“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s guest was the singer/guitarist of late 80s London indie band The Siddeleys (pictured above with the blonde hair) whose 1988 “Sunshine Thuggery” EP has been re-released on the ever-ace Optic Nerve records on white vinyl with red splatter for good measure.
John Peel was a fan, especially of Johnny’s vocal delivery dispensing the witheringly immortal commentary “the woman who’s in charge of the band has a terrific way with words in almost the manner of Morrissey” (before he was an epithet of bigotry obvs), going onto qualify that “There are lines in here which make me laugh out loud”. The woman’s name is Johnny Johnson (tut tut Mr Peel), and we’re delighted to have her to impart her own well observed wisdom and highly attuned taste with a song pick. Before we dive into that, we suggest you pick up the “Sunshine Thuggery” record replete with its vinegar doused hairs (sic) and graces and a cover ideal for the Great British Stay(not spray)-cation.
There’s a definite C86 some jingle-jangle morning vibe to the record (The Siddeley’s second single) which was originally produced by John Parish and released back in the day by Sombrero Records. This is the second re-release by Optic Nerve, after they re-birthed the first single “What Went Wrong This Time” in 2017.
Veterans of 2 sessions with John Peel, the band had been due to release a third single also on Sombrero but the dough ran out. The legend has continued with those that know, with a collection of all their recordings (“Slum Clearance” in 2001) and an inclusion on that arbiter of collector cool Bob Stanley’s comp “CD86”.
Here’s a YT bootleg of the ’88 Peel sesh for loads more insight.
But what make Johnny tick? Without further ado, this is Johnny Johnson’s “song for ewe”…
“Song: “Hares on the Mountain” by Shirley Collins and Davy Graham
Shirley Collins has said that when she sings, she can feel past generations standing behind her. It’s impossible to know how many ghosts would surround her singing “Hares on the Mountain” – it’s a song that may be two hundred years old, perhaps more, passed from mouth to ear and sung by many unknown singers before her.
When I hear her sing it, I’m carried with her, and catch glimpses of the enormity of those passing years and the thousands of stories, extraordinary and mundane, of the people who’ve gone before and those living now.
The combination of Shirley Collins and Davy Graham make this possible by revealing the essential spark and humanity of this ancient song and they do it brilliantly. I’ve always found it curious that singers are so often described as showing a depth of heart, soul or meaning, when what they’re actually doing is bringing an excess of volume, vibrato and histrionics to a song. Shirley and Davy know better.
By stripping the song down to the barest fundamentals, with delivery uncluttered by unnecessary tricks and flourishes, it has a shattering intensity. It’s a bit like the universe before the big bang – one tiny, miniscule point that expands to contain all space and time.
Shirley Collins has brought this purity of storytelling, stripped of ego and yet starkly powerful, to so many songs that have long journeys behind them. Davy Graham’s guitar playing is similarly deceptive. A hugely influential, dexterous and innovative guitarist, and yet there’s a simplicity to the way he delivers something both complex and uncluttered here. Within the three minutes of “Hares on the Mountain”, time plays tricks on me and I see half-remembered, long chapters of my life and whispers of the lives of many others pass through me. I never tire of hearing this song.”
THANKS SO MUCH TO JOHNNY AND TO SEAN NEWSHAM OF MUTANTE