STUPID and Contagious

Our holiday home from !

The Go-Betweens – John Peel Session – July 1982

The Go-Betweens – John Peel Session; 14th July 1982
We think this was the Go-Betweens first session recorded for the late great John Peel at BBC Radio 1.

Along with “Ask” from the Before Hollywood LP, there are three rare tracks.

All thanks to fruitierthanthou who says;

I have always been a big GO-BETWEENS fan ever since I heard “People Say” which is just one of those things I would have given anything to have written.

Grant McLennan’s passing away a few years ago was just one the saddest things, more so, as it meant no more GO-BETWEENS records.

I remember when I heard the news I welled up with sadness searching youtube & finding Grant camping up “Cattle & Cane” here… A song I am sure would have made me a bona fide GO-BETWEENS if I hadn’t heard “People Say” first.

I suppose this is as good as any point, recounting my GO-BETWEENS anecdote.

In fact it doesn’t involve Grant or Mr Forster. It was at a GO-BETWEENS gig, upstairs at the Hammersmith Clarendon Hotel. I was trying to persuade Mr Fish, THE JAZZ BUTCHER into giving a song for a cassette compilation I was involved in. THE JAZZ BUTCHER were supporting that night. From a distance, Lindy Morrison comes hurtling towards us like the Hanna Barbera Tasmanian devil.. “I know you!!!” (She didn’t), “I know you!!!!” (She really didn’t!) & before I could consume a decent lungful of oxygen she grabbed me & gave me a great big tonguey snog. I mentioned, before I could consume a decent lungful for oxygen because she nearly suffocated me. She finally let me go, oxygen slowly returning to my arteries, part startled, part aroused, I managed to say “Thank you” in the voice of a schoolboy still not expecting his testicles to drop for good few years… When I have recounted this to other indie “kids” I have found this is not just MY anecdote .. Ho hum!!

I was thinking about that gig (which was pretty good as I remember) & found I had already loaded this John Peel session on to my PC. I think it was their first … Enjoy.

THE GO-BETWEENS – John Peel Session 14th July 1982

“Near The Chimney”
“Metal & Shells”
“A Peaceful Wreck”


thanks fruitierthanthou


We do not host any files here. If this post contains a link to content hosted elsewhere, this is content found by a simple search on the worldwide freedom web. However, if for some valid reason, you object to a said content, or any content here, please let us know and we will remove the content in question.

Any content linked to here is only meant as a taster for the original work itself and is posted on the strict understanding that anyone who downloads the taster, deletes said content within 24 hours. We would assume that these fans will then buy the original work and we greatly encourage them to do so.

Mail us:

Home Art Babes Cartoons Dylan Music Videos Other

March 10, 2009 Posted by | Go-Betweens, John Peel, Music_Alternative, _MUSIC | Leave a comment

Microdisney – Discography

We’ve spoken before a few times of our love for the sadly neglected genius of Microdisney.

We shan’t speak of it again. Aside from referring to the fact that we’ve spoken before a few times of our love for the sadly neglected genius of Microdisney!

Enough gibberish! Knee jerk Knee jerk Knee jerk Knee jerk!!

We’ve posted quite a few Microdisney albums before. Check em out HERE!

Here are some more!

A very good resource on the band can be found here;

witchseason – an excellent music blog -has very kindly made these great LPs available! Thanks very much Mr Witchseason – may your first camel be a dromedary!

Microdisney – We Hate You South African Bastards (1984)

aka, Love your enemies : Microdisney

Greatest album title ever?! Yap!!

This is a compilation of tracks from the four eary singles Microdisney made before signing to Indie label Beggars Banquet.

It was later re-released under the more prosaic title ‘Love Your Enemies’!

This was a compilation of the first two singles and several unreleased songs from their early time in Cork.

Of the previously unreleased songs, three tracks are instrumentals- a very pleasant ‘Michael Murphy’ and equally tuneful ‘Patrick Moore Says You Can’t Sleep Here’. Both stand on their own two feet and show Sean O’Hagan’s ability to craft a stand-alone piece of music. The other instrumental ‘Pretoria Quickstep’ is much more eerie with the vinyl version looping continuously on the run off groove .

‘Love Your Enemies’ was the only previously unreleased song to have vocals. A heavily sarcastic song fits perfectly with the original title and leaves people in little doubt as to where Microdisney stood on forgiveness of people still engaged in atrocities. Here was an sign that Microdisney were much more than just a pleasant pop band.

Being a compilation. the songs are more mix and match than its predecessor. Some songs maintain the atmospheric beauty of the first LP, others are much more disjointed. Despite this, and despite being an LP born out of the need to release something it still holds up in its own right.

Holding on, holding on
from your birth to the day you die
Let it rest, let it slide
One day you’ll see the face of christ ….

We have nothing decent we can dream about
Not one thing that’s better than a coward’s death


01 – Helicopter Of The Holy Ghost
02 – Michael Murphy
03 – Love Your Enemies
04 – Fiction Land
05 – Pink Skinned Man
06 – Patrick Moore Says You Can’t Sleep Here
07 – Hello Rascals
08 – Pretoria Quickstep

Microdisney – Everybody Is Fantastic (1984)

The first proper Microdisney album, after having released a few critically acclaimed singles on smaller labels.

After relocating to London a year before, they signed to famous Indie label Rough Trade and managed to get the services of John Porter (producer of The Smiths) to produce this rather good album.

Sean O’Hagan would probably have wished for a better studio, but the record seems positively enhanced by limited resources. The acoustically, minimal production blends the songs together perfectly and results in a beautifully melancholic sound. A drum machine that barely changes gear between songs adds to the atmosphere as the songs drift into each other. A concept album it isn’t but it feels much more than just a collection of songs thrown together randomly.

Mainly written in/around experiences in Southern Ireland the lyrics have a common thread. A gentle lament to a life that’s drifting, being stifled by everything around it, wanting more. Some loose phrases are too difficult to interpret, (but ‘pass’ under the normally much abused ‘poetic licence’ tag). Others have more obvious stories or targets, generally provincial in nature.

The songs are much more subtle than the later tirades. When Cathal Coughlan formed the Fatima Mansions he said that he never again wanted to be misunderstood. It’s easy to see how he could be on this record, as the words don’t hit you in the face and reactionary bigots lurk unmolested in the background.
Some ugly girls and boys in the park one fine morning
swore they would save the world by the next Friday night
but when Friday came they were in a bar
looking sad as I spoke to them


01 – Idea
02 – A Few Kisses
03 – Escalator In The Rain
04 – Dolly
05 – Dreaming Drains
06 – I’ll Be A Gentleman
07 – Moon
08 – Sun
09 – Sleepless
10 – Come On Over And Cry
11 – This Liberal Love
12 – Before Famine
13 – Everybody Is Dead

Note: track 1 may be truncated. There’s a full version at;

Microdisney – The Clock Comes Down The Stairs (1986)

Their sophomore outing and one of the best Microdisney albums.

This shows a marked maturity in songwriting and performances.

The Clock Comes Down the Stairs was voted no. 1 album of the 1980s in the 1989 end-of-year edition of the Irish newspaper The Sunday Tribune.

I still own the begging bowl,
Bottom of the honour roll,
To take your moods and not complain,
And beg to serve you all my days.
Chained to the place,
Where we used to lay,
Chained by your rage,
Chained on to me.
You send away the beggar,
And you still taste defeat.


01 – Horse Overboard
02 – Birthday Girl
03 – Past
04 – Humane
05 – Are You Happy
06 – Loftholdingswood
07 – Genius
08 – Begging Bowl
09 – A Friend With A Big Mouth
10 – Goodbye It’s 1987
11 – And

Microdisney – Crooked Mile (1987)

Musically the sound is getting more polished, less jagged. More Beach Boys and Steely Dan influences on O’Hagan.

