Saturday, 30 December 2017

Oliver!: Fluke - The Allotment Of Blighty/Time Keeper [Peel Session] (4 April 1992)

The 4/4/92 show featured a repeat of the second Peel Session recorded by the electronica collective,
Fluke.  The session catches them somewhere between the frenetic activity of 1991, which saw them release both a studio album (on Creation Records) and a live one, with them considering their next sonic moves.  In the best traditions of the exercise, they gave Peel a mix of past, present and future tunes to chew on.  I only heard the first two that were put out on this show, but they were more than adequate.  The Allotment Of Blighty may be a riff on their live favourite, The Garden of Blighty, but I haven’t been able to confirm this.  It’s a marginal inclusion, featuring as it does a keyboard sample that may very well have inspired the main riff in Riverdance, two years hence, (or maybe Nu-Tekk?).  I suspect ultimately it owes its place here by acting in the function of a curtain raiser for a track which never saw release on any of Fluke’s subsequently releases, but which stood head and shoulders above everything else in the session.

Time Keeper (or The Timekeeper as Peel called it on the show) builds on a number of the themes heard in Fluke’s The Techno Rose Of Blighty album.  A number of tracks on that record based themselves less on acid house and more on jazz.  Amid the beats and bleeps, Fluke would throw in squeals of trumpetsax/flute and acoustic guitar.  Above all, there was a focus on the use of time signature and syncopation, which this piece takes on to thrilling effect with synth work to give The Orb a run for their money.

The other tracks broadcast in the session were Top of the World which would turn up on their next album, 1993s Six Wheels on My Wagon and The Bells which came out in a range of mixes on an EP called, cunningly, The “Peal” Sessions.

Videos courtesy of fractal76BG and jammin023.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Oliver!: The Wedding Present - Falling (4 April 1992)

Question for anyone who keeps abreast of these things: when did boxsetting become a thing? Was it this year or in 2016?  I don’t watch much television now, and I don’t have Netflix, Amazon Prime or anything like it.  I never West Winged, Broke Bad or made a date with a Mad Man.  House of Cards to me meant Ian Richardson  (and recent events mean that’s what it’ll probably mean to many others again in future), while if you ask me my opinion of Game of Thrones, I’m likely to say “That’s me playing Snake on my mobile during a long shit”.  I’ve always been more of a dipper inner than a glutton when it comes to watching episodes of a TV series over time - if only the same was true of me round a biscuit tin.  I prefer to keep the intrigue drawn out as something to look forward to rather than devour a series in one sitting.
2017 saw another show enter the pantheon of, “You want it all?  You can have it all!” broadcasting with the return of Twin Peaks after a gap of 26 years.  I didn’t see any of it, just as I only saw snippets of the first iteration.  Whenever I turned over in the 90s to watch any of it, I always seemed to come in at a scary moment which would send me scuttling back to the news ASAP.  The only bit of Twin Peaks that I’ve ever seen was the 1992 prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and I only did that because Mark Kermode asked me to - and I’m glad he did, I thought it was excellent.

On several occasions during his run of shows from November 1991 to April 1992, Peel alluded to certain atmospheric records, usually dance based ones as having “Something of a Twin Peaks influence” while one of his dance picks in December 1991 used one of Twin Peaks’s musical cues as a key sample and under his better known name got a Top 10 hit single out of it.
The Wedding Present recorded Falling, the main theme from Twin Peaks as a B-side to single of the month, Silver Shorts.  On the face of it, this is an ideal match of song and artist.  Lynch’s lyrics could have been copied from a David Gedge notebook given that it starts with a self-plea to be careful and not get emotionally hurt, only for such caution to fly out the window once he sees the object of his desire.  In typical Lynchian style, and a neat bit of underplaying the situation, he notes that while everything seems familiar in the grand scheme of things (the colour of the sky, the movement of the clouds etc) something fundamental has changed - “Are we falling in love?”  And in Lynch’s world that change could prove to be either the salvation of his characters or their downfall.  It’s a truly beautiful song, poised over Angelo Badalamenti’s bass like refrain, which becomes a ringingly bright guitar refrain in the hands of The Wedding Present.
The first version of the song was popularised by Julee Cruise, a collaborator with Angelo Badalamenti.  Lynch and Badalamenti wrote the song with her in mind to record it and she imbues it
with an almost angelic level of fragility - gently soaring into the stratosphere alongside the icily ecstatic synths.  This sense of love and gentleness breaking through chaos, violence and terror is a key theme in several of Lynch’s films.  The next paragraph contains SPOILERS and links to scenes that some viewers may find upsetting.

