Monday, 24 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Orson Karte - Tonight (22 May 1992)

When it comes to assessing this wonderfully dreamy, chilled out piece of techno house, we need to talk about names.  Artist names and track titles are the listener’s first point of contact with any musical artefact.  If a person is record shopping in a laissez-faire, ‘surprise me’ mindset then names, titles and cover art all have their part to play in sealing the deal.  John Peel admitted that whenever he went out and shopped for records, he would, quite naturally be drawn to records that stood out in this way.
Alas, had he seen the debut release by Lex Blackmore and Julian Dembinski on one of these trips, he would probably have passed on it.  He confessed to dreading having to cue up a record by a collective with the name Orson Karte (say it quickly if you’re puzzled as to why).  I’m still of the childlike mindset that finds the name quite smart, but I would have probably thought twice at seeing the track title, which is one of the most overused in popular music.  Wikipedia lists over 70 examples of songs called Tonight and you can guarantee that there will be many more from artists who haven’t yet or never will deserve their own wiki page.  It may be irrational of me, but I feel instinctively prejudiced against songs called Tonight.  It shows a lack of inventiveness though Blackmore and Dembinski could argue that they saved all their invention for the track itself, which I love, especially when the counter-synth line comes in around 3:32.

They do such a good job that the track may just be able to find a place among my own, resentfully admired songs called Tonight.  However, I’m not sure which of The MoveSupergrass or McAlmont and Butler it would dislodge.

Video courtesy of Duckkkarma

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Family Cat - Too Many Late Nights [Peel Session] (22 May 1992)

This track’s been knocking about on this blog for two years.  When I covered two other tracks from this session’s original broadcast, I had to share them using the video of the complete sssion.  Too Many Late Nights was another standout, but under the terms that I set myself - only select and blog about tracks you hear on Peel recordings - I couldn’t devote any special attention to it.  Happily, the repeat of the session on this night’s show means that it can now get its moment in the sun.

What comes across to me about The Family Cat’s Peel Session is both the novelistic, storytelling feel of their lyrics and their strident melancholy.  Both Furthest From the Sun and Prog One on the earlier post were structured like character studies - the lamentation of a dead woman and a forced break-up respectively.  They contained achingly sad sentiments but blasted through an invigoratingly powerful racket.  Too Many Late Nights continues this approach setting its protagonist amidst debauched late night excess and in the company of dozens of people who are his best friend for that night.  There’s plenty of sex and substances on offer and he takes his fill of it, but all the while, he knows that it’s empty and unfulfilling.  Somewhere along the line, a true love has got away and each lonely morning that follows the frenzied evening brings that reality home like rainfall coming “through the cracks in the frame” of the bedroom windows.
The only thing that works against it slightly is that Paul Fredrick doesn’t have the lived in voice needed to fully convey the debauchery, but this doesn't really matter given that the track is about emotional hollowness and the desperate need to fill that.  While the pain of the break-up has to be endured, then sybaritic means will have to do, despite the fact that they ultimately lead to another kind of loneliness.  He does a fine job of getting this emptiness across.  It probably wasn’t their intention, but the final result comes across as an excellent, hard-rocking update of similar themed songs of excess and emotional emptiness such as Herman’s Hermits No Milk Today or Another Night by The Hollies, both of who were to become important bands to me in 1992.

Video courtesy of Vibracobra23Redux.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Capris - There’s a Moon Out Tonight (22 May 1992)

It’s a curious quirk of timing that shortly after this blog has covered Peel’s favourite ever song, we now come to consider one of the most important songs in his life.  Like Teenage Kicks, this 1960 slice of doo-wop was included by him on his 2002 FabricLive compilation.  Indeed, if like me, your first hearing of it was on that album, it’s impossible not to listen to the final drum beat on There’s a Moon Out Tonight without expecting to hear it immediately cue up this.

As is often the case with doo-wop, you’re paying for charm and loveliness in lieu of any great profundity.  The Capris originally wrote and recorded the song in 1958 and signed the rights over to two men who wanted to manage them with the promise of wider exposure.  Inevitable silence followed and the group disbanded.  As tenor Frank Reina tells it, in 1960 he was driving to work with the radio on only to hear to his amazement, a disc jockey called Alan Fredericks playing it on the radio.  The track caught the imagination of the public landing at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961.  Despite being a quintet of Italian-American New Yorkers, The Capris’ sound was rooted in a more African-American style.  This led to them getting booked to play in front of black-only crowds in some states including a memorable date in Washington, where they found themselves as the only white act on a bill with  Aretha Franklin and Ike and Tina Turner.  There was to be no follow-up hit though the group has continued to perform live up to the present day and their 1982 composition, The Morse Code of Love garnered a lot of attention only for CBS Records to wimp out on giving it a big release.  Who knows, Peel could have ended up introducing them on an edition of Top of the Pops had that record caught on internationally.

While Peel may have taken care not to over-expose Teenage Kicks once it became recognised as his favourite song, he admitted that he struggled to contain himself when it came to There’s a Moon Out Tonight.  On this night’s programme, he reckoned it was no more than 6 months since he had previously played it. I feel that its enduring appeal to him relates to the time and circumstances in which he heard it: as an Englishman in the United States absorbing a culture of hops and warm moonlit evenings that he would have struggled to find in Heswall.  Furthermore, after spending many years exclusively in male company, either through attending public school or doing National Service, America represented his first prolonged exposure to women.  At 20 years old on arrival in Texas, he was keen to make up for lost time, but was clearly sensitive enough to know that the rhythm and blues/straight blues records that he was buying may not be suitable for romantic assignations.  In the period where he was still just John Ravenscroft, office worker and insurance salesman, There’s a Moon Out Tonight was a perfect record for those days of drive-ins, Impalas and opportunities for sex: “The lucky woman was lying on her sofa as I tussled with her, and after thirty seconds or so, I opened my eyes to enjoy the look of ecstasy I expected to see on her face.  She had her head tipped sideways and with her left hand was leafing through a magazine on the adjoining coffee table.” (John Peel - Margrave of the Marshes (2005) p.184-185, published by Corgi).

Video courtesy of Miss Ellie.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Oliver! appendices: The K-Creative - Zen Flesh Zen Bones (16 February 1992)

Before we can continue to move on through The Comedy of Errors, we must and I mean MUST take a step back to the days of Oliver! and a track which was on my want list when the blog covered Peel’s show from 16/2/92.

As promised you get funk drum beats and guitar (sounds very James Brown to me, but I’m not sure from where), sales slogans, Tibetan children singing, flute scales and in its final movements, an attempt to try and aurally distill the dread of a Lucio Fulci film.  The recording has been taken directly from Peel’s show and ends with his (cough) endorsement.  It’s a gem and I’m so pleased to be able to include it here at last.

Video courtesy of Zen Bromley (who was part of the K-Creative)

The Comedy of Errors: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 16 May 1992)

I won’t keep you long with these notes because most of the interesting stuff from the 90 odd minutes of the show that I heard are to be found dotted among the various selections from it that I’ve been posting over the last few weeks.

Only one track out of those on my original lists ending up falling from favour:

Dennis Brown featuring Maxi Priest and Shabba Ranks - Fever - with that cast list, this should be a shoo-in for inclusion.  Shabba Ranks played a major part in one of my favourite selections from the Oliver! shows after all. But this track from Brown’s Blazing! album always had a question mark against it and when I went to listen to it again, a week or so back, I just wanted to curl up and hide from it within the first 15 seconds. A little too busy for me, I guess.

I am still on the lookout for the terrific Go Work! by Sin City Disciples (goodness there’s a profusion of exclamation marks among these titles tonight, isn’t there?) which remains as stonkingly brilliant as it was when Peel played it two weeks earlier.  Maybe it will turn up once I’ve completed all the selections for The Comedy of Errors and it can be blogged as an appendix.  Speaking of which....

Peel’s full tracklisting

Sunday, 9 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Freefall - Love in Idleness/Our Eyes [Peel Session] (16 May 1992)

Note - my two picks run from 7:00 to 14:18 on the video.

This is a bit of an odd one. Freefall popped up in a couple of Peel programmes through early 1992 and recorded a session for him which was first broadcast on 4/4/92.  Up until 22 July 2018, nothing from them was shareable, but the redoubtable YouTube uploader, FruitierThanThou turned up trumps again.  Their channel is a treasure trove of sessions not just from Peel shows but a number of BBC disc jockeys up to the present day.

Freefall’s session was repeated on 16/5/92.  I only caught one track, Our Eyes, but as the whole session is available I’ve selected a bonus inclusion for this blog.  Regardless of the contortions that I put myself through in terms of citing tracks that would go on the mixtape, the whole session remains a good example of the wave of contradictory feelings that I have towards Freefall.

In the past, I mentioned that their sound was “like 1984 never ended” or that they “sounded like The Cure fronted by a teenage bingo caller.”  Oddly, while I gave a thumbs up to a previously unavailable studio version of Shine, I find that the session version of the same track makes it sound, to borrow from David Nobbs’s description of a politician’s voice, like the musical equivalent of a foggy day.  I found I could also live without the wannabe epic, 7 minute opening track, Green and Blue because, once again, the singer sounds like he’s got a cold and that aural snot ends up dragging the track into the realms of tedium.

And yet when it does come together, Freefall are a delight.  Rather than aping The Cure or trying to do restrained shoegaze, they sound at their best when they mine similar ground to that dug by The House of Love around the time of their seminal debut album from four years earlier.  Love in Idleness blends acoustics and delicately picked electric guitar around a lyric of such beauty that one has to wonder whether Guy Chadwick mentally projected it straight to them:
“In the pupil of an ugly eye.
Entranced on a bed of a heather.
An oasis of pebbles stuck on a fern (sic?)
Entangled by weeds and parasites”

From this somewhat unpromising pitch, the track goes on to set out an enchanting natural sanctuary for young lovers to escape and worship each other:

“Your white hot mind seduces me (sic?)
I fall forever to your kiss.
I feel the leaves, I can see the sky.
In the clear blue light of loving (sic?)”. (And if those aren’t the lyrics, then they jolly well should be!)

It’s so beautifully put together, I feel like petitioning the BBC to use it as a theme tune for Gardeners’ Question Time.

Our Eyes, by contrast, is a little more obviously shooting for mainstream success hampered by the extended opening and thin vocals in the verses. , However, I like the harmonies and chorus line and the fact that it’s about kissing.
For Freefall, a kiss off was about to come from the music industry.  Despite the presence of Boo Radley, Martin Carr in the producer’s chair, the Dehydrate EP, featuring both of the songs selected here, was their sole release.  A monument to a band who could sound simultaneously dated and timeless often within the same verse.

Video courtesy of FruitierThanThou.
Lyrics are copyright of their authors.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Undertones - Teenage Kicks (16 May 1992)

John Peel’s favourite song.  Many times over the years I’ve pondered just what was it about this 2 minute 27 second song that won Peel’s heart ahead of the millions of other tracks he heard over the course of his life and career.  His own pronouncements on the track gave little true insight.  There was the typical Peel non-sequitur that nothing could be added to or taken away from the song to make it better.  When he interviewed the band members in a documentary around the time of their Feargal Sharkey-less reformation, he declined to gush too much on camera to them but cited being drawn in by the twangy guitar as an initial hook for him, but if this was all then Duane Eddy’s Peter Gunn Theme might have been his favourite record.

Ultimately, I suspect it all comes down to the (misheard) lyric “Teenage Dreams, so hard to beat”, which as Peel requested, ended up on his tombstone.  Peel’s role on Radio 1 enabled him to continue to act like a teenager in a number of ways, not least a job involving immersion in music.  By the mid-1970s, he had become weary of a lot of what was turning up in record shops and by the couriers - “We were being bored to death without realising it” as he used to put it.  The Ramones debut album and the ensuing tidal wave of punk rock bands revitalised him through late 1976 and into 1977.  By 1978, his programme had become the place to go to hear the new three-chord wonders on the radio.  Peel had no problems with travelling on this train, but consider that for a long period of over a year his playlists were stocked with songs, of varying quality, that promoted violence and anarchy or which dealt in political themes along social and racial lines.  It was music that frightened people or brought out the bloodlust in others - though the theory is that the really dark stuff didn’t start to emerge until the post-punks got to work, which they certainly had by September 1978.

Peel maintained a sense of humour and proportion through all this, while continuing to champion both the big names and the dozens of wannabes and one-offs. By the summer of 1978, The Fall start making their first appearances on his show. Darkness, fear and the wearing of literary influences starts to loom on the horizon.  And then in the middle of all that, like a burst of sunshine in a monsoon of spit, The Undertones spring into his life.  They’re full of swagger despite the fragility of Sharkey’s vocals, their sound is muscular and they sing about something as innocent as desiring a girl.  The urgency to shag her wrapped up in sentiments which wouldn’t have been out of place 30 years earlier, “I wanna hold her, wanna hold her tight/Get teenage kicks right through the night”.  There’s no angst, anger, venom, mockery or disappointment here.  Only love, lust, joy - a zest for life’s possibilities as represented by a fanciable girl - and it sounds like a classic for the ages from the moment it begins.  In the words of Eamonn McCann, “This is a band that sounded beautiful coming from an ugly place....While many people may see their music as being something soft and mainstream, it was far from soft and mainstream in the Bogside in 1977/78.”
 Not just the Great Punk Love Song, but a Great Love Song full stop.  For Peel, it acts as the catalyst for the Bearded Perpetual Teenager to remember that life isn’t all gobbing and cynicism, but also joy and excitement.  It was a lesson Peel took to heart and it sustained him for the rest of his life.

Given how synonymous the song became with him, Peel was quite sparing in the exposure he gave to Teenage Kicks as the years went by.  It’s easy to imagine him giving it a spin every 6 months, but as the John Peel wiki shows, it was only an occasional presence each year.  The Wiki is incomplete so take the five year gap between 1982 and 1987 with a pinch of salt.  In Peel’s later years, Teenage Kicks was mostly played on the radio either for professional anniversariesmilestone birthdays or live events such as sets at Glastonbury or Sonar.  Its presence on the 16/5/92 show was to act as the signal for listeners to call Peel in order to potentially win the chance to accompany him to the final of the 1992 European Football Championships in Sweden as one of the prizes in Radio 1’s 31 Days in May extravaganza.  As always when he had to handle something outside his usual remit on his own programme, poor John was a bag of nerves and stricken with guilt about those he hadn’t chosen to answer the prize-winning question, “Where were the last European Football Championships held in 1988?”  Martin Behan, a sales rep from Dorchester, played safe with modern history and answered West Germany.  This not only won him the ticket to accompany Peel to the final, but as part of the prize they would be able to attend the official pre-match reception.  This set Peel into a further round of worry as he didn’t have a suit, which he was sure the occasion would demand.  Not having a suit in his wardrobe had caused him to pass up a recent opportunity to go to the Sony Awards.  “I know it sounds a bit of an old hippy thing but I really don’t have one.  Maybe I’ll have to buy one.  Maybe, Radio 1 will buy me one and that’ll be even better.  Martin will have a suit because he’s a sales rep.”

Video courtesy of sdd948
Lyrics copyright of John O’Neill.

Monday, 3 June 2019

The Comedy of Errors: D.O. Misiani and the Central K Jazz Band - Z. Oluoch (16 May 1992)

In his ongoing, early 1990s search for the elusive Little Richard cover, Peel’s trawl through his collection of 7-inch singles turned up this collaboration between Daniel Owino Misiani, better known as the band leader with Sherati Jazz, and the Central K Jazz Band.  Bought by Peel while on holiday in Kenya in 1972, Z. Oluoch is a fusion of Kenyan benga, soukous, folk and jazz - well there’s a saxophone popping up towards the end of the recording at least.
In keeping with the period, it all sounds sweatily close, almost like a field recording.  Peel reckoned that it must have been 20 years since he played it on the radio, though he jovially suspected that Andy Kershaw would have probably played it within the previous couple of weeks.

Peel in Kenya, 1972 - taken from Margrave of the Marshes

Video courtesy of La Meilliure Musique Africaine.

Friday, 31 May 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Slowjam - Freefall (16 May 1992)

If I offend anyone’s musical sensibilities with the terms I’m about to use, I apologise, but when I listen to the infectiously danceable grooves and driving riffs on Freefall, I find myself thinking that with a bit more love and care, Baggy music could have stretched on through the 1990s and beyond to be wildly acclaimed as irresistible British funk.  Club nights dedicated to it wouldn’t be retro affairs, but instead cutting edge affairs with expectant clubbers waiting to see what new tune was going to
carry the assembled throng into dancing ecstasy.  Gigs would be a nirvana of groove dancing, for this was a form of music that understood that if you can engage the feet first, you don’t necessarily need to worry about engaging the head or the heart.
There’s an ocean of possibilities suggested by Slowjam in the opening movements of this track. If the Baggy movement needed a Santana act, then the role was surely theirs. And then in one endearingly, awful moment all such grandiose ideas fall away as the music drops out to assail the audience with a Casio keyboard demonstration setting with added police siren and instead of music for the ages, Freefall is destined to remain stuck as a product of its time in the early 1990s when British guitar bands were resolutely determined not to sound like guitar bands, but lacked the wit and subtlety of the post-punks from 10-15 years earlier to use their toys in genuinely surprising/groundbreaking ways.
For all that I can sit here and bleat about missed opportunities, Slowjam don’t miss by much.  Freefall still rocks like a bastard though the heavily echo-laden vocal suggests that while the Brits could play funk, they needed tricks to help them sing it.  When Peel played this on 16/5/92, it almost qualified for “oldie” status.  The track on the video is taken from a John Peel show originally broadcast on 21 September 1991.  Peel was due to take his Roadshow out to Leicester later in that week, so may well have brought the record out as a potential floor filler for that gig.

Here’s what you do with a guitar and a recently found synthesiser (from 1978)
*No Brexit related sub-texts intended with this, just a bloody good record.

Videos courtesy of John Peel (Slowjam) and Junk Gunk ‘n’ Punk (Europeans)

Sunday, 26 May 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Orb - Blue Room [Part 1] (16 May 1992)

Nothing too serious, I’m pleased to say, but this has been a trying week for me.  Money is tight, work is tough and Roy Wood’s nailed his colours to the mast for the Brexit Party.  I can only give thanks that in the background to all this, I’ve had Blue Room (Part 1) to fall back on.

In the days when it felt like dance music was going to dominate the charts for the rest of the decade, this was the movement’s Hey Jude moment.  At a shade under 40 minutes over its two parts, it was the longest single ever to chart.  What was the Blue Room? I’ve read that it’s probably a reference to a UFO holding centre at Wright-Paterson Air Force Base in Ohio, but the beauty of the track is that you can project any setting or context on to it.  It strikes me as nothing less than an ambient take on the creation and history of Earth up to and beyond 1992.  In the early minutes, The Orb seem to walk an even path between the scientific and the theological as they conjure up starfields coming into alignment to create the outline of the planet.  Seas and air-raid sirens gently collide with discreet guitar patterns and sound oscillations all underpinned by the sound of a creator (God?) catching each shooting star and hammering it together to create the Earth and that which will inhabit it.  Over there the sound of bird life; in another corner processed human voices - the air raid sirens giving an indication of the play that His creations will spend too much time engaging in.  And yet, the bubbling synths sound like nothing less than primordial swamps from which we will emerge through evolution and find our way.
By 7 minutes into part 1, Man’s sense of wonder at his surroundings and the outer universe is made manifest.  The ability to reason, observe and deduce intermingled with the first inklings to create music as the female vocalisations come in, courtesy of a track called The Creator no less!
Just after 9 minutes, Man becomes the creator both in the sense of building but also creating beats around those vocalisations and a Jah Wobble bassline.  The unending fight between Man’s impulse to discover and Man’s impulse to kill plays out as gunshots duel with B-movie dialogue from science fiction films excitedly announcing shuttle launches, but are those futuristic sounds those of a transmat beam taking Man to seek out new life and civilisations or ray guns that will lead man to kill and subjugate what it finds?
As Part 1 progresses the track takes a pessimistic view with animal cries set against the sound of impending industrialisation and a robotised voice incanting “Goodbye” But goodbye to what? A way of life? A home? This planet itself?  To find the answer, Peel suggested that he would play Part 2 on his programmes in the following week but it doesn’t appear that he did.  When I listened to the full track earlier no clear answer emerged until the final few minutes where the guitar tones of Steve Hillage take on the qualities of whale song and lead me to wonder, in the absence of dolphins, whether they are trying to warn us about the impending destruction of the planet.  If so, all we will leave behind are memories of Norma Jean.

If you would prefer a take on Blue Room that relies on less guesswork, I would entreat you to read 5:4’s article on the track’s 20th anniversary.

Videos courtesy of Nino (Part 1) and Laymante (Full version).

Monday, 20 May 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Cop Shoot Cop - Room 429 [Peel Session] (16 May 1992)

In the days after John Peel’s death, one of the best eulogies that I read about him was provided by TV Cream.  Not only was it brilliantly written, but it included a sound file which showcased Peel at his most endearingly fallible.  It still works on the TV Cream page and in its own way summed up the spirit of the man’s charm brilliantly. Amid the offers of unintentionally unpleasant prizes from Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and a suddenly ubiquitous Radio 1 newsdesk jingle, I caught the first mention of Cop Shoot Cop in a repeat of their debut session on Peel’s 19 May 1991 programme.  So until the day that I discovered the world of online Peel show sharing, my only mental association with this wonderful band was with STDs and one of whipping boys of the UK music press in the early 90s.  Although, it should be noted that both Cop Shoot Cop and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin made a virtue of using 2 bass players.
A year on from Peel’s brain-freezes and butter fingers with the jingle machine, Cop Shoot Cop were back with a new session.  I only caught Room 429 and their 1992 Peel Session is unavailable to share so I’ve had to use the studio version which barely differs from the live one.
The main thing which strikes me when listening to this reflection on madness, murder and psychological eclipse is how much Cop Shoot Cop sound like any number of other bands and musical sources had those same bands/sources drunk a bubbling, green potion and transformed themselves from crowd-pleasing Dr. Jekylls into debased Mr.Hydes.  My notes highlight this by stating that singer Tod A. (Ashley) puts me in mind of a more extreme and unhinged Paul Jones.  Yes, imagine if Uncle Jack had stayed with Manfred Mann in 1966 and led them towards a Dr. John direction. No singer in the 60s had a better flair for the characterful  than Jones - such touches populate both the best and - from a 2019 perspective - most problematic work of the band.
On a more contemporaneous (for 1992) note, I hear elements of Unsane here.  Now they were a band who were never shy about the dark side of human nature, but had they slowed things down and released an album of blues ballads it strikes me that Room 429 would have been the kind of template they would have looked for.
But with it’s metallic, haunted house keyboard lines, the thing that Room 429 really put me in mind of was the children’s TV show, Trap Door.  For as long as I can remember, this everyday tale of an overworked servant and the monsters he serves/lives with has been supposedly either been coming back to television or due to have a big screen version made of it.  If it happens, and Room 429 isn’t on the accompanying soundtrack album, I shall be very disappointed.
What becomes clear though is that, as with the Trap Door and whether Room 429 is either a place where dark deeds take place, a room in an asylum or, as I suspect, simply a safe mental space for the song’s protagonist, you should not enter it without Cop Shoot Cop to guide you.  And even then, there’s no guarantee of safe escape, but the flair for a melody that surrounds the darkness is a dangerous and winning enticement.

Video courtesy of Conor.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Fede Lawu and Matchatcha - Toulouboule (16 May 1992)

I always felt sorriest for soukous fans who only had access to John Peel through his European shows. On a couple of the shows that I heard from stations like O3 in Austria or BFBS, Peel would usually announce either a soukous or reggae track as the final one of a show, bid his audience goodbye either until next week or next month and the record would play for a minute or so before being faded out into the news or a European timecheck.  There was nothing Peel could do about this of course.  He would record the programmes either in London or at Peel Acres before sending the shows off in good faith.  However, to judge by his statements about Matchatcha for his Nachtexpress show on 6 April 1992, he might not have been totally uneasy about this state of affairs.  Matchatcha were Diblo Dibala’s latest band.  Although Peel’s admiration for Dibala’s musicianship was boundless, he nonetheless found Matchatcha to be a little too slick at times compared to Dibala’s previous band, Loketo.  For him, synthesisers on a soukous record diluted its effectiveness, as well as dating it.

