Kelvin K. on the legendary Peel Sessions…
Teenage dreams, so hard to beat
During the 1960s, the English Musicians’ Union and Phonographic Performance Limited (which represented the record companies dominated by EMI at the time) began limiting the number of songs that could be played on the radio in the U.K. These restrictions were imposed and enforced in an effort to create employment and force people to buy records and not listen to them free of charge on the air. In turn, this led to BBC Radio 1 hiring bands and orchestras to render cover versions of recorded music.
Iconic DJ John Peel took this idea a step further and invited bands to record their own songs live in the studio on what would be known as “Peel Sessions”. And if you grew up before “blog hype,” chances are you might have heard your favorite band on Peel’s Radio 1 show first.
Despite working for a national radio station, John Peel’s taste was considered to be quite eclectic. Always willing to take risks, he was one of the first broadcasters to play music from genres as disparate as psychedelia, punk, reggae and hip-hop. “Peel Sessions” not only offered independent musicians a chance to be heard by a larger audience but provided fans with an experience closer to a live performance than a studio album. Recordings were often raw and demo-like, partly due to the fact that the tracks were usually all mixed in a single day. Over 4,000 sessions were recorded by over 2,000 artists over the course of Peel’s 37 year career.
For perfect examples of the edge and sheer grit provided by a prompt Peel Session mix, look no further than The Birthday Party and The Jesus & Mary Chain. Reissues of both complete sessions are currently available at Sweat Records in double LP format and both are equally visceral performances from bands that hardly knew restraint on their respective studio albums.