Saturday, 27 January 2018

Oliver!: The Fall - Married, 2 Kids (6 April 1992)

I only had 2 more selections to cover from Peel’s Nachtexpress show of 6/4/92, and this was to have been the last of them, only for events to force a reorganisation.

Mark E Smith’s death, announced on Wednesday 24 January, came both as a bolt from the blue and a progressive inevitability.  In the latter half of 2017, my Twitter feed had become virtually a live feed of Smith’s health and its effect on Fall gigs.  One night a cancellation, the next night a stunning show.  The next week, Smith would look frail and unwell; the next night back to his old self - albeit singing from a seated position.  As worrying as it sounded - and I’ve read stories since Wednesday of people who knew Smith was unwell to the extent that he had suggested (possibly in jest) that he may have taken an artistic director role in future projects - Smith seemed like he would have gone on forever.  Considering, he’d sung and performed while hungover, having fights, nursing a broken leg and from the dressing room, he could very well have gone full George Melly had he needed to and performed sitting down.  The people would still have come.
His death has provoked a reaction comparable to that of the passings Bowie, Prince and George Michael - it’s clear that he was an inspiration and a hero to so many people.  Like those previously mentioned, his musical gift/style was unquestionably unique - maybe more so even than Bowie and like them, he was an enigma - albeit the only one you could expect to find in your local pub at 1:30 in the afternoon.  People are instinctively drawn to artists that lead you to ask, “Who are they really?  What do they really think?”  Nobody doubted that Smith was the grumpy misanthrope that his work and antics in interviews suggested - though in his 2008 autobiography, Renegade, he suggested that “malevolent Mark” was a screen, a protection to be used if people tried to force themselves on to him.  He never came across as someone who was on your side or who could be relied upon to be there for you, and yet....people remained drawn to him and interested in what he had to say because if life was as shit as he seemed to suggest that he was, then no one was better qualified in pop music to encapsulate it.  Life was shit and turgid and disappointing.  Relationships were inevitably doomed.  The city was bleak and fun was a deception.  Smith touched on all of this and met the gloom and doom head on.  He couldn’t inspire optimism, but he faced despair down.  You can’t beat it, he seemed to say but neither do you have to succumb to it.  You can face it down into stalemate and if you have enough about you for drink, cigarettes and a good book that will do to be going on with.  That was all the comfort Smith could offer you, but it resonated and people went back to it every time.

I was not a Fall fan in John Peel’s lifetime.  Whenever I heard them while driving back from a rehearsal, I was at best, indifferent and I have no Fall tracks on any of the 2002 mixtapes I made.  Indeed it wasn’t until Rob Da Bank on OneMusic played What About Us that I willingly taped a Fall track.  I should have got on board sooner, after all Smith liked The Move and, although I wasn’t to
learn it until this week, we both shared a liking for Malcolm Allison’s autobiography - a copy of which The Fall gave to Peel on his 50th birthday.

When I started this blog, I hoped it would give me an opportunity to appreciate The Fall more than I had previously done.  By and large this has happened.  I wouldn’t call myself a Fall convert by any means, but I see more readily what Peel meant by statements like “Always different, always the same”.  Not only that, but out of the near 400 selections that have been put on this blog so far, if you were to ask me, which opening most readily comes to my mind out of all of them, then it’s this.  The opportunity to learn more about them will always be there given that there are another 12 years’ worth of Peel shows to work through and Peel was playing them all the way up to and including his last show.

After all that, it feels quite mundane in the circumstances to come back to a single song, but Peel had this track lined up for his Nachtexpress listeners, hoping that the 03 DJs had been giving plenty of exposure to the Code:Selfish album.  It may be my favourite of all those that Peel played from it. Smith had recently married Saffron Prior, the head of The Fall’s official fan club but this bluesy lament didn’t augur well for a blissful union.  Smith’s protagonist is exhausted, jaded, defeated and “abject”. We learn nothing about the spouse and children, but they’ve driven the protagonist back to a hotel in Notting Hill Gate - either due to separation or perhaps as a venue for extra-marital activity.  Marital responsibility is presented here as a sickness leading to loss of appetite (an inability to commit to work), stress (too busy to think/too busy to work), exhaustion (knocked out after 2 pints), an inability to make rational choices (mustard aftershave) and senility (“I’m a long winded article” implying that the freedom to talk outside the marital home leads to turning into a reactionary blowhard. One can picture Smith, sat in the pub in the afternoon, watching the schlubs he has critiqued here, propping up the bar during an extended lunch opening up their latest ramble with, “As a father and husband...”). The Spirit Of Man being the name of a pub is one of those laugh out loud lines that characterise great Fall songs though Peel said afterwards that the line, “I have a peculiar
goatish smell” was the one that most people drew his attention to in their letters to him.

Video courtesy of Kevin Kriel.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Oliver!: The Meathooks - Manic Tribe N.Y.C (6 April 1992)

I’ve mentioned The Meathooks a number of times in recent posts, but this is the first opportunity there has been to put any of their music on here.  The whole of their Cambodia Soul Music album is up there for your delectation.  To jump to Manic Tribe N.Y.C go to 11:24.  I see it as a noisecore complement to the more melodic People To Talk To by The Mad Scene, in that it tries to reflect that fascinating angle of the city as a jungle - most obviously through the battering drum sound.  Peel was having none of it though, “The first person to describe them as aural art terrorists or similar gets their head kicked in.”

Listening to Cambodia Soul Music, I was struck by both how perceptive Peel had been in his picks from the album, both this track and Tribute which comes in around the 20 minute mark, had made my  lists.  However, I found the rest of the album to be really quite boring for the most part.  Peel’s tolerance for this kind of music often flummoxed people - how could anyone choose to listen to, as The Meathooks put it in the sleevenotes for the album, “Ten slices of claustrophobic headache” - but he knew what he was doing.  He believed that noisecore was a genre that should be championed, and if it needed him to act as sommelier for the masses, then so be it.  We couldn’t ask for anyone better suited.

Video courtesy of blackoperations

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Oliver!: PJ Harvey - Victory (6 April 1992)

There is already a version of the Peel Session version of PJ Harvey’s boat-party track on this blog, so taping the version from the Dry album, aired by Peel on 6/4/92, would have been a completist gesture but not an empty one given the brilliance of it.
When Peel was beguiled by a talent, he invariably fell hard for it.  Nachtexpress listeners were left in no doubt of just how much of a gibbering idiot Polly Jean Harvey had made him into: “I had lunch with her recently and was so nervous that I talked throughout the entire meal and didn’t hear a word she said”.

Video courtesy of TheSampler2010.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Oliver!: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 4 April 1992)

After this day, I would be spending at least part of the following 6 days dressed as, variously: an undertaker, a Bow Street Runner and a street vendor -  “Knives. Knives to grind.”  Oliver! would have its dress rehearsal on Sunday 5 April, with a preview performance for local junior schools on Monday the 6th.  My main memory of the time spent at the dress rehearsal was crowding round a mini-television, squinting through the static at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Portsmouth, the thought of which was giving Peel great anxiety.  Not only that, but he was still deeply uneasy about the concept of “the Super League” that Ipswich Town took another step towards on this day.

Centrepiece of the programme was the drawing of winners for copies of PJ Harvey’s debut album, Dry, with the added bonus of limited edition copies of demos for the album being given out as well.  To win a copy, listeners had to answer the question, where do PJ Harvey come from?  Peel gave mention to someone called “either J or K Taylor, who sent in 31 entries - all of them incorrect - any gave their address variously as either Aviemore, Scotland or Grovesnor Gardens, London”.  He felt that Taylor almost deserved a prize of some sort “for persistence, if not impudence”.  The answer turned out not to be Yeovil, as I have previously thought but Corscombe.

I was interested to hear him play a tune by The Rev. Buck Naked called The Wire Head Conspiracy.  In 2002, when I finally got around to making my own Peel mixtapes, he played one of his songs called Work On Your Car inspired by an email from a listener trying to remember where some of the lines from it came from.  Peel often used to joke about people asking him to dig out old reggae records that he had once played and which they could never remember either the title or artist - only that the track had the word, “jah” in it somewhere.  As for Rev. Buck Naked, Peel only had regrets,
“I wrote him a rather creepy letter to encourage them, and they immediately went out of business.”

Curve had played a gig in Ipswich  the night before this programme was broadcast.  Peel apologised to the band for any stage-diving that may have spoiled their set.  He attributed the possibility of this to his eldest son, William and his friends.

The selections from this programme were taken from a 94 minute file.  There were two items I’ve not been able to share:

Freefall - Our Eyes (Peel Session) - Whatever my previous carping about the singer of this band, they clearly had something about them, as this is the second of their contributions to a Peel show that I earmarked for inclusion.  My notes describe them as being “ 1984 never ended”.  Alas, one EP was as good as it got for them.

The Mike Gunn - Tom’s in the Bathroom - Taken from their album, Hemp For Victory, Peel was initially uncertain whether he had played this or the preceding track on the album, Song About Horses, “One of those albums where the number of tracks doesn’t marry up to the number of titles we’re given”.  However, having heard mention of “Tom” in the recording, he announced it finally as Tom’s in the Bathroom.  It was a borderline inclusion, but I loved it for the sax-led cacophony at the start of the record.  The band were named after someone who suggested they call themselves after him, though he wasn’t actually a member of the band itself.  I wonder if they would have taken him up on his suggestion had his surname been Hunt?

One track fell from favour:

Richard Hell - Baby Huey (Do You Wanna Dance) - I was sitting in an Italian airport in September 2008 when I first listened to Peel’s Punk special from 10 December 1976.  Of all the names that stuck in my head from that show, I always regarded Richard Hell and the Voidoids to be the most inspired of them.  It may well have been residual respect for that which initially saw this track, recorded with Dim Stars featuring members of Sonic Youth and Gumball, make it on to my lists. But listening to it again, it just sounded like a lazy parody.

Full tracklisting

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Oliver!: Bunny & Ricky - Freedom Fighter (4 April 1992)

Even if I hadn’t liked this track, I would have applied Peel logic in order to include it.  Whereas, the great man was first drawn towards Birmingham based skiffle duo, Terry and Gerry, because they were the names of his former flatmates, so I found myself smiling for similar reasons when Peel back announced this track by Bunny & Ricky.  After all, the reggae duo shared names with my former next door neighbour (Bunny) and a plumber friend of my father (Ricky) who in 1999 came round to the house to do some work while my parents were away on holiday and turned off the water supply to the bathroom.  “I’ll put it all back on tomorrow, Dave, is that all right?” he asked me as he left. “No problem”, I replied.  Except he didn’t come back tomorrow.  Or the day after. Or the day after that.  And my parents were still away for another 10 days.  He wasn’t picking up his phone either.  Anger at the lack of water in the second most important water feature in the house - fortunately, neither the toilet or kitchen sink were affected - was tempered with worry that something might have happened to him.  But 2 days before my folks were due back, he phoned to apologise and say he’d be over later to complete the work.  But he didn’t show and my parents arrived back from a lengthy journey home from the Dordogne to find they couldn’t have bath after passing on the facilities offered by P&O Ferries.  I was just grateful that I was out of work at the time, so could nip to my girlfriend’s house every other day for a shower.  The water was back on within 24 hours of my parents return.

