Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Keeping It Peel 2014

JOHN PEEL EADT 20 10 05

Keeping It Peel is the brainchild of Webbie, who writes the excellent and informative Football And Music blog.  An annual celebration of all things Peel (this year’s event is especially poignant, given that it’s 10 years since John died), it’s purpose is to remind everyone just how crucial John Peel was to enlightening and expanding listening tastes up and down the country; to ‘Educate and Inform‘, as was the motto of his employer. Be it demo, flexi, 7″, 10″, 12″, EP, LP, 8 track cartridge, wax cylinder or reel to reel field recording, the great man famously listened to everything ever sent his way, and if it was in anyway decent he played it on his show. Sometimes, he played the more obscure records at the correct speed. Sometimes he didn’t. And sometimes, no-one noticed.  John Peel is the reason my musical tastes expanded beyond the left-field avant-garde edginess of Hipsway and Love And Money and the reason why my mum stopped singing her own version of whatever it was I was playing (“Take a ri-ide on the Suga Trayne!”) and started asking me to “turn that racket down” whenever she passed my teenage bedroom door. Thank you, John.

This year’s Peel Session selection features Pixies from October 18th 1988.

The PIXIESThe thin ‘n hairy years

Pixies in 1988 were betwixt and between releases. Surfer Rosa (their best album, and don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise) was 7 months old and still stuck to the turntables, and Doolittle was but a sparkle in Black Francis’ eye. They were a PHENOMENAL live act around this time; full-on and feral and could do no wrong.

Their session for Peel in October was a cracker. Half of the songs were barely a minute and a half long, little blitzkrieg blasts of wonky time signatures, heavy breathing, strange chord structures and larynx-loosening primal screams from Black Francis – “Uriah hit the crapper! The crapper! Uriah hit the crapper….DEAD!” – what the devil was he on about? Who knows, but who cares? This was a thrilling taster of the new stuff still to come. Tame, Dead and There Goes My Gun would all end up on the Doolittle LP the following year. Dancing The Manta Ray would eventually see the light of day as the b-side to that LPs big single, Monkey Gone To Heaven.

I thought I still had the old TDK of this session with Peel’s introductions, but I fear it’s lost and gone forever. It’s certainly not in the first (and only) place I looked. For authenticity’s sake I was going to post those versions, but instead Tame comes from the Rough Diamonds bootleg and the other three come from the official BBC Sessions CD.

Tracks in order of broadcast;

Dead

Tame

Dancing The Manta Ray

There Goes My Gun

These tracks and a gazillion more are released shortly on the 3CD Doolittle 25 release, available at the recession-friendly price of £12. A bargain for sure. Available via Pixies’ online shop here.

pixies-doolittle-inlay

Get This!

‘Mon Tae Python

 amazing snakeheads

The Amazing Snakeheads are a proper rough ‘n ready rock ‘n roll band. Unlike any number of fellow Glasgow contemporaries, there’s no pose, no preen, no pretence. Just a short, sharp shock of sweaty, sweary in-yer-face claustrophobic riffs.  They’ve just released The Best Single Of 2013 (fact) on Domino Records. It’s called Testifying Time and you can buy it here.

You might have heard it already on 6 Music. They’ve been playing it a lot recently. On Lamacq’s Round Table a couple of weeks ago, the panel waxed lyrical about both record and band so much so that it was played twice before the end of the show.  Mind you, the whole record is done and dusted in 1 minute 5 seconds. They could probably have squeezed another play in before the news headlines if they’d really tried. By the time the news headlines had been read out, I’d bought my copy online.

amazing snakeheads 7

And here’s a thing…

The b-side is even better.

Carrying more implied menace than a dog-eared copy of No Mean City, it would be the ideal soundtrack to kicking off a Mad Dog-induced square go, big style. Y’know those Pixies tracks where a demented Frank Black barks ‘n yelps his way through all sorts of nonsense in pidgin schoolboy Spanish, just him and Kim on bass, playing in front of a garage band drum beat and the odd reverbed clatter? Vamos. That’s the track I’m thinking of.

That’s what The Truth Serum is like. It’s wild-eyed and wired. It’s the sound of throwing an out of control mental wee bam into a wardrobe before sticking a broom, cartoon-style, between the handles as a temporary lock. Thump! Thump! Thump! Let! Me! Out! Ya! Bass! It’s like a sweary Nyah Fearties covering Pixies, and it sounds every bit as good as that suggests. A broad Scots’ tongue lashing of the highest order. Feral, ferocious and effin’ fantastic.

You know that the guitars are going to come crashing in like a pair of size 10 DMs anytime soon, and it’s all going to kick off, but you’re not sure exactly when. The trick they’ve perfected here is the art of making sure the tension builds and builds until it can’t be contained any more and. Must. Be. Released. Here’s that Pixies track:

Estaba pensando sobreviviendo con mi sister en New Jersey!” goes Frank, all menace and snarl. “We’ll go to California!!!” he screams. Screeeeeeeeeeeee!

Geordie? Geordie?! Geordie?!? GEORDIE!!! TELL THUM!Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! go The Amazing Snakeheads. Terrific stuff.

amazing snakeheads sneer

Hard-to-find

River Euphrates Double Whammy

Every school had their own Billy Bullshit and Alan Harper* was ours. Harper was quite a quiet guy, but when he talked, he talked about 3 things – fishing, going fishing with his uncle, and just how great his uncle was at fishing and other pursuits. “My uncle caught a salmon that was bigger than my gran’s Collie but he had to throw it back in the river cos he said we wouldn’t be able to eat it all in one go and the rest of it wouldn’t have fitted in my auntie’s freezer.” Aye?!

“My uncle scored a one-four-seven against Hurricane Higgins in a challenge match at the snooker last year and Steve Davis refused to play him after that so he got a bye into the final against Ray Reardon but Ray Reardon beat him.” Oh aye?!

My uncle used to play for Irvine Meadow and Rangers wanted to sign him as a winger but he wouldn’t sign for them unless they played him instead of Derek Johnstone at centre forward so they signed Davie Cooper instead.” Aye?! Really?!

Phil Lynott asked my uncle to play lead guitar in Thin Lizzy after they played at the Magnum but my uncle was playing bass in a wedding band at the time and didn’t want to let them down.” Aye?! Right! You know the sort of talk…equal parts riveting and ridiculous.

Alan Harper was also quite a sturdy guy. We used to laugh at the outlandishness of it all behind his back, but one day, just before physics, Harper caught me laughing at his latest claim and BANG!, he thumped me clean on the nose. There were tears and blood and I never again laughed at the utter pish he spoke.

*name changed to protect the innocent (me).

pixies fountain

River Euphrates was the first track I ever heard by the Pixies. It arrived like that Harper left hook; from outta nowhere, brutal and like a no-nonsense hard smack to the coupon. It was shouty and guitary and, by now, being fed up with my Wedding Present LPs, immediately became my new favourite record. I went Pixies daft, buying Surfer Rosa and Come On Pilgrim on vinyl in one fell swoop, played them to death and waited patiently for about a year until Doolittle and all the other subsequent albums/singles/eps came along. Surfer Rosa, with it’s hubba-hubba sexy cover and more-tunes-to-the-groove ratio than their other LPs remains my favourite. And River Euphrates still remains my favourite Pixies track.

Not your normal guitar band, Pixies wrote songs differently. Their whole quiet/loud/quiet/loud schtick was adopted to great effect by Nirvana (you knew that already), but a quick flick through their back catalogue will reveal a whole host of very sweary and disturbing songs about slicing up eyeballs, broken faces (Harper again), tattooed tits and sending bloodied dresses to boyfriends in prison – subject matter that contemporaries then and now were not tackling. God only knows what they were singing about when they burst into Spanish. For the record, River Euphrates is a song about sailing down the actual River Euphrates on a giant tyre after running out of petrol somewhere on the Gaza Strip between Egypt and Israel. Nothing more, nothing less. River Euphrates is practically a quiet/loud/quiet Pixies template-by-numbers, with a breathy Kim Deal vocal struggling for space behind a loop of  3 barrre chords that musicians (pah!) like Roddy Frame would never consider putting together, and a larynx-loosening Frank Black vocal almost as big and ugly as his girth. He whispers one minute and barks like a dog the next and I love it. I used to try and play the siren-like riff by bending two strings together until my fingers bled (to paraphrase Bryan Adams) but it was only about a month ago that I discovered why my version sounded nothing like the original.

pixies river euphrates guitar

On Pixies’ Facebook page, guitarist Joey Santiago posted a picture of a beautiful Gretsch guitar (above), all silver sparkles and chrome. It belonged to Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie and it was this guitar, said Joey, that he played when the band recorded River Euphrates. The distinctive siren sound was created by manipulating the guitar’s Bigsby whammy bar though a torrent of feedback from a Marshall stack, two key ingredients that I don’t have. That’ll be why my version sounded like Lonnie Donegan jamming with Lee Mavers, I reasoned. It’ll also be why, I reasoned again, Pixies rarely played River Euphrates live. Look through any Pixies bootleg list and, while it makes an appearance here and there, River Euphrates was never really a staple of the Pixies live set. Later on on Facebook, someone pointed out that the guitar Joey had pictured didn’t actually have an on-board Bigsby, which kinda spoiled the story a wee bit for me, so we’ll just have to take his word for it.

Pixies recorded two studio versions of River Euphrates. The first appeared on the b-side of their Gigantic EP. The second, shorter version was recorded by Steve Albini and appeared on Surfer Rosa. Both, like, rock.

River Euphrates (Gigantic ep version)

River Euphrates (Surfer Rosa version)

Bonus Track!

Arch satirist Chris Morris did a Pixies parody called Motherbanger for Select magazine a few years ago. Spot on, as you’ll hear…..

Chris Morris – Motherbanger

Cover Versions, entire show, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Tres Bon Ivers

That story from the other day (here) about the boy who swapped his iPod for a Walkman for a week had me thinking back to all my old compilation tapes I’ve still got in a box. I used to listen to the John Peel show religiously and sit with my finger poised over the pause button of the cassette deck on my music centre (as they were called, in my house at least, between 1983 and 1990, until CD first came into my life) waiting for something good to pop up inbetween the anarcho-punk, dub reggae, Ivor Cutler and Fall tracks. Nowadays I can appreciate that for the most part, John Peel’s show was all good, but to a 13 year old mad about Adam and The Ants, Crass, Culture and Captain Beefheart were a step too far.

By the end of the 80s I was a dab hand at recording entire Peel Sessions. If I was lucky I’d pause it just before Peel started talking. In hindsight, that was a stupid thing to do. I’d love to know what he said about some of the sessions I taped, but his comments have floated off into the ethers of time. I still have those tapes though…

cassette

The House of Love (“Hey man, the bongos are too loud” – I managed to capture Peel that night!), numerous Wedding Presents, a great Inspiral Carpets session with their original singer that sounded like The Doors and The Teardrop Explodes slugging it out after 17 microdots. And some fantastic Pixies stuff, including their first Peel Session.

pixies bw

You can find out all you need to know about any John Peel session at this indispensable site here. This Pixies one was recorded at Maida Vale 4 on 3rd May 1988 (21 years ago!!!) and broadcast about a week later, the session was notable for a couple of things. Firstly, it sounded fantastic. Pristine recording. Short, short songs. Frank Black screaming his big fat head off. Listening to it now, I can vouch that it still sounds fantastic today. Secondly, the choice of songs the band played was interesting. Two tracks from their recently released ‘Come On Pilgrim’ ep, two cover versions and a track that wouldn’t see the light of day until the ‘Doolittle‘ album.

pixies bar

About 10 years ago, long before file sharing had reached the West of Scotland I bought a Pixies bootleg called ‘Rough Diamonds’. This album has 5 tracks credited to the May 88 session, but my old tape has 4 songs from the session. I either missed their pre-Doolittle version of ‘Hey‘, or that song wasn’t broadcast in the first place. The 5 tracks are:

Hey

Levitate Me

Wild Honey Pie

Caribou

In Heaven (Lady In The Radiator Song) 

In contrast to the rather daft and throwaway Beatles original, Wild Honey Pie is a full-on Frank Black scream-fest that wouldn’t sound out of place in any Pixies set of original material. In Heaven.. is a cover of a song from David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’. But you knew that already. Have you ever heard Peter Ivers original? Creeeeeeepy. High pitched voice, churchy keyboard and a wind effect at the end. The Pixies do a pretty good job of replicating it, but I think the Flaming Lips would really make this one soar. I’m now off to illegally seek out some Peter Ivers recordings.  Enjoy the session!

peter ivers

I heart Peter Ivers

 

Hard-to-find, Studio master tapes

Rock Me Joe!

“There was a guy. An underwater guy…” The Pixies are currently going through a bit of a renaissance in our house just now. I was getting fed up with all the feyness of the Fleet Foxes and their ilk (as much as I still like them) and was looking for something to blow the cobwebs away. Something loud. Actually, something quiet then LOUD. Then quiet again. Then 10 times LOUDER. You know what I mean. So I played ‘Surfer Rosa’ and everything was alright again. Then by coincidence, about an hour later I found the demos to ‘Doolittle‘ on Dimeadozen! A sign? I thought so. So I downloaded them, went back to my other Pixies albums and bootlegs and have been going Black Francis crazy ever since. In the car, on the iPod, on the good old fashioned stereo in the living room, the Pixies are everywhere. Everywhere. And they sound grrrrrrrrrreeeeeaaaaatttt!!!

Pixies ’88

Who’d have thought anyone responding to an advert seeking musicians “into Peter, Paul & Mary and The Beatles‘ could join forces and create such an unholy tuneful racket? I have been playing a bootleg called ‘Rough Diamonds’ an awful lot. In fact, it just might be the best Pixies non-release there is. It combines all of their BBC sessions at Maida Vale (unlike the incomplete official BBC Sessions CD) with some other studio outtakes from various sources. The sound quality is Grade A excellent. You really should seek it out. While it was never my favourite Pixies track (that would be Number 13 Baby. Or Broken Face. Or Gigantic. Or River Euphrates. Or…), I have been fairly taken by these versions of ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’

First, we have the demo version of the track that would appear on the Doolittle album. Slightly sparse and a wee bit less rocking than the released version, this version sees the band find their feet around the track. Kim Deal’s backing vocals are buried way too deep in the mix and the band sound quite restrained. By the time the band went to Maida Vale Studio 5 on 18th August 1988 (almost 20 years ago! Shite, I’m getting old), the tune had been transformed into something of a behemoth. It sounds like a ton of reverb has been chucked over the whole thing. The bass sounds fantastic and KIm’s breathy schoolgirl vocals are higher up in the mix. There’s even a wee bit of echo during the “If man is 5 then the devil is 6” bit. Frank Black/Black Francis is at his shouty best. This version goes quiet, LOUD, quiet, LOUDER. It’s a winner!

Pixies ’08. Peter, Paul, Mary and Ringo

If this isn’t enough for you, how about this? It’s only the studio master tapes of ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’!!!! 16 tracks of Kim, Black/Frank, David and Joseph Alberto Santiago. One complete ogg vorbis file. Open as usual in Audacity and remix away. More cello? Certainly! Loop the ‘Rock Me Joe’ bit. No bother. More reverb on the snare drum? Certainly sir. Here‘s the double-tracked vocals only version. God, the internet is great, isn’t it?

Hard-to-find

Grrrrrrrrrrrrremlins!

Thanks for all the emails. Many of you seem to be having problems clicking on the links and saving some of the music to your computer. Yesterday The Last Shadow Puppets and David Bowie tracks disappeared totally for a couple of hours. Today the Primal Scream tracks seem to be the ones going astray. I have no understanding of this, but I’m as pissed of about it as you might be if the track you really want appears to have gone AWOL. Behind the scenes I have a team of experts who are frantically trying to resolve the issue. As I write, all links are working – I’ve checked them all myself. But I can’t guarantee that’ll be the case in an hour or so. Please be patient! 

Download-only Pixies track from a couple of years ago. ‘Bam Thwok’ is the sound my brain is making trying to fix my download problem. Fingers crossed this link works.