YMGTA #34 – The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004

“As for the irreplaceable Peel, these discs say more about the man’s broadcasting ethos than a thousand broadsheet obituaries.”

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Released: 25 April 2005 on Castle, a label of Sanctuary Records Group – 6 CD box set

Introduction
When Mark E Smith died in January 2018, there were several things that were trotted out ad nauseam in the obituaries: ‘granny on bongos’, hiring and firing, drink and drugs, difficult curmudgeon, and so on. Nearly all of them also mentioned Smith and The Fall’s link to John Peel. Two quotations in particular were deployed frequently: ‘always different, always the same’ and ‘a band by which in our house all others are judged’ (the latter appears on the back cover of Simon Ford’s book, Hip Priest.) In addition, this famous speech that gave this blog its very title got a few mentions:

The Fall recorded more Peel sessions than any other artist – although as The Wedding Present did 13 and his side project Cinerama 11, David Gedge might claim a tie with some justification. (Should you be interested, the nearest other rivals were Ivor Cutler with 22, Loudon Wainwright III with 16, Michael Chapman, Half Man Half Biscuit, Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band and Vivian Stanshall with 12 and Thin Lizzy and Billy Bragg, who both recorded 11.)

It wasn’t just the volume of sessions; the group also dominated the Festive 50:

F50

But it went beyond even that. Beside the sessions and the Festive 50, the group were a seemingly constant presence on Peel’s show. So much so that someone was able to compile nearly three minutes of Peel just saying, ‘The Fall’.

As discussed in YMGTA #33, however, Smith and Peel were not close friends. In fact, although MES said some complimentary things about Peel, he was keen to point out that he didn’t owe his career to him, and was occasionally  a little dismissive about his influence.

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The box set was not the first time that The Fall’s Peel session tracks had been officially released. 1987’s The Peel Sessions EP consisted of the second session from December 1978. The 1993 EP Kimble contained five tracks selected from 1981-92 Peel appearances. The compilation album The Peel Sessions (compiled by Steve Hanley) was released in 1999 (see YMGTA #32). The double CD compilation, Words of Expectation had come out in 2003. In addition, by the time of the box set’s release, several reissues of the group’s early albums had already included some of the related session tracks. What the box set had going for it, however, was its comprehensiveness. (The group did, however, also record sessions for other radio shows – see ‘Other Radio Sessions’ below.)

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The release was met with universally positive reviews. The Daily Mirror, once again dipping their toe into the world of Fall criticism, said:

‘This 6CD set is a lavish, head-spinning portrait of the most undervalued band in Britain. The Fall’s searing rock drive, twisted pop magic and spellbinding strangeness has never wavered. This is confirmation of Mark E Smith as Britrock’s great anti-hero. Astonishing stuff.’

Pitchfork gave it 9.3/10, calling it a ‘sprawling, amazing release’ and ‘the definitive look at the Fall’s career to date’. Rolling Stone called it ‘six CDs of peerless clang and harangue’. In Uncut, Simon Goddard had this to say:

‘…you couldn’t ask for a more fitting tribute to the man, or the object of his affection, than this monolithic compendium of all 24 sessions The Fall recorded for his programme between May 1978 and August 2004.

…when The Fall were on form, Peel caught them at their very best… it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying or comprehensive career overview than this.

As for the irreplaceable Peel, these discs say more about the man’s broadcasting ethos than a thousand broadsheet obituaries.’

Despite these glowing tributes, once again positive reviews didn’t lead to huge sales (although it must be remembered that this was a relatively expensive box set). It reached number 139 on its first release; number 97 when it was reissued in 2013.

Fall Peel Session Facts
• The group recorded 97 tracks for Peel, of which 95 were broadcast ‘normally’ as part of a session: Job Search was played separately 19 days after session #24; Whizz Bang (recorded for session #13) was not broadcast.

• The total duration of The Fall’s Peel session tracks was 7 hours, five minutes and 37 seconds. The average length of the sessions (as broadcast) was 17:26

• The longest sessions were:

  • Session #6 (31:29)
  • Session #24 (24:08)
  • Session #9 (20:51)

• The shortest sessions were:

  • Session #1 (10:36)
  • Session #18 (10:48)
  • Session #13 (12:07)

• The biggest gap between sessions was 4 years, 4 months – between session #22 (18/10/98) and session #23 (19/2/03); the second largest was 1 year, 10 months – between session #2 (27/11/78) and session #3 (16/9/80).

• The smallest gap between sessions was 4 months – between session #8 (14/5/85) and session #9 (29/9/85); the second smallest was 5 months – between session #1 (30/5/78) and session #2 (27/11/78).

• The average gap between sessions was 14 months.

• 30 different people appeared on a Fall Peel session at least once:

  • 24 – MES
  • 21 – Steve Hanley
  • 16 – Craig Scanlon
  • 11 -Simon Wolstencroft
  • 10 – Karl Burns
  • 9 – Brix E Smith
  • 5 – Paul Hanley
  • 4 – Marc Riley / Dave Bush / Julia Nagle / Simon Rogers
  • 3 – Martin Bramah
  • 2 – Yvonne Pawlett / Marcia Schofield / Kenny Brady / Lucy Rimmer / Ben Pritchard / Jim Watts / Eleni Poulou
  • 1 – Steve Davis / Dave Tucker / John Rolleson / Neville Wilding / Karen Leatham / Tom Head / Speth Hughes / Dave Milner / Steve Trafford / Spencer Birtwistle / Ed Blaney

• Sessions 15-17 were the only ones where the line-up was the same for three consecutive sessions (MES / Scanlon / S.Hanley / Bush / Wolstencroft). There were only two other occasions where the line-up remained the same for two sessions in a row: sessions 8-9 (MES / Brix / Scanlon / S.Hanley /Rogers / Burns) and sessions 10-11 (MES / Brix / Scanlon / S.Hanley / Rogers / Wolstencroft).

• The first seven sessions featured a different line-up each time, as did the last seven sessions.

• Although he was the group’s bass player from 1998-2001, Adam Helal never played on a Peel session. Neither did Tommy Crooks.

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Disc 1 – Sessions 1-4, 1978-1981
Session 1
• Recorded: 30 May 1978
• Broadcast: 15 June 1978
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Martin Bramah – guitar, bass, backing vocals; Yvonne Pawlett – keyboards; Karl Burns – drums; Steve Davis – congas

Futures And Pasts / Mother-Sister / Rebellious Jukebox / Industrial Estate

The group’s first session came about as a result of Peel’s producer John Walters having been impressed by their performance in Croydon in May 1978. Bass player Eric ‘The Ferret’ McGann resigned over conga player Steve Davis’ Hawaiian shirt, leaving Martin Bramah to contribute both bass and guitar.

What’s striking about the session is the group’s level of casual confidence, especially considering that they’d only played around 30 gigs at this point and had only done one studio recording session six months earlier.

There’s still a sense that they haven’t quite found their unique voice yet – Rebellious Jukebox is a rousing tune, but follows the general pattern of contemporary punk/new wave songs; Industrial Estate teeters on the edge of a bog-standard Jilted John approach – but overall it’s still an impressively sharp debut.

Session 2 
• Recorded: 27 November 1978
• Broadcast: 6 December 1978
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Martin Bramah – guitar, bass, backing vocals; Yvonne Pawlett – keyboards; Marc Riley – bass; Karl Burns – drums

Put Away / Mess Of My / No Xmas For John Quays / Like To Blow

Most of the session sees the group ploughing the same furrow as the first one. No Xmas  and Like To Blow in particular are still largely following contemporary punk tropes.

Mess Of My, however, sees the group expanding their horizons impressively, the break-down at 1:25 being almost prog-like in tone.

One thing that does differentiate the songs from the first two sessions from most contemporary punk is Yvonne Pawlett’s keyboards. She adds a layer of off-kilter melody that prevents the group from descending too far into anything overly generic.

