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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.

Chart for stowaways – 25 February 2017

These are this week’s albums:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  2. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène Trilogy
  4. Dusty Springfield – Reputation
  5. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  6. David Bowie – Legacy
  7. Delerium – Mythologie
  8. Air – Twentyears
  9. David Bowie – Station To Station
  10. Shit Robot – What Follows

Peel Sessions – Dead Can Dance, 2 June 1984

After a very industrial-sounding first session in late 1983, Dead Can Dance returned to the John Peel session around seven months later with a taste of their now-more-familiar “world” style. It opens with Flowers of the Sea, from their then-current EP Garden Of The Arcane Delights, and consisting of a lot of pleasant operatic-style wailing over almost Asian-sounding backing. It’s a curious mix, but one that works well.

Penumbra is next, with some of the more rock/industrial sounds that struck me with their previous session. Bizarrely, it sounds as though it’s going out of its way to drone on and sound boring, and it doesn’t actually do very well at that. Also curiously, this was never recorded elsewhere.

Panacea, also never released commercially, is rather brilliant. From what little I know, Dead Can Dance during this era were mixing various influences together with “alternative” 80s indie and lo-fi sounds, and here they pull it off very well.

Finally we get Carnival of Light, also from that debut EP, an energetic piece full of saucepan banging and pent up vocals. It’s difficult to imagine how this must have sounded – Wake Me Up Before You Go Go was number 1 when this was recorded – so it’s good to here an alternative take of the early 1980s.

Since writing about the preceding session a few months ago, both have now been released on a collection entitled Garden of the Arcane Delights / The Peel Sessions, available here.

Tracey Thorn – Out of the Woods

After a gap of twenty-five years, filled only by an entire musical career with Everything But The GirlTracey Thorn returned ten years ago this week with her second solo album Out of the Woods.

It opens with the sweet, nursery rhyme-like Here it Comes Again. I haven’t heard her 1982 debut A Distant Shore, but I think it’s probably safe to say that it sounded a lot less polished than this. It’s laid back though, and lacks some of the electronic sound of her work with Everything But The Girl, so the opening riff of A-Z will be very welcome if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for. It’s a great synth song, very different but every bit as good as anything Thorn had done in the preceding couple of decades.

The lead single was It’s All True, a collaboration with Ewan Pearson and another great synthpop song. It’s a lot more playful than you might be used to, but it’s still extremely good. And the collaboration obviously worked out – Pearson produced the entirety of Thorn’s subsequent album Love and Its Opposite (2010).

Get Around to It is a cover of a song by Arthur Russell, which is a little harder to fathom than some of the other things on here, and then Hands Up to the Ceiling is a wonderfully ironic, largely acoustic piece about partying.

Thorn worked with a wide range of different collaborators on this album, and it shows, both for better and worse – it’s a deliciously varied collection, but it can be a little hit or miss at times too. Easy is one of the better pieces on here, full of atmosphere and melancholy, and Falling Off a Log may not be the catchiest ever, but it has an enormous bass part and some clever production too.

Nowhere Near passes you by fairly anonymously, but Grand Canyon, which rightly appeared as the album’s third single with a whole pile of remixes, is probably as close as this album gets to the likes of Missing – it has a catchy but sad melody, with an enormous house riff in the background, and frankly it’s fantastic.

The production on the more folk-flavoured tracks is fun too, and it’s probably fair to say this would be less of an album without them, but on the other hand By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept is definitely a lot less memorable than Raise the Roof, which follows, and also appeared as the second single.

Amazingly though, this is such a varied album that you probably didn’t notice this was the last track already. Digital editions added a beautifully broken down cover of Pet Shop Boys‘ King’s Cross, which later appeared as a single in its own right with a fantastic remix by Hot Chip, but you don’t get that on the CD unfortunately.

Apart from that notable omission, Out of the Woods is a great second album, and an extremely promising way for Thorn to revitalise her career.

Buy the digital version of Out of the Woods here, or buy the CD but then make sure you add King’s Cross on for yourself – it’s a key part of this album.