Sunday, 29 January 2017

Oliver!: Daisy Chainsaw - Pink Flower (7 March 1992)

I'd heard Daisy Chainsaw on a couple of Peel shows prior to 7/3/92.  I thought the name was ingenious, but while the thrashy Sick of Sex and the psycho-rockabilly of Love Your Money had their  moments, they didn't have enough of them to interest me into keeping them.   Pink Flower finally breaks through the wall and as is common in such cases, once one gets through, I've suddenly found myself appreciating a lot more of Daisy Chainsaw's work.  However, "work" seems a disappointingly pedestrian word to sum up their extraordinary sound.  It might be more appropriate to say that Pink Flower is the point at which Bjork and Kate Bush intersect.  An extraordinary alchemy of mental disintegration, frenetically decadent vibes and a speed-zombie walk into a grave that pushes up those pink flowers.  I've linked to the video, because Daisy Chainsaw were blessed with video directors that clearly "got" them.  There's no playing instruments in a white room for them, instead the visuals accurately produce what the music suggests: nightmarish banquets populated by House of Usher guests leading to a woozy, hallucinatory walk in the woods.

The song is essentially in two movements starting out with a thrash-rock first minute or so in which KatieJane Garside, whose vocals work as almost a separate instrument in their own right, is sitting waiting for the sun to rise, because after all, any pink flower needs sunlight whether it be to grow or to replace the clouds in their own psyche.  Around the 90 second mark, the sunshine arrives and the song changes tempo - slowing down but peppered with feedback and guitar squalls.  It sounds like a dream state but I read it that the thrashy first half is the one set within the unconscious, especially with the line about lovely people being in her dreams.  When things slow down and Garside's vocal takes greater prominence, that to me, is her awaking from the sanctuary of sleep and having to grope blindly into a world which she is unprepared to deal with and isolated within.  The video rather ladles this on with the shot of a patch of ground, big enough for a body to fit into, being dug.  The allusions to walks in the countryside are familiar tropes in tracks of this kind - a search for an Eden to restore body, mind and soul.  But the final collapse into breathless vocal exhaustion from Garside underpinned by that heartbeat bassline leaves me unsure whether she found Eden or was just another pink flower crushed under the hob-nail boots of a relentless world.  The fact that she declares herself not ready to let go of her earthly life, offers hope for her and for us all.

The aforementioned Love Your Money delivered a Top 30 hit for Daisy Chainsaw.  A throat infection  for Garside prevented them from performing it on Top of the Pops.  Had a wider audience been able to see this extraordinary band in live form might it not have gone on to make Pink Flower into one of the most extreme Top 40 hits ever?  Astonishing stuff.

The effect it would have had on me had I seen them at 16 would have been electrifyingly strange and a portent of my own immediate future.  In March 1992, with me still at school, I was surrounded by everyone dressed in uniform, slightly preppy in the way that school shapes people.  By the end of the year, I was in college, studying a performing arts qualification, and while I still dressed like I did at school, I was surrounded by people who looked like they were members of Daisy Chainsaw.  I didn't submerge myself in that strangeness, but to be around it was wonderfully liberating.

Video courtesy of kinburst

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Oliver!: The Fall - So-Called Dangerous (7 March 1992)

I'm probably not the right person to ask for a considered opinion on this, but I have to say I'm rather enjoying this indie-dance crossover version of The Fall that cropped up on some of the tunes aired, so far by Peel, from Code: Selfish.  As this rate, we'll be awash with selections by the time they start losing fans, band members and their sanity during the making of Levitate.

There's a definite Roses/Happy Mondays-ish vibe to the music on So-Called Dangerous, though the wacka-wacka bursts of guitar put John Squire back on his pedestal.  And as always, there's Mark E.Smith, wandering through the musical tapestries like a bored tourist, determined not to be elated by the new sounds around him.  He keeps clarity of thought in a world which gets progressively more absurd - and in 1992 some of the extreme sports dismissed by Smith in the opening lines were being sold as genuine cures for stress and ennui.  Laughable as that now sounds.  I blame Point Break.  After these initial funny lines, Smith loses me with reflections on "lighter kleptomaniacs" and we get repeated tropes (another variant on "The meek shall inherit the...") but he rounds things off in inimitable style by reflecting on a classic oxymoron from the comforts of a place he knows better than most - the bar.

