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 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.