Friday, 5 August 2022

Equus: The What Four - I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy (2 January 1993)

Originally released as a single on Columbia in 1966, I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy is both achingly of its time and slightly pioneering and far-sighted.  The What Four were marketed as an all girl garage band, but the sound of this record doesn’t suggest The Stooges or even anything that the all-girl groups at CBGB might have worked into their sets as a dim memory.  There’s an attempt to capture the galloping pace of a British Invasion-style hit (or someone’s idea of it, but it doesn’t quite gel).  The guitar solo sounds like an off-cut from a long forgotten surf record. All told it sounds less garage and more Go-Go, you can picture The What Four performing this on a TV show like Shindig! or Hullabaloo backed by an orchestra and dancing girls.
What makes it stand out are the relatively lo-fi production on the vocals - it sounds like all four women in the band are singing, but they’re mixed down with the result that the performance sounds scuzzy enough to qualify as garage rock rather than pop - and the directness of the lyrics which make no bones about the fact that the girls are going out with their looks and their sex appeal set to kill the object of their desire. They feel hot and they are going to make sure that the boy knows it and is powerless to resist it.  I’m guessing that for all the talk of keeping ammunition under cover, the bullets are going to be straining to escape the chamber; they’ll have someone’s eye out with those nipples....
There’s a bawdiness to the lyrics which would have made this tune a good fit for someone like Mae West.  Indeed, it’s a bit of a missed opportunity that when West recorded a rock ‘n’ roll album in 1966, at the age of 73, this song wasn’t put to her as one for potential inclusion.  However, its far-sightedness comes in the fact that its sexually charged sentiments and self image of “looking good, feeling hot, catching my prey” seems to suggest that the roots of female-centred hip-hop should acknowledge a small debt to this track.

I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy owed its place on Peel’s playlist to its inclusion on the tracklisting for Girls in the Garage Volume 5, Romulan Records, latest release chronicling the seemingly inexhaustible supply of girl pop groups in 1960s America. 

Video courtesy of funknroll.

Thursday, 28 July 2022

Equus: Barry Brown - Politition (2 January 1993)

Politition* is a surprising track.  It brings something not generally seen in songs about politicians, namely a sense of even-handedness. For while Barry Brown is perfectly happy to acknowledge that there are representatives playing God and living in swanky houses, while the people whose lives are affected by their decisions live  in poverty, he also mentions the larger political class who hold the title of politician but are utterly unable to do anything to stop people from being murdered or looting from taking place.  If crime springs from an inability to create an environment in which people can genuinely thrive and survive, then it speaks of an ongoing failure among politicians to enact widespread, positive actions for their community.  And as Brown mentions, the tragedy of Caribbean politics is that any political figure who does bring the promise of change and who threatens interests that they are not supposed to either winds up bought or dead.
Brown’s song touches on both those who have their nose in the trough - who are envied and despised -  those who hold no power to go with their title - who cannot make a difference and are destined to be forgotten once they are voted out - those who are perceived as a threat and who must be snuffed out by any means necessary.  And so the people end up with a political chamber full of the corrupt,  the inert and the cowed. While it doesn’t break any new ground to sing about politicians being useless, this does at least acknowledge that there are some who find their powerlessness a sense of great frustration rather than simply an opportunity for a cushy payday. It reminds me of a passage in the acknowledgements section of Jeremy Paxman’s 2002 book, The Political Animal in which he cites an unnamed UK MP who was so depressed about what he was doing and failing to do, that he couldn’t bring himself to talk to Paxman about his job.

This nearly didn’t make the cut. The track was produced by Bunny Lee who plasters everything in dub, almost to the extent of erasing Brown from his own recording, but he clung on and a thoughtful sleeper track was the result.

*Subsequent pressings gave the title with the Anglo spelling, but the original 7-inch on Lee’s Jackpot label carried the patois spelling, and as that was the disc which Peel played on this show, that’s the spelling we’ll go with here.

Video courtesy of Reggae2Reggae.

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Equus: Gravel - Lone Ride (2 January 1993)

Sounding astonishingly like Nirvana, remarked John Peel after playing this track from Gravel’s Break-A-Bone LP on Estrus Records.  In the short term, I have to admit that the similarity swung it for me in terms of including Lone Ride on this blog, but I’m sure that at the time, there would have been Nirvana fans who were incandescent with rage at how blatantly and shamelessly Gravel had ripped off Nirvana’s sound, while vocalist Bryan Elliott channelled Kurt Cobain’s every vocal tic, seemingly down to the last octave. Surely, the only consolation was that with their unprepossessing name, Gravel were destined to remain fixtures only on John Peel playlists or those of obscure rock music stations heard via W or K fuckknowswhere in America, meaning they would be unable to perpetrate their audio con on an unsuspecting, wider audience.

