Monday, 29 July 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Wedding Present - California (23 May 1992)

California marked the halfway point in The Wedding Present’s year-long assault on the UK Top 40.  It had been a case of so far, so good with their first five singles for the year all charting between Numbers 10 and 26.  California continued the trend, peaking at Number 16.  For me, it’s their best single of the run alongside Blue Eyes. Opening with a minor Hard Day’s Night chord and driven along by an acoustic shuffle-beat, close to baggy, according to one YouTube commenter, all wrapped around a typically wide-eyed and compassionate David Gedge lyric in which he encourages his love to come away with him, while offering whole-hearted support to her while she tries to decide.  He dials down the Kermitisms in his vocal and includes the inevitable line of  goggle-eyed awe at her naked body, a tendency which leads me to believe that the default position of his persona in the songs where he is not trying straining at the leash to be adult after a break-up, is to be the sympathy fuck of women who are being misused by unworthy men.  In other words, embodying the Orange Juice Cosolation Prize theory.
As 1992 moved into 1993, I found myself occupying this role, but with the annoying imbalance that I was offering sympathy but receiving no fucks from the various women I tried to support.  What make Gedge’s efforts all the more heart rending is the undertone of pleading that accompanies it - as though what he is suggesting is perfectly sensible, but that he knows the silly bitch will go back to what is making her unhappy.  Nevertheless, he will still be there for her, because being second best is a better ranking than not being in contention at all.  And maybe there is still hope anyway as suggested by the strident electric guitar chords over the final 25 seconds, which sound like a passionate argument about the merits of running away to the sunshine, before ending on a note like a slammed door.  In true Wedding Present style, your mood can let you decide whether the door closed with Gedge marooned on the doorstep, or with him and his love closing it on their old lives and situation, in order to head for their new, sun drenched beginning.  He presents a compelling case for escape, so I know which way I’m going to lean.  They deserve it.

Peel revealed that The Wedding Present were going to do the decent thing and bundle up the A and B-sides of their singles for the first half of 1992 into a compilation album.  Hit Parade 1 duly reached Number 22 on the UK Albums Chart.

Video courtesy of TheWeddingPresentVEVO

Friday, 26 July 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Larceny - Scream (23 May 1992)

It seems as though every other week, I contemplate what I have achieved in my life and find myself wanting.  It’s a horrible phrase, I know, but I really don’t feel like I’ve fulfilled my potential.  And the worst of it is, the fault lies squarely with me.  Lack of drive on one hand, but more fatally, a propensity for distraction which sucks my energy, wastes my time and leaves me ruefully reflecting, “Tomorrow...Tomorrow, I will make it happen...” It’s both the big life-changing stuff and the small, everyday, nitty gritty. Long periods of sloth and ennui, punctuated by spasmodic bursts of activity which briefly gladden the heart and restore purpose, but leave me in need of a lie down because - fuck me, I’ve actually done some stuff.  Well, that’ll do for another five weeks, rinse and repeat....
The distractions are the bugbear and they are what I have to do a better job of setting aside.  Just recently, I’ve found myself poised to launch into long delayed work, but after 5 minutes, I’m setting it aside because if I don’t watch that mash-up video someone did of Yoko Ono launching into some kind of vocal/scream improvisation in a gallery alongside the theme tune to The Good Life then I will  be unable to continue functioning as a human being.  And like all immediate wants, it briefly satisfies, but what lasting achievement have I made either in terms of my short-term responsibilities or any wide long-term significance?

I certainly haven’t been utilising my Yoko Ono fix in the same way that the mind(s?) behind Larceny did when they sampled what sounds like an army of wailing Yokos as a key motif of their 136bpm extravaganza, which uses the duel between the Yokos and processed calls to prayer as an anchor for some extreme synth smashing with knob twiddling and sample spinning designed to sound like a planet screaming in something which sounds pretty close to exultation.  The single was released on Sub Bass Records, a dance offshoot of Earache, and as you might expect from the home of Napalm Death, this is loud, frenetic, maniacal stuff, but it’s that sense of joy and exultation - a feeling of the scream purging the soul of tension, so as to lead to a higher state of bliss, that draws me in.  Larceny have achieved something really rather special here.

If I’m not going to get any work done, neither are you!

Videos courtesy of Earenn Caxapob (Larceny) and AlreadyTaken74 (Ono).

Sunday, 21 July 2019

The Comedy of Errors: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 22 May 1992)

Although this blog has been running for 5 years in real world terms, it has only covered 6 months worth of John Peel’s programmes in that time (November 1991 up to May 1992).  All of which is a slightly tortuous way of saying that we’re still some way off being able to report on Matthew Bannister’s arrival as controller of Radio 1 and the changes he brought to the station.  I found myself thinking ahead to Bannister’s revolution while simultaneously cutting Johnny Beerling some slack due to two trailers Peel played in the 90 minutes of this show that I heard.  If you wanted some evidence of Radio 1 finding itself trying to cover too many bases circa 1992 then compare and contrast Simon Bates promoting a series of live music shows over the upcoming Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend including highlights from the Montreux Jazz Festival, a joint headline concert featuring The Four Tops and The Temptations as well as “big live shows from the last year” by Roxette and Michael Bolton.  Set against that, and doubtless to a smaller pool of listeners, the station had dispatched Evening Session host, Mark Goodier, to the North-East where he would be introducing a series of live performances by the likes of Utah SaintsA HouseAltern-8 and “the best new band in Britain” according to the Melody Maker, Suede, who had just released their debut single.
Past and present etched all over the Radio 1 schedule, but it would take a little while yet before the present would dominate.  By the way, whatever happened to Montreuex’s cultural hegemony?  When I was a kid, television companies never went near Glastonbury, but couldn’t get enough of the festivals in this Swiss town. Between the jazz festival, the rock festival - which used to be a staple of daytime school holiday TV viewing, despite boring me shitless - and the Golden Rose International Television Award, it was a serious destination.  It seemed to vanish from the consciousness in the early 1990s though, although all the aforementioned activity still continues there apart from the Golden Rose.

A weekend by Lake Geneva might have helped Peel out given that, in the part of the show which I heard, he made several mistakes and errors - the misplaying of jingles etc.  He put this down to being “psychologically unbalanced” by having a spot on his chin. “I was led to believe that one of the compensations of old age was that you don’t get spots anymore”.  This physical deformity may have contributed to the loneliness he felt moved to complain about given that plans he had made to meet up with friends in London on the following day had fallen through.  He had grown used to these arrangements not being kept but still lamented the loss of opportunities “ sit in poncey bars drinking overpriced beers with bits of fruit stuck in them, talking codswallop.  And I’m such a nice old feller too, I can’t understand it.”
One of the records he played which I passed on was Song for John by Donovan which he dedicated to Sheila in remembrance of a 1970 driving holiday they had taken in Scotland with her sister and in which the accompanying album, Open Road had never been off the 8-track player.

I made my selections from the final 90 minutes of this show.  Tracks I would have liked to share, but couldn’t, included:

The Oblivion Seekers - There’s No Depression in Heaven - Peel had been playing this souped up cover of The Carter Family original in the hope that it would pique Andy Kershaw’s interest.  He had played the track on the previous week and it had worked.  Kershaw was keen to get his hands on a copy.  This happened quite often through the years. If Peel was seeking to impress anyone with his playlists, it was invariably Kershaw. I feel that this is because out of all the other Radio 1 DJs, he felt that Kershaw was the only one who might out-scoop him in terms of finding records of rarity or historical importance.  Or perhaps it was just admiration for Kershaw’s boundless self-belief and certainty in his judgement compared to his own inferiority complex.

The Mono Men - Jack the Ripper - as with The Oblivion Seekers, this was a turbo charged cover of an old tune, in this case as recorded by Link Wray and the Wraymen.

Falling from favour was:

Accidental Suicide - Unknown - Peel enjoyed this track from their Deceased album, as initially did I (in fact listening to it again now while posting this, I’m actually warming to it again) but prolonged exposure to it convinced me that if I was listening to this on a mixtape, I would want to speed past it and berate myself for including it.  Have a listen yourself and you’ll likely realise that my judgement is not to be trusted on anything.  Peel read the press notes for the album, which said that Accidental Suicide specialised in “ ...’graphic gore having played with Disfigured, Psychorexus, Lycanthropy and Experiment Fear’ I regret to say I’ve heard none of those, but I bet they’re a lively bunch, especially if encountered after dark.”

On a personal level, this show marked a small milestone in my life. My school would have broken up for half term on this day and although I wasn’t to know it then, it would be my last day at Falmouth Community School.  From then on, I would only be going down to the school for rehearsals of The Comedy of Errors and GCSE exams.  Ooh ‘eck....

School’s out forever!

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Butterfly Child - Viola (22 May 1992)

Including this for completion’s sake as it’s the studio version (from the Eucalyptus EP) of a track that previously turned up here from a Peel Session broadcast on 1 March 1992, though it was going under a different member of the string family back then.  It’s still gorgeous regardless of which version you hear.

Video courtesy of Ezra Welser.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Skyflyer - Humanoid (22 May 1992)

I only caught the last 90 minutes of Peel’s show for 22/5/92, but on that particular evening, it felt to me like all his dance music choices really hit the bullseye. Between UltramarineTrinity and Orson Karte, all bases were being touched from the chilled to the even more chilled as it turns out.  But this 138bpm banger from German duo, Arndt Pecher and Rolf Maier-Bode trumps them all. The bass in this sounds unstoppable - like a juggernaut ripping through the earth, and compared to the other tracks on Skyflyer’s Humanoid E.P., it could be played as a new track today and would still turn heads.  A decade after this, Peel’s dance track of the moment was Identify the Beat by Marc Smith and Safe and Sound.  He would talk about going to the Sonar Festival in Barcelona and playing it at “artery shredding volume”.  Humanoid belongs in that company, though whether the patrons of the John Peel Roadshow would have appreciated it is a moot point.

Video courtesy of wil34co

Friday, 12 July 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Geek - Night Moves on the Catwalk (22 May 1992)

Here’s a question for anyone reading this who has their finger on the pulse of pop music culture these days.  Feel free to comment below or message me on Twitter @greasepaintpeel. Is the pendulum swinging competition between the UK and the USA over which country was the epicentre of popular music culture at any one time still a thing?  The competition I refer to saw America throw down the gauntlet in the 50s with Elvis and the rock ‘n’ roll explosion.  Britain struck back circa 1963/64
through The Beatles and  the British Invasion and so it rolled on through the following scenes and fads:
-folk rock (US)
-soul music (US)
-psychedelia (an honourable draw)
-country rock (US)
-glam rock (UK)
-punk rock (a UK phenomena but birthed in the US through The Ramones and CBGB crowd)
-new wave (US)
-post-punk (UK)
-hip-hop (US)
-new pop (UK)
-gangsta rap (US)
-acid house (UK)
-grunge (US)
-Britpop (UK)
-garage/grime (UK)
-R ‘n’ B (US and dominant now)
And then I finally lost track around the time of New Rock when The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Von Bondies and other stripped down garage US bands were held up as the zeitgeist.
Is this still happening? It used to vex the music weeklies and it remains to be seen whether Peel ever picked up a copy of the much missed Select magazine’s infamous, Yanks Go Home! issue.  He usually managed to sidestep debates over which country was better in the popular music stakes, feeling they were reductive and pointless.  However, several shows during the early 90s find him lamenting the state of British guitar music for derivativeness, while talking up American bands for being less in thrall to an established canon of influences, their willingness to pay tribute to acts who were not widely known and also for being less openly competitive with and disrespectful of one another.

Tribute/cover albums of esoteric bands/performers were a frequent staple of release schedules on smaller American labels.  Virginia based label, Simple Machines were no exception to this and in 1992 they put out an album called Fortune Cookie Prize, a selection of 12 tracks by Beat Happening, performed by the likes of Unrest, the perpetually out of luck on this blog Superchunk, Sub Pop’s latest hopes Seaweed as well as Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon in combination with Epic aka Kevin Godfrey - it being federal US law that members of Sonic Youth appear on any tribute compilation album being released with a product run of less than 2000 units.

Peel played Geek’s reworking of the track Cat Walk from Beat Happening’s 1987 album, Jamboree.  The performance is quite slapdash and shambling for most of its running time, sounding like a B-52s out-take at times, though I think it’s a better performance than the original’s junior school music lesson vibe.  Like Gospel Fish’s Brush Dem, it’s a song of contradictions.  It starts by lamenting the sight of a former lover going around with a new man and adding insult to injury, the girl is still swanning around wearing his sweater.  However by the next verse, the singer feels that it’s for the best that they’re not together given that “She has a nasty habit of being pure”. What Geek bring to the track that wasn’t in the original are their own female snarled intermissions (possibly delivered by  Jenny Toomey who went on to form Grenadine) between the original verses and containing the brutal but undeniable truth that “Sometimes you have to settle for second best” and the potentially beguiling but probably stomach churning “Night moves under my sweater”. References to playing songs from 1962 and the doleful male vocals suggest this is a small town romance and that the participants will take what they’re given in terms of who they rebound to and be grateful for it or else.  Geek’s version at least suggests that “It doesn’t matter” because there are plenty more fish in the sea, while Beat Happening suggest the protagonist will be fine about it all once he gets back under the bonnet of his car.  It’s almost Ayckbournesque in its sense of male futilism.

Peel looked forward to receiving more US compilation albums.  He read out a press release from Cargo Records promoting albums paying tribute to R.E.M and Wipers.

Take out your claves now, children...

Videos courtesy of YT2006 (Geek) and Ashley Ince (Beat Happening)

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Gospel Fish - Brush Dem (22 May 1992)

“Sex sells” may be true of both advertising and art, but in the music world, conflict comes a close second.  However, just as the most glamorous and erotic looking imagery is often filmed with a cast of thousands trampling through in the background while the objects of our lust sip hot chocolate and gather round mobile heaters between takes, so conflict in music is more often than not manufactured. At the height of the Blur/Oasis battle in the mid 1990s, Marion singer, Jaime Harding was quoted as saying, “They might slag each other off but they all drink in the same pubs.”
“Beef” can be big business - never more so than in musical forms where confrontation isn’t just played out across the Internet or the music press.  In rap battles, hip-hop face offs and more pertinently here, sound-system clashes, you get to look your enemy right in the eye.  Music born out of combat, mano y mano, is what has given these forms their edge over many of the others.  At least that’s what we believe.  But Gospel Fish is having none of it, as he outlines in the first 10 seconds of this track.  It’s all a big pantomime.  But having got that disclaimer out the way, he spends the next 3 and a half minutes burying his rivals.  Among those on the Gospel Fish rollcall of in Brush Dem, we get namechecks for Cutty RanksCobraCapletonAdmiral BaileyTony Rebel Buju BantonCharlie Chaplin and Baby Wayne.

It walks the tightrope of parodying the beef culture and backslapping “He’s been a close personal friend of mine for many years” entertainment cliche, while offering censure for bad behaviour towards women or irreligious behaviour.  It will be interesting to see if any “reply” records were cut by those mentioned in Brush Dem and whether they turned the spotlight back on to Gospel Fish in search of clay feet.

The first 3:40 of the video are the track itself.  The remaining time features a hip-hop remix.

Video courtesy of K Gold

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Ultramarine- Honey/Pansy [Peel Session] (22 May 1992)

And now after the violence, perfect music for a funeral requiem.

I’m currently taking part in the Twitter challenge #30Days1Album3Songs - my handle is @greasepaintpeel if you want to see my first 20 days’ worth of selections.  I really need to get my arse in gear though and try and listen to Ultramarine’s 1991 album, Every Man and Woman is a Star because on the evidence of the tracks I heard from this Peel session, it should be celebrated as widely as possible.  The album earned rave reviews at the time, but unfortunately for Ultramarine, the charts only seemed to have room for the mellowness of The Orb, who got an honorary exemption from the glut of hi-energy dance music that was continuing to take its cue from the start and middle of raves rather than the end.  Examples that have popped up on this blog include Altern-8 and Utah Saints.  Ultramarine did try and crash the charts with the other two tracks that featured in this session but not on the file I heard, hence why I’m only hyperlinking them, the wonderful Fender Rhodes disco tinged Saratoga and the blusier Nova Scotia which I regard as the weakest track of the session.

Ultramarine certainly seemed to be operating on an alternation between pastoral, mellow, chilled out cuts like Honey on one hand with its restful flute call and those intoxicating Fender Rhodes keyboard foundations topped off with luscious slide guitar and then pairing these up with grittier, harmonica-blasting country blues cuts such as the incongruously titled, Pansy.  Almost as though one track would invite the listener to lie down in the wooded glade only for the cows from the next field to come crashing through to join you.

Videos courtesy of Clapham Junction