I've mentioned before that, between about 1986 and 1994, I used zealously to tape the BBC Radio 1 shows of the legend that was John Peel.
There were a number of reasons for this, but primary amongst them was the simple fact that he played stuff that no-one else on the radio anywhere in the world (or at least anywhere I could pick it up) would give house-room to. On his programmes you could hear in sequence: a Rasta lament; the latest hard noise from the more unspeakable parts of the US; a storming floor-filler from the rave scene; a 1930s Delta blues; and oddities which had simply piqued his limitless curiosity.
Put in short, it was a musical education of enormous breadth, and I look at my collection now and see so much in it that I would never had heard but for him. I would only have known The Orb for Little Fluffy Clouds or Blue Room; I would have heard only Chumbawamba's big hit; and would probably never even have heard of Dr. Phibes And The House Of Wax Equations and Half Man Half Biscuit.
The tapes I made I listened to over and over, until many of the tracks (which I would have had no chance of ever being able to buy locally anyway, and this was many years before online selling came along) thereupon became as friends. Sadly, both of the double tape-decks I have in the house packed in some years ago and I can't get into the machinery to see if I can repair them. So the tapes have lain unplayed in a couple of drawers upstairs. This is not the end of their part in this story, however. Read on...
When I finally got online in June 2001, I went looking for some of this stuff. That wasn't at all easy at that time for a variety of reasons. For one thing, large repositories of music were not readily available anywhere at that time. Napster had only recently started (and was to close not long after I might have been interested), and what music files there may have been scattered elsewhere were of low quality, this being just at the very beginning of the .mp3 format's climb to prominence. Most files were in either Windows Media (.wma) format, or more often in (and I pause with a sense of horrified wonder at the recollection of this) Real Media formats (.ra and .rm), which could only be listened to on Real Player.
Things perked up a bit when I discovered the file-sharing networks which were in increasing competition with one another. The first I remember using was WinMX, but there were Shareaza, eMule and Soulseek, this last-named being particularly effective for finding electronic music.
I had collected quite a lot of material by the middle of 2002, and wondered what would be the best way of keeping it together. I then had the notion of burning the files as an audio CD and - literally - making an album of them. And so I did. The first two-disc set (to which I gave the overarching title Caught On The Net) was created and - as my searches became more successful with the opportunities for finding desirable choons increasing all the time - it wasn't long before I had started a series under the Caught On The Net 'brand'. There are as of this writing (as the Yanks say) now twenty two-disc volumes, and the twenty-first is in preparation (this will be the first one as a single-disc set, not due to a shortage of material but because I don't have any double-CD cases left and I can't be arsed ordering any online only to find that half of them have been broken in transit).
(I have a separate series - called Dememted Discs in honour of Dr. Demento himself - of funny and bizarre tracks, which now stretches to thirteen single-disc sets, but that's an article for another time).
The Caught On The Net sets don't just include what was on the Peel tapes, of course; any tracks which I remember fondly from other sources and in other contexts are included. This is particularly true of pieces related to old radio and television programmes, which I have been able to source by being part of a members-only archive repository.
Looking to round out the putative Volume 21, I thought of the Peel tapes again and went upstairs to sort through them for any possible additions, hampered more than somewhat of course by the fact that I couldn't actually listen to them.
I came back downstairs about forty minutes later with a list (14° to starboard) and a voice recording on my phone as I read likely titles into it. I then set about searching YouTube for them.
This is where things have become so much easier in recent years, as record companies, artists and private citizens (assuming we have any privacy anymore) post their (or, in the last-named instance, someone else's) work for the general betterment.
I had ended up with seventy or so potential candidates, so I set to it. There were a number which I simply couldn't find, and others where the version of the track I did find was a less interesting variant on the one I had recorded off air all those years ago. There were quite a few others where I found myself scratching my head and wondering what the hell it was I had liked about them in the first place; they must have simply caught the mood I was in at the time. I mean, no fewer than three songs from Heavenly, those ultimate purveyors of Sarah Records tweeness!
More fell into the category of 'yes, quite interesting, but not something I would really need to hear again', and another twenty-odd tracks were eliminated under that criterion.
I ended up with twenty tracks, some of which I found that I could still sing or hum along to; and at this point I was smacked across the face by the most sobering of reflections, viz., "Fucking hell! That was thirty years ago!".
Given that I went to all this bother (and that I now have enough not only to flesh out Volume 21 but to do Volume 22 as well and be a long way down the road to Volume 23), I thought that I'd share some of my re-discoveries with you now.
I was quite surprised - as someone who wasn't at all into the dance/rave/rampant hedonism scene of that time - how many of the long list I started out with were dance/trance/club tracks. Most of them just washed over me hearing them again now, but I'll start off with one which has a slightly curious history. Kinetic was first released in 1991 and credited to The Pied Piper. The next year, it was re-issued under the name Golden Girls. It's the same track, and it's still Michael Hazell behind it. Here's one of the remixes by Orbital. I particularly like the opening of this:
A big change of mood now, with Vancouver, BC's Lung from their sole album Magnum Opiate of 1992. This is Litany, which approaches the corpse-strewn coastline of death metal in places:
Gallon Drunk was a band which featured frequently on the Peel wing-dings, and this is the final track from their 1993 LP From The Heart Of Town. This noisescape is certainly 'out there' and contains a number of cheeky references - and in one case a direct lift - from the film music of Ennio Morricone:
Staying with the brooding and sinister, here's the author and artist Joolz Denby from her 1991 opus Weird Sister with the disturbing The Boy Next Door But One (with music by Justin Sullivan):
Going back to guitar-based US indie - a genre never knowingly underplayed by Peel - this is (these are) Treepeople from Boise, Idaho and the closing track from their 1991 album Guilt Regret Embarrassment, Trailer Park. Warning! There is a very loud noise at 1'21" and another at 3'42":
One of the more intriguing bands Peel championed (and he was the only one who did, much to the disgrace of all of those who thought that they were way hipper than an old hippy) was the equally intriguingly-named 70 Gwen Party. So much so that they did four sessions for his show.
Unfortunately, one of the tracks I failed to nail down was the original 1989 single release of War, Track And Field. I could only find a 1993 reworking for a compilation album, which wasn't as good.
I did find the original 1990 version (from the album Devil Wrapped & Ginsung Buried; their titles were often odd as well) of another favourite, Walkabout:
I think we need to find something a little gentler, a little more down to earth, don't you? The particular bit of Earth we're down to here being Madagascar. Peel was the first strong proponent of what became - in that way that marketing-speak pollutes everything of value - 'world music'. Although he didn't let it take over in the same way that it did with his protegé and friend Andy Kershaw, traditional and traditional-styled music from around the world featured heavily down the years.
Here to prove it is a track I heard - like the rest in this little parade - in the early 1990s, but which comes from an LP originally issued in 1986, entitled Madagasikara One - Current Traditional Music Of Madagascar. Here are Daniel Tombo and Marceline Vaviroa with Feam Baliha, a track which was a proper sod to hunt down because the spelling of both artists and title on the inlay card of my tape were based on what I thought John said and - with all fairness to the bloke - he wasn't an expert on Malagasy pronunciation:
It's time to head to the chill-out room at the end of our little Tale Of The Tapes. Here's Neutron 9000 (aka Dominic Woosey) with Transoceana from 1990's The Green House Effect. Sail away, sea mammal noises and all: