Music

John Peel & Sheila: The Pig's Big 78s

D.M. Edwards

This marvelous collection of ancient audio gems hints at the breadth and vision of John Peel's incredible radio show.


John Peel & Sheila

The Pig's Big 78s

Subtitle: A Beginner's Guide
Label: Trikont
US Release Date: 2006-08-05
UK Release Date: 2006-05-22
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Focusing on 78 rpm recordings specifically chosen by John Peel and wife Sheila Ravenscroft, this Trikont release is a very personal affair, crammed with sounds by turns whimsical, brash, deranged, silly, somber, sweet, bizarre, and bland -- quality control guaranteed. In all likelihood, there isn’t a collection like this anywhere else on the planet. It comes nicely packaged with an explanatory booklet wherein the various artists and diverse styles are discussed; in the course of explaining why she and John chose them, Sheila shines a little light on their life together. The Pig’s Big 78s includes “Blue Tango” by Ray Martin & His Orchestra, an utterly nondescript instrumental now lent a measure of contextual immortality since it is revealed as the first record that Peel ever bought. This track is as far from the weird and wonderful sounds of the Fall, Native Hipsters, Captain Beefheart, Sudden Sway, Four Brothers, Ivor Cutler, King Tubby, and hundreds of other Peel favorites as can possibly be gauged. So far away in fact, that if Weird and Bland are opposite points on a circle, instead of a line, then “Blue Tango” currently resides near the suburbs of Radical, just west of Weird. Indeed, many decades after their release, all the tracks hold their own in the contrasting context of Peel’s show, sounding every bit as fresh as the latest sounds he was airing.

No record, nor any of the superlatives you've heard about him, can adequately put into context the effect John Peel had on the cultural landscape of post-war Britain or his contribution to widening the definition of popular music. Several generations, including my own, will be forever grateful for his efforts, and also mourn the loss of his personal broadcasting charm -- the antithesis of the feeble talk of regular DJs. Peel conveyed genuine wit, authenticity, dignity, silliness, good humor, humble enthusiasm, childlike wonder and consistent passion. His passing marks the ending of a magical era of radio. As a resource for unsigned artists, Peel is probably unmatched in the history of world broadcasting. As you wonder about that claim, consider just one tiny example from thousands: he first played Pulp when Jarvis Cocker was still in high school, some 14 years before they had a hit. A myriad of bands testify that they owe him their careers and a book of his entire playlists and recorded sessions would make astonishing reading. Paradoxically, by having no truck with musical fashion or fad, his show maintained the youngest average listener age at BBC Radio One up until his death.

I first heard of John Peel in the early 1970’s at what was laughingly called the Buxton Pop Festival , an uncomfortable merging of hair, mud, denim, appalling toilet facilities, frost, drugs, mud, leather, acne, mud, and music -- with food and women largely absent. As the man himself argued, medals should have been awarded for attendance. I agree, since even if more lives were lost at the Somme, it was surely better organized and doubtless enjoyed better weather. Chuck Berry was topping the bill, but long before his appearance, Hell's Angels roamed and dominated the stage. Peel played records between the bands, announced the football results, and said things like "um, Willow, your friends are waiting for you near the beer tent" and "are you ready for Medicine Head?" Predictably, things deteriorated and eventually an Angel (who possibly went on enjoy a successful career in marketing) commandeered the microphone to relate that "Fucking Hell. John Peel has fucking fucked off. What a fucking wanker." I later learned that the event was stage-managed by an amiable chap in black velvet jacket and bow tie, whose previous experience in “showbiz” was running a small disco in the nearby town of Derby. He presented Peel with a home stereo (complete with smoke-glass top) on which to play records! After being harangued at knifepoint by Angels (unsuccessfully) demanding that he play what they wanted to hear, our DJ eventually gave up and drove home in time to watch television: Association Football highlights on BBC's Match of the Day. Berry eventually performed with twenty or so unwanted guests on stage with him. We never got our medals.

