19 May 2010

Surface Noise

Happy spring? Not hardly. By my acute senses spring started sometime mid-February with two lightning strikes while ski-touring in the Jura. Using my own calendar, then, based on a combination of the Gregorian calendar, Farmer's Almanac, and a hodgepodge of folk beliefs, we're just about to enter summer. What better way to celebrate the change of seasons than with music?

The stereo is almost always on in this household, but something feels especially right about throwing open the windows and doors and filtering music into the yard and throughout the neighborhood. While in Switzerland this practice breaks all sorts of social codes and will certainly compel your Swiss neighbors to talk about you in private, it's also a great way to meet non-Swiss neighbors. For example, I am now much better friends with a British neighbor neighbour behind us who heard The Stranglers' "Bear Cage" issue loudly from ma maison. So with volume in mind I'd like to present a little present.

I rediscovered this summertime treat while filtering through the bulging mass that is my CD collection. This compilation came into my possession while I served as the Music Dictator for the mighty K-UTE at the University of Utah. I made the unilateral decision to add this promotional disc to my own collection rather than submitting it to the K-UTE library where it was intended and I'm happy to say that I'm a better person for it.

The CD was sent to college radio stations in 1991 and was created exclusively for the Dutch East India Trading record label that brought early Peel Session albums on the Strange Fruit label over to U.S. shores. It is indeed a sampler of artists who cut Peel Sessions anywhere from around 1970 and up to the late 1980s. The sampler was recorded using vinyl versions of those sessions with John himself giving commentary before and after each cut. Liner notes are slim and consist mostly of a catalog of Peel Sessions that would soon become available to a U.S. audience.

Because the idiosyncratic voice of John Peel either begins or ends each track, unless a station wanted to play the entire disc, as a whole it is not conducive to an on-air format. (Here I am, nineteen years later, still trying to justify my actions.) The compilation was intended for a U.S. market and never released commercially. I've never seen this for sale.

But because the disc is filled with the idiosyncratic voice of John Peel it makes for a great listen. There are stories about the early beginnings of John Peel's 1967 show called "barely credibly" Top Gear. There are stories about recording Jimi Hendrix and The Pink Floyd in the late 1960s. There are snarky comments about some of the featured bands: "lords of the dance floor" (New Order) and "fearfully voguish and a teensy bit boring" (Wire). Plenty of classic quotes: "But life has surface noise!" Plenty of classic versions of songs--Siouxsie & the Banshees' early 1978 version of "Hong Kong Garden" and The Chameleons' "Perfumed Garden" are worth the price of admission alone. And an hour's worth of John Peel's indelible sense of humor. Basically, this is totally cool.

The music will be up for a short time for your summery pleasure. As the program flows from one track to the next without interruption I suggest downloading it and burning it on a disc in a format that doesn't add space between tracks.

Take it away, John...


Photo credits:
John Peel, 1969

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