Monday, 25 February 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band - Circumstances (9 May 1992)

Circumstances is taken from Beefheart and The Magic Band’s 1972 album Clear Spot on Reprise Records.  In fact it’s so 1972 it almost hurts, and what I mean by that is my first reaction in listening to it again since hearing it on the file for this show was, “Blimey, that’s well produced!”  This can be a criticism and certainly has been used by writers to damn plenty of pre-Ramones US albums made between 1971-75.  A while back, I submerged myself in twelve albums from that period to see whether the contempt for smooth production from that period was justified.  But at the time, Don Van Vliet didn’t give a damn about whether a smooth sheen would damage his music, he wanted commercial success and hooked the Magic Band up with producer, Ted Templeman, who had previously produced The Doobie Brothers (albeit well in advance of What a Fool Believes).

In the event it worked a treat.  Beefheart’s voice was always a force of nature and Templeman, who shared the producer’s chair with Van Vliet, wisely keeps it front and centre throughout the four short movements that make up the track, allowing an acapella opening for some of them.  With the superb playing of The Magic Band around him as well as his own harmonica driving things on, the standout line for me in this track about the quirks of fate is:

Now the sun can sunburn you
But not as bad
As those old people do.

which, at the risk of being cliched, is as pertinent today - with Brexit imminent and Trump in the White House - as it felt in 1972 with the US Establishment finally seeming to have subdued the youth revolutions from 1967 onwards, never more exemplified than with Richard Nixon returned to the presidency in that year’s election.

For Peel, the 9/5/92 show gave him a chance to play the two musicians he regarded as geniuses on the same night.  Van Vliet was his absolute favourite just ahead of Mark E. Smith, though he described both in this show as being “in the front rank of popular music”.

Video courtesy of Revanlation.
Lyrics copyright of Don Van Vliet.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Fall - Deer Park [Live] (9 May 1992)

“Good evening, we are The Fall!”

Recorded in Houston and released as part of The Fall’s compilation album of performances from their 1981 tour of America, this is, for me, the superior version of Deer Park.  It was re-recorded the following year and paired with Fortress on the Hex Enduction Hour album.  That version saw Mark E. Smith encourage his band mates to play without adhering to a time signature, possibly influenced by the recordings of Frank Zappa that, Steve Hanley claims, Smith insisted on playing to the rest of the group as they drove vast distances across the USA.  Hanley also claimed that Deer Park had been kicking around for some time before they recorded it.  The fact that the group knew the piece so well can only have helped them when it came to deconstructing it in the studio.  Personally, I think it was a wasted effort when compared to the tighter, relentlessly, piledriving live version of Deer Park that The Fall played around the States.

Built around Craig Scanlon’s helicoptering, chain-link guitar riff and Marc Riley’s electro-shock, drone-like keyboard, this version of Deer Park sets Smith’s safari through independent record companies against some of the tropes of the early 80s music scene.  References to “five hundred foreign punks” and “oiks” in an off-licence recall the days when labels looked to Europe to try and keep the spirit of 1977 burning to increasingly diminishing returns - not to mention those who were trying to do the same thing in London - as a reaction to New Romantic artificePost-punk detachment or even the literate poetics of The Fall themselves.  For the likes of Rough Trade Records, a label that Smith wanted to get away from by this point in the band’s life, it’s a question of what sells and where it can be sold:

Illeagal chaos in a fifty grand office.
Dollars and deutschmarks keep the company on its feet.

Smith always maintained that he knew the record business as well as anyone.  Despite the drunken-poet-savant personality that people associate with him, he was in many respects, a businessman as well as a musician.  He was savvy about how the business worked and organised enough to keep The Fall running through nearly 40 years of chaos and self-inflicted injuries.  In this context, Deer Park shows Smith’s early understanding of the complexities of the music industry and acts as a “How-to” guide for bands coming into that world about things to be aware of and things to avoid.  With the closing questions to “Manchester groups” and “Scottish groups”, we are left wondering whether Smith had passed on such advice only to see it ignored - to their cost.

And yet for all that hard-headed business know-how, there remains beneath the barked gruffness of the refrain, “Have you been to the English deer park?” something wistful about the follow-up line, “It’s a large type artist ranch”.  A sanctuary for artists to escape to possibly?  Because there’s only so many business meetings that an artistic grafter from Prestwich should have to attend in any one week.

The Annotated Fall offer a more comprehensive breakdown of Fortress/Deer Park.

Video courtesy of The Fall - Topic

All lyrics quoted in the post are copyright to Mark E. Smith, Marc Riley and Karl Burns.

Monday, 18 February 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Grenadine - Fillings (9 May 1992)

“...that was called Fillings.  I didn’t quite understand the message behind it, but a nice little record anyway...patronising git.” John Peel (9/5/92)

I fell in love with Fillings from the moment I heard it, which was when I was listening to the file of this show on an iPad while sitting in a car waiting to collect my wife from Orpington Train Station.  The circular guitar patterns and Jenny Toomey’s beautiful voice stayed with me, perhaps, because as Peel admitted before playing it, “This is a rather more tranquil piece than we’ve been experiencing over the last half hour”.
When it came to revisiting the track, I initially found myself getting what Peel had clearly missed when listening to the lyrics:  Toomey had recently been to the dentist, possibly to have a wisdom tooth removed and had had some form of hallucinatory experience which she strove to write about.  Being the early 90s, she didn’t have to suffer the indignity of having her post extraction comedown uploaded to YouTube and we should be grateful that she managed to be more lucid than most people are in a similar situation....and then I listened again and realised it was about sex.  Dentistry as a metaphor for sex.  The song drips with it given the lines about fillings in the mouth, objects that protect (contraceptives) while shining while the lights are out, “kisses that are always promises” while the final quartet of couplets get progressively more explicit:

Drill until I feel the humming running through the chair.
Clutching on the bannister, the creaking dark upstairs.
Lean back, open wide, a pressure on my jaw.
I am filled with stars.
(Copyright of Jenny Toomey and Mark Robinson)

Even those circular guitar patterns give off the feeling of foreplay before the more urgent playout, tracked by dampened vocal harmonies, like angels blessing a quickie, sounds like the thrilling stampede towards climax, with the faded jangles at the very end coming on like post-coital kisses. Even the packaging for the record, a 7” single called Triology, which backed Fillings with a track called Gillian, was described by Peel as being, “like a cake wrapper - it takes you a minute to get the record out and two minutes to get it back in again”.  Anyone who has struggled with bra clips and fly buttons in the height of passion will know the feeling.

Grenadine were a supergroup bringing together the aforementioned Jenny Toomey, who issued their records on her Simple Machines label, with Rob Christiansen of the brilliant Eggs and Mark Robinson who at this particular time was riding high in his day job with Unrest whose latest (1992) album Imperial f.f.r.r was enjoying major critical acclaim.

The video features a re-recording of the song for Grenadine’s first album, Goya, though the main difference between that and the Triology version is that Toomey’s voice was single tracked on the original recording.

Video courtesy of purplepapers

Thursday, 14 February 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Hawks - A Little More Wine, My Dear? (9 May 1992)

A one-shot 1958 release through Del-Fi Records, A Little More Wine, My Dear? fuses a Mediterranean acoustic surround to Don Cole’s electric guitar licks and comes off as a Euro-country/pop instrumental mixing the opening riff to Tequila with the lyrical sensibilities of Flanders and Swann.  Clearly, writer Don Cole and his friends were a classy bunch when it came to getting their steady dates loaded.  No root beer for them, when they could offer, as they intermittently do in the style of a comatose Eddie Cochran, a glass of vino (as long as it’s the right type obviously).  I like to think, far-fetched as it may be, that Cole was looking to produce a more dance floor filling relation to Flanders and Swann’s similarly themed, but more lecherously articulate Madeira, M’Dear? which was recorded for their revue At the Drop of a Hat two years previously.  Curiously, the more troubling subtexts lie not with the Arizona rock ‘n’ roll band, but with the Christ Church University lads.

Just to note that this group are not the same Hawks who subsequently went on to back Bob Dylan and become The Band.

Videos courtesy of Vinyl and Shellac by starday (Hawks) and LeonPFB (Flanders and Swann).

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Comedy of Errors: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 8 May 1992)

All the selections from this show came from a complete 3 hour file.