Blue Velvet (1986) is awash with romance, love and tenderness amidst an ocean of reprehensible acts - indeed some of that love is delivered by the most terrifying character in 80s cinema.  Wild at Heart (1990) features further grotesque characters and moments of unsettling insanity, but at its centre is the loving, tender relationship between Sailor (Nicholas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern).  Their love and belief in one another is what stops the film being overwhelmed by dark malignancy.  Lynch in these films appears to be on the side of love and tenderness.  The heroes and anti-heroes of both movies get put through hell, but a happy ending is waiting for them, ultimately.  Even in a film where no happy ending is possible like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me there is still time for moments of tenderness and genuine caring interaction between characters, before the inexorable slide back towards madness.  Having missed all of Lynch’s feature films since Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, apart from The Straight Story (1999), I have no idea whether this motif is prevalent in the likes of Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Dr. (2001) or Inland Empire (2006).

Julee Cruise’s vocal suggests love being strong enough to rise above the cruelty of everyday existence.  One can imagine it as an ensemble piece sung by The Lady in the RadiatorSandy’s robinsThe Good Witch and the angel in the Red Room.  If Lynch’s work could be said to be a revolving round of dream/nightmare states, joined together like Siamese Twins and allowing him to acknowledge the very best and worst of human behaviour, then Cruise’s version of Falling is the dream state, while The Wedding Present’s is the nightmare state.  After chocking out that instantly recognisable riff, their version proceeds with David Gedge’s vocal barely rising above a murmur and he struggles to be heard above the sustained guitar notes that drape themselves over the choruses like one of Laura Palmer’s malevolent visions.  Around the 4 minute mark, the band go full noise rock, leaving Gedge quietly intoning his surprise at, potentially, falling in love.  The effect is to push all the cruelty, violence and menace in Twin Peaks, and Lynch’s other work to the forefront, while reminding the listener that, even when buried behind a seemingly horrific world, love is never far from the surface.  It’s a very clever inversion of Cruise’s version and both could be held up, by optimists and pessimists alike as representative of Lynch’s worldview.

This will probably be the last post before Monday, so it’s as good a time as any to wish anyone reading this a merry Christmas.  Please could I have DVDs of Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire for my gifts this year, please? xxx

Videos courtesy of Andrew077 (Wedding Present) and L Y R I X (Cruise).

Lyrics copyright of David Lynch.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Oliver!: Po! - Look For The Holes (4 April 1992)

When putting together their Grains of Sand EP, Rutland’s second best known cultural ambassadors clearly recognised that Look For The Holes was the ace of the record, and accordingly gave it a side to itself.

On the surface, the song is a post-breakup farewell; that moment in any emotional parting where it is made clear that lives will now travel in opposite directions and that any future meetings will be in the company of others and most likely on neutral ground.  It belongs to that pantheon of amicable break-up songs.  While there are hints that the relationship and its aftermath may have been traumatic:
“I’m brave/I’m not your slave...”
We really get the sense that all sound and fury has been spent.  There are no more fights to be had, just acceptance to be shared.  Ruth Miller is still trying to cajole her ex to reflect on their shared history positively and without casting her, needlessly, as the villain:
“Think of the good times we had/You could never ever hate me.
Be sad/Please don’t get mad.”

However, the line which sticks out for me is:
“Some people cling to the past/Like a very hungry little puppy.
I know/I won’t be the last.”
Although it’s of a piece with the break-up theme, suggesting the bravery of leaving a relationship that’s gone bad rather than clinging on due to the memory of when it was good - I find that the clinging to the past metaphor strikes me and my generation very close to home.  In my case, it’s my own individual concern at spending too much time looking back to lost eras, halcyon days and memories.  Those days of warmth and safety that the snore-like guitar strikes on the verses are trying to take the listener back to.  I’ve tried, for my own good this year, to embrace more of the times that I live in now, even though they’ve gone through more substantial changes in the last 2 years than we could expect in the quarter of a century (yes, really!) since Peel first played this track.  Speaking more generally, I feel that my own generation, those who came of age in the 1990s, has cast itself as nostaglialists as severely as the most charactured Brexit pensioner.  It’s in the clothes we wear, it’s in the music we listen to, it’s in our cultural totems against which today’s are compared and found wanting.  And the root cause for this perpetual retreat to 25/30 years ago?  Fear.  Nothing more or less than that.  Fear of change, perhaps, but more likely fear of expanding horizons and looking beyond that which we know we enjoy.  Because to find pleasure in today risks losing the comfort blanket of the past.  Thank God for John Peel though.  Because even listening to him retrospectively, one is still being led somehow both into the present and the future.  But many of his audience would be coated by Ruth Miller’s clear-sighted lyric.  Maybe those holes are just what we’re looking to fill our lives with?

