A quick-fix of flashback fare which moves at just the right speed.
Mike Diver 2011
Those feeling nostalgic for a little Peel after 6 Music’s recent lecture held in his name, fronted by The Who’s Pete Townshend in Manchester, might be tempted to reach for this double-disc of session tracks the next time they’re in their local records-and-stuff emporium. But, while there’s no faulting the quality of the collected acts, there’s little here to really get excited about. EMI has cherry-picked a cross-section of (post-) punks, pub-rockers, reggae and ska artists, and sequenced them in such a way that similarly hued sorts are grouped together. Which rather goes against the ethics of Peel, who’d happily play a death metal track seconds before swapping it for something riding a saucy skank beat.
The usual suspects, such as they are, line up: Joy Division (Transmission), Buzzcocks (What Do I Get?), The Jam (In the City), Magazine (Light Pours Out of Me), and so on. There’s nothing from The Who, which might surprise those who figured Peel was a massive fan what with Townshend leading the lecture last month. But perhaps that’s because they were never signed to EMI, or because they didn’t record a session during the selected two-year period. Whatever, there’s enough here to satisfy both those who lived through these songs and those tapping into them belatedly. The recordings don’t add a great deal – or remove much – from the studio originals, but that says much about both the competence of the performers and the quality of the BBC’s in-house producers and engineers at the time (which, it must be stressed, is maintained to this day).
Great liner notes from 6 Music DJ Marc Riley (“aged 50+ years” – he was 16 in 1977) paint a picture of the era from a teenager’s perspective, anecdotal without being indulgent and never missing the intended message: that music will always matter to impressionable adolescents, whatever the sounds of the suburbs at that precise moment. Generations change, the connections remain. Every one of these bands has, to differing degrees, left behind a legacy that informs newcomers in the 21st century. Would they have achieved as much without Peel’s endorsement? Maybe, maybe not. But such a seal of approval was never something to be blasé about.
Those wanting a rather more varied set of Peel Sessions, including interjections from the late, great man himself, are advised to pick up the Kats Karavan collection of 2009. It gets a lot, lot weirder across its four discs than this two-CD offering manages, and better represents what Peel’s shows could be like. But for a quick-fix of flashback fare, this moves at just the right speed – something that couldn’t always be said of the records Peel would spin.