Video courtesy of Paul Connelly.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Oliver: Transformer 2 - Whistle Tune (7 March 1992)

Inspired by Caitlin Moran's tweet about her appearance on Desert Island Discs, in which she decided that the only way to narrow down her choice of records to 8 would be to pick "bangers", I was all set to use the same phraseology on this debut release by Euro techno duo, Transformer 2.  I was all set to rhapsodise about this track, a humble B-side, as a wonderful example of industrial gronk dance; the beats thudding down like metal girders plunged deep into the ground, until I listened more closely to the metallic pain in those opening, echoey synth waves and found my comparisons moving away from dance music and more towards one of John Peel's great loves of his hippy days, The Third Ear Band.

Sometimes, when Peel played an extreme piece of music, he might undercut it by saying that he could hear traces of Pink Floyd or Little Richard in it.  I went through exactly the same feeling when listening to Whistle Tune.  It may not be easy to make a direct link between free-form Celtic jazz acoustica and industrial techno, but I couldn't avoid it.  I lived and breathed Third Ear Band music through late 2012 into early 2013 when I used their soundtrack to Roman Polanski's film of Macbeth throughout a show I directed called The Scottish Play, which I had appeared in 17 years earlier and will one day have its own section in this blog.  I liked the juxtaposition of using their tunes to soundtrack the story of an estate agent's attempts to stage a production of Macbeth while his own life was falling apart due to it becoming his obsession.  To go from from it accompanying one of Shakespeare's greatest plays to a deceptively deep tale of amateur dramatics folk was something that I couldn't resist.  Most of the album is made up of bracing, catchy Celtic melodies - albeit shot through with a creeping sense of darkness as Macbeth falls deeper into evil, but for tracks covering murders or consort with spirits, the music becomes far more intense and discordant.  There's a lot of free-form playing which reflects the unhinged state of mind of many of the play's characters.  And, in its latter tracks, there are moments when some of the earlier musical motifs, which rang out loud and clear back then, peek out through the squall of the more intense pieces, like memories of a happier time, being submerged under the foul stench of death. All of that linked to Whistle Tune, and that burst of bubbling synths which plays after that opening salvo of metal strikes, sounds exactly like Third Ear Band would have done had they made a techno album.
Taken on its own terms, Whistle Tune is a splendid piece of dance music, but if I ever get the chance to DJ at Fabric or similar , I'd have to put Transformer 2 and Third Ear Band back to back and see who else spots the connection.

Videos courtesy of 6277MISSION (Transformer 2)musick2138 and Vws Vas (Third Ear Band)

Thursday, 19 January 2017

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

Selections from this show came from a full 3 hour recording.  Happily, most of those I wanted to include were available, apart from...

Abana Ba Nasery - Abakambi - Kenya's best known acoustic act with a track from their !Nursery Boys Go Ahead! album.  Peel suggested seeking advice from a doctor if you didn't like the track.  For   a long time, I was ambivalent about it, but ultimately, came round to his way of thinking.

Ivor Cutler - Birdswing - a typical piece of Cutler surrealism from the Virgin reissue of Velvet Donkey from 1975, in which he attempts to give A&R advice to a thrush which has designs on taking its song into the Top 40.

Sly and Danny - Agony Dub - this may have missed out ultimately as it was a rather blandly catchy synth-led piece of dubstep.  Beige dubstep, if you can imagine such a concept.

