Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Treasured Tape

Stuck away in the corner of the gimp room in Hartop Towers is a case of cassettes. 216 of them to be precise. I know this because they are stored in groups of 24 and there are 9 separate groups within the case. I did say I was being precise. The case is very hard to get at mainly as it is hidden down the side of the sofa and has "The Complete Works Of Gilbert + George" books the Tate Modern put out a few years back and a couple of Stimulus LP's leant against it as well as Throbbing Gristle's "32nd Annual Report" LP (the one in a glass frame) and the box set "TG+" resting on top of it. Perusing the contents takes effort and determination. The reason the case is situated so is because it is full of cassettes over 10 years old, they have been in there since I moved down here to Devon and passed by with new arrivals. Some cassettes in there I have had since the late 1980's.
It is mainly cassettes that other folk have compiled for me as "official" cassette releases get filed elsewhere and are more accessible. (Hey! these ones cost money)!
A couple of weeks ago grit and determination fell upon me as I was after a cassette with a piece I needed to sample for the Dieter Muh gig in London and I found a cassette given to me by an old friend over 20 years ago. This is one of my most treasured cassettes. A real desert island job. It features five John Peel Sessions from 1979 through to 1981, and probably five of my favourite Peel Sessions from all time.
The cassette is over 20 years old, and although not seeing much of the outside world (or the inside of a cassette deck) for the past ten years it still sounds damn good quality and has very little "tape hiss". That says a lot for the quality of TDK "D" cassettes. The cassette did have a lot of playtime throughout the 1980's and 1990's!
First up is the first John Peel Session by This Heat. OK, this one has been re-released a couple of times on the "Made Available" CD album (also included on the "Out Of Storage" CD Box Set) but it is great to hear it all on tape...with the "hiss" and the hesitant breath of Peelie just before the last second of each track. All 4 tracks are from the first This Heat LP. I remember buying the LP upon release. It was filed in the "Avant Garde" section of Sanctuary Records in Lincoln along with Throbbing Gristle , A. More and Hatfield & The North. It could quite simply be the best album ever made, the way it splices between studio(s) and live recordings is inspirational. This Heat were inspirational. Next up on the cassette is A Certain Ratio's first Peel Session. Along with SPK and Psychic TV, A Certain Ratio are one of my "most seen" bands of the 1980's. Incredibly under-rated and overlooked, mainly because they went totally pants fairly early on in their career span. First two LP's are sure fire classics (especially "To Each"), but "Sextet" and "I'd Like To See You Again" are incredibly patchy. Lyrical geniuses and a little ahead of their time. "Sometimes I feel so big, my head brushes against the roof. But my thoughts are just hotels, full of other people's ideas...ideas". I love that line from "The Choir".
Modern English. Colchesters and (one of) 4AD's finest. The sleeve lists only two tracks from this session, but there is also a track (I think) called "Silence & Solitude" slotted in on the end of Side A. Modern English were a great singles band. 4AD was a great singles label. Their singles were anthemic but unfortunately their albums were poor. From 1979's "Drowning Man" (on Link Records) to 1983's "Someone's Calling" every Modern English single is a must have. Remember this was all before the term "Goth" was used. Heavy bassline, drums and swimming guitar around a polyphonic synthesized keyboard with vocal hooks "to die for". Modern English. Colchester's answer to Scotland's Scars. Excellent band. The third track on the session "Being Peeled" is a great piece of avant garde. Reversed bass and drums against spliced vocal, telephone conversations and screaming. If only they had carried on in this vein.
A memory as if it is a dream, but it could be real. Ten / twelve years ago I was watching the kiddies TV Show "Sabrina: The Teenage Witch", don't ask me why because the answer will probably offend. Anyway, I was watching the programme and there was a college party scene with a live band playing and the band was Modern English doing "I Melt With You". Did Modern English go chasing the US Market a la A Flock Of Seagulls, Simple Minds, The Police et al in the mid 1980's? Where they really on "Sabrina: The Teenage Witch" or was I so strung out I just imagined it?
I never saw Modern English live. Like all "early" 4AD bands they hardly ever ventured up North. 4AD Nights taking place in London more often than not. After the amazing "Being Peeled"track comes the first Peel Session by 23 Skidoo. Untracklisted here but it does feature songs from the "7 Songs" LP, plus a track that starts off like "Kundalini" but goes somewhere else completely. Why this hasn't been put out on CD or vinyl I do not know. Like the aforementioned A Certain Ratio 23 Skidoo went fairly pants early on in their recording output. Can anyone like "Coup"?? Put it against "Tearing Up The Plans" or this Peel Session and it sounds like "Being Boiled" against "Don't You Want Me Baby". Or "Too Much Is Not Enough" against "Your Love Is Super Funky"! I blame Sketch of course.
The cassette ends on 2 songs from the only In Camera Peel Session. Again (like This Heat) the session has seen the light of day before, on the 4AD 12"EP "Fin".
Like A Certain Ratio, In Camera were lyrical geniuses. Vocals were spat out over heavy rotational drum beats and two bass guitars. "Pausing for your conscience gets you slaughtered". A chosen epitaph and strong belief. In Camera only released 2 singles in their lifetime. A posthumous Peel Session 12" and compilation CD followed after their demise. I recommend the CD "13 (Lucky For Some)" released by 4AD in 1992. Like Mass, Rema Rema and My Captains In Camera are a part of my youth I shall never forget.

This tape - compiled and given to me by Tim Bayes is one of my most treasured tapes - and I have a feeling I shall be buried with it. It has also encouraged me to dig deep in to this case of cassettes of old - see what gems are lurking.....

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