Tuesday, October 26, 2004

John Peel

Really saddened by the news of John Peel’s death today. Most of the music that I like today can be traced back to his radio show and the attitude that he brought to music. He didn’t over analyse it in musical terms, but looked for and played the music that, interested and excited him and was preferably new…and preferably the B-side. And when there were records from his past or those that gave him an emotional response, then he’d tell the listener. Music is massively important and needs sharing, and people use it to reflect and make sense of their lives.

My musical education really started with his show. I was 13 in 1977 and I used to tape it on an old reel-to-reel tape, with a mic against the radio. I can remember hearing The Ramones Sheena is a Punk Rocker and the Clash Capitol radio for the first time on it and a Stranglers session with Hanging Around. My friends and I used to laugh when he played records at the wrong speed/wrong side or twice in a row. I stopped laughing eventually but he still did it.

When we released Electric Ladland, I sent a copy to him with a chatty letter about the Gang of Four, Blue Orchids and The Fall. One night in the Onionhead house Jules summoned me with the words “Sammy …it’s John Peel for you”. He’d phoned to say that he’d already got a copy of Ladland, didn’t think he liked it but he would listen to it again. Class. But the main reason for the call was to relay the information that the (superior) session versions of Fall songs that later turned up on Grotesque were not being released on Strange Fruit because Mark E Smith wasn’t happy with the recordings

A few days later he sent me a Peter Powell postcard (autographed by the Powellster) with the topical news that Sid James daughter had been one of the women on the cover of Hendrix’s original Electric Ladyland.

He also phoned Nick before he was Onionhead manager, and was in fact a celeb-pestering schoolboy on a day trip to London. Nick and his mates found Peelie sheltering from the rain in Covent Garden and told him they were in a band and on the up. A year later Peel phoned Nick to check their progress. As there had been neither band nor progress they talked about football instead.

You had to love him for making the effort really. Apparently he kept all the numbers he was given.

So many of the thing’s he played ended up as being amongst my favourites, Undertones, The Fall, (for me only up to mid 80’s) and even though I thought I’d found Country Soul for myself, he played it too.

I liked his phrasing and descriptions too. He described his love of Liverpool FC as being so intense that he’d “Take in washing for the club.”

I was listening to Nick Cave talking to Mark Lamarr last night and he was saying that with the passing of Joe Strummer, Nina Simone and Johnny Cash, the world was not only a poorer place but was it a place that could produce their like again?

Peel’s contribution had been to play awkward music and to challenge the listener. The sessions especially in the years before cheap recording technology were often the only way many bands would get in the studio.

I grew up with his show and musically…he made me.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Eno - Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy

Puncture repair nightmare puts me back on the bus, and the journey gets me half way through Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy.

I like his pop glam albums best but always go for this one over Before And After Science or Here Come The Warm Jets. It’s the impeccable played but ramshackle quality of the arrangements that I really like. The song titles are fantastic cut up nonsense (My evidence for the prosecution includes Burning Airlines Give You So Much More, Mother Whale Eyeless and Put a Straw Under Baby). The vocal style is sly camp and the lyrics are obviously never going to connect with too many people as they break all the rules of Pop. I mean…where are the love songs?…What can the little girls understand?…Where is the cheatin’ lyin’ and slippin’ around?

It breaks the rules but still sounds warm and involving and indeed you do want to get involved. You want to hear the stories from this other world, even though you’re only catching snippets that maybe you’ll never understand. Back In Judy’s Jungle has treated guitars, rattley drums and a one-note bass with lots of space. It sounds like an Oompah band about to fall over

The guitar playing throughout is fantastic with scratchy, rattley rhythm playing. I’ve a horrible feeling the excellent drumming (It’s not just loose, it’s positively floppy) may be down to Phil Collins. If it is YOU’RE STILL NOT FORGIVEN.

I love the bass playing on Third Uncle. It starts with 1 bass note that gradually gets echoed as the manic scratch rhythm and clattering percussion take over. There’s an 8 note bass run that seems to come out of nowhere and goes straight back there. He only does it twice but to my (bass players) ears it just seems to crank up the song far more than seems possible. And then there’s the one note again …but dropped down lower and flatter. And the only vocal line that stands out is “I thought it was you”

Put A Straw Under Baby has an impossibly woozy feel, with scraped, discordant string arrangements (Vic Chestnutt or even Junco Pardner from Sandanista). In many ways it’s like a nursery rhyme or one very scary lullaby.

Much is made of Eno’s legendary non-musician status and call me sceptical but I bet he’s picked up a few tricks over the years. By the time he recorded this he’d done the first 2 Roxy Music and his own first 2 solo albums. He’d obviously surrounded himself with some top players but the best trick was to (lets use a soul cliché here, and we might as well because I don’t think there’s any musical clichés on the lp) to get it to sound so wrong but feel so right. This albums 30 years old and it still doesn’t sound like anything else. I’ve been going back to it for 22 years now, and it’s my all time favourite warped pop record ever.