Thursday, 31 October 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Zero Zero - W.F.K (Malice Afore thought) (6 June 1992)

As the recent non-story about an actress working in a “conventional” job between acting work showed, the capricious nature of the arts are such that it’s always worth having a second string to your bow if needed.  Simon Robinson, creative dynamo and one half of dance duo, Zero Zero, took this advice to heart after the release of The World Famous Killer EP.  After a year in which Zero Zero  had crept in the Top 75 UK Singles Chart with the excellent Zeroxed, whose No. 73 chart placing proves the maxim that The Great British Record Buying Public never recognise a good thing when they see it - Robinson wound up Zero Zero in order to study at law school.

W.F.K. (Malice Afore thought) marked a fine swansong for Zero Zero , pulling together piercing “guitar-board” notes, portentous public service announcements and, slightly incongruously, the “Who’s a potty mouth?” sample last heard in this parish courtesy of Kalaeidoscope’s remix of I’m Gonna Get You to fine driving effect.  My notes initially attribute the track’s  inclusion to the presence of this sample, but it’s really grown on me over the last few days.  Play it loud.

After graduating from law school, Robinson resumed collaboration with his Zero Zero co-producer, Mark Grant to form the drum ‘n’ bass oriented, The Advocate. Not only could they play at illegal raves, they could argue for them in the courts now, as well.

Video courtesy of browno 1971

Sunday, 27 October 2019

The Comedy of Errors: M’Pongo Love - Partager (6 June 1992)

How wonderful to finally hear some female-fronted soukous after so long.  M’Pongo Love’s story is one of a constant battle against ill health (she contracted polio when she was a child) and the cliff-face of the African music business.  Aged 19 she was able to develop a professional relationship with TPOK Jazz Band saxophonist Empopo Loway.  After developing her craft through the mid/late 1970s, she struck out on her own in 1980 and joined the soukous exodus in moving from Zaire to Paris.  It was there that Love developed the feminist lyrical themes that would define her work in the 80s.

“I sing about women’s problems.  I try to give them courage...and I will stop singing when the relations between men and women in Africa become problem free.  But what man in Africa doesn’t have a mistress?  In addition to a hard life, women have a lot to endure.  I have a feminist duty to see they fight, they defend themselves, they hold their heads high, that they take independent women as examples...We must know how to say what we are, we African women without fearing all the modernism that we need to assimilate.”  (M’Pongo Love speaking in 1989. Quote and background can be found here.)

Featuring Dally Kimoko on guitar, Partager, which translates as Share, is the title track of Love’s 1987 album, which curiously doesn’t feature any self-written material.  When he played this, Peel wondered whether her surname should be be pronounced “Lov-eh” but worried this might be felt affected.  Sadly, the lady herself would have been unable to provide any clarification on this.  She died of complications related to cerebal meningitis in 1990.

Video courtesy of Africa-Hits-70+

HOUSEKEEPING - I’ve been delighted to receive comments on some of these posts over the last few months including an invaluable one about the equipment used to achieve the early 90s rave piano sound.  Frustratingly, Blogger is not publishing my replies.  I’ve done everything I can in my settings to rectify this, but to no avail.  I will keep working on it.  Just know that if you do leave comments, I can see them and I’m very grateful for them.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

The Comedy of Errors: John Peel Show - BBC Radio 1 (Friday 29 May 1992)

John Peel was in a good place on the 29th of May 1992.  He had plenty to look forward to and had already spent the week indulging in things he enjoyed, such as drag racing at Santa Pod where he had seen one car reach a speed of 263 miles an hour!  Andy Kershaw had done a field recording on a recent trip to the drag racing, which Peel used to cue up John Fahey.
He was in a good position to see two musical favourites at close quarters as well.  He intended to watch Richard Thompson play a live set for Kershaw’s programme on Saturday evening and then hoped to shake Diblo Dibala’s hand as he was due in the UK that week, although no-one knew what his plans were.
Dibala featured on the first Kanda Bongo Man track that I’ve heard crop up in all the time that I’ve been doing this blog.  Alas, Naloti from Kanda’s 1989 album, Kwassa Kwassa didn’t grab me enough to merit inclusion from this show.  Neither was I receptive to a clatteringly ramshackle cover of  Smells Like Teen Spirit by The Honeymoon Killers.  “Is nothing sacred?  I like to think not.”