Cathal’s lyric writing is getting even better – more powerful, more incisive.

It’s the guessing game with
those waves of flame and
sick winter for a thousand years.
Me and my ex-lover will accept each other,
help reap the dead harvest,
town to town.


01 – Town To Town
02 – Angels
03 – Our Children
04 – Mrs. Simpson
05 – Hey Hey Sam
06 – Give Me All Your Clothes
07 – Armadillo Man
08 – Bullwhip Road
09 – And He Descended Into Hell
10 – Rack
11 – Big Sleeping House
12 – People Just Want To Dream

//” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Microdisney – 39 Minutes (1988)

The most ‘commercial’ of their albums, possibly. But still the songs are powerful and Cathal’s lyrics black as crude oil!

There’s a lovely “tribute” to Boy George in the excellent opening track!

He’s coming home to his golden bath,
Drags his face all around the path.
He only had blank lines to say,

Although he said them in a witty and stylish way.


01 – Singer’s Hampstead Home
02 – High & Dry
03 – Send Herman Home
04 – Ambulance For One
05 – Soul Boy
06 – Back to the Old Town
07 – United Colours
08 – Gale Force Wind
09 – Herr Direktor
10 – Bluerings

Microdisney – John Peel sessions (1984-1985)

The band were championed by the late great John Peel and they recorded quite a few Peel sessions. After the group disbanded in 1995, this compilation of all their sessions, bar one, was released.

Some great stuff in here!

This is a different version from the CD release of this album already posted by us HERE!

witchseason says:

These tracks are ripped from my old cassettes of Pee sessions and of poor-ish quality. There was a ‘Microdisney Peel sessions’ CD (of which this picture shows the sleeve), but this isn’t it – I don’t have it and have no idea where to get it from.

While I was away at sea
With boilers, cargo and gin,
My wife still lived alone,
In a cottage by the lake,
Each night I kissed her face in the photograph,
I dreamed of the happy day that I’d be moving back.
Can we sleep alone?
We can’t sleep alone.
One horse overboard.


01 – This Liberal Love
02 – Escalator In The Rain
03 – Dreaming Drains
04 – Dolly
05 – Everybody Is Dead
01 – Teddy Dogs
02 – Dear Rosemary
03 – 464
01 – Birthday Girl
02 – Genius
03 – Horse Overboard
04 – Loftholdingswood
05 – A Friend With A Big Mouth
06 – Goodbye It’s 1987

Huge thanks to witchseason

Mail us:

Home Art Babes Cartoons Dylan Editorial Music Videos Other

August 21, 2008 Posted by | Cathal Coughlan, John Peel, Microdisney, Music_Alternative, Sean O'Hagan, _MUSIC | 2 Comments

Microdisney – Assorted rare B-Sides

Microdisney – Assorted rare B-Sides

Thank you satan and sidekick GW Bush for inventing the wide world web thingy!!

Yes, at the end of another day wasted doing “research” on various pornsites and music sites (mostly pornsites though!) I am almost overcome with great joy to tell you that I’ve found a collection of rare Microdisney B-sides on some forum!

These are B sides and extra tracks from 12″ singles that didn’t make it onto albums.

Further research suggests that these originally came from Thanks a million mate!