Lonnie Mack - I've Had It - Peel had spent the last week listening, "in something of a fever" to a new Lonnie Mack compilation called Lonnie on the Move.  He declared it, "for students only. I mean there's nothing on there that's going to dramatically change your life".  Playing this track, I take his point.  Although Mack was undoubtedly, "a guitar playing son of a gun", he was no vocalist.  He sounds here like someone laying down a guide vocal because the booked vocalist couldn't make it and the session will be cancelled, leaving everyone out of pocket, otherwise.  Despite that, the half-arsedness of it all comes off as charming instead of crap.  It remains to be seen whether Peel returns to this album, and changes my life, but in the main, I think I'll stick to Buddy Guy.

Jad Fair - Peel didn't back announce the track, and I had a question mark next to it, but I rather liked the Daniel Johnston with attitude feel of the piece.  Certainly on the evidence of this, he shares many of Johnston's problems.  Track was about a schizophrenic murderer, who kills people when his bad side takes over, leaving his good side to protest innocence and try and shift the blame.

BKS - Living in Ecstasy (Truly Large mix) - Plenty of versions of this can be heard but not this mix. Contains all the tropes you might expect: big voiced women, Balearic piano stabs, horny (as in brass) synths and er...Jah Whoosh toasting over the top of it all.

Falling from favour after the first listen were:

Green Day - Private Ale - After the initial burst of "OMG!  Peel played Green Day!!!" I added a note to say that I needed to check on whether I actually liked the song rather than the weirdness of hearing them on the Peel show.  They would have been just another band in 1992 after all.  Well, I can confirm that this track proves what I've always felt about Green Day - I like the tunes, but I don't need any of them for posterity.  There's a riff which gets recycled in American Idiot, but to me Green Day were never more exciting than they were I first saw them perform Basket Case on Top of the Pops and drummer Tre Cool ended the performance by throwing his sticks in the air and immediately walking off the stage.  Me and my mate, Ashley Spear thought that was the coolest (no pun intended) thing we had ever seen.

The Fall - Immortality - Sorry to be prissy, but I couldn't put up with Mark E.Smith's vocal performance and this is generally an album on which I think he sounds great.  But he tried my patience here.

Scrawl - Reuters - when I first heard this cover of the Wire tune I was quite taken by the ritardando ending, but I always found Wire something of an acquired taste and when others are trying to do that tendon tight schtick, they just sound stodgy as a result.  Wire pulled it off, Scrawl didn't quite manage  it for me.

Another record which missed out was Mothra by Godflesh.  Brummie metallers trying to sound Japanese but only reaching a kind of funky tedium. Nevertheless the origins of Mothra gave Peel a chance to educate his audience.  I knew of it from Godzilla; indeed Godzilla vs Mothra was released into cinemas in 1992. In his researching of Mothra, Peel discovered that it could eat, breathe, defecate/urinate and fuck through the same orifice. "I was very tempted to have a competition, but I think, frankly, the answer's a bit too easy for you to suggest which Radio 1 DJ most resembles Mothra."  The track overran and after a short pause, Peel came back with, "Sorry, I popped out for a quick Mothra myself".  He also played a trailer for Radio 1's new Sunday evening line-up, the bewilderingly eclectic mix of Pete Tong, Annie Nightingale and Gary Davies.  The news featured Lawrence Eagleburger assuring everyone that Saddam Hussein was no longer a factor in the Middle East, which must have pleased the neo-cons tasked with paying off the dry cleaning bills after George H.W. Bush's last visit to Japan.

Enough about what didn't survive.  You can see it all below, and make your own choices too.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Oliver: Tex Morton - Big Rock Candy Mountain (1 March 1992)

Peel declared himself and Andy Kershaw "spellbound" by the compilation album, Yodelling Crazy, He described it, with some degree of sincerity as "the first essential album of 1992".
Yodelling, like morris dancing, has never quite achieved much of a cultural cachet, though Peel was always a fan of some of its leading exponents - Ronnie Ronalde in particular enjoyed as much airplay as The Fall did on Peel's show in the early years of the Millenium.  It may have been because of its adaptability within forms of country and roots music.  Peel was still some way off his reimmersion into country music in early 1992, but listening to different versions of Big Rock Candy Mountain ahead of writing this, I was struck by how much the song, originally written by Harry Mac Mclintock in 1928, brought out the vocal gymnastics in its performers.  Burl Ives's version not only re-writes large portions of the lyrics, but recasts it as something close to country madrigal.