T’was the night before Liverpool were due to play in an FA Cup final and all through Radio 1 not a creature was stirring...except a cantankerous John Peel who had failed to get a ticket for the match and spent large parts of this evening’s programme moaning about extortionate ticket prices of up to £250 for a seat (though whether he meant via tout value was unclear) and in a precursor to Roy Keane’s “Prawn sandwich brigade”, showing contempt for people who would be at the game who had no interest either in the sport or either Liverpool or their opponents, Sunderland.  By the early 90s, the aldermen and their wives from the length and breadth of Britain who often used to find invitations to Cup finals in their in-trays were being edged out in favour of more lucrative corporate accounts and customers.  Simon Hughes, in his superb cricketing memoir A Lot of Hard Yakka, writes of meeting someone in a corporate box at Lord’s Cricket Ground who worked for Siemens, a German conglomerate who sponsored Middlesex CC in the late 1980s.  “...sporting a large cigar and a ghastly beer gut [he] turned to me during a match and said, ‘By the way, do they still have sixes in cricket?’ (Hughes, A Lot of Hard Yakka, 1997, p.209, Headline)

It seems as though all the exciting stuff was due to happen on the following day: the FA Cup final, the Eurovision Song Contest (of which more when we cover Peel’s 9/5/92 show) and of more immediate relevance a live studio session from Abana Ba Nasery (aka The Nursery Boys) who would be playing over from Andy Kershaw’ show into Peel’s programme.  It was trailed, in the words of Peel by, “Andy and I being terrifically amusing”

Cue an Abana Ba Nasery track playing in the background
Kershaw (a la Dave Nice): Hi mate.
Peel (a la Mike Smash): Hi mate.
Kershaw: This week, the Andy and John shows on 1FM are linked by the guitar and bottle kings of Kenya, Abana Banasery.
Peel: I think that’s Abana Ba Nasery, mate.
Kershaw: Saturday night, 1FM, live in the studio - Abana Banasery.
Peel: Nasery.  The Nursery Boys on the Peel and Kershaw programme.
Kershaw: From Kenya.
Peel: Keen-ya!

Jingle - 1FM!
Peel (back in studio): Zany or what? The Action Swingers...

I was pretty fortunate that everything I wanted to share from this show was available.  There were only two exceptions:

2wice as Hard - Give it 2-em - a storming dance track on Livin Large Records out of Chicago.

Calton Sounds - Tsi Tsi - more lovely Africana, but this group are like the yeti when it comes to finding them online.  While researching an Oliver! appendix, I came across some of their recordings on YouTube, but the trail went quiet again.

There were plenty more selections which made the initial list, but when listened to subsequently were found to be rather boring. Certainly, stuff I can live without, and in several cases from acts who have other tunes slated for inclusion in future programmes:

The Wedding Present - Come Play With Me (More of the usual from Gedge and co.)
Fast - Brain Swirl (Apollo 440 passing themselves off as German brothers at 155bpm)
Stereolab - Orgiastic (Peel really liked their Peng! album, giving it plenty of airplay in May 1992.  The harmonic dynamics of tracks like this are intriguing, but I haven’t quite fallen for them yet.)
Jane Pow - Get By (Brighton based band who could have cleaned up had they reached the Britpop years. This track fizzed on first hearing but fizzled on second one).
Duh - Transformer (Duh?  Dull more like it),

Full tracklisting

Sunday, 10 February 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy - Satanic Reverses (8 May 1992)

When it comes to writing about music, I am as liable to slip into hyperbole as the next man.  And whenever I do, I find myself able to repent at leisure for doing so.  Now, I will never delete anything from this blog that I have once raved about and subsequently gone cold on.  Every blogpost here, like a selection preserved on a mixtape, exists as a snapshot of the thrill of reacting to and hearing a particular piece of music for the first time.  Like crushes or a David Cameron tweet, convictions that you firmly had at one time can be made to look foolish once time passes, but you should never deny that the conviction was, at one time, truly felt and believed in.  So it is with Television, The Drug of the Nation, arguably the signature track of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (hereafter to be referred to as DHHH).  “One of the best hip hop tracks of the decade” I gushed some 2 and a half years ago as an impressionable 40 year old, and it may very well be true that it is still exactly that.  But as I approach my 43rd birthday, I think about the track with its didactic roll call of accusations delivered in the stentorian drill sergeant tones of Michael Franti and think, “Jesus, mate, just let people crash out and tune out if they want.  Television can influence and educate, it isn’t as bad as you say”.  Now, I appreciate that hip-hop has a need to preach, it shines light on injustice, corruption and the struggles of the masses more than any other musical artform as well as offering a voice to the disaffected and marginalised, but DHHH appeared to start from a perspective that “You are brainwashed fools and I’m going to tell you what’s crap about every element of your life”.  Great, but can you offer me any solutions?  If not, do I really want to hand over my cash for a parental lecture set to samples?  Sleaford Mods strike me as a contemporary British take on this and just as off-putting.
So with all this in mind, I hope you can understand that when John Peel cued up Satanic Reverses, a track from their Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury album as a taster to a DHHH Peel Session to be broadcast on the 9/5/92 show, I inwardly recoiled at the prospect, but on a second listen it hooked me in with its mix of Gregorian chants, blasts of Miles Davis, 50s TV detective series themes and an ingenious lyric mixing the worst of DHHH (historical bullet points delivered in a manner to make you believe that Franti will be asking questions later) and their best as he reflects on how other parts of the world seem(ed) to be increasing freedoms and reforming themselves (whatever happened to the European Economic Community rejig?  It all passed off without any long term impact didn’t it?....) and contrasts with perceived repressions and stifling of freedoms in America.  Perceptively, he manages to link the fatwa placed on Salman Rushdie for his words with a potential culture of offence in which art will be stifled, words will be regarded as more damaging than a person’s actions and lifetime bans will be applied to anyone who speaks up on radio or challenges the status quo.  Franti was out by about 20 years, but he was right nevertheless.

I reserve the right to go off this track in 2 years time, but somehow, I don’t think I will.

Video courtesy of Ian Morgan

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Radiohead - Prove Yourself (8 May 1992)

Before Creep, before The Bends or OK Computer, before Peel reconnected with Radiohead’s early 21st Century releases, before they tried to take down George W. Bush and before they offered up a new album in which customers pay what they think it’s worth Radiohead started out with the Drill EP, four demos of which three would eventually turn up on the band’s debut album, Pablo Honey.

I’ve had to use a live recording, but it’s pretty faithful to the dynamics of the EP track.  I’ve lost touch with Radiohead since the Millenium, so have no idea if they’ve lyrically developed beyond the themes that I associate them with - self-doubt, ennui, self-loathing, disgust at the grind of an uncaring world and resolutions of suicide.  At the time, it could have sounded like grunge by the numbers but Thom Yorke’s bruised vocals, like a sparrow transforming into a pterodactyl as he progresses from the verse to the chorus immediately grabs the attention.

It’s a decent enough track without being anything amazing.  Its inclusion here potentially benefits from the “Oooh, Peel played them, I never knew that” factor, though it didn’t work for Green Day.  I suspect it’s more down to the fact that what always tickles me about Radiohead circa-1992, is that their first exposure on Radio 1 came about, not through Peel, but through Gary Davies.

Video courtesy of alejosan74

Monday, 4 February 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Action Swingers/Loudspeaker [Peel Sessions] (8 May 1992)

Anyone tuning into the John Peel Show on 8/5/92 hoping for subtlety from that night’s Peel Sessions was in for a shock.  The eight tracks from New York based Action Swingers and Loudspeaker were pure, in the red, ear-splitting, rock ‘n’ roll.

Out of the two sessions, I give Action Swingers the split decision in terms of which is best for consistency.  Their Stooges influenced racket flies by in under 9 minutes and includes one of the great  under-rated 90s rock songs, the silly but weirdly sexy Hot Rock Action as well as a a cover of The Germs’ track, Lexicon Devil.  Peel mentions a degree of confusion over which bassists are playing on the session, as he has been given two names.  This may have been a result of line-up changes that the band went through in late 1991/early 1992 as well as a reflection of an open door policy within Action Swingers which saw them supplemented by a number of guests throughout the 1990s.

Loudspeaker’s session was a repeat of the performance first broadcast on 22/2/92, Their sound is a little more nuanced than Action Swingers - a fusion of the Stooges, the vocal theatrics of Death Metal  though Matt Boruso’s vocals are much easier to hear and the funk/groove of Red Hot Chili Peppers.  They also provide what I regard as the best track across both sessions, the fantastic Stripmind (starts at 7:36) which will have you air-thrashing so hard your rings will fly off your fingers.  Peel’s chortling before It Wasn’t Me is due to him playing the recording he was sent of a sound-a-like announcer at Birmingham New Street Station by Radio 4 presenter, Libby Fawbert.

Videos courtesy of Webbie - special thanks to them for uploading the Loudspeaker session on request.

Friday, 1 February 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Culture - Want Go See/Cutty Ranks - A Who Seh Me Dun (8 May 1992)

In my selections from this show, these two tracks were separated by one record, but when that other tune fell from favour due to excessive dullness I decided to bring them both together here.  I did so because in listening to them both, I came to a choice.
The eclecticism of Peel’s show meant that you could discover plenty of sub-genres of music, and while one may not like all of it, you could at least avoid writing off styles of music for being worthless or poor because there would always be something in the pile that would be worthy of your attention.  However, while listening and comparing these tracks by two staples of Peel’s playlists over many years, I realised something.  I prefer reggae to dancehall.

This is not a particularly earth-shaking revelation I agree, and the couple of you who read this blog (Good morning to you and wrap up warm if the snow has reached your area, won’t you) are entitled to shrug your shoulders and hit the play buttons.  Especially when I tell you that the reason I reached my judgement was through a bloggers’ complaint.
I had intended to give Cutty Ranks’s A Who Seh Me Dun a post all of its own, but was going to caveat it with my usual complaint about being left fumbling in the slipstream of the flow and patois.  What did seem clear to me was that, in keeping with the dancehall style, Ranks was calling out his rivals for confrontation and intended to kill them in typical dancehall fashion, whether by gun or electric chair.  Challenges are issued to a number of artists featured here previously such as Cobra, Capelton and Ninjaman.  I was more sold on the arrangement than anything else, but it brought home to me how excluding dancehall records are.  So many times they feel like private arguments set to music, and while that can be thrilling to listen to at times, it’s doubtful that I would want to revisit much of the music were it not for the musical set-up around it.  Hip-Hop and rap music arguably went the same way as the decade progressed with the audience left out as the artists beefed across the grooves at each other, but guaranteed radio play by lifting samples from white-friendly radio hits.  A justified strategy in that it kept racial social issues in the cultural mainstream after we had listened to The Golden Hour.  Nevertheless, the impression one gets from A Who Seh Me Dun and other records like it is that the artist is all and all is the artist.

How can such self-absorption hope to compete when set alongside the more universal worldview of Want Go See by Culture?  Set up as a state of the continent address from “Radio Rasta”, Joseph Hill and friends look at their motherland, possibly in advance of their longed-for return to it, and find Africa mired in problems.  From famine in Ethiopiaapartheid in South Africa or governments tear-gassing citizens “like mosquita”, this is a slinky, grooving journey through that continent’s perennial issues - seen at that time when Culture recorded their 1988 album, Nuff Crisis! featuring titles like Crack in New York and Bang Belly Baby.  As well as taking a universal view, Culture also hit on a similarly global feeling of helpless fury at what is going on.  Watching the tear-gassing on his television, Hill feels variously furious and “vexed”, but offers no solutions or ideas for how to improve the situations, except for trying to use music as a balm in troubled times.  He expresses his feelings more eloquently than the rest of us fuming at the nightly news, but is just as impotent about dealing with it as we are.  It’s one area where Cutty Ranks has the edge on them.  Whatever he’s raging about, and whoever has annoyed him, you feel he will at least be able to do something about it on a personal level.  However, Culture speak for me - powerless, annoyed, desperate...but still believing that things can be better in small ways and that the small positive actions we carry out could, with a bit of luck and a following wind, eventually overpower the larger problems we face.

On a slightly more mundane note, Peel related the issues of trying to get Culture to do sessions for the BBC.  Andy Kershaw had nearly managed to pull it off recently, but it fell through at the last minute.  They would appear for Peel when he curated Meltdown in 1998, which coincided with a play I was doing at the time, so hopefully it’ll feature here in 10/15 years time, but it was another decade on from this 8/5/92 show before they recorded a session for him again.

Videos courtesy of matheus cunha (Culture) and 5446robo (Cutty Ranks)