Category Archives: John Peel

Listening to my Versus tape

Bright Light // Forest Fire (Pop Narcotic Records 7" single, 1992
Bright Light // Forest Fire (Pop Narcotic Records 7″ single, 1992)

I can’t seem to get it straight, stay up late and sleep all day, listening to my Versus tape is still the same…

 

 

 

I came to America and got to hang out with bands.

Small Factory from my previous post has a song on the first CD that I bought by them and it’s called Versus Tape. It seems to be about the singer trying to get his life into some kind of shape, and listening to the Brooklyn band Versus clearly helps him a lot. I love it when singers of songs mention other singers or bands in their lyrics, and especially if the singer is a fan of the particular act in question.

(There are probably hundreds of examples of artist references in songs that I sure would appreciate y’all adding your own versions to in the comments. Right now I’m stuck on Versus Tape and something by The Who that mentions drinking himself blind to the sound of old T.Rex. Patrik Fitzgerald in another of my posts mentions listening to Bowie and riding with him out through the stars. That’s just breathtaking. I love that namedrop thing.)

I liked Versus Tape so much and the way he sang about them that I went and bought a Versus CD without ever hearing them. This was back in the day when you couldn’t just key up a song on any device you happened to have handy to see if you liked it or not. (Writing this post I tried to find songs by Small Factory and Versus on the net and they weren’t easy to track down either.)

As I’ve said on here I was living in a town that didn’t have much going for it and so I just had to take a chance on a band I’d never heard. I bought the first CD Versus released – which was fairly new at the time – because even though I didn’t know the singer in Small Factory personally I trusted him implicitly. The love of a good band can do that to you.

As I found out Versus are very good and didn’t sound a million miles away from Small Factory. On their debut album Versus also consisted of two guys and a girl, like Small Factory, except the girl in Versus plays the bass and she’s called Fontaine Toups; another excellent name to rival that of Small Factory drummer Phoebe Summersquash. The other two guys in Versus were that rare thing of being Filipino brothers in a rock band in America; singer and guitarist Richard Baluyut and his brother Ed on the drums.

I guess you’d call Versus ‘indie rock’ if you were looking for a safe house. I recall being pleased with my risk purchase for the way that they played their guitars being somewhat different and more melodic to grunge and hard rock which I didn’t particularly care for. Don’t get me wrong Versus can certainly belt it out with the best of them too.

Over the years I bought everything they released up to a point, and all on compact disc as records were hard to find in lower Alabama at that time. I would do this thing to liven up or personalize CD packaging by replacing the grey back plate that typically holds the disc in place with a clear plastic back plate, which I would then store stuff behind, such as reviews and bits of receipts and such. Anything to make it seem more mine as I found the compact disc format rather impersonal and clunky and I never really got to care for it.

I recall seeing Versus one time only at a venue called Howlin’ Wolf in the warehouse district of New Orleans. The venue is still going strong in its new location in the French Quarter of the city. I say this because I don’t recall much about the show that I saw or even what year it was but I do recall that my ex-wife and I got lost attempting to locate the venue in the warehouse district, ending up driving through a poor and run-down ghetto area of the city; with huge potholes in the road, street lights smashed out or broken, and large numbers of gathered people staring in at us as we drove past, and with a cop car following us with its lights on full beam to guide us both safely out.

At the venue I met two of the members of Versus and they signed their names on a compilation CD of theirs called Dead Leaves, a detail of which I include here alongside an image from their debut CD The Stars are Insane, complete with its adjusted back plate;

Dead Leaves

Stars are Insane

I spoke to Richard from the band as he signed the inside of the CD case, and was thrilled that he referred to me as The King of England. That’s a landmark memory right there. Also behind the back case of The Stars are Insane there’s a small torn corner from a newspaper upon which Richard wrote a note to me about bringing the band to perform in my then hometown of Mobile, Alabama, thus;

Richard writes

No way was I capable or connected enough to be able to bring Versus to perform a show in Mobile as I just didn’t know how to go about doing that sort of thing. It was different in the USA to how it was when the band I’d been in – at that time in my life nary five years ago – had been given lots of opportunities and varied venues to play in England. In America I could but dream and hope that a band I was interested in would one day play in my part of the world, which at that time was a rare thing.

Speaking of dreams, one of mine eventually came true when I came across Versus on vinyl at last, via the single featured here, at a record fair in my new home town of Winston Salem some years later. I paid $6.00 for the 7″ 45 on the Pop Narcotic label based out of Boston, MA, and was chuffed that it featured Bright Light, my favourite song on the Dead Leaves CD that Richard from the band had scrawled on back there.

“Amazing!”, says the handwriting on the small white sticker that was affixed to the front of the 7″ record sleeve. “Brooklynesque pop on Brack’s candy vinyl… I (heart) dese guys!”

I enjoyed the handwritten colloquial play on the word ‘these’ written there, even if I still have no idea what Brack’s candy actually is or even looks like. Let’s look at the actual record, shall we, and see if it reminds y’all of the candy brand and colour that my sticker refers to;

Vers6

Chances are good that the white background of the scanner I use at work is not doing the vibrancy of the plastic featured here any justice at all. It really is a lovely thing; a wonder found purely through a chance meeting with another band on MTV 120 Minutes, who were singing about a cassette tape that featured another band who were so good they just had to write a song about the feeling it gave.

And now I wonder if any song on my many cassette mix-tapes had that same effect on those I sent them to.

When I first came to America I discovered so much new music so quickly that I just had to share it with my friends I’d left back home in England.

At first I couldn’t work here until I was legalized and so days would turn into months listening to music and compiling tapes at a large circular wooden table in the dining room in Mobile, Alabama. I would keep scrupulous notes of which mate got which song, notes I still have, so that I wouldn’t duplicate music that may even pass between the two. It was a light industry of creativity and entertainment and variety that I sorely miss in these digital days, when music doesn’t seem to even want to have a tangible form anymore.

At first my tapes were just songs played consecutively one after the other, until one day I decided to add a faux DJ element to the mix with a microphone I plugged into the cassette deck; my dreams of being a real radio DJ peering into the light. I even invented a name for my pretend radio station; Radio Cheezwiz, the subtle vocabulary difference allegedly separating me from the popular US cheese spread brand of a similar name.

I’d get a six-pack of beer, a full night stretching ahead of me (later with a day off from work the next day), and records and tapes stacked around as I began my journey. There was no template or plan other than the desire to belt a song over the imaginary tennis net to the receiver on the other side.

I had little or no specific response about songs from the many subscribers I had on my yellow legal pad lists, but just to do it was enough for me, and I loved it.

In return I’d get tapes from the same mates in Old Blighty, a selection of which I’ve photographed here alongside one or two of mine, to wrap this show up.

I’d make covers from magazine ads and such, double-stick taped to the label inner of the Maxell XLII 90, (Radio Cheezwiz cassette tape brand of choice. You can’t buy them in stores anymore.)

Often I would give the entire shebang a title – one pictured here that my mate Greg photographed for me from his own copy is named Search: Go To just because I liked the sound of the phrase.

Then off it would fly in the post, its destination varied, hopefully to invoke a similar reaction upon its receipt to the Frazier Chorus song String that I have previously written about on here. Same words, different feeling.

I am still dreaming and I keep listening, even if  I’m not taping anymore. Some of the cassette tapes featured have specks of dust on them, and I like that.

You can’t get dust on a digital file. I’m fairly certain you can’t even own it, and at no point does it ever seem like it’s being used. My creased up card and worn down plastic buzzes and creaks like something mechanical, and I will always rejoice in that difference.

 

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Processed with VSCOcam with a2 presettape 4Tape 3

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In the Nursery

In the Nursery 1

Sesudient // Archaic Torso / Blade / Incidental Guilt (Third Mind Records 12″, 1990)

My favourite record shop of my life so far is called Vinyl Exchange on Oldham Street in the centre of Manchester, in England.

I can’t recall exactly when I first discovered it but I know that it was sometime in the 1980s. It’s still going strong to this day, but for me – since the advent of compact disc taking away an entire floor of its retail space – it just hasn’t been quite the same as it used to be.

Vinyl Exchange early on carried exclusively used records and occasionally cassette tapes and videos from back in the days before small digital discs changed everything. It was stocked by offerings from the public but more excitingly through a syndicate of record reviewers and writers from Manchester who contributed to glossy magazines via features and music reviews. They would regularly trade promotional copies of free records to the shop for beer money.

In this way the records that you found in the shop were unlike anywhere else that I knew of, and often included press kits and further information about the artist to pitch the product to the writer, and these were offered gratis inside the sleeve at point of purchase, and usually referred to on the small green stickers affixed to the top right corner of the sleeve, as with this one.

You could lose hours in tireless pursuit in that place and I very often did.

I’d typically get the train on a Saturday from my hometown of Widnes in the North of England, roughly ten station stops, thirty-five minutes, and twenty-seven miles from Oxford Road in Manchester. I didn’t have a great deal of money in those days and would budget throughout the week for my Saturday visit into town. I would stop in to various record shops in the city as I wound my way inward but would always end up in Vinyl Exchange as my last port of call.