In the wider world of Radio 1, the Peel show was contributing to a series of live sessions that the station was putting out under the banner of One World by offering up sessions from A House and Superchunk, which would be broadcast on his show for Saturday 30 May.   Sam Johnstone of Aigburth, near Liverpool wanted to hear sessions of a more vintage era and wrote to ask whether the Peel sessions recorded by Nick Drake were likely to be released through Strange Fruit any time soon.  Peel suspected that they wouldn’t and he was right, they never saw commercial release in his lifetime.  In 2014, Antar Records released Drake’s 1969 Peel Session on a 10-inch LP as part of a package with a biography of him called Remembered for a While.  Limited to 1000 copies, it is currently retailing for an absurd amount of money on Discogs.

The news bulletins included stories that South Africa would be allowed to field competitors in the Summer Olympics in Barcelona.  It would be the country’s first participation since 1960.

I made my selections from a full 3 hour show and everything that you’ve seen posted from that show over the last couple of weeks stood up to scrutiny, I didn’t go off anything that initially grabbed my attention.  There were two selections I was unable to share:

Dumpster Juice - End of Ages the second release on Spanish Fly Records, a US label which was part owned by Lori Barbero, drummer with Babes in Toyland.  Somehow, Dumpster Juice manage to make a compelling sound out of their mixture of nu metal and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Splintered - Judas Cradle/Kill the Body so the Head Will Die/Godsend [Peel Session] Three-quarters of the UK industrial-noise rock group’s repeated first session for Peel.  My notes say that they sound like they should be soundtracking grindhouse films.  Splintered pull off the difficult trick of making sure that their ideas, usually in the form of samples and counterpointing sung vocals with spoken word content, are always backed with music that rocks and elates the listener, even when it sounds like it’s disembowelling someone with a chainsaw, as is the case with Godsend..  Kill the Body so the Head Will Die sounds particularly compelling enough to make me wish I could have seen them live.  I’ll take it as a belated 16th birthday present given that it was originally broadcast on that day.

Full tracklisting

Saturday, 19 October 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Messiah - Temple of Dreams [Manix Remix] (29 May 1992)

Opening with an attention grabbing sample from the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, The Running Man (set in a totalitarian version of the United States in 2019, so it almost qualifies as a documentary now), Temple of Dreams was a moderate hit for techno duo, Messiah, which incorporated the ethereal euphoria found in This Mortal Coil’s cover of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren with the noisy, bravado of the contemporary club scene in the early 90s.  It’s a thrilling brew with genuine crossover potential, and the men behind Messiah - Ali Ghani and Mark Davies - clearly had an ear for this as evidenced by one of their other 1992 releases, their cover of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love.  Both singles reached the UK Top 20 Singles Chart.

The Manix remix keeps many of the prominent features from the original bar some of the diva vocalisations, but allows space for the elements to marinade in silence, which seems slightly revolutionary in its way.  Around this, there’s dated keyboards a la 1990 and jungle-pace drums which point the way forward to the mid-90s.

Did Ghani or Davies inspire Ebeneezer Goode?

Videos courtesy of indiedancepop and knersi 1.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

The Comedy of Errors: The Kingswoods - Purty Vacant (29 May 1992)

“John had also resumed gigging in the late nineties, though instead of returning to the university circuit, he was restricting himself largely to more ambitious and prestigious events....Anything at which he seemed like an unlikely choice, such as the Tribal Gathering or Big Chill extravaganzas or the Sonar festival in Barcelona, held a special allure....He had determined beforehand to play different kinds of music (at these events).  Not just dance music, but music people could dance to.  That was his motto...So he played The Fall, some guitar-driven soukous from the country formerly known as Zaire, a few reggae tunes. Status Quo.  Yes, Status Quo.  John had told several people that he wanted to go down - or as he put it, down, down, deeper ‘n down - in history as the man who played Quo at Tribal, so he was obliged really.” (Sheila Ravenscroft, Margrave of the Marshes, p.449-450, Corgi, 2005)

Peel, was according to his autobiography, always convinced that his club dates over the late 90s & early 00s were going to be a disaster.  A lot of that was probably down to the fear that rather than going into those gigs armed with a box of 30/35 phat bangers, he was instead taking an eclectic mix of records - essentially a John Peel show in a club - so that for every Elementz of Noize he was dropping on the assembled throng, he would counter it with the  Cheviot Ranters.

We are able to get a decent idea of what Peel’s sets must have been like thanks to the release of Fabriclive 07 in 2002.  Blasting out of superclub speakers, this mix of dance, happy hardcore, blues rock, funk, girl-group soul, reggae, indie, barbershop and  The Undertones must have sounded impressive enough to banish any doubts amongst the crowd.  Nevertheless, I’ve often wondered whether he was trading on the crowd’s goodwill with the presence of quirky covers in his set, namely the bluegrass versions of Lust for Life by The Bad Livers and this present track, a break(red)neck country romp through The Sex Pistols, Pretty Vacant.  Or maybe, he figured that while he could give the crowd what they wanted, he would be failing in his brief as “John Peel” if he didn’t give them what they actually needed.  There’s something admirable in that.

The thought of Peel playing something like this to hardcore clubbers was a laughable fantasy when he gave The Kingswoods 1983 recording a spin early in the 29/5/92 show.  I’m not especially enamoured of it, but it owes its place here to the certainty that the 16 year old me would have found a country take on a punk classic absolutely hilarious.  Indeed, I remember a few years after this, standing backstage with a friend during a show at Falmouth Arts Centre and whiling away the time before we were next due on by suggesting absurd musical covers - Take That covering Megadeth for instance, though ultimately we had to make do with them covering Nirvana.  Well, we had to make our own entertainment in the mid-90s.
Despite the pitch perfect, good ol’ Southern Boy vocals on this recording, The Kingswoods were actually from Brisbane, Australia.  Peel may well have thought he would get Fabric, Tribal Gathering etc up and grooving along to it, but I think that Paul Jones’s 1978 take on the track may have been even better.  Under Tim Rice’s “Welcome to LA” style production, it really takes on a discernible Studio 54 airhead quality that complements the intentions of the Pistols original very nicely.

Videos courtesy of W ookieSnort (The Kingswoods) and Cover Heaven (Jones).

Monday, 14 October 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Pain Teens - Death Row Eyes (29 May 1992)

I’m currently in the process of listening to John Peel shows covering October to December 1992 so as to put together lists of selections to soundtrack the rehearsals and production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I performed in as part of a BTEC National Diploma in Performing Arts at Cornwall College.  It will probably be another 12-18 months before I start blogging about that show, but I give advance warning that Dirty-era Sonic Youth are going to be featuring heavily when we get there.  So in that spirit, sit back and enjoy Death Row Eyes by Pain Teens who do a marvellous job of repackaging the Sonic Youth playbook in their own unique style.

Formed in Houston in 1985, Pain Teens were prodigious artists on the hardcore-cassette scene, using the format to effectively release double/triple albums worth of material.  Initially regarded as a metal band with leanings towards punk, at the point where I first met them through Peel - on the true crimes  set to music spookiness of Sacrificial Shack (which should have been blogged about here in its own right rather than as an appendix to an inferior piece of music) - they had moved beyond that hybrid into something more noisily claustrophobic.  Like Sonic Youth, their guitar sound can be described as an angry wasp buzzing inside your ear-drums.  Despite the compressed sound, this is music that attacks the listener while looking to climb inside you  Even the guitar solo eschews virtuosity in favour of the sonic equivalent of a Siren  trying to aurally suck the listener into those Death Row eyes and in Bliss Blood, Pain Teens had a front-woman cut straight out of the Kim Gordon mould of bored, sensual danger.  If they were going to share a split single together, then I would hope Death Row Eyes Would pair up with Pacific Coast Highway.

Pain Teens released most of their music through their own Anomie Records label, but Death Row Eyes caught the wave that was crashing over early 90s US guitar music and was issued via Sub Pop.
After Pain Teens disbanded in the mid-90s, Bliss Blood stepped away from noise rock and moved into ukelele-led retro jazz.  She also composed songs for a 2012 production of The Comedy of Errors by the Independent Shakespeare Company of Los Angeles.

The nearest we got to anything like this in Falmouth Community School’s production was me sneaking my harmonica onstage for the pre-curtain scene.  Even then, I bottled out of playing it too loudly.  Probably because I couldn’t actually play it.

Videos courtesy of SwampCulture and IndependentShakesLA

Friday, 11 October 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Dr. Phibes and the House of Wax Equations - Mr. Phantasy [Live] (29 May 1992)

NOTE - The video is not a live version of Mr. Phantasy as it has not been shared.  Peel played a version which Dr. Phibes and the House of Wax Equations recorded for Mark Radcliffe’s Hit the North programme on Radio 5.  We’re better off hearing the studio version given that the Hit the North recording sounded like Peel had taped it off the radio.  The joys of  medium wave....  Nevertheless the quality of the track still came through.  The tracks that Dr. Phibes and the House of Wax Equations recorded for their first Hit the North session were subsequently issued on an album called Seconds Out Round One alongside contributions from The Boo RadleysLeatherface and Scorpio Rising.

I’m coming to the conclusion that it was everything except the music which conspired to prevent Dr. Phibes and the House of Wax Equations becoming stars in the early 90s.  Combine that unwieldy band name, the hippy look with the tie-dyed tops, beanie hats and self painted van (see the video for the sublime Hazy Lazy Hologram), the fact that the bassist played with his guitar up around his neck like a crusty Mark King, the drug-centred nature of their output which seemed to be accepted if you were wrapping it around a dance beat or you were an American band but meant the BBC wouldn’t touch them before the watershed and the lack of anything approaching dynamism in the early 90s British record industry; it’s little wonder that the band were always up against it in terms of breaking through to a wider audience in the manner that they deserved to:

 “We found that there is no push, no money around, no record company willing to get off its fucking arse and take a chance on us.  So we did it ourselves.” Keith York, drummer with Dr. Phibes and the House of Wax Equations in conversation with Jon Bains circa 1993.

Mr. Phantasy is, in its way, a gloriously irresponsible song.  It sells drug-taking with all the gleeful hucksterism of The Beatles’ Doctor Robert, by forecasting pilgrimages to the eponymous drug-dealer .

Sandpaper smile/Sandpaper smile
Don’t worry about tomorrow.
Sandpaper smile/Walk half a mile
For Mr. Phantasy.

There are references to consumption suitable for fussy or reluctant samplers (“ artificial flavours
or sweetners”), safety advice (“Nobody talks about the consequence so keep all medicines out of reach of curious children.  Should a ten-ton truck knock me over/please return all contents to my
doting mother.” *Shudder)
Finally though, it advocates that indulgence in pharmaceuticals is your own choice.  The pushback line, “Need no DJ to be my conscience/What an example to set when the world’s got so much to answer for” reads like a rebuke to dance DJs and a scene which had had the drug stories all to themselves over the late 80s/early 90s.  I can well believe that there would have been resentment about this in the rock community.  Drop an E, incorporate a drum loop and you get called a band-wagon jumper.  ‘Fuck that acid and weed shit, ecstasy is where music is going’ and I think at the time, it really felt like that to some bands, who feared being written out of the picture.  Ultimately, as Mr. Phantasy shows, they were all in thrall to the same thing - at least until the money and cocaine rode in.

In the hands of Dr. Phibes  and the Wax Equations, this hallucinogenic public service message should have been a Top 20 hit, as indeed should Hazy Lazy Hologram before it.  It’s catchy as hell and precision tooled in every respect.  If it had been picked up and given wider exposure then with increased scrutiny, I think it would have caused every bit as much of a moral panic as Ebeneezer Goode did.  Not that it would have bothered me, I would have been too busy singing along.  But without the push of label funding or pre-evening radio play it got nowhere.  And the nation’s moral fabric remained undisturbed.

Video courtesy of Pie Ness.
All lyrics copyright of their authors.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

The Comedy of Errors: Pulp - O.U. (Gone, Gone) (29 May 1992)

So, do you remember this mid 90s question and its popular answer?

Oasis or Blur?  Neither, Marion.  At least that was how I used to answer it, but everyone else said Pulp.

In 1995-96, that was still a debatable question, though Pulp could rightfully claim to have released a better album and lead single than either Oasis or Blur produced during Britpop’s high summer.  But at least the other two bands had credit in the bank from previous releases, so I never regarded the argument as being quite as cut and dried as those who considered themselves above the Battle of Britpop thought it was with that trick question.  But if we pose it in 1992, then Pulp wipe the floor with both of them.
In fairness to Oasis, they weren’t yet part of the discussion in 1992.  Their horizons at the time stretched no further than sporadic gigs in the North West to break up their long gestation of songs and sound that they were putting together in rehearsal spaces at Manchester’s Boardwalk.  Meanwhile, Blur spent the year walking into walls at every turn - sometimes literally given the excessive drinking  that they were indulging in; a crutch to help them deal with scrapped sessions for their first attempt at recording a follow-up album to Leisure, an American tour which saw inter-band relationships hit a thudding low with the only thing sustaining them being a realisation that they held the USA, at that time, in as large a contempt as it seemed to hold them (and from there, a future would emerge) and most damaging of all, their ace in the hole return single, Popscene was received like a cup of cold sugary tea by both the charts and the critics.  As it was 1992 though, a number 32 chart peak for a comeback single could be filed as a “setback” rather than the career killer it was for other bands 5 or 6 years later.  Therefore, even with Suede stealing column inches and playing their part in Blur’s annus horribilis, there was still a space for Pulp to walk into.  It would take a year or two for the spotlight to be turned on, and they had spent a decade buggering about releasing records between line-up changes, degree courses and broken legs, but 1992 was the year when Pulp found their voice and people began to listen.
Pulp had been a very occasional presence on John Peel playlists in the 11 years since they had recorded a Peel session for broadcast in November 1981.  Although that session had been well received enough to receive two repeats, Pulp were still waiting for a return invite by May 1992.  However, they were now in a position to give the record buying public of the time more of themselves than had been previously possible.  Three years after recording it, Fire Records, Pulp’s label from 1985 to 1992, finally put out the band’s third album, Separations, which showcased the band’s flirtation with house music alongside their usual lush treatises on love, sexual desire, relationships and urban fragility, not least in the superb My Legendary Girlfriend.  But in purely commodified terms, the Separations LP represented the “old” Pulp.  Indeed, a look at the admittedly
incomplete list of Pulp appearances on Peel’s show reveals that he only gave one track from that album any exposure. This might have been because he was now fixing his ears to the sound of the “new” Pulp, signed to Gift Records, with whom the band would release three singles over 92-93 which would put them on the road to mainstream success, a mere 14 years after Jarvis Cocker started the band with three school friends.

There was always something wonderfully cinematic about Pulp’s music.  At their best, they could sound punky, glam and symphonic simultaneously.  Their use of synths and keyboards tied to their
rock solid rhythm section and Russell Senior’s violin work gave their recordings a beguilingly, exotic quality even if the songs were about the aftermath of one-night stands in dingy bedsits. O.U. (Gone, Gone) features plenty of sex, at least at its outset, but sets itself within the context of the classic trope of “Girl’s waiting at the station, Boy’s got to tell her he loves her before the train arrives or he’ll never see her again.”  Being that this is Sheffield, there are certain obstacles to overcome, not least the need to get out of someone else’s bed in order to get to the station on time. In the second verse, the characters change and Cocker works himself into the song so that the girl rejects the train and comes running back down the platform towards him.  In Pulp’s world, nothing is simple though.  The song takes place against the backdrop of a breakup and the re-use of the line “The world is ending/ the sky is falling down” implies that the only thing worse for this couple than breaking up might be
staying together.  It features plenty of touches that would become familiar over the subsequent years as Pulp became better known such as Cocker’s passionate “yeah, yeah, yeah”s, the Pulp Ascent in which the music builds up behind Cocker before waiting to explode (examples can be heard in the coda of Common People and everything after the opening lines in Mis-Shapes) and the Big Ending in which you can imagine Nick Banks orchestrating audience applause with his cymbal rattles at the end of live performances of the track.  Considering that O.U. (Gone, Gone) had been released by Gift Records to do battle with Fire Records Separations album, it’s only fair that I put up something from Separations which could be thought as a companion piece to O.U. (Gone, Gone) despite pre-dating it. Don’t You Want Me Anymore? sees Cocker returning to the girl and town he took a train out of 18 months previously expecting her to fall into his arms again and be acclaimed as a returning hero only to find that time stands still for no-one.

Videos courtesy of Pulp - Topic and Neptune’s Trident

All lyrics copyright of Jarvis Cocker

Thursday, 3 October 2019

The Comedy of Errors: John Fahey - Revelation (29 May 1992)

Where do Radio 1 DJs go when they’ve outlived their usefulness to Radio 1?  If we put ourselves inside the psyche of your average Radio 1 DJ, the moment they leave the station is one on a par with discovering their first grey hair or the realisation that they make noises when they bend down.  Leaving Radio 1? YOU’RE OLD!  That’s pretty public shaming and in the early 90s, it would become very pertinent in terms of the station’s reinvention into something that would get me acting my age and listening to it rather than listening to Radio 2, which I did through my teen years up to my 19th birthday in 1995.  In fact, I think I may have still had Radio 2 as my station of choice at the point where Steve Wright joined them, at which point I made my excuses and started listening to Radio 1.  In the 21st Century, a number of the DJs I fell in love with on mid-90s Radio 1 ended up doing stints on Radio 2: Chris EvansMark GoodierSimon MayoJo Whiley and Mark Radcliffe are the most obvious examples.  Even the specialists in 1995/96 found their way there eventually; take a bow Dave Pearce and Trevor Nelson.
The procession of talent to Radio 2 was not a new or sudden event.  One look at the photograph of Radio 1 disc-jockeys taken in 1967 at the launch of the station shows faces that are more automatically associated with Radio 2: Terry WoganJimmy Young.  And as the station ploughed on through its “classic” period, so many of the names associated with it at that time eventually found homes at Radio 2: Ed StewartDavid HamiltonAlan FreemanJanice Long.  Even now, you can still find Tony BlackburnJohnnie Walker and Gary Davies spinning tunes and hosting flagship shows.  But one man who was not allowed to rock up to a Radio 2 studio and open his record box was John Peel.  That’s not to say that Peel didn’t brush against Radio 2 from time to time, but his contributions seem to have been restricted to narrating documentaries, though I remember The Law Game which Peel was a regular panellist on during the early 80s when his profile was expanding thanks to his TV appearances on Top of the Pops and The Late, Late Breakfast Show.
Peel never had to look for an alternative radio home, though there must have been periods such as the mid-80s or the arrival of Matthew Bannister and Trevor Dann where he possibly readied himself to type up his CV and hawk himself around.  If Radio 1 ever had let him go, it’s unthinkable that he would have gone to Radio 2 - certainly not in the cosy incarnation that I first started listening to in the mid-80s, or even possibly around 1993-94.  No, I suspect that if he had ever needed a new outlet to play music on, he would have moved to Radio 3 given that from time to time on his playlists, tracks would appear that would not be out of place on a Petroc Trelawny running order.  John Fahey’s Revelation is a supreme example of this.

Throughout his life, Fahey appears to have approached playing the acoustic guitar as a way of
climbing inside  his country, local community, the world at large and God Himself.  Fahey’s work encompasses folk, Delta-blues, gospel, roots and world music.  So devoted was he to acoustic blues that several of his earliest works featured songs credited to an early 20th Century Blues pioneer called Blind Joe Death, a pseudonym that Fahey went under.  One of his Blind Joe Death compositions missed the cut on this blog when Peel played it on 8 March 1992.  In attempting to tip his hat towards his formative influences, he found himself hailed as a pioneer in American primitive guitar.  In the knowingly, mythological sleevenotes to his 1964 album, Death Chants, Break Downs & Military Waltzes, this is referenced as “a way in which [Fahey] could express the intensely personal, bitter-sweet, biting, soul-stirring volk [sic] poetry of the harsh, elemental but above all human life of the downtrodden Takoma Park people.”

Revelation is the opening track from his 1989 album,  God, Time and Causality.  It’s a slide guitar led piece of Delta-blues based on Charley Patton’s 1929 recording of You’re Gonna Need Somebody When You Die which quotes from the Book of Revelation.  Later in 1992, Fahey would release a new LP with one of the all time great album titles:  Old Girlfriends and Other Horrible Memories.

Video courtesy of Awkadan.

How many of these guys would have playlisted John Fahey on Radio 2?