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.

Friday, 15 March 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Th’ Faith Healers - Coffee Commercial Couples [Peel Session] (9 May 1992)

There’s something about Peel Sessions that made Th’ Faith Healers a more interesting band to listen to than their studio output, or at least most of the examples that Peel played, suggested that they were.
On 20/3/92, their second session offered inspiration to Erasure.  But a year earlier, their debut Peel Session, which had been recently put out in an EP by Strange Fruit showcased a tune of their own which brilliantly poked fun at one of the UK’s great cultural phenomena of the late 80s/early 90s: coffee advertisements.  Not just the adverts in themselves but particularly the way in which coffee was advertised as a way to demonstrate the customer’s immaculate good taste, a gateway to suave urbanity and, at its root, a chance to get it on with the opposite sex.

The brief vignettes played out amid the bouncing racket of this tune are primarily parodying the high point of coffee adverts at this time, namely, the will-they-won’t-they narrative of the Gold Blend couple who spun out 6 years of romantic and sexual tension over the coffee beans.  From borrowing coffee for a dinner party through home delivery via mystery visitors all the way to business trips in New York, they were masterpieces of advertising - simultaneously establishing an ongoing narrative while never losing sight of the fact that it was GOLD BLEND COFFEE that was underpinning all this romance and luxury. If you buy GOLD BLEND COFFEE, you can share in this.
Understandably , it was ripe for parody and piss-taking - not least by Ben Elton:

“God, I wish those two would just do it and get it over with.  I mean, I’ve heard of foreplay, but this is getting perverted, (Knock.Knock.Knock) ‘Shall we have it off?’ ‘No, let’s have another cup of coffee’” (Ben Elton - The Man From Auntie, BBC, 1990).

Th’ Faith Healers pastiche is a little more affectionate, but it knows its target well with its repeated refrains of “Can I have another snog?/Can I have another coffee?”  It’s just a shame that they abandon the idea halfway through, in favour of an extended play out, though in their defence the Gold Blend story still had another two years to run at the time they recorded this for Peel’s show of 27/4/91.

There’s a degree of nostalgia underpinning this selection.  The track is perfectly good, but it also parodies something that’s harder to pull off now.  A long running ad narrative like the Gold Blend couple could work in the days when there were only 2 commercial channels available to most households, but it would get lost in the jungle of today’s multi-channel world.  If they went to streaming services or YouTube, they would be affixed with those 5 little words we’ve come to despise, “Video will start after ad”.  30 years ago people would genuinely say, “I think the adverts are the best thing on television - better than the programmes, most of the time.”  Now they are streamed out or jumped past at 16>>.
And 30 years ago, Gold Blend may have led, but there were other coffee ads to rival it, fight for our
attention and sell us the dream that we too could have all that if we bought those beans.  It might be Gareth Hunt doing the Nescafe shake, or Red Mountain with its hawk and spit antics for us proles who couldn’t afford a genuine coffee-maker.  But the one that speaks to us now, in 2019, is probably Cafe Hag, which with its rudeness towards German windsurfers, can be held up as one of the first logs in the Brexit inferno.

Videos courtesy of Dernis Vallier (Th’ Faith Healers) and LittlePixel (Cafe Hag)

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Yami Bolo - Glock War, Gun War (9 May 1992)

We’re in the Caribbean so gunfire cannot be far behind, and indeed it peppers this track throughout.  However, with Yami Bolo at the mic, we can safely assume a ceasefire is being called for, which is just what happens.  The sentiments are a little by-the-numbers, but the sincerity is undeniable.
Peel admitted that he didn’t know what a Glock was, but he liked the tune regardless.  For myself, I nearly ended up watching the 1999 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, End of Days in the service of this blog because my first knowledge of Glocks came through a quote from the film: “Between your faith and my Glock nine millimetre, I’ll take the Glock.”  I wanted to see whether Arnold saved the world from Satan by shooting him.  However, I couldn’t get to see the film over the weekend, so Wiki’d it instead.  MINOR SPOILER - the gun doesn’t save the day, which is just how Bolo would like it.

In other Yami Bolo news, I’ve been able to put a new video on my favourite Bolo selection on this blog, It’s Not Surprising with the dub version thrown in too!

Video courtesy of IAmTheGorgon.
End of Days written by Andrew W. Marlowe.

