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.


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.

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.

Peel Sessions – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 29 January 1983

After doing three in a little over a year, OMD‘s fourth and final John Peel session took place nearly two and a half years later, during which time they had turned out to be a little bit too popular to get much attention from the Godfather of British radio. But he did welcome them back for one final session.

It starts with a pretty faithful version of the then-current single Genetic Engineering, released a couple of weeks after the session was recorded and about ten days before it was broadcast. It gains a pleasant extra end section, making it more of a 12″ version.

The fourth album Dazzle Ships was just about to appear in the shops when this was broadcast, and the Peel Session was a good opportunity to showcase some of the material on this, one of their least overtly commercial releases. Closing track Of All the Things We’ve Made is the second track on here, pleasant and mournful, although the backing track, playing just one note for the entirety of the song, does start to wear a little towards the end.

The third track, both in this session and on the album, is ABC Auto-Industry, performed here with what might at least partially have been a live vocal. It’s short, experimental, and pleasant enough.

Not included on the Peel Sessions 1979-83 CD was the final track, another rendition of Bunker Soliders, which had previously been performed as part of the first session. It’s a shame this didn’t make it to that release actually – after an otherwise experimental session it makes a pleasant change of pace to hear one of their more uptempo pieces. It’s only slightly different here, otherwise retaining a lot of the raw unfiltered energy that it had three and a half years earlier.

We covered the previous sessions here, here and here. You can read more about OMD‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. The first three tracks from this session are available on the CD Peel Sessions 1979-83, available here, and you’ll have to find the other one on the internets somewhere.

Peel Sessions – Joy Division, 26 November 1979

Joy Division had recorded the first of two John Peel sessions at the start of 1979, and the second followed ten months later, towards the end of the year.

It opens with a fantastically raw version of Love Will Tear Us Apart, the non-album single which would see release seven months later, just after Ian Curtis‘s untimely death. It’s definitely an early version of the song, but it’s not hard to hear just how good it is.

Twenty Four Hours comes next, also half a year from its full release on Closer (1980). This is more similar to its final album version, but Colony, also to be seen on the next album, is noticeably more raw and less polished.

Honestly the charm that Joy Division had when they were at their best is somewhat lacking from this second half of the session – this is the darker, more tortured and less accessible sound that they drifted into at times. Finally, The Sound of Music, which was never fully released until the Still compilation two years later, which sees Curtis in more poetic form, and has a glorious rhythm but does seem to be lacking the melody which is necessary to make a strong song.

Unlike the first one, this session finds Joy Division in darker and more introspective territory. It’s still fascinating and entirely listenable, but perhaps not quite as remarkable as its predecessor.

We covered the first session previously. You can read more about Joy Division‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. This session is available on the CD The Complete BBC Recordings or as the second disc of The Best Of, which you can find here.

Peel Sessions – Pet Shop Boys, 2 October 2002

How is it, you might be wondering, that Pet Shop Boys managed not to record a John Peel session until seventeen years into their chart career? The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that Peel wasn’t particularly keen on their music – he did add commentary to a Glastonbury session, but apart from that the only time they were played was their one and only session.

Whatever the reason, it wasn’t until 2002 that they finally turned up to record four tracks, firstly the then-current German-only single London, which appears in cut-down form with a lot of acoustic piano and guitar, plus some slightly overwrought sound effects. In the end, they opted not to release this as a single in the UK, but it charted anyway.

The other tracks are a total delight – a selection of old unreleased gems and a cover version, they heralded Pet Shop Boys‘ exceptional forthcoming remix album Disco 3 in fine form. If Looks Could Kill would appear on there a few months later, in a slightly more heavily produced version.

A Powerful Friend didn’t appear anywhere commercially until a Record Store Day 7″ many years later, but is a great track nonetheless, with an enormous and entirely unapologetic 1980s sound.

There was definitely an element of reappraisal of history going on during this period, with a cover of early collaborator Bobby O‘s Try It (I’m in Love with a Married Man), which sounds entirely fantastic. The version subsequently released on Disco 3 is pretty much identical.

Some artists used their Peel Session appearances just to record different versions of their music – what’s impressive with the Pet Shop Boys session is that they delved deeply into their own history and unearthed something rather unexpected.

You can learn more about Pet Shop Boys‘ relationship with John Peel here.

Peel Sessions – The Beloved, 13 October 1985

Long before fame crossed The Beloved‘s path, they recorded two sessions for the John Peel show on BBC Radio 1. Both were recorded in 1985, before debut single A Hundred Words appeared the following year, and long before debut compilation album Where it Is (1987).

The sound on both sessions will be familiar to those who have heard any of The Beloved‘s early material – raw, indie, and owing a lot to some very heavy influences. Intriguingly, most of the tracks were never formally released though – Josephine opens, and then Up a Tree and So Seldom Solemn follow, none of which ever saw the light of day.

Honestly it’s difficult to believe many people will enjoy this session enormously – it’s all entirely pleasant, but there isn’t a lot that stands out. In fact, In Trouble and Shame is probably the only one that has anything special to say for itself, and so it should come as little surprise that it subsequently appeared as the b-side to the debut single and also found a place on the first album.

On this session, cut short at only six and a half minutes, In Trouble and Shame is still a pretty worthy piece to finish the recording. It owes a lot to Atmosphere, and is almost certainly aware of the fact, but it’s a worthy tribute and a great track in its own right.

It would take another four years of lineup changes and experimentation before The Beloved finally hit the charts with The Sun Rising, and while there’s little of that sound to be found here, it’s still a great moment for the archives.

As with the first session, which we covered previously, this recording is available as a download from The Beloved‘s semi-official website here.

Peel Sessions – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 29 September 1980

John Peel seems to have been slightly obsessed with early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and you can kind of see why. In a little over a year, the inventive Liverpudlian synthpop group had already recorded three Peel Sessions.

The third was recorded the same week that the brilliant Enola Gay had been released, and was first broadcast the following week. Shorter than most Peel Sessions, it opens with the new single’s b-side Annex, in a cut-down version. There’s a lot to be said for the raw, unproduced sound that you get here.

It never ceases to amaze me that groups would decide not to promote their singles on the Peel Sessions, but I suppose something like Enola Gay was getting more than enough radio play already, and anyway, they had already recorded an early version on the previous session. Instead, OMD opted for the first two tracks on Side B of their forthcoming second album Organisation: The Misunderstanding and The More I See You.

Seemingly time was at a premium that week – I imagine they had plenty of work to do promoting their soon-to-be huge hit Enola Gay – because all three tracks appear here in heavily edited form. The whole session, in fact, barely lasts nine minutes. But as always, it’s fascinating to hear what OMD sounded like when the production was simpler and more raw.

We previously covered the first and second sessions, and we’ll cover the remaining two sessions in future articles. You can read more about OMD‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. This session is available on the CD Peel Sessions 1979-83, available here.

Peel Sessions – New Order, 1 June 1982

New Order recorded four John Peel sessions, but the most famous are the two from the very early days, recorded in 1981 and 1982 respectively. By this time they just had one album and a handful of singles under their belts, and were still spending a lot of time sounding a bit like Joy Division, as you might expect.

The session opens with the never-released Turn the Heater On, which you might justifiably expect to be dreadful, but surprisingly it turns out to be a pleasant dub reggae-inspired piece, with the huge amounts of reverb and sound effects that it deserves. The lyrics are a bit wet, but it’s actually pretty good otherwise – and it’s definitely a shame that it never saw a proper release.

In fact, at the time of the session, nothing on here had seen a release, which is definitely admirable. We All Stand would later turn up on the next album Power, Corruption and Lies, but with a lot more production. I think I actually prefer the Peel Session version – it’s a lot more chilled out, and seems somehow to have the atmosphere that the song deserves.

Too Late was never released at all, and this one is probably a little more justified, as it does seem to be the weakest track on here. It bobs along nicely, but it’s pretty bland.

As is 5 8 6, actually – one of the better tracks from Power, Corruption and Lies, they clearly hadn’t quite figured out what it was going to be yet when they recorded this session. It’s nice to hear a bit of experimentation in the recording, but it does sound as though it needs quite a lot of work still. But that’s alright – nobody said the Peel Sessions had to be particularly polished.

We previously covered the first session here, and you can read more about New Order‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. This session is available on the CD The Peel Sessions, which is no longer widely available.

Peel Sessions – Dead Can Dance, 19 November 1983

I don’t know a lot about Dead Can Dance, except that they seem to have released a whole lot of pleasant industrial electronic instrumental pieces. Wikipedia describes them as an “ambient world music band”, which is every bit as meaningless as you might expect. But anyway, in 1983, they recorded the first of two John Peel sessions. At the time, they were still a few months away from releasing their debut album, so this session finds them in very early form.

This session opens with Orion, from. It’s a soaring piece with some slightly lacklustre drumming, but otherwise it sounds really good. It’s definitely very evocative of the early 1980s, but that’s never a bad thing.

Labour of Love is more of a traditional song, with vocals and everything. To my ears, it sounds a lot like the early work of The Cure. As on the first track, the drumming sounds similarly out of place, but everything else sounds very strong.

Next track Ocean appeared on their eponymous first album a few months after the session was recorded. Honestly, this track is a bit waily, and it’s difficult to know what’s going on for most of it, so it’s perhaps a little surprising that this one made it onto the album where the previous two did not.

Threshold is also on the first album Dead Can Dance, and it’s another waily industrial piece, but somehow this one’s a bit stronger than its predecessor – maybe the elements just come together slightly more smoothly here, or maybe it’s just my imagination.

This session is available on a limited edition 12″ entitled John Peel Session 19.11.1983 and the box set 1991-1998, neither of which is currently available.