01 – Teddy Dogs
02 – 464
03 – Harmony Time
04 – Money For The Trams
05 – Bullwhip Road
06 – People Just Want To Dream
07 – Little Town In Ireland
08 – Bullwhip Road (live)
09 – Genius (live)
10 – Brother Olaf
11 – She Only Gave In To Her Anger
12 – I Can’t Say No
13 – No I Can’t Say
14 – Can’t I Say No

Here she be:

All Hail Microdisney

Big thanks to witchseason and other poster

Mail us:

Home Art Babes Cartoons Dylan Editorial Music Videos Other

August 18, 2008 Posted by | Cathal Coughlan, John Peel, Microdisney, Music_Alternative, Sean O'Hagan, _MUSIC | 3 Comments

Microdisney – Big Sleeping House (1995)

//” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Microdisney – Big Sleeping House (1995)
Mp3 @ 192 Kbps / RS
It’s the guessing game with
those waves of flame and
sick winter for a thousand years.
Me and my ex-lover will accept each other,
help reap the dead harvest,
town to town.

-Town to Town

Yap, we sure loved Microdisney back in the eighties, and, even moreso, the later fucked up soundscapes of Cathal Coughlan’s post-Microdisney outfit, the wonderful Fatima Mansions!

We’ve posted a few Microdisney LP’s before – Crooked Mile (1987), 39 Minutes (1988) and the “posthumous” Peel Sessions collection (1989) – and you can catch em HERE.

Microdisney first got together in 1980 in Cork – then a grim, ecomically-depressed, crime-ridden shithole (much like it is today! … only kidding lil corkonians!!) in South West Ireland – and over the subsequent 8 years released some amazing albums progressing from small Indie labels to Uber-Indie Label Rough Trade to Virgin.

Very sadly though, due to a lack of commercial success, as well as “creative differences” between the head honchos Cathal O’ Coughlan and Sean O’ Hagan, the boys called it a day in 1988.

A sadly neglected band during their short, yet productive, time together – and indeed thereafter too – Microdisney really made some amazing music – powerful songs, real songs that exist out of time and sound as fresh and relevant today as they did in the early eighties.

After their break up, this was one of three compilations issued of Microdisney material.

Big Sleeping House was released in 2005 with the tag “a Collection of Microdisney’s Finest Moments“.

It is actually a very good compilation which does capture some of their finest moments, but really, to get all of their finest moments, you need to hunt down the individual LPs … especially their final triumvirate of great albums The Clock Comes Down The Stairs (1985), Crooked Mile (1987) and 39 Minutes (1988). Their earlier LPs also had some great moments … the LP Everybody Is Fantastic (1984) and the collection We Hate You South African Bastards! (1984) (later renamed “Love Your Enemies”)

We went to a cheap hotel,
A no soap, no sleep, hotel,
Indifference and public scorn
in the dying town where we were born.
How I hoped you wouldn’t change your mind.
But soon it was time to find,
She was even crazier than I

-Big Sleeping House

This collection is a generally chronological exploration of the band’s finest moments in their progression from raw, indie agit-punk-pop to more lush and polished soundscapes.

Microdisney’s sound gradually became a little more upbeat and melodic as Sean O’ Hagan widened his musical scope to explore power-pop, classic rock and alternative-music sounds, being influenced by groups such as the Beach Boys and Steely Dan.

Although the musical style did change and, I guess, evolve, deep beneath the more melodic soundscapes lay the savage, barbed lyrics of Coughlan, whose dark, caustic, intelligent wordplay grew increasingly sardonic and scathing when lashing out at deserving targets ranging from racists to yuppies to bigots to zealots to gentry to colonialists to hypocrites ….. and everything in between!

Check out “Town to Town” (1986), a rock-along sing-song about yuppies attempting to live normal lives amid a nuclear holocaust, or the 1987 single “Singer’s Hampstead Home”, an attack on Boy George and the dumb media circus that surrounded the moron.

Coughlan was a indeed master lyricist. A messed up mixture of Kafka, Beckett, Flann O’Brien, Camus and Brendan Behan! Within the very limiting restrictions of song lyrics and song structure, as well as the vitriolic rage for which he is renowned, Cathal also had the ability to create beautiful poetry and vivid self-contained short-stories filled with a menagerie of confused, fucked-up characters.

What we did and said in this place,
No one will ever know – so what’s your disgrace?
Here come broken backs and bloody tears.
The air’s thick & black and you disappeared.

I went up to see Mrs Simpson,
But she was not there.
She may have gone back to her husband,
But I don’t really care.
Broken backs, heart attacks,
don’t help keep me sober.
I should not have come,
cause what I’ve done,
is done and gone and over.

-Mrs. Simpson

Coughlan’s lyrical savageness would later go into overload within the wonderful, dark, frightening aural landscapes of Coughlan’s post-Microdisney group, The Fatima Mansions. O’Hagan’s melodic obsessions would too go into overdrive in his subsequent band, the High Llamas, as well as his numerous collaborations with the likes of Stereolab etc.

But while together, the divergent styles of Coughlan and O’Hagan meshed magnificently. To paraphrase robweb, Microdisney’s great music was like a brass-knuckled fist in a fine velvet glove!

She held my hands up to her face
And said “Damn this place”.
In the big sleeping house,
Painted white, facing south,
With the ghost to grin at you.
“It’s afternoon,
Now please get out”.

-Big Sleeping House

Microdisney were formed in 1983 and survived until 1988. They graduated from independent labels to Virgin with whom they put out two fine, if more slickly produced albums.

This record captures in more or less chronological order the progression from raw, indie synth pop to a more lush and polished music. Underneath all the changing production values is the same mix of oblique yet evocative lyrics and melodic, crafted tunes. Sean O’Hagan’s influence on the band was in the American pop sound of the music. Sometimes the sound recalls Steely Dan, sometimes the Beach Boys but only in the grooviness of the melodies. Set against the velvety arrangement is the irony, anger and vitriol of Cathal Coughlan’s superb lyrics. Singer’s Hampstead Home recalls the hell of Boy George’s misery years. Big Sleeping House describes a one-night stand in cheap hotel and the frigid atmosphere of 80s Ireland. Mrs Simpson is an arresting song dealing with the lives of neighbours and the uncertainty of whether helping them helps them. It’s not like Wham and it’s not like Kylie and this baffled the radio stations and the punters.

While this is an excellent compilation, the fact is that it will make you want to go and find the albums the songs are drawn from. The Clock Comes Down the Stairs, Crooked Mile and 39 Minutes are all albums which demand a place in the smart music fan’s collection. Until you can track them down this record will provide hours of enjoyment. It will also provide some moments wondering how cruel the music market is when bands like Microdisney exist only as cheap re-release fodder for companies like Virgin.

– casalingua

She only gave in to her anger.
And slapped the coalhouse wall.
Meanwhile, outside a crowd had gathered
She cried, “I hate you all!
There’s only one head of this house –
Him, Him, Him!
No, No!
He brings me gifts,
And tells me that I,
I will be the mother of his sons”.

-She only gave in to her anger

I came to Microdisney via Cathal Coughlan and the Fatima Mansions [unbelievably good]. I hate the High Llamas [Sean O’Hagan’s band] so didn’t expect to love Microdisney as much as I do. A five star five knuckle fist in a fine velvet glove. Pop hooks reel you in and pop hooks smash your teeth in. Buy buy buy.

By Robweb

Mother, mother, won’t you dry my eyes
The doctor says that I will have to die
I went with someone and I woke to find
I’m now subhuman and I don’t know why.

– Gale force wind

Cathal Coughlan and Sean O’Hagan have made some good records since (as the Fatima Mansions and the High Llamas respectively) but nothing to touch the work they did together as Microdisney in the 80s. Coughlan’s intelligence and bile and O’Hagan’s lush music made their records perfect pop polemic. Any comparisons are going to be misleading but maybe this is what Steely Dan might have sounded like if they had been punks from Cork not smug East Coast college boys. All of their albums are worth listening to, with Crooked Mile being the best of the lot, but until such time as someone sees sense and reissues them on CD, this will have to do. Only thing that stops me giving this 5 stars is the absence of anything from their Rough Trade albums, in particular from Everybody is Fantastic. All tracks are good, but my favourites include Begging bowl, Armadillo man, Send Herman home.

By Ernie Goggins


1. Horse Overboard
2. Loftholdingswood
3. Singer’s Hampstead Home
4. She Only Gave In To Her Anger
5. Gale Force Wind
6. I Can’t Say No
7. Angels
8. Mrs Simpson
9. Armadillo Man
10. And He Descended Into Hell
11. Rack
12. Big Sleeping House
13. Back To The Old Town
14. Send Herman Home
15. Town To Town
16. Begging Bowl

You can descend into heaven here!


Mail us:

Home Art Babes Cartoons Dylan Editorial Music Videos Other

August 18, 2008 Posted by | Cathal Coughlan, John Peel, Microdisney, Music_Alternative, Sean O'Hagan, _MUSIC | 1 Comment

Microdisney – 3 great Albums: Crooked Mile (1987) + 39 Minutes (1988) + The Peel Sessions Album (1989)

Microdisney – 3 great Albums

-Crooked Mile (1987)
-39 Minutes (1988)
-The Peel Sessions Album (1989)

Mp3 @ 320

Another sunny day,
He sips cold soup and strays,
He was lost and he descended into hell,
By the arches where
He hears that railroad bell.
No more worries, no aggression, all is well.
He was lost and he descended into hell.
So there it is, complete.
You can say what you want
But at least I don’t
Hide what I am.
And I’m going to leave you now
So you can go
Knee jerk, knee jerk, knee jerk
Knee jerk, knee jerk, knee jerk
Knee jerk.

from: And He Descended Into Hell

Via the excellent digivinyltal.blogspot here’s some amazing music from seminal Irish group Microdisney, a band I used to love back in the eighties.

Microdisney were formed by Cathal Coughlan and Sean O’Hagan in Cork during the dark days of the early eighties. They first began recording in their native town of Cork in 1980, and, in the early days, producing a muted, heavily melodic, atmospheric sound.

Their first few singles, including 1983’s “Pink Skinned Man” were produced by Dave Feeley and released on small indie labels like Kabuki.

After relocating to London, they signed to Rough Trade and tapped John Porter (producer of The Smiths) to produce their debut album, Everybody’s Fantastic. At this time the band became acquainted with John Peel, who championed their music and gave them the first of several Peel Sessions. Soon after, bassist Jon Fell and drummer Tom Fenner were added as a permanent rhythm section.

Microdisney’s sound gradually became a little more upbeat and melodic as O’ Hagan widened his musical scope to explore Beach Boys and power-pop territory. This can be seen in their 1985 release, The Clock Comes Down the Stairs, and its lead single “Birthday Girl.”

Microdisney – Birthday Girl (from UK TV, introduced by Ivor Cutler)

From: campfreddie

However, beneath the more melodic soundscape lay the savage, barbed lyrics of Coughlan, whose dark, caustic, intelligent wordplay grew increasingly sardonic and scathing. Check out “Town to Town” (1986), a rock-along sing song about yuppies attempting to live normal lives amid a nuclear holocaust, or the 1987 single “Singer’s Hampstead Home”, an attack on Boy George and the media circus that surrounded his post Culture Club years.

This lyrical savageness would later go into overload within the wonderful, dark, frightening aural landscapes of Coughlan’s post-Microdisney group, The Fatima Mansions.

Like many bands who may otherwise have gone completely unrecognised, Microdisney were given a wider audience by the late great BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel.

During their career recorded for Kabuki, Rough Trade and Virgin record labels. Their albums included the early compilation We Hate You South African Bastards! (a great name … but later they were forced to rename it Love Your Enemies), Everybody Is Fantastic and The Clock Comes Down The Stairs.

The Clock Comes Down the Stairs was voted number 1 album of the 1980s in the 1989 end-of-year edition of the Irish newspaper The Sunday Tribune.

