Songs You Did Get To Hear On The Radio
When the sky was teenage blue … part two
On hearing about John Peel’s death I made an immediate list of the first ten
things I remembered about his shows. Strangely the first one on that list was
how one night (1979-ish) he started his show with the Cockney Rejects’ 'Flares & Slippers'.
Now the opening lines were too naughty to play on the radio, so he just said: “Freedom?
There ain’t no Nottingham Forest freedom!” And blam! Straight into that raucous
It’s funny the tricks memory plays on you. So many people have said this week how John Peel provided a unique outlet for strange and adventurous sounds that may never have been heard otherwise. It is hard to overemphasise the contribution he made to popular culture. I listened religiously to his show as a teenager, and heard so much odd pop there I still think that strangeness is the norm.
This is why when I recommended Enamel Verguren’s book on the 1980s London mod scene and its gorgeous photos, it was still with the twinge of sadness I feel about the faces being more interested in lager and lewdness than Emma Goldman and the Swell Maps. The revolutionary pop spirit was so close to hand if you wanted it.
There was some overlap between the underground pop world and the new mod generation. The Jasmine Minks were occasionally like the Swell Maps meet The Jam, and attracted the odd mod. Hurrah! were the best messy beat group of their generation for a few years, and appealed to mods who shared an affinity for white jeans, suede jackets and black crew necks.
It seems almost blasphemous to say it, but there were times when John Peel steadfastly refused to play certain group’s records. Hurrah! were one such group, which is still odd as only The Fall wrote better pop songs, but there you go. Hurrah! are in danger of being forgotten. I think it is about time we started a campaign to get Revola to reissue the awesome Hurrah! collection, The Sound of Philadelphia. I’ve been playing it all week, and we need to tell a new generation about the magic of their humble hymns with those joyous layers of chiming guitars.
I always loved the fact that Joe Foster or whoever called the collection The Sound Of Philadelphia. It made the all-important link with soul music, rather than the horrible solidity of rock. I actually dug the collection out this week because the other record I have been playing to death is the wondrous Soul Jazz collection The Sound of Philadelphia funk, soul and the roots of disco 1965 - 73 - the second volume in the Philadelphia Roots series. It’s a collection I can’t recommend highly enough. And the only really well known number on there is First Choice’s 'Armed And Extremely Dangerous', which you can never hear often enough.
The real gems on this collection oddly enough are a couple of out-there Three Degrees tracks, which are exceptional. I can’t ever remember hearing anything as astonishing as these songs - very deep, very strange, very lovely. But there’s not a weak track on this set. And what a year Soul Jazz are having.
One of the points often made in the book on the 1980s London mod scene is how hard it was to get hold of the source mod sounds unless you were well-off. There were not gorgeous collections like the Soul Jazz sets of Philadelphia roots. There were not even CDs. There wasn’t even Kent Records at the start of the ‘80s.
So, the capital’s new generation of mods sort of went the opposite way to their predecessors. They started out as lumpen mod proles, but those that stuck with it really refined their act, and erm “shaped up and sharpened up”. So the scene dreamers were wont to be wanting an original Sue 7” rather than a new parka. Which is how it should be.
And then there was Kent Records who as the ‘80s progressed did make available so many mod source sounds in an extremely classy manner. So it’s appropriate that it is Kent that has just released a sumptious CD called The Soul of Sue, with a tasty Guy Stevens photo on the cover. Stevens, the mod god who bridged the gap from running the UK arm of Sue in the ‘60s providing the young mods’ all-important r’n’b education to producing The Clash’s London Calling at the end of the ‘70s when the new generation of mods was finding its feet.
This Kent collection is an absolute goldmine and the ultimate mod private party soundtrack. One of the songs music loving Johnny Peel used to play a lot when I was knee high was the TV Personalities’ 'Part Time Punks', with its immortal reference to the young punks pogoing in their bedrooms (but only when their mums were out). Well, just as now we can have enjoy a sublime Sue soundtrack, and imagine we are out on the floor at The Scene club in our desert boots and black crew necks, so it was with the Peel show every night that the challenging sounds of everyone from the Gang Of Four and Delta 5 to the Prefects and Subway Sect would invade our bedrooms, mess with our minds, and leave us with crazy notions of what pop should be.
I really thought The Pop Group and Slits and Blue Orchids and Wah! and Wire were out and out pop. This strangeness is what I grew up with, and John Peel played all this music. We will never ever know if anyone else would’ve. We will never know if anyone other than Guy Stevens would have been in the right place at the right time to popularise black r’n’b in the ‘60s. We will never know if anyone other than Joe Strummer could have sung about the White Man In Hammersmith Palais. We will never know if anyone else could have changed the world of pop like the Ramones. We will never know if anyone else could have directly involved me in pop like Hurrah!
I will never forget hearing The Fall performing 'Industrial Estate' in session on the John Peel show on 15 June 1978. It’s all we talked about the next day at school. I was 14. Five years later I used to desperately hope John Peel would play 'Hip Hip' by Hurrah! every night. He didn’t. I can forgive him now. As Max Miller used to say: “You’ve got to like him ladies, there’ll never be another!”
© 2004 John Carney