In trying to be fair to Elliott and Gravel, I wondered whether they were merely victims of unavoidable local issues. After all, they were formed in  Washington state in a city called Anacortes.  I wondered whether maybe the Cobain-style drawl which Elliot sings the majority of Lone Ride in was in fact, an all-purpose Washington state singing voice.  Maybe Cobain wasn't so special or unique after all if every 15th person in the state sounded like him whenever they sang. Did college state football games throughout Washington periodically open with someone giving a Kurt-a-like rendition of The Star Spangled Banner?  Given the state of some of the renditions which poor American sports fans are subjected to then this may not have been an entirely awful prospect. Were there male voice choirs in which the harmonies were split among tenors, baritones and Cobains?  It's an intriguing thought but alas it doesn't hold up when listening to other tracks recorded by Gravel over the brief but busy period they released records over 1991-93.  
It turns out that in the main Bryan Elliott sounded very different from Cobain on most of Gravel's material. As a case in point, listen to Bucket of Blood, the opening track on Break-A-Bone or anything from their 1993 album, No Stone Unturned Therefore, we must conclude that the Nirvana stylings in Lone Ride were an intentional decision, but was it a pastiche or a parody?  

I'd say the former, because what cannot get lost in all this is recognition that Lone Ride is a good song on its own terms, regardless of who it sounds like or what its inspirations may have been.  It's a coin toss as to whether the lone ride of the title refers to an introspective trip to find oneself, a drug journey or perhaps a route to suicide.  The reference to a letter that can't be sent in the lyrics provides a potentially chilling portent, though that could be me reading too much into the Cobain connection.  Regardless, I listened to a lot of Gravel's music in order to find out how they sounded when testing out my Washington state singing voice theory. I have to say that while their name sucked, their music didn't, especially their version of Pissing in a River originally recorded by Patti Smith.

Video courtesy of s142057

Sunday, 17 July 2022

Equus: Pierre Moutouari - Nzanginika (2 January 1993)

With the UK set to swelter under record breaking temperatures over the next few days, dancing may be the last thing on anyone’s mind at the moment. But if you do decide to hold a party over the next couple of days, then I thoroughly recommend Nzanginika from Pierre Moutouari as a floor filler for your Spotify playlist.  It does away with the standard soukous template of slow start into storming finish; instead Nzanginika goes straight for the jugular and propels the listener onto the dancefloor from the opening note. The invigorating guitar work and cries of Allez, Allez, Allez makes this feel like the soukous equivalent of Johnny B Goode. Having started so strong, it slightly loses energy as it nears its end, but if you are looking to get in some exercise during the heatwave, simply open your refrigerator door, turn this up loud and jit for all you’re worth.

Video courtesy of Raices Musicales Cartagena

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Equus: Gloworm - I Lift My Cup (To the Spirit Divine) [Altered State Mix] (2 January 1993)

It took me a couple of searches before I was able to find a video of the Altered State mix of Gloworm’s Top 20 hit single, I Lift My Cup (To the Spirit Divine).  While doing so, I chanced upon the radio edit of the track and realised to my nostalgic delight that having reached 1993, I shall be able to enjoy for a time, what I considered the Golden Age of Clubland Techno. Not in a Ministry of Sound sense, but I certainly remember those catchy, shrill synths of the radio edit on I Lift My Cup soundtracking walks around the edge of the dancefloor of various Cornish nightclubs through 1993 to about 1995.  Those walks were usually done with drink in hand and invariably seemed to be accompanying me and my friends during the hour of purgatory that would be spent if you arrived too early at a nightclub so that you could find somewhere to sit. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to know you’d ensured that you weren’t going to be on your feet for 2 and a half hours, but with the nightclub empty and the music blasting out regardless, one invariably fell into (physically) strained conversation rather than dancing.  All dressed up but with no-one to appreciate it.  The only consolation if you were visiting the awful but spacious Club International in Falmouth was that the tracks would invariably come round again an hour or so later, once the club had filled up a bit, given the paucity of records their DJ had.  This was a man who I once heard play a set in a pub next to where Club I was. He finished up just as last orders were called and we were all having such a good evening’s drinking that we decided to go to the club for a few more drinks.  He promptly turned up at the club as well and proceeded to play exactly the same set with the same banal commentary that we had heard him deliver for the previous 2 hours.

