The Cure – “Early BBC Sessions 1979-1985″ LP review – Part One (by guest blogger Simon)

Back in April I posted this review of a Cure BBC sessions double bootleg, and I am pleased to say that here is our very first guest blogger on Gods & Alcoves, so please welcome Simon’s review of the very same Peel-fest – thanks Simon!

For some time now many Cure fans been wishing that the BBC would bring The Cure into line with so many other great bands of the post-punk era and release the unavailable archives of their BBC Radio session recordings. There have been online rumours that such a release was being curated – and with so much material on tape it would likely be something along the lines of the Banshees at the BBC which was very extensive and featured both Radio 1 sessions and concerts. The Banshees fans were also well served by the Nocturne DVD release, which include a fantastic pair of A Kiss in the Dreamhouse songs (Melt & Painted Bird) performed on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle test in 1983. Ironically both of those featured Robert Smith on guitar. The Cure’s first Peel session was released on Strange Fruit way back in the day but there is so much more unique material gathering dust somewhere on a BBC shelf – here is an exhaustive list of everything recorded for the BBC (and elsewhere).

So finally, the vinyl-only, for now, The Cure Early BBC Sessions 1979-1985 is the closest to an official/apparently non-bootleg release to date, compiling most of the Radio 1 Sessions, mostly from John Peel’s show. First impressions are good – there are 2 great images on the front & back covers – not seen elsewhere before, and the sleeve states that this is a compilation licensed from the BBC itself. But, oddly, there are careless 2 typos in the tracklisting of all places, both on the sleeve and the record labels – [Accurracy, Seventeen Second] which must cast some doubt on the ‘authenticity’ of the release.

The recordings do show their age at the outset as a hissy Peel Session #2 gets the LP off to a low key start with an edgy version of Subway Song, with added ominous atmosphere, heavy breathing and feedback. With added backing vocals, Grinding Halt is punchy, taut and urgent. This first session does sound like a tape recorded in 1979 but minus the kitchen sink acoustics of Chris Parry’s production on Three Imaginary Boys. These concise tracks sound more like classic late 70’s new wave guitar pop which is closer to The Cure’s original aggressive and dynamic live sound that earned them a support slot with Motorhead at Reading. However, Desperate Journalists is a novelty joke tirade over the backing track of Grinding Halt that is probably best only heard once.

Seventeen Seconds kicks off the next session and the change in tone to something more sombre is immediately apparent with a slower tempo of lengthy intro and the drone of the keyboards. Themes are getting serious and the long thin shadow of Joy Division is looming. Robert Smith’s distinctive chorus-flanger guitar sound begins here. A spritely Play For Today is more reminiscent of The Cure’s earlier material but with an added layer of sophistication both lyrically and musically. M is next up and the change in tone is complete. Personal frustration and doubt has replaced the previous articulate teen aggression and the music has a depth and subtlety that holds up under the scrutiny of repeated listens. (A Forest from this session is omitted but is available on the Kats Karavan John Peel compilation).

The first track of the Faith era Peel Session, Forever, was unreleased for many years and then only available on the superb ‘Cure Anomalies’ on the flip of the cassette version of Concert. This song is almost a freeform sketch with no clear lyrics or song structure – perhaps best heard in context as a live encore. The remaining Faith-era tracks are all versions of of the songs which made it onto the album. The unfamiliar title “Cold Colours” was released later as Primary with an overhauled set of lyrics (which scan with more fluency than this Peel session version) and more production sheen. The three Richard Skinner session tracks are superb quality and were a revelation to me as I had no idea they even existed. These 6 tracks from Faith are all far more interesting (and listenable) than any of the home or studio demos on the CD re-issue.

The Pornography Peel session is right up there amongst my all time favourite recordings by this or any other band. There is such a dense atmosphere, the mood is menacing, the sound is unique. The slight FM hiss of a 30 year old recording only adds to the alienated ambience and I can only imagine the thrill/horror of hearing these late at night as John Peel unleashed them for the first time. Siamese Twins is up first……

One Hundred Years benefits from an interesting mix – the drum machine in particular and keyboard both sound superb with a slight phasing and the minimalist guitar and bass add up to musical perfection. Shame it cuts out just as the guitar solo kicks in. The great Rhino Studio versions on the 2005 2CD release are somewhat similar in feel….. Hanging garden was recorded but never aired.

Ariel was never released, and perhaps with good reason. It’s sketchy, rather weak lyrically and it’s hard to see where it would fit well in terms of album – perhaps it was pencilled in as a b-side.

To be continued…

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