John Peel session archive made available with almost 1,000 sessions so far

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John Peel (Credit: Radio 6 Facebook page)

As a valuable archive is made available, Getintothis’ Banjo looks back at the importance of the Peel Session.

John Peel was, without question, one of the most influential figures in modern British music.

His insatiable quest for new music led him to discover and popularise dozens, or even hundreds of bands and artists.

Legend has it that when The Undertones released their Teenage Kicks EP on Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations label, they couldn’t afford to send out many copies of the records for promotion, so they just sent one – to John Peel.

Peel loved it so much that he played it twice in a row and, as a result, started The Undertones on their path to fame.

His desire to find new bands and new music was represented in the sessions he had recorded for his various radio shows. To have been given a Peel Session was a mighty landmark for new bands.

Some of our finest long lost bands who may never have had a record out were captured in their full glory on a Peel Session, such as the classic sets from Liverpool’s own Come In Tokio.

More established bands treated a Peel Session as a free day in the studio and gave fans glimpses of work-in-progress songs. A listen to some of the songs Echo and the Bunnymen recorded for him is to hear a vital step in a song’s gestation.

Others found that their time in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios gave them better results than when they were in bigger and better studios, with time and better equipment at their disposal. The first track on the first album by Bauhaus, Double Dare, is taken from their Peel Session, as they felt unable to match the intensity of this version in a professional studio.

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The Fall famously recorded the highest number of Peel Sessions, turning in an incredible 24 separate sessions. So great is the amount of material recorded that these sessions have been released as a six CD box set.

As a man whose taste kept up with the times, Peel Sessions have been an essential way to keep track of the shifting sands of musical movements.

The 60s saw Peel bring the likes of Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin some much needed early exposure, while the 70s saw David Bowie, Elton John and T Rex benefit from his enthusiastic patronage.

In the punk years, a Peel Session was often the only way to hear bands such as Buzzcocks or The Cortinas when hearing their music was otherwise almost impossible.

Later, sessions from the likes of Aphex Twin and A Guy Called Gerald brought the burgeoning dance music scene into our radios.

And now, thankfully, gloriously, the davestrickson blogspot site has provided links to almost 1,000 Peel Sessions. To make this essential archive easier to navigate, the sessions have been lovingly arranged in alphabetical order.

The website also tells us that the list is being updated regularly.

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Some of the recordings include introductions by Peel himself, and the sound of his voice alone is enough to cast us back to our bedroom years, listening to his wonderful shows when our parent thought we were asleep before another school day.

This extensive list features, amongst its many delights, all four Birthday Party sessions, featuring a younger and more violent Nick Cave, five from Siouxsie and the Banshees, the first two of which were recorded before the band had signed a record contract, two from Queen, three from New Order and, with the best sessions ever recorded, The Slits.

So our advice is make the most of the lockdown and delve into the wonderful world of the John Peel Session.

You may be there for some time

The Peel Sessions archive can be found here.

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