It’s on a street corner surrounded by bars and restaurants in a popular student area of town. In my day it was opposite Eastern Bloc Records on the other corner of a busy intersection; an almost exclusively-dance-music shop that had a box of 50p (75c) sale 12″ singles on its counter that were in no way representative of its typical store stock. I found some great stuff in that box.

I’m thinking that sales reps would come to the store and offer free records if the shop would invest in their latest hopeful offerings. If you could get your latest record played in Eastern Bloc on a Saturday afternoon it was a very big deal. Kids would congregate in the store before heading out to the legendary Hacienda nightclub later that night. Eastern Bloc was Manchester’s hip record shop to be seen in if that was your bag. Vinyl Exchange wasn’t quite the same kind of place.

Firstly it was much older and more earthy, dustier and I’d say even grimy compared to the sleek and polished interior of Eastern Bloc. It had racks around the walls stuffed with record covers in plastic sleeves by names I’d never heard of, and large cardboard boxes beneath those racks full of reduced stock. Vinyl Exchange had a very proactive stocking policy to cope with the volume of records it would receive on a daily basis. Every three weeks the entire stock would be reduced until the item had sold. The supply effortlessly equalled the demand at its peak.

I recall I went for a job interview in Vinyl Exchange once. I had no illusions that they would hire me but wanted to try anyway just in case. I recall I was taken downstairs into the basement and sat on a chair surrounded by more records than I’d then ever seen, and I probably spent my entire allocated time just wondering what was in those boxes all around me. The cooler young chap sat opposite me and very much going through the motions on that day said that he was looking for someone who could specialize in raising their dance music reputation in the area. I was clearly way out of my league but enjoyed the experience nevertheless.

If I could have only been left alone in that basement for an hour or so…

That was exactly my thing when shopping for records and to a certain extent very much still is. I’d always be keen to find something unusual or esoteric without being too weird or hard to grasp. I’m fascinated by the underdog I guess and try to find stuff I’ve never heard before and which intrigues me.

Consider this entry’s featured offering for a moment and let us indulge in a fairly typical mental checklist from a Saturday afternoon spent crawling around on the floor with boxes of reduced vinyl stock all around me. It was an attractive proposition for me to pick up seven or eight records for the price of one across the street, and I exhibited endless patience and tenacity for the journey;

Does the band have a stupid name? No it does not. It’s kind of intriguing. I have not heard of this band before. Does it have an appealing tinted image on the cover? Yes it does. She looks like a chanteuse in a foreign language film I would like to see, and she is holding a flower in a quietly seductive fashion.

Does it have slick art-department-style squiggly lettering for the main song that you would in no way be able to decipher where it not for the same song title repeated in clearer type on the back of the sleeve? Check. What’s a ‘sesudient’ anyway? How about featuring its year of release in Roman numerals? Check again. Very classy is that. Carry it under your arm to college and the girls will just swoon all around you.

Do you get any free stuff with it? Oh boy, do you ever! Three photocopied sheets are inside; including the intro sheet written by a representative from the record company who would happily sell you his fingernails if you’d just listen to the bloody thing. He’s talking on here about “the Bardot-like voice of Dolores Marguerite C.” as well as “atmospheric melody” and “orchestral textures.” I think I’m in…

Is it cheap? It’s 10p. Oh, sorry… It’s TEN PENCE!

In the Nursery 2 

This 12″ single was my first introduction to In the Nursery, who are two almost identical twin brothers from Sheffield in England playing militaristic and often moody orchestral music. Sesudient is taken from the album L’esprit that I probably bought the very next week from the same shop in mint condition for one-pound-99 says the sticker on the sleeve that I still have. From that record I’d recommend Azure Wings. It’s captivating stuff.

All songs spoken of you can hear on You Tube, and while we’re at it when legendary UK DJ John Peel’s impressive record collection was recently introduced to the internet and one act per month was featured from it in alphabetical order, In the Nursery was the letter I. Each letter of the alphabet accompanied a short film that highlights their relationship with John when he was giving airtime to their earlier more post-punk type stuff. I prefer the later stuff, to use a time-worn cliche.

There was a time when I would utilize strenuous efforts to remove price stickers and pen markings from records I bought, but when scanning the sleeve for this I removed the two stickers from the inner sleeve I’d affixed them to and returned them to the front cover. The older I get the more I forget and this now helps me to remember. You can see that the record had been reduced many times before someone took it home and on that day that someone was me, digging in the dirt for the never famous.

I miss those days like I cannot adequately tell you.