Ultimately, you're better to go with New Zealand born singer, Robert "Tex" Morton's version, which opened Peel's show on 1/3/92.  The yodelling is easier on the ear than the previous night's selection had been from Slim Whitman. Although taken at a quicker lick than most of the versions mentioned here, he doesn't miss a trick in bringing out the almost psychedelic strangeness of the lyric, which casts  the titular edifice as a utopia of cigarette trees, streams/lakes of whiskey, lemonade springs and barns full of stew - not to mention a laissez-faire approach to work and the law. That mountain of rock may not be as innocent as it seems.   Whereas the yodelling could serve as an irritating distraction, Morton instead makes it fit like a glove.  The sound of a community deliriously out of its mind within its much envied rural idyll.

Video courtesy of Feelinx Sound.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Oliver: The Fall - The Birmingham School of Business School/Two-Face! (1 March 1992)

The best rock music book I read in 2016 was The Big Midweek - Life Inside The Fall in which the band's former bassist, Steve Hanley details the peaks, troughs and utter awfulness of spending 19 years working, recording, touring and dealing with Mark E. Smith.  As told alongside co-author, Olivia Piekarski, it paints a picture of a band which was always uncategorisable, even when it was enjoying mainstream attention.  Smith comes across as a resentful, control freak - always ready to blame others for his own mistakes and paranoid that his bandmates are lazy leeches, resting on their laurels.  A sacking offence of the highest order as far as he's concerned.  At the same time his remorseless attention to detail, perfectionism and focus (even when horrifically drunk) is admirable.  He really should be a world famous figure, he's certainly as driven as any megastar needs to be.  The Big Midweek captures all this through a compelling narrative of wariness, weariness, appalled amazement, mordant humour and a soup├žon of admiration.  I was quite touched by the story of how Smith cheered up a little girl who was crying about a lost teddy bear by telling her that it had gone on tour and that, as his job involved a lot of travelling, he would keep an eye out for it.  He then used to send her postcards, from her teddy bear, sent from different countries that The Fall were touring to.   It also keeps its thread of events a little bit better than Renegade, Smith's own autobiography.

The Fall were in one of their customary phases of crisis when they began recording Code:Selfish.  Not in a personnel sense; indeed their ranks had been strengthened with a new keyboardist, Dave
Bush, whose interest in techno music colours quite a lot of the tracks.  However, money was tight.  Smith was still tied up in settling his divorce from Brix Smith Start and was also getting very agitated  over the performance of the band's manager, Trevor Long.  It is Long who is the subject of The Birmingham School of Business School - a witheringly sour attack on "scientific management and the theft of its concealment".  Hanley takes up the story:

"To clear up any remaining doubt as to which manager the song may be calling into disrepute, Mark even insisted on tacking an authentic recording of an answerphone message onto the end of the piece. 'Orroight Mark!  It's Trevor Long here. It's 3pm...Hello Mark, it's Trevor Long here. It's 3:45pm..
'Do I need a speaking clock?  I need a manager, not a fucking speaking clock!'
Trevor once made the mistake of turning up to the studio in a dusty-pink Audi...The car wasn't brand new but looked it, so immediately roused Mark's suspicions. 'Where's the money for that coming from?'
'You get a lotta car for yer monnay at the central Birmingham New-to-You Audi dealers.  They even threw in a full valet.'  Trevor was a co-signatory to the Fall cheque book and, feeling the pressure to defend his spending, became a walking spreadsheet.
For some time Trevor's alleged fund-siphoning had been brought into question by Mark and Trev had been ringing me up in a bid to interpret why.  'You know whor it is, Steve. Oim just trying to limit his spending.  Wharram I supposed to tell the accountants? It's a business, you know.  With a turnover of a quarter of a million.  Seven people on the payroll.  And it's Wednesday, cash.  Friday, more cash in the outgoings.  And what's it for?  Him going out, that's what!  It's cash and there's nowt petty about it. I can't lerrim do that.  Even Simon Le Bon wasn't allowed to do that.' (Long had previously worked  with Duran Duran).
I tried to explain to Trev that Mark doesn't like him controlling his money, and we all know what happens if Mark thinks he's losing control of anything.  Once his misdeeds were immortalised in a song, sadly there was only one way Trevor was going to be heading in his dusty-pink, value-for-monnay Audi, and that was straight down the M6 to the Bull Ring." (Hanley & Piekarski - The Big Midweek, pages 346/347 - Route, Pontefract).