Session 3
• Recorded: 16 September 1980
• Broadcast: 24 September 1980
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Marc Riley – guitar; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Paul Hanley – drums

Container Drivers / Jawbone And The Air-Rifle / New Puritan / New Face In Hell

One of the great things about this box set is how well it captures the narrative of the group’s development. My Fall listening habits over the last couple of years have been shaped by the format of The Fall In Fives and this blog; as a result, it had been a long time since I’d listened to the tracks on the box set in order. And so, it was quite startling when Container Drivers burst into life.

The whole session is a revelation. Suddenly, everything has just somehow clicked; there’s now a unique, almost indefinable Fall sound. I say almost indefinable because it’s not the case that the group have simply found a signature style and locked onto it – there’s great variety here: the frantic, rickety rockabilly of Drivers; the wonky shuffle of New Face In Hell; the driving, angular Jawbone.

The most astonishing track, however, is New Puritan. Paul Hanley’s drumming is sparse, taut and powerful; his brother lays down a rock solid foundation; but musically it’s Scanlon’s guitar that’s especially outstanding – frenzied, lacerating chords that provide the perfect foil for MES’s imperious ranting. And by now, we’ve reached the stage where the words, the ideas simply pour from Smith. (It’s worth the time to read through the 5000 or so words analysing the lyrics here.) A ‘righteous maelstrom’ indeed; its seven minutes are exhilarating and almost exhausting in their intensity.

What’s almost as astonishing is the fact that the track was never ‘properly’ recorded other than here. The version on Totale’s Turns (released four months before this session) is an interesting curiosity, but it’s little more than a scratchy home-demo doodle. New Puritan was only played live seven times. Its debut (at the Rainbow Theatre, London on 11 May 1980) is captured on the bootleg I Am Romeo Romantic: it’s closer to the Peel version, but much briefer and sadly rather poorly recorded. The Peel version (along with Container Drivers) was first officially released in 1983 on the Kicker Conspiracy double 7″ single.

Session #3 was Craig Scanlon and the Hanley brothers’ first experience of recording for the BBC. Steve Hanley described recording at Maida Vale (compared to the likes of Rochdale’s Cargo Studios) as ‘like being rescued from a poxy wooden raft by an elegant ocean-going liner’1. The tight, sharp performance of Jawbone is put into context by his revelation that, ‘we’ve never played [it] all the way through without messing it up’2.

Marc Riley also has a story to tell about the session:

‘We recorded the first track, made a right old racket, as we did, went in to start listening back to it, make sure we were happy with it, and I turned round to look at the producer [John Sparrow], and his pipe had gone out. This is the truth, his pipe had gone out, and he was asleep.’3

Session 4
• Recorded: 24 March 1981
• Broadcast: 31 March 1981
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Marc Riley – guitar; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass;  Paul Hanley – drums; Dave Tucker – clarinet

Middlemass / Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul / Hip Priest / C’n’C-Hassle Schmuck

The group returned to the BBC a month after Slates had been recorded. Middlemass (one word at this point) and Lie Dream (recorded for the group’s seventh single a few months later) are both largely similar in structure to their official releases, but have a more crisp and clear sound. With the latter song, Dave Tucker’s clarinet enjoys much more prominence than Richard Mazda’s sax did on the single.

The group didn’t often return to old songs in their Peel sessions, but here they revisit C’n’C-S Mithering from Grotesque, this time bolting on a hilarious adaptation of Coast To Coast’s version of the old rock ‘n’ roll number The Hucklebuck (which was in the charts at the time). The group sound like they’re having a whale of a time in the second half of the track. (It’s also worth reading The Annotated Fall‘s entry on the song, if only for bzfgt’s startling vehemence regarding Coast To Coast’s bit of nostalgic chart fluff.)

Possibly more interesting, however, is Hip Priest’s first recorded appearance. The song had been played for the first time a week before the session at Leeds University, a gig that was filmed and released in 2003 as part of the DVD Perverted By Language/Bis + Live At Leeds (an expanded reissue of the 1983 video Perverted By Language Bis). The performance is on YouTube – Hip Priest is at 3:25).

According to Steve Hanley4, the song was first conceived at the soundcheck for the Leeds gig. The session version is impressive, but a little haphazard, overlong and lacking the tight, malevolent focus of the take on Hex.

Hanley also had this to say:

‘”Hip Priest” has developed enough to require nine minutes of recording, by which time everyone is thoroughly aware of just how unappreciated the Hip Priest is.

It brings our total session time to five minutes more than the usual fifteen-minute allocation. But nothing’s edited, Peel plays the lot and loves it. I get the feeling that if we played a twenty-minute song he’d broadcast that.’5

Disc 2 – Sessions 5-7, 1981-1984
Session 5
• Recorded: 26 August 1981
• Broadcast: 15 September 1981
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Marc Riley – guitar; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Paul Hanley – drums

Deer Park / Look, Know / Winter / Who Makes The Nazis?

Recorded shortly after the group’s return from their lengthy summer tour of the US, the session saw Paul Hanley re-established behind the drum kit after Karl Burns had filled in in America. Much to Steve Hanley’s excitement6, the producer was Dale Griffin, ex-drummer of Mott The Hoople.

The session saw the group knocking into shape several of the songs that would be recorded over the next few months for HexDeer Park is driving and forceful, although falls slightly short of the breathtaking ferocity of the album version. Look, Know swings along happily (although Steve Hanley makes an uncharacteristic error at 3:17).

The highlight of the set is a towering version of Winter. Whilst ever so slightly hesitant in comparison to the album take, it’s still mesmerising and has the advantage of not being annoyingly cut in two.

Who Makes The Nazis? is more primitive and basic than the Hex version, and gallops along at a much faster tempo. It features Steve Hanley on plastic toy guitar and backing vocals:

‘I’m handed a sheet of paper with some bizarre backing vocals… The lyrics are the usual obscure poetics, so I’ve no idea if I’m being set up. I have to say some weird stuff about hate, love, soap and enemies.7

Session 6
• Recorded: 21 March 1983
• Broadcast: 23 March 1983
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Paul Hanley – drums; Karl Burns – drums

Smile / Garden / Hexen Definitive-Strife Knot / Eat Y’self Fitter

Session #6 sees the group developing songs that would appear on Perverted By Language (tracks from Room To Live having bypassed the Peel experience). Although PBL wouldn’t be released for another six months, all four songs are already pretty much in the form that they would take on the album. This wasn’t that surprising with Hexen and Garden, both of which had already been played live several times; Fitter and Smile, however, weren’t debuted in concert until the day after the session.

The session also sees yet another line-up change: Riley had left the group three months earlier, and this set sees the debut of the first two-drummer line-up. The Burns-Hanley duo don’t have quite the impact that they would on the album version of Smile (or indeed the group’s remarkable national TV debut); the session version brims with aggression and Scanlon attacks the song with zest, but both Smith and Steve Hanley are rather buried in the mix. The two drummers are deployed to much greater effect on Fitter, which is jagged and raucous; it’s just a shame that the backing vocals (a key component of the song) seem to have been recorded from a neighbouring building.

Garden, however is an absolute peach, better even than the sublime album version; the drums have more oomph, there’s an edgy harshness to Scanlon’s guitar, and the whole thing is impressively forceful and direct. It’s a similar story with an excellent Hexen.

Session 7
• Recorded: 12 December 1983
• Broadcast: 3 January 1984
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Brix Smith – guitar, vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Paul Hanley – drums; Karl Burns – drums

Pat Trip Dispenser / 2 x 4 / Words Of Expectation / C.R.E.E.P.

Session #7 saw Brix’s first Peel appearance. She makes her presence felt with airy backing vocals on Pat; her contribution to 2 x 4 is a little more forceful. The former is a little hesitant in comparison to the version that appeared on the C.R.E.E.P. single; it hasn’t yet developed the swirling riff that would make the later take such a compelling little gem. 2 x 4 is more successful – satisfyingly jagged and energetic.

Her influence can be most clearly heard in C.R.E.E.P., which is less drippy than the single version, but still rather twee and sugary.

The undoubted highlight of the set, however, is Words Of Expectation. It seems completely divorced from the rest of the session, harking back to the sound of the beginning of the decade.

It’s a lengthy, repetitive beast in the vein of Garden or Winter. Steve Hanley underpins the deep undulating groove with a heavy, metronomic bass line (featuring the occasional flourish) whilst MES gives himself free rein to expound on a range of random thoughts: ‘the roof of my mouth sticks to the tip of my tongue’; ‘if we carry on like this we’re gonna end up like King Crimson’. It appeared on Kimble, but, confusingly, not on the Peel sessions compilation that bears its name.

Disc 3 – Sessions 8-11, 1985-1987
Session 8
• Recorded: 14 May 1985
• Broadcast: 3 June 1985
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Brix Smith – guitar, vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Simon Rogers – guitar, keyboards; Karl Burns – drums

Cruiser’s Creek / Couldn’t Get Ahead / Spoilt Victorian Child / Gut Of The Quantifier

Recorded four months before the release of This Nation’s Saving Grace, session #8 marked Steve Hanley’s return after his paternity leave.

There’s a thumpingly robust version of Cruiser’s Creek, although it’s at least a minute longer than it needs to be. Couldn’t Get Ahead fizzes with energy and is distinctly preferable to the version that appeared on the 1985 single.

Spoilt Victorian Child is similarly raw and assertive, although possibly lacks the depth of the album version. Gut Of The Quantifier also feels a little thin in comparison to the TNSG version in places, but still bristles with aggression.

Session 9
• Recorded: 29 September 1985
• Broadcast: 7 October 1985
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Brix Smith – guitar, vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Simon Rogers – guitar, keyboards; Karl Burns – drums

L.A. / The Man Whose Head Expanded / What You Need / Faust Banana

Recorded a week after the release of This Nation’s Saving Grace, session #9 sees the group (featuring the same lineup as the previous session for the first time) looking to the past, present and future. The two TSNG tracks both have a sharper and brighter sound than their album equivalents; What You Need does feel a little hurried and incoherent in places though. L.A., of course, benefits from the hilarious ‘Lloyd Cole’ introduction. In both cases, both versions are well worth owning, although my personal preference is (just about) for the darker, murkier album versions.

It’s unclear why the group decided to revisit a two year old single track, but this version of The Man Whose Head Expanded ups the tempo, has a driving, relentless energy and features some fine megaphone work from MES. Taken in isolation, it’s a stormer; but it doesn’t quite have the subtlety, variety and texture of the single version.

The most interesting track from the session is Faust Banana, which would appear a year later on Bend Sinister as Dktr. Faustus; it would be played live for the first time four days after this session was recorded. Whilst the session version has a slight air of ‘work in progress’ about it (especially the oddly random xylophone work towards the end), it’s more fluent than the slightly stilted album version.

Session 10
• Recorded: 29 June 1986
• Broadcast: 9 July 1986
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Brix Smith – guitar, vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Simon Rogers – guitar, keyboards; Simon Wolstencroft – drums

Hot Aftershave Bop / R.O.D. / Gross Chapel-GB Grenadiers / U.S. 80s-90s

Session #10 sees the first appearance of ‘Funky Si’, whose first gig with the group had been three weeks earlier following Karl Burns’ second departure from The Fall (after the spring US tour). It contained three songs from Bend Sinister, plus the b-side of Living Too Late, all of which had already been recorded earlier that year.

The outstandingly dark and brooding Gross Chapel-GB Grenadiers – which had been played live for the first time around three weeks earlier – is not vastly different from the album version. This is also true of R.O.D. and U.S. 80s-90s (although the latter gains a slightly irritating crashing percussion effect in places). All three of these session tracks have a better, fuller sound than the rather ‘flat’ sound of the original Bend Sinister (something that was addressed successfully by the album’s 2019 reissue).

Hot Aftershave Bop had been debuted four months earlier and had been played live 17 times by this point. It was released (on the Living Too Late single) a week after the session was recorded . Like the other three tracks, it’s not hugely different here, although the session version is hampered slightly by a rather 80s drum sound.

Session 11
• Recorded: 28 April 1987
• Broadcast: 11 May 1987
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Brix Smith – guitar, vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Simon Rogers – guitar, keyboards; Simon Wolstencroft – drums

Athlete Cured / Australians In Europe / Twister / Guest Informant

For only the second time, the lineup was the same as the previous session. It came at the height of the group’s commercial success: There’s A Ghost In My House, released the day before the session was recorded, reached number 30, the pinnacle of The Fall’s chart performance.

Athlete Cured (their unashamed Spinal Tap rip-off) has a fuller sound here, especially in regard to Steve Hanley’s throbbingly fuzzy bass line. It also adds some effects that make you feel like you’re being strafed by laser gun-toting alien stormtroopers

Australians In Europe was released six months later on some versions of the Hit The North single. The version here is not vastly different.

Compared to the album version, Guest Informant is a little cleaner and spacious in its production; the organ sound floating around is a positive addition and there’s some excellently fizzy, fuzzed-up guitar towards the end. The version of Twister (which appeared in January 1988 on the Victoria single) is the pick of the bunch here, adding an impressive level of demented mania to the song.

Disc 4 – Sessions 12-15, 1988-1992
Session 12
• Recorded: 25 October 1988
• Broadcast: 31 October 1988
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Brix Smith – guitar, vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Marcia Schofield – keyboards, vocals; Simon Wolstencroft – drums

Deadbeat Descendant / Cab It Up / Squid Lord / Kurious Oranj

The group’s twelfth session was recorded shortly after the end of their run of performances of I Am Curious, Orange at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Cab It Up and Kurious Oranj, the two tracks that were included on the I Am Kurious Oranj album (released the day before the session was recorded) had both been in the group’s set since March and May respectively, and both had clocked up quite a few performances already (54 and 29 respectively).

Kurious Oranj here is broadly similar to the album version, but is marred slightly in places by an unpleasantly shrill and intrusive keyboard sound. Cab It Up (without its exclamation mark at this point), however, is the highlight of this set. Although the album take is energetic enough, this version adds another layer of fizz and vigour. Scanlon is on particularly fine form, really letting loose with the frantic, slashing chords in a thrilling finale.

Deadbeat Descendant had been in the live set since June, and had also had a fair few outings by this stage (26). It was recorded in early 1989 for the Cab It Up single, by which time it hadn’t altered dramatically (apart from ‘dead’ and ‘beat’ now being two separate words).

Squid Lord was also re-recorded in early 1989, appearing on Seminal Live as Squid Law. It wouldn’t be played live until December 1988, and was only performed seven times over the next month. This version is slightly brasher and faster than on the album, but both are decent versions of a rather underrated little gem.

Session 13
• Recorded: 17 December 1989
• Broadcast: 1 January 1990
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Martin Bramah – guitar; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Marcia Schofield – keyboards, vocals; Simon Wolstencroft – drums; Kenny Brady – fiddle

Chicago Now / Black Monk Theme / Hilary / Whizz Bang (never broadcast)

The first session for six years not to feature Brix, session #13 also saw the temporary return of Martin Bramah, last seen on session #2 back in 1978. In addition, Kenny Brady added violin in the first of his pair of session appearances.

It focused mainly on songs recently recorded for Extricate, which was released a month after the session was broadcast. Hilary (which had been played live for only the second time the night before the session was recorded) is more uptempo than the album version, which suits it, and overall is brighter and punchier. The same is also true of Chicago, although the Art of Noise-style synth stabs detract a little from its sinister menace.