The Altered State mix trades up the club synths for a weird hybrid vibe that brings in wah-wah guitar to provide an Outback feel, which is odd given that none of the main players in the Gloworm collective were Australian.  Nevertheless, the sense of wilderness fits the lyrical mood of the song with its prayers to Jesus to replenish a spiritually parched population.  Looking at the timelines, I’m reminded that Gloworm were pushing the gospel-dance sound at the same time as Dr. Alban, but tracks like Sing Hallelujah sound stodgy and predictable next to the more soulful sound of I Lift My Cup.

Video courtesy of mario Suoni 

Friday, 8 July 2022

Equus: The Singing Nolans - Blackpool (2 January 1993)

The compilers of Bend It ‘92 attributed this 1972 anthem in praise of Blackpool Football Club to The Nolans - or as Peel referred to them early Riot grrrls - but while it’s true that the sisters, who would go on to enjoy major mainstream pop success in the late 1970s/early 1980s, did sing on the track, they did so as part of a larger 10-strong family group called The Singing Nolans together with their parents, brothers and pre-pubescent younger sisters.  The Singing Nolans were a fixture of the Lancashire music scene ever since the family moved to Blackpool from Ireland in 1962.

With its rousing chorus and catchy oom-pah brass sound, Blackpool (or Blackpool! Blackpool! as Bend It ‘92’s sleevenotes had it, like the place was New York or something) has plenty of charm to spare. Lyrically, it harks back to the club’s glorious past with mentions of Stanley MatthewsStan Mortensen and their win in the 1953 FA Cup Final. This was perhaps understandable given that, when the single was released, Blackpool had been recently relegated from the top-flight of English football and were in the early stages of a 39 year journey to get back there.
According to Wikipedia, the song is still played at Blackpool’s home matches today. I’d love to be able to verify this myself through witness testimony, but I have to wait for my own team to get their shit together and get into the same division as Blackpool.  I really hope it’s still the case that the Singing Nolans get an airing over the Bloomfield Road public address system every other week. Despite how much football has changed over the last half a century, it’s still reassuring to know of clubs who’ve resisted the temptation to play more generic music like I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas when teams enter the field of play, and stick with incongruously dated pieces of music, which nevertheless  define their club and make any visit to that ground complete once you’ve heard it aired. This includes tunes as diverse as the theme from Z-Cars at Watford and Everton, Post Horn Gallop (A Hunting We Will Go) at Leicester City and my personal favourite, The Red Red Robin at Charlton Athletic.

Video courtesy of amstephinlondon

Friday, 1 July 2022

Equus: Huggy Bear - Her Jazz/Hopscorch [Peel Session] (2 January 1993)


I consider it a very happy quirk of timing that this blog gets its first exposure to UK Riot grrrl sensations, Huggy Bear just at the point where I’m currently reading 1997 - The Future That Never Happened by Richard Power Sayeed, which is one of those books that is so insightful, entertaining and informative, it makes me grateful that I’m able to read.  Although the front cover of the book is the none-more-1997 photo of Tony Blair shaking hands with Noel Gallagher at a Downing Street reception, it is not solely a critique of New Labour’s rise to power and its subsequent bungling of the opportunities which its huge majority after the 1997 General Election offered it, but rather an analysis of how New Labour’s modus operandi - take revolutionary Left wing ideas, water them down into far more modest principles and then present them to more widespread attention as CHANGE - was essentially a short sighted tradeoff between publicity of ideas/concepts designed to illustrate Britain as a modern, progressive country at the expense of carrying out broad social reforms which could have effected significant and longer lasting change. Power Sayeed presents this late 90s phenomenon of repurposing complex political and societal ideas into palatable PG rated cover versions of the original issue as something which didn't just affect the Labour Party, but other aspects of British life such as our relationship with the Royal Family, racism within the police (as seen through the prism of issues raised by the Metropolitan Police Force's handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence) and, with exquisite timing, how feminism in the UK in the 1990s went from Huggy Bear to The Spice Girls.

That journey isn't quite the leap that it may seem on the surface when we consider that the Girl power slogan which underpinned the marketing of the Spice Girls was coined, not in a PR office in 1996, but rather several years earlier by Riot grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill, a band who would go on to release a joint LP with Huggy Bear.  Power Sayeed demonstrates that although the Spice Girls were predominantly a commercial concern - especially given the number of commercial tie-in deals that their male manager signed for them - feminism did play a consistent role in the Spice Girls presentation to their fanbase, both within their music and their messaging. There was nothing about smashing the patriarchy, but plenty about individual empowerment, facing down sexism and the importance of strong, supportive relationships with women.  Power Sayeed quotes a study carried out by Rebecca Hains for her 2012 book, Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood on Screen and in Everyday Life, in which she asked a number of American feminists for their recollections and feelings about the Spice Girl phenomenon.  For those who had positive recollections, the group had provided....a viable form of beginners’ feminism - bringing empowerment rhetoric to girls in a gentle, easily digestible way, priming them for a more difficult, angrier, less mainstream feminist discourse later on. (Hains quoted by Power Sayeed in 1997 - The Future That Never Happened, p.206, Zed Books, 2017). 

Had they been minded to do it, I think that Huggy Bear could have provided that next stage for girls who bought into the Spice Girls message and were looking for a deeper take on feminism as they matured. But the two phenomena missed each other. By the time 1997 rolled around, Huggy Bear had been disbanded for three years, while the concept of an international pop music juggernaut mixing feminist rhetoric with ringing cash tills in both record shops and many other shops was but a fanciful glint in Simon Fuller’s eye when Huggy Bear went into the BBC’s Maida Vale studios on 27 October 1992 to record their first ever Peel Session. Everyone knew of Huggy Bear, but no-one quite knew what to make of them. Although the irony years of BritPop and the mid-90s had not taken hold yet, their mix of hard-edged sincerity and dedication to their mission disconcerted as many people as it enthralled.  Huggy Bear had embraced the Girl power ethos of Bikini Kill and their sister bands and sought to bring that energy and the issues that Riot grrrl bands sang about to British audiences. Themes which Wikipedia list as containing fun-for-all-the-family topics such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, racism, patriarchy, classism, anarchism and female empowerment.  

Huggy Bear’s wish to base their musical identity around these themes would see them dismissed as tiresomely woke if they were trying to get started today and it didn’t do them many favours back then either.  In 1992, the British propensity to make its excuses and find something else to do whenever it feels that it’s being lectured by artists was just as strong as it is today, though it felt less weaponised back then. Huggy Bear may have understood this and used it as one of the reasons why they chose not to push their agenda in a conventional way; eschewing interviews, using false names and remaining on a small label (Wiiija Records) even when the major labels came courting. It gave them a raison d’etre and prevented them from being Just Another Band. But regardless of their social/political aspirations, the question was whether their music could inspire passion and devotion to them and their causes. This Peel Session left me thinking that half of it was the like being stuck with a shouty bore at a party; but the other half would have me making donations and volunteering for any cause they told me to.

When considering the merits of Her Jazz, there is no time for sober perspective. It is quite simply one of the classics of the decade.  Drawing the listener in with its Big-Spender-in-reverse opening riff, I’ve found the song open to different interpretations each time I’ve listened to it, and while the Boy/girl revolutionaries refrain seems to suggest a dual gender assault on societal norms, the reality appears to be that the girl has been lied to and manipulated by her mental mentor who taught her to lift her skirt and then taught her hurt, implying that this marks a break with someone who appeared to be an ally but who was ultimately a user.  Had Huggy Bear been American, it would have been tempting to see it as an attack on male academics who use the teacher/student relationship as a means to entangle young women with their minds as a way of ensnaring them into their beds and in so doing try to hold on to their own youth under a facade of relevance, but she’s not fooled anymore. - Face it, you’re old and out of touch. It’s angry, euphoric and marks out the future as one for womankind.

Although associated with Riot grrrl, Huggy Bear were not exclusively a female band. Three of the four songs in the session saw lead vocals taken by Chris Rowley, but of these it was only Hopscorch that stayed with me. Despite starting with the kind of meandering guitar-line typical of so much early 90s mumblecore rock, the track soon bursts out of the gate with Rowley considering whether to make a break from a relationship that’s making him contemptuous of his lover and casting his eye further afield. Unfortunately, the session version doesn’t end with the sketchlet that completes the studio version, demonstrating just how hard it can be to say “I love you”.

Videos courtesy of VibraCobra23 Redux who has also posted the full session, which was originally broadcast on 11 December 1992 and which features 2 tracks, Nu Song and Teen Tighterns, which originally made my list but which failed to convince when listened back to subsequently.