Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

{John Peel}
In the UK, radio sessions have a massive impact on both the introduction to and subsequent success of bands. What typically happens is as follows: groups will send a particular radio host a demo of their music along with contact information, and if the DJ likes what he/she hears, then the band will be asked to come into the studio and professionally record 3-4 songs that will be broadcast over the airwaves. John Peel (1939-2004), if you’re not familiar, was perhaps the single most important radio host and figure in recognizing talent and giving groups the opportunity to be heard between 1967 and 2004. In fact, just about every post-punk group that you listen to can credit John Peel as their sole reason for being given a chance.

His ‘Peel Sessions’ are instrumental recordings that often match or even top album versions of songs that you have grown to know and love. These recordings are quality, as they are lovingly put to tape at various top-notch BBC studios. They also have the advantage of not being overproduced, as each band has but one afternoon to get their handful of songs down. As a result, the music is vibrant and fresh, without suffering from over-revision or excessive arrangements. Everyone from Syd Barrett, Joni Mitchell, Kevin Ayers, and The Fairport Convention to The Smiths, The Wedding Present, Wire and Killing Joke found an audience due to these now-legendary radio sessions. Here {} is a list of every band who ever recorded a Peel Session along with the date(s) recorded. Quite an impressive resume, huh?

The other thing worth noting outside of recording quality is that Peel gave bands creative control to record whatever they wanted in the studio. Because of this, many groups would debut new songs, produce experimental material, cover favorite tracks — or even record pieces that were never revisited later on their proper albums and singles. No matter which route a band would take, the results were often momentous. In fact, Peel Sessions are so marvelous that many of them have been compiled and released properly as either EPs or LPs throughout the years. I must not be the only person in the world who is an absolute sucker for them! I track these down whenever I find out that a band I admire has recorded a group of songs in this format.

Below is a selection of Peel Session tracks that are particular favorites of mine:

The Sound: “New Dark Age” (1981). This powerful version of this song certainly rivals the studio recording.

David Bowie: “Kooks” (1971). Here is a loose, intimate version of the song from Hunky Dory.

Slowdive: “Golden Hair” (1991). A radio session only and very psychedelic Syd Barrett cover.
The House of Love: “Loneliness is a Gun” (1989). This is simply a gorgeous acoustic rendition of this song.

The Birthday Party:
“Loose” (1981). This ia an exclusive cover of a classic song by The Stooges. Nick Cave sounds beautifully demented here.
Cranes: “Till Tomorrow” (1990). This stunning noisy track was never recorded later. This is a good example of the band in their early days when Swans were clearly a huge influence.
Dream City Film Club: “One Sweet Moment” (1997). This is one of my very favorite bands. You will read more about them from me soon. Have a listen.
Nico: “Janitor of Lunacy” (1974). Eerie and amazing, as usual. Words cannot adequately describe Nico.
The Comsat Angels: “The Eye of the Lens” (1981). If you are not familiar with The Comsat Angels, begin with this one. Just listen to the rhythm section.

Although not a proper Peel Session, Bauhaus’ “Poison Pen” was recorded for the David Jensen BBC radio show by Bauhaus in 1981, and is one of those lost jewels of a song. It  This driving, rhythmic track was was never released on an official album.

If you have a particular Peel Session track that you are drawn to, feel free to add a link in the comments section below.

{Image of John Peel courtesy of this website.}