For all that, Peel still found space on his playlists for Matchatcha - brilliance will out after all and with not only Dibala but Freddy de Majunga in their ranks, there was plenty of brilliance to go around.  His Radio 1 audience got to hear the track in full, 27 years ago today.  The album, Souci, was “lent to the programme and to you, by the William Melling Archive”. It’s my favourite soukous track out of those I’ve heard Peel play since the start of The Comedy of Errors rehearsals.

Video courtesy of SKYNET_30 (is this what we’ll be dancing to come the rise of the machines?)

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The Comedy of Errors: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 15 May 1992)

This was a busy day for me and my family.  As previously mentioned, my mum celebrated her 46th birthday on this day.  However, she had to wait to enjoy the occasion because she and my dad came to watch me play my first, competitive game of cricket.  The smack of leather on willow was my true soundtrack to the summer of 1992, as I spent most of the time playing for Falmouth Cricket Club’s Under 16 side, as well as acting as scorer for the Second Xl.  I made a better job of working scorebooks and boards than I did of playing the game.  I made 11 runs for the Under-16s across something close to 10 matches, batting anywhere between Number 8 & 11.  We were not a talented side, only mustering 2 wins across the season - both against sides who were perceived to be worse than us.  We were pretty much uncoached from mid-July onwards as well, generally coming together for nets and a muck about between ourselves.  The show was kept on the road by the club’s secretary and some heroic parents who shuttled us to away games.  On a personal performance level, tonight represented my peak as we played against Perranarworthal U-16.  In a match reduced to 18 overs a side due to them being held up in traffic, we batted first and within 10 overs, I was walking out to bat with us 27 for 6.  As I walked to the wicket, I did all the stuff young and impressionable English cricket fans did in 1992 - swinging my arms and jumping around like Robin Smith. It all looked much more difficult and intimidating to be out in the middle against people who were strangers.  I worked on small targets: don’t get out first ball; try and still be in by the end of this over; try and hit the ball; try and hit the ball again.  My friend, Steve Bonney was at the other end and we had played over this scenario many times in the preceding 2 years since discovering a mutual love of cricket.  Now it was really happening.  As a spectator sport, ours was not a thrill-a-minute partnership - this was new to both of us.  We ran byes, played out extra deliveries as their bowlers sent down wides, Steve hit a couple of singles.  We calmed everything down after the initial clatter of wickets.  Going into the 18th and final over, the score was now 39 for 6 and I felt, for the only time that I played the game, “in”.  I’d seen all the bowlers, my nerves were steady.  I’d met my targets except for one: to score a run.  I didn’t care if I got out now, I was going to do it by scoring a run.  First ball of the over, the bowler drops it short.  The ball bounces up, I step across and pull it to the leg-side.  It’s not a sweet hit, by any means, but it’s passing between two fielders so I call for the run.  As I run, I become aware that the cheers and applause from my team-mates have got louder.  “Good hit, Dave” says Steve as we run back for the second and it becomes apparent that the ball has run away for four runs.  I score a single off the next ball.  Steve drives the third for 2 runs.  We’re positively showboating by now.  Blimey, if we had been playing the full 20 overs we might have got the score up to...phwoar...I don’t know...55 runs perhaps.  Instead we walk off with a team score of 46 for 6 - S. Bonney 7*, D. Pascoe 5*.  I shook hands with Steve and we walked up the pavilion steps to applause from both the opposition and our team-mates (except for the three miffed batsmen who had seen their chances of getting a bat ground out of existence by Steve and I’s doggedness/determination/luck).  This was lovely. I would come to appreciate applause more as I did more drama, but in a sporting context, nothing can beat it.  Onstage, you’re playing out a script where, you know what will happen and you are presenting for others to enjoy.  For the most part, you have mastery over what you do and what you expect to happen.  In sport, there is no set programme to follow.  You play and whatever happens comes about because you make it happen.  Also, you’re doing that against people who want you to fail.  It’s a battle of wills, heart and skill - but it’s also the safest and most enjoyable test of character one can go through.  Applause in sport is the hardest earned of all and on that day, I felt I’d earned it more than any other kind of appreciation, I had ever received.  Perranarworthal brought all this fine feeling crashing back to earth though as they comfortably knocked off the runs for the loss of only 1 wicket.  And the rest of my cricketing summer was a parade of shattered stumps, dolly catches and stupid run-outs.

Having touched such heights on this day, John Peel would have had his work cut out getting much of a look-in with me, and that was how it proved.  The selections for this show were taken from a file covering the first 95 minutes of the show.  In a sense, I’m glad it fell out this way, but this turned out
to be one of those incidences where the roads Peel took me down did not tally with the things I wanted to see. Only five selections from my initial list made the cut.  Some fell by the wayside, and even those I had down to include but couldn’t share had question marks against them.  Consider:

Secret Shine - Take Me Slowly - there is an acoustic version of this track out there which, unfortunately sounds like The Monkees at their limpid worst.  The electric version carries a greater force, but standing alongside Japanese Kam Kam on the Anglo/Japanese compilation album, The Birth of the True its limitations come up to the surface.  Peel was impressed though, labelling it their best recording so far.

Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle - Ostblockgirl 91/Horsti Schmandoff [Peel Session] - This was FSK’s fifth Peel session. Ostblockgirl 91 appears to be an update of a track from their 1982 debut album, Sturmer.  My notes describe it as “a German pop fusion of  Blue Moon and You Drive Me Crazy by Shakin’ Stevens.  With influences like that, it would have been a definite candidate for inclusion.  Horsti Schmandoff, a  a staple of the German canon, would have been a little more touch and go, but on a playlist that wasn’t throwing me much in terms of bones I could contentedly gnaw on, its cheery Schlager vibes would probably have carried the day.

There were three tracks in the frame for inclusion, but which missed out.

Stereolab - The Seeming and the Meaning - Another band to rank alongside Superchunk or The Hair and Skin Trading Company who have consistently found themselves in, in, in and then out when it’s come to the crunch on this blog.  There’s a lot I should like about The Seeming and the Meaning.  It drives along at a fair lick.  It doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s clear that Arcade Fire were big fans.  There’s lots to admire there, but whether it’s the Motorik beat, the distancing vocal or the awful lyrics, I find that I can’t warm to Stereolab at all.  I appreciate that the qualities which turn me off, are exactly the things that inspire devotion in those who embraced them.  Wikipedia talks of later work incorporating jazz and bossa nova influences - give me a call back when we get there.  If nothing else, they showed they had a sense of humour.  Peel read out a press release from the band relating that they had chosen to name their debut album, Peng! after the sound a gun makes when it discharges.

Napalm Death - The World Keeps Turning - Peel described them as “A very different band to me these days” and with this track touching nearly 3 minutes, Napalm Death were firmly into their Supper’s Ready phase in comparison to the more immediate thrills served up by You Suffer.  Peel didn’t hold it against them and remarked how much he was enjoying their latest album, Utopia Banished.  For me, it sounded great on radio but lost something on replay.

Unrest - I Do Believe You Are Blushing - Peel made reference to the fact their Imperial FFRR album was attracting “hysterical reviews - could well be the next big thing.” Perhaps critics were looking for the antithesis of Nirvana and grunge.  If so, I don’t know what they found here to get them so excited.  I was listening to a Peel show from about a month after this one, last week and he played another track from Imperial FFRR, called Firecracker and that left me nonplussed too.  For the foreseeable
future, if I’m going to rave about Mark Robinson, I’ll stick with Grenadine.

