Sunday, 18 October 2009

Peel Legends on Dandelion Radio: Caroline Martin

Peel Legends: Caroline Martin

Have written now about most of the Peel legends contributing exclusive tracks to my October two-part specials on Dandelion Radio, I find myself wondering why I’ve not written anything about the track Caroline Martin submitted. Then I sat down to write this, and I realised why. Because Caroline’s one of those artists whose touch is so light, whose appeal is so subtle and whose songs creep up on you in the night like an experience as perfect as a dream, but with the power of a nightmare. The phrase ‘indescribable beauty’ in this context just wouldn’t do, because such a trite description doesn’t get anywhere near the force in Caroline’s music.

Caroline recorded three Peel sessions between the years of 1999 and 2003. Her track ‘The Singer’ appeared in that first session and later appeared on record and in the final Peel festive fifty of 2004 at number three, thus holding the distinction of being the ‘oldest’ track to appear in one of the yearly festive fifties (as opposed, of course to the ‘all time’ ones).

Perhaps this fact speaks volumes of the timelessness of Caroline Martin’s songs. In any just world, her music would be spoken of in the same hushed tones currently reserved for Nick Drake. It’s only to be hoped that Caroline’s true contribution is recognised in a more timely manner than was Nick’s.

I know Caroline was making a CD of her Peel sessions available at gigs. I don’t know whether this is still the case, but there are many reasons, anyway, for going to see her live. She plays two Bristol gigs before jetting off to Germany for a full tour in December. If you’re anywhere in the vicinity I’d advise you to take the opportunity to see her now or regret missing out later (dates below)

And of course, you’ll want to hear her exclusive track in part two of my Dandelion Peel legends special, which will continue to stream at various times throughout the month at For more information on this remarkable artist, go to and

Bristol gigs:

7 November – Island Records Night, The Folkhouse, Bristol
11 December – Warm-up gig, The Folkhouse, Bristol

Germany tour:

Starts at Wildehausen on 14 December. Check Caroline’s myspace for dates and venues.

Mark W

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Peel Legends on Dandelion Radio: Solex

Peel Legends: Solex

Solex – A French carburettor manufacturer
Solex – A California-based manufacturer of construction equipment
Solex – An Australian electronics supplier

If you have more time on your hands than you really should, you can quite easily find dozens of things named Solex. But what I find most reassuring is that, typing the word into Google, the top link reads: Official site with information on Elisabeth Esselink, pop artist.

This is a rare example of the world getting its priorities right.

In Elisabeth Esselink’s case, I don’t even mind the rather suspect term ‘pop artist’ because it fits her Solex project rather well. I’ve found myself putting on Solex CDs in those awkward moments when you really can’t find anything else that fits your mood. Her music is something to which normal rules don’t apply. The cut and paste she applies to sound collages doesn’t work the same way as when other people do roughly the same thing. A Solex rhythm may take from other rhythmic sources, but sounds unlike anything else.

‘Quick Step & Hard Bop’ is my favourite Solex album. This is predictable in the sense that it is the only album to yield festive fifty entries, two in fact. But it also showcases Solex’s unique appeal in a way no other collection quite does. Despite this, if I were to award stars or ratings to Solex’s work (something which I never do, so I’m not really sure why I’m even writing this, except that it makes the point, which is…) I couldn’t actually bring myself to award any of her other albums any less than this one.

This may seem bizarre, even paradoxical. To which I would say, welcome to the world of Solex. It’s a great place to be. So good, I spend a few weeks here every year and, despite the unpredictable nature of what is here, whenever I return I always get the same feelings from it. Solex is emotionally reassuring, despite being jarring and extreme. Its experience is never intense, and at its heart is a playfulness that is rarely a feature of truly great music. The rules aren’t so much different here, as absent.

Solex recorded four Peel sessions between 1998 and 2002. Now, in memory of John Peel on the fifth anniversary of his passing, she has contributed to part one of my Dandelion Radio show an exclusive live track (‘Reve’) which is characteristically Solex-like in the sense that it is different from any other Solex recording I’ve heard. Solex is like a story that keeps getting added to but is nevertheless the same, well-loved story with every additional page. It’s great that my Dandelion show can now add a very short page to that story.

Hear this exclusive Solex track on my show at It’s in part one of a two-part Peel Legends special that also includes exclusive sessions from Calvin Party and Trembling Blue Stars.

And find out more about Solex at You can safely ignore all the sites dealing with construction equipment, internet plug-ins, electronics and carburettors. Elisabeth Esselink’s Solex is a necessary part of life; these are not.

Mark W

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Peel Legends on Dandelion Radio this month: Calvin Party

Peel Legends: Calvin Party

Arguably no band embodies the spirit of John Peel more than Calvin Party. That’s a bold statement that I’m conscious requires some explanation. The spirit I speak of, after all, is difficult to pin down. Despite over the years undergoing some tinkering and updating, there remained a central ideal to John Peel that’s probably impossible to explicate. Few bands or artists over that period remained under its umbrella, most drifted by fleetingly but memorably. I suppose you’d name Beefheart, The Fall, David Gedge, Half Man Half Biscuit and one or two others that remained somehow central to the ever-mutating Peel universe.

But in the end, if there’s a band that springs to mind when I think of John Peel more than any of these artists, it’s Calvin Party.

This is odd, in a way, because, unlike the others mentioned above, they aren’t a band I found out about through Peel. In their case it was a chance discovery via a guy named Damian Liptrot, who was a vital source of information about new bands based in the north-west of England to me when I ran a humble but moderately successful band night in that vicinity in the late eighties. Damian managed an extremely good Wigan-based band called Volunteers who I featured regularly at the time (and who released a fine EP on Village Records) and his word was so good that any band he recommended were always worth putting on, and anticipated with some excitement by me. I recall Leigh’s Those Naughty Corinthians with particular affection, polarising opinion of regulars to such a pleasing extent, and Eskimos & Egypt, on the cusp of a neo-gothic/proto-acid transformation at the time, really pissed the pub manager off and played a set that led to a middle-aged guy yomping around the stage in yellow y-fronts in their wake. But then, he did that quite often.

But it was a band called The Levellers for whom I offer most gratitude to Damian. As became the way of these things, he told me about them and I didn’t ask for a demo or anything – Damian’s word was enough. So when I put them on and saw them dragging in what can only be described as a big fuck off drum that filled about half the back room of my small venue, inevitably my curiosity was excited and I detected a band whose promise exceeded even my Damian-instigated expectations.

This curiosity was further titillated when one John Donaldson, their evident leader, got up for the first track and wailed an astonishing version of ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ over the thumping beat generated by the aforementioned instrument. Those who were at the gig still talk, some twenty-odd years later, of how memorable the experience was.

Time passed. The Levellers became Levellers 5. I saw them again a few times, including a great, confrontational performance at Liverpool’s Planet X. It was then I began to hear John Peel had picked up on them, an emblematic rubber-stamp for a band I had long thought of as among the most interesting in the country.

They recorded three Peel sessions as Levellers 5 between 1990 and 1992, then morphed into Calvin Party and recorded four more between 1994 and 1997. It was, to me anyway, fitting that this most Peel of all bands put out a final Peel session in September 2004, in the month before John’s death.

During this period, Calvin Party troubled the Festive Fifty scorers only twice, with ‘Lies, Lies and Government’ making the list in 1996, and ‘Northern Town’ getting into the Da Bank-presented chart of 2004, again fittingly. Curiously, they’ve not appeared in one of our Dandelion festive fifties either, despite their album ‘Godard’s Girlfriend’ receiving considerably airplay from us last year.

I’m conscious I still haven’t justified the statement I made earlier that they embody the spirit of Peel more than any other. Perhaps it can’t be justified. Or perhaps it’s one of those things, like alien visitors according to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, that you can only grasp out of the corner of your eye when not looking for it, and which is outside the comprehension of anyone who hasn’t experienced it.

I hope this is not the case, because everyone needs to hear Calvin Party and, if you’ve not done so yet, you must investigate their extraordinary back catalogue. They are by turns fascinatingly different and jarringly tuneful; like a comet, they make their own way through the galaxy occasionally, and memorably, coming into the sphere of other worlds which, when alert, behold them with wonder. They are a fucking great band.

Perhaps that’s it.

You can find out more about Calvin Party at and And you can hear their Peel Legends session, streaming throughout the month on Dandelion Radio at three tracks are in part one of my October show, and there’s a further exclusive track in Rocker’s show. Two of the tracks (Whimsy and Come Bleed) are re-workings of tracks that appeared in that final Peel session of 2004.