John Peel operated in an era that today seems strangely pellucid yet increasingly distant


John Peel’s hamster, and John Peel

When you think about it, it’s almost worth believing that John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 show couldn’t have existed at any other time than the, admittedly almost 40 years, that it existed. During this time John witnessed 60s psychedelia, seventies funk and prog, the explosion of punk, reggae, post punk, death metal and techno. (And many other sounds, styles, and general noxious happenings, besides).

This four decade period were almost unarguably the most important for popular music and alternative culture. Scenes and movements, new sounds and innovations came and went, sometimes rolling into eachother possibly unlike any other period-stretch that we’ll ever again witness.

It was appropriate that an individual such as John Peel was there to guide us through it all. It’s also interesting that John sadly passed away just prior to the coming of MySpace, Spotify et al. Can you really imagine John’s shows existing today, serving their purpose, being as crucial as they were during, say, the period between 1976 and 1994?

In some ways it’s highly unlikely (despite John’s ability to adapt), what with the easy access to music online that exists nowadays for a start. The days of staying in and catching the John Peel show live as it was broadcast warts and all– greasy listener fingers on the cassette recorder hoping to catch a certain moment–, are long gone, obviously. But in some ways you can’t help feeling that, even if John was still doing his thang, things wouldn’t be quite the same. But you also sense that our hero disc jockey would probably have relished the challenge.

There was a time when it would have been only John’s crucial mid song ramblings that we had– our one and only chance to find out– to aid our hurriedly scribbled-down notes that what it was just played (assuming he remembered to tell us). That mystery, those bittersweet frustrations, was another reason that kind of made listening to John’s shows worthwhile. Today’s kids are missing this kind of terrible fun.

Our memories of John do indeed take us back to another time; strangely pellucid yet increasingly distant.

Sadly, we never did find out just how John’s shows would’ve sounded in the current climate, how he would’ve adopted; what music he would have liked, what he wouldn’t have; indeed what opinions, frustrations, excitements he’d have carried over from him to us.

Goodnight and good riddance indeed.

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‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ is the Stones having warm, Christmassy hippie fun


We all know the story about John Lennon immediately accusing the Rolling Stones of ripping off both the Beatles (“always six months behind what the Beatles do”) and their beloved cultural classic ‘Sgt Pepper’ album when the Stones released ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ just months after the Beatles classic came out.

I’ve not read a great deal about the album, or even what the Stones’ response to such criticism was (could this sort of accusation even be construed as criticism? Also, many reviews of the record at the time took the John Lennon line). But I do recall a piece in– I think– Uncut magazine about 15 years ago, in it the writer convincingly making the case for ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’. John Peel also quite liked the album, though I’m not sure if he, or the Uncut fella, preferred it to ‘Sgt. Pepper’.

This album’s not as bad as some who immediately dismiss it as full of pretentious hippie duds with only one good tune, She’s A Rainbow, will have you believe. I think the record has more going for it than is sometimes given credit.

It has become a kind of cliche to immediately dismiss ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’. Okay, granted their other 1967 LP ‘Between the Buttons’ is maybe better (parts of which, interestingly, actually sound more Kinks-like than the Beatles), but there’s still something about ‘Their Majesties..’ that I quite enjoy unlike no other Stones LP of the period. The record also makes me feel all Christmassy, which might explain why it came out around Christmas 1967 (though this is probably more a coincidence).

The record is certainly more than a bit pretentious, but isn’t all good music meant to be pretentious to some extent? Finding the balance and all that.

I find tracks such as the circular messaboutery of Citadel good silly hippie psychedelic fun of the sort that gets stuck in your head at night. Oh, and at least the LP can never be accused of taking itself too seriously– an accusation that one could well level at the album that it’s supposed to have copied. Charlie Watts’ drumming on the meditative The Lantern I find to be of a sound that I’ve not come across since. Quite magical. And 2000 Light Years From Home is sheer on-point sixties scifi b-movietone, and delightfully of-its-time mystical to boot.

Granted there are moments of round-the-campfire, gong-nowhere indulgence but, hey, it is 1967, the height of such behaviour. Also, the Stones seem aware of the level of accusations that are on the way, hence the sarcasm, from those suits they wear on the artwork, the album’s title, and that semi pisstake final track.

Instrumentation wise the kitchen sink is sort of thrown at the whole thing (again, like kids in a toy shop adding to the seasonal joy), with one Brian Jones in particular having much fun in the recording process. I shall always defend this album. It’s wrong, but wrong in a way that is oh-so right.

Interesting fact: this was the first Stones LP with matching UK/IRE and US tracklist. I also recently came across a near mint original copy, with its 3D artwork effect showing up well, in a record shop in Amsterdam. Asking price? €150. Bargain.

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Ride’s ‘Nowhere’ LP is a flawed but youthful shoegaze cult classic


Before they lifted their heads from their effects pedals and went more confident and focused jangle-rock on our slightly disappointed asses, Ride was one of the forerunners of the shoegaze movement at the turn of the nineties decade.

The band came out of Oxford UK, and at one point around the early 1990s fellow townsters, who called their new band Radiohead, hoped to be as successful as them.

Ride, around the time of the release of ‘Nowhere’, were four shy, awkward young lads with floppy fringes and a penchant for Stone Roses and Jesus And Mary chain. The sound they came up with on their 1990 debut full-length was defective and a bit messy, but it had that honest, feet-finding hunger that the best of indie rock should always have at its core.

It’s full of youthful imperfection, half melodies trying to become full melodies, fuzzy guitars that sound imperfectly pitched, indecipherable and a little wet on the vocals.

‘Nowhere’– an 8-track LP released via Creation just over 26 years ago (crelp074)– isn’t really shoegaze in the way the more richly developed, layered noise of ‘Loveless’ is. You can almost hear a more song-orientated, pop-rock band trying to break out here, but the album still contains much of that early sound, flawed innocence that is always worth capturing on record.

‘Nowhere’ is overrated to an extent, undoubtedly, and it doesn’t really date that well either, but on such moments as Dreams Burn Down and Vapour Trail (amongst the truest sounding, lavish tracks included) it remains a record worth existing.

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ISAN — ‘Glass Bird Movement’ [review]


For some reason that I’ve yet to quite fathom I wasn’t as taken with analogue duo ISAN’s previous album, 2010’s ‘Glow In the Dark Safari Set’. The record seemed a little too complex and moody, and it didn’t really work for me the same way previous stuff of theirs had done. With ISAN records you must be allowed to hug them and feel the warmth, and ‘GITDSS’ was a little jagged and wriggling. Sometimes even a touch distant. I prefer my ISAN to be warm, wispy, and reassuring.

This is why I loved 2006’s ‘Plans Drawn In Pencil’ and 2004’s slightly more wintry and crisp ‘Meet Next life’. On the other hand ‘Lucky Cat’, the 2001 economical but playfully deep album that many still consider to be their masterpiece, flows with a perfectly slow-building and conceptual genius on display. This is probably the one ISAN LP that works best when the listener is to some extent intoxicated. (Maybe I need to go back and listen to ‘GITDSS’ in said state).

‘Glass Bird Movement’ in some ways continues on from previous album’s Autechre-in-a-toyroom concept, but there’s more warmth and beauty here too. Cuckoo Down has a melodic funky rhythm almost in opposition to the soft industry and piston blowouts going off in the foreground. Leonardo’s Formula likewise plays with a subtle, curiously pretty air, as a shifty clockwork beat, and friendly if unidentified beasts, seem to momentarily come alive. Napier Deltic (wonderful track title) builds into a sharp, flashy electro-house track, while Risefallsleep is a beatless and blurred, textural and warm-hearted gem of foundsounds and drowsy calm. A return to form.

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‘The Unutterable’ was a return to form for a re-vigoured The Fall


The Fall’s 2000 released, 21st studio LP  ‘The Unnuterable’ is generally considered their best since 1996’s ‘Light User Syndrome’. Yes, it followed a couple of clumsy, occasionally good efforts, in doing so sounding re-invigorated, renewed and focused in that askew, wired post-punk way that only Mark E Smith and whatever bunch of musicians he has at the time can.

Cyber Insekt and Two Librans– the record’s opening couplet– are akin to scifi punk; loud, push along, brash, almost comic book crash-bang-wallop style. After this action packed start, W.B. is pared down, almost western-like, strutting about looking for enemies and a whiskey at once. And whilst Sons of Temperance and Hot Runes (though it sounds like Mark’s singing, amongst the usual hard to decipher gobbledygook; “hot gin, summer afternoon”) are wired to the hilt rockabilly, Way Round and Serum are techno-rock fuzz-outs by comparison. And who could possibly forget the still unlike nothing else, lurching, feedback ridden, positively confused Dr Buck’s Letter? Mark sounding mellowed, uplifted, like he’s just been given the all clear after a health scare.

As usual with Fall records, there are maybe two or three nothing-y mess-arounds included that could have been left out to give the item a bit more consistency and structure, but I stick by what was said at the beginning of the piece; ‘The Unutterable’ was certainly a return to some sort of form, even if it has probably been surpassed since by at least four of the group’s LPs. Still, it remains an interesting LP in the way that it has its fingers in both the techno and rock pies. Sometimes both at the same time.

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Powell — ‘Sport’ [review]


Powell’s first full-length outing for XL Recordings is topmost loaded, post genre wrecking ball maneuvering. The record’s many styles, and overall eclectic approach; from funk-junk to punked-up repetition, digicore to wonky grime, makes things not only an at times un-pleasurable listening experience, but also coming over like one of those guest mix radio slots.

The record shows Powell’s brand of influences, certainly (we get a fair idea of what sort of record collection he has at home) but for the most part the producer is desperate to cover all bases, at the expense of a fluid, consistent– and decent calibre– record of his own. It’s like he’s trying too hard to be some kind of spokesperson for the crossover generation; in using many styles and genres he’s determined to be almost genre(less). Clever, but at the same time not really.

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Beer vs Album: PBR takes on ‘The Velvet Underground And Nico’


My brother in America informs me that Pabst Blue Ribbon is commonly known as PBR, and can be acquired for a dollar a bottle. I paid £2.75 in the local pub. And even that was as a ‘beer of the month’ offer. This lager beer reached its peak in sales and popularity in the late 1970s and early 80s. At one point it was the third biggest beer in the US (i’m assuming this means in sales as opposed to the size of the bottle). It has made a bit of a comeback during the last decade, after taking a hit popularity wise in the nineties. Apparently PBR is a bit of a hipster favourite, and hipsters know the score. I’m wondering if it was always called PBR, or if this is the shortened, cool name said hipsters have attached to it. I enjoyed it, though, a crisp, quality lager that makes no big statements, necessarily. But it doesn’t really need to. It is what it is what it is.

Like My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ record, no one bought the Velvet Underground’s 1967 LP ‘And Nico’ at the time, but everyone has been influenced by it. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that, if you’d turned on the John Peel show on Radio 1 at any time (during the 1980s especially), you would have heard its influence coming through every second record that he played. John’s record collection and demo tape numbers would’ve been reduced by about a half without the existence of this record. But they weren’t. And we have this record to thank for that.

Final Score: PBR 2 – 3 ‘And Nico’

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