Friday, 3 December 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Dave Gray and the Graytones - The Weird One (29 November 1992)



Well, this will make you smile. The Peel show that I’m currently making selections from included Shine by David Gray, released well in advance of his success with White Ladder.  I haven’t included Shine among my selections and it remains to be seen whether David Gray ever appears here.  However, what I can offer you today is Dave Gray, lead guitarist with the Graytones, who released a solitary 45 in 1959 called You’re the One, and pretty execrable it was too.  However, the B-side, a slinky, stylish instrumental called The Weird One was a different beast entirely.  Peel was often apt to play records which sounded like things he would have played at home while getting ready for a night out during his early years in America, and there’s a swagger to The Weird One which evokes walking down boulevards past all-night diners, bars and clubs, while young people talk to each other from open-top cars while pulled up to the sidewalk.  
It’s a wonderfully evocative record, given a potential new audience through its appearance on a 1986 compilation album called Strummin’ Mental! Volume One.  The only false note is struck by the scream/depraved laugh towards the end of the track which suggests that The Weird One of the title is a flasher.  I think this may have been a deliberate intention, if only to contrast with its insipid A-side.

Video courtesy of Bob Bradley.

Saturday, 27 November 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Moonshake - Sweetheart (29 November 1992)



As with the previous Moonshake track to be played by Peel, Sweetheart was one of “hers”, so consequently it takes on strange, mysterious, disarming textures.  Just like Little Thing, it feels like what we’re hearing are the mechanics of music making - here evidenced both by Miguel Moreland’s clattering drumwork and kronky guitars which sound like they’re trying to hawk up a lungful of phlegm - while, tantalisingly heard in the background, we can make out the performance of Margaret Fiedler’s subdued vocal. Her performance walks the line between sex kitten and femme fatale, but it was too quiet for me to be able to make out whether her character was giving a come on or a kiss off. The high, fluting backing vocals suggest the former, but the stabs of acid jazz brass suggest the latter.  It may be hard to pin down but it all sounds seductively brilliant.  
Indeed, as the blog heads into the home strait of Peel’s 1992 shows, and I reflect on one of the long forgotten aims of this blog to buy as many of the records that caught my ear as possible, I find myself pondering that the Eva Luna album may be one of the few from Peel’s 1992 playlists that I would actually want to own.  Discogs UK dealers may be having turkey for Christmas after all.

Video courtesy of We Came to Dance

Thursday, 18 November 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Coupé Cloué - Souvenir D’Enfance (29 November 1992)



Having recently brought you tracks which deal with depression/isolation and suicide, it’s a relief to be able to lighten the mood with some Haitian party music courtesy of Coupé Cloue.  I don’t think the childhood memory of the song’s title suggests anything too traumatic, though full translations will be gratefully received.

Video courtesy of Bon Melomane

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Therapy? - Perversonality (29 November 1992)



After a couple of recent instances where my teenaged affection for Therapy? wan’t strong enough to include tracks of theirs played by John Peel across the autumn/winter of 1992 on this blog, it comes as something of a relief to be able to embrace Perversonality like a newly met, long-lost friend.  If that analogy sounds like an oxymoron, I should explain that I had never heard Perversonality before hearing it on this edition of John Peel’s Music but straightaway it reminded me  of exactly why I liked Therapy? back in the day. 
All the elements of classic Therapy? are there: strong opening guitar line, funky bass, drumming which feels like a character in its own right, Andy Cairns with another cosplaying serial killer style vocal, lyrical themes of emotional conflict Love you and I hate you in the same breath etc, only for a definitive verdict to be arrived at by the 2:10 mark and which heralds a rapidly building sense of anguish/mania; the aural equivalent of someone prepping themselves for a suicide attempt. This is followed by a burst of guitar which sounds like emergency room procedures desperately trying to bring the victim back to life, only to level off and guide the listener safely through to a sampled testimony from what sounds like a support group meeting for emotionally vulnerable people.  Therapy?’s use of samples was always one of their most fascinatingly striking qualities because, as is the case here, it helped to ground their songs into some kind of relatable reality.  The sample used here feels perfectly in sync with a track whose object of affection and disgust appears to be Cairns himself.  People often got hurt, rejected and damaged within the narrative of Therapy?’s songs, and that damage was often turned inward.  

It’s naughty of me to describe Cairns’s vocal style as cosplaying. Regardless of whether he sang from experience or as a persona, his voice was the sound of scars which were either inflicted on other people’s bodies or his own psyche. For a brief period, Therapy?’s music helped me to both land and absorb my own blows, trivial though they were. Perversonality is the first track of theirs that I’ve heard in a long time which reminds me of how valuable that was for me.

Video courtesy of Therapy?
All lyrics are copyright of their authors.

