Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

Keeping It Peel 2016

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, its purpose is to remind everyone just how crucial John Peel was to enlightening and expanding listening tastes up and down the country; to ‘Educate and Inform‘, as was the motto of his employer.

Be it demo, flexi, 7″, 10″, 12″, EP, LP, 8 track cartridge, wax cylinder or reel to reel field recording, the great man famously listened to everything ever sent his way, and if it was in anyway decent he played it on his show. Sometimes, he played the more obscure records at the correct speed. Sometimes he didn’t. And sometimes, no-one noticed.

john-peel-bw

John Peel is the reason my musical tastes 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 (“Take a ri-ide on the Suga Trayne!”) and started asking me to “turn that racket down” whenever she passed my teenage bedroom door. Pfft! Never Understand, indeed.

Thank you, John.

Not quite a Kennedy moment, but I distinctly remember where I was 12 years ago when I first heard of his death. Midway through a month-long placement in a pre-school nursery as part of my teacher training, it was my wife who told me. Being a student, we ran just the one car and she picked me up that day.

(I’m paraphrasing here)….

Shops…school….I’ll be taking it back….this happened earlier…’Loose Women’….butternut squash soup…school….I’m taking that back too….oh yes – that DJ you like died today. John Peel? Is that his name?

Thump.

It was fairly shocking. Certainly, for a ‘celebrity’ death it hit me far harder than it had any right to. I didn’t know him, yet I did. Nightly I’d have a sweaty finger hanging over the pause button on my tape recorder, with the sole aim of capturing every note of the latest House Of Love or Inspiral Carpets or Wedding Present session, minus any of his speaking. I was good at it too.

Somehow, I wished I had failed slightly in those self-imposed tasks and had managed instead to capture him forever on my crappy 3rd generation C90s. The odd moment survives – “Hey man! The bongos are too loud!” (whispered after The House Of Love premiered The Beatles & The Stones) but in the main I managed to get all of the music and nearly none of the great man.
I like to think if he was still educating and informing us with his 45s at 33 inbetween the Stump tracks and Electro Hippies sessions, Peel would’ve found time to play this:

It’s perfectly Peel.

Obscure.

Current.

Groovy.

Mysterious. Who are/is TVAM?

Influenced by all the right things west of East Germany.

Mancunian. OK, I Googled them. Him, actually.

Hard to find. (You can buy it here).

And ace.

(No they’re not)
Alternative Version, Peel Sessions

Romantic And Square Is Hip And Aware

William It Was Really Nothing is the sound of The Smiths in miniature. A breathless rush of brilliantly ringing descending arpeggios, bright as brass buttons, topped off with a vocal that distills everything about Morrissey’s much-loved kitchen sink dramas into a handful of lines worthy of Alan Bennett;

The rain falls hard on a humdrum town, this town has dragged you down……Everybody’s got to live their life, and God knows I’ve got to live mine……….How can you stay with a fat girl who says, “Would you like to marry me? And if you like, you can buy the ring”……

williamitwasreallynothing

Johnny’s playing is at its most stellar, riff upon riff upon riff of layered guitars nattering and chattering away like Elsie Tanner spreading ghastly gossip about goodness-knows-who over the garden gate. He was in a rich vein of form when he wrote this, was Johnny. He worked the chords out in the back of The Smiths’ van on the M1 somewhere between Manchester and London. Arriving at his flat in Earls Court, he committed his frantically scrubbed faux flamenco  pièce de résistance to tape, where it would sit alongside his other new compositions for that weekend, vying for the attention of producer John Porter come Monday morning. That the other 2 new tracks he’d recorded were How Soon Is Now? and Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want (the tracks that would turn up on the b-side of the single itself) just goes to show how prolific a tunesmith (tune-smith! See what I did there?) the barely 21 year-old Johnny was. Frightening, if you stop to think about it.

smiths autographs

William It Was Really Nothing – Peel Session (August 1984)

The Smiths clearly loved William It Was Really Nothing – they played it in concert before recording it (first for Peel, above) and continued to play it throughout the tours of 1984 and 1985. It still had its place in the ’86 setlists when the briefly 5-piece band were at their most rockist and was the second-last song The Smiths ever played live.

When John Porter got ’round to working on it from Johnny’s demo (and who knows how he chose what track to tackle first) he sprinkled a magical dusting of fade-ins and fade-outs, backwards bits and bursts of guitar that are the aural equivalent of one of those time-lapse videos of a flower blooming you see on nature documentaries. It’s just perfect, and even after 30 (gulp!) years, every listen reveals new things.

William It Was Really Nothing – Single Version

William It Was Really Nothing is over and out in little over 2 lean, mean and meat-free minutes, which, if I’ve timed it right, is just about as long as you needed to read this piece. Beat that!tumblr_mqyut7hT4l1sdytq1o1_500

Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Keeping It Peel 2014

JOHN PEEL EADT 20 10 05

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 (this year’s event is especially poignant, given that it’s 10 years since John died), it’s purpose is to remind everyone just how crucial John Peel was to enlightening and expanding listening tastes up and down the country; to ‘Educate and Inform‘, as was the motto of his employer. Be it demo, flexi, 7″, 10″, 12″, EP, LP, 8 track cartridge, wax cylinder or reel to reel field recording, the great man famously listened to everything ever sent his way, and if it was in anyway decent he played it on his show. Sometimes, he played the more obscure records at the correct speed. Sometimes he didn’t. And sometimes, no-one noticed.  John Peel is the reason my musical tastes 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 (“Take a ri-ide on the Suga Trayne!”) and started asking me to “turn that racket down” whenever she passed my teenage bedroom door. Thank you, John.

This year’s Peel Session selection features Pixies from October 18th 1988.

The PIXIESThe thin ‘n hairy years

Pixies in 1988 were betwixt and between releases. Surfer Rosa (their best album, and don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise) was 7 months old and still stuck to the turntables, and Doolittle was but a sparkle in Black Francis’ eye. They were a PHENOMENAL live act around this time; full-on and feral and could do no wrong.

Their session for Peel in October was a cracker. Half of the songs were barely a minute and a half long, little blitzkrieg blasts of wonky time signatures, heavy breathing, strange chord structures and larynx-loosening primal screams from Black Francis – “Uriah hit the crapper! The crapper! Uriah hit the crapper….DEAD!” – what the devil was he on about? Who knows, but who cares? This was a thrilling taster of the new stuff still to come. Tame, Dead and There Goes My Gun would all end up on the Doolittle LP the following year. Dancing The Manta Ray would eventually see the light of day as the b-side to that LPs big single, Monkey Gone To Heaven.

I thought I still had the old TDK of this session with Peel’s introductions, but I fear it’s lost and gone forever. It’s certainly not in the first (and only) place I looked. For authenticity’s sake I was going to post those versions, but instead Tame comes from the Rough Diamonds bootleg and the other three come from the official BBC Sessions CD.

Tracks in order of broadcast;

Dead

Tame

Dancing The Manta Ray

There Goes My Gun

These tracks and a gazillion more are released shortly on the 3CD Doolittle 25 release, available at the recession-friendly price of £12. A bargain for sure. Available via Pixies’ online shop here.

pixies-doolittle-inlay

Alternative Version, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Keeping It Peel 2013

john peel home studio

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″, 10″, 12″, EP, LP, 8 track cartridge, wax cylinder or reel to reel field recording, the great man famously listened to everything ever sent his way, and if it was in anyway decent he played it on his show. Sometimes, he played the more obscure records at the correct speed. Sometimes he didn’t. And sometimes, no-one noticed.  John Peel is the reason my musical tastes 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 (“Take a ri-ide on the Suga Trayne!”) and started asking me to “turn that racket down” whenever she passed my teenage bedroom door. Thank you, John.

This year’s Peel Session selection features Roxy Music from February 1972. It’s a cracker……..

roxy music 72

But first, a history lesson.

1972 was a pivotal year in music. The number of influential/classic albums released in those 12 months is nothing short of staggering (I’d like to say “off the top of my head“, but Google is a handy wee tool now and again).

Take a deep breath and off we go; Neil Young‘s Harvest (and the unreleased Journey Through The Past), Nick Drake‘s Pink Moon, Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side Of The Moon (hey – I’d never spotted that before – Pink and Moon…anyway…), The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot, both by Captain Beefheart (2 albums in one year, nae bother), Todd Rundgren‘s Something/Anything, Talking Book AND Music Of My Mind by Stevie Wonder (2 albums in one year, nae bother), T Rex‘s Bolan Boogie and The Slider (2 albums, one year…), Big Star‘s #1 Record, The Stones’ Exile On Main Street, Bowie‘s Ziggy Stardust, the soundtracks to Superfly and The Harder They Come (Curtis Mayfield and Jimmy Cliff), Black Sabbath 4, Steely Dan‘s Can’t Buy a Thrill, Greetings from LA by Tim Buckley, Can‘s Ege Bamyasi, Transformer by Lou Reed, Marvin Gaye‘s Trouble Man, and the debut eponymously titled LP from Roxy Music. Crikey! That’s almost a classic album a fortnight! And there’s a ton more I haven’t even mentioned! Oh to have been a teenager with a disposable income in the early 70s……

Roxy Music At Royal College Of Art In London in 1972

Roxy Music looked as if they’d been beamed down from the first spaceship from Mars and sounded just as other-worldly. Dressed in a clash of tiger print and tinfoil, faux fur and flares, and with a sound giving as much space to the clarinet and oboe as to yer more traditional rock instruments (and we haven’t even mentioned Brian Eno’s synthesiser), they were so out of step with the fashion of the day (compare them to the list above), it’s easy to see why John Peel would champion them. Between January 1972 and March 1973, they recorded 5 thrilling John Peel sessions. Their session recorded in February 1972 (although not broadcast until 1st August – anyone know why?) is particularly brilliant, featuring the yin and the yang of Roxy Music in two tracks.

The Yin

A full six months (a light year in 1972 musical terms) before being released as their debut single, Virginia Plain was recorded as part of that February session. Over a minute longer than the released version, the Peel version is a proto-punk glam slam, overloaded with fizzbomb guitars and a seemingly improvised solo, all whammy bar and feedback sturm und drang. Hogging the limelight, Phil Manzanera made sure there was no room for the single’s twangy bass solo here.

Virginia Plain Peel Session, 18 Feb 72

Years later he would indeed be flying down to Rio! but, when he wasn’t purloining other bands’ equipment, I’m sure sticky-fingered street urchin and future Sex Pistol Steve Jones was cribbing notes on Manzanera’s guitar sound during this transmission. A verse sung over 2 open chords….. stray wafts of controlled feedback….. a fantastic, fluid and free-form guitar solo….. a four-to-the-floor jackboot stomp. A full 4 years before UK punk was ‘invented’, Roxy Music were doing it, maaaaan. If this version of Virginia Plain doesn’t make you want to go and learn a couple of chords and start a band in a desperate middle-aged attempt at hipster cool, nothing will.

roxy music 1973

The Yang

On the debut album you’ll find If There Is Something, a countryish clip-clopping slide guitar and piano-led song in (prog alert!!!) three distinct parts. According to that bastion of trusted information Wikipedia, it ‘s been said that the first part of the song is a youth wondering about love, the second part adults in the heat of passion and the third part the singer in old age thinking about their past love. Gads. Whatever you think, in length and libido it manages to invent both prog rock and Pulp. Heavily-effected saxophones waft in and out, guitars get fuzzier and quieter as the track progresses and the ending is bathed in synthesised melancholic heaven, Ferry crooning in his collapsed quiff like a pub singer after half a dozen Guinesses.

If There Is Something Peel Session, 18 Feb 72

The Peel Session version is free from slide guitar and twice as long as the released version, clocking in at over 12 meandering minutes, the track ebbing and flowing like the champagne at one of Bryan Ferry’s socialite soirees. A few short years later they’d be making syrupy cocktail dross like Avalon. Remember Roxy from 72; weird, wonky and wonderful, unparalleled and untouchable.

*Bonus Track!

No Roxy Music feature is complete without the funniest bit of telly ever. Johnny Vegas as Eno? Oh aye!

peel bathOch, John!

Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Keeping It Peel 2012

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:

These tracks would all end up on future EP releases, but the spirit of those early Inspirals live shows can be heard in the youthful vigour in which they attack each song in the session. Personal favourite Greek Wedding Song, with it’s ‘never a frown with Golden Brown‘ stolen melody towards the end ended up on the rare Train Surfing EP, a record that really deserves it’s own post one day.
God bless you, John Peel, wherever you are. Thanks for getting me into the music.
Cover Versions, entire show, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Tres Bon Ivers

That story from the other day (here) about the boy who swapped his iPod for a Walkman for a week had me thinking back to all my old compilation tapes I’ve still got in a box. I used to listen to the John Peel show religiously and sit with my finger poised over the pause button of the cassette deck on my music centre (as they were called, in my house at least, between 1983 and 1990, until CD first came into my life) waiting for something good to pop up inbetween the anarcho-punk, dub reggae, Ivor Cutler and Fall tracks. Nowadays I can appreciate that for the most part, John Peel’s show was all good, but to a 13 year old mad about Adam and The Ants, Crass, Culture and Captain Beefheart were a step too far.

By the end of the 80s I was a dab hand at recording entire Peel Sessions. If I was lucky I’d pause it just before Peel started talking. In hindsight, that was a stupid thing to do. I’d love to know what he said about some of the sessions I taped, but his comments have floated off into the ethers of time. I still have those tapes though…

cassette

The House of Love (“Hey man, the bongos are too loud” – I managed to capture Peel that night!), numerous Wedding Presents, a great Inspiral Carpets session with their original singer that sounded like The Doors and The Teardrop Explodes slugging it out after 17 microdots. And some fantastic Pixies stuff, including their first Peel Session.

pixies bw

You can find out all you need to know about any John Peel session at this indispensable site here. This Pixies one was recorded at Maida Vale 4 on 3rd May 1988 (21 years ago!!!) and broadcast about a week later, the session was notable for a couple of things. Firstly, it sounded fantastic. Pristine recording. Short, short songs. Frank Black screaming his big fat head off. Listening to it now, I can vouch that it still sounds fantastic today. Secondly, the choice of songs the band played was interesting. Two tracks from their recently released ‘Come On Pilgrim’ ep, two cover versions and a track that wouldn’t see the light of day until the ‘Doolittle‘ album.

pixies bar

About 10 years ago, long before file sharing had reached the West of Scotland I bought a Pixies bootleg called ‘Rough Diamonds’. This album has 5 tracks credited to the May 88 session, but my old tape has 4 songs from the session. I either missed their pre-Doolittle version of ‘Hey‘, or that song wasn’t broadcast in the first place. The 5 tracks are:

Hey

Levitate Me

Wild Honey Pie

Caribou

In Heaven (Lady In The Radiator Song) 

In contrast to the rather daft and throwaway Beatles original, Wild Honey Pie is a full-on Frank Black scream-fest that wouldn’t sound out of place in any Pixies set of original material. In Heaven.. is a cover of a song from David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’. But you knew that already. Have you ever heard Peter Ivers original? Creeeeeeepy. High pitched voice, churchy keyboard and a wind effect at the end. The Pixies do a pretty good job of replicating it, but I think the Flaming Lips would really make this one soar. I’m now off to illegally seek out some Peter Ivers recordings.  Enjoy the session!

peter ivers

I heart Peter Ivers