When Peel played The Birmingham School of Business School on his British Forces Broadcasting programme, a fortnight after this show, he called it the least commercial track on the album.  Certainly, it's esoteric theme may have prevented it from emulating the Top 40 placing of Free Range, but that Lalo Schifrin/Blaxpoitation style bass/drum pattern is a thriller and the dirty guitar work of Craig Scanlon draws out every last ounce of contempt and suspicion in Smith's vocal.

Two-Face!, the other selection here, might also come from the same distrustful place as The Birmingham School of Business School.  However, it could equally be about Smith himself and the faces he has to assume within his role as the face and voice of The Fall.  But, it's a flawed analysis if you read The Big Midweek, or even Renegade.  Smith has one face at all times.  It isn't a patch on The Birmingham School of Business School but someone clearly had a brainwave when it came to utilising a keyboard sound.  That giant bee in a copper pipe sound, which gets louder as the track progresses until it comes booming out to get the listener at the end, is The Fall to a tee.  Angry at you and implacable.

Videos courtesy of 54129 and Paul Connelly.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Oliver: Nirvana - School [Live] (1 March 1992)

From the Come As You Are single, another live cut taken from their Halloween 1991 show at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle.  In a moment of insiderdom, Peel expressed bemusement at the fact that Come As You Are wasn't getting much daytime airplay despite being on the Radio 1 playlist.  Somewhere, Matthew Bannister was making another note for what would happen, come the revolution.

School was taken from Nirvana's debut album, Bleach, and may well be the most banal lyric they ever recorded - comprising just three phrases.  Apparently, it's a critique of the Seattle rock scene, "Just like a fucking high school" according to Krist Novoselic, whose silky, brawny bass part is the main reason why I would have taped this.  PJ Harvey used something to similarly enticing effect on The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore many years later.  Like a lot of early Nirvana, what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in spirit.  And judging by the footage, that Paramount gig looks like a huge celebration, even if, as Dave Grohl bemoans at the end, only"2% of the audience have dressed up".

Video courtesy of Jean Michael Schuster.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Oliver: Digital Excitation - Pure Pleasure [Repeat Until mix] (1 March 1992)

To me, that opening burst of puckering synthesisers is the perfect distillation of techno music circa 1992.  It doesn't get any better than this.

Speeding by in a blur of beats, diva screams, crazy cowbell, samba percussion, whistles and, the one misstep, a Tune a Day organ piece, this remix is phat excitement and a heaving dancefloor classic personified.  Even Peel was moved to deadpan, "Well that's a bit of a toe tapper, isn't it?"

If this strikes as hyperbole on my part, it could be because the urgency and excitement on display in this mix is such sharp contrast to the Kubrickian ponderousness of the original, which opens up with futuristic flourishes, but after chocking out that iconic synth riff detours into some ghastly synth washes better suited for soundtracking a David Copperfield illusion.  "Repeat Until" is a perfect choice of title, because this is one to dance and dance and dance and dance and dance to until you drop.

Video courtesy of Sternen Seelen

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Oliver: Butterfly Child - Violin [Peel Session] (1 March 1992)

"A butterfly child/So free and and so wild/And so full of living"  - copyright to Marty Wilde and Ronnie Scott (not that one).

