Saturday, 25 February 2017

Oliver!: King Tubby - Sir Nineys Rock (8 March 1992)

Although quite a few pieces of King Tubby's work have cropped up on this blog, it's fair to say that my reaction to most of it has been grudging to say the least.  So what a pleasure it is to introduce a solid gold hit.  Tubby's own presence on this is quite subtle - a few echoed extensions here, very little drop out etc.  Instead, he lets The Observer All-Stars hit a wonderful groove and works with it to create something close to reggae disco.  As a concept, that sounds ghastly, but in practice here - with rippling drums to the fore, snaky bassline and horns spitting out into the funky mess, it sounds wonderful.

Video courtesy of Topcat Muzik.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Oliver!: Yami Bolo - It's Not Surprising (8 March 1992)

Sometime in the late 90s, an electro record, whose name escapes me, was released which opened with the second most irritating sample I've ever heard.  Over a Safehouse-like atmospheric synth opening, a voice  sang the nonsense phrase, "Cha-de-ding-cha-da-ding-cha-de-dingdawyu", very quickly and repeatedly.  I can't elaborate on why I found this phrase so irritating - there was a sense of po-faced seriousness about it (or maybe that was just me that was being po-faced), as if the track was trying to say, "Listen!  Feel the seriousness of these African(?) words and the weight they give to this tune.  Feel the quality, won't you?" and I'd invariably go, "No thanks" and turn the radio off, reflecting that the only sample in a record that more irritating was the "ging ging" woman on Remember Me by Blue Boy.  No wonder he walked out on her and the kids...
So having established this piece of aural prejudice, you can imagine my surprise sometime in late 2016 when I listened to Peel's 8/3/92 show, and concentrated on the ironing while Yami Bolo droned on with his dancehall update of Within You Without You - plenty of talk about gaining the world and losing your soul, though it pushes this further by talking about how ambition can be a killer, as the bus robber found out.  Some interesting concepts but I was decidedly neutral about it until at 2:50, Yami starts singing the hated phrase and I discover that it stands for "Dynamic-dynamic-dynamic-boy". Heard in context though, it pushed It's Not Surprising over the line and guaranteed its inclusion.    It's plausible that as the years go on, Peel will shed similar light and rehabilitation on the "ging ging" woman.  And if you know which track featured the "Dynamic-dynamic-dynamic-boy" sample as its opening, please leave a comment.  I'm happy to go back for a re-evaluation, if I know what it's called.

Video courtesy of TheSpacemanSounds.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Oliver!: Moonshake - Secondhand Clothes (8 March 1992)

"Too Pure artistes" was Peel's pithy summation of this track on 8/3/92, showing that PJ Harvey's success would have potential benefits in terms of exposure for her labelmates.  Unlike Polly Jean and her associates, Moonshake wear their influences very openly, though this makes for a stunning achievement with Secondhand Clothes, which fuses together dub basslines, grunge-heavy guitar riffs and Throbbing Gristle style hornets nest of sonic angst to entrancing effect.
I hadn't heard of Moonshake before this, and a look at their Wikipedia page talks of how their early recordings alternated between dreamy, ethereal soundscapes, piloted by Margaret Fiedler and harsher, abrasive, urban tracks created by David Callahan.  Secondhand Clothes was a Callahan composition and alongside the hard rock meets industrial noisecore sampling there runs a lyric which can be read as a straightforward status piece about the importance the young attach to identity through newness and originality.  But as well as that, the refusal to wear secondhand clothes could also be alluding to an unwillingness to compromise on the most important things within a young person's life.  What Rowan Atkinson termed "The authority of youth" when discussing Stephen Fry's portrayal of General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth, encapsulated here in a track which veers between passive calculation and outbursts of fury.  In its contempt and dismissiveness, it rejects reheated thinking, behaviour and emotions.  The home that can be made "between your thighs" implies a colder interpersonal rejection towards those who have passed through other hands.  There's precious little warmth here, but the sentiments and conviction of viewpoint are white hot.

Video courtesy of mypartofthething.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Saturday 7 March 1992)

Due to lack of choices, except for the American Sitcom flavoured, Holiday by Duck Hunt, I've skipped Peel's NachtExpress show of Monday 2 March, 1992 and jumped on to the following weekend.  The choices for this show were taken from a recording of the last 80 minutes of the programme.  If I was to sum it up in a word, I'd say it was cack, or to be more accurate, Kak - a short-lived American group from the late 60s.  Peel received a letter from a lady called Pepper in Bristol, who requested a spin for the track, Electric Sailor from their eponymous 1969 album.  The dedication was for her fiancĂ©, Neville, who remembered Peel playing it in the late 60s.  The record meant a lot to Neville and he managed to track down an original copy a few months prior to the 7/3/92 show for a mere £18.  Peel felt that this was good value for a record which he saw as indicative of some the better stuff being released in the period.  It now retails for just over 5 and a half quid on Discogs.  Neville was so pleased though, he intended to be buried with it.

