John Peel's Record Collection: 'A' Reviewed By David Stubbs
, May 3rd, 2012 08:18
David Stubbs undertakes the Herculean task of listening to the first 100 records of John Peel's collection... so you don't have to
By the time I was 17, I had amassed a grand collection of 80 albums, a quantity which made me the wonder of my school friends. My Mother, however, was unimpressed. Contemplating the half-filled shelf of vinyl in my bedroom as if it were Imelda Marcos's shoe rack, she scolded me as follows. "Really, David, 80 albums is more than anyone needs, and now you're asking for more for Christmas? It's quite ridiculous, you don't need any more albums. Buy something else with your paper round money." She was still smarting, I believe, from the humiliation prior to my last birthday of having to trawl around the record stores of Leeds asking the clerks if they stocked a Weasels Ripped My Flesh by the Mothers Of Invention. I merely muttered something to the effect that "you don't understand", and returned to my back stack of NMEs, dreaming of the day I would get to find out what Pere Ubu sounded like.
John Peel suffered none of my mother's qualms in his lifetime. His vinyl collection alone amounted to 26,000 copies; their sleeves are now available for inspection online, with links where possible, accompanied by images of the cards onto which he meticulously typed the name of the artist, title and tracklisting. He was a little strange like this; on CDs, he also insisted on timing the tracks himself, rather than trusting the timings as listed on the sleeve.
Had he lived to be 265, rather than, sadly, 65, he could not possibly hope to have given these albums the solid, several times over hearing their makers naively hoped he would. Possessing them, conscientiously filing and noting them was the thing. This has been reflected in the widespread slew of praise for the undertaking of putting up the collection. What an archive. What a national treasure. What a man. What volume and diversity, obscurity and eccentricity. You do sense, however, an undeclared, silent follow-up. "Of course, none of it's the sort of thing you could ever listen to."
Peel is revered for his enthusiasm overall, rather than the objects of his enthusiasm. Much as there are faces only a mother could love, runs the suspicion, there are albums, bands, that only a Peel could love. His "wet socialist" (as Peel himself described his political views) kindliness, his love of the underdog, the eccentric, the unheralded and un-listened to, mean that dross and diamonds, like dustman and duke, jostle side by side in this vast index.
Well, let us put all that to the test. The first 100 items in his collection are now up online. I have been charged by The Quietus with the task of venturing into the giant, holy sphincter of retention that is the Peel archive (go and see it here. To venture where few, if any of those who have applauded this online initiative are likely to venture themselves, on the feeble grounds that they've got lives to lead and so forth.
The records have not, contrary to the expectations of some, been digitalised, so I am must seek them out in my own record collection, on Spotify, on YouTube, by whatever means necessary. (Actually, unless listed otherwise, you can take it that I found these on the ever-expanding omniverse that is YouTube) Yes, over 24 hours, I'm going to listen to the first 100. All of them. I'm going in. I may be some time. Sleep can wait, food can wait, ditto bodily functions. Wish me well.
The A's – The A's
Waiving the floating apostrophe, the skinny yellow tie is the giveaway – like a latterday Arthur Negus I can date The A's to 1979. Philadephia based, the moroseness of their Comsat Angels-type power pop is punctuated by silvery stabs of keyboard. Proof, perhaps, that John Peel would no more throw out an album than he would drown a puppy?
A.A.A.K – Buildingscapebeat
Mancunian purveyors of Electronic Body Music in a Nitzer Ebb stylee from the late 80s. Could have been called 'We've Got A Synthesizer And We're Going To Use It When We Figure How'. 'What Are We Here For?', one track is entitled. It is hard to say.
A+P – A+P
More sociologically than musically interesting punk from Munich, with some nifty, spongey guitars and a willingness, on tracks like 'Dachau' to face head on subject matter that was avoided in the subliminal instrumentalism of Krautrock. A poignant moment at its abrupt fadeout, as you imagine JP's dulcet, deadpan tones announcing, "A+P there."
ABC – The Lexicon Of Love / Beauty Stab / How To Be A Zillionaire
Heartening that Peel held onto his copy of The Lexicon Of Love, an album of such climactic pop perfection that it seemed to mark the End Of Pop Time, precluding the need for any follow-ups. When Martin Fry said "I'm a punk and always will be", Peel undoubtedly understood. Follow it up they did, however, and, with typically obdurate loyalty, Peel holds fast to their rather more mixed and less revisited follow-up efforts.
AB Draconis – 'Demo'
My first failure. I can unearth nothing on this. Shall I turn back? Give up? A Google search reveals only an unrelated item from Astronomy News. The sleeve reveals it was manufactured in Newcastle Upon Tyne, while typed notes speak tantalisingly of tracks with titles such as 'The Strangely Moving Circus Of Dr Mandelbaum' and 'The Burning Bush (Has Caught Alight Again)'. Perhaps this is one of those records which are better imagined than heard, however. Shall I turn back? Not before I've even reached 'Aardvark' - the shame, like a Marathon dropped out of after 80 yards, would be too great.
AC Acoustics – Able Treasury / Victory Parts
Impeccable. Formed in 1990, AC Acoustics are the sort of group that should have been much more widely embraced, particularly by those whose hearts droop at the mention of "Glasgow Indie Rock". These were their first two albums, released once they'd got the feedback of the Mary Chain out of their ears, and reveal a diamond songwriting craftsmanship in the R.E.M/Byrdsian tradition but with Caledonian knobs on.
AC/DC – High Voltage (Aus edition) / Live From Atlantic Studios / High Voltage (International edition)
Yowsa, and yowsa! No man, no woman can said to be fully human unless they have acknowledged their Inner Angus and, although Peel restricts himself to the band's earliest work, eschewing Highway To Hell, he proves himself human indeed. Both Australian and international editions of High Voltage are included, with Live From Atlantic Studios strategically inserted to emphasise the distinction.
AC Marias - One Of Our Girls
The second record I actually have. Everyone should own at least one AC Marias album and it helps that there actually only is one, cut with the assistance of Wire's Bruce Gilbert, made in 1989 before Marias, real name Angela Cornway, quit music making to become a video director. A thing of concussed, mesmeric beauty, a long-ago precursor to the likes of Maria Minerva and Julia Holter.
A.C.T.U.S - A Way To The Empire Of Strength And Spiritual Heritage
Hungarian electronica. "The story of ACTUS formed as an artistic project dates back to 1987, and its goal remained unchanged throughout the years: to create works, which demonstrate the crisis penetrating our world, but even more importantly, works which are in accordance with the eternal measure, and which always carry the notion of uplifting catharsis, and at the same time can present their receiver with the joy of reinvention listen after listen." I need the toilet. Both ends.
AC Temple – Sheikh / Songs Of Praise / Sourpuss
Ah, a Proustian, carcinogenic waft of the late 80s days, down at the Club Dog at Sir George Robey, to which Melody Maker freelancers tardy in delivering their copy, were sent as a penance. This was the sort of angular, filthy riffology which brought the yellow paper peeling from the walls.
ADC Band – Roll With The Punches / Funk On Fire / Talk That Stuff
Nine-piece funk crew from the 70s and 80s, who rolled big, bad and squelchy, the way Daddy Clinton used to cook it up. Roll With The Punches features a sleeve that is bad, in the very unironic, English sense of the word – a boxing gloved female with a towel draped around her neck concealing her breasts. Three ADC Band albums? That's some retention. I'm inspired to postpone my toilet trip.
AE Bizottsag – Kalandra Felii
More Hungarians, this time a neo-Dadaist ensemble who cut three albums of unfathomable quirkiness, including this, their 1983 debut, before deciding, or perhaps having it decided for them, that their work was done.
A.G.E – The Orion Years
German Techno Ambient from 1994, rippling with Teutonic apreggiation. Standout is 'Eine Fremde Lebensform' (A Strange Lifeform) which does indeed sound like an ectoplasmic alien attack. I'd have hung onto this one.
A; GRUMH – No Way Out / Rebearth
It is both a mystery and a great shame, I have always felt, that this Belgian electronic combo did not enjoy the sort of worldwide success that tracks like 'Too Many Cocks Spoil The Breath' undoubtedly merited. Responsible for some of the most ragingly tumescent electronic music ever to emerge from the low countries. That was more fun to type than two back to back albums of a; GRUMH would be to endure in full, but . . .
A-HA – Scoundrel Days
The one that has got the media all of a Twitter. Is the inclusion of this in the Peel collection like the deliberately erroneous stitch in Islamic tapestry, to show the Infallibility of Man? But then, there are those who swear solemnly and unsmirkingly by A-Ha and albums like this, forged when longships first landed on Scandinavian shores laden with their booty of old Duran Duran and Talk Talk albums in about 1985.
The AK Band - Manhole Kids
From 1981. They sound an awful lot like The Police. Ladies and gentlemen, we have now reached the conclusion of this short tour of all there is to say about The AK Band.
AMP Studio - Syzygy/Alien Registration Office
Defeated again. I have nothing. A stylish cover, titles like 'Vortex', one can assume it isn't Oi! - but a net-wide search yields zip. If this were showjumping I'd have eight faults by now.
APB Band – Something To Believe In / Cure For The Blues
1979 post-punk from Aberdeenshire. On a spectrum with Josef K at one end and The Bluebells at the other, they'd be somewhere towards the latter. Their cheerily sanguine effervescence is encapsulated in the album titles. JP retained two editions of Something To Believe In, issued with two separate covers. Lesser collectors would have typed "see other card" on the card for the second, but no short cuts for John Peel.
AR Kane – 69/i
These, I have. Melody Maker favourites during the late 80s, two dreads who cut blissfully languid albums of wan melodiousness obscured by blizzards of feedback and dub. They didn't find widespread favour and were considered by some sceptics to be the sort of group over whom smitten journalists were prone to wax adjectival but thankfully, Peel was not of their number.
A Tent – Six Empty Places
Issued by Cherry Red in 1981. Garden shed musique concrete, sweeping, primitive synths. A Tent Revival would be A Good Thing.
The A-10 – Sex God War
Formed in London, but featuring an inordinate number, The A-10 issued this on clear vinyl in 1988. Titles include 'Europa', 'Nemesis' and 'Angry'. Discogs helpfully describes them as 'alternative rock'. Well, heck, that sounds like it would have been right up John Peel's street!
Aardvark – Aardvark
If you're a plumber, you call yourself Aardvark Drainage Solutions in order to be listed first in the Yellow Pages. Doubtless Aardvark assumed they would be the beneficiaries of similar alphabetical priority but the Peel system denies them that privilege. Their self titled debut 1970 album, whose cover features a garden gnome, is a feast of organ jamming in the era when rockers pounded that damn instrument like it was going to be phased out with the old currency in 1971.
The Aardvarks – Bargain
Bumptious neo-60s guitar pop fare, reminiscent of The Small Faces, released in 1995 at the height of Britpop. Was this some sort of pity purchase?
Abaddon – Wet Za Wet
Issued in 1986, this is Polish punk played in the sort of venues where to pogo risked crashing your head violently against the ceiling. They eventually split due to "musical differences" barely discernible to the naked ear on listening to this but kudos – to be Polish, and a punk in the 80s was probably no picnic.
ABBA – Voulez Vous
Yes, yes. John Peel liked ABBA but be not confounded – truth is, everybody liked ABBA. Even Sid Vicious liked ABBA – he once pursued Agnetha and the other one at an airport in search of their autograph, only for them to flee, frightened that he intended to do something punk rock to them. Move along now. Nothing to see here.
Abangani – Uzube Nami
Although they released a "Golden Hits" compilation, info is scarce on this crew – Ladysmith Black Mambazano released a song called 'Uzube Nami' also but there, the trail goes cold.
Abdel Gadir Salim – Nujum Al-Laill / Stars Of The Night
Truly gorgeous 1989 album by venerable Sudanese vocalist and bandleader. On the track 'Al-Lemoni', he compares a beautiful woman to a lemon, a tremendous compliment in a culture without our own downer on lemons.
Abecedarians – Eureka
Pretty cool LA punk/pop group who recorded on the Factory label briefly before cutting this mini-album in 1986. A bit of Sigue-Sigue Sputniky- outboard motoriks, some Bauhaus-y reverb, it's all going well until the vocals kick in and it gets depressingly serious.
