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.

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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.

Peel Sessions – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 14 April 1980

Just six months after their first session, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark returned to the John Peel show for another session, this time with another selection of songs from their debut eponymous album, released a couple of months before the session was recorded, plus a couple of hints of the second album, which wasn’t due to arrive for a while yet.

It opens with Pretending to See the Future, the closing track on their first album, and having done most of the best songs on the previous session they were mainly left with second rate ones this time. So, while this is pretty good, it’s far from amazing.

Having said that, Enola Gay must have come as a bit of a surprise given that it wouldn’t be released for another six months or so. There was even a release of Messages in between, so some listeners must have wondered where on earth this fantastic song was hiding. It is good though – much more raw sounding than the final release, with a live bass line and many fewer synth parts, but you definitely get more than just a vague idea of how good this will sound when it’s finished.

Having got that out of the way, OMD present us with one of the ropiest tracks on the first album, the distinctly questionable Dancing, presented here with some extra avant garde warblings. There’s always an experimental side to the Peel Sessions, and I suspect that’s what they’re trying to explore here. But it still isn’t really any good.

Finally for this session, we get Motion and Heart, another unreleased track, which would later appear on the second album Organisation, and was considered as that album’s second single (before they decided not to bother at all). Here, it sounds raw and a bit empty, but you definitely get the idea that there’s a good song there. But unlike Enola Gay, you probably wouldn’t fight your way into the record shop to find out what you had heard and why on earth it wasn’t available yet.

We previously covered the first session, 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 – The Shamen, 12 February 1991

The Shamen‘s fourth and final John Peel session was recorded in February 1991 and broadcast several times that same year. The Shamen had long been featured on Peel’s radio shows, and he seems to have even stuck with them once they transitioned from psychedelic eighties “alternative rock” to the rave-pop-dance that they were so fond of in the early 1990s.

The session opens with a pretty good version of En-Tact‘s Hyperreal, already available in the shops for a year or so at this stage. It seems to have gained some slightly daft sound effects which weren’t there on the quite brilliant original version, and it’s notably lacking the input from William Orbit that made the US album and subsequent versions so good, but it’s still pretty strong.

Make it Mine had already been a single in 1990, and this version seems to have undergone a slightly ill-advised reworking, with a pointless middle section and a length rap from Mr. C. It’s interesting to see them exploring some slightly different directions, but they really don’t seem to know what they’re doing. The input of The Beatmasters that would characterise the next album seems long overdue.

Possible Worlds is a nice inclusion – definitely one of the best tracks from En-Tact, it offers them a chance for some musical exploration without going completely off the rails. There’s a bit more freestyle rapping (including rhyming “brain pattern” with “Saturn”), which is definitely unnecessary, but in general it’s pretty good. Just not quite as good as the original version.

Then comes In the Bag, which I think I’m saying was never released anywhere else. It’s a pretty nice ambient piece which is entirely lacking in melody, but it’s a strong inclusion nonetheless. In a way it’s pieces like this rather than the better known singles and album tracks that make it worth hearing these sessions.

You can read more about The Shamen‘s relationship with the John Peel show here. This session is available on The Shamen‘s 1993 compilation On Air, which is still widely available.

Peel Sessions – The Beloved, 8 January 1985

Since The Beloved clearly had their heyday in the early to mid-1990s, it’s really rather fascinating to me that they appeared on the John Peel show halfway through the preceding decade – and not just once, but twice. It really illustrates just how broad minded and open Peel actually was.

The first session opens with debut single A Hundred Words, really sounding rather good after presumably only a year or two of practice. To my untrained ears, it sounds a lot like the later single and album versions, but that’s definitely no bad thing.

Never-released track Idyll follows, a frantically fast piece. Perhaps surprisingly, given the direction their careers would take a few years later, most of The Beloved‘s output from the mid-1980s has a dark, indie, slightly dirty sound, I think from a combination of the bass and rhythm guitars, and this is no exception. It’s good, but entirely unlike Sweet Harmony. It’s nice to hear the lyric “the journey through” here, which for fact fans was in fact The Beloved‘s original name, when they formed back in 1983.

In fact, apart from the first track, nothing here appeared on their debut album Where it Is (1987) – which is something of a shame for A Beautiful Waste of Time, with its enormous drum fills.

The Flame is something of a surprise – it appeared in one of their original demo sessions, and eventually became their first single for a major label, with a new set of lyrics and a new title – Loving Feeling. Even here, though, with a growling synth bass line, you can hear there’s something a little bit different about it.

We’ll cover the second session in a future article. This session is available as a download from The Beloved‘s semi-official website here.

Peel Sessions – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 20 August 1979

There are definitely times for standing by what you say, and other times when you just have to eat your words. I’ve been critical in the past of OMD and their habit of overplaying their legendary status, but when they recorded their first John Peel session in summer 1979, they really were doing something very different.

On the album, they open with Bunker Soldiers, one of the better songs on their exceptional 1980 eponymous debut, and to my ears there isn’t a huge amount different here, except for a slightly more raw sound and an unexpected ending. It does make you wonder just how this might have sounded on late night Radio 1 back in the 1970s though.

The lovely Julia’s Song follows, again sounding pretty polished. You have to wonder slightly how they picked the songs for Peel Sessions – did they intentionally hold back on Electricity because they knew how revolutionary it might be? Or maybe it’s so difficult to play that they couldn’t face it? Or maybe it simply wasn’t finished yet…

A surprisingly chilled version of Messages comes next, sounding just a touch slower than normal, but every bit as wonderful. This is 1980s synth pop, being played in the wrong decade, and by a radio DJ who was of course known for discovering every type of music, but perhaps not so well known for his taste in pop. Very strange.

Finally, the delightful early single Red Frame/White Light, sounding every bit as daft as you would expect, but with considerably less production. The single appeared in early 1980, about six months after the radio session, and as with all the other tracks from this session sounded a lot more polished by the time it was released properly.

We’ll cover the other four sessions in future article.s 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.