On the home front, The Pig had spent the evening watching PJ Harvey play in Norwich.  Peel’s show
played its part in Radio 1’s 31 Days in May extravaganza by offering a chance for a listener to
accompany Peel to see the final of the European Football Championships in Malmo, Sweden.  More on this when we cover the show for 16/5/92.
The summer of 1992 meant GCSE exams for, among others, me, Peel’s oldest son, William and
Oliver Astley of Derbyshire who requested a record for anyone who thought GCSE Child Development would be easier than cookery. I had spent the first half of Year 11 wasting my time on a childcare module as part of a piece of City & Guilds bollocks that I chose to do called Pre-Vocational Studies which ran over my final two years at school.  I did it because one of the modules involved work experience, but I got nothing sorted for that and ended up as an assistant to Mr. McLachlan who ran the course.  The highlight of childcare was spending one morning a week helping out at the nursery which was run at Falmouth School.  It was OK, though my big memory of it is of the lad who   accompanied me to the nursery, Stewart Hibbs, complaining indignantly that one of the toddlers had told him to fuck off during a game.
Peel was still in a state of depression about the Bosnian War.  He played a track from  an album by Kalesijski Zvuci called Bosnian Breakdown: The Unpronounceable Beat of Sarajevo.  It featured, “any number of ghastly ironies in the tracklisting” which he sought to demonstrate by playing a track whose title translated as My Dear Neighbour.

Full Tracklisting

Thursday, 9 May 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Arrested Development - People Everyday (15 May 1992)

As soon as I became aware that Peel was playing tracks from Arrested Development’s 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of... album, I asked myself one question, “Will he play People Everyday?  Or was it Everyday People?  God, it’s so confusing sometimes.  And not just for us poor listeners.  After all, Roger Daltrey still keeps singing “We DON’T get fooled again”.
There’s something about the possibility of Peel playing an enormous mainstream hit at the same time that everyone else was playing it that provokes quizzically raised eyebrows and mutterings of respect towards the artists involved, “Damn, you must have been doing something right if Peel wanted a piece of the action alongside the daytime playlists.”
Well, second track of the night on the 15/5/92 show and Peel cues in People Everyday.  I, metaphorically, sit down,  ready to point and coo at this intermittent phenomenon, but something brings me up short.  Yes, it’s definitely People Everyday - listen, there’s vocalist Speech talking about his day at the park with his date being spoilt by a group of rude brothers who mock him for his outlandish dress-sense.  One of them takes it too far and gropes Speech’s date.  Our hero responds to this challenge to his manhood by beating the guy up in such a frenzy that it takes several policemen to break up the fight (would Speech be alive to even tell the tale in 2019 America?).  But where’s all the call-and-response chanting and that sunny guitar line that I remember from all those years ago?  Touches which led me to regard Arrested Development as good, but purveyors of Sesame Street hip-hop.  And I don’t remember all this thuddingly oppressive but effective brass on the track.  What’s going on?

People Everyday was a huge hit in 1992, it may have claims to being one of the most shockingly confrontational Top 10 hit singles ever released (it was a Number 2 hit in the UK, Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 US charts). Sexual assault and intra-racial violence are not obvious subjects for a big, singalong chart hit.  Tributes to its victims would, within 5 years, lead to Number 1 singles, but People Everyday jumped right down into the heat of the battle and record-buyers lapped it up.  Why?
I have a deep (well, shin-deep) theory and a dull theory.  The song is essentially presented as a confrontation between the civil in the form of the “African” and the crude in the form of the “Niggaz”.  The fear that this latter group inspired, especially once Gangsta rap started to gain wider commercial and artistic influence has arguably been the longest lasting “controversy” in popular music. It may have gained more respectability as its leading exponents got older and were recognised as the legends that they are, but the fact people have been murdered for this music lends it a volatility that will never truly dissipate.  People Everyday offered people a chance to identify with the civil side against this dangerous sub-culture who we were told would poison the minds of our children and lead to the collapse of civilised values and behaviour.  And it does this by offering the chance for us to cheer on the supposed peace-lover as he beats up the barbarian near to death?  Deeply troubling stuff. Would the record have done as well if a gangsta rap group had presented from the other side of the argument?  Speech doesn’t even sound remorseful for what’s been done.
The dull reason why People Everyday hit big is that the track which Peel played on the album was remixed to incorporate the guitar line from Tappan Zee by Bob James, the tempo of the whole thing was sped up, extended by over a minute and for better or worse, the track was made fun.  In business terms, this was all completely justified.  It’s difficult to imagine the album version of People Everyday hitting quite the same commercial heights, but the album version is at least more honest about the context in which the song is set.  For this listener at least, it has more balls than I would usually associate with Arrested Development and it elevates it beyond the usual “take it or leave it” feel I have towards their output.  It remains to be seen whether Peel went back to the remixed single when it eventually came out.

Videos courtesy of DJ ViLLY Berlin (Arrested Development) and 1mistaGROOVE (Bob James).

Saturday, 4 May 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Buttsteak - Peel Session (15 May 1992)

There’s a little bit of cheating going on here as I only heard the first 95 minutes of Peel’s show for 15/5/92, which meant I only heard the first 3 songs of Buttsteak’s session.  The video offers the full session, but that’s fine as they would have all made it on to my metaphorical mixtape.

If you take an excursion through Buttsteak’s Discogs page, you will alight on song titles that do not promise an extravagance of lyrical brilliance cf: Johnny’s Got a Butt with a Hole, Clitoris, Date Rape, All Fags Aboard and more.  I haven’t heard any of these tracks, so who knows - I could be missing out on some of my favourite ever songs.  But what I can say is that, on the evidence of this Peel Session, Buttsteak would have been my favourite band of the week had I heard them in May 1992, just as they currently are in May 2019.

Specialising in 90 second bursts of rocking, punky energy but with a loopily, humourous twist, Buttsteak serve up 7 tracks across the 12 minutes and the level of interest never lets up except perhaps in the final track, It’s..., which can’t help but seem like tacked on filler after the epic sweep of Western Opera (and if anyone can tell me which piece of music they’re quoting from, I’d be most grateful.  It sounds like The Animals Went in Two by Two, which itself got adapted for a Western theme but I don’t know which one).*
Along the way we get treated to cherry popping (Keith Meet Theif which works in part of the James Bond Theme) , bar-room brawling (The Kidd), unscrupulous bosses (Garnishy Wages), Darwin Award candidates (I Saw Him Burn His Head) and youthful steps into commerce (Wine Dealership, which finds time to invent The Yeah Yeah Yeahs a decade early.) All human life is here.  All American life is here and in contrast to the remembrances of American guitar pop in the early 90s, Buttsteak shine out because they’re rude, crude, alive and fun.  A band to be cherished.  My mother celebrated her 46th birthday on 15 May 1992, and although I’m sure she would have accepted it with a glassy smile and a halting thank you, this session is so brilliant, I’d have gift-wrapped it and given it to her as a present.  I can offer no higher praise than that.

*My thanks to William aka The Jukebox Rebel for suggesting that Buttsteak were riffing on Ghost Riders in the Sky during Western Opera.

Video courtesy of Fruitier Than Thou

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet - Reid’s Situation (15 May 1992)

Taken from their wonderfully titled debut album, Dim the Lights, Chill the Ham, Reid’s Situation puts Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s bassist, Reid Diamond up front allowing his twangy bass to lead the band on a canter that flies the flag for Canadian surf-pop - much to the band’s future chagrin.  The title took on a tragic poignancy with Reid’s death from cancer in 2001.
It tops out at a mere 77 seconds, allowed for Peel to demonstrate to his audience just how his Dick Dale plays resonated with contemporary musicians (always an aspect of his playlists that was under-rated, the way he showed how the past was feeding into the present in order to potentially create the elusive future) and paves the way for the day when Man or Astro-man? turn up on Peel Show playlists and thence potentially on to this blog.

Video courtesy of ebeep.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Naked Aggression - Revolt (15 May 1992)

The band are Naked Aggression and the song is called Revolt.  You can probably guess what you’re getting without hitting the play button, but I hope you will.  Peel compared the spiky, angular, agit-prop sound of the Madison, Wisconsin band to early 80s UK band, !Action Pact!.

While the sentiments expressed in Revolt may sound like Revolution for Dummies (“Break it down/The system/Break it down/The system...” “Revolt against big business...”) I find myself sympathetic to the track for two reasons:

1) It contains a line which should be manadatory and printed in 10 foot high lettering in the office of any group that agitates for political change: “Stop fighting among ourselves/Stop fighting among ourselves”.  It reminds me of a meme I saw recently, which seemed to sum up the mindset that has propelled us towards the Western nervous breakdown that has been drawn out over this decade.  Using a still from The Frost Report’s Class sketch,  the meme stated “The problem with the UK is that people earning £1000 an hour have convinced people earning £12 an hour that people earning £7.83 an hour are the problem.”  The last three years of sound and fury over Brexit, especially the screams of “betrayal” as the government finally comes clean about just how difficult this is all going to be to pull off have almost, but not quite, caused us to forget the narratives that drove us here: demonisation of immigrants, the unemployed, benefit claimants etc.  Stoking the fears of the JAMs and the squeezed middle that their money is going to support those worse off than them and draining resources from the country that should be spent on...well no-one ever specified quite what the money should be spent on.  Well, not until Boris Johnson hired a bus.  It was all soaked up by a readership, who were encouraged through front pages and editorials to see those with less than them as a threat, something to be despised and castigated.  A mindset that said, “The system may not allow me to better myself, but I’m damned if I’ll lose what I have or let anyone below me get past me or level with me”.  In an aspirational society, such thinking made no sense, but it ensnared such numbers of people that the battles were fought not against the “system” but between those whose greatest difference was their postcode.

2) This blog has often touched on the sense that 1991/92 represented The End of History and with the major Western post World War II political battles having been fought and seemingly decided in “our” favour, then any bands who were reacting to the glorious new era of peace and optimism that the decade promised by continuing to turn the mirror on to “us” and pointing out “our” faults, were regarded as something close to cranks.  “Lighten up, crack open a drink and enjoy the party, guys.  The hard work has been done.  Why are you getting so angry?”  Bill Maher described it as the Left’s tendency to take a victory lap and go to a party, once they have managed to gain any semblance of demonstrable power.  Revolt makes the point that these battles are never won finally and conclusively.  If you want change, it has to be perpetuated and protected.  Sitting back is not an option.  It’s interesting that Naked Aggression make no obvious reference to political change in Revolt instead focussing their eye on business.  They seem to see that in the 90s, people’s fates would be decided in boardrooms instead of in government chambers.  Whatever political gains had been made by this point would be rendered worthless if the next battleground was not taken.  Revolt was a call both to vigilance and continued action.  Sadly, in the early 90s, too few people were listening.  If we ever see the West return to that optimistic mood again, pray that lessons are learned and that the battle goes on.  Feel confident about that?

Video courtesy of Rodgerio Tasalco
All lyrics are copyright of their authors.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Syncope - Frankie (15 May 1992)

On the recording that I heard of Peel’s show from 15/5/92, I only caught the opening minute of this slice of hardcore techno, but it was enough to enchant me.  Despite the track title, this is not a techno reimagining of the appallingly anodyne Sister Sledge UK chart-topper, although as Peel used to say, I’d like to hear them have a go at that.  Instead, between the burbles, beats and snares, Syncope receive endorsement from a very special guest....

Syncope was an alias adopted by former Bassline BoyFabian van Messen.  Frankie formed part of an EP on Dance International Records called Vol. 1 but despite the promise of more opuses from Syncope, van Messen retired the name as quickly as he had put it together.  However, the track Jump has been resurrected a few times by other DJs, although anyone looking for the endorsement of Eddie Van Halen will need to look to Kid Carpet.

Video courtesy of picolettouao.

Friday, 19 April 2019

The Comedy of Errors: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Saturday 9 May 1992)

“In the last 10 minutes I’ve transmuted rather horribly from Andy Kershaw to John Peel.” 24 hours after their “fantastically amusing” trail for it, Abana Ba Nasery played a live session which straddled the end of Kershaw’s programme and the start of Peel’s.  On the 3 hour recording of this show that I heard, they played four tracks - none of which I can share with you beyond the link to the show, though the tracks on the Kershaw show have turned up on YouTube.

Peel had had a trying day.  Nerves over the live session, even though, “I’ve been doing live radio programmes since Queen Anne - God bless her”, allied to his continued grumbles about having been unable to either go to that day’s FA Cup final or watch the Eurovision Song Contest.  But all had ended well.  Liverpool had won the cup, Abana Ba Nasery had delighted him and Eurovision was due
to return to Ireland next year after Linda Martin’s victory.  Over 20 years later, Ipswich Town fans would be sitting open-mouthed in amazement when her 1991 duet with Mick McCarthy was brought to our attention.

The incursion of the Abana Ba Nasery session into his airtime led Peel to warn that his show was even more under-rehearsed than usual. The reorganisation of the show meant that Peel had to drop his plan to draw winners from a competition he had set the previous week in which entrants had to send him something interesting in an envelope.  However, he did draw winners for a competition in which entrants had to draw a Werefrog.  Apparently Peel’s wife, Sheila, always warned him against setting competitions in which he had make judgements over winning entries, because he would be so racked with guilt about those entries he hadn’t picked, he would end up taking them home with him where they would be left hanging around the house for months while Peel tried to think what to do with them, mainly because he couldn’t bear to throw any of them away.

Away from my selections and near misses, of which more in a moment, Peel continued in his mission to drive Sonic Youth completists to madness by playing Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon’s contribution to a Bob Dylan covers album on Imaginary Records called Outlaw Blues.  He recommended  The Dead Shall Inherit, a new album by US death metal band Baphomet on the grounds that the cover of the album would appeal to people, even if they had no intention of playing the record.
Regular visitors to this blog (hi Webbie) will know that I always mention tracks that either I wanted to share here but couldn’t or ones which I had originally slated for inclusion only to go off them when  I returned to listen to them.  This show brings me a potential new sub-category namely, tracks I was never going to include, but which may be of interest to others.  Towards the end of this programme Peel played Factory by Sonic Violence, a slice of sonic-metal with dancey overtones.  It almost persuaded me, but not quite despite the fact that it sounded like a union meeting of zombies in a post Dawn of the Dead world.The hit rate on this show was pretty high for me.  Only one initial selection fell from favour with me:

Booker T and the MGs - Can’t Be Still - I know it’s against the law to go off a Stax record, but I’m afraid that this 1964 single got in on reputation only to be shunned when I found that was all it had.

There were three tracks I would have liked to share but couldn’t:

The Last Peach - String-like - Catchy Stereo MC’s influenced guitar pop, leading Peel to wryly comment about “The unwholesome stench of melody creeping into the programme”.

The Werefrogs - Don’t Slip Away - the single version of a track which the group had played in a Peel Session 8 days previously. Copies in blue coloured vinyl were to be sent to the winners of the “Draw a Werefrog” competition.

Gut Logic - Undecided - coming out of Texas, this was one of Gut Logic’s contributions to an album
on Anomie Records called Manifestation.  A lo-fi industrial-electronica-death metal hybrid which put me in mind of the kind of content that Load Records would start to put out from the following year onwards.  The Manifestation album featured a number of hilariously named bands such as Pain TeensJesus Penis and Turmoil in the Toybox named after a Christian TV show of the same name which looked at how children’s toys were becoming corrupted by ungodly and satanic forces.

I had thought that I was going to have to add the Japanese/Mancunian stylings of White Kam Kam (or White Come Come according to some sources) when I was unable to locate a solo video of their swirling, stratospheric track, Rise.  Despite sounding similar to any number of bands that Peel would have played in the preceding 2 or 3 years, I thought Rise put many UK bands’ efforts to shame.
However, the band’s sole release, the Skin EP can be shared.  Go to 18:24 to hear Rise in all its splendid glory.

You can access the Abana Ba Nasery tracks that they played for Peel by clicking on the link to his show further up the page.  To whet your appetite, enjoy the tracks they played on 9/5/92 for Andy Kershaw.

Videos courtesy of Asian Shoegaze (White Kam Kam) and Fruitier Than Thou (Abana Ba Nasery)

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Unwound - Caterpillar (9 May 1992)

Imagine you love an unsigned band so much that you not only form a record label, specifically to put that band’s music out, but your label becomes synonymous with US hardcore music.

The band were Unwound.  The label was Kill Rock Stars and the starstruck musical entrepreneur of the Olympia, Washington scene was Slim Moon, who was quoted as saying, “...I started the label expressly to put out Unwound records because I thought Unwound was an incredibly exciting band that K Records and Sub Pop were totally overlooking.”
I heard Peel back announce Kill Rock Stars releases countless times in the period that I listened to him, probably because the label provided a number of bands who went through the Peel show playlist en route either to mainstream success like Gossip or to wider socio-political recognition like Huggy Bear.  Let’s not forget other stalwarts of Peel’s playlists who came under Kill Rock Stars wing such as Bratmobile or Deerhoof - all of whom had a door of sorts opened to them thanks to someone loving Unwound past all sanity.  Moon wasn’t the only one either.  A little bit of cursory research ahead of putting this track on here shows me that Unwound were widely loved and devotedly followed through a 11 year career which ended in 2002.  Furthermore, conventional wisdom seems to be that Unwound’s music got better as they progressed, and that they achieved rock’s impossible dream by splitting up on a high note after releasing a carefully nurtured double album, Leaves Turn Inside You (2001), widely considered to be their masterpiece.

It’s all been a bit of an eye-opener, because I’d never heard of them at all prior to hearing Peel play this debut single.  He may well have agreed with the feeling that Unwound got better with age as they recorded their only Peel Session nearly six years after this show.  Caterpillar catches Unwound trying so hard to sound like Nirvana, it’s almost touching.  Nevertheless, comparing the raw ‘n’ ready thrills of an Olympia track called Caterpillar to an Oldham track with a similar title shows why American rock was catching more imaginations and hearts than British ones at the time.  Unwound managing to pull off that difficult trick of saying nothing at all, but making sure the listener remembers every word.

Video courtesy of samuraiinCfede.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Depth Charge - Daughters of Darkness (9 May 1992)

A week ago, I talked about Invasion of the Bodysnatchers style horror being set to music, and now here we are again.  But while the punky thrash of Half Japanese’s UFO Expert had its roots in the musical past, Jonathan Saul Kane’s Depth Charge project was creating a musical future in what would become to be known as Trip hop.

In 1992, we were still some way off recognising this as a musical genre in its own right and venerating Massive AttackPortisheadTricky et al, though Peel had been giving exposure to tunes which with the benefit of hindsight can be seen as laying the foundations for the 90s most intriguing musical development, such as Smith and Mighty’s Too Late.  Daughters of Darkness, which takes its name from a 1971 Belgian horror film that happened to turn up in Danny Peary’s fabled Cult Movies 2, is a bit of a game changer.  Since 1989, Kane had been ploughing a furrow of mixing together long sound samples from exploitation films with breakbeats and deepened sound through a series of 12-inch releases through Vinyl Solution.  Tunes like Bounty Killers and Goal were frothy and brilliantly silly.  Packed with samples from spaghetti westerns and South American football commentary, they invited listeners to get up and dance but with a touch more discernment than would be found within the acid house or nascent drum ‘n’ bass scenes. They’re light and don’t quite fit, but they’re clearly pointing the way ahead to something different but unformed. 1990’s Dead by Dawn gets a little more serious, starting to push the vibe away from the dance floor and into the listener’s head.  The sound becomes stretched, more languorous and dreamy, though with an abrasive edge.  By the time Kane reached Daughters of Darkness atmosphere started to trump energy and the abrasive had become decadently seductive, like its vampiric inspiration.  With its whispering synths, suffocated strings, heavy snare drum thump and sensual samples, Daughters of Darkness opens a door through which others would, in time, stampede.  But when the history of Trip hop is written, I hope it includes a chapter on Jonathan Saul Kane and the compilation of his Depth Charge Vinyl Solution singles, Nine Deadly Venoms.

Video courtesy of VinylSolutionRecords.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Yami Bolo & Blacka-T - Waiting for a Sound (9 May 1992)

A second Yami Bolo record on the 9/5/92 Peel show and it was one that I initially misread.  With its chorus line “Sitting here in limbo/Waiting for another soundboy to die”, I had thought that it was talking about the kind of violent incidents among Caribbean musicians that saw the likes of Dirtsman lose their lives.  But Blacka-T’s toasting puts the mind at rest and it becomes clear that the “killing” in mind here relates more to battles between sound systems than street gangs.  There’s all the usual braggadocio and front on display with particular sarcasm for country boys coming into Kingston and trying to take on the established crews.  I was recently lucky enough to watch a UK-based semi-take on this when Mubi screened Babylon (1980) a reggae dub version of Quadrophenia (1979) with whom it shared a screenwriter, Martin Stellman.  I call it a semi-take, because the movie’s set in London and the furthest anyone has to come in to town to compete at the climatic sound system battle is Lewisham. Well worth a watch if you can find it.  I actually thought it was better than Quadrophenia both musically and cinematically.

Had I been listening to this in 1992, I expect that I’d have taped it because I liked the tune and the vocal.  In 2019, what gets it onto the metaphorical mixtape, apart from the aforementioned vocal and melody, is the fact that it is an Augustus Pablo production. I have had his tune, AP Special stuck as a constant earworm since reading about its use on the 1980 ‘end of punk/birth of new wave’ documentary, D.O.A. In fact, I love it so much I’m going to use it as curtain music on a play I’m directing at the end of this month.

In keeping with a number of the dub videos on YouTube, we get both the vocal and dub instrumental versions of Waiting for a Sound.  The version played by Peel ends at 3:38.

Videos courtesy of vital sounds (Bolo/Blacka-T) and Rodrigo Pablodub ((Pablo)

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Half Japanese - UFO Expert (9 May 1992)

70 seconds of thrashy Invasion of the Bodysnatchers style paranoia from the “day job” group of one of American rock music’s great gadflys, Jad Fair.  The oeuvre of Half Japanese has been described, not least by the band themselves, as either love songs or monster songs.  UFO Expert belongs to the latter category.  In Jad’s view, the aliens walk among us already. It’s a question of who will be next?  Given its cinematic antecedents and the fact that Invasion of the Bodysnatchers was believed to be based on American paranoia over communism infiltrating the minds, thoughts and behaviour of the American people, it’s possible to see the track as a mocking take on these concerns especially given the fact that by 1992 communism seemed an irrelevance.  We could laugh about it then, but given the way that new “baddies” have been found in subsequent years, I would be surprised if no modern group hadn’t picked up on this track either to try and spread fear over modern aliens or to mock the 21st Century paranoia that clouds so much discourse today.

UFO Expert was the opening track on Half Japanese’s latest album, Fire in the Sky and this led me into this blog’s occasional pastime of researching whether concomitant films may have used the track on their soundtracks.  In this instance, I had to check the soundtrack to the 1993 film, Fire in the Sky which dramatised an alledged UFO abduction on Bonfire Night, 1975, in Arizona.  Considering that Jad Fair formed Half Japanese with his brother, David, in 1975 then it was an open goal.  But alas, the producers were too po-faced to see it. Abel Ferrara  missed the same trick with his 1993 take on Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

Video courtesy of pont.

Monday, 25 March 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Storyville - From Where I Stand (9 May 1992)

When I link to these posts on Twitter - handle is @greasepaintpeel - I put in some pithy subtitle to avoid the links looking too po-faced.  In this case the subtitle will be “When Discogs goes wrong”, because in trying to get this track up I found myself questioning my sanity thanks to a rare piece of fallibility from a site that has been invaluable over the years of writing this blog.

My notes for From Where I Stand warn me that it “may end up being too vanilla ultimately (to make the cut for the blog)”.  Many months after first hearing the file of the 9/5/92 show, I certainly couldn’t place it when I called up YouTube to see if it was available for sharing.  The beefy jangled guitars have Storyville sounding somewhere between Big Country and Teenage Fanclub.  Lyrically, From Where I Stand picks up on the angel lover admiration complex of Spirtualized’s Angel Sigh, but whereas Jason Pierce was content merely to observe the glory of the object of his affections, Storyville’s singer (either Barry Morris or Darren Pearse) is intending to make his interest known and has no fear of either her beauty or her “holiness”.  It’s a straight MOR love song - not earth-shaking or game changing - but I’ve listened to it and enjoyed it numerous times over the last three days.  I could picture it making it on to the 1992 Radio One daytime playlist, though the authorities might have blanched at the final line’s reference to a “hard on day”.  The fact it didn’t make the daytime list means it sits in that odd branch of records on a John Peel running order - the ones that are making a play for mainstream acceptance despite not quite having the money to pull it off.  The type of record that I’ve kept rejecting from this blog whenever Peel played something by The Skin and Hair Trading Company.

So with From Where I Stand accepted with open arms, I took myself off to Discogs to get a little more background information on Storyville from their page, which opens by explaining they come from Austin, Texas.  “Wow!” I think, “”For a Texan, the singer kept the drawl nice and light”. So they released four singles on a small label called Nursery before releasing albums on EastWest and after a 5 year gap on Atlantic, so having swung for the mainstream they certainly seemed to have caught the ears of some influential people.  “Good for them” I thought and then went to the Wikipedia page.  And it was here that I suddenly became aware of the Storyville mystery.  In the Years Active section of Storyville’s Wikipedia page, it said 1994-2000.   Further searches on the Internet turned up the same information.  It turned out that the band who had recorded albums for those big American labels were a blues-rock band featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section.  And then I noticed that the recording of From Where I Stand I’m sharing here was a video and none of the men in that looked anything like the Texan Storyville.  So who the hell was playing as Storyville in 1992?  That was information which the Internet was much more reticent about providing.  Indeed, it was only the sleeve notes to the 12-inch release that gave me a band listing and confirmation that they had recorded the track at Cabin Studios in Coventry.

Discogs had mixed the two Storyvilles together.  From Where I Stand was the final release by the UK version of Storyville who had released exclusively through Nursery, an East Midlands based label who put out an early release by Catatonia and, of greater interest to me, tracks by Thieves featuring David McAlmont.  I’ve seen nothing to suggest that the Austin guys heard an import copy of From Where I Stand and decided “Nice name, we’ll take it!”  To their credit, they made the Leicester branch proud with recordings like Nice Ain’t Got Me Nothing.

Videos courtesy of David Holmes and parkboy55.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy [Peel Session]/Yardstick - Post Murder Tension (9 May 1992)

Videos courtesy of Vibracobra23 (DHHH) and Hammer & Head (Yardstick)

A quick housekeeping note for completists before I start.  The order of tracks on the video of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy session is not the same order in which Peel played them on 9/5/92.  On the show the tracks ran as Positive/Traffic Jam/The Language of Violence/Exercise our Right.  We’ll cover them here in the order they appear on the video.

Given Michael Franti’s status as the drill sergeant of hip-hop, a Peel Session from The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy could have been a wearying experience.  How nice to report that it turns out to be a cracker - lyrically rich and diverse and wrapped up in a number of fascinating musical ideas and settings. In typical DHHH style, the four tracks cover all the major thematic bases: politics, violence, the environment and sex but with a sure touch and a sense for the dramatic that avoids cliche.  Even the didacticism, a real bugbear when it comes to previous DHHH recordings is dialled down and comes across as good sense.  Franti is still urgent and full on, but it feels more like an adviser or counsellor rather than an overzealous lecturer.

The session was recorded on 24 March 1992.  This has a direct bearing on the get-out-and-vote theme behind Exercise our Right with its reference to “April 9” and I can’t believe an advertising firm has never run with “Remember your vote before you get your pint”  slogan.  By the time the session was broadcast, the UK election had been run and Peel perhaps still sore about the result was reflecting about whether democracy was a good idea.  For Franti, the refusal to vote is not a noble act but one of
self sabotage: “Some sucker still gonna get elected”.  He doesn’t make a call for revolution, but instead makes the plea that our vote is all we have and if we use it to back people who will have our interests at heart rather than sitting it out or registering a protest vote, we just might see the system work for us.  It resonates as much in 2019 as it did in 1992, though the search for those worthy of the vote seems even harder than it was then.  With the 1992 US Presidential election campaign well under way by May 1992, Peel was intrigued as to who DHHH would vote for.

Had I heard the session when originally broadcast, I think that The Language of Violence would have spoken to me most.  Against jazz guitar stylings (possibly played by Charlie Hunter) Franti takes us to the most violent place all of us will spend a substantial part of our lives at - school.  In particular he hones in on the one thing that I remember as being the ultimate taboo at secondary school, the one thing that boys in particular could never endure being thought of as. It was a mindset I freely admit that I shared with my contemparies  Call me stupid, call me clumsy, mock me for being bad at sport, for having a face covered in zits, for being a swot, for talking with a posh voice - all of that is fine and can be endured.  But for God’s sake, don’t be thought of as gay.  To be regarded as that in school would be hell - in precisely the ways that Franti outlines at the start of the track.  I’m aware that there is no sight more clodhoppingly hamfisted than a straight man writing about homosexuality, so to be clear, I’m talking about the perception of homosexuality as it was regarded within the bearpit of secondary school rather than in adult life.  Because, until the advent of social media, school was the one unified environment in which every participant would be bound together in a setting where, on a whim, people could willingly choose to be as nasty, unpleasant, cruel and vile in thought, word and deed towards their fellow man as they wished.  It was always so and will always be thus. As much as we seek to educate and enlighten, we will never be able to remove the spite gene from a child.
In fairness, my school, Falmouth Community School was not as bad as the one painted by Franti in The Language of Violence.  I certainly don’t recall hearing about any of the kids who were suspected of being gay ever being beaten up for it but there were definitely a small group of kids who were considered fair game in having homophobic slurs thrown at them in rows or disagreements.  I’m ashamed to admit that I did it myself to one boy from this group not long before this Peel show went out.  In my defence, if such a thing can be defended, I blurted it out in surprise at him interrupting a conversation I was having with a friend of mine so that he could tell me that I had a face like a lemon (damn zits!).  There was also the case that however low down the pecking order I was at school (and believe me, there were plenty of times when I felt like I was sitting right on that dotted relegation line), this kid was even further down it than I was - he was in the year below me, as well, for God’s sake.  But I still remember the look of shock on his face when I said it to him.  He had no comeback at all.  If you’re reading this, Anthony, I’m sorry.
In DHHH’s world, homophobic language leads to homophobic action as the poor subject of the 10 strong gang’s wrath finds himself cornered outside of school and battered to death.  There is though a delicious twist in the tale once one of the gang arrives for their first day at prison...  What really makes the track stand out for me is how Franti brilliantly breaks down how language is used to dehumanise the target and lays the groundwork for violent actions to override compassion and empathy.  Listening to it I suddenly felt very glad that the language Franti rails against here can now be prosecuted by the law.  It all seemed like a pipe dream in 1992.

In the early 90s any song that tackles traffic congestion feels like it’s angling for a place on the
Falling Down soundtrack. The jazz-samba of Traffic Jam takes swipes at the rise of the automobile
against cuts to publictransport services and the resultant fall out both in terms of environmental pollution, industrial cartels, road safety and driver courtesy.  Certainly the backing track with its brilliant manipulation of female harmonies and saxophone to sound like shrill car horns all too successfully gets across the feeling of dread and anguish that being stuck on a slow/non moving freeway can inspire.  It would have made for a less portentous video than REM cooked up in the same circumstances.

The highlight of the session for me though is Positive which melds together a story of a young man going for an AIDS test with Stevie Wonder-tinged harmonica.  It brilliantly captures the feelings of fear, confusion, guilt, regret and worry that Franti’s protagonist goes through while journeying down for the test and reflecting on women slept with and all the times that the protected option wasn’t taken - indeed the “magic/prophylactic” rhyme is the one groaner that Franti inflicts across the four tracks, which isn’t a bad strike rate.  That duet with the harmonica is never more affecting though than on the chorus line, “How m’I gonna live my life/if I’m positive?” The downbeat tone reflecting the facile nature of imploring people to “stay positive” after receiving life changing news. The fade out means that the session ends on more of a downer here on the video than it did on the original broadcast which ended with the up and at ‘em dynamics of Exercise Our Right, but that’s quibbling when set against the fact that such a glorious session is available to be listened to and pored over.

But how, I hear you ask, have we gone from the hip hop vibes of San Francisco to the meat and potatoes rock of Whitehaven’s Yardstick?  Well when Peel played Post Murder Tension - a track from their album, Self Relaxation for the Insane - he felt that it made a nice companion piece with The Language of Violence.  Certainly both tracks take bullying behaviour as their starting point, though Post Murder Tension seems to be within a domestic setting rather than a school one.  There are also heavy hints that the abused ends up murdering the abuser.  “Shed all the hatred” indeed.

All lyrics are copyright to their authors.