This Saturday is the 10th anniversary of one of music’s sadder losses. A full decade ago the music world mourned the death of John Peel, for whom the term legendary is certainly accurate thanks in no small part to the sheer number of bands and singers he gave a leg up to.
The Peel sessions (of which you can find an exhaustive list at the BBC website) were the DJ’s way of introducing bands to which he’d taken a shine, to a wider audience. A fair number of acