Monday, 10 May 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Johnny Staton and the Feathers - At the Altar (15 November 1992)

Never get tired of stuff like that said Peel after playing this slice of 1957 vintage doo-wop.  At the Altar was a new discovery for him thanks to a blandly named but recently released compilation album from Ace Records.  I don’t think it’s as good as Sonny Til and the Orioles version of Crying in the Chapel, but the mid-section, where Staton makes clear his devotion and need to fulfil his promise to his fiancée, seems to foretell my beloved A Thousand Stars, a track which would have still held relevance to me in 1992.  I also like the way that amid all the lush romanticism of this track, it still manages to slip in a surprisingly prosaic line about going somewhere exotic for their honeymoon.

Video courtesy of the NickNicola.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Astralasia & Suns of Arqa - Sul-E-Stomp [Ceilidh Mix] (15 November 1992)

Give ‘em a jig!

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to come from a show I was critical of and pick up on a new show which features a copper-bottomed classic banger.  Forget all talk about meditative sound or records which evoke spring cleaning, this mix of Sul-E-Stomp thrilled me from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, feet which want to burst into joyous, euphoric dancing every time I hear this track.

The basis for Sul-E-Stomp comes from Scully’s Reel, originally recorded by the World Music collective, Suns of Arqa for their 1980 debut album, Revenge of the Mozabites.  Sped up and given a James Brown backbeat by Astralasia, a Magic Mushroom Band side project which has now now gone on to outlast its mothership, the listener is taken on a breakneck journey which whisks us from rural Ireland to Detroit and Goa/Ibiza especially during the monumental battle that takes place between synthesizers and power-chording guitars that starts from 3:05 and builds in intensity up to 4:52.  It sounds like two giants living on neighbouring stars having a fight and it made the hairs on my neck stand up.

Through late 1992, Peel had been playing a lot of Celtic music from a CD called Music at Matt Malloy’s, so to hear that genre amped up and turbocharged in the way that Astralasia do here would have been very appealing to him.  For me, it was nothing less than a re-affirmation of why I do this blog and the wonderful treats that John Peel could pass on to those who stuck with him.  It’s the very epitome of his “Don’t like that record?  Well, hang on a minute, what do you think of this one?” credo.

Video courtesy of h3lme

Sunday, 2 May 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: John Peel’s Music - BFBS (Sunday 8 November 1992)

I know I usually save this until the end of the housekeeping notes about the various John Peel programmes which provide selections for this blog, but the most striking thing about this Peel show was just how many tracks I initially slated for inclusion on my metaphorical mixtape, only to reject them when it came to revisiting them.  I don’t think I’ve ever changed my mind on quite so many tracks from a Peel playlist before.  Those who lost their appeal (in every sense of the phrase) included:

Pavement - Frontwards - My notes tell me that I heard the last minute of this track from their Watery, Domestic EP, so it had to give it a chance in case the majority of the song was worth keeping.  But over all it was fairly desultory stuff and for the second time in a fortnight, I proved to be immune to something from Pavement’s latest EP.

Bourbonese Qualk - Knee Jerk Reaction - This was a borderline miss as it had meditative qualities amid its motorik beats and deconstructed techno sound that I found quite appealing.  It would have made for a decent split single with Disemboweled Corpse for its ability to pull some kind of order out of musical chaos.  But it lost out because it ultimately wasn’t anywhere near as memorable for me as Cesspool of Sorrow had been.  Nevertheless, Peel had some kind words to say about the Knee Jerk Reaction EP and Bourbonese Qualk’s move into dance music, especially when comparing it to some of their previous releases which he summarised as a lot of burbling and squirting; electronic stuff of a, by and large, unlistenable nature.

Rat Patrol - Use and Forget - Despite taking their name from a 1960s American TV series, Rat Patrol were a Dutch punk band hailing from Groningen.  Peel had made a first visit to Groningen during his Grand Tour of Europe the previous month and had loved it, describing it as the kind of place where his eldest son, William, would like to go to university.

Sonic Youth - Ca Plane Pour Moi - I appreciate this will make me sound like an old stick in the mud but I hate Ca Plane Pour Moi, a 1978 hit for Plastic Bertrand so much, that simply hearing the original makes me want to break out a Barclay James Harvest anthology in retaliation.  I think my liking of Sonic Youth was what initially inspired me to include their cover of it, which can be found on an album of contemporary bands covering New wave era tracks called Freedom of Choice.  However despite their best efforts, they were still, in my opinion, attempting to put glitter on diarrhoea.