After signing to Virgin Records they released two more albums Crooked Mile and 39 Minutes.

In 1988, with chart success and mainstream acceptance having continually eluded them, Microdisney disbanded, with Coughlan forming the mighty Fatima Mansions and O’Hagan forming The High Llamas, retaining Jon Fell.

Post break-up, two further compilations were issued of previously released material – Big Sleeping House – a Collection of Microdisney’s Finest Moments, and the Peel Sessions which has most of their collected BBC John Peel sessions apart from the last one.

Some useful links:


Crooked Mile

Town To Town / Angels / Our Children / Mrs Simpson / Hey Hey Sam / Give Me All Of Your Clothes / Armadillo Man / Bullwhip Road / And He Descended Into Hell / Rack / Big Sleeping House / People Just Want To Dream.

39 Minutes

Singer’s Hampstead Home / High And Dry / Send Herman Home / Ambulance For One / Soul Boy / Back To The Old House / United Colours / Gale Force Wind / Herr Direktor / Bluerings

The Peel Sessions

Sun / Moon / Dreaming Drains / Everybody Is Dead / A Friend With A Big Mouth / Teddy Dogs / Before Famine / Genius / Loftholdingswood / Horse Overboard / 464 / Town To Town / Bullwhip Road / Begging Bowl

Here be disneyland:

Password: PVAcblog
Bitrate: 320

Microdisney – Crooked Mile
Rapidshare: Part 1 / Part 2
or uploaded: Part 1 / Part 2

Microdisney – 39 Minutes
Rapidshare or uploaded

Microdisney – The Peel Sessions Album
Rapidshare: Part 1 / Part 2
or uploaded: Part 1 / Part 2

All thanks to digivinyltal.blogspot

Mail us:

Home Art Babes Cartoons Dylan Editorial Music Videos Other

August 15, 2008 Posted by | Cathal Coughlan, John Peel, Microdisney, Music_Alternative, Sean O'Hagan, _MUSIC | Leave a comment

Review: The Peel Sessions: A Story of Teenage Dreams and One Man’s Love of New Music

The late great John Peel, and his tireless championing of great music, will never be forgotten.

This work is a detailed record of Peel’s magnificent sessions, where any artist worth their salt laid down recordings for John’s show.

Feel free to send me a copy of this book anyone!!!

The Peel Sessions: A Story of Teenage Dreams and One Man’s Love of New Music
by Ken Garner
BBC Books
May 2008, 352 pages
by Kim Simpson

For the average Briton, radio personality John Peel needs no introduction. A fixture on BBC Radio One from 1967 until his death in 2004, Peel made a career out of championing new music as well as up-and-coming artists. Ever curious and never willing to marry himself to any one genre or fixed notion of pop music orthodoxy, his very restlessness, combined with his affable and avuncular on-air manner, is what endeared him to so many listeners, especially the young. His enthusiasm for lesser-known groups such as the Fall and the Wedding Present played no minor role in fueling these groups’ increasingly rabid cult followings for years on end, and entire pop music genres that would eventually shake the windows of Great Britain and beyond—such as punk and reggae—were to flourish first on Peel’s programs.

For the average American, the Peel phenomenon requires some explanation. This is not only because his legend is so rooted in British pop music, but also because Americans have no real equivalent to understand him by. Quirks in British radio policy at the time Peel joined Radio One are partly responsible. The BBC was required by the Musicians’ Union and Phonographic Performances Limited (the UK’s RIAA) to supplement “needle time”—or the amount of records being played—with live bands or orchestras.

This created the happy situation for Peel, then, whereby he could bring promising bands into the BBC studios to record a handful of tracks which were usually recorded and mixed in no more than 24 hours’ time, and which were aired on his program in short order. Although Peel himself was almost never present during the actual tapings, these recordings are nonetheless commonly known as the “Peel Sessions”, hence that listing so many anglophiles have grown accustomed to seeing attached to deeper catalog entries of some of their favorite groups.

So although these were all tracked in-studio and not done strictly “live”, as you perhaps may have assumed, the Peel Sessions nonetheless have a reliably edgy quality thanks to: 1) The rush-rush nature of the event, and 2) the fact that many of the bands who recorded their sessions were either diamonds in the rough and/or very young and very hungry. Artists like the Smiths, the Cure, and Dave Edmunds, to name a few, go on record in Ken Garner’s new book, The Peel Sessions, declaring their own session results as true representations of what they were all about. (Judging from the self-contained mania that Peel Sessions collecting has become, many fans feel the same way.) The Peel imprimatur could change the fortunes of a lowly band with a mere demo cassette to its name overnight, and although the opportunity to record a session was hardly a guarantee for success (Go Hole, Mono Mono, or That Dog, anyone?), it was no less a badge of honor.

The Peel Sessions, then, by all means deserve their own treatment in book form, and UK radio historian Ken Garner has done a more than adequate job. It was Garner, after all, who wrote In Session Tonight, a 1992 history of all live music on Radio One. With The Peel Sessions, he’s able to zero in even closer on a man he has obvious affection for, and takes full advantage of his opportunity to make right any of the inevitable Peel-related mistakes or omissions he may have let slide in that previous Herculean effort. As for the text, it’s rife with wonderful anecdotes and sidebars regarding “classic” sessions, famous songs that were first heard in “session” form on Peel’s program (the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” are among these), listener reminiscences, and “One-Session Wonders”—memorable sessions by some of the many acts who barely made it past their big BBC moment.

Adding to the book’s formidable flip-through qualities are the incredible appendices, which provide a full sessionography including dates, musicians, instruments played, and songs recorded. If this sounds like something relatively easy for Garner to have thrown together, think again. During his Radio One tenure Peel presented over 2,000 artists who came in for over 4,000 sessions. If the BBC archives happened to be maintained carefully and consistently for 37 years and the “programmes-as-broadcast” sheets were not only accurate but also readily available, Garner’s task may have been nothing more than a migraine-inducing roundup. Because those idyllic conditions were certainly not at Garner’s disposal, the enormity of his accomplishment is all the more stunning. These appendices alone, in fact, which also include the complete “Festive Fifties”, Peel’s year-end tallies of tracks most popular with listeners, along with other features like the “Peelenium” (his yearly favorites of the entire 1900s), qualify The Peel Sessions as an instant inductee into the Rock Book Hall of Fame.

That being said, you may want to know one thing about this book before getting started: its subtitle, which reads “A Story of Teenage Dreams and One Man’s Love of New Music”, should actually be the decidedly less promo-friendly “A Story of Endless Boardroom Negotiations that Enabled One Man to Keep the Fall on the Radio”. It’s true that Peel presented many a teenage hopeful on air, had teenage dreams of his own, and loved the Undertones’ 1978 track “Teenage Kicks” (which was even played at his funeral). But you’d probably do better with Peel’s posthumous memoir, Margrave of the Marshes, if you happen to be looking for any straight up stories about teenage dreams.

This needs to be said because The Peel Sessions’ narrative concerns itself almost entirely with what Americans call “inside baseball”. It’s essentially a backroom overview of the sessions, examining Peel’s relationship with key producers such as Bernie Andrews and John Walters, the varying time slots, and the continuous battles that were necessary to keep even a popular show like Peel’s afloat. You’ll love this approach if you’re fascinated with radio history. Your eyes are guaranteed to glaze over, if not. But if you’re part of that latter category, don’t be dissuaded because you’ve always got those fabulous appendices in the back. And even Peel himself would agree that in the end, it’s the music that matters most.

June 26, 2008 Posted by | John Peel, OTHER_ARTICLE, OTHER_BOOK, _MUSIC | Leave a comment