Three tracks fell from favour with me when it came to blogging:

Babes In Toyland - Spit To See The Shine [Peel Session] - taken from the eagerly awaited, by Peel, album of their first 2 Peel Sessions.  I still don't get it I'm afraid.  Lumpen, dull and really rather ordinary to my ears.  I can tell they throw themselves into what they do, but I find it all so mannered as to be completely unengaging. Margins are fine, because as you'll see, I praise the likes of Daisy Chainsaw for a similarly uninhibited approach, but whereas they thrill, Babes In Toyland sound like a primal scream exercise that has to be endured while you worry about your car park ticket expiring.

Dyke and the Blazers - So Sharp - it's always vaguely heartbreaking when you realise that a horn laden soul tune from the days when such records were coming out faster than Wigan Casino could play them, actually isn't all that much cop.  I had initially chosen it for nostalgic reasons, because when I was a kid, the only horn laden track that had much resonance at my school was El Bimbo from The Blue Oyster scenes in Police Academy.  And this was raised by anyone who did anything that could be construed as homosexual.  Listening to it just now, I'm not sure I was entirely right to bypass it.  Maybe one of those tunes that you need to come back to after a few weeks to fully appreciate it.  Not El Bimbo though, which is rubbish in any version.

Code Red - Dreamer Dream - "Or better still, stay up and listen to Lynne Parsons." One of those end of show dance records, that sounds like a shot in the flagging arm at the end of 3 hours, but all sound and fury when listened to in isolation.

Peel's mood for the weekend hinged on the result of the FA Cup quarter-final between Liverpool and Aston Villa, which was live on BBC 1 the following day.  A match which I could barely bring myself to watch as I felt against all reason that it should have been Ipswich playing Villa that day.

Which tunes would you want to be buried with?

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Oliver!: Wayne Fire - Supernatural (7 March 1992)

It's a funny thing, but this is a track which it feels like I've heard a lot of times over the winter 1992 shows before it finally made my list.  I think it may have been the rather "bent" synth sound running throughout the track, admittedly something of a staple of dancehall reggae.

There isn't much to the track beyond standard braggadocio, albeit a rather humble sounding sort.  Fire seems to be either paralysed with indecision over whether he will stay as an MC or overwhelmed with options over which direction to take.  He could be an actor, a scientist, historian or even a fisherman.  I rather hope he took the last option - there's been a marked shortage of MC/Fishermen in the history of recorded music.  A sea shanty mash-up would have floated Peel's boat, I'm sure.  Which reminds me of walking across the main piazza on Falmouth Moor 9 years ago, where promotion for the Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival was taking place.  I took a flyer and was amazed at how much the man on it resembled Peel.  I even briefly thought of sending it to Sheila Ravenscroft but demurred for fear of being insensitive.  Had Peel still been alive, I would have definitely sent it to him.

Video courtesy of dubweedroots.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Oliver!: XTC - Into The Atom Age (7 March 1992)

I'm ashamed to admit that until I heard this track, I'd never knowingly listened to anything by XTC.  Of course, I'd heard of them and was aware of the fact that even though they had made their name during the punk rush of 1977-78, they were much more complex and multi-layered than that.  They had a keyboard player for goodness sake!  It wasn't until I listened to their debut album, White Music (and how bitterly ironic a title like that sounds in 2017) that I saw just how utterly different they were from many of the other bands that made their name at the time.  It's one of the key touchstones in pointing a direction that would lead to post-punk, fusing as it does the virtuosity and ambition of prog rock (a genre I have very little time for), the immediacy and fun of Glam Rock and the humour and attack of punk.  There's weird key changes and time signatures, lyrical richness and even a 1977 psychedelia style cover of All Along The Watchtower.  I don't acclaim it all, but it deservedly laid the foundations for the next 20 years.  The level of invention on show meaning that they had the groundwork laid for their move to a studio-only collective by 1982.

Into The Atom Age though is, speed keyboard solo aside, very much leaning towards punk-pop more than many of the tracks around it.  Big opening guitar chords, while a high rippling electric guitar note plays underneath.  And then into a verse that's pure Buzzcocks.  Lyrically, the song is a prime specimen of that fascination with everyday futurism which seemed to go out of vogue by 1985, when people realised that the futuristic 1980s meant the ZX Spectrum, but not jetpacks, teleports or three course meals in a pill.  I don't think that the song has any connection to "atomic" concerns; there's no trace of nuclear fear in Andy Partridge's lyric.  Well, who cares about Armageddon when, your wife is worried about coffee tables and a matching settee.  It embraces the excitement of the new and current, even while inviting us to picture and pity a nuclear family obsessed with status and numbed by gadgetry and 3D porno movies.  In some respects, this track makes a good companion piece with William Klein's 1977 film, The Modern Couple, in which a young couple participate in a nationally televised experiment by moving into a home of the future for a year.  One half of the couple glories in the new things that they are able to enjoy which they weren't previously - kettles, cookers, irons, juicers etc. It's a film in favour of futurism, the humour coming out of the strain of essentially living under laboratory conditions.  I cannot recommend the film highly enough if you can get to see it.

Of course, as fascinating as all these theories are, the real clincher has to be the "Da-de-da-da-da" refrain in the verse lines.  Be warned within 48 hours, you'll be singing it under your breath wherever you go.

We can trace the fact that this record was played by Peel at 12:40am on Sunday 8 March 1992 down to the fact that he was playing as a dedication to a prisoner called Skippy, who could only listen to Radio 1 via Medium Wave, "...which would have been switched off 40 minutes ago."

Videos courtesy of seargeantrock & John Peel Archive.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Oliver!: Verve - Untitled (aka Change My Life) [Peel Session] (7 March 1992)

The recording I heard of Peel's show on 7/3/92 only contained the last two tracks from The Verve's sole Peel Session. Given their popularity, I'm surprised that no-one took the option lavished on many more minor artists and split the tracks up, but I suppose Verve fans want the full seven movements rather than the edited highlights, much like the band itself.  Gosh, I'm being bitchy aren't I?  And I was so friendly last time we crossed paths.  I blame Luke Haines of The Auteurs, whose splenetic memoir I was flicking through last week in Bromley Waterstones.  More on that book some other time, especially as it makes great play over the addition of the definite article to Wigan's finest musical export.

I'm not going to split hairs with this one as I think there's plenty to enjoy for everyone in this session. I came in at track 3, which at the time of recording the session, had no title.  "You would have thought they could have called it Vortex or Construction 52 or something, but Untitled it remains."  It would eventually be known as Change My Life, a battering, monumental and exhilarating slab of space rock, albeit one which showcases the conundrum at the heart of The Verve.  With the guitars turned up, I enjoy them more, but Richard Ashcroft gets lost in the maelstrom, though you can hear him barking out his disgust at his lot in customary style.  In quieter settings his strident didacticism could come across as hectoring, but here it sounds like the pissed off drudge, at his limit and telling anyone who can hear through the noise of modern life that change is coming.
The fourth track (or second as I heard it), Already There, is a bit of a borderline inclusion with Ashcroft's hushed vocal inspiring annoyance, but no other band that I can think of in the 90s did a better job of closing that space between the everyday and the celestial.  It's captured here, in what is one of their more lyrically repetitious songs with the line, "Save your books and your pills - I'm already there".  The music does that soft/loud/soft/loud/soft thing, but just about stays the right side of cliche.

Of the earlier tracks, I like Slide Away a lot.  It's early bass/drums interplay sounds like a lunar buggy  staking out new terrain before Nick McCabe's guitar suddenly illuminates the landscape with the ferocity of a solar flare.  [She's a] Superstar, the second track is still growing on me.  For the first couple of listens it sounded like an aimless slog, but as Ashcroft's voice starts to make itself heard, there's a surprising kitchen sink vibe to the lyrics in parts too as he laments being left in his social climbing girlfriend's wake with nothing but the bills for company.  It's like a social security update of Drive My Car.

If you want to go straight to Untitled, then it comes on at 10:31.

Video courtesy of Vibracobra23.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Oliver!: The House of Love - Fade Away [Peel Session] (7 March 1992)

Perhaps, more than anything I've written about so far, I'm invoking Blogger's Privilege by including this selection from The House of Love's fifth Peel Session.  There are a couple of reasons why I highlight this:

a) It's quite a ropey recording, though I've got used to it the more I've listened to it.
b) If I didn't know the sublime version on the Babe Rainbow album, I might have passed on this version, despite the all-electric instrumentation and new verses, it suffers a crucial omission in its performance, which I will rave about later.
c) I love The House of Love but if the John Peel Wiki is to be believed, opportunities to write about them in connection to appearances on his show from 1992 onwards are getting scarce.

