Monday, 26 February 2018

Oliver!: The Boo Radleys - I Feel Nothing (10 April 1992)

As I listen back to these Peel shows from the early 90s, I increasingly feel that the answer to that perennial 90s British pop riddle: “Blur or Oasis? Pulp.” should be amended to include, “...if raining, The Boo Radleys.”  As we’ve picked our way through the early months of 1992 approaching the Oliver! production week, more and more examples of music from their Everything’s Alright Forever album keep standing out.  And while the lyrics may be pointless and the vocals annoyingly weedy, the ideas tumble out and won’t leave the listener alone.
I Feel Nothing sees The Boos indulge their Krautrock tendencies to wonderful effect.  Sometime before this programme, Peel had played a track from their Adrenalin EP called Vegas which I passed on, but only just as its mix of acoustics, shimmering dulcimer-like feedback and modulated distortions made for an arresting listen, even though I couldn’t articulate why.  Needless to say, I regret the omission now.  But I Feel Nothing brooks no equivocation.  Plunging the listener into the opening hailstorm of angry, distorted guitar noise before pulling us out into the classical Euro-acoustica of the opening verse.  It feels like My Bloody Valentine duelling with John Williams.  Like The Misunderstood’s I Can Take You To The Sun, this is one of those tracks which shows the fascinating directions that 2 guitars/bass/drums can go in.  I’m impatient to get onto 1993 and see what they did on Giant Steps.

Video courtesy of Arne Nilsen.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Oliver!: Arrested Development - Fishin’ 4 Religion (10 April 1992)

There are few things more evocative of “1992” than Arrested Development’s debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of... Anytime I went in to Our Price throughout that year, and most of the next, I would see the open plain tableau of the album cover staring out at me.  It sold by the bucketload, won a number of critical awards and heralded the potential arrival of an act that promised great things for years to come.  In the event, they split by 1996 (subsequently to reform after the Millenium), but left behind 3 singles that still hold up well today in People EverydayMr. Wendal and their masterpiece, Tennessee.  For all that, I was never entirely persuaded by them at the time.  They felt to me like a Sesame Street idea of a hip-hop group - all co-operation and why can’t we get along vibes - which is eminently preferably to the “Eat lead, bitch!” antics of the N.W.A copyists that were springing up alongside them, and which Arrested Development were positively compared to.  But it didn’t convince me, and the fact that they split ostensibly over business differences showed that they were just as fallible as the bling/guns crowd. I should have been listening a little more closely though given that People Everyday sees vocalist, Speech, kicking another brother’s ass for insulting his African dress and touching up his girlfriend.  So, Sesame Street via Oscar the Grouch maybe.

The release of 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of... was one of those instances of Peel getting swept along with the crowd given that the album and Tennessee singles were their first releases, so he discovered them at the same time as everyone else.  Fishin’ 4 Religion appeared to be THE track for him as it got several plays over April/May 1992.  For me, it’s all about the groove in this one which is infectiously catchy and over which Speech lays down a thoughtful and witty flow about the wish to find some relevance in religion, but how difficult it is given how feeble most church groups are.  Baptist churches are happy to obfuscate rather than answer or explore the big questions, while Catholicism preaches blind faith, which isn’t going to satisfy a curious but sceptical member of the congregation.  In keeping with the positive feeling which endeared Arrested Development to so many at the time though, there’s no intent to give it up as a bad job, but to keep fishing for something pertinent until a bite of understanding can be found.  But as Speech recognises, it’s a big ocean out there.  One can only hope he found something worth taking home and not to be thrown back into the sea.

Video courtesy of Green Vein

Friday, 16 February 2018

Oliver!: Otis Redding - Stay in School (10 April 1992)

Peel played this 75 second curio while linking two other tunes.  It’s the title track of a public service Stax album called Stay in School - Don’t Be a Dropout (1967) which saw Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Booker T & the MGs and others encouraging people to stay in education.  You don’t see Spotify doing that kind of thing, do you. The track also featured on the Redding compilation, Remember Me, which Peel had been dipping into through the early part of the year.

In 1992, with my GCSEs imminent, I would almost certainly have recorded this on to  a mixtape in order to try and reassert the important goal I had, alongside doing Oliver!, which was to get 4 GCSEs at Grade C or above so I could go on to Sixth Form.  It’s odd, I was just beginning to like school at the very point I was on the brink of leaving it.  Maybe it was because I wanted to do drama as an A-Level having not selected it for GCSE - a mistake I really wanted to rectify - but after my disastrous mock exams, I had my work cut out....

Redding apparently wrote the song on the spot - just himself and an acoustic guitar, plus a little overdubbed saxophone.  I love the way he encourages the listener to ponder what would be the worst option for them at their age: school or the unemployment line, as well as the satisfaction of rising above the catcalls to make it to the top, so you can be there to greet the taunters, “when they get there, if they make it”.  If Otis Redding said it was the thing to do - and he tells us quite clearly that he thinks it is and we should say so to anyone who doubts it - then how could I let him down?  Trunkworthy considers this recording a very important one, both in terms of Stax Records’ sense of social responsibility and as a hint of where Redding may have gone musically had he lived on into 1968 and beyond.

Perhaps most impressive of all is the effortless way in which he pulls off the hardest thing any famous person has to say professionally, “Hi. I’m (insert name here)”.  As, you’ll see below, it can be a massive stumbling block.

Don’t panic, he doesn’t sing:

Videos courtesy of twet500 (Redding) and riccardo riande (Bolton).

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Oliver!: Spiritualized - Angel Sigh (10 April 1992)

I initially had a question mark next to this track, taken from Spiritualized’s first album Lazer Guided Melodies.  I suspect this was probably due to the extended noodling fadeout.  However, I’ve fallen more and more in love with it (even the fade out - which doesn’t seem that long when you consider it) while listening to it ahead of this post.

When considering the gorgeous opening 45 seconds - all gentle arpeggios, bass prods, lightly struck tabla and ambient shuffle between keyboards and guitar - I have to refer to a YouTube comment made by Cyrus Budd. They say simply, “Spacegaze.”  It’s a summation that is hard to beat.  Such is the beguiling sense of space and scale cooked up by this opening that I keep expecting the impassioned vocal of a Richard Ashcroft or similar to come in and dominate the space.  As a result, it always surprises me when the phased, husky whisper of Jason Pierce comes in instead.  Pierce always sounds like a man trying to convey the depth of his love/desire/emotion while simultaneously suffering with a hangover and a dose of flu.  Here, he’s admiring a woman from afar, his feelings either unrequited or contained inside him so far.  The beautiful ambient feel of the first minute catches all too well the sense of anticipation that comes from waiting for her to come around the corner and be seen in all her glory.  And then, in classic “quiet/loud/quiet/loud” style, she comes into view and suddenly the guitars are screaming out and the angels are playing their autoharps, as though the spirit of Brian Jones had been drafted into the Spiriualized line-up for this track.  One can almost feel the sun bursts behind her as she walks down the street.  After a repeat of this formula, we go into the long fade out - not that long actually, only about 2 and a half minutes - but it’s quiet all the way through to the end, leaving the indelible image of Pierce waiting patiently (fruitlessly?) for his angel to appear again.

Video courtesy of Rabbit1Lee.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Oliver!: John Peel’s Nachtexpress [O3 Austria] (Monday 6 April 1992)

And so, after 5 months of rehearsal, Falmouth Community School’s production of Oliver! reached production week.  The opening night was Tuesday 7 April and the show would run for 4 nights, ending on Friday 10 April.  Before that, on this day, there was to be a preview performance for kids from local junior schools.  For us, it was a glorified final dress rehearsal.  For them, it was an afternoon off lessons - which was a good chunk of the reason why I was doing it too.
I still had to go to lessons in the morning.  I can’t recall what I had timetabled, but everyone in the cast was made aware of what one cast member had been doing that morning when we arrived after lunch to get ready for the performance.  Colin Leggo had spent all those months of rehearsal playing one of the Artful Dodgers.  Mrs. Stevenson, the school drama teacher and director of the show, had cast two Olivers and two Dodgers who would alternate on the nights of the run.  Colin might have been scheduled to play the part that day.  However, it was his misfortune to have PE as one of his Monday morning lessons.  He told me, “We were supposed to be playing rugby, but it was raining, so we were in the gym hall instead playing ‘crab football’.  Someone got up and started running around with the ball, accidentally jumped on my kneecap and broke it. Nice.”  Gutted as we all were for Colin, it didn’t affect the balance of the show too much as we had someone else already up to speed with the part.  But amateur drama is a precarious business, because understudies are not generally used.  In two productions that I’ve directed, I’ve had to step in and act roles when actors have dropped out at short notice - one of them due to slipping on a piece of pizza in a restaurant on the opening day of the production.  I also used another to make up for retracting an offer I had made for a part when my original choice dropped out because she thought she was going to be away when the show was staged, only to discover she had mixed up her dates and could do the play after all.  As the years pass in this blog, you’ll hear tales of replacements who were replaced after 1 rehearsal because they alienated everyone else and the time I was asked to replace someone, not because they were injured, but their acting was so bad, people threatened to quit if they weren’t replaced.  It’s not usually so cut-throat, I promise...