Big Black - Crack Up - I think this made it onto the list originally because every time I hear Peel play Big Black, I optimistically hope that he will be playing something which has the mesmerising wallop of a track like Kerosene, only for such optimism to be misplaced.  Peel appears to have included this track due to having read a possibly inaccurate report that Steve Albini was going to scale back his production work on other artists’ material.  This led Peel to hope that Albini would strap on his guitar and start playing again.

Bimbo Shrineheads - Separating Your Face From My Windshield - Peel confessed that he would have played this track regardless of its quality, due to its unforgettable title.  You might be expecting something death-metalish but instead it’s closer to Goth-folk.  I was initially taken by it but ultimately the rather brittle-sounding production put me off.

 Drop Nineteens - My Aquarium - Eminently forgettable sub-grunge, albeit given a twist with the boy/girl shared vocals, which might have distracted me from the ironing when I first heard it but failed to stand up to a repeat listen

The Attack - Anymore Than I Do - From 1967.  The Attack were one of those bands grouped together  with The Creation or The Idle Race as one of the great “lost mainstream” bands in that it scarcely seems credible that they never had a big hit.  However, a listen to this single shows that this may have been because they sounded a little bit off the shelf in comparison to the more idiosyncratic and bespoke sounds of bands that their disciples consider them to be superior to such as  The Who or Small Faces, while they found themselves being outflanked by the likes of The Move, whose eclecticism  managed to combine the best of both the UK Mod-Soul scene with the American West Coast Sound.  When he was working for  Radio London, Peel used to loop the opening riff of this track as the musical bed for trailers.  That riff was most likely played by Davy O’List, who would go on to play guitar for one of Peel’s favourite groups across 1967/68, The Nice.

Given the circumstances, I’d probably have ended up going off the one track I wanted to include but couldn’t hear, which was a cover of the Cheap Trick song, Auf Weidersehn as performed by Cell.

The programme featured several records by several future mainstream chart acts including  Hotstepper Returns by Ini Kamoze  Was he really singing “Noel Edmonds in the morning”, Peel wondered.  Also getting a spin was the latest single by Chumbawamba with its chorus refrain of “Someone always telling you how to behave”  When you’re a child it’s your parents, and when you’re a parent it’s your children.  It’s most irritating.  I have terrible rows with our William, who’s 16, because temperamentally we’re very much alike. And we have huge rows, 2 or 3 times a week and we usually end up weeping and making up and being best pals again, until something else comes up.

He apologised for sounding slightly manic at the start of the programme, which was nothing to do with a row with William, but rather due to the stress of driving into London.  It’s a terrible place! If I didn’t have to work here, I’d never come here.

Had I been listening to this show at the time it went out, I would have been saddened to hear the news that Milk, whose excellent track Claws was a big favourite of mine in the early days of this blog, had split up.  However, as one Milk was poured away, fresh Milk was delivered in the form of an American band of the same name.  Peel played a track from their Making the Most of Limited Hearing EP called Hunting Like Animals.

A letter from Hamburg asked him to play something by the cultiest of cult comediansTed Chippington and he was happy to oblige.

But the most surprising track on the playlist - even to Peel himself - was the version of Arthur McBride as  recorded by Bob Dylan on his new album, Good As I Been To You.  Over the previous couple of years, Peel had been handing on, unheard, new Dylan albums to a friend in his village.  He had only listened to the album, the day that the programme was recorded, so that he could counter Andy Kershaw’s inevitable praise for it.  However, he was genuinely surprised by how much he had enjoyed the album, appreciating both the stripped down production/arrangements and the tracklisting, which was predominantly made up of covers and which featured, what Peel perceived to be a bit of a Lonnie Donegan influence due to the presence of several tracks which he had recorded such as Frankie and Johnny and Froggy Went a’Courtin

I didn’t include it because I couldn’t get on with Dylan’s vocal, which provided a great example of what Peter Baynham once described on The Saturday Night Armistice as him ...going up to the microphone and just going “HNNNNNNNUUUUUNNN” Honestly, it’s like he’s singing out of the centre of his nose!

Of particular interest around the playing of this Dylan track though, was Peel relating the effects of what he described in the précis of a potential autobiography submitted earlier in 1992 and subsequently printed 13 years later in the postscript to Margrave of the Marshes as a piss-taking review of a Dylan concert..

5, 6, 7 years ago, I did a review for The Observer, of a Bob Dylan concert at Wembley.  And I disliked it intensely.  I couldn’t bear the kind of attitude, the complete lack of communication with the audience, the arrogance of it all - of course when Mark E. Smith does pretty much the same thing, I think it’s wonderful, so I have to recognise there’s a bit an inconsistency here.  But I found it most irritating.  I spent most of my time, because I had to keep getting up as I was so cross, they had made some rather nice chocolate brownies, which they used to sell from a stall there.  So most of my review was about the brownies rather than Bob Dylan and I was a bit ungenerous about him.  It was quite interesting because as copies of that edition of the Observer started going in British libraries around the world, I got more hate mail about that than I’ve ever received in my entire life.  You couldn’t believe how venomous some of the letters were.  The further around the world that copy of the Observer went, the more hysterical the mail became - and the funnier too, because a lot of them were couched were in fairly fractured English....

Being an enigma at 20 is fun, being an enigma at 30 shows a lack of imagination and being an enigma at Dylan’s age is just plain daft. From the moment the living legend took to the stage, it was evident that here was business he wanted to accomplish with the minimum of effort. (From Peel’s review of the Dylan concert. Published in the Observer on 18 October 1987)

A load of other tracks that I didn’t like.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Zimbabwe Cha Cha Cha Kings - Mudiwa Lucy (8 November 1992)

The skittering guitar riff that forms the backbone to this track has been in my psyche for so long, I was convinced that Mudiwa Lucy had been covered here previously, but it seems not, and I’m appalled that on some of their previous mentions here, I appear to have taken a Cha off the Zimbabwe Cha Cha Cha Kings name.

According to Urban Dictionary, Mudiwa is a name heard in Shona Zimbabwe culture meaning “loved one” or “darling”. However, it is usually applied to male names.  While calling a song Darling Lucy makes it out to be - potentially, because I don’t have a translation of the lyrics - a love song to a woman, I did wonder whether in Shona culture, Lucy might be a name given to boys similar to MarionShirley or Beverly.  The high-pitched spoken word duologue at 3:41 could be between a woman and a man, but given that the high-pitched voice is being done by a man, I like to think it captures a young Shona boy complaining bitterly about being called Lucy while the soft spoken adult tries to console him with talk of the great achievements other men with female names have achieved.  
If this is true - and I’m aware that it probably isn’t but humour me for a moment - it’s a reflection of that period in a child’s life where every thing which has been given to them  that they didn’t ask for is wrong.  I hated my name for a spell when I was a child, fervently wishing that I’d been called Billy instead, after the comic strip character Billy Dane.  Still, it could have been worse - from a child’s viewpoint - my father wanted to call me Bradley which I would have found unendurable as a child.  Inevitably, I made peace with my name as I grew up and I hope Lucy grew into a strapping fine lad and did so too.

Video courtesy of salsomano.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: C.J. Bolland - Spring Yard (8 November 1992)

So box-fresh is that, that I can’t even give you a title for it - John Peel after playing Spring Yard on 8/11/92.

It seems splendidly appropriate to be posting a track called Spring Yard today.  As I look outside my window, I can see one  of those gorgeously blue sunny skies which showcase April at its best and which offer hope that the winter may finally be over.  Being the UK, this can’t be taken as read.  Earlier this week it was snowing here in Orpington.  But nevertheless, it’s weather which seems to say, “Come outside and stay outside. Wash away the fog which has hung over you by staying inside and start making all those changes you promised you that you would make.”  Essentially, a blooming springtime offers the distilled message to us all: “Freshen up.”

That usually means spring cleaning and more work as we get into jobs around the house or garden. I feel this keenly at the moment because my wife and I are due to move house soon, so we'll be tidying and refreshing two houses - the one we’re leaving and the one we’re moving to.  Given that moving house was listed as one of the 5 most stressful experiences that a human being can go through*, it will be interesting to see how long any positive April vibes last for.  But if we have  C.J. Bolland as our soundtrack, we should make it through just fine.
Spring Yard is spring cleaning set to music.  The opening pounding beat, sounds either like a fast heartbeat as one contemplates the scale of tasks set in front of you, or the relentless sound of a saw being used to make things or break things up.  The tempo quickens as the work progresses, there are yelps of frustration and effort noises as things are pulled out of the corner of sheds and garages, either to be used or thrown out.  Bolland layers his instrumentation simultaneously evoking both the energy expended during working and the relentless onslaught of jobs and things waiting to be done, demanding the attention.

Then at 3:25, there is a period of euphoria when the tasks appear to be complete and the projects have come to fruition and the house/garden/shed is finally looking as we always wanted it to. But Bolland knows the eternal truth, that things become tidy and clean for one reason only - to become messy and dirty  again.  And so the euphoric synths start to be overladen with beats and that effect you hear in dance records which sounds like a symphony of tightly wound rubber bands being played en masse (a digeridoo perhaps?)  We end on a fade out with the euphoria replaced by the sound of new jobs to be done and the freshness overwhelmed by mundanity once again.

