Keeping It Peel is the brainchild of Webbie, who writes the excellent and informative Football And Music blog. An annual celebration of all things Peel, it’s purpose is to remind everyone just how crucial John Peel was to expanding and informing listening tastes up and down the country. Be it demo, flexi, 7″, 12″, LP, 10″ ep, 8 track cartridge, wax cylinder or reel to reel field recording, the great man famously listened to everything ever sent to him, and if it was in anyway decent he played it on his show. John Peel is the reason my musical tasted expanded beyond the left-field avant-garde edginess of Hipsway and Love And Money and the reason why my mum stopped singing her own version of whatever it was I was playing and started asking me to “turn that racket down” whenever she passed my teenage bedroom door. Thank you, John.
Long before iPlayers and listen again features and podcasts and illegal file sharing sights and camera phones and all that technological flim flam that clogs up the listening experience nowadays, back at the time catching a Peel Session was often a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. Whole sub-cultures and cottage industries revolved around advertising copies of Peel Sessions in the inky sections at the back of the NME or Melody Maker. Quaint. That’s what they’d say today. I’d often find myself, fingers sweating over the ‘pause’ button as my C90 waited patiently to magnetise the latest session by the Wedding Present or The House Of Love or The Pixies or whoever. In between the African jit jive and dub reggae played at the wrong speed I would find myself bursting for the toilet, but afraid to go in case I missed the next In Session track. I’ve written this before, but it really was an art if you could start recording just as Peel stopped talking but before the music started. It was often a guessing game, but the more I did it the better I got at it. Nowadays, of course, I wish I’d been less careful with this – it would be great to hear the man’s voice again at the start of a track, or between back to back session tracks. When he does pop up on those old tapes, like on a House Of Love session “Hey man! The bongos are too loud!”, it’s like an aural comfort blanket that transports me back to my youth. I loved that a Peel session would regularly feature a new track, yet to be committed to vinyl, or an unexpected cover version you might never hear live. A Peel session was your favourite band’s way of saying, “What d’you think of this?” Peel tracks would often pop up on the band’s next LP, radically altered from the original Peel Version. For trainspotters like me, this was magic.
One such band was Inspiral Carpets. I taped their first session in 1988 roundabout the same time I saw them support the Wedding Present at the Barrowlands. Live, they were great. All bowl cuts and beads, they reminded me of a punkier, rougher version of The Teardrop Explodes. It was all simple stuff – straightforward basslines and basic open guitar chords behind a wall of what I would later realise to be Farfisa organ (and not Hammond as I’d assumed). The singer, superglued to the microphone stand like a lampost and backlit in blue had a terrified thousand yard stare and the most enormous set of ears on anyone I’ve ever seen. Even then, you could tell that the guy behing the organ was their leader. On and off in 20 minutes, I’d eventually see them live about half a dozen times, each time the ned to bigger venue ratio increasing accordingly. But never have a band disappointed more – their early releases are terrific; steeped in Nuggetsy 60s garage band references and, for the late 80s, unlike anything around at the time (later on I’d find discover The Prisoners, so the Inspirals weren’t really all that unique), and they were essential. The first 2 or 3 EPs are far superior to anything off of the polished-up, chart bound Life LP and anything that followed after. But that’s a moan for another day.
My original Peel tape of that first Inspirals’ session is in the loft, but thanks to the wonders of illegal file sharing and the technological flim flam that clogs up the listening experience, I’ve managed to track down that 1988 session in listener-friendly lo-fi quality, complete with the odd burst of radio hiss and JP’s vocalised musings at the beginning and end of each track. It really is a wonderful session: