S J Birkill
just a sensible reserve
John Peel 'Top Gear' recording unearthed
« : 27.04.20 at 19:54 »
Now, here's a treat, the kind of thing that doesn't happen very often this century. I just had an email from one Stuart Brooks, a splendid fellow who's part of a group running a Wiki dedicated to radio deejay John Peel and the 'Peel Sessions' (a bit of background on these, further down this page).
Listen to this accomplished as-live solo rendition of 'Thief In The Night', played at a blistering tempo as part of the John Walters-produced Pete Atkin session recorded on 6th March 1972 at the then BBC-owned Playhouse Theatre studio in London's Northumberland Avenue:
(That's Charlie Christian in the photo, he who famously outplayed the saxes, with his Gibson ES-150.)
Or, listen to the complete two-hour broadcast, which also featured sessions from The Groundhogs and Henry Cow, plus album tracks by Vinegar Joe, Gary Wright, Tractor, Commander Cody, The Johnstons and others, via the John Peel Wiki:
-- lots more about John Peel on that site, which I haven't yet begun to explore. The relevant audio file is here:
http://mooo.peelwiki.com/dl/Tims_Peel_tapes/J%20P%20Top%20Gear%2014%20March%201972%20complete.mp3 -- log in with username: peel and password: group.
Some background (in case you're interested) :
The ground-breaking late-evening radio programme Sounds of the Seventies was broadcast by the BBC each week-night from 10pm to midnight during the 1970s, and featured, well, pretty much every kind of music except mainstream pop. At the start the series was transmitted only on the Radio 1 medium-wave frequency, and suffered the usual MF-radio after-dark problems of whistles, heterodynes and crosstalk from continental stations, crackles and buzzes from electrical appliances, and static from distant lightning discharges, not to mention (but I will) a frequency response limited to 5kHz. A few local radio stations carried it on FM, but then as the audience for serious rock grew, the broadcast was given a two-hour nationwide FM stereo slot on Radio 2's VHF channel (it was some years later before Radio 1 was granted a full-time FM frequency).
John Peel (John Parker Ravenscroft) didn't have things all to himself. David Symonds had presented some of the programmes at the start, but as things moved on, a regular crew of deejays settled in: Bob Harris, Anne Nightingale with Alan Black, Pete Drummond, and Peel, who had two 2-hour slots each week which he later named "Top Gear" and "Friday Night is Boogie Night". ("Top Gear" was the name he'd given his earlier daytime show on Radio 1. Prior to that, on offshore 'Big-L' -- Radio London in the 1960s -- it'd been 'The Perfumed Garden'.)
A feature of those gentle early days was the session. As well as album tracks, each programme included two or three guest artists or bands who had worked with a BBC producer in one of the Corporation's several sound studios in London to re-record material from their latest releases. Resident producers included John Muir, Bernie Andrews, Tony Wilson, Malcolm Brown and John Walters, and their recordings were consistently to a very high technical standard. By the time of the session, bands had usually had the opportunity to refine their performance of the songs on the road, but not yet become tired of them. As a result, the BBC session versions of the songs were usually more spontaneous and often superior to those on their record releases, despite (or in some cases because of) their being produced at a small fraction of the cost.
Most band sessions were multitrack, mixed down to stereo, and broadcast twice, on shows just perhaps two or three weeks apart. After that, the tapes were wiped for re-use. Just a very small number of these session recordings survived the '70s, either because of the artist's perceived stature or as a result of some shrewd copying by the artist or a band member, or through a personal copy made at the artist's request.
Or through obsessives with tape recorders. Yes, I confess. Each weekday evening my Revox reels began turning at 22:00, with a 10½-inch spool of long play tape at 7½ ips, half-track stereo. The following day I would run through the 2-hour tape, selecting the tracks I thought worthy of keeping, sometimes only one or two per show, and dub them to a second machine at 3¾ ips, before rewinding the 'accumulator' ready for the next SOTS that night. I never kept the entire show. Mid-70s, after my collection grew to some 65 large reels, I began dubbing down selected tracks again, this time to compact cassette, sorted by artist or genre, so I could re-use the expensive tapes. At this point I became more ruthless with the winnowing, and discarded a bunch of stuff I later regretted. I still ended up with over six hundred C90s. Forty years later I digitised the collection.
In the mid-'70's I could have had no inkling that 20 years on I'd be operating Pete's website, or indeed that such a thing could ever exist, so I was as careless with his material as with any other artist I followed -- I thought nothing of discarding duplicate versions of songs from different sessions, keeping the one I preferred at the time, or indeed none, if I thought them inferior to the album version. Which is why I had recordings of only three of the four James/Atkin songs broadcast on 14th March 1972 (though I can't understand how I came to exclude this one!. I've now restored it to its rightful place alongside the others, on the website's Discography page in the "Peel Sessions" playlist in the right-hand column) :
I thought it supremely unlikely that anyone else had bothered. When we began MV, a few recordings surfaced of PA recordings lovingly guarded by enthusiasts, who were happy to loan them for me to make copies. Just one member came forward with an extensive off-air collection, and a few cassette recordings of live shows surfaced, but in general quality was poor. The best of the club appearances I used to make CDs which were loaned out to MV members through a free 'CD Library' operation run by member Andy Love. The service ran for just 2½ years a couple of decades ago. It's no longer available but the index survives:
But since yesterday I know I was not alone. Apparently a tape recording of one entire Sounds of the Seventies show was discovered, its creator unknown. It appeared for sale on eBay, at which point Tim, one of Stuart Brooks' collaborators on the John Peel Wiki, bought the tape and digitised it. This is how I came to have this excellent copy of 'Thief In The Night' to complete our collection for that second Peel (but third SOTS) session from Pete. Here's a full listing of Pete's radio sessions: