself in for an epic. The first 90 seconds seem to progress through the stages of seeds being planted which burst into mighty oaks and stretch up, up into the sky.   On their own website the band called themselves "shoegaze/indie" but Forest of Doves is full rock monster; more Led Zeppelin than Curve, though a more contemporary, for the time, comparison might be with The Thing.  Marc Wolf's vocals can't compete with the sound but does a better job of integrating with it than Sice Rowbotham.  He sounds like someone trying to pick his way through the depths of the forest, looking to reach an oasis of sanctuary in the middle of it.
Lyrically, the song can be read several ways.  On the one hand, it's a love song with Wolf bringing flowers to his lover.  It could be a drug song, if the doves are taken to mean something other than birds.  The laments over hollowness and haunted streets imply that the song is about a graveyard of memories, and that the forest represents a chance to escape mental torments of the past or the ennui of the present.  I'm particularly entranced by the last minute of the song from 4:51 onwards where a gorgeous minor chord guitar line comes in to play the song out alongside the more monolithic guitar parts.  It gives the song the feeling of a thousand doves taking to the skies from the tree branches of life, while the forest burns beneath them.  A piece to listen as the sun rises and allow chaos to fall away from you.  Staggeringly good.

This recording comes direct from the 15/3/92 BFBS show and Ivor Cutler's When I Stand on an Open Cart followed it.  You may hear a snatch of the next track on the Forest of Doves EP, Spider Gardens Fizzle, before Ivor starts.  I had to smile as the same quick start caught Peel out on 1/3/92 as well.

Video courtesy of John Peel.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Oliver!: Ivor Cutler - When I Stand on an Open Cart (15 March 1992)

The last time an Ivor Cutler piece turned up on this blog, I blethered on about how, in his nature-centred pieces, Cutler never wrote about animals or landscapes in sentimental ways.  To Cutler, the natural world was as full of absurdity and ridiculousness as the human one and his interactions with birds who wanted to break into the Top 40 made perfect sense.  However, he pulled a neat subversion of this approach in When I Stand on an Open Cart, a brief spoken word track on his 1976 album, Jammy Smears.  Whereas most of the natural world tracks that I've heard of Cutler's either had him directly talking to the animals and insects, or singing about their issues from their perspective, this track presents him as an observer of nature's bounty.  If the Countryside Code wanted to add a poem to its list of instructions for the public, it might look to the opening lines of this piece.   But typical of Cutler, the appreciation of cows, corn and voles also has room for weeds, bacteria and cowpats.  Nature's pitfalls have to be preferable though to what the average cart rider may observe in the towns.  The image of "the aged" observed through windows, "lying in bed, wrapped in newspaper" offers a bleakness that must surely have fired the imagination of somebody like Stephen "Babybird" Jones.

You'll hear When I Stand on an Open Cart again tagged on to the end of the next track I write about for this blog, but as that track is a potential choice for my own favourite of 1992, I want it to have the post to itself.  And likewise, When I Stand on an Open Cart deserved its own solo spotlight too.  Peel was certainly enjoying having the reissues of Cutler's albums for Virgin on CD as it made it easier for him to cue up the individual tracks than it had been on the original vinyl.

Video courtesy of bobsherunkle.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Oliver!: Emeneya - Ngonda (15 March 1992)

I'm so pleased that this wonderful soukous track was available to share, because a) it's been ages since any of my soukous picks have been available and b) Ngonda formed part of a wonderful trio of tracks on the 15/3/92 show.  It's all subjective of course, but Peel's programmes were unmatchable whenever a sequence of melodic, thrilling and new (to the listener) records came together.  This and the next two tracks that turn up on this blog over the coming days have had me aching with anticipation since I heard them.

Ngonda appears to be one of King Kester Emeneya's key songs, and it features a brilliantly extended outro, full of rippling guitar duelling from about 3:03 onwards.  Peel praised the playing of guitarist Luttulle Lutus but felt that the Emeneya name, which I think he thought covered the band rather than the singer, sounded like "a rather grisly religious foundation".

Get on your dancing shoes and give praises.

Video courtesy of selino bwatshia.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Oliver!: H-Bomb - Radar (15 March 1992)

A one-off pseudonymous release by Jeff Mills, a US DJ who was to become a big fixture on Peel playlists over the course of the next decade.  A look at Mills's John Peel wiki page suggests that it wasn't until 1993 that he started to be played by Peel, but he had been part of the dance music scene for many years under the guise of The Wizard, as part of the Underground Resistance collective or as resident DJ at the Tresor club in Berlin.

Before Peel made a full immersion into Mills's music, he played this storming piece of techno rave, which picked up on the acid computer game feel of many of his contemporaries and reworked it into something much heavier, snappier and better.  There's plenty of soars, sweeps and red alerts in this track (one day I will print a full glossary of terms that I use to describe the soundscapes in dance records, but for now, I ask you to trust me on this), before ending with an emphatic game over that sounds like the vanquishing of his competition.  For Peel, the fact that this record played from the middle outwards guaranteed its inclusion.

It may be some time before we get to 1993, but this will do nicely to be going on with.  On the strength of Radar, there's going to be plenty to enjoy from Mills over the years ahead.

Video courtesy of ffokcuf.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Oliver!: Mo-Dettes - Fandango (15 March 1992)

Even before I tell you anything in depth about this track, you'll probably have heard enough in the opening seconds to go, "Ah, John Peelesque circa 1980, I believe?"  It's all there.  Guitars that sound like the opening of cocktail umbrellas; mannered Mittel-European female vocals that in this particular case sound like they're going to go "Ooh la la" at any moment; whole verses delivered in a foreign language (French, I think*) and a feeling that the whole track is going to collapse in on its original intentions and end up as a Girls At Our Best pastiche.

