Saturday, 29 July 2017

Oliver!: Sebadoh - Kath (21 March 1992)

I wouldn't want you to think I was obsessing on names of people I've known through drama; it's just the way that selections have worked out.  Unlike the Ruths, I was never romantically involved with the Kath I knew on the Cornish drama circuit, but she did give me a cracking part in The Diary of Anne Frank which this blog is still, chronologically, 2 years away from.  I had a huge amount of respect for her because she was fearless as an actress, highly imaginative as a director and endearingly devoid of any confidence in herself in either discipline.  She wore her fear heavily and visibly even when she had pulled off something brilliant onstage or had put together a production full of innovative touches - especially in pantomime.  Goldilocks and the Three Bears set in a circus or Aladdin in which the set was a scaffold tower - cue much grumbling from people within drama committees about doing a traditional panto the following year.  But invariably the shows would scoop  awards at the county pantomime awards evening - sponsored by Calor Gas in my day, and now revived - at least in one part of Cornwall, meaning that they would be remembered fondly, rather than as arty folly.  She has now started writing and directing her own work as well, and one of my greatest regrets about not acting in Cornwall anymore is missing out on the potential chance to have played in some of her writing - or at the very least wonder why I hadn't been approached to.  I write this on a day when I have worked in a job that leaves me uninspired, directionless and pissed off.  I really need to start doing more of what Kath is doing.

While I wouldn't rush to play Goodbye Ruth to either of the Ruths given the rather downbeat nature of the song, I'd happily play Sebadoh's Kath to Kath.  Simultaneously haunting and calming, with its beguiling mix of spine-tingling acoustics, metronomic percussion and a lyric poised somewhere between romantic cherry popping ("I'm so glad the wait is through/I'm so glad I waited for you") and pagan sacrifice (allusions to chicken heads and killing the jealous) this is a superior piece of U.S. acoustic gothic complete with live cicadas providing an alfresco choral feel to the recording.

Video courtesy of jakmgrunge.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 20 March 1992)

One book on my To Read list is Ken Garner's 2007 book The Peel Sessions which chronicles all the sessions recorded and broadcast by Peel during his time on Radio 1.  15 years earlier though, Peel Sessions had been one part of a more comprehensive work of Garner's called In Session Tonight which attempted to present a full history of ALL sessions recorded for Radio 1, regardless of host and/or size of act.  During early 1992, Garner was observing sessions and writing about contemporaraneous Radio 1 for the opening chapter of his book.  He wrote to Peel about the Spiritualized session broadcast on 14/3/92, of which precisely no tracks turned up on this blog, because none of them were on the recording I made my selections from.  Garner had sat in on the session at Maida Vale, recorded on January 7, 1992 and one which Peel had particularly enjoyed because Jason Pierce and co. had taken his words to heart about using sessions to push beyond their comfort zone by bringing in outside musicians to bulk up their sound.  According to Garner, Kenneth Branagh had been recording a radio adaptation of Hamlet for broadcast on Radio 3, in the next door studio.  The first anyone knew of this was when Roddy Lorimer, one of the trumpet players that Spiritualized had drafted in for the session announced to the assembled company that he had just bumped into Michael Hordern in the Gents toilet.  Peel replied that his only lavatorial encounter with a famous person had been at Wembley Stadium a few years previous, when he had met Matt Busby.

Since the previous week, Peel had made the finals of a stock car racing event, in which he had beaten out Andy Kershaw.

The selections from this programme came from a 90 minute file.  The show included a track called Her Too by Greenhouse which takes the prize for track I've hated most on any Peel show, so far.  It's basic tune is good, but it becomes unlistenable due to their incorporating the sound of metal bars being struck.  Even Werewolf, Semen and Blood by Finnish group, Beherit was more enjoyable to listen to.

Tracks I would have liked to include but couldn't included:

Fun-Da-Mental - Janam (The Message) - Peel sounded like Sir Nicholas Soames as he attempted to enunciate Fun-Da-Mental's name.  The track though was fantastic: a compelling mix of Eastern drone, propulsive bassline and political agit-prop.  Essential listening - if you can find it.

The Megaton Men - So What - A venomous break up song, from Peel-described "Pride of Penarth" replete with gay subtext given that they sing about there being "another guy" at the root of their reason to break off the relationship, unless they're reading back a Dear John letter.  A good rocker, either way.

Manifesto - Pattern 26 - Peel heard traces of former Dandelion Records act, Medicine Head in this tune, but I thought it more closely evoked T.Rex myself.  Not quite hitting the heights of Walking Backwards but a strong ending would have recommended it for inclusion.

Tracks that fell from favour included:

The Hair and Skin Trading Company - Ground Zero - I agonised over this.  At times I loved it, especially when the ear-heart sound from the radio recording was in full effect, making the tune sound massive and exciting.  But too often, I felt detached from it - maybe because it's in that halfway house between major label sound and no budget one.  It's not a track that's going to die wondering, it has its eye on Wembley Stadium, and would probably sound amazing in that context.  However, it never held my attention when I was doing something else, so it was left out.  I have no idea whether this was my fault, or theirs.

PJ Harvey - O Stella - one of her key tracks from the start of her career, but on listening to it more closely, it just seems like a retread of the far superior Sheela-Na-Gig.

Full tracklisting

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Oliver: Hypnolovewheel - Candyman (20 March 1992)

This track from the Long Island band's Angel Food album allows them to showcase, as Peel noted, a remarkable similarity to The Fall, despite "...the remarkable preponderance of beards and facial hair in the band".  There's the opening burst of radio static cum audio sludge out of which Mark E.Smith would usually emerge barking out "Pander! Panda! Panzer!" or suchlike.  But here, we get a Fallesque scratchy guitar riff, which in no time at all is beefed up by its bigger, brawnier bass brother, before we get a lyric delivered somewhere to the right of Aubrey Woods and Christina Aguilera.  I can also hear a touch of Big Black in here as well.

It's difficult to make out too clearly what the content of the track is, but there's a vague update of The Beatles' Savoy Truffle with chocolate, flavours and wrapping being used as metaphors for human behaviours and an "it's what's inside that counts" message.
All in all, it's a borderline inclusion that wins through on the strength of that riff and the quality of the  Mark E.Smith pastiche.  It also appears to be an anomaly with the Angel Food album itself, which mostly seems to be made up of glistening guitar-pop and high harmonies including one track whose opening sounds like the the clear inspiration to Babies by Pulp.  I like the fact that in the middle of all that perfectly serviceable pop, there's this gnarly, snarly, difficult track like Candyman.  It made me wonder why any pop bands who complained about feeling constrained by their established image, didn't just do something like this extremis.  "There's three singles for the radio; the rest of the album's going to be lo-fi racket".  Blur managed it in 1997; any other suggestions are welcome.

Video courtesy of Oliv DeKaDe

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Oliver!: Some Paradise - Goodbye Ruth (20 March 1992)

Speaking as one of the unpublished, untalented ones, songwriters often have to remember a key rule when it comes to writing songs which mention women by name.  The rule is "One syllable name difficult; multi syllable name easier".
Go on.  Think of a song with a woman's name in it.  Bet you automatically defaulted to a song with a 2 to 4 syllable name, didn't you?  I don't blame you, I've already had LaylaRuby and Victoria (original version - sorry, Fall fans) going through my mind while writing this paragraph.  Incidentally, if anyone remembers this blog's last meditation on names in song titles, my wife now has another one to add to her own list courtesy of a collective of musicians called The National Gallery and a track from their sole 1968 album inspired by the work of artist, Paul Klee.

I wrote song lyrics to myself about all the women I went out with, and the one I eventually married.  Two of my muses were called Ruth, but by the time I wrote about the second one , I avoided the issue that dogged the song about the first one, and didn't try to crowbar her name into the lyrics.  I can't remember anything about the eponymous Ruth song that I wrote circa 1995, though I don't think I gave it a Flash  (Ahhh...) style chorus, and I'm hoping that I was savvy enough to avoid rhyming her name with "truth" or "strewth".  There's no guarantee of this good judgement - I once wrote a song and hit upon the idea of ending the verses with "Good (something)".  This was fine for the first two verses as the rhymes I needed led me to write "Good night" and "Good time" respectively.  So far so good, but I ran into trouble when my third "Good..." had to rhyme with the word, "look".  I racked my brain for a while before deciding that as I was writing about a woman, then "Good cook" would do fine.  I still thought it would when I showed the lyrics to my songwriting partner a week or so later.  But his snort of "Good cook?!" when he read through it consigned it to the dustbin.  I don't think it was much of a loss to music really - the last verse ended with "Good moon" (to rhyme with "soon" naturally).  That's the thing about songwriting - it never pays to overthink it.

The issue with one syllable names in song is that they either come out too sharp - as though the singer is spitting out the name - or they dribble out like someone dropping a blacmange onto a mattress.  Even the peerless Michael Jackson had delivery problems when singing about a pet rat - "Bin" anyone?  You have to put the name together with another word and ideally have it at the end of the line.  To their immense credit, Todmorden's Some Paradise - no stranger to Peel's show under their old name, Victory Mansions - do exactly this and when allied to a full bore performance full of driving guitar and strong vocals, serve up a little classic.
I have good relationships with both of the Ruths - the subject of the eponymous song came to my wedding and was in Extraordinary - but while I'm tickled to discover a song with their name in it which was played by John Peel, I'd be reluctant to bring this to their attention, regardless of how much I like it.  The main reason is, as you can probably guess from the title, this isn't a particularly
happy song from Ruth's point of view.  The song appears to be a lamentation about how Ruth used her youth (I didn't use that rhyme in 1995 either) and beauty to secure a lover which made her financially secure only to have her bright future torn up when her lover found someone else who had the youth and beauty that she had lost herself.  It plots the course of the trophy wife's journey from pearl of the oyster to burnt out cigarette in the gutter pretty unsparingly but with the dramatic eye of a Terence Rattigan play.  The sympathetic but unsentimental tone reaches its natural conclusion in the chorus, where it feels as though the farewell is not just to the memory of what Ruth lost, but possibly to Ruth herself.  Left with nothing but the scars in her mind after growing, blooming, wilting and being tossed aside, the piece as a whole has the feel of a damning funeral address.  It mines a similar vein of intensity to that of Red Hour albeit with a slightly poppier edge.  Something was brewing in the North of England circa 1991/92 - dark folk/pop tales which never got a chance to grow as grunge swept in over the next  2 years, but someone should gather these examples together and put them out in a compilation soon.

The video is taken from the 29/2/92 show, with Peel's link at the end.  My customary thanks to the wonderful Webbie (@keepingitpeel) for answering my specific request to upload this track.  They're a prince!

To finish on the multi-syllable name in song, I couldn't not include this bearing in mind how many times I saw it in rehearsal during the period this blog has covered so far.  Oliver.  3 syllables long, so it could be easily given not just the title, but whole lines of nothing but the name.

Videos courtesy of Webbie (Some Paradise) and maiza (Oliver!)

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Oliver!: Mav Cacharel - Boyoka Ba N'Deko (20 March 1992)

According to Peel, the former Loketo singer's first solo album was called Mav Cacharel (not strictly true).  This track came from his second album, also called Mav Cacharel, which suggests that he took his titling policy from The House of Love.

Peel also revealed some of the musicians on the record, including guitarist Bongo Wende, which got me thinking about Bongo Eddie from Kid Creole and the Coconuts.  Sometimes, I prefer the former, sometimes I prefer the latter - but which one is better?  There's only one way to find out...  (God, I hate myself for that.  I much preferred his Channel 4 show).

Video courtesy of lek kerdammer.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Oliver!: The Family Cat - Furthest From The Sun/Prog One [Peel Session] (20 March 1992)

By the time I got into "contemporary" music, around late 1994/early 1995, The Family Cat were winding  down their operations.  This barely made a dent on me at the time beyond a flippant "see ya" style dismissal in one of the music papers.  Had I known that three of the members came from Cornwall, I might have been pained by it more.  It certainly explains the thinking behind calling their first album, Tell 'Em We're Surfin'.  How nice that this Peel Session allows me to see beyond the slightly quirky name and appreciate a fine band.
The recording that I heard of the 20/3/92 show only had 2 session tracks on it.  The video is of the full session, and had it been on the recording that I heard, I would have included muscular session opener, Too Many Late Nights in the title.

Second track Furthest From The Sun deserves praise anyway as it prompted Peel to follow it with I Can Take You To The Sun by The Misunderstood for which I was profoundly grateful.  My wife spotted that the riff which opens the tune and which it kept coming back to was lifted from The Man Who Sold The World by David Bowie.  It sets up a loving tribute to a female recluse, living out of sight on a hill in the countryside, but who clearly inspires great devotion in Paul Frederick's vocals, for her lust for life and general spiritual purity.  The line "Sleep gently while you fall" implies that the subject of the song has died.  Whoever it was had a profound effect on the band, as the song became the title track of their upcoming album.
This loving tribute is then followed by the best performance of the session and a track that's harder to get a handle on, but fabulously compelling.  Prog One sounds like it should be setting up a piece of space rock noodling, but instead it uses the narrative of horse racing to chronicle a (forced?) break up of a relationship.  References to riderless/futureless horses making a break for freedom, while those left behind maintain the house as a shrine and "bad men" throw things in the backs of vans help to give this track all the intensity of a Dick Francis thriller.  Maybe he was popular on their tour bus?