I was still a few months away from buying the 1968 compilation cassette which included Jesamine by The Casuals and included the line that started us off here, when the Belfast trio, Butterfly Child had their first Peel Session broadcast on 1/3/92.  I was even further away from getting into The House of Love, whose arpeggios are effortlessly evoked throughout Violin.  But instead of Guy Chadwick's hot mess of tangled emotions and passions, Joe Cassidy instead weaves Donovan-like poetry.  Certainly, the bard of Maryhill would have been delighted with a line like "Underwater ripples offer bluer colour".
This track and Led Through the Mardi Gras were the only two tracks from Butterfly Child's session that I would have kept.  Led Through the Mardi Gras was even better than Violin, starting like a back-street samba before transforming into a thunderous rocker out of which Cassidy's voice peeks through like someone singing out of a standing wall of fire. Unfortunately, I couldn't track it down.  I wasn't persuaded by the other two tracks: Shipwreck Song and Neptune's Fork which both tried to combine the intricacy and the power of Violin and Led Through the Mardi Gras to diminishing returns.  In their letter to him, which contained two different line-ups for the band, they invited Peel to drop in for a cup of tea next time he was in Belfast.

Video courtesy of smithdream.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Oliver: Ambassadors of Swing - Weekend (1 March 1992)

After playing this track, Peel gave a ringing endorsement to the label which put it out, Kold Sweat.  He had been extolling the virtues of the label, over breakfast that morning, to The Shend, former member of The Cravats, a fixture on Peel's playlists in the late 70s/early 80s.  The Shend also had one of the best business cards ever printed, bearing the legend, "The Shend - A Decent Bloke".
For Peel, the reason for Kold Sweat's brilliance was predicated on the fact that, "There's a wonderful live quality to their recordings which I would like to think is driven by art rather than economics."

The funny thing is, that as with the last Kold Sweat selection on this blog, I feel that this track promises great things, but doesn't quite deliver.  The first 2 minutes or so of Weekend are excellent. Starting out with a vaguely Art of Noiseesque horn break and filling it out with other horn samples from party records.  Over the top of this, MC Cee lays down a flow about getting ready for a night out, the excitement of the club, dancing, drinking, handling people trying to pick her up - I particularly liked the line about having a BTEC in Fashion Design.  I would be getting to know that particular wing of vocational education later in 1992.
It's all rolling along wonderfully until about 2:40, after which MC Cee drops out of the picture and we have the 2 minute hip-hop equivalent of a slow fade.  There are glimmers of slap bass, percussion, scratching and horns, but also a sense of drift.  Maybe Kold Sweat needed an economist to say, "Look, you could lop a minute off this and no-one would miss it."  Maybe I'm being too fussy.  It's only 4 and a half minutes after all, but at a time when we should be looking at the ceiling, lost in the bliss of dancing, we're looking at our watches instead.  Frustrating.  A half-classic.

Whether it was art or economics, I don't know, but the Rap Game EP was Ambassadors of Swing's sole release on Kold Sweat or indeed anywhere.  But their name inspired another collective to release a handful of daytime dance records , which have the footprints of economics all over them, a couple of years later.

Video courtesy of zitterfinger.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Oliver: Zero B - Eclipse (Warp 2) (1 March 1992)

Happy New Year!

While not a patch on Module, this remixed version of Eclipse provides a superior buffing up of the original. It's a borderline inclusion admittedly with several moments that wrongfoot the listener just when expecting something else.  That big opening synth organ chord for instance leading to that none more 90s sequence of keyboard notes really sounds like it should be dropping the beat on us like rockface falling from a cliff, but it doesn't quite manage it.  There's some harmonic variance with windy inhalations/exhalations similar to the opening titles in Donald Cammell's film, Performance,(an example can be heard in the background of this.) There's also synths switching from the funkily futuristic to Ibiza club hell.  Ultimately though, I'm still waiting for an opportunity to blog properly about Zero B's best track.

Video courtesy of Markandrew davies.