*Your intrepid blogger just looked at Mo-Dettes page on the John Peel wiki.  Turns out that the lead singer, Ramona Carlier was born in Switzerland, so less mannered than I had thought.

Mo-Dettes were formed in 1979 and included in their ranks Kate Korus, a founder member of The Slits, though she left them before they recorded their legendary Peel Sessions.  Fandango was the opening track on their sole 1980 album, The Story So Far.  The half English/half French mash-up may sound genially close to gibberish as it rattles along, but is of a piece with an album which despite the of its time sound manages to touch a number of musical bases.  What comes through in Fandango is a half lament, half sigh of relief that the protagonist's former lover is out of her life.  This theme is touched on to more satisfying effect on Bedtime Stories.

Peel played the track in response to a letter from a listener called Andy asking for some records by among others Mo-Dettes, Section 25, Blue Orchids and others from the post-punk era.  Peel obliged by playing this back to back with a song by The Diagram Brothers.  I'm charmed enough by Fandango to include it, but I think there are much better examples of Mo-Dettes on their album than this track.  As well as the aforementioned Bedtime Stories, I would recommend their swingtime flavoured history of the Kray Twins (sad to see that it didn't turn up on the soundtracks to either Legend or The Krays), the nifty character sketch of Foolish Girl or the irresistible White Mice in either version.

Video courtesy of Pleasure Victim

Monday, 8 May 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 14 March 1992)

Now that Peel was broadcasting on the overnight shift on Fridays and Saturdays, it had a knock on effect for his weekends.  By his own admission, today was the first Saturday afternoon he had spent in London for years.  "I was thinking I was going to do loads of interesting things, as you do.  Go to the pictures; go and buy records; go shopping; go and see people; sit in amusing cafes talking codswallop over expensive food and drink.  Of course, int the end, I did none of these things.  Instead, I spent all afternoon in the Radio 1 office putting this programme together for you the listener."  His new weekend arrangements stopped him from accompanying Sheila to Portman Road to see Ipswich play out a fortunate goalless draw with Leicester City.  The Pig had had to borrow a friend's child in order to sit in the family enclosure.  Peel hoped that Leicester wouldn't become a bogey side for Ipswich in the way that they had once been for Liverpool, "Of course these days, virtually every team appears to be a bogey team for Liverpool."

The selections for this show came from a short 47 minute file.  There were 2 other tracks I would have liked to include had I been able to:

Crane - Colourblind - My notes call this "good drone rock" and it seems a good example of that obesssion that British guitar bands over the late 80s/early 90s to rewrite any of See My Friends2000 Light Years From Home or Tomorrow Never Knows.  All clanging guitar and Eastern drumming pattern - heavy on the cymbal to tom-tom shuffle.  It can't help but seem a little lounge jazzy in comparison to its original sources, but not bad for all that.

Cutty Ranks - The Agony - despite featuring plenty of a guitar note that sounds like it's doing a Kenneth Williams impression, I enjoyed this a lot.  I particularly liked the way he works in refrains from kids' songs like Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar.  His flow defeated me on a number of occasions, but it seemed to be going down the "love makes you a hypochondriac" route.  Completists may be interested to know that there is a track called Agony doing the rounds credited to Cutty Ranks and Chinese Laundry, but it was not the one played by Peel on this programme.

Lots of "bundle tracks" in this episode.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Oliver!: Cybersonik - Thrash (14 March 1992)

A storming piece of trance techno to get the 14/3/92 show underway, the type of track that this mixtaper would include just to shake things up a bit.  One for fans of ominous-chords and electro bongos.

"I was going to segue it into Extreme Noise Terror, but that would just have been cheap".

Video courtesy of anubiscj303.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Oliver!: Leatherface - Peasant in Paradise [Peel Session] (14 March 1992)

On the recording that I heard for the 14/3/92 show, there was only space for one track from this session.  Peasant in Paradise, which is the final track on this video of the complete session, was played first as part of the repeat airing that it received this evening. (On the video, Peasant in Paradise starts at 9:17).

Peasant in Paradise initially won me over because of its energy - so far so cliched, but further listens and to the rest of the session brought out greater depths to the material than might otherwise be expected from a band named after the iconic killer in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series.
Leatherface rock as hard as Therapy?  indeed lead singer, Frankie Stubbs sounds like Andy Cairns's older, wiser brother.  But whereas Therapy? dealt in dread and confusion, Leatherface manage to mine a richer seam of regret, contemplation, and loss with a piledriving force that allows it to escape guitar-wank self-wallowing.  If there is such a sub-genre as reflective punk rock (and The Buzzcocks seem a good starting point for that), then Leatherface took it on a notch for rough, rugged types with hurt feelings and clear heads.
Peasant in Paradise looks back at a better time in the protagonist's life -   an unexpected summer, which was over before they knew it to be replaced by a bleak winter.  That sense of touching elusive happiness, something so transient before it starts "pissing down with snow".  Also recommended is the third track on the video, Dreaming, which deals with the fallout when a casual, easy relationship suddenly brings on unforeseen and unlooked for responsibility.

Video courtesy of vibracobra23

Monday, 1 May 2017

Oliver!: Pointblank - Planting Semtex (14 March 1992)

One of the best tracks I ever heard on Huw Stephens's nascent BBC Introducing show was Thou Shalt Always  Kill from 2007, by Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip.  It wasn't just because it was a brilliantly delivered set of Commandmemts by which any 18 year old (or 31 in my case at the time) could live their life by when it came to personal relationships, socialising etiquette or relationship to music, but because it shed light on an inner secret of music.  In this case, it was the use of the phrase "kill" to mean "come up with killer rhymes".  This was important to ignoramuses like myself, given that the use of words connected with violence has always been bound up with rap/hip-hop/beatz poetry, and the resultant negative perception which the form carries around as a result. And I say that while fully acknowledging the slew of tracks where violent phrasing means exactly what it says.

Nevertheless, I found myself thinking about this use of bluff and extended wordplay when listening to Planting Semtex, the only release by Kold Sweat duo, Pointblank.  The incendiary title, designed to raise hackles, but in actuality talking about putting a bomb under PopLand.  For the rest, it reaches out to broach on other subjects including inner city inequality and stifled opportunities for black people both domestically and in South Africa.  However, it doesn't overcommit to this, falling back instead into boastful, loud and proud declarations of their own abilities as wordsmiths - an important piece of self-esteem, possibly all that they have.  It's an uneasy brew, which hangs together a little awkwardly, but the conviction in the delivery makes it a compelling listen.  I also love the shoutout to various London massives at the end, which continues on even after the backing track has dropped out.  It was always marvellous on the Peel Show when those stentorian callouts to their fellow men fell away only for Peel to uncertainly try and respond - like David Cameron pressed into emergency service at a hip-hop battle royale.

"Thou shall not make repetitive, generic music".

Videos courtesy of THECONSORTIUM (Pointblank) and lesacvspip (Le Sac/Pip).

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Oliver!: King Tubby and The Observer AllStars - Jam Down (14 March 1992)

A kind soul recently uploaded King Tubby's Special 1973-1976 to YouTube, allowing me a chance to listen to it in full and search for clues about why Peel was playing so many tracks from it through early 1992.  The album is essentially split into two halves: a series of instrumentals with The Observer Allstars and a series of versions (vocal tracks) featuring The Aggrovators.  One of which included heavy sampling from a very early post on this blog.  Maybe it's been an accident of tape omission on the shows I've heard, but Peel's preference seemed to be skewed more towards The Observer Allstars tracks, as I've heard nothing from The Aggrovators' cuts - a shame as I think some of the tracks from the latter half of the album hit some beguilingly strange grooves, while the treatment of the vocals give them real kick in some cases.
By contrast, The Observer Allstars material, with one outstanding exception, seems to fall into two camps: stentorian blasts or chilled noodling.  The saving grace is that it's all so well played and arranged that I can't help but include it, and Jam Down is another example of that.  In the context of a Peel playlist featuring tracks about fascism and death/famine/holocaust references, these chilled grooves would have been a necessary balm.  Intermission music before the next aural assault.

Video courtesy of theBolillo310

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Oliver!: Big Black - Il Duce (14 March 1992)

I'll add Steve Albini to the list of people that Peel backed from first record to last, even though Albini earned Peel's disapproval over the name of his first post Big Black band, Rapeman - more on that in the coming weeks hopefully.

I learnt about Big Black long before I heard a note of music from them.  Uncompromisingly brutal in their musical vision, and uncompromisingly cynical in their perception of the music business, I found myself hoping, "Jesus, if you're going to behave like that, you had better be  good at what you do".  Attitude will only get you so far, after all.  But the fact that Peel included their 1987 album, Songs About Fucking in a 1997 list of his 20 favourite albums suggested there was real meat on their bones, (although, as The Guardian admitted, had he been asked a week later, he may have produced an entirely different list).  But the evidence of my own ears sealed the deal.  A listen to a handful of tracks - "songs" seem disappointingly inadequate to describe Big Black's work - and I've been left with the thundering Cloverfield like riff(s) of Kerosene stuck in my head and bearing down like the Mother of All Bombs into my 10 favourite songs...er...tracks of all time.  To those who feel that, in 1985-86, Peel and his peers were panning for gold in gobs of spit when it came to finding interesting alternative guitar music, Big Black would have felt like a toxic burnt-out oasis in that desert.  The fact that Kerosene didn't feature in the 1986 Festive Fifty is enough to make me wish that Peel had stuck to his guns and dropped the whole thing after 1991.

Big Black were 5 years disbanded at the point that Peel played the title track of this 1985 EP, news which would have bummed me out had I learnt that in 1992.  Big Black were renowned for avoiding things like multi-formatting and broke off dealings with record labels who tried to do things without their knowledge or approval.  This strikes me as the act of a band who liked to give value for money to record buyers, and that feeling permeates Il Duce, which offers listeners 5 different openings in the space of the opening 100 seconds:
1) The moodiest sounding harmonium I've ever heard.  Only 12 seconds long, but making it clear that   this track starts in the lead up to a revolution that will not be bloodless.
2) The clicks and tricks of Roland - Big Black's faithful drum machine, though here it is supplemented by someone letting loose rimshots - like snipers taking up their positions.
3) That seasick guitar bass sound as the forces make their way through the street to their destination.
4) Hits and smacks of guitar chord - the sound of an occasional shot as the violence of the revolution begins to build up.
5) Finally, all out assault in the Big Black style, as the central riff is played out, while over the top of it, guitar strings are pulled, scraped, punched like tanks are rolling over them and firing off their mortars.

After that opening burst, relative serenity arrives as Il Duce begins his proclamations over that central riff and jackboot drum pattern.  There remains an ambiguity over whether the lyrics are told from the perspective of Mussolini himself, or from the perspective of a follower of his or an ordinary citizen.  That whole notion that Benito is the people and the people are Benito.  It's only by projecting that successfully that fascists get to shape the argument and now they're getting their platform in the media, they may get to shape a great deal more than just that.  Albini would have been guessing about this in 1985, but with Ronald Reagan having recently been re-elected with a landslide, he may have felt there were loose parallels.  Had he written the track in 2015, he could have taken his pick of contemporary settings to set it alongside.  Although the track calms down through the lyrical passages, it continues to be punctuated by bursts of guitar noise - the sound of executions and imprisonments.  While that final decisive drum beat sounds like a definite shutting off any dissent towards the new regime.

Video courtesy of ratherdroll.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Oliver!: The Boo Radleys - Skyscraper (14 March 1992)

Peel was giving plenty of airplay to The Boo Radleys' album, Everything's Alright Forever, through early 1992.  God knows why. Maybe a little bit of fellowship towards Liverpudlians.  I haven't been too taken by what he played from it, partially down to impatience with Sice Rowbotham's tokenistic vocals which sound like someone from another band wandering into someone else's song, singing a few lines inoffensively, and then meandering off again.

Despite that, I like Skyscraper a lot because it sounds like a track that is trying to transcend its limitations.  This becomes especially apparent in the rock out finale from 2:05 onwards, which despite owing a melodic touch or two to Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight (though not half as blatantly as Suede did a couple of years later) means that anyone who would have stood up in 1992 and said, "This is going to be one of the most artistically interesting  bands in the country through the 1990s", wouldn't have got laughed out of the room.  It was an upward curve for The Boo Radleys from here, and Skyscraper marks the first tentative step forward.

Influencing both shoegaze and Britpop?

Videos courtesy of MarkTurver1990 (The Boo Radleys) and InnerMusicLove (Clapton).

Friday, 14 April 2017

Oliver!: PJ Harvey - Joe/Plants and Rags (14 March 1992)

Peel was in a considerable state of anticipation in March 1992 as PJ Harvey prepared to release their (yes, you read that right) debut album, Dry.  He played three tracks from it on this programme - the two included here and the slightly free-form jazz-like Fountain, which I couldn't get a comfortable handle on.  Certainly not comfortable enough to imagine being happy about it turning up on a mixtape.  But Joe and Plants and Rags are great.  The fact that PJ Harvey were a band rather than a person at this point is important to make clear because these two tracks were the only ones not credited solely to Polly Jean Harvey; instead she co-wrote them with drummer and frequent collaborator, Rob Ellis.

I wasn't too sold on Joe when Peel played it as an acoustic b-side on the Sheela-Na-Gig single on his 16/2/92 show but beefed up with the full band behind it, then it becomes a different beast entirely.  Plants and Rags is the better song out of the two, certainly more sonically interesting with the clashing string parts and discordant duel between the violins.  What makes both tracks stand out though is the wide range of interpretations that can be applied to them.
Joe is a guardian angel figure clearly, but I've found myself split on whether he is
1) a truck-stop bodyguard in one of Harvey's Americana settings.
2) Jesus - admittedly this is based on a comment I saw on a message board about the song's meaning which supposed that the singer of the song was Mary Magdelene, on the basis that she would be washing the feet with her hair.
3) A figment of her schizophrenic imagination - although the track drives on at a fair old rate, it is riven with paranoia and a desire for vengeance against enemies both real and imaginary.  There's illness trying to make its presence felt through the onslaught with talk of the "headache tree" and how Joe can be the only one to cut her free.  But will he liberate her into this world or the next one?

Plants and Rags also seems to be narratively pulling in different directions.  At different stages the song seems to come from the standpoint of variously:
1) A recent corpse - "Ease myself into a body bag" and the references to the sun not shining in the white and black shadows.
2) A famine victim - living among useless plants and in her rags, dreaming of the man who gave her fine food and shiny things.  Maybe it was him that led her to 1).  Either way, he stands as a symbol of a better time and a more promising environment.  This is especially pertinent if the narrator is
3) A concentration camp victim - losing your home is one thing, but being led outside quietly afterwards is a chilling image.  Is this narrator one of those poor souls who lose everything they have at the whim of another, only to be borne away into the "care" of a heartless state?
Whatever the answer, the track has a tragic grandeur which evokes a sense of a world going to hell and repercussions for one individual.  Highly recommended listening.

Videos courtesy of Rik Hofman.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Friday 13 March 1992)

A period of upheaval both for myself and John Peel.  My father was a builder and this often meant that our housing situation could change based on his working situation.  More than once, we had moved into a house that he was working on in Falmouth, only to then move on again when it was ready for sale.  By the time I was 16, I had lived in 5 houses in the town.  2 of them had been for a combined period of 12 years, with 3 of them accounting for the remainder of the time.  In 1985, I'd done the whole bathing in a tub in the lounge thing and using a commode because we didn't have a functioning bathroom, in one of the places we had had to move into.  Nevertheless, going into 1992, we had been living in a wonderful house for 7 years.  Grovehill Crescent in Falmouth was perfect for a teenager; the town centre was 3 minutes walk away.  I also had my best mate at the time living at the top of the road, which was great until his parents moved out into the sticks.  He was still in Falmouth, but right out on the outskirts.  To me, outskirts was anywhere that didn't have access to a shop and the sticks were places without streetlights or street names.  I felt he had the worst of both worlds.
I didn't drive and from Grovehill Crescent, it would take ages to walk out there.  You could forget about buses out there as well.  I still saw him, but no way near as frequently.  I felt sorry for him too, because there was nothing out there.  He could walk into Budock Water, but there wasn't much to see there.  Just as I was absorbing the fact that my mate had moved out to something of a local wilderness, my parents told me that we were going to have to do the same thing.  This came about because my Dad and his building partner had been working on a pair of barn conversions that would have been their golden eggs if they could find buyers for them, but the recession of the early 1990s was in full effect by then, and the properties stubbornly refused to sell.  From a business point of view, my parents decided to move out to the barns, so that it might be possible to sell them with us in situ.
It was around this time that we moved out there, and I remember going out there one evening with them to have a look at the property.  Now, this was new ground for me, as it was the first place I'd ever lived in that didn't have either streetlights or a road name formally attached to it.  This was known as Higher Kergilliack and it was the area where you could either go on to villages like Mawnan SmithMabe or back towards Penryn and Falmouth.  We got out of the car, stood on the driveway in the dark, and looked away from the house to where I could see, in the distance, the yellow/orange mushroom cloud of streetlights in Falmouth.  At that moment, I felt incredibly isolated and outside of things.  It's funny isn't it?  You don't think of streetlights when you're surrounded by them, but as soon as you're away from them, they seem to stand for things beyond mere illumination: community, society, home.  Lest it sound like I was in some kind of Falmouth Outback, I should balance things up by saying that my school was only about 10 minutes walk away, and the town centre was about half an hour's walk.  Penryn was even closer.  Indeed,  I found myself going there more often than Falmouth, while we lived at the barn.  Had we been another mile further out then I really would have felt out of the way.  But for the first time in my life, and arguably at the worst possible age, I felt in the geographical margins.  Living in Cornwall, this was nothing new, but I gulped and swallowed hard before going into the barn, putting on a brave face for my folks and enthusiastically choosing my bedroom.

For John Peel, this date meant his first Friday broadcast on Radio 1 since 1978.  There were no incidents of misfortune on the 82 minute recording that I heard, which picked from various parts of the show.  He greeted listeners who may have been unaware of the schedule changes at Radio 1, and who may have switched on expecting Nicky Horne, "You must be having a rotten time" with his usual bag of tricks including an advert for drag racing from American radio circa 1966. By the end of the decade, he would be playing recordings of drag racing from Santa Pod Raceway, a venue where Peel had nearly been killed nine years earlier in the service of Noel Edmonds.

Three tracks would have been included here if they were available, 2 of them from acts sharing the same word as part of their names:

Mighty Force - Dum Dum - in my notes, I said they sounded a bit like The Art of Noise, though their record label described them as"hardcore indie rave".  Peel thought their record was good enough for people to stop watching The Word for.

T-President feat. Jah Whoosh - Living in Ecstasy (Truly Large Mix) - this essentially seems to be the BKS track I couldn't share from the 1/3/92 programme, but with added toasting.

C-Force - Strange Voyage - this is an industrial techno track with a lot of wonderful surprises in it.  You can hear a brief snippet of it in this 1992 mix by DJ Nickey.  It comes in at around 16:43.

Full tracklisting.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Oliver!: Cloud 9 - Dementia (13 March 1992)

Described by Peel as "A gift from Belgium to us all", this techno banger was always going on to the mixtape.  My interest was further piqued when I thought that I had heard the driving synth part used in a scene set in a nightclub from Abel Ferrara's 1992 masterpiece film, Bad Lieutenant.  But a look at the listing for the official soundtrack indicates that this was not the case sadly.  A shame as it would have made a great film even greater.

Video courtesy of Felipe Dominguez.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Oliver!: A House - Endless Art (Female Version) [Peel Session] (13 March 1992)

I hadn't heard of this Dublin based band before listening to this track.  This was clearly due to inattention on my part considering that the Irish Times rated their 1992 album, I Am The Greatest as the equal 3rd best album by Irish bands in a 2008 critics poll.  Only Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and U2's reinvention album, Achtung Baby were placed ahead of it, while landmark albums by artists as diverse as Van Morrison, Ash, Damien Rice, The Undertones and Sinead O'Connor were ranked below it.  Big expectations then, but I have to say, fully justified ones.  It's a magnificent album deserving to belong to those works that journey round a person's soul and which speak of love, emotion and humanity with a poetry that dismisses empty, grandiosity but which hones in on every listeners' personal experience.  The naked emotion in the fabric of the album reflects the personality of its producer, Edwyn Collins, but A House put this wondrous, evocative feeling out there through a filter of pure pop hooks.  The album aims for the emotions and scores a bullseye with its honesty and its direct engagement with the listener, but never neglects to put forward melodies and choruses that you can sing along with.
Only on a couple of occasions do A House step outside of the self-assessment at the core of I Am The Greatest.  One occasion is through the title track itself, which is a long spoken word meditation on the lack of originality within pop music; the other is Endless Art which for some reason, became the most popular track off the album.  Indeed, it would be fair to say that it stands as A House's signature song.  Oddly, I'm not that enamoured of it.  This is not down to contrariness on my part, but more because I'm not hugely keen on "list songs".  This one may only have made the cut due to the way that they replace the string part on the original recording with a sample from Carl Orff's O Fortuna.
The version recorded for their Peel Session was the Female Version, which paid tribute to numerous female writers, poetesses, actresses, artists and others who had all died but who would live on through their art - one respect in which the famous have an advantage over the obscure, they can be relived constantly through their work.  The memory never fades.  I worry over this with my parents, both still alive and well, but one night I'd like to record a conversation with them both, not over anything heavy, but just to have something which I can go back to when they've gone, because otherwise there's no great archive of recordings or writings - only memories, which will be great, but how much nicer to have another layer to add to that in the times ahead.
The album version of Endless Art commemorated solely male figures of culture and art.  Whether this was deliberate or not, they responded to the omissions by re-drafting the lyric to include a women only list, which sometimes goes under the title, More Endless Art.  The durability of the idea was demonstrated when A House frontman, Dave Couse, re-recorded the song under the title, Endless  Art 06 with an updated, bi-gender list of the fallen.  It differs from the original recordings in that it's a slightly more sombre and touching take on the idea in comparison to the celebratory air of the versions from the early 90s.

Videos courtesy of Vibracobra23 Redux and Belfrank.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Oliver!: Hole - Drown Soda [Peel Session] (13 March 1992)

Having repeated the Red Hour session from 4/1/92 on his previous programme, Peel repeated the Hole session from 5/1/92 on this programme.  I'm starting to see a pattern here....

I hadn't been able to include Drown Soda with the other selections from their session, due to it not being on the tape that I listened to.  Listening to the session in isolation, I had said that Drown Soda struck me as the best performance on the session, though I'm more inclined to give that nod to Violet now.  Regardless, I'm delighted to be able to include this excellent track here at last.  Building from dismodulated guitar sounds and a Red Indian drum beat, Courtney Love delivers a lyric of pure nihilism.  Someone or something is coming for you, and their march to your door is relentless.  The line, "Just you wait till everyone is hooked" implies addiction to drugs, and they were certainly impinging more and more into Love's life.  Equally, given her self-positioning at the time as the kick up the arse which rock music needed, the destructive cycle of kidnap (from obscurity), use (by the machine - industry - fans) and death (due to drowning under the weight of the role she has taken on) could also be being played out here.

Although the 1992 variation of Courtney Love was robust and fresh enough to say "Bring it on" to all these new challenges, she doesn't lack self-awareness about the task.  It's hard not to hear the line, "Are you gonna sit and watch me?/Watch me while I drown!" as anything other than an early cry for help. On another level, the track works a a conversation with her husband (they had been married for a fortnight when this programme went out), who was undergoing a similar and higher profile change to his life and expectations.

Peel dedicated the session to Hole's former bassist Jill Emery and expressed his disquiet at reports that she had left due to Hole moving towards a more "pop" orientated direction, ... "There are so many bands doing pop, but only one band doing Hole."

Video courtesy of youshotandywarhol.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Oliver!: The Mad Scene - People to Talk To (13 March 1992)

New Zealand based musician moves to New York in order to make a go of new musical venture.  No, not Flight of the Conchords, but Hamish Kilgour of Dunedin based band, The Clean.  In the early 90s, Kilgour decamped to New York City and began work on his new project, The Mad Scene.

Based on the evidence of People To Talk To, Kilgour was not repudiating his previous band; the sound here being closer to the slick pop of The Clean's last pre-Mad Scene album, Vehicle (1990) rather than its more angular, garage-rock sound from their early years.
With the move from New Zealand to America, I had wondered whether People To Talk To might be a lament for the swapping of close community in the former to be replaced by a sense of isolation among the vast expanse of a city like New York, within the latter.  What else would that opening clip of snarling dogs metamorphosing into sea lions at the zoo be for? Instead  Kilgour pursues a schizophrenia support group narrative akin to the characters within My Name is Jack, but instead references iconic characters such as Sunshine Superman.  They may be hard to find, but just like the residents of the Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls, you can guarantee they will stick together when they find each other.  It reminds me of Lily Tomlin's joke that if all the schizophrenic people on the streets of New York were paired up it would at least look as though they were having a conversation.

Video courtesy of hairybreath.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Oliver!: Bleach - Headless (13 March 1992)

So, after all that blues music, we're back up to date - well, 1992 at any rate - with the return of Peel's Ipswich based neighbours, Bleach.

Headless is a wonderful example of drone rock; that form of eastern inspired loud guitar music which Western pop groups have aspired to ever since Dave Davies of The Kinks hit upon the underlying riff throughout See My Friends.  By the early 90s, "drone rock" became a useful catch-all phrase for groups who were ballsier than the average shoegazers but not ragged enough to fall under grunge.  Bleach always rocked harder than the former, but played with greater clarity than the latter.  Salli Carson's vocals remained a trump card - tuneful enough to be ethereal and floaty when the situation called for it, but in the main she sounded tough, unimpressed and blithely confrontational.  Headless starts out with a set of repeated phrases that come close to blandly aspirational.  "You can be anyone you want to be" etc, but as the track progresses it becomes darker.  Exactly who is Carson in this track?  She sounds like prostitute, Bree Daniels in Klute setting up her mark - letting the client dictate "the scene of anything they want to be". And like Bree, the protagonist is just killing time until something better comes along.  The complexity of the relationship between people who pay for and provide sex for money is stamped all over this song, as Carson affirms that she will be there for her mark, if they call for her, but that her over-riding emotion towards them is pity ("You think you're cool, but I don't envy you").  But she should also have pity for herself, because escape seems a long way off, and she recognises that she is at the service of people who are unable to develop or grow themselves, but that concurrently, serving their desires is everything (all?) she knows.  The image of her at the turnstile, a commodity waiting to be bought, is incredibly affecting despite the musical onslaught around it. The central drone reflects how the prostitute removes herself, emotionally/intellectually from the situations she enables - making herself headless in these encounters. This is no tart with a heart, but a dispassionate offer of services rendered to clients whose primal, urgent needs are reflected by the relentless rush of the music around her, that desperate race to the finish line as the client tries to reach satisfaction before the allotted hour is up.

One of the best tracks of the 1992 Peel shows that I've heard so far.

Video courtesy of beko icons.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Oliver!: Robert Johnson - 32-20 Blues (13 March 1992)

I'm slightly altering the order within the selections for 13/3/92, but it seemed appropriate after writing about how the blues led Peel into his career.  Also, given Chuck Berry's death this last weekend and all the talk of pioneers, it seems a logical choice to put forward a Robert Johnson track, as he is also seen, quite rightly, as one of the keystones of his musical genre.  I have no idea whether Peel played this track on Kat's Karavan 31 years previously, though given that its theme is shooting people, he may very well have decided to give the people of Dallas just what they wanted.

32-20 Blues is impeccably performed and sung, catchy as hell and showcases in its 2 minutes and 49 seconds exactly what makes Johnson so influential.  It is also a deeply troubling song, belonging to the sub-genre of songs in which infidelity or the suspicion of it leads to the death of the woman.  I'm sensitive to this lately.  The other week, I listened to a recording of Kenny Everett's Radio 1 show from 13 September 1969.  He played the sublime Ruby (Don't Take Your Love To Town) in which the crippled war veteran determines to kill his wife if she doesn't stop throwing herself at other men instead of tending to him.  If only Coming Home had come out earlier, it could all have been avoided.

Johnson's problem is that after initially failing to get hold of his lover, he becomes convinced that she's cheating on him when he finds her and she appears to be in a slatternly state.  What's a fella to do but reach for his 32-20 Winchester to teach her a lesson.  So he not only inspired blues musicians the world over, but you could even link it to gangsta rap.  Johnson teases this out with the drawn out phrasing in "Gonna shoot my pistol, gonna shoot my Gatling gun".  This would all be beyond the pale were it not for the curveball that gets thrown in about Johnson's lover having a gun of her own, even though it may be light enough for a lady's handbag.  I'm grateful to the concession to equality, though I have my doubts that it will be a fair fight.
32-20 Blues turned up in this show because of the American group, Vertigo, covering it on their single, Burnin' Inside.  Peel played it after Johnson's version.  Their take is suitably punked up, but lacks the subtle effortlessness of Johnson's version.

Keith Richards uses 32-20 Blues to take us on a journey round the blues, one tuning at a time.

Videos courtesy of mrsjackwhite (Johnson) and ladyricard (Richards).

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Reflections on John Ravenscroft on Kat's Karavan - WRR Dallas 1961

Outside of the John Peel wiki, the best place for Peel related news is the John Peel Radio Show Yahoo Discussion Group started in 1999, and still a busy place today.  It is THE place to be if you want to know what's going on in the online Peel show world.  I look in occasionally, mainly in hopes that someone will have uploaded more shows from 1998 and 2001 - years that I most cherish the memory of listening to Peel's show while driving home from rehearsal, not just because of the music, but because of my own adventures at the time and the backdrop these provided.
I was looking at the discussions a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in a while, when I saw a post  in which someone said that they were hoping to buy a recording of Peel's first ever radio appearance which he made on Dallas based station, WRR in 1961.  The story going that Peel called the station up to correct an error they made when playing a blues record on a programme called Kat's Karavan, that he had in his own collection.  With this demonstration of inside knowledge he was invited on to the programme by its host, Bill "Hoss" Carroll, who had apparently borrowed some of Peel's records in the past, to talk about and play some of his favourite blues records.

This should have provoked wild excitement in me, when I read it, but I was initially quite cautious about it - worried about whether it would be listenable at nearly 56 years old, but also how much of Peel, or rather Ravenscroft, would come across.  With my time taken up by this blog, and life in the early 90s I moved on to other things.  But a week or so later, I was sat at home with a few glasses of red wine inside me, looking down my Twitter newsfeed and cuddled up to my wife, when the YouTube link to the video above showed up.  "Ooh, John Peel!" said my wife.  "Yes," I replied, "I read that someone had tracked down his first broadcast.  Ah, and they've put it on YouTube." A slightly tipsy digit stabbed at the link and we sat back together to listen to the radio debut of John Robert Parker Ravenscroft.  And what a delightful experience it was.

In the course of the 25 minutes that the tape captured, John plays 5 tracks.  It's highly possible that in years following this show, they would have all turned up again at some point in a Radio 1 playlist, dotted throughout Peel's 37 years with the station.  For the record, the only one I was instantly dra wn to was Rub-a-Dub by Sonny Boy Williamson.  But this recording is a treasure for so many reasons.  Although cast in the role of guest here, John feels instinctively at home on radio.  The first track he plays is Hello England by Lightnin Hopkins (which segues into the next track on The Rooster Crowed in England album, Begging Up and Down the Streets,) "...which is an appropriate start to the show". He talks with understated passion and great knowledge about the records, and it quickly becomes apparent how the juxtaposition of these roots records being introduced by a man, who in his words, sounded at the time like a minor member of the Royal Family, would have appealed to a mischievous radio controller.  This leading on to Peel getting a regular slot on WRR introducing blues records.
A word of praise to Bill "Hoss" Carroll, who recognises John's knowledge and draws him out with perceptive questions about the records.  We learn that John "went into debt" while in the Army to buy imports from France.  Carroll notes that many of the records were probably easier to get in Europe than the States, which John attributes to greater interest in "ethnic music" in Europe than in America. A comment which the UK Blues Boom over the following couple of years would seemingly bear out.

Around the music and the musical observations, I would invite you to soak up the ephemera of the time: Carroll breaking off to deliver a commercial for Kenyon's glass lined water heaters: "There's always hot water and I haven't been in any lately...". I love the way that Carroll clarifies what he means by not getting into hot water.  When cueing up Detroit Rocks by Montana Taylor, John's phrasing takes us forward 15 years to when he'll be acclaiming Anarchy in the UK as a "good stomper".  Carroll also gets amused by a hyphen.

Open the red wine and enjoy these 25 minutes.  It's a good quality recording but there's a pleasant level of surface noise over the recording, especially over the Lightnin' Hopkins track, which at 10:30pm and with a couple of glasses of red in me, I relished.  For admirers of Peel, this is where it all started and it's wonderful to hear his eclecticism and quirks in place from the start.  It was clearly an experience that left its mark on him, for although he was removed from the slot with WRR when he asked to be paid for doing it, he held no grudge and every running order he wrote for Radio 1's John Peel Show from 1975 onwards always bore the title, Kat's Karavan.

Video courtesy of John Peel.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Sunday 8 March 1992)

After this broadcast, Peel got his Sundays back to himself until 1996.  He surveyed a studio in which Andy Kershaw, refraining from dashing off "in search of pizza" was being interviewed by some French people.  His records included a number of discs which played from the middle outwards prompting a reminiscence over his attempts to track down a range of 78s which did the same thing.  He only managed to lay his hands on 3.  It was a rather mistake strewn show, which he put down to recovery from a cold after a family holiday to Center Parcs.  If it was the one in Thetford, I went there too in 2005.  He claimed the catarrh he was suffering was of a type that made him feel like he was standing outside his body, looking at himself.  "And I don't like what I can see, I can tell you."