For a spell, over 2001-02 in particular, I gorged myself on The House of Love's back catalogue, inspired by hearing Peel play a version Destroy The Heart, recorded for his show in 1988 while I was driving home from a performance of She Stoops to Conquer with St.Austell Players on 21 November 2000. I won't rehash the history of The House of Love, you can click on the 21 November 2000 link to read about what they did up to the loss of their first lead guitarist, Terry Bickers in 1989. Suffice to say I caned both The John Peel Sessions 1988:89 and especially, the Best Of.  The latter purchased during a weekend in Manchester when I reconciled myself to the fact that my first fiancĂ©e was not going to return to my life, but hey, I got to hear The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes for the first time, and at the right time, because had I heard it a week earlier when this Manchester trip was at that time the most important thing in my life EVER, it would have destroyed me.  David Cavanagh's sleeve notes about the band's career were a mere aperitif of a summary compared to the sumptuous banquet he would deliver about their bumpy but beautiful journey to a kind of battered success by 1990 in My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize.  However, the bit in those notes that pricked my curiosity was his rave about the band's first post-Bickers album, Babe Rainbow:

"Babe Rainbow is one of those records, like Bikini Red by Screaming Blue Messiahs or In The Spanish Cave by Thin White Rope, that nobody ever talks about, but should be placed in a time capsule with a note attached saying 'This is how a guitar record[really] sounded.'  Drowsy and delicate; snarling and angry; lacy and liquid.  Babe Rainbow belongs to the secret history of classic guitar music.  Buy it tomorrow; in fact go back to the record shop and buy it now.  I personally play it once a month and I don't care who knows it." (David Cavanagh - The House of Love - Best Of. 1998).

Half of Babe Rainbow was already on the Best Of compilation, but that paragraph; one of the most empathetically passionate testimonials to the merit of a record that I've ever seen allowed the record to take on a status of near mythic greatness.  All the more so considering it came after the band's brief commercial heyday.  But, unfortunately I couldn't take Cavanagh up on his suggestion because local record stores in Falmouth and Truro only appeared to stock the albums I already had.

Please, bear with me while I return to affairs of the heart for a moment.  Arguably the best weekend of my life, in terms of material possession improvements would have to have been the weekend of 3-4 November 2001.  Over that weekend, I accompanied my then partner, Ruth, on a weekend's dog sitting for a friend of hers at a secluded cottage in the countryside in East Cornwall.  Now, Ruth was a wonderful woman for a number of reasons, but one of them was because she worked in association with Cornwall College, mostly out of their St.Austell base, but sometimes down at the Camborne site, which meant that she was in the same proximity of the library which housed a book that I read voraciously when I was suffering through a year's study there over 1993-94.   The book was Cult Movies 2 by Danny Peary the 1983 follow-up to his 100 film essay tome from 2 years previously.   Peary's book was everything one could wish from a work of criticism.  Insightful and accessible, brimming with observation, research - a high degree of personal opinion and anecdote - a dry sense of humour, a willingness to go against the grain (several of the essays covered films that Peary himself disliked but which had earned cult status through long runs on the Midnight Movie circuit or extensive bookings in rep cinemas) and above all, an encyclopaedic experience of film watched right through the years.  I didn't want to be John Peel when I was 17, but I wouldn't have minded being Danny Peary.  I told Ruth (at great length) about the book, and my memories of reading it at almost every break or lunchtime - I had no choice given there was fuck all to do in Pool where the college was based.  She would smile indulgently and say that she would see what she could do.  She subsequently told me that she had asked at the library and they no longer had it.  I never entertained any serious hopes about it coming to me, and had forgotten about it when she came over to collect me on the evening of Friday 2 November for the drive to the cottage, which was about an hour from where I lived in Falmouth.  "Be careful getting into the car," she told me.  "There's something for you on the passenger seat".  The something was a package.  After confirming that it was fine to open it there, I did so to find myself holding a copy of Danny Peary's first Cult Movies book.  "I found a site on the Internet selling old books and that was on it," Ruth said.  "I couldn't remember if that was the one you talked about."  It wasn't but I wasn't going to quibble, and besides the list of films covered by Cult Movies 1 was advertised by Cult Movies 2, so it was almost there by proxy anyway.  Bowled
over by Ruth's thoughtfulness and kindness (not to mention initiative, I hadn't a clue about Internet shopping in 2001), I showered her with kisses and thanks - all the while promising that I would look after her all weekend. She had no need to lift a finger after this wonderful guesture.  Granted, my perfect boyfriend persona briefly slipped when I had a swearing meltdown two hours later after our attempts to coax the dog out from under the bed it was hiding beneath on our arrival were met with a threatening growl.  But when he was good and ready, he came out and joined us and relaxed.  Meanwhile, Ruth and I got the fire going in the lounge.  The wine was poured and as the flames crackled in the fireplace, we sat on the sofa and I put my arm around her, while my other hand lovingly caressed...the pages of my new Cult Movies book.  Well, wouldn't you?

The next morning, I took a walk around the house and wandered into what appeared to be a study.  One wall was taken up with shelves of books, videos (still just in the ascendancy over DVDs in 2001)
and CDs.  Working to the maxim that while you should never judge someone on what their cultural
tastes are, but it's wise to prepare yourself to be disappointed by them, I browsed the shelves.  I saw
records I should have heard but hadn't yet (NevermindThe Stone Roses), records with a reputation
that I hadn't heard (Loveless), 60s big hitters (Highway 61 Revisited), complete surprises (Richie 
Havens 1968 album, Mixed Bag) and Babe Rainbow.  Hey?....what!!!...Frantically scrabbling for the
shelf, I tore it down and looked at it like the Holy Grail.  I marched into the dining room, where Ruth
was having breakfast.  "Please, please, please can we go to Liskeard today for an hour.  It's essential that I buy some blank audio cassettes."  "Why?" she asked.  I held the copy of Babe Rainbow up and said nothing.  "Fair enough," Ruth said and went back to her breakfast. I put the album on the stereo and joined her

If you've only been introduced to a band via a Best Of/Greatest Hits collection, it's always a worrying
moment when you first listen to a "proper" album by them.  What if the stuff you haven't heard,
which didn't make the cut for a Best Of turns out to be filler or just utter crap?  In the case of Babe
Rainbow, all was well. I didn't care for Cruel and Philly Phile was a bit "Meh" but the other three
"new" tracks were all wonderful: High In Your Face would have made a better choice of single than
 Crush MeBurn Down the World showed that The House of Love could do epic as well as anyone.  Sitting in the midddle of the album was Fade Away.  In an album of spectacular guitar music, this was a gentle acoustic love song, couched in Chadwick's familiar mix of impenetrable poetry ("Maybe you're the crime I just can't find")  and sexual suggestion ("Maybe you're the cream when the moment comes").  Towards the end, the electric guitars come in - subtle and damped down - woozy like a Miami sunrise.  But the thing which really makes it for me are Andrea Heukamp's backing vocals. When discussing The House of Love's distinctive sound, attention tends to focus around either Chadwick's baritone or Bickers's guitar work (which to me sounds like The Cocteau Twins with balls).  But Heukamp's backing vocals on the first and third albums, are just as crucial to me.  Her glacial Germanic tones perfectly fit The House of Love's moody emotionalism.  But she pulls off the trick of sounding like a balm amidst the intese battleground of many of their songs.  Her presence on Babe Rainbow, which she assisted on with guitar and backing vocals, though without rejoining as a permanent member feels like an attempt to brin some civilising serenity back into a band that had lost  its way while recording and touring their major label debut.  I'd go as far as to say that Heukamp was the best ever backing vocalist within a band (discounting all those who also sung lead within bands as well - the thought of her singing alongside Lennon or McCartney or alongside The Hollies is a good one).  She was distinctive, audible, totally in sync with the track whether it be one of those glimmering, shimmering early masterpieces like Nothing To Me, a guitar-shredding pop masterpiece like Feel or another acoustic lament of emotions and elements like Loneliness is a Gun - Heukamp's backing vocals are another perfectly applied touch in the artistry and greatness of The House of Love.  And make no mistake, The House of Love were a genuinely great band.  In writing this piece, I've cast my mind back over tunes that I would play someone who had never heard of them before.  From the debut album, I could blitz them with the building malevolence of Salome or Road and the exquisite delicacy of Man To Child.  From the chaotic second album (both first and second albums
were eponymous), which took a year to record and contained more producers than a Broadway musical, in which the band lost its sanity and patience with each other before being shoved out on a
massively long UK tour, it still produced wonders like NeverI Don't Know Why I Love YouBeatles and The StonesIn A RoomThe Hedonist32nd Floor and Se Dest.  And while I've been writing about Babe Rainbow, I can't believe that I haven't mentioned You Don't Understand and that's before
I've even mentioned b-sides like Safe.

Well there we have it, if opportunities to write about The House of Love are scarce in the years to come, I trust that I've more than made up for it now. But they deserve every word of praise they get.

With added Andrea Heukamp!

Videos courtesy of demanthor and guli soto