Tuesday, 30 May 2017

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

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

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

Videos courtesy of DJDreadnought and skunkassociation.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

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

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

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

Video courtesy of Jake.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Video courtesy of John Peel.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

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

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

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

Video courtesy of bobsherunkle.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Oliver!: Emeneya - Ngonda (15 March 1992)

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

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

Get on your dancing shoes and give praises.

Video courtesy of selino bwatshia.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

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

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

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

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

Video courtesy of ffokcuf.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Video courtesy of Pleasure Victim

Monday, 8 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of "bundle tracks" in this episode.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Oliver!: Cybersonik - Thrash (14 March 1992)

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

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

Video courtesy of anubiscj303.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

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

On the recording that I heard for the 14/3/92 show, there was only space for one track from this session.  Peasant in Paradise, which is the final track on this video of the complete session, was played first as part of the repeat airing that it received this evening. (On the video, Peasant in Paradise starts at 12:36).

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

Video courtesy of vibracobra23

Monday, 1 May 2017

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

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

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

"Thou shall not make repetitive, generic music".

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