But as it happens, I do like this track, a 1975 release on the Locks label, recorded by Errol Kong and William Clarke, who also saw the tune put out under another name, Bush Weed and Corn Trash.  Peel had come across it in the early stages of his Little Richard cover search.  He’d been playing a lot of records by the American noisecore group, The Meathooks in recent programmes, but nothing they were coming out with is anywhere near as casually bloodthirsty as the contents here, with Bunny & Ricky laying out their freedom fighter (another man’s...) credentials and basically giving instructions that they are coming to clean house.  There’s images of snipers in towers, crowds running for cover, zero-tolerance towards cheats (skanks) and all in the name of fulfilling the more extreme proclamations of Marcus Garvey.  I could imagine this getting plenty of play over at Katch 22’s house.  If Peel had had his wits about him, they probably should have been sequenced to run together.  But as brilliant as Katch 22 were, it’s this deceptively sweet record that carries the more incendiary message.

“Well worth tracking down in the second hand shops...well worth tracking down anything of theirs in the second hand shops.  Bunny & Ricky - who were they and where are they now?” - John Peel, 4 April 1992.

Video courtesy of toddvarrelli.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Oliver!: Mescalinum United - We Have Arrived (4 April 1992)

“That’s Mescalinum United.  I don’t think they had a match today.  In fact, I’ve got an awful feeling that I’ve used that joke every time I’ve played that track.” John Peel, 4 April 1992.

This blog wasn’t as busy in 2017 as it has been in previous years.  Part of that was down to work pressures and even during 3 months of unemployment between February and the start of June, I found myself thinking that I shouldn’t overblog, when I should be looking for work or using the free time I had more productively.  I ended up in a job I don’t really want to be doing and my house still has lots that needs to be done to it.  However, my main regret with the blog for 2017 is that I didn’t get to write about We Have Arrived a week or so earlier than I have, because it was one side of a record called Reflections of 2017 and that’s another open goal that I’ve missed.

This track was already two years old when it started featuring on Peel’s playlists over March/April 1992.  It’s doubtful whether he would have announced or recognised it as, in the words of Discogs, “the first hardcore techno track”, given that it would have nestled alongside similar sounding records by the likes of Transformer 2 or Shake Inc. He certainly didn’t mention the word, Gabber, when playing it.  Considered alongside its flipside, it certainly feels as though Marc Trauner (aka Marc Arcardipane) the man behind Mescalinum United who would feature on many more Peel playlists in future years under the better known alias of The Mover, could claim to be a soothsayer.  With its steamhammer beat predicting the fury of our age; the sound ‘n’ fury squawks reflecting the white noise of both social media and political discourse; topped off with soaring sonic crescendos sounding like the nuclear missiles that psychopathic leaders are itching to use and which, on this tune, fly off into the distance leaving only a tease but no explosion.  We’re entitled to ponder that, yes , we have arrived.  Could we go home now, please?

If anyone thinks that, for a pioneering record, Trauner’s original isn’t hardcore enough - one of Aphex Twin’s remixes of it, could be right up your street.

Video courtesy of monotek darkmatter.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Oliver!: Katch 22 - Biting The Hand That Feeds (4 April 1992)

“The Katch is back!”

Yes, they were and given Peel’s appreciation of everything coming off the Kold Sweat label, I can imagine that Katch 22’s Return to the Fundamentals EP must have been one of his most highly anticipated releases of the month.  He may have felt a little shortchanged at the resulting disc offering up just one “new” track together with a batch of instrumentals and remixes from the Diary of a Blackman Living in the Land of the Lost album.  Over a killer drum pattern and samples that conjure up 60s slasher movies, Biting the Hand That Feeds continues the themes of that earlier album - the constriction of opportunity for black people and how black assimilation into white society can equal black submission. Touching on themes as widespread as capitalism, genocide, cultural displacement, family breakup, slavery and poverty, it’s  all a bit scattershot until a storming final 90 seconds brings the track home.  I like it, but if Biting the Hand That Feeds is the tubthumper, the remix of State of Meditation is a better attempt at raising the awareness in its listener as to why a revolution may be needed.

Videos courtesy of Kove Graff and U3.