Peel Sessions – The Orb, 3 Dec 1989

Trust The Orb to do something very different with their John Peel session. You normally get about fifteen to twenty minutes of airtime, so most artists record three or four seemingly randomly-selected songs, but of course The Orb recorded just one.

They were still a couple of years away from releasing their debut album The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, but Peel had already been playing them for the previous six months or so. This was also released as a single both a couple of months before the session and again afterwards.

You would have to be something of an Orb completist to spot exactly what’s different here, but it sounds fantastic. I didn’t remember some of the vocal samples towards the end in the original, but it’s hard to remember specific parts. I also love the fact that I learned while listening to it, that it actually gets its title from a Blake’s 7 sound effects track. Genius. Well, that and the inclusion of Minnie Riperton‘s wonderfully twee Lovin’ You. This really is about as good as music gets.

Subsequent years would see another four Peel sessions for The Orb, mostly released variously on Peel Sessions (1991) and The Peel Sessions (1996), neither of which are currently available. This particular session also opens disc 3 of the special edition of the first album. You can read more about their relationship with the John Peel show here.

Erasure – The Circus

Having failed to make much of an impact with debut album Wonderland (1986), Erasure returned thirty years ago with their second full-length release. This time, it was heralded by two enormous hit singles – Sometimes had appeared out of nowhere the preceding autumn, making number 2 in the UK chart, and then It Doesn’t Have to Be came out just before the album and gave them their second top twenty hit.

It is that second hit that opens the album, in brilliantly uptempo form. It’s funny now to think of a time when Erasure weren’t well known, and with that in mind it’s impressive that It Doesn’t Have to Be performed as well as it did on the charts. What on earth is that middle section all about? (According to Wikipedia it’s a reference to Apartheid, which is of course fantastic, but I can’t honestly believe many people realised that at the time.)

The cheesier moments of the debut album still exist, and Hideaway deftly walks the line between that sound and being a fantastic pop song. It feels as though a 2017 re-recording of this song would do it a lot of favours, but it does show a lot of potential on here.

Don’t Dance and to a lesser extent If I Could both tread similar paths, sounding good but still very immature. It’s almost as though Wonderland was just a collection of demos, and this was their first proper album, but even that ignores the fact that Vince Clarke was already a very well-established musician. It’s very strange to say the least.

There’s definitely a bit of an agenda here, as Sexuality demonstrates – it comes across as a fairly innocent pop song charged with a lot of desire. But it’s the pure pop moments that hit their mark the best, as third single and second side opener Victim of Love demonstrates.

Unusually for Erasure, most of the hits are loaded on Side B here – second track Leave Me to Bleed wasn’t a single, but it definitely should have been – it’s probably one of the best songs on the album, and unlike some of the earlier tracks it doesn’t suffer too much from its production.

Sometimes is next, and is obviously exceptional. Oddly, having worked through the rest of the album, it’s easy to find yourself pulling holes in the production of this track too, but on its own this is flawless, and easily one of the best songs that Erasure ever recorded.

Fourth single and title track The Circus is the penultimate song, a curiously dark but happy piece, full of little circus acrobatics. It’s beautiful and haunting, and sadly overlooked as another of the best songs of their early career, although the single version is definitely tighter.

Right at the end comes Spiralling, which is definitely an appropriate closing track, but doesn’t quite have the atmosphere it seems to want, particularly when the circus-inspired Safety in Numbers turns up to close the album. Nice, but I think that’s about as far as you would want to go with this one.

If nothing else, The Circus shows a lot of promise which would be quickly realised on subsequent album The Innocents (1988) and wouldn’t really let up for another couple of decades. But you can also enjoy some great early songs from one of the most important duos in pop, so definitely it shouldn’t be dismissed too quickly.

If you can find copies of the 2011 special edition of The Circus, which should still be available here, that’s the version to get.

Chart for stowaways – 4 March 2017

Singles:

  1. Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution?
  2. Goldfrapp – Anymore
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  4. C Duncan – Wanted to Want It Too
  5. Delerium with Phildel – Ritual
  6. Weeknd Ft Daft Punk – I Feel It Coming
  7. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfør – Never Ever
  8. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 19)
  9. Pet Shop Boys – Memory of the Future
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Say It to Me

Peel Sessions – The Human League, 8 August 1978

One of my favourite John Peel sessions is the 1978 recording of The Human League. At this stage their debut single Being Boiled had only been available for a couple of months, and the group had barely made it out of Sheffield. Somehow, Peel managed to coax them out for a very early taste of their very early material.

It opens with Blind Youth, later from the debut album Reproduction, in a particularly raw and unpolished version. It’s a bit too energetic and suffers from some timing problems in places, but it’s great to hear an alternative take on it.

No Time is next, a brilliant early version of The Word Before Last, also from the debut album. Then what I gather was an early live favourite, a cut-down version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, which also appears on the first album and sounds every bit as good here, cut down to a mere four-and-a-half minutes instead of the album’s nine.

The version of debut single Being Boiled that follows is exceptional. It was still hovering around the lower reaches of the charts at the time of this session, but already The League were playing with it, tweaking sounds here and there. It sounds fantastic.

Perhaps due to The Human League‘s subsequent lineup changes, most of this session has never been officially released. Which is a great shame – perhaps now would be a good time? Being Boiled appears on the compilation Movement – The Peel Sessions (1977-1979), which looks worth a listen and is available here.