The BBC radio archives are an absolute treasure trove for goth, alternative and post-punk, (among many other genres) – especially from the seventies and eighties. Recording professionally in those days was expensive and bands did not enjoy the freedom of running a full recording studio in a laptop, so any high quality recordings from this period are to be treasured.
And of course John Peel along with David “Kid” Jensen and Richard Skinner provided many, many “sessions”. Bands recorded and mixed quickly and mainly live, and the result is raw, stripped down versions of tracks, often exposing their inner workings. Many bands would experiment with material in early formats – often entirely different song structures or lyrics.
Siouxsie and the Banshees lead the way with “At the BBC”, their 84-track, digitally remastered, four disc, hard-backed book set of BBC sessions, live concert tracks and TV performances recorded between 1977–1991, split across three CDs and a DVD. Mojo says:
In a four-disc box, 3 CDs cover their BBC sessions but it’s the one vital DVD that reveals the Banshees’ true nature. Make no mistake: post-punk started here. And that’s not the half of it. Between late 1977 and autumn ’79, no British band could touch the Banshees. Their infamous, improvised August ’76 debut at the 100 Club Punk Rock Festival had taken DIY to its literal extreme. A year later, they re-emerged with a John Peel session that was light years from numskull punk. That debut, still shockingly artful and assured, heads off 55 songs recorded for BBC Radio which make up the first three discs here. A fourth parcels up 29 performances shot for BBC TV. From an ice cool arrival on Old Grey Whistle Test, to a saffron-flavoured farewell on Top Of The Pops 13 years later, it chronicles the transformation of punk’s most militant iconoclasts into an alternative music colossus.
Robert Smith has been systematically re-releasing the Cure back catalogue with a stunning selection of out-takes, demos, remixes, etc., but very little Cure session material has been released officially (only a couple of Peel session 12” EPs on Strange Fruit Records of very early sessions).
For a couple of years rumours of Smith attacking the BBC back catalogue have been around (along with him tackling the million year overdue “Cure in Orange” DVD – arrrgghh!!). A 2009 entry on the excellent Slicing up Eyeballs blog says:
But most tantalizing to fans is Smith’s sign-off: “There will be a lot more remastered Cure stuff in 2010… including Mixed Up 2…” (apparently a sequel to the 1990 remix album) as well as “The Cure @ The BBC box set… ‘InOrange’ and (1993 concert film) ‘Show’ on DVD… and…”
And in an August 2010 item, again from Slicing Up Eyeballs, Lol Tolhurst Tweets:
Just realized looking thru my recent emails from Robert he tells me that he’s working on the Cure at the BBC and mixed up remaster..oops!,” followed by: “..Not Cure In Orange as previously reported! But anyway the dvd of it should be out soon enough….”
I had heard a lot about a recent Cure bootleg entitled “Early BBC Sessions 1979-1985″, a double LP containing a mix of session material from John Peel, Kid Jensen and Richard Skinner, plus some TV. It is generally available – I bought a copy from the excellent Piccadilly Records (it’s back in stock now, but it was out of stock for a while). And there were some vague rumours of a semi-official release, leaked out by a frustrated insider – could this be it?
Well, no. This is a compilation of session stuff, of varying quality although overall definitely above average. And to make up for it, the vinyl is very cool. It’s not the heaviest vinyl, or the best pressing, but I have many worse. Here’s a sample:
“Faith”, Richard Skinner session version, February 1981
So, what’s it like? On the down-side the audio quality varies and some tracks suffer from inelegant fades (why not just let John Peel chat? it all adds meat). Some of the sessions are not complete which is a shame (it is missing “a Forest” for instance which, given it’s iconic status, seems an odd track to leave out). The final side contains five tracks from “Saturday Live” from 1985, so not a session.
On the upside the quality on the whole is as good as, if not better, that the versions I already have. And the material is really interesting – there is lots of experimenting with different lyrics (e.g. “Cold Colours” which I an early version of “Primary”), there are six tracks from Faith (plus a version of “Forever”) all great quality, a cracking Bside (“Just One Kiss”) and an unreleased track (“Ariel”). And don’t forget Desperate Journalist (in a meaningful ongoing review situation) – “Grinding Halt” with different lyrics – a rant about Ian Penman (see clipping at the very bottom of this post).
Side by side
Peel session #2, May 1979 – an energetic early session which opens with a really eerie version of “Subway Song”. It also includes the infamous “Desperate Journalist (in a meaningful ongoing review situation)” which is just “Grinding Halt” with the vocal track removed and a rant about lazy journo Ian Penman added. Detritus of the highest order. The session quality is okay (3/5) with a bit of wobbly tape FX! Think high quality Camden Market tape bootleg (TDK D90, naturally!).
- 1. Subway Song
- 2. Plastic Passion
- 3. Grinding Halt
- 4. Desperate Journalist (in a meaningful ongoing review situation)
- 5. Accuracy
Peel session#3, March 1980, another excellent session which, sadly, is missing “a Forest” which was included in the broadcast. The quality is up a notch (4/5) and the production has much more emphasis on drums and bass than the LP version. “Play for Today” (and, to a lesser degree, “M”) is fast and cool. “M” is not listed on the sleeve or label.
- 6. Seventeen Seconds
- 7. Play For Today
- 8. M
Peel session #4, January 1981 – a really good session, sound quality is up another notch (5/5), except for”Holy Hour” (3/5) which sounds like it is from another source. The session includes the track “Forever”, which was only ever released as a live extra, and an early version of “Primary” entitled “Cold Colours”, essentially Primary with different verse lyrics.
- 1. Forever
- 2. All Cats Are Grey
- 3. The Holy Hour
- 4. Cold Colours (early version of Primary)
Richard Skinner session, February 1981 – again great quality (5/5) and I think my favourite session on the LP. It is all drum machine driven, and the songs have a really great vibe. Six tracks from Faith is a treat.
- 5. Funeral Party
- 6. The Drowning Man
- 1. Faith (from previous side)
Peel session #5, December 1981 – another really excellent session taken from Pornography, my favourite Cure LP. The quality is pretty good (4/5), and I have already written a lengthy blog post on this session.
- 2. Siamese Twins
- 3. One Hundred Years
- 4. The Figurehead
Kid Jensen session, October 1982, not bad quality, but not great (3/5). I am a big fan of the extended version of “Just One Kiss” – a brilliant vibe and sounds a lot like a Pornography track with more hopeful production. “Ariel” is quite experimental, and un-released. This session is missing “Let’s go to Bed” and “100 years”. Shame.
- 1. Just One Kiss
- 2. Ariel
BBC Radio 1 Saturday Live, July 1985 – this is excellent quality (5/5) and is a good live workout – but I’d have preferred another session, or the various missing tracks!. Kyoto Song is really good.
- 3. Inbetween Days
- 4. Close To Me
- 5. Kyoto Song
- 6. The Baby Screams
- 7. Sinking
All in all, not a bad LP, but I imagine one for the collector only. If I were you I’d probably wait for the official release. It should be here any decade now.
Fancy another review of this LP?
Guest blogger Simon has also reviewed this LP, and it is a cracking read – click here to read part one.