Monday, July 03, 2006
CbJE at the BBC
Above is a picture of Phil Marshall and Colorblind James at one of our recording sessions at the BBC. I think it's from our Death Valley Boys session for Andy Kershaw in 1989. We did four of these over our three tours, including two on our very first tour, when we were considered a pretty hot item. These sessions all consisted of four songs, were all recorded in a single day at the BBC's Maida Vale studios and all were engineered by the exceptional Mike Robinson. Robinson is listed as producer on the cd insert, but Dale "Buffin" Griffin (the orginal drummer for Mott the Hoople) was also present in the capacity of producer for all four sessions. Griffin was supposedly possessed of a legendary irritability, but he seemed to like us and put in long hours getting the best mix possible. We were told he never did this for other bands.
British readers of this blog will simply regard these BBC recordings as an ordinary event, but there is nothing comparable to them in the United States. At the Maida Vale recording complex was a warren of studios recording all manner of music, all day, every day. As we wandered through its hallways on our way to lunch, we'd peer in windows to other studios and see jazz bands, choruses, orchestras and more, all being recorded for broadcast. A little bit like heaven, I thought at the time.
Our first session for John Peel (18 October 1988) included a very fast version of "Polka Girl," "Hey Bernadette" (a rollicking song dedicated to the actress and singer Bernadette Peters, who Chuck admired strenuously), Phil's terrific instrumental "Havoc Theme" (which my daughter Rachel often uses as title music in her videos; someday Phil will get a fat royalty check for that number), and "Wedding at Cana." All of these, except "Hey Bernadette" had been recorded previously, with two appearing on our second album 'Why Should I Stand Up?.' After we heard the exceptional quality of the recordings, we realized that it was foolish to duplicate stuff we'd already recorded, so after that we only recorded unreleased songs for the Beeb. The one exception to this policy was on our first session for Andy Kershaw, where we did record a too-fast and hectic version of "Considering a Move to Memphis," at his request. (Actually, he only requested the song, not that it be hectic...)
A couple years later, that first John Peel session was chosen for release on his Strange Fruit label, and was also licensed in the States on another label. On the Strange Fruit release there we are, listed alongside the likes of Joy Division, The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Syd Barrett and others. "Judge us by the company we keep," Chuck once said. The rest of the BBC material (sixteen songs in total) has resided in their vaults ever since. Some of it is excellent stuff—the "Rollin' and Tumblin'" Peel session (7 November 1989) found the band in especially fine form. We often discussed issuing an album of all this BBC material, but never got around to it. At this point, it seems unlikely that any of it will see the light of day again. A shame, as it comprises some of the band's most important recorded legacy (and many of Chuck's finest songs), and comes the closest to capturing what we sounded like as a live band.