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The Goats and the Peacock was recorded over two years and in two consecutive locations: a shared flat in Dunsmure Road and my first flat on my own in Blackhorse Lane. After moving out of Tottenham I moved back to Stamford Hill with a few friends – Mark, Mysiak and Deo – to a large flat coincidentally next door to the one that I had lived in when I had first returned to London in 1992. There were regular Platform Five(5) sessions in my room, which had some of the character of therapy sessions, and which were attended by, amongst other people, Dag Luterek.
Dag lent me some Tim Buckley and Leonard Cohen albums and there was something I found in the dionysian jazz-folk of Buckley that I felt I could use, in spite of having considerably fewer octaves to my voice than he did. Another thing that impressed me at the time was The Danielson Famile, whose weird Christian folk-rock reminded me of The Holy Modal Rounders. I bought myself a Fender acoustic twelve-string, a decision which may have been more influenced by Damon & Naomi than Tim Buckley, and found myself engaging properly with songwriting in the first time since my very early recordings.
There are at least eight actual songs on The Goats & The Peacock and the words are far better than my teenaged efforts. Naturally there are some break up lyrics in there but not to any maudlin degree, and in the song Papal Bull the emo quality of “burnt your letters in the yard/and some old stupid birthday cards” is tempered by tangential references to California Dreaming and the absurdist “the pope and Vatican decree/that you must stay away from me”. If it’s a little too knowing, it’s certainly far more playful than many other songs of love and loss.
My mixing of the vocals on this album have often been criticised for being too quiet. This was partly an aesthetic decision to make the vocals an integral part of the music; embedded within it rather than apart from it, but it was also partly just fashionable. The most extreme case of it is on The Great Masturbator, a song which references the Dali painting of the the same name as well as Hitler’s invasion of Poland while explicitly reimagining He’s Got The Whole World In His Hand as an onanistic anthem. The heavy shoegazing style of this number is also quite a departure; borrowing dirty fuzz bass textures and a swarm of delays from Flying Saucer Attack and Yo La Tengo.
In contrast with this, the ridiculous Playing Guitar With Shiva was the first track to have been directly inspired by a dream. The only difference between the song and the dream was that I was on a train rather than “in a bar” with Shiva, but as far as I recall the “eight necked Gibson with a whammy bar” was taken directly from the dream. Also noteworthy on here is the funky wah bassline. Colourful improvised melodic basslines against more structured chiming guitar lines were characteristic of the next few years of my recordings.
Elsewhere the focus became increasingly psychogeographical. Burnt Sienna is a depiction of a Ballardian landscape with a tip of the hat the Jimmy Webb’s Witchita Lineman, and on The Clouds Hide All The Light Away “telephones of desks in dull commuter towns” perhaps recalls Phillip Larkin, and of course Dashanka Junction is almost certainly more of a place than a song. But even in the more instrumental material such as Stonebridge Lock, there are field recordings of the lock machinery in the mix and various bird noises but chiefly the crows which also recur on Crowsfoot Stomp and The Heron & the Hassid.
In some ways there are two interpenetrating albums here: the more songwriterly tendency of the Dunsmure Road recordings and the psychogeography of the Blackhorse Lane recordings, which are informed by my investigations of my new environment in Walthamstow and mapping the Lea Valley up towards Ponders End where I was working at the time. Having said this, these divisions are not so definitive: Prufrock on the Tube is TS Eliot’s The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock as a pop song over a recording of noises from a tube journey on the Victoria line, and the title track The Goats & The Peacock employs a cut up of a poem about the animal enclosure at Clissold Park and the Y2K vibe of “Milennium Dome building”.
This cut up was made with the other key technology of this period, a blue Sony portable minidisc recorder. I used this for field recordings and it was key to the mastering process, but I had also discovered that the shuffle play on it is near seamless, so a text read into it could be randomly remixed into unlimited variations. As a testimony to the build quality of this machine; I still own it and it still works perfectly. I very much doubt that many mp3 players will still be functioning in eighteen years time.
Between the Dunsmure Road sessions and those at Blackhorse Lane, I had left the job at the examination board, taken on an evening reception job, which allowed me access to the internet for the first time, and then started working at a university library, where I met Bridget. Bridget and I didn’t live together during this period; she was completing her masters in Librarianship in Sheffield whilr I moved to Walthamstow. Everything was changing: neighbourhood, work, relationships. I had also moved from a busy social scene, living with other people, to a near hermetic existence in the Lea Valley hinterlands. Back then, no-one came to Walthamstow. Most of the people I knew in Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill seemed barely aware of where it was. Things are very different in that respect now.
But in spite of my relatively secluded life on Blackhorse Lane, through the internet I was encountering new people around the world. Social media, in its shopping mall form that we live in these days, didn’t exist at the time; small forums representing interest groups were more the norm. I engaged with and then took over running the Krautrock Message Board (KRMB) amongst other things, this expanded the distribution of cassettes of my music to the Europe, the United States and Australia.
I was still putting out this material as cassettes. The sound quality had been considerably better since the time of Monorail and the adoption of the DCC machine for mastering, but now between the DCC and the minidisc recorder I could bounce tracks back and forth without too much signal loss. And if I had taken an interest in networked computers, the Amiga was now starting to take a backseat in my affections: a comical sequenced pattern propels the closing track Where Do We Go From Here? but the Amiga has largely been neglected.
The cover design was also the first in many years not to be designed on the Amiga. While the text was arranged using Word on the office PC, I did not have access to a scanner yet, so the cover image of my passport photo distorted by massive photocopier enlargement was then collaged with wheels containing the seventy-two names of God and the whole thing pasted together by hand and then photocopied onto an orange paper backing. As well as paying the rent, at the time I regarded work as important in that it provided computers, photocopiers and telephones. Initially I didn’t even have a telephone at my Blackhorse Road flat until I was bullied into getting one by Seth and Alaric.
The strange thing about The Goats & The Peacock is that since I uploaded it to archive.org in 1996 it has had over 13500 downloads. I like the album and think that it represents and important pivotal point between what I was doing in my early twenties and what I am doing now, but that many downloads seems excessive. I only know of one blog that has recommended it and I’m not sure that it recieves enough traffic to account for all of these downloads.
The Goats & The Peacock can be streamed or downloaded from archive.org
Next: Paddington Hardstare.