The session concludes with River of Diamonds, which can't compete with the riches that come before it.  Perhaps it needed Polly Jean Harvey, who sings on the album version.  My picks start at 3:05.

Video courtesy of vibracobra23.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Oliver!: The Misunderstood - I Can Take You To The Sun (20 March 1992)

Imagine a history where The Undertones never wrote Teenage Kicks.  In that instance, it's probable that on announcing Peel's death in October 2004, Radio 1 would have given over four minutes of the daytime schedule to a much admired, cult record from 1966.  A record which Peel, at least until he heard the opening drum beat of Teenage Kicks in 1978, had announced on air more than once as "The best pop (sic) record that has ever been recorded". He was talking about I Can Take You To The Sun by The Misunderstood and, as so often when Peel used hyperbole, a strong element of truth backed up his opinion.

Peel first encountered The Misunderstood when he saw them play at Pandora's Box in Hollywood, early in 1966.  It was a gig that he would, to the end of his days, cite as one of the 10 best gigs he ever saw.  He was so beguiled by them that he offered his services to them as a manager, arranging the opportunity for them to record some demos and then sending them to London where they had to explain to Peel's mother that he had said it would be OK for them to stay with her. By the time Peel returned to the UK himself in early 1967, The Misunderstood had split due to a plethora of issues including drugs, visa problems and being drafted into the U.S. Army.  But their short time together had yielded a handful of influential recordings of which I Can Take You To The Sun was the jewel in the crown, and one which Peel would periodically return to throughout his broadcasting career.

I Can Take You To The Sun is an astonishing piece of music.  It's use of textured fuzztone guitar owes a lot to The Yardbirds, but its opening minute alone throws out challenges to their contemporaries.  I can imagine the likes of Love and The Doors hearing the powerful, panoramic, rocky opening and thinking to themselves, "Shit, we need to raise our games".  The record also achieves a level of cosmic, sonic liftoff akin to what Pink Floyd were achieving in London clubs throughout 1966 before they got into the studio as well.

The track progresses in three movements over the course of about three and a half minutes: the garage rock opening which encapsulates the idea of the psychedelic troubadour before it became a cliche (greeting the sunrise with nothing but a guitar).  If the track can be read as a description of an LSD trip, then the opening section can be read as a dare to dream, a way of greeting the new morning which youth culture felt was approaching through 1966.  The second, instrumental, section with guitars snarling and Glenn Ross Campbell's steel guitar providing the rocket fuel, covers the journey to the sun.  The moment when perceptions expand but the harshness of the sound means that we can't be sure how smooth the journey is.  If nothing else, it puts to bed The Beatles' complaint that three guitars and a drum kit wouldn't be able to produce something like Tomorrow Never Knows on a 1966 stage.  And finally we come to the third and most audacious movement, as the electrics fade out and the sun is reached with an acoustic guitar duel.  All is peace and the sun is being used to warm and not to burn.  However, while the tone of this part of the song is gentle and ethereal, it acknowledges more earthbound truths than might seem to be apparent.  The line, "You've existed in a lie that will someday show/I can take you to the sun...but you don't want to go." is tremendously important in rooting the track's significance because it recognises that the coming psychedelic revolution would not, despite its best intentions, be a collective redemption.  People would be scared by the drugs, by the implied threat to orderly society, by the generation gaps, by The System, by the weirdness, by any number of reasons from engaging with it fully.  Some would make it to the sun, others would float off into space and many more - too many the song implies - would stay earthbound thanks to fear, suspicion and incuriosity.  The last section of the track can be seen as a lament for a battle, which had not yet been fought, but which The Misunderstood forecast would ultimately be lost due to overwhelming opposition.

The best pop record ever recorded?  Impossible to say, but with its mixture of vision, bliss, excitement and regret, it may very well deserve to be called the best psychedelic record ever made.  Peel spoke about how The Misunderstood's live shows of the time could bring people together in ways he had never seen - no one ordering drinks, Go-Go dancers in their cages downing tools, the whole venue pressed up to the stage simply listening to the music.  I Can Take You To The Sun captures all of that in the time it would have taken The Grateful Dead to plug in their instruments and tune up.

Video courtesy of hawkmoon03111951.