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See also: Peel Sessions: The Lost Opportunities

Background

  • The kudos of having done a Peel session is in some cases surpassed by the grey area of sessions that never even made it into the studio. There are varied reasons why this happened, but for the purposes of this article they can be broadly sub-categorised into three areas. 'Couldn't' attempts to explore why it was physically impossible for some acts to appear; 'Wouldn't' notes those who simply refused to record; and 'Didn't' aims to lay to rest several myths surrounding sessions that were widely believed to have happened, but are no more than urban legends.

Couldn't

  • Many American bands, such as the Doors and Jefferson Airplane, were never booked for studio time due to the difficulty presented by the Ministry Of Labour rules on work permits, which stipulated that 'only musicians from countries whose radio stations offered reciprocal bookings for British acts could play at the BBC. As Americans didn't do live sessions, no American bands could be recorded': the two sessions by Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band were only made possible by Bernie Andrews describing them as a troupe of magicians. [1] The exception to this dictum was that solo artists could do sessions if backed by British musicians. [2]
  • The jazz acts that John admired, including Tony Bennett, [3] were also stymied by a variety of stumbling blocks. The organist Jimmy Smith's financial demands would, allegedly, have taken up the budget for six months [4]; a request to feature Sonny Rollins ran into 'a wall of lawyers' in New York [5], although Peel felt that he would have done it given the chance; and Ornette Coleman simply wasn't in the country for long enough for one to be arranged. [6] This last was also an explanation for the Radicts' non-appearance on the show. [7]
  • Although Louise Kattenhorn honoured the bookings already made to bands before John's death in 2004, this remit apparently did not extend to the live performances from Peel Acres: John alluded to Jawbone's live set due at the end of November that year, which was inevitably cancelled. This made Nina Nastasia the last artist to do such a live session.

Wouldn't

  • It seems hard to believe that any artist would have turned down the opportunity to appear on Kat's Karavan, but several high profile artists who were regularly featured on the show did so. Badly Drawn Boy was booked to appear on more than one occasion, but cancelled every one, as did Joni Mitchell, who 'was booked for several other R1 sessions during tours in 68 & 69, but all were cancelled, for various reasons,' despite the fact that one had already been TX in 1968. [8] It is likely that this had more to do with pressure from artists' managers or major record companies, who no doubt felt that their acts no longer needed this kind of exposure and consequently demanded excessive fees to make their signings available. PJ Harvey and Mogwai were advised by their PRs (as JP claimed) not to do recordings, and this may well be the reason why Harvey in particular did no recordings for John for nearly three years. Songs: Ohia very nearly recorded a session, but the reasons why it failed to happen are shrouded in mystery (John suggested incompetence by the band or their management). [9]
  • It is this notion of an image being somehow corrupted by an appearance that probably led to Margaret Thatcher turning down an offer after John had been fascinated by her recording of 'Ode To Democracy.' [10]
  • John noted on 11 December 2001, in response to a listener query as to why so few Jamaican acts were booked, that reggae acts were notoriously bad at actually fulfilling the bookings that had been made, citing the case of Sugar Minott who missed three bookings for no apparent reason. In addition, the 'Jah Messenger' Luciano was booked to do a session, but pulled out 48 hours beforehand as he had to do a gig (although as Peel pointed out, the audience a session broadcast would have brought him far outweighed such an engagement. He went on to note the costs incurred in not completing the recordings). [11] Rootsman were stated [12] to be due for transmission, but there is no record of this happening.
  • Sometimes, the acts did not appear and gave excuses which still beggar belief. American death metal band Nile's non-appearance was said to be because the BBC were unable to guarantee parking space for their tour bus. [13] The Trashwomen were rather too honest when they stated that, since they were performing in London for only a short time, they preferred to go shopping instead. [14]
  • According to the 808 State official website [1], the band was close to having a session with Peel's show. Graham Massey of the band, mentioned the group wanted to do the session in Manchester in their own home studio rather than the BBC's choice at Maida Vale in London.

Didn't

  • Ken Garner's The Peel Sessions contains a list of artists 'Who Despite What You Might Have Heard Never Did A Peel Session' (p. 272). It seems clear that the Sex Pistols omission was due to John Walters. He regarded this as one of the great lost opportunities to capture a moment in time. Sheila says:

Different stories abound as to why the Sex Pistols never recorded a session for the programme. Walters blamed himself; he felt guilty about imposing on the unsuspecting BBC engineers a band that raucous. John thought that the Pistols had turned down the offer. Whatever the reason, they got away. [15]

  • Nevertheless, it is worth noting that all original members of the Pistols subsequently appeared in the programme in session recordings: John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten (PiL); Steve Jones & Paul Cook (Professionals); and Glen Matlock (Rich Kids and Jimmy Norton's Explosion).
  • JP did recall turning down U2, Dire Straits [16] and Oasis. [17] although he claimed to have been rejected by the Beatles and Rolling Stones [18]
  • The urban legends sometimes came from no other source than Peel's own show. The Flying Cream Shots never recorded a session for the programme due to the simple fact that they did not exist - it was a long-running practical joke of John's.
  • John sometimes pondered aloud on acts he wanted to hear on the show. For example, he wanted to broadcast Tom Jones' Glastonbury Festival appearance as a session, but this did not come about [19]. Had he done so, it could not have counted as a session anyway according to Ken Garner's criteria, since it was not recorded specifically with Peel and the show's audience in mind. After JP met Humphrey Lyttleton at the Sony Awards, he pondered the idea of a session. [20] Quite why the Velvet Underground never entered the studios when they were touring England in 1993, however, is a mystery, since JP went to great lengths to contact them but they never replied. [21]
  • Probably the most fantastical recording he ever dreamed up was after hearing reports in the last year of his life that scientists discovered that the Earth actually made an extremely low continuous sound: whimsically, he mooted the idea of getting the Earth in for a session. [22]
Footnotes
  1. The Peel Sessions, p. 48.
  2. Therefore Leonard Cohen famously recorded one. Tom Rush arrived a couple of months before that to promote his LP The Circle Game and his session used a British orchestra reproducing the album's string arrangements. Joni Mitchell was backed by a small group led by John Cameron, musicians who had worked on Donovan's records, while Tim Buckley employed Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson alongside his regular guitarist and percussionist. Solo singers such as Patrick Sky, Spider John Koerner and Jack Amory Kane were also represented. Many thanks to CE for this information.
  3. JP was so impressed by Bennett's appearance at Glastonbury in 1998 that the show approached him. Bennett was willing, but had to cancel at the last minute due to a sore throat (Olivetti Chronicles, Corgi edition, p. 40.)
  4. 23 May 2002
  5. 25 April 2001
  6. 25 April 2001
  7. 'We had been hoping to get a session from them when they passed this way recently, but it was impossible to organise it in the short time available to us, but next time, next time.' (JP's comment is featured on Best Of Peel Vol 30. Unfortunately, there wasn't a next time.)
  8. The Peel Sessions, p. 310.
  9. 01 December 1999.
  10. 03 July 1992
  11. 11 December 2001 and 23 January 2002
  12. 23 November 1999.
  13. Olivetti Chronicles, Corgi edition, p. 41.
  14. 25 March 1995 (BFBS), 27 May 1995 (BFBS).
  15. Margrave Of The Marshes, Bantam Press, 2005, p. 368.
  16. As he told Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs
  17. 'I never really thought Oasis were much good to be honest, so they didn't do one,' (JP in MTB Interview).
  18. 03 July 1992.
  19. 03 July 1992
  20. See 23 May 2002.
  21. 11 June 1993.
  22. 30 September 2004.

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