Black Monk Theme is a substantial improvement on the Extricate version. Like Hilary, a faster tempo sits well with the track; in addition, Smith’s vocals have more bite and Brady’s fiddle is a little more expansive and expressive. Not for the first time, the group borrow the Glitter Band’s famous drum pattern and do so to great effect, Funky Si adding an insistent, thumping rumble to the track. The only downside is that the keyboards suffer from the same problem as the backing vocals on Eat Y’self Fitter (see above), appearing to have been recorded in an adjacent studio.

The box set also saw the first ever release of Whizz Bang, which wasn’t broadcast because it contained a profanity (see video below at 1:23). An alternative version of the song, Butterflies 4 Brains, was a b-side on the Popcorn Double Feature single and was played half a dozen times in the spring of 1990. The Butterflies version is a dreamy, woozy piece of psychedelia; Whizz Bang is a bit more aggressive, more varied in tempo and features a prominent violin part from Brady that gives a bit of edge to the track. There’s also a spot of banjo lurking in the background that adds some interesting texture to what is yet another of those hidden gems in the group’s back catalogue.

Session 14
• Recorded: 5 March 1991
• Broadcast: 23 March 1991
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Simon Wolstencroft – drums; Kenny Brady – fiddle

The War Against Intelligence / Idiot Joy Showland / A Lot Of Wind / The Mixer

Following Bramah and Schofield’s dismissal in the summer of 1990, session #14 saw The Fall as a slimmed-down four-piece, augmented once again by Kenny Brady’s violin. All four tracks recorded would appear on Shift-Work, released a month after the session.

Idiot Joy Showland was the only one that had been played live at this point: it had been performed nine times during the previous December. Here, it’s much more aggressive than the album version and Steve Hanley’s bass is admirably loud and gnarly.

The other three tracks wouldn’t appear on a setlist for another couple of months – they all received their debut in Frankfurt on the 23 May. The War Against Intelligence isn’t notably different from the album version. Like Idiot Joy ShowlandA Lot Of Wind sees Steve Hanley turn his amp up and try to inject a bit of vigour into the song; even he (ably and enthusiastically abetted by Brady), however, can’t really rescue a thin and mundane idea. It also doesn’t warrant the five and a half minutes it takes up.

The Mixer is a very different beast without Dave Bush’s contributions. Once again, Hanley’s booming bass drives the song, which is played at a rapid, unforgiving pace; some nice use of megaphone-MES as well.

Session 15
• Recorded: 19 January 1992
• Broadcast: 15 February 1992
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Dave Bush – keyboards; Simon Wolstencroft – drums

Free Range / Kimble / Immortality / Return

By the time the group returned to the BBC, ten months later, they had expanded to a five-piece outfit, Dave Bush now installed as the full-time keyboard player. (He had contributed to Shift-Work, but only had a ‘with’ credit.)

The four musicians had spent much of the previous autumn in Bush’s home studio, and not surprisingly his influence on the Fall’s sound (a not insignificant factor throughout the early 90s) can clearly be heard on both Free Range and Immortality here.

Free Range is arguably the track that best captures the merger between the group’s traditional virtues and Bush’s electronics. It had been debuted the previous August (Bush’s first live performance with the group) and would go on to be one of the most played Fall songs. The session version is admirably robust, but doesn’t quite match the ferocity of the single and album versions that would be released two months later.

Immortality wouldn’t be played live for another couple of months (you can hear its first outing on Nottingham ’92) and seems to have been a song that Smith tired of rapidly, judging by his comments during its first performance and the fact that it was only played twice more. Whilst still a little sluggish, the session has a bit more body to it than the album take, achieved largely through a beefier bass sound.

The final Code: Selfish track, Return, at least spares us the plinky Casio keyboard percussion effects of the album version, Wolstencroft providing some much livelier percussion. But even though MES sounds a little more engaged here, it doesn’t really elevate it much beyond a somewhat uninspired plod.

Front cover

The session also contains a bit of an oddityKimble appeared on record in 1993 as the title track of a rather random Peel sessions compilation EP. It wasn’t played live until 1997, when it got a couple of outings (described by Reformation as ‘either a piece of genius or complete rubbish’) at the group’s two nights at Jilly’s Rockworld in Manchester.

A (very loose) cover of a Trojan reggae tune by Lee Perry (under the name The Creators), it features a snippet of Sinister Waltz – plus what sounds like someone clearing away last night’s wine glasses – before ambling into four minutes of vaguely entertaining but meandering and aimless reggae. Doesn’t sound like a lot of thought went into it.

Disc 5 – Sessions 16-20
Session 16
• Recorded: 28 February 1993
• Broadcast: 13 March 1993
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Dave Bush – keyboards; Simon Wolstencroft – drums

Ladybird (Green Grass) / Strychnine / Service / Paranoia Man In Cheap Sh*t Room

For only the third occasion, the same line-up returned to Maida Vale to record the next session. Despite the relative stability regarding personnel, it was still – as ever- a turbulent time for the group, having recently been dropped by Phonogram and forced to relocate to Permanent.

Three of the four songs recorded had been debuted on stage towards the end of 1992, although they had only had eleven appearances between them. Service wouldn’t be played until May, and only stayed on the setlist for a brief period of time. The version here is even more soporific than the torpid one on the album.

Strychnine (a cover of a 1965 track by The Sonics – also covered in 1980 by The Cramps) is far more successful. It’s a heads-down, no-nonsense slice of dynamic garage-punk, although it falls a little short of the blistering original. The group never made another studio recording of the song – this is the version that featured on the 2006 reissue of The Infotainment Scan, as well as the Backdrop and 13 Killers compilations.

Like Free Range, Paranoia Man strikes a careful balance between the rock/electronic elements; its intense urgency is no less effective than the album version. In the box set’s booklet, Daryl Easlea suggests that it samples the acid house track Stakker Humanoid.

The pick of the bunch, however, is Ladybird (Green Grass). Outstanding though the The Infotainment Scan‘s opener is, this rougher-edged, ‘scuffed-up’ version just about pips it. There’s an excellent and intricately detailed review of this version here that’s well worth reading whilst you listen.

Session 17
• Recorded: 2 December 1993
• Broadcast: 12 January 1994
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Dave Bush – keyboards; Simon Wolstencroft – drums

M5 / Behind The Counter / Reckoning / Hey! Student

Unprecedentedly, session #17 saw the third successive BBC recording by the same line-up. Karl Burns had rejoined the group for its May 1993 UK tour, and would also play on 1994’s Middle Class Revolt, but his temporary dismissal for on-tour misdemeanours in America during August meant that he wasn’t present for this session.

Middle Class Revolt was a distinctly patchy LP, and the first two tracks of this session are a distinct improvement on the album versions. Behind The Counter has more grit and vigour about it, and contains some extravagantly distorted bass from Mr Hanley in the closing section. (The video below is the Peel version and not ‘live’ as it’s confusingly titled.)

M5 is also superior to M5#1, its album equivalent. Heavier on the keyboards, it also features a much more distinct guitar part and rugged bass line and has greater vitality overall. In addition, Smith’s vocal has far more clarity and energy. (Once again, the video has a misleading title.)

The session, however, is a game of two halves. Hey! Student, whilst it has a certain rickety charm, has – unusually for The Fall – an air of ‘look back’ about it, not least as it’s a retread of a song that dates back to 1977. This version does, however, contain the notable and somewhat disturbing line about ‘masturbating with your Shaun Ryder face’.

On Middle Class Revolt, The Reckoning (which is without its definite article here) is a perfectly decent melancholy and bittersweet track. The session version is disappointing: lacklustre and sluggish.

 

Session 18
• Recorded: 20 November 1994
• Broadcast: 17 December 1994
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Brix Smith – guitar; Craig Scanlon – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Dave Bush – keyboards; Simon Wolstencroft – drums; Karl Burns – drums; Lucy Rimmer – vocals

Glam Racket-Star / Jingle Bell Rock / Hark The Herald Angels Sing / Numb At The Lodge

This session saw Brix’s first appearance at Maida Vale since 1988, and the return of a two-drummer line-up – last seen on session #7 in 1983. It was also one of the briefest sessions, falling just short of the eleven minute mark.

It found The Fall in festive mood, recording two Christmas-related songs. Sadly, neither of the Yuletide-related tunes are especially successful. Their version of Jingle Bell Rock (a 1957 hit for Bobby Helms) is rather a shambles, although at least, at 70 seconds, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Steve Hanley’s entertaining account of the recording makes clear why it sounds as it does.

Hark The Herald Angels Sing actually starts off well enough, with a laid-back REM/ Teenage Fanclub-ish strum and Smith’s entertainingly terse delivery. But the chorus (sung by Lucy Rimmer in deliberately over the top operatic style), although hilarious the first couple of times you hear it, is enough to set anyone’s teeth on edge.

Thankfully, the other two tracks are much better. In one of the rare occasions where the group revisited an old song (although in this case it was less than two years old) they recorded an exuberant stomp through Glam Racket, which on this occasion included Brix’s ‘Star’ section. The extra lyrics on this version, which had appeared in the group’s shows since Brix’s return in the summer of 1994, are a not-even-thinly-disguised swipe at Smith’s egotism (possibly her retaliation for Bad News Girl). Whether MES didn’t realise or didn’t care is unclear. What is certain, though, is that Brix’s vehement vocals (although she ducks out of saying ‘f*ck’ at 2:06) make for an excellent version.

Numb At The Lodge (which would become Feeling Numb on Cerebral Caustic) is a spirited, poppy thrash. Its ragged energy makes it slightly preferable to the album version.

Session 19
• Recorded: 7 December 1995
• Broadcast: 22 December 1995
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Brix Smith – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Julia Nagle – keyboards; Simon Wolstencroft – drums; Karl Burns – drums; Lucy Rimmer – vocals

He Pep! / Oleano / Chilinist / The City Never Sleeps

Session #19 saw the group yet again in turmoil. Craig Scanlon was sacked in the autumn of 1995, and Dave Bush was sacked and replaced by Julia Nagle. Smith, by his own admission, was hitting the whisky hard at this point. And yet, in typical fashion, the group still managed to record an intriguing and inventive, if flawed session.

He Pep! is introduced by the ‘interlude’ that would form the opening of Chilinism on The Light User Syndrome before launching into a crunchy and forceful assault, with both MES and (especially) Brix making aggressive contributions. It’s a mess, but an intense and powerful one.

Oleano is less frantic than the album version, but doesn’t lack in intensity.  It develops a thick, grinding guitar figure in the second half, and Brix’s scream at 2:04 is impressively startling. Again, it’s raw and ragged; perhaps indicative of the group’s state of mind at the time.

Chilinist – one of the multitude of versions of The Chiselers that the group recorded at the time – perhaps lacks some of the complexities and nuances of some of the other studio versions, but in some ways it’s rewarding to hear a more straightforward rendition of a song that the group, frankly, messed around with a little too much.

No offence to Lucy Rimmer, who is clearly a decent enough vocalist, but The City Never Sleeps is frankly one of the worst things (if not the worst thing) that the group ever recorded. The original was a wet, saccharine piece of 60s kitsch already, but the group manage to transform into something even worse – unspeakably bad, like a Chumbawamba b-side.

Session 20
• Recorded: 30 June 1996
• Broadcast: 18 August 1996
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Brix Smith – guitar; Steve Hanley – bass; Julia Nagle – keyboards; Simon Wolstencroft – drums; Karl Burns – drums

D.I.Y. Meat / Spinetrak / Spencer / Beatle Bones ‘N’ Smokin’ Stones

Brix’s final session appearance. It was recorded shortly before the group’s disastrous UK tour, which saw – amongst many other things – Brix quit for good and the infamous Worthing gig which some consider The Fall’s worst ever. On many occasions throughout their career the group would somehow conjure some of their best music out of times of great adversity; sadly, this wasn’t the case here.

It’s a disjointed and underwhelming set. D.I.Y. Meat is thin-sounding; Spinetrak is spirited enough, but Brix’s panting is uncomfortably high in the mix; the cover of Beefheart’s Beatle Bones ‘N’ Smokin’ Stones is not without its unhinged charm, but overall is an under-rehearsed, self-indulgent mess. Spencer bears little resemblance to Levitate‘s Spencer Must Die, and at this point is little more than a lazy,  half-formed idea with a horribly flatulent synth. Not the group’s finest hour.

Disc 6 – Sessions 21-24
Session 21
• Recorded: 3 February 1998
• Broadcast: 3 March 1998
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Steve Hanley – bass; Julia Nagle – keyboards, guitar; Karl Burns – drums; John Rolleson – backing vocals.

Calendar / Touch Sensitive / Masquerade / Jungle Rock

It would be over two and a half years before The Fall would return to the BBC for Peel session #21 – the third biggest gap between sessions. Since their previous visit, the group had not only lost Brix, but also one of their two drummers, Simon Wolstencroft having quit during the recording of Levitate. According to the box set’s credits (and thefall.org) Tommy Crooks – who had joined the group on guitar in the summer of 1997 and wouldn’t leave until April 1998 – didn’t appear on this session, although it’s not entirely clear why.

Calendar (co-written by Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy) is a bit sketchy and vague compared to the excellent (and much briefer) version that appeared on the Masquerade single, released the week after this session was recorded. (Snippets of that version appear here, just after the two-minute mark). It’s still the highlight of another under-par set.

Masquerade itself had been on the setlist for nearly 18 months and had been played live 24 times by this point. It’s a more lengthy and laid-back version than the album take, meandering on for quite a bit longer than it needs to. There’s also a bizarrely clumsy edit at 2:27.

Jungle Rock is also necessarily lengthy – almost exactly twice as long as the album version. More importantly, a shrill and piercing synth makes it a difficult listen. Julia Nagle at times appears to be dismantling her guitar rather than playing it. The opening thirty seconds are interesting, at least: an ominous, lumbering introduction where the group appear to be impersonating Slint.

Touch Sensitive features backing vocals from John Rolleson, the group’s tour manager at the time. The song wouldn’t get its live debut for another couple of months, but would go on to be one The Fall’s most-played live tracks. At this point, it sounds distinctly sloppy and under-rehearsed.

John Rolleson and Steve Hanley, New York March 1998 (photo by Dean Walcott)

Session 22
• Recorded: 18 October 1998
• Broadcast: 4 November 1998
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Julia Nagle – keyboards, guitar; Neville Wilding – guitar; Karen Leatham – bass, keyboards; Tom Head – drums; Speth Hughes – special effects

Bound Soul One / Antidotes / Shake-Off / This Perfect Day

It’s perhaps surprising that this session even took place, given that it came only six months after the group’s total meltdown in New York. It featured (apart from Julia Nagle) a completely new line-up: Leatham and Head had been recruited in August and had only performed live twice at this point; Wilding had only just joined, playing his first gig three days after the session was recorded. Elspeth (‘Speth’) Hughes was a studio engineer who produced some audio collages that the group used as intro tapes for gigs at the time.

Given the line-up’s very limited experience of playing together, plus as the fact that the material was very new (only This Perfect Day had been played live by this point, and that only twice), it would be only reasonable to expect the session to be on the rough and ready side. But it’s more than rough and ready: it’s a turgid, shambolic mess.

Bound Soul One sounds like the group only learned the song that afternoon. MES, drenched in reverb, provides a slurred, incoherent drawl; Leatham throws in some Aladdin Sane style free-jazz piano; Wilding determinedly ploughs on with the choppy chords. It sounds like none of them can hear each other.

On The Marshall Suite, (Jung Nev’s) Antidotes was an impressively sweeping and dramatic wave of industrial noise. Here, Antidotes verges on the unlistenable. Most of it consists of Head toiling away at his (admittedly not too bad) John Bonham impression whilst Smith attempts to recreate the sound of drilling equipment by trying to swallow the microphone whole.

Their cover of The Saints’ excellent 1977 singleThis Perfect Day, is a little more effective. Smith attacks the lyric with considerable gusto, Wilding contributes some aggressive, distorted guitar work and Head hammers along forcefully. Leatham seems to be making it up as she goes along though, and the whole thing sounds very much like a first rehearsal.

Shake-Off (which wouldn’t be debuted live for another couple of months) also sounds very much like a work in progress. Clocking in at just 104 seconds, it’s raw and simplistic, lacking the intricate layers of the majestic album version; but you can just about hear the origins of a truly great song.

Session 23
• Recorded: 19 February 2003
• Broadcast: 13 March 2003
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Ben Pritchard – guitar, backing vocals; Jim Watts – bass, backing vocals; Dave Milner – drums, backing vocals; Eleanor Poulou – keyboards, backing vocals

Theme from Sparta F.C. / Contraflow / Grooving With Mr Bloe-Green-Eyed Loco Man / Mere Pseud Mag Ed.

Nearly four and a half years elapsed before The Fall recorded session #23, by far the largest gap between sessions. Not surprisingly, it saw only Smith remain from the previous line-up. The group were going through a relatively settled period at the time (although ‘relatively settled’ for The Fall is always a relative term), and this is reflected in a strong, focused set of songs. For the first time in several sessions, the group sound like they’re actually enjoying themselves.

Pritchard kicks things off with a fierce and fuzzy intro to Sparta. The group rip through the song with fizzing energy, and it doesn’t fall far short of the exemplary single version.

Contraflow – which wouldn’t get its live debut for another three months – is impressively tight and focused for a new song, even if MES seems to be improvising a little (albeit with enthusiasm) with its structure towards the end. Dave Milner provides some excellent backing vocals. It doesn’t have quite the manic energy of the album version, but again, it’s not far off.

Grooving With Mr Bloe is a cover of an instrumental 1969 one-hit wonder by Wind, and forms a nifty little introduction to Green-Eyed Loco Man, supported by random interjections from Smith and others. (Although Reformation suggests that this was never played live, it was – Lisbon 29 September 2003 being an example.) Green-Eyed Loco Man itself doesn’t have the multi-layered sound of the album version, but its directness (largely carried by Ben Pritchard’s fuzzed-up guitar) is equally satisfying.

To finish off, the group make one of their occasional revisits to an old tune – 21 (!) years old in this case. Mere Pseud Mag Ed. had returned to the setlist six months earlier after a five-year absence, and the group make a fine job of it here. It’s loud, aggressive and full of f*ck-you attitude; Pritchard, Watts and Milner thrash it out with tight exuberance and Smith snarls and sneers out the vocal like he’s 25 again. Top notch. (It’s at 14:07 in the video below.)

Session 24
• Recorded: 4 August 2004
• Broadcast: 12 August 2004 (Job Search broadcast on 31 August 2004)
• Mark E Smith – vocals; Ben Pritchard – guitar; Jim Watts – guitar, bass; Steve Trafford – bass; Spencer Birtwistle – drums; Eleanor Poulou – keyboards; Ed Blaney – guitar, vocals

Clasp Hands / Blindness / What About Us? / Wrong Place, Right Time-I Can Hear The Grass Grow

The final Peel session was recorded 18 months after the penultimate one. It saw Steve Trafford, Spencer Birtwistle and Ed Blaney make their sole appearances and was recorded three weeks before Peel’s death.

Clasp Hands is vibrant and up-tempo; includes an Elves/I Wanna Be Your Dog interlude that was cut from the album version. Blindness is simply magnificent: a little more sparse than the album version but equally awesome; and has Smith ever delivered anything more perfectly than ‘the neck…’ to ‘…plastic’ (2:29-2:46)?

What About Us? is also a little less dense than the album version, but is still pleasingly forceful and direct. There’s another blast from the past: Wrong Place, Right Time (which was 16 years old and had recently seen its first live appearance for eleven years) belies its age; the group take it on with vibrant enthusiasm (listen to Smith’s exuberant ‘shout!’ at 1:54). The segue into I Can Hear The Grass Grow is remarkably subtle by Fall standards, featuring a post-rock style spoken-word sample and bed of feedback. 

Grass itself is solid enough, if a little leaden in comparison to the album version. It features some surprisingly tuneful backing vocals from (presumably) Ed Blaney.

The group recorded a fifth track, Job Search, that was pressed as a one-off acetate and presented to John Peel for his 65th birthday. It’s an odd and incoherent lo-fi ramble, but its strangeness makes for a wholly appropriate conclusion to the group’s contributions to Peel’s show. Peel’s comments at either end of the video below are really rather touching – they’re a fine and fitting way to round things off.

Other Radio Sessions / Broadcasts
As well as the 24 Peel sessions, the group recorded several other radio broadcasts. Their commercially successful period in the late 80s / early 90s in particular saw them branch out into sessions for more mainstream Radio 1 shows, such as those of David Jensen, Janice Long and Mark Goodier. Many of these sessions feature on the bootleg On The Wireless – The Non Peel Radio Sessions (there’s a lengthy blog post about it here, although most of it is spent discussing the Brownies gig).

Part of the group’s 17 May 1981 performance at Groningen in The Netherlands was broadcast on Dutch radio, and this recording has popped up on bootlegs in various guises (it includes an eight-minute version of Fantastic Life that’s very rough and dodgily-recorded but is well worth a listen). Their August 1982 gig in Melbourne (captured on the 1998 release Live To Air In Melbourne ’82) was broadcast live on Australian radio. There were several more live radio broadcasts of this type in the 80s and 90s, which are included in the list below.

[This bit was distinctly tricky to compile, but I think it’s as accurate as it can be – please feel free to message me if you think there are any errors/omissions.]

David Jensen session

• Recorded 19 February 1984, first broadcast 1 March 1984 on BBC Radio 1
• Smith/Brix/Scanlon/S.Hanley/P.Hanley/Burns

Lay Of The Land / God Box / Oh! Brother / C.R.E.E.P.

The group’s first ‘mainstream’ radio session was for David ‘Kid’ Jensen. Jensen hosted Radio 1’s evening show between 1981 and 1984 and was a close friend of John Peel – the duo presented Top Of The Pops together on several occasions.

The session is quite low-key by The Fall’s standards (Brother and C.R.E.E.P. are particularly light and poppy; Lay Of The Land is relatively restrained) but this was still challenging stuff by the standards of early 80s prime time British radio. (The video below has the date wrong.)

Saturday Live session

• Broadcast live to air 29 August 1984 on BBC Radio 1
• Smith/Brix/Scanlon/S.Hanley/P.Hanley/Burns

Copped It / Elves / Fortress – Marquis Cha-Cha

If the group had put on their ‘pop’ face for Kid Jensen, they were distinctly more aggressive in this performance. There’s a fine, grinding version of Copped It and grimy, scuzzy take on Elves. Most interestingly, a sparse but forceful Fortress segues surprisingly into a sprightly Marquis Cha-Cha.

Janice Long session 1

• Recorded 9 September 1984, first broadcast 17 September 1984 on BBC Radio 1
• Smith/Brix/Scanlon/S.Hanley/P.Hanley/Burns

Stephen Song / No Bulbs / Draygo’s Guilt / Slang King

Janice Long took over the Radio 1 evening slot from David Jensen in 1984. Another Radio 1 DJ who struck up a close friendship with John Peel, she and Peel were also often to be found presenting TOTP together.

Image result for janice long john peel

Once again, the group are relatively restrained in their approach, perhaps because of the early evening audience. But they still produce four taut and focused (if rather ‘clean’) versions of TWAFWOTF tracks. Steve Hanley makes Slang King a particularly funky affair.

Janice Long session 2

• Recorded 13 May 1987, first broadcast 19 May 1987 on BBC Radio 1
• Smith/Brix/Scanlon/S.Hanley/Schofield(?)/Wolstencroft

Frenz / Get A Hotel / There’s A Ghost In My House / Haf Found Bormann

The group returned to Long’s show three years later. Frenz finds Brix rather overdoing the sugary backing vocals, and there’s some rather clunky electronic percussion. The version of Get A Hotel, however, is a bit leaner and energetic than the album version (even if someone’s guitar is a little out of tune). There’s also a sharp, uptempo take on There’s A Ghost In My House that’s amongst the group’s best performances of the song. Haf Found Bormann is, as ever, a bit mad. Hard to believe that it was actually broadcast on early evening Radio 1.

Both thefall.org and Dave Thompson (p176) suggest that Simon Rogers played keyboards on this session, but it was probably Marcia Schofield. The session was recorded in the afternoon of the 13th May, and the group played the Astoria that night. Although the video of this gig doesn’t have the greatest picture quality, Schofield was clearly on keyboards that night – see, for example, 1:18 on the video – which makes it a little unlikely that Rogers alone played keyboards on the session. (Many thanks to thehippriestess for her help with the info on this one.)

In Concert

• Recorded 19 May 1987, first broadcast 25 May 1987 on BBC Radio 1
• Smith/Brix/Scanlon/S.Hanley/Wolstencroft/Schofield(?)

Australians in Europe / Shoulder Pads / There’s a Ghost in My House / Hey! Luciani / Terry Waite Sez / Fiery Jack / Lucifer over Lancashire

The  recording of The Fall’s Nottingham Rock City gig from May 1987 (which was released as a live album in 1993) was broadcast on Radio 1. It’s an adequate but rather limp and flat recording.

Front cover

Once again, there’s some confusion over the line-up here. The discography page for the live album on thefall,org says that Brix played ‘guitar/keyboards’; the cover simply says ‘Brix E Smith (keyboard)’. It’s highly unlikely, however, that Schofield didn’t play keyboards on this recording.

Piccadilly Radio session

• Recording date unknown, first broadcast 25 February 1988
• Smith/Brix/Scanlon/S.Hanley/Schofield/Wolstencroft

In These Times / Carry Bag Man / Cab It Up / Oswald Defence Lawyer

Not a great deal seems to be known about this session. There are fairly unremarkable trundles through three songs from The Frenz Experiment, plus a curiously lethargic Cab It Up .

John Peel’s 50th Birthday Party

• Recorded 29 August 1989, first broadcast 30 August 1989 on BBC Radio 1
• Smith/Bramah/Scanlon/S.Hanley/Schofield/Wolstencroft

Mere Pseud Mag Ed / I’m Frank / Arms Control Poseur / Fiery Jack / Race with the Devil / Carry Bag Man / Mr. Pharmacist

The Fall, along with The Wedding Present and The House Of Love, played at the Subterrania in London as part of Peel’s 50th birthday celebrations. The only officially released track for this performance was their Gene Vincent cover Race with the Devil, which eventually appeared on Backdrop in 2001 and the 2013 EP The Remainderer.

The rest of the set (available on bootleg) sounds a little shambolic and sluggish, although the latter factor might be partially due to the rather mediocre quality of the recording. Dave Thompson (p177) suggests that Kenny Brady played on this performance, although this seems unlikely, especially as the recording contains no (audible) violin.

Norwich Sound City 92

• Broadcast live to air, 21 April 1992 on BBC Radio 1
• Smith/Scanlon/S.Hanley/Bush/Wolstencroft

And Therein / Blood Outta Stone / Time Enough at Last / Free Range / Idiot Joy Showland / Gentlemen’s Agreement / Edinburgh Man

Broadcast as part of Mark Goodier’s show.

Sheffield Sound City 1993
• Broadcast live to air, 7 April 1993 on BBC Radio 1
• Smith/Scanlon/S.Hanley/Bush/Wolstencroft

Why Are People Grudgeful / Ladybird (Green Grass) / Glam-Racket / Free Range / I’m Going to Spain / The League of Bald-Headed Men / Lost in Music

Another live broadcast by Mark Goodier. The discography on thefall.org suggests that an early version of It’s A Curse might have been played as an introduction.

Mark Goodier session

• Recorded 1 May 1993, first broadcast 17 May 1993 on BBC Radio 1
• Smith/Scanlon/S.Hanley/Bush/Wolstencroft

Glam Racket / War / 15 Ways / A Past Gone Mad

Mark Goodier hosted Radio 1’s evening show in the early 90s. Unlike David Jensen and Janice Long, he didn’t have a close relationship with John Peel, although Peel was his inspiration for becoming a DJ.

The session consists of four perfectly decent if not especially remarkable versions of InfotainmentMiddle Class revolt songs.

Manchester Roadhouse 1993

• Recorded December 8 1993, first broadcast 29 April 1994 on Radio 1
• Smith/Scanlon/S.Hanley/Bush/Wolstencroft

M5 / Ladybird (Green Grass) / Behind the Counter / I’m Going to Spain / The League of Bald-Headed Men / War / I’m Frank / A Past Gone Mad / Glam Racket / Lost in Music / Strychnine / Cab Driver / Return / Free Range

Not a lot I can tell you, other than it was played on Peel’s show. There’s a brief account of the gig here.

Phoenix Festival 1995

• Broadcast and recorded 14 July 1995 on Radio 1
• Smith/Brix/Scanlon/S.Hanley/Bush/Wolstencroft/Burns

Pearl City / Behind the Counter / Free Range / Don’t Call Me Darling / The Chiselers / Feeling Numb / Idiot Joy Showland / Edinburgh Man / Glam Racket

The group’s set at 1995’s Phoenix Festival (or part of it at least) was broadcast on Peel’s Radio 1 show on the same day as the group’s performance. It wasn’t, however, a live-to-air affair: several songs from the setlist were missing (including Rainmaster‘s only performance), and the group’s position on the bill (fifth, between Van Morrison and The Wedding Present) can’t have matched with the 10pm start of Peel’s Friday show at the time. Plus, as the video below shows, the group played in daylight.

The broadcast was released as a live album in 2003, which was reviewed in YMGTA #25.

Roskilde Backstage Danish Radio

• Recorded 27 June 1996, broadcast date unknown
• Smith/Brix/S.Hanley/Nagle/Wolstencroft/Burns

Spinetrak / U.S. 80s-90s / 15 Ways / U.S. 80s-90s (“No Fun At All Mix”)

The Fall played Denmark’s Roskilde festival in the summer of 1996: a not entirely happy visit, as it involved Smith’s rather unfortunate encounter with UK hip-hop group The Brotherhood (see YMGTA #27). This rather excitable review felt that the festival had ‘one of the most incredible lineups in music festival history… god damned bananas. No other festival even came close’. To be fair, it was an impressively large and diverse set of acts; you have to squint to see The Fall on the poster, so I’ve circled it –

Rosk

This radio recording, however, doesn’t feature the group’s festival set. According to both thefall.org’s gigography and Reformation, it was a ‘ live session performed for Danish Radio in the backstage area of the Roskilde festival’. It’s not clear when (or even if) it was broadcast on Danish radio, but a good quality recording of it emerged a few years later.

There’s a brisk version of 15 Ways, enlivened by added vocals from Brix. Spinetrak sees the vocals way too high in the mix and the guitar virtually inaudible; oddly, it finds Smith quoting Kid Creole and the Coconuts. US 80s-90s is pleasingly sharp; the ‘No Fun At All Mix’ (the title possibly inspired by The Sex Pistol’s appearance at the festival, which saw them walk off after being bombarded with bottles) just takes the same recording and rather pointlessly throws in a few half-hearted ‘swooshing’ effects.

Phoenix Festival 1996
• Recorded and broadcast, 21 July 1996 on Radio 1
• Smith/Brix/S.Hanley/Nagle/Wolstencroft/Burns

He Pep / U.S. 80’s-90’s / The Chiselers / 15 Ways / Pearl City / Powder Keg / Behind the Counter

The group found themselves on the same bill as The Sex Pistols once more at the 1996 Phoenix Festival. It was broadcast on Peel’s show on the same day as the performance, but again wasn’t ‘live to air’, this being only a selection from the group’s set.

Four songs from the performance were included on Live At The Phoenix Festival (see above).

Robert Elms session

• Broadcast live to air on BBC’s GLR 15 April 1999
• Smith/Wilding/Leatham/Helal/Head

Antidotes / F-‘Oldin’ Money

Another session about which little seems to be known.

Either on the same day or the day before (the gigography and Reformation say the former; the discography and the cover [see above] of the 2011 reissue of The Marshall Suite say the latter), the group performed a raucous eight-song set – swathed in reverb and distortion – at an afternoon gig sponsored by radio station XFM. Not really a radio session as such, although it is described as such on some bootlegs.

Mixing It session

• Recorded 13 October 2005, first broadcast 10 February 2006 on BBC Radio 3
• Smith/PritchardTrafford/Birtwistle/Poulou

Higgle-dy-Piggle-dy / Assume / Midnight In Aspen / Pacifying Joint

Six months after the release of The Complete Peel Sessions, the group made its first BBC Radio 3 appearance, on the experimental music show Mixing It. They played three tracks from Fall Heads Roll, including a short and snappy Pacifying Joint and a sparse, tender Midnight In Aspen. The latter concludes with a brief Smith monologue ‘Maybe next Saturday when he can shoot / As he (?) descend into the mall / The frogs never told me this, he said / Neither did the group’.

They also played a cover of Higgle-dy-Piggle-dy by The Monks (who they’d previously covered on Middle Class Revolt and Extricate). This track would appear on a 2006 Monks tribute album called Silver Monk Time (the Discogs page of which suggests the unlikely line-up of: MES – vocals and guitar, Birtwistle – drums, Eleni – synthesizer, organ, bass). It was also released on a limited edition 7″ single, backed by the slightly deranged Monk Time by Alec Empire ft. Gary Burger.

An interview with MES was recorded at the same time and broadcast – in two parts – between songs (you can hear the whole thing at the end of the video below). In it, Smith goes over some well-worn topics – his dislike of musicians, his love of The Monks, how the group was actually ‘democratic’ – as well as explaining (sort of) the lyrics to the three FHR tracks. In addition, he reveals that he believes that the place where monks live is a ‘coven’.

Mike Joyce Coalition Chart Show

• Recorded and broadcast 17 June 2010 on East Village Radio
• Smith/Greenway/Spurr/Melling/Poulou

Mexico Wax Solvent 1 / Over! Over! / Hungry Freaks Daddy / Mexico Wax Solvent 2

Five years after their penultimate radio session, the group recorded four songs for ex-Smiths drummer Joyce’s show on internet station East Village Radio. The songs will be covered properly when I get to the Your Future Our Clutter post, but in the meantime you can hear the session here.

Conclusion
Simon Goddard’s comment above – ‘when The Fall were on form, Peel caught them at their very best… it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying or comprehensive career overview than this’ – is impossible for any sane and rational person to argue with.

It’s not that they were always ‘on form’, of course: the box set captures several low points in amongst all the highs. But that, in many ways, is the beauty of it. What it does do – incredibly well – is capture the undulating, random, inconsistent and complex narrative of the group’s history. Listening to it from start to finish is a rewarding, frustrating, baffling, inspiring and thought-provoking journey through a unique story.

The great leap forward of 1980; the ebb and flow of Brix’s contributions; the rise and fall of Dave Bush’s electronic influence; the descents into intoxicated sloppiness; the proudly disdainful renaissances… all are captured here – and in a way that no book, article or blog can possibly hope to capture fully on their own. Understanding the context of this 26 year story adds immeasurably to your appreciation, of course, but it’s this seven hours of music that does the real, meaningful talking.

With regard to the clichéd hypothetical situation of having to rescue one album from a house fire or choosing one release with which to be stranded on a desert island, it has to be (leaving personalised mix-CDs aside) this one. And I say this as someone for whom two out of three absolute favourite tracks (Dr Bucks’ Letter and Paintwork) don’t feature.

An immense, fascinating and inspiring collection. Find yourself a spare seven hours and listen to one of the greatest musical stories ever told.

My Compilation
I decided early on that I wouldn’t rank the sessions. Tempting though it is to do so (and I know some readers might be a little disappointed at not having a list to argue with), it felt like a really artificial exercise that would miss the point of the collection. (I know that the rankings are always a fundamentally pointless activity really, but they’re even more so here.) There was also no way I was going to attempt a 45-minute ‘best of’.

What I did decide to do was to bend the usual  rules and compile a double CD compilation featuring one track from each session.

CD1 [58:48]
Futures And Pasts [15/6/78]
Mess Of My [6/12/78]
New Puritan [24/9/80]
C’n’C – Hassle Schmuck [31/3/81]
Winter [15/9/81]
Garden [23/3/83]
Words Of Expectation [3/1/84]
Couldn’t Get Ahead [3/6/85]
Faust Banana [7/10/85]
Gross Chapel – GB Grenadiers [9/7/86]

CD2 [54:45]
Twister [19/5/87]
Cab It Up [31/10/88]
Black Monk Theme [01/01/90]
Idiot Joy Showland [23/03/91]
Free Range [15/02/92]
Ladybird (Green Grass) [13/03/93]
Behind The Counter [12/01/94]
Glam Racket – Star [17/12/94]
He Pep! [22/12/95]
Spinetrak [18/08/96]
Calendar [03/03/98]
Shake-Off [04/11/98]
Theme From Sparta F.C. [13/03/03]
Blindness [12/08/04]

 

References

1The Big Midweek, p86

2The Big Midweek, p87

3Radio 4 interview 1999, quoted in Ford p85

4The Big Midweek, p91

5The Big Midweek, p92

6The Big Midweek, pp111-112

7The Big Midweek, p112

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “YMGTA #34 – The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004

  1. Another splendid piece of work. I don’t share your disdain for the LATWT era, I think it’s a strong album with a unique feel showing that the Fall sound was there from the start. I agree with you though, that the step change up from session 1&2 to 3 is astounding, a huge leap in quality. The Fall’s first golden period had arrived.
    Thinking about the non-Peel sessions, wasn’t there one from when YFOC came out? I have it somewhere, from memory it had Mexico Wax Solvent on it, can’t remember what else.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Gareth. I think ‘disdain’ is a slightly strong word for my view on the LATWT era material. I do find it a little derivative in places, but that’s only relative to the incredible originality that followed. And yes, session 3 is a remarkable ‘leap’.

    You’re right about that last session, I’d forgotten about it – https://sites.google.com/site/reformationposttpm/Home/radio-sessions

    I’ll have to go back and amend again!

    Steve

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Blimey.

    That was your best yet. How do you find the time to dedicate to this level of detail…

    Perfect overview of a perfect compilation. Although, let’s face it, even if 96 of the tracks were dire it’d still be essential as it contains *that* version of Blindness.

    Oh, and I think the BBC live in concert ‘87 album is better than you give it credit for. Too short but that version of ‘Australians’ is awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The most astonishing thing about this incredible Collection, apart from the Tunes is the Price it cost me to buy this, £12, bargain of the Decade!! ✌️

    Liked by 1 person

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