As an example of feyly incisive indie folk, Po! put me in mind of the Sarah Records act, The Field Mice, another band who peddled emotionally taut songs under the cover of deceptively gentle arrangements.  I see Look For The Holes as a female centred counterpoint to The Field Mice’s Think of These Things.  One can almost imagine that the narrator in Think of These Things managed to break through the outer ring of people who knew the object of his love longer than him, and yeah, times were pretty good for a while, but eventually his jealousy and possessiveness forces the girl to break away.  In keeping with the aesthetic of the scene though, there’s no triumphalism here.  She has to go, and nothing he can do will bring her back.  Listen carefully, and the sense is not of a new start after a turbulent time, but mere peace of mind - “I’ve grown/Oh, how I’ve grown”.
Achieving a sense of grace through its mature reflectivity, this is a stunningly perceptive piece of emotional songwriting.

Video courtesy of my lifesaver and benefactor, Webbie, who provided the clip directly from Peel’s 4/4/92 show.

All lyrics quoted in this post are copyright of Ruth Miller.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Oliver!: Chuck Brooks - Love’s Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down (4 April 1992)

Time once again for another round of lyric word association.  I’m going to say a word and I want you to tell me another word you associate with the first word in any song setting.  OK, are you ready?  Here we go:

No not tear as a noun, but tear as a verb, like rip.  Try again:

When I was a child, I found the song title, I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, as covered by Paul Young to be both fascinating and confusing.  What could cause someone who seemed so mild-mannered and normal to demolish a Wendy House?  I didn’t have access to Urban Dictionary in 1984 so was blissfully unaware of concepts like fur lined porn dungeons. But the moment I heard John Peel play Love’s Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, I had to do further research.  Was I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, originally recorded by Ann Peebles in 1973, in any way a reply record to Chuck Brooks’s 1970 recording of Love’s Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down?

Alas, no.  While Peebles (and Young) threatened retribution on someone who had been playing them for a fool, Brooks is the player shaken to his very core by feelings of love.  If Melvin Van Peebles or Fred Williamson had chosen to make a blaxploitation version of Les Liasons dangereuses in the early 70s, this may very well have featured on the soundtrack when Valmont starts to fall in love with Madame Tourvel.

Peel actually restarted this record, when he played it, because he was convinced that the wound up opening note was because of an error on his part, but, “It really does start like that. Incredible!”  He only played up to 3:14 which covers side A of the original single.  The video covers both sides, but the last three minutes is pretty repetitive grooving with Brooks trying new metaphors for the tearing down of the playhouse.

“Leave it, Paul.  It’s only a Wendyhouse”.

Videos courtesy of losmoutinhos (Brooks) and PaulYoungVEVO.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Oliver!: Midway Still - Better Than Before (4 April 1992)

Let me take you back to the early days of this blog and the sense of excitement I felt when I listened to the Peel show broadcast on 2 November 1991.  The file picks up from the end of a news bulletin and goes straight into Pickin’ The Blues and after the initial guitar notes, in comes John Peel, “Do you know at half time I thought Liverpool were on for a record breaking 2 wins in a row but it was not to be.  Katch 22 in session together with Foreheads in a Fishtank along with three hours of top quality...well not quite three hours, but a lot of good records.”  And then he played the first of them, and this blog was, suddenly, really happening...but it wouldn’t be marking its first post with Wish by Midway Still, which sounded ditheringly morose to me, certainly in comparison to Howlin’ Wolf who was up next.
However, having been the first group played in this Oliver! odyssey, it’s nice that Midway Still turn up as the production comes out of 5 months of  rehearsal and rounds the final bend into the production week - opening night was on 7 April 1992.  Better Than Before is a huge step up in quality from Wish, fizzing as it does with energy and attack.  The powerful backing plays off Paul Thomson’s vocal so well, it made me think that if Buddy Holly had lived long enough to record music in the grunge era, this is what it would have sounded like.

Video courtesy of Anderson bertolin.