Selections for this show were taken from the first 2 hours of the programme.  Of those I would have liked to include but couldn't, it's hello again to:

Abana Ba Nasery - Mabingwa - More acoustic wonderment from their !Nursery Boys Go Ahead! album.

The Flaming Lips - All That Jazz/Happy Death Men - "You don't see many covers of Echo and the Bunnymen songs" noted Peel after playing this fusion of the penultimate and final tracks from their 1980 debut album, Crocodiles.  Why would anyone think themselves up to the task of trying to match the peerless brilliance of the originals?  Credit to The Flaming Lips though, they get as close as anyone could do with overloaded fuzztone guitar and a vocal that sounds like an enormous Death's Head swooping down on the listener.  If it lacks the brittle elan of the original, it adds a thick coating of chaos and the inclusion of a train effect that caught Peel out as he started to talk over it.  "Bit weird" he surmised, but to me it's the aural equivalent of what happened after we left Baron Samedi at the end of Live and Let Die.  Spine-tinglingly good.

Wingtip Sloat - Aspermicle - unpromising name both for the band and the track, but Peel introduced it by reading a sample from an article on them in Your Flesh magazine which was pretty on the money: "'The basic rock trio format is used by Wingtip Sloat as a licence to chug across a lo-fi landscape peppered with songs that slip in and out of catchiness with an inspired lack of coherence. Grab it' I recommend that you do".  Superior jangle to clangle angular rock in other words.

Macroesh - Life and Death (Minima Mix) - This starts off by channelling the spirit of Delia Derbyshiremusique concrete and the floating head of Zardoz to create something which sounds monumentally awesome.  Then the aural equivalent of a tropical rainforest creeps in at the edges as the Zardoz substitute talks about a king taking to the skies, like a "zerid bird".  All is set for something amazing....and then Peel chips in about how, listening to it at home during the week, he had felt that it was suspiciously slow despite the label saying it should be played at 33rpm.  He makes the change on-air to 45rpm and everything returns to normal.  I agree with him that it sounded better at 33rpm.  Not quite on a patch with what it looked like being but still a great example of high minded Euro Techno.

TPOK Jazz Band - unknown - Peel following Kershaw's lead from earlier in the evening and playing a track by TPOK Jazz Band. Fails to name it though.  Listening back to it just now, I'm not devastated.  A pleasant time-passer but little more.

Exposure - Our Worlds - "Something of a Twin Peaks influence" running through the track in Peel's estimation.  Clearly having an influence in dance circles at this time.  This could also be found on the flipside to Exposure's Peak Experience.

A couple of tracks fell from favour, mostly because of what they weren't:

The Jive Five - My True Story - "How wonderful to have made a record as good as that" surmised Peel after playing this slice of "names have been changed to protect the innocent" doo-wop from 1961 (a year which will be the subject of the next post here).  Certainly that opening "Cry! Cry! Cry!" refrain grabs the attention early on, but the more I listened to it, the less enamoured I was of it.  It didn't move me as much as Sonny Til and the Orioles.

Spawn - Infiltrator - a piece of throbbing techno drum and bass, but all a bit by the numbers I felt. Nevertheless, I was going to include it until the YouTube auto player followed it with a track by Nico called Field of Vision and I found myself wishing that I could write about that instead.  Never a good sign.

John Fahey - 101 is a Hard Road to Travel - the artistry and the pleasantness on show here in this track from Fahey's 1965 album The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death were obvious but, again the 40 year old me trumped the 16 year old me (I should stop that) and thought, "Yeah, but Leo Kottke's better."  Kottke clearly pushed Fahey to change his style.  This 1978 interview shows that he didn't altogether appreciate it.

See you on Friday 13!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Oliver!: Red Hour - All I Need/William Jailor [Peel Session] (8 March 1992)

"Inspiration. Inspiration. Inspiration. Inspiration."

"You fought with me and now you want to screw."

Peel's first new session of 1992 was provided by Barrow-in-Furness 5 piece, Red Hour and broadcast on 4 January 1992. The repeat in this programme may have been to publicise an EP release which, if you believe Red Hour's Discogs page never saw the light of day.  Indeed, as with my beloved Milk, the new year seemed set to call time on this band's commercial life.  Listening to them, Red Hour were proudly, stoically, old school indie-rock and they do it very well indeed, but perhaps assessing their prospects when set against the shoegazers and the oncoming grunge express, they were wise to quit while having achieved the Peel punk dream of releasing a record and doing a Peel session.

All I Need is a fast rocker which shows that Noel Gallagher wasn't the first Northern based songwriter to take the notion of escape from a town/situation that drags you back and run with it.  So
many of us are where this song is, metaphorically speaking.  The belief that escape to something more fulfilling is possible if only we trust what we have in our head.  Follow art not commerce - I still feel that at nearly 41 years of age.  And I'm still trapped, believing that things will be different if I believe in that inspiration, inspiration, inspiration, inspiration.
William Jailor is a more interesting track.  It sounds like Dave Canavan is calling a football hooligan out for a ruck, but the jailor angle suggests a shared history between the participants and a reckoning for past abuses being collected.  The allusions to needing the mountains and lakes imply that this will be a battle fought out in a wide open space with no witnesses.  And no protection for William Jailor, or "The men from the ministry".  With his stentorian vocal calling for the satisfaction of hand-to-hand combat against this figure of officialdom, Canavan comes on like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights as reimagined by the righteous anger of Jimmy McGovern.  It presents tantalising possibilities over what Red Hour could have done had they kept going.  The other songs from the session were Free Fall which I thought sounded like a poor Catherine Wheel knock off, and Almost There which I didn't hear on the recording, but had I done so, I would probably have included it.

Videos courtesy of Richard Attwood.