This is happening without your permission


Ah…1993. It did feel like revolution was in the air, even to those of us isolated from so much, living for a glimpse into an alternative reality provided by reading NME (it used to be more radical, honest) and listening to John Peel. I read George Orwell’s Keep The Aspidistra Flying and it changed my life, making me question the politics that I’d accepted. ‘Every intelligent boy of sexiteen is a socialist’ it says. Some of us idealistic 32 year olds still try to hang onto that.

In just a couple of years bands from the ‘indie/’alternative’ spectrum would take on the charts, and it seemed like a victory until a certain lad’s mag started seeming to make it okay to be a lad (for which read lager lout, and sneering at anyone who attempted to stick up for oppressed minorities). Girl power ultimately became more synonymous with the Spice Girls, but for a while, there were many female fronted bands who would terrify the bejaysus out of everyone. That is, they pointed out that guys groping girls at gigs was not on (believe me, I wouldn’t have), and that there was still a lot of misogyny going on in the music business, and indeed in life in general. The school I was at refused to let girls wear trousers; quite why they weren’t challenging this I don’t know, and the female staff were not confronting the powers that be about it either). Looking at John Peel’s Festive Fifty for that year, the amount of female-fronted bands who gave the impression that they were going to kick a lot of backsides was quite a force to be reckoned with, and they hailed from both sides of the Atlantic: Hole (before they signed to Geffen), Voodoo Queens, P J Harvey- and Huggy Bear.

Huggy Bear are perhaps now best remembered for an episode when they caused chaos on TV show The Word. Some people seem to remember The Word as being this era-defining show, I don’t know that it was (though a few years later, a version of it was sanitised, presented as teatime entertainment and called TFI Friday. oh, come on, you KNOW I’m right). Having performed their song ‘Herjazz’ (which I’d heard on John Peel, natch, along with Cornershop), they were not amused about “a report on 2 American models who called themselves “the Barbi Twins”. Huggy Bear and their fans became upset at this and started shouting at the show’s noticeably uncomfortable presenter Terry Christian. They were violently ejected from the studio and a spokesperson for The Word later said that one of the band’s friends had “bit the face of a member of our production team.” The performance was given a Melody Maker cover story, the event being compared to the Sex Pistols’ Bill Grundy incident.” (This seems to be quoted verbatim about the internet; hence why it is in quote marks; they are not my words and I am not sure who to credit*). I missed the performance, but the fact that it happened seemed pretty radical. As did the rumour of them playing women only gigs, though it appears that they only did two, one with Bikini Kill and one with Hole. This led to discussions about whether this was discrimination, and there was a fair amount of attacking the girls on the grounds that they couldn’t play their instruments. ‘Scuse me?! Yup, this was nearly two decades after punnk, and people were still coming out with this tripe.

Alas, the promised revolution never happened. The band broke up in 1995. As to whether there wasn’t an influence going on, I beg to differ, ever so politely: Sleeper, Echobelly and Skunk Anansie may have had more commercial success over the following years, and may have been less overtly feminist, but they continued to challenge the traditionally misogynistic and sexist ideas about women just being there to look front the bands and look pretty. And Riot Grrl, as it was known, has had a far longer lasting influence than the so-called ‘New Wave of New Wave.’ **

I’d never forgotten them, though I couldn’t get my hands on the 7″ at the time. Then yesterday, a mere sixteen years later I found it (and yes, in a plastic bag, not a proper sleeve. Proper indie, kids). It still has the power:

Huggy Bear -‘Herjazz.’ mp3

…and because I think they belong with this post

Voodoo Queens -‘Supermodel Superficial.’ mp3

P.J.Harvey -‘Dress.’ mp3

Hole -‘Beautiful Son.’ mp3

Bikini Kill -‘I Like Fucking.’ mp3

Huggy Bear myspace tribute

* It is possibly Grrrls: Viva Rock Divas by Amy Raphael

** I should admit, though, that I do still have a copy of the mini-album by S*M*A*S*H

Keeping it Peel

Looking thorugh the John Peel-related posts on the BBC’s website, particularly relating to the Festive Fifties, it’s kinda interesting to see what gets thrown up, in terms of the bands you rediscover, never heard, or are surprised to see in there. It’s good to see stuff that comes round again…or should. Today’s post is actually quite heavy on 1993, a time when I listened to John Peel’s show pretty regularly, taping it (no podcasts then!) and trying to stay awake until 2AM on Friday and Saturday nights, something that I didn’t manage very often. It’s also interesting to note just how much good stuff there was, and looking back, thanks to John Peel, the NME and Melody Maker, the local library and Radio 1 finally moving forward, just how much aware I was of quite a few of these at the time.

What was it about his show? Oh heck…his enthusiasm for music, the sheer diversity of the music, the fact that he knew so much about music, you felt he was teaching you just as much as your own teachers were. He was cool to me, not in a silly way, but just managing to have his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. Or something. When John Peel died in 2004, my mother and another friend were very quick to ring up and see how I was. It’s fair to say no other DJ could make people act this way.

Anyway, on with the music…

Laura Cantrell was a favourite of John Peel and no fewer than three songs from her album Not The Tremblin’ Kind made the Festive Fifty in 2000. These definitely tend towards ‘Country’ rather than ‘Americana.’ This is my favourite of those three:

Laura Cantrell -Two Seconds.’ mp3 (2000 Festive Fifty no.27)

Of course, there were some very angry Americans on there too, perhaps typified by the Dead Kennedys twenty years previous to Laura Cantrell;

Dead Kennedys -‘Holiday In Cambodia.’ mp3 (1980 Festive Fifty no.6, 1981 Festive Fifty no.9, 1982 all-time chart no.14, Millennium all-time chart no.14 )

And it wasn’t all singing either:

Pigbag -‘Pap’s got a Brand New Pigbag.’ mp3 (1981 Festive Fifty no.39,)

I wish I could claim that the first time I ever heard Billy Bragg was on John Peel’s show, as a very clued-up, cool ten year old. That would be a lie, however. I actually first heard this on Now That’s What I Call Music Volume 8 (also featuring the Pet Shop Boys, Run DMC, Cameo…and Nick Berry). Oh well.

Billy Bragg -‘Greetings To The New Brunette.’ mp3 (1986 Festive Fifty no.41)

The first time I ever heard PJ Harvey was thanks to a free cassette (this was 1992, free CDs started appearing a year or so later in the UK),on which was her Peel session version of Water, on a compilation free with a magazine called VOX (a nineties magazine largely written by NME writers), called Radio Daze. A year later Peel played the corrosive and scary 50FT Queenie (including when he hosted a lunchtime show for a couple of weeks), and then one night in early 1995 ‘Down By The Water.’

PJ Harvey -‘Sheela-Na-Gig.’ mp3 (1992 Festive Fifty no. 2)

PJ wasn’t quite a riot grrl (sic) per se but pre-Britpop, there was a lot of angry, politicised music, and no lack of things to get worked up about, and there were a lot of bands leading the way. I remember scrawling Cornershop on my school-bag, much to the complete disdain of my school mates. Bet they all brought ‘Brimful Of Asha’ especially for that line about bosoms. Hmm. Anyway, five great tracks from the 1993 Festive Fifty:

Chumbawumba and Credit To the Nation-‘Enough Is Enough.’ mp3 (1993 Festive Fifty no.1)

Madder Rose – ‘Swim.’ mp3 (1993 Festive Fifty no.2)

Voodoo Queens -‘Supermodel Superficial.’ mp3 (1993 Festive Fifty no.6)

Senser – ‘Eject.’ mp3 (1993 Festive Fifty no.21)

Credit To the Nation -‘Call It What You Want.’ mp3 (Festive Fifty no.24)