An Archive of 1,000 “Peel Sessions” Available Online: Hear David Bowie, Bob Marley, Elvis Costello & Others Play in the Studio of Legendary BBC DJ John Peel

Before he became the most influ­en­tial music broad­cast­er of all time on the BBC, John Peel had to become John Peel. Born and raised in Eng­land, he spent a stretch of his ear­ly twen­ties in the Unit­ed States, work­ing for a cot­ton pro­duc­er (his father’s indus­try), sell­ing insur­ance, and writ­ing punch­card com­put­er pro­grams before find­ing his way onto the air­waves. Host­ing work in such locales as Dal­las, Okla­homa City, and San Bernardi­no primed him to return to his home­land and take his radio career under­ground — or rather off­shore, to the for­mer minesweep­er anchored in the North Sea from which Radio Lon­don broad­cast in the mid-1960s. In those days, British “pirate radio” took place on actu­al ships, and it was on Radio Lon­don’s MV Galaxy that the returned son of Heswall, born John Robert Park­er Raven­scroft, quite lit­er­al­ly made his name.

Pirate radio exist­ed because the BBC could­n’t, or would­n’t, play the quan­ti­ty and vari­ety of pop and rock music younger audi­ences demand­ed — and over in the States, were already get­ting. After Radio Lon­don’s 1967 shut­down, Peel joined the Bee­b’s new­ly launched pop sta­tion, Radio 1. But even there lim­i­ta­tions con­tin­ued to apply, and today they sound dra­con­ian: the Musi­cians’ Union and Phono­graph­ic Per­for­mance Lim­it­ed, for instance, once lim­it­ed the num­ber of com­mer­cial­ly released records that could be played on air.

The BBC’s solu­tion was to cov­er pop­u­lar songs with its in-house orches­tra; Peel’s less square solu­tion, as it evolved, was to bring the bands in to do it them­selves. Over Peel’s 37-year career at the BBC, these “Peel Ses­sions” would num­ber over 4,000, about a thou­sand of which you can enjoy on Youtube today.

Com­piled by a fan named Dave Strick­son, this list of Peel Ses­sions avail­able on Youtube goes all the way from the Man­cun­ian pop-punk of A Cer­tain Ratio in 1979 and 1981 to the Glaswe­gian new wave of Zones in 1978. (Yes, the list tech­ni­cal­ly begins with the numer­al-fea­tur­ing acts as 14 Iced Bears and 23 Ski­doo.) In between, Peel’s guests include A Flock of Seag­ulls (1981), Bil­ly Bragg (1983, 1991), Bob Mar­ley and the Wail­ers (1973), Cocteau Twins (1982, 1983, 1984), David Bowie and the Spi­ders from Mars (1972), Elvis Costel­lo & the Attrac­tions (1977, 1978, 1978, 1980), Fair­port Con­ven­tion (1968, 1969, 1969, 1974), Joy Divi­sion (1979), Mor­ris­sey (2004), Roxy Music (1972, 1972), Shon­en Knife (1992), Son­ic Youth (1986, 1988, 1989), Tears for Fears (1982), The Jesus and Mary Chain (1984, 1985, 1985, 1988, 1989), and Yo La Ten­go (1997).

And of course, Strick­son’s list also includes no few­er than eight Peel Ses­sions by The Fall (1978, 1980, 1981, 1986, 1987, 1991, 2003, 2004), the leg­endary DJ’s favorite band — or at least the band that took up the most shelf space in his for­mi­da­ble record col­lec­tion. But as Peel’s fans know, he only met The Fal­l’s mas­ter­mind Mark E. Smith (like Peel, an out­spo­ken North­ern­er) two brief times in his life. One such fan, a Metafil­ter com­menter by the name of Paul Slade, notes that “Peel used to make a point of stay­ing away from ses­sion record­ings, part­ly because he did­n’t want to hear the new music till it went out live. That way, he knew he’d be able to react hon­est­ly on-air to any­thing in the ses­sion that sur­prised or delight­ed him.” His between-song com­ments do indeed con­sti­tute an unex­pect­ed charm of these vin­tage broad­casts, though sur­pris­ing­ly many have noth­ing to do with the ses­sion at hand. Peel undoubt­ed­ly loved music, but he seems to have loved Liv­er­pool Foot­ball Club even more.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear a 9‑Hour Trib­ute to John Peel: A Col­lec­tion of His Best “Peel Ses­sions”

Radio Car­o­line, the Pirate Radio Ship That Rocked the British Music World (1965)

Stream 15 Hours of the John Peel Ses­sions: 255 Tracks by Syd Bar­rett, David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Ban­shees & Oth­er Artists

Stream 935 Songs That Appeared in “The John Peel Fes­tive 50” from 1976 to 2004: The Best Songs of the Year, as Select­ed by the Beloved DJ’s Lis­ten­ers

Bri­an Eno on Why Do We Make Art & What’s It Good For?: Down­load His 2015 John Peel Lec­ture

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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