John Abercrombie – Gateway
ECM album from 1975, also featuring Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. [haven't they made a mistake here? The group is called Gateway, with a 'G' - ED] Almost as surprising as A-Ha, in its own way, that Peel had a soft spot for the black velvet jazz musings of ECM.
The Admiral Dele Abiodun And His Top Hitters Band – The Admiral
Check out the ADMIRAL! Seriously, go to the Peel site and check him out. There he is, in his big velvet suit astride some black and white railroad of the likes moustached villains used to tie heroines to in silent movies. "The wider the flares, the badder the funk", I wrote in my first ever printed review, of James "Blood" Ulmer back in 1986 and that sure holds here. Nigerian highlife at its highest.
Above The Law - Livin' Like Hustlers
Eazy E and Dre-produced early West Coast hip-hop featuring Cold187um from 1990 and released on Ruthless Records. Rolls with some of the wit and style of proto-gangsta Schooly D.
Mick Abrahams Band – Mick Abrahams Band / At Last
Solo albums by the eventual guitarist of Blodwyn Pig, back in the days when bluesy, blokey authenticity as personified by Abrahams meant posing for your album cover looking like a minor member of Jack Regan's Flying Squad on a stakeout.
Abrasive Wheels – When The Punks Go Marching In
Astonishingly, this was made in November 1982. A one-band riposte to evolutionary theory, these were the punks that never made it to 'post' - the title track is a three-chord thrash rendition of 'When The Saints Go Marching In' with the word 'Saints' replaced by 'punks'. I need food and drink but food and drink mean future toilet trips. Time is tight.
Mike Absalom – Save The Last Gherkin For Me / Mike Absalom / Hector And Other Peccadillos
The busking, Oxbridge son of a clergyman who started out recording rugby songs before his writing took a more satirical turn, Absalom is one of the prize eccentrics of the Peel menagerie, a sort of cross between Kevin Coyne and George Formby.
Absolute Elsewhere – In Search Of Ancient Gods
Based on the books of Erich Von Däniken, the author who made some rich claims about extraterrestrial influence on humankind and featuring Bill Bruford on drums, this was released in 1976 – ironically, the sort of weedy weak-minded, credulous Prog that punk, championed by Peel, was about to drive out. Why was this saved from the cull? Or did the word "cull" not exist in the Peel vocabulary?
Absturzende Brieftauben – Das Kriegen Wir Schon Hin
The German scholars among you will have at once twigged that this combo's name was a spoof of that of Einsturzende Neubauten. Released in 1986, this is a treat for connoisseurs of German comedy punk.
The Abused – Songs Of Sex And Not Of War
Well, the songs are about sex and certainly not about war and that's about all the info I can muster about these laconic hardcore merchants.
Abwarts – Amok Koma / Der Westen Ist Einsam
More German punk, from 1980 – skinny, relentless, Wire-influenced stuff, with a few pre-Neubauten Black & Decker antics thrown in. Peel once warily described Wire as "too clever by half" on first hearing them but Abwarts he rather liked. And rightly so.
The Abyssinians – Forward On To Zion
From 1976, featuring Robbie Shakespeare on bass, and it's... well, it's reggae.
Accidental Suicide - Deceased
From 1992, with vocals like Satan vomiting and it's... well, it's death metal.
Accident – A Clockwork Legion
Also confusingly known as Major Accident. This is conceptual power-pop from 1984 from a group whose work was almost entirely inspired by the film A Clockwork Orange, still then withheld from distribution by its director Stanley Kubrick. One of those "If they hadn't existed it wouldn't have been necessary to invent them" groups.
Accelera Deck – Conviction & Crack / Narcoticbeats
Titles like 'Infinitive Film Loop' and 'Equidistant' at once tell us we are in IDM territory and with its noise/drone/melody interface, this 1998 release has shades of Bibio about it. Probably should have been a Warp release but wasn't. A shrewd keep, ditto Narcoticbeats.
Abyssinians - Arise
Okay, either I'm having flashbacks due to food and wine deprivation or... didn't we just have The Abyssinians? This is how it comes up in the order. But how come this 1978 effort, sounds lovely and lilting and full of the milk and honey of spiritual uplift whereas its 1976 predecessor sounds a bit meh? Was this album mis-filed for a reason? There must be a reason. With a mere 26,000 albums to oversee, Peel would never have made a crass error like this.