My faculties are somewhat disarmed by respect and, well, love for John Peel. So, while it's fair to say that this record is a fabulous listen, I know that any of the tracks could sound better in a radio show surrounded by the devastating contrast of, say, drum & bass, guitar rawness, calypso, homemade experimentation, dub, country, grime, punk, or just plain genre-defying sounds. The Pig’s Big 78s doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a lovely and personal footnote, and a great way to hear a tiny fraction of the eclecticism that was a feature of Peel’s radio programs. This is wise, as it’s no exaggeration to say that a hundred-disc box set couldn’t do justice to the visceral, groundbreaking thrill of the majority of his airtime. Furthermore, any retrospective will miss the crucial essence of Peel: his belief that this year is always the best year for music, his passion for new discovery, and his obsessive desire to give the worthy efforts of the unheard band an audience.

Trikont is a most fitting label for The Pig’s Big 78s , as a glance at their amazing catalogue will reveal. No doubt Peel-related releases will continue to emerge; maybe Trikont will release more collections of 78s, and perhaps (though very improbably) the BBC will release all the Peel Session recordings. Since most releases will tend toward compilations of so-called greatest or favorite moments, the Peel-guaranteed equal measure of curiosity, revelation, un-listenable horror, and absolute gems will be absent. Anyway, he would probably prefer us to be applying as much gusto to searching for new things to hear, as living in the past. Even with a soundtrack as glorious as his.

Of the tracks, Ronnie Ronalde's “The Yodeling Whistler” is as ludicrously brilliant as the tale of Peel and Sheila seeking him out while on holiday in New Zealand! Even though they are both great, there’s no explanation of why Albert Whelan gets two songs. No surprise that Earl Bostic is included; Peel often played his hot and brash saxophone records, and made reference to the fact that the jazz club members at his private school considered Bostic’s work unsophisticated and beneath their hip tastes! God knows how they reacted if they ever heard him play Half Man Half Biscuit.

“Bradford”, by Besses O’ Th' Barn Band, represents the working class culture of the brass bands associated with mining, an industry single-handedly destroyed by the dread hand of Margaret Thatcher, and for political, rather than economic purposes. In typical Peel fashion, this aspect isn’t mentioned; listeners can draw their own conclusions. It therefore seems not at all contradictory that there is a great banjo version of a fox hunting tune included here, despite Peel’s personal opposition to hunting. So, it goes on, via a Newspaper quiz record, country blues, English Music Hall ditties, crooning, impressions of dogs and a car starting, and much more. Of particular interest is Albert Whelan’s original of “My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies”, a comic tune covered by the Bonzo Dog Band (whose Vivian Stanshall, Peel rightly considered a very wayward genius and with the help of his brilliant and erudite producer John Walters, coaxed into the recordings that would eventually become the legendary spoken-word masterpiece Sir Henry at Rawlinson End). For more on Stanshall, proceed with much haste to Chris Welch’s Ginger Geezer). Read it and weep. Incidentally, a measure of the shared wit of Walters and Peel occurred when, upon the death of the former, Peel mentioned he had lost the person he had expected to deliver the eulogy at his funeral, likening their relationship to one as loyal and affectionate as that of a man and his dog, with both believing the other to be in the role of the dog!

In the main, The Pig's Big 78s contains sounds simultaneously genteel and mind-blowing, all hinting at Peel’s upbeat taste toward the tangentially popular. Yes, the popular; John Peel never indulged in the willfully obscure, the elitist, or the purposefully difficult. For sure, he challenged listeners every time he was on the radio; sometimes it felt like punishment, but it seemed that he genuinely thought we might enjoy even the most brain-crunching din imaginable. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t, but we got the chance to listen and decide for ourselves, and learned that something incredible, and something different, would follow. He never let us down. I’ll never, ever, share his love for (perish the thought) Liverpool FC, but like all his regular listeners, I cherish the memory of his contribution to my cultural life. Thanks, John.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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