The preview went off without any problems and so the cast, crew and musicians of Oliver! wended home to send their prayers to Colin - who was given his own special curtain call from the second night of the run onwards - and to dream of a successful run.  Austrian listeners to John Peel’s Nachtexpress on O3 were given a betting tip ahead of the UK General Election, set for Thursday 9 April.  Peel predicted a win for the Conservatives with a reduced majority.  He described this as his worst nightmare.  I hope he put some money on the result, at least.
A common feature of many of Peel’s shows for non-BBC stations was a wish for people listening from far flung corners of Europe to write to him.  2 Nachtexpress listeners had taken him up on this, but to Peel’s chagrin he had lost both letters.  What annoyed him was that if he had been able to name his correspondents, he hoped it might encourage other Nachtexpress listeners to write in as well.  He finished the programme by playing Naye,  a track from the new album by Matchatcha, Diblo Dibala’s new group.  Peel felt that they were slicker than Loketo had been and this was a matter of regret.  Matchatcha were further damned with faint praise as only the first minute of Naye was heard before the programme faded out and the news came on.

The selections from the show were taken from an edited version of the show in which the taper chose not to include any of Peel’s dance music selections.   Amid tracks which have already surfaced here, the only “new” track I couldn’t share was:
Gorilla - Gone - This track had a question mark against it, and having just listened to it again, that question mark may still be there.  A funky and loose piece of power pop driven along by guitar and organ, but blighted by rather gurning vocals.  Have a listen below and see what you think.

Live from Stowmarket!

Friday, 2 February 2018

Oliver!: Cobra - Live Together (6 April 1992)

In one of those 1983 episodes of Top of the Pops which Peel hosted with David Jensen, and which I so recklessly missed when BBC Four repeated it, there is a moment in which our hero lightly disparages Paul McCartney’s iconic paean to racial harmony.  At 6 years old, the substance of Ebony and Ivory flew over my head, I was just goggle eyed at the giant piano keyboard that Macca and Stevie got to sit on.  The song marked the end of a 10 year hiatus for McCartney from writing about anything with a political subtext to it.  His last effort may still have been on the banned list.  Having struck out in 1972 and 1982, McCartney decided to leave politicking to others in 1992, which is where dancehall artist Cobra comes in.
It took me a couple of listens before I had to conclude that despite the “Now I’m not saying this man right and that man wrong/But let’s live together...” opening, this was not a plea for universal tolerance and peace among all men, but more likely a treatise on the murky state of Jamaican politics* Eventually, the patois got away from me - I’m more than open to any suggestions on what Cobra is singing about in connection to the 1976/1979/1980/1984/1988 sequence - allusions to colours like red and green suggest political factionalisation or could allude to land and blood but it’s the mention of grey that intrigues me.  Is it one of the first reggae songs to acknowledge that bringing warring sides together demands a recognition of the ambiguities that exist between the adversaries?  Well, is it?

* Edit - Just listened to it again.  While I think many of the points about recognising ambiguities hold water, if it’s politics are directed anywhere then it’s towards street politics.  Given that Cobra’s early records tried to marry reggae and gangsta rap, it’s credible that this may be a plea to stop killing and try to give each other room.

As so often in this genre, if you can’t make sense of it, just wallow in the sharpness of the performance.

Video courtesy of Djeasy Mixmaster.