Accrington Stanley - Fathom / Lovebound
Another pure Peel treasure. A web page swaddled in self-deprecation indicates a discography as long as your arm stretching back to 1987 – I'm guessing, eccentric, witty indie purveyed by not easily dissuaded creative incontinents – but all YouTube yields is that milk advert with the Liverpudlian kid; "exacccchhly!"
The Accursed – Up With The Punks / More Fun That An Open Casket Funeral
Kent punk combo from circa 1983 but well worth a pass, this, not least for that utterly unabashed title. Not the tightest of outfits, frequently failing to achieve that desired dead heat among all musicians in the race to the chorus, but the guitar solos are urinal streams of joy.
The Accused – The Return Of Martha Splatterhead / More Fun Than An Open Casket Funeral/ Martha Splatterhead's Maddest Stories Ever Told
This Washington metalcore crew once achieved an unprecedented rating of 0.0 in a Canadian metal magazine – who would not want to hear what such a metalcore crew sounded like? Peel evidently could not resist. They're almost disappointingly competent, it turns out but these albums are worth it for the cartoon sleeves alone.
Ace – Five-A-Side / Time For Another / No Strings
Featuring Paul Carrack, it's hard to think why anyone would want to own more than no Ace records – Peel had three. Funk-tinged pub-rock, but about as exceptional as fish fingers.
Johnny Ace – Memorial Album
Oh, another keeper. Johnny Ace's promising career as an R&B vocalist was cut tragically short in 1954, when he accidentally shot himself while demonstrating, erroneously, to Big Mama Thornton backstage that his gun was unloaded. As the likes of 'Pledging My Love' indicate on this posthumous collection, Ace's vocals were rich and mature, so much so that you'd hardly think they belonged to a young dumbass who blew his brains out whole fooling around with a gun trying to impress Big Mama Thornton.
Ace Spectrum – Inner Spectrum / Low Rent Rendezvous
Classy Philadelphia Soul from a combo who covered all aspects of the register, from falsetto to bass. Their most notable moment was a cover of Ashford & Simpson's "Don't Send Nobody Else" - ideal for Philly fans sick of the same-old.
Achim Reichel – Erholung
Once frontman for The Rattles, a German beat group who once opened for The Beatles, to whom they owed a Marshall Plan-sized debt, Reichel eventually drifted into the more Utopian realms of Krautrock, as this 1974 album, with its tropical atmospheres and treated guitars, attests.
Acid – Shock Troop
Japanese punk from 1989, variously described as speed metal/noise/crust/stenchcore, which covers more bases than the group themselves do.
Acid Junkies – Paranoid Experience
Dutch Techno from Stefan Robbers, and Harold de Kinderen. Cut in 1994, it's a 303 riot, the anti-2 Unlimited. For someone who you suspect wasn't one of life's natural dancefloor dwellers, Peel had a good feel for this sort of thing.
Acid Mothers Temple – Absolutely Freak Out (Zap Your Mind)
Considering that in their various guises Acid Mothers Temple release an album once every ten minutes, it's surprising that JP Has restricted himself to just the one, this 2001 effort which a pays homage to Frank Zappa that could be misinterpreted as cheek. Remarkably non-completist – could Peel have come to the conclusion that to own one album of Acid Mothers Temple's trademark screeching, cosmic pyschedelic guitar odysseys is to own them all? Never.
Acid Reign – Moshkinstein
Thrash metal from Harrogate in Yorkshire and on this 1987 offering they didn't take the trouble some might wish they had to hide their accents. Howard H Smith of the group is now on the comedy circuit as Keith Platt – Professional Yorkshireman.
Acid Scout – Safari / Musik Fur Millionen
Munich Techno from Richard Bartz, released in 1994 – audaciously repetitive, minimal, snaking and repetitive. The 1996 follow up, Musik Fur Millionen, is worth having too.
Ernie Fischbach and Charles Ewing – The A Cid Symphony Records, 1, 2 and 3
From 1967, this trilogy of albums was the work of a San Francisco folk-and-ethnic music collective that incorporated instruments such as dulcimer, hand-held brass, and Hindustani ankle bells into their extended ethno-folk drones. Flamenco guitar, courtest of Ewing, features strongly also. This late on in the day, however, frankly, everything, including the sound of my own typing, is beginning to sound like an ethno-folk drone.
Jewel Ackah – Supa Pawa
Ah, a waker-upper. A former footballer who later, unfortunately, found God, Jewel Ackah recorded in between some 27 albums of prime Ghanaian highlife, distinguished by his carrying, affectingly hoarse vocals.
David Ackles – David Ackles / Subway To The Country / American Gothic
To my shame, I've been taking in oxygen for nigh on half a century and have never yet come across David Ackles. A hero to Elvis Costello and Elton John among others, Ackles's singular and highly literate songwriting style falls somewhere between classier Tin Pan Alley and Tim Hardin. In 1973, disillusioned by lack of success, he quit music to take up a successful career writing screenplays. Good for him. Then he died. Not so good for him.
Acolytes Action Squad – TerrassVI
Described, to their glee as sounding like "a broken fax machine", Sheffield duo Brian and Heather are prolific noiseniks whose inaccessibility defies even Peel. "Illegible titles", he types on the card, a rare, perhaps unique admission of defeat.
Acoustinauts – Inhale Einstein
Four men who manage to sound like a one-man band and who dress on the sleeve as if going on a fishing trip, Acoustinauts are a deceptive shambles and a definite grower, emerging from an apparent acoustic mess to create something rangey and clever. A shame they didn't put the same thought into choosing their name. Or their hats.
Act I – Act I
Obscure, fingerlicking, wah-wah 70s soul, with raunchy exclamations and close harmonies. You can attach electrodes to my nipples and send crank up the voltage but I swear, that's all I know about these guys.
Action Pact - Mercury Theatre On The Air / Survival Of The Fattest
Well, I don't care if your female vocalist is called George, anyone who was making punk-pop in 1983 had missed several boats completely. The sleeve to Mercury Theatre On The Air, mind, featuring a pic of Ian Carmichael as Robert Wilcot does remind me to seek out again Left, Right And Centre, the Sydney Gilliat screen comedy co-starring Alastair Sim who, unlike early 80s punk-pop, never fails to deliver.
Action Swingers – Action Swingers / Decimation Boulevard
Stooges-y New York punk from NY, led by Ned Hayden described as "incendiary", a word which generally means little more than "their guitars are plugged in". With all the other pleasures to partake of in his Perfumed Garden of sound, Peelie's tolerance for this sort of thing always puzzles me, but then, that's why John Peel was John Peel and I'm... whoever I am (food deprivation – have forgotten own name)
Active Minds – Welcome To The Slaughterhouse
1988 Anarcho-punk from Scarborough. "Pay no more than £2.50!" urges the sleeve. Dudes, have no fear, there is absolutely no danger of that.
Actives – Kick It Down
And now for some punk. This time, from Dunfermline, in 1983, the equivalent of forming a skiffle band in 1967. The title track lasts 1:50 but manages to make make under two minutes seem as interminable as 'Suppers Ready' by Genesis.
Roy Acuff – 1936-39 Steamboat Whistle Blues
Brilliant. Roy Acuff was the pre-war precursor of Country & Western, though on these records he sounds wilder, more vital and primal than so much of what has passed through the portal of that often ghastly genre. The 'King Of Country Music' lived to the grand old age of 89 but rather shockingly spent his last years doing odd jobs at the Opry, stacking cold drinks in fridges.
AD – Conspiracy
Early, minimal synthpop from 1979, featuring two black and white striped cartoon figures representing ambivalence about the powers of light and darkness ushered in by the machine age, or somesuch. Great stuff but available only as a download, and therefore, to we, the law abiding, not available at all.
Adam & The Ants – Dirk Wears White Sox / Kings Of The Wild Frontier / Adam & The Ants
Oh, I've heard of him! And, with three offerings that follow Adam's progress from low wattage punkster to Burundi highwayman of pop, the first 100 is up – just 25,900 to go. I've made about 20 new discoveries I'll want to follow up, as well as having passively smoked more provincial, past-it punk than I'd care to inhale in a lifetime. Just this small sample brings home chasteningly to me once more that the great deal I know about music is dwarfed by the greater deal I don't know. If I know that now, I'll know it even more in the upcoming weeks and months.