Friday, 12 November 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Codeine - Realize (29 November 1992)



This was a knife-edge, borderline inclusion and I can well imagine that if I ever had put it onto a metaphorical mixtape, I’d be impatient with it 9 plays out of every 10.  Not to mention the fact that the title is spelled incorrectly - but I’ll have to go along with their foolishness this time, I guess.

Whether they wanted the label or not, New York band Codeine were the anointed kings of slowcore in the early 1990s, a fact which John Peel would wryly reference when cueing Realize up on this programme.  What seems to be apparent is that Codeine were pretty faithful to the tenets of slowcore during their 5 year  career.  Not that they lacked range, they could do loud and they could do strange, but they never really did fast.  This meant that they provided a valuable offshoot to the prevailing sound of American rock music in the early 1990s: all the angst and introspection of grunge but without the harsh, abrasiveness of Nirvana et al. This really was music for people who kept the curtains drawn against the afternoon sun all day, every day.  There’s no rage here, only melancholy mixed with fear, exhaustion and fragility.  If you sprinkle some sugar and food colouring on it, you’ve virtually got twee pop.  For myself, I can only take it in small doses and that’s still the case even after listening to - and enjoying in parts - Codeine’s debut album, Frigid Stars LP (1990), which FACT Magazine, the same people who felt that Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was the best album of the 90s, also found space to include on their list.  It was placed at 97th on their list which is where I would put it if someone held a gun to my head and told me to compile a list of what I felt the best albums of the 90s were but ensuring that I put Frigid Stars LP on there somewhere. I’d likely have it between Left of the Middle by Natalie Imbruglia and One Love by Delakota.

Realize was intended to be part of Codeine’s follow-up album to Frigid Stars LP, but in 1992 there seemed to be something in the air which stopped bands from successfully recording sophomore efforts after making their names with commercially or critically successful debut albums. British rock fans of a certain musical persuasion will be able to tell you the story - like an old folk tale passed down these last 29 years - of how Blur tried and failed to record a follow up to their Top 10 debut album, Leisure, and nearly suffered a premature dissolution as well as squandering EMI’s time and budget.  Well, through an odyssey of studios dotted around America’s East Coast and on a tighter budget than Blur’s, Codeine went through the same fruitlessly, abortive process thanks to a mixture of bad luck, bad decisions, perfectionism and technical incompatibility between the sounds they heard in their heads and the sounds the studios actually made.  However, unlike Blur, who went back to the drawing board, resurrected the best of the content they had tried to record in 1992 and supplemented it with newly written songs to produce Modern Life is Rubbish in 1993, Codeine did have enough completed material from the sessions to put them into an EP which they titled Barely Real and which featured Realize as both its opening track and breakout single release.

With its unchanging tempo, Realize feels like a first draft idea, but what the band achieve successfully with it is to filter through the track a tangible sense of ennui and drift that, for all my carping about it, successfully draws the listener in to its unhappy mood.  I can sense just how comforting the wash of John Engle’s guitar and the gentle implorations of Stephen Immerwahr’s vocal must have been to listeners who either found the weight of the world too heavy to bear most days or as implied by the line, Look at me just with your eyes were desperately, shyly trying to catch the attention of the love of their life.  People needed the protection which a track like Realize offered.  It would have been churlish to deny it to them back then, and equally churlish to deny it to them now.

Video courtesy of tommygunx.  Lyrics are copyright of their authors.

Friday, 5 November 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Aphex Twin - Schottkey 7th Path (29 November 1992)



Having started 1992 by releasing one of the year’s most striking 12-inch singlesRichard D. James ended the year by releasing his debut album. Seven years in the making, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was a collection of ambient electronica tracks recorded by James, predominantly live and in many instances, on nothing more complex than a cassette.  It took the ambient templates set down by the likes of Brian Eno and incorporated loose elements of acid house and techno - arguably the two key non-verbal  musical genres to emerge over the period 1985-92 - with a subtlety and immense technical precision which helped birth a new sub-genre: Intelligent Dance Music (IDM).  Having listened to the album for the first time yesterday, I found myself reflecting that the tone of the album sounded familiar, mainly because so many other artists jumped in on the sound in the intervening years.  For a viewpoint on why Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was regarded as a gamechanger on its release, I recommend reading factmag.com’s selection of the 100 best albums of the 1990s, not least because in their view, it was the best album of the decade.

On its own, Schottkey 7th Path is a pleasant, contemplative piece of music.  It conjures a dubby, slightly jungalist vibe and on a mixtape, would represent a welcome moment of breathing space.  Heard in context of the album, it sits between  We Are the Music Makers, another track which showed just what an influence Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory had on dance musicians. and Ptolemy.  These are two of the more upbeat tracks on the album and both invite the listener to lose themselves in the collective consciousness of the crowd. Schottkey 7th Path provides the lifeline to one’s individuality among the masses. It’s an aural Blue Room for trippers to decompress before throwing oneself back onto the dancefloor.  If I ever find myself back in a job where I have to commute into the city and charge around in the pursuit of a living, I may make this part of the breakfast time playlist.  A moment of individual calm before submersion into the motorway or train carriage.

Video courtesy of R & S Records

Saturday, 30 October 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Automatic Dlamini feat. PJ Harvey - Putty (29 November 1992)



John Peel’s programmes could get people to overcome all sorts of biases and ignorant attitudes towards music.  Although there may be genres of music that one wouldn’t rush to embrace, Peel’s playlists invariably meant that there would always be something that would catch your attention and cause you to reassess your attitude towards the merits of that genre.  Likewise, Peel shows could also help you to look more closely at artists and performers that you may previously have been dismissive of or inattentive towards.  Such is the case here for me with John Parish and his band, Automatic Dlamini.

When I fell for the charms of PJ Harvey in 1995, John Parish was part of the picture and sound that helped sweep me along through the television appearances that Harvey made that year promoting tracks from her To Bring You My Love album, a record which Parish had co-produced with her.  Standing to her left, in classic lead musician position and either playing the relentless, unstoppable riff on Meet Ze Monsta or playing the shaker on Working For the Man, he clearly played as much of a part in constructing the soundscapes and ambience of Harvey’s music in that period as she did herself.  It shouldn’t be forgotten just how much of a stylistic shift To Bring You My Love was to those who remembered the PJ Harvey trio
sound of Dry and Rid of Me.  But it paid off, critically and commercially, and this may have been what persuaded  Island Records to sign off on their next PJ Harvey release being a collaboration between herself and Parish, in which he would set her lyrics to his music. It may also have been the label realising that this would probably be the only way in which they were liable to get any kind of timely follow up record from Harvey who had run herself into the ground during 1995 touring To Bring You My Love with the result that she ended up being signed off sick at the start of December 1995 and cancelling a string of live shows through that month, including the last show of the year in Bristol, which would have been the first ever “proper” gig that I was going to attend.  In the circumstances, sharing the load on a new album seemed like a sensible idea.
When the album, Dance Hall at Louse Point was released in September 1996, I learnt a little more about the ties that had bound Harvey and Parish together and how Harvey had started her musical career by joining Parish’s band, Automatic Dlamini. He had clearly been a huge influence on her, yet if you had said to me then, “Would you like to listen to an Automatic Dlamini album so you can hear a bit more of John Parish’s music?” I’d have probably made my excuses that I had something more urgent to do.  And this would have been purely down to snobbish incuriosity on my part.  I didn't mind hearing him working behind PJ Harvey, but why would I have wanted to hear him on his own?  She had the profile, he didn’t. And if he was so influential, why wasn’t his profile higher?  Oh, such shallow thinking and as ever, thank God for John Peel providing an opportunity to learn some musical lessons which I would otherwise have been too ignorant to do.

Formed in 1982, Automatic Dlamini look to have been a frustrating band to have followed if you were hoping for regular material from them. Their first releases including debut album, The D is For Drum came out during 1986/87, but 5 years had passed by the time their second album, From a Diva to a Diver appeared.  Not that they were inactive during that time. Harvey joined the band in 1988 and played on an unreleased album titled Here, Catch, Shouted His Father.  But she left in early 1991 together with drummer, Rob Ellis, although she contributed to several tracks on From a Diva to Diver including Putty, which with its brushed drums, slide-acoustic guitar and dustbowl blues tone feels like a warm up for tracks on Dance Hall at Louse Point such as Rope Bridge Crossing.  Lyrically, it has clear resonances towards the kind of music they were to make together on future projects with the sculptress of the song putting together the model of a feckless man and making cuts and slices into the clay like a voodoo sorceress.  A role which Harvey seemed born to play on a future track.  You can be sure that somewhere, some poor soul was experiencing a burning sensation somewhere painful as the sculptress uses fire to firm up the putty that she mutilates.

I had to take the opportunity to listen to other John Parish compositions on earlier Automatic Dlamini tracks and what struck me, from the admittedly limited sample I heard, was how Putty appeared to mark something of a departure for him from the predominant tone of Automatic Dlamini songs.  In Putty, and through his future work with Harvey, he sounds like Nick Cave with songs which feel like they are set in small, dimly lit cabins in the middle of vast desert wildernesses.  But with earlier tracks like Principles vs Feelings or Crazy Supper, he writes like Jarvis Cocker and sounds like Nick Heyward, by creating songs of intense but lyrical urban domestic disharmony.  If ever you wanted to make a Spotify playlist titled Yuppie Kitchen Sink music, then Automatic Dlamini would need to feature on it.  So, Putty represents quite a shift for Parish in the way that To Bring You My Love would be a shift for Harvey.  Their artistic bond has lasted up to the present day, but ultimately, who influenced who?

Video courtesy of blackartfox