*The other four stressful things were listed as death of a spouse, divorce, Christmas Day and driving. This gave rise to Dave Allen’s immortal observation that the most stressful thing a person could do would be to drive your dead ex-spouse to have a look at a house you’re going to move into on Christmas Day.

Video courtesy of Underground Sounds M

Sunday, 11 April 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Disemboweled Corpse - Cesspool of Sorrow (8 November 1992)

After about thirty seconds the adrenalin sets in; people are screaming and shaking their fists.  After a minute you wonder what’s going on.  Strobe lights are going mad and you begin to feel the throb in your chest.  After another minute, it’s total confusion.  People’s faces take on a look of bewilderment.  The noise starts hurting.  The noise continues. After three minutes you begin to take deep breaths.  Some people in the audience stoop down into the crowd and cover their ears and eyes.  Anger takes over.  A few people leave the room.  After about four minutes, a calm takes over.  The noise continues.  After five minutes, a feeling of utter piece takes over...
Mark Cox on the Apocalypse section of live performances of You Made Me Realise by My Bloody Valentine.  Quote taken from The Creation Records Story - My Magpie Eyes are Hungry For The Prize by David Cavanagh Virgin Books, 2000. (Page 370)

You think I’m making all this up don’t you? - John Peel when cueing up Cesspool of Sorrow by Disemboweled Corpse on the 8/11/92 edition of John Peel’s Music.

I don’t want to mislead you. While I like and recommend Cesspool of Sorrow it isn’t in the same class as You Made Me Realise.  Stylistically the tracks are a million miles apart too, but I cited My Bloody Valentine here because Cesspool of Sorrow is perhaps the first example of a grindcore track which has afforded me a sense of peace and serenity while listening to it, similar to that which the Apocalypse section of You Made Me Realise tried to lull listeners into.  I put it all down to the work of the unidentified bassist because while the guitarist and their feedback are pushed back in the mix, the vocalist growls away to urgently comic effect and the drummer sounds like they’re soundchecking, the whole core of the track revolves around that repetitive, quickening bassline which sparks like synapses and burrows into the heart and brain while all else flails around it.  I often find grindcore pretty dreary or forgettable, it’s no surprise that it and death/speed metal have often been poorly represented on this blog despite Peel’s support for the genre.  A little bit of Happy Flowers and do Badgewearer count?  I hope so given that N’Alien Head is one of my favourite tunes of 1992.  But too often the lack of anything to hang on to means that I can pass on most of it.  But that bassline throbs away almost hypnotically.  Fix yourself on that, block out all else and surrender to some form of inner peace.

Video courtesy of John Peel.  Taken from Peel’s Radio 1 show on 14 November 1992 and leading on to...

Video courtesy of Underground Sounds M

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Wedding Present - The Queen of Outer Space (8 November 1992)

I wasn’t to know it at the time, obviously, but one of the consequences of not being involved in any plays between June and October 1992 was that this blog was deprived of the opportunity to run the rule over The Wedding Present’s singles releases over the same period.  Considering that their last entry here was the majestic California, this could have been the cause of some regret.  So, it has been a slight personal relief to discover just how underwhelmed I’ve been by Boing!Sticky and Love Slave.  Flying Saucer would have been a borderline miss, but the best of it has probably helped The Queen of Outer Space over the line and onto the metaphorical mixtape.

To be honest, I don’t think the song is anything particularly special. It’s a default piece of David Gedge romantic worship albeit with a slight trans/androgyny slant, When she began/She was a man etc which suggested that Gedge had been watching The Man Who Fell to Earth or something similar when writing the track.  What appeals to me about it is the vocal.  Forget about Anyone Can Play Guitar, Gedge’s strangulated attempt at a rawk vocal on the I feel beautiful beside her line would have, and still does, given heart to me that it doesn’t matter if you don’t sound like McCartney or Cobain when going for a throat shredder vocal line, just as long as you commit to it.  In fact, Gedge was probably being very shrewd just to go for it and damn the consequences.  For just as his writing, at its best, reflected the emotional and romantic concerns of The Wedding Present’s audience, so he correctly deduced that 98% of the audience which consumes rock music would sound closer to him rather than Robert Plant and in doing so furthered his claim to be the true voice (in both senses of the word) of the lives and emotions of the rock audience.

I don’t know if any of you reading this have a song which you sing along with in order to test your own “rawk” voice against.  For me, I tend to try my luck with the McCartney parts on I’ve Got a Feeling.

Video courtesy of FernCardenas
Lyrics copyright of David Gedge