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.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Oliver!: Master Techno - The System (8 March 1992)

Sometime in the early 90s, Gregory DeWindt hit upon the genius idea of calling himself Master Techno, like he was the favoured son of Mr. and Mrs. Techno, and released a series of 12" EPs which he labelled Vol.1, Vol. 2 etc.  I can find such acts of portentous labelling pathetically impressive - giving off the feeling that such records should be collected instantly, before a new volume instantly makes the old one obsolete.
As of 8/3/92, John Peel had reached Volume 3 of Master Techno's work; a 4 track EP heralded with a jingle featuring Peel's children exhorting him to "Play us a loud record, Daddy".  Peel duly obliged with The System, one of those tracks that opens with an acid computer game feel - as was becoming increasingly prevalent in dance records at the time.  There's not much to the track in truth, and Peel could have chosen a couple of superior tracks on the EP such as The Problem, but the propulsive thrust of the piece serves to carry the day.

Video courtesy of picolettouao.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Oliver!: The Monkeywrench - Notes & Chords Mean Nothing to Me (8 March 1992)

I realise that when a man walks in the valley of YouTube comments he stands a risk of getting bitten by rattlesnakes, but while listening to this track by the Seattle supergroup, I came across a particularly  thought provoking one, in regards to rock music.
In my notes for this track I praised the punk spirit underpinning it.  The whole notion that anyone can play guitar and that technique doesn't really matter.  Just pick up and play.  Who cares if you "sound like an ass" - the act of playing is simply enough.  One could imagine it being written by someone who had taken the three chords on the cover of the Sideburns punk zine captioned "This is a chord, this is another, this is a third.  Now form a band." and produced this very song with them.  I had been surprised that it had taken till 1991 for someone to write something that elaborated on such an anti-theoretical approach to music.  Except that it hadn't taken that long, at least not in the case of Notes & Chords Mean Nothing to Me, because it had been written a decade earlier by Californian alt-rock band, Redd Kross.  Their version, apart from the ending is slower than The Monkeywrench's, which starts fast and gets quicker.
For YouTube user, OnionTerror2007, The Monkeywrench's version was the superior one, as they felt that Redd Kross's was "a mess".  But the uploader of Redd Kross's version, Isobeljellybean made a very pertinent reply:
"...This is a song performed by the teenagers who wrote it about not caring how the music sounds as long as they enjoy it.  The Monkeywrench version is alright but er...performed by folks for whom the notes and chords mean quite a lot."
Now, I should say at this point that The Monkeywrench's version would be the one I go back to, on the grounds that it's better performed and really gets across the sense of excitement and liberation in music that the song talks about.  However, it does that precisely because the guys in the band were talented enough to bring that out in their performance.  It drips with a superior faux authenticity.  Redd Kross's original sounds more hesitant, but nevertheless, also sounds more authentic precisely for the reasons that Isobeljellybean describes.

Notes & Chords Mean Nothing to Me is one of the most undervalued important, keystone songs of the last 35 years because it lifts the lid on the argument that has polarised music lovers since time immemorial: Does the artist mean it?  The Monkeywrench's version rocks as hard as the song would demand, but are you really buying into it when you've been playing for years?
I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, because the fact is that this marvellous song has served as an unspoken manifesto to anyone who has ever sat at a musical instrument and persevered with it long enough to make music and gain mastery over the basics - where those basics take them is a matter for the artists themselves, but let us celebrate those who had the courage to press on and not let ridicule or fear stop them.  Would that we could all be so fearless.

A couple of other observations:
When Peel gets around to playing The Datsuns a decade or so on from this broadcast, I wonder whether he will notice the similarity between them?
I can't believe that I've written about The Monkeywrench without quoting my favourite Goon Show joke.
"Have you got a monkeywrench, Min?"
"I gave it back to the monkey".

My thanks to Fred on Twitter for suggesting that Alternative TV may have got there first (51 seconds in)

Shortly releasing a new compilation of their material from the period when they wrote Notes & Chords Mean Nothing to Me.

Videos courtesy of Canale di Cindelora (The Monkeywrench) and Isobeljellybean (Redd Kross)

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Oliver!: Sultans of Ping F.C. - He Thought I Was Your Best Friend/Kick Me With Your Leather Boots [Peel Session] (8 March 1992)

*My thanks go to the stalwart Webbie for putting up the whole Sultans of Ping FC session.  When I first wrote this post, I could only link to the recorded version of Kick Me With Your Leather Boots that was on their debut album, Casual Sex in the Cineplex.  I hope that anyone who appreciates the band more than I do, will enjoy hearing the full session.  Webbie's splendid Peel related website can be found here.*

If there is one thing I hate more than a song by Sultans of Ping F.C. it's having to write about a GOOD song by Sultans of Ping F.C.  Their sole Peel session, broadcast on this show, produced two of the bastards.  He Thought I Was Your Best Friend is a nice take on the way you handle the sleight of someone trying to impress your lover while disregarding you.  It may be the only Sultans of Ping F.C. tune I've heard that tones down the "Ooh, we're a bit mad, us" fuckwittery that makes me so dismissive of them.  Which makes it all the more surprising that Kick Me With Your Leather Boots makes the cut, featuring as it does:
1) A "la-la-la" refrain of teethgrinding annoyance.
2) Niall O'Flaherty channelling his inner Mickey Dolenz on the word "sincere" to massively irritating effect.

And yet, this is the one from Sultans of Ping F.C. that strikes a chord with me.  A mix of football, literature and sadomasochism for outsiders, who wanted to be accepted but also be taken home by the freaks.  Offering themselves up for glorious abuse, because it's better to be treated with contempt than ignored altogether.  Perhaps that was what drove Sultans of Ping F.C. on - if you can inspire some reaction, even a negative one, you have to be doing something right.  It drove me at times in my childhood and teenage years, until I was able to reconcile it into something that made me feel better about myself and which people responded positively to.

Also included in this session, though I would have passed on it, was the track Give Him a Ball and a Yard of Grass, worked from a collection of quotes by Brian Clough.  As with The Damned United, it's a nice idea but you're always better to stick with the original rather than a bad cover version.  I hadn't heard the final track, Kareoke Queen, on the recording I listened to of the 8/3/92 show, which is a shame because it's the best track of the session.

Video courtesy of Webbie.