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.