Friday, 8 March 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Little Annie - I Think of You (9 May 1992)

Around the time that Peel broadcast this track, Little Annie Bandez AKA Annie Anxiety moved back to her native New York after a decade living in the UK.  Before returning, she cut the Short and Sweet album for On-U Sound and released I Think of You as a single.
Dripping with sensual vibes and propelled by libidinous bass, the general effect is as if Grace Jones was a sexually re-excited housewife living in a terraced house in Hounslow and finding reminders of their lover amid a catalogue of early 90s touchstones.  It takes an outsider like Bandez to find erotic cues in sources as diverse as Robert Kilroy Silk’s daily debate showTrevor McDonald, checkout queues at  Marks & Spencer or the twice daily showings of Neighbours.  She also conjures up the sense of romantic delight found in things as mundane as smelly socks - it’s fine when it’s her lover’s sock - and the distortion of the senses which sees a vacuum cleaner recast as James Brown.  There’s even a nod to one of Peel’s favourite guilty pleasures, Sheena Easton’s 9 to 5 (Morning Train).  Peel admitted that had he spotted the link sooner, he would have programmed in Easton’s record to follow Little Annie’s.

So a big thumbs up from me for I Think of You, but what’s been interesting for me is how little else of Bandez’s music, I’ve enjoyed.  With the zeal of a newly interested convert, I alighted on a video of Bandez’s 1984 debut album, Soul Possession.  Had that been a purely instrumental dub album, I’d have raved about it, but Bandez’s relentless performance poet monologues make for exhaustingly insufferable listening.  I had to take breaks after every 2 tracks and could imagine the cries of “sell out” that may well have gone her way when she recorded the more accessible, Short and Sweet album.  But even flashing forward to the 21st Century, there’s little relief to be found in torch song tracks like You Better Run where Bandez looks to sing exclusively in the cracks between the notes.

But never mind, we’ll always have bacon on the kitchen table to sustain us.

The video includes both sides of the 12” single.  The vocal version lasts for 4:50 and features a different vocal melody to the version on Short and Sweet.  Marks and Spencer had reduced their prices by 60 quid by then too.

Video courtesy of DownTownVibesRon

Saturday, 2 March 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Winterset - Horse of Mud (9 May 1992)

This track was always likely to be included here, but until a couple of days ago, I would have only been able to provide very sketchy information about it or Winterset themselves.

My notes describe it as “repetitive but the guitar modulations keep things interesting” and it’s true.  Horse of Mud uses squalls of feedback throughout but does so in a way which gives the track texture and colour rather than as an excuse for feedback wankery.  And that was enough for me, I had to go on the sound and feel of the thing, because the vocals had been mixed as though delivered through a walkie talkie left on the floor of the studio, so I couldn’t glean anything from the lyrics.  Neither was there much help to find on the Internet.  Winterset’s Discogs page condenses their output down to a promo single of Horse of Mud and the same song’s appearance alongside a track called Restore the Monarchy on a Beechwood Music sampler album called Expo1.  Apart from that, nothing more to say, I thought.  Until I spotted that Horse of Mud’s demo had been uploaded to YouTube.  Not only that, but the uploader, puffinboy65, had also included the following nugget of information in the description box: “You can find the recorded version on eBay, but to my mind this has more of the petrified-man-fleeing-an-unnamed-pursuer-through-a-clammy-lianna-filled-jungle vibe intended by the writer”.  So it was less a sludge rock update of Chestnut Mare, but instead belonged to the smaller sub-section of rock songs to be filed under the heading “Run For Your Life”.  At its worst this includes, well... Run For Your Life by The Beatles; at its creepiest it includes Aisha by Death in Vegas; while its absolute peak, for me, is Driving This Road Until Death Sets You Free by Zombie Zombie.  Horse of Mud isn’t out of place in that company though, with its relentless, grinding main riff sounding like the pounding of panicked running footsteps, while the feedback evokes the terrible ‘something’ in pursuit.  Maybe a horse to truly run in terror from?

puffinboy65 turned out to be the composer of Horse of Mud, Martin Smith and his YouTube channel is well worth a look as it contains several other Winterset demos.  Horse of Mud remains the anomaly among them - loud, distorted, heavy and menacing - the others are lighter, poppier and more accessible, I particularly like I Don’t Understand What That Means, Baby.  The fun comes in guessing which ones would have been taken forward had the chance presented itself.  According to Martin, there wasn’t much time for Winterset to do much more than they did:  “We played probably 20 times, mostly supports in North London.  Our first ever gig was with Suede!”  It presents an intriguing alternative universe where Animal Nitrate remains a demo on a YouTube channel and the 1993 Brit Awards rocks out to Horse of Mud.  Alas, Martin now confines his music to a spot of kareoke.  When he first became aware I was going to blog about Horse of Mud, he was slightly bemused by it to say the least, “Why the fuck would anyone be interested?”, but I was interested and if this post sees even one person head over to his YouTube channel, my labours will not have been in vain.

Videos courtesy of Winterset - Topic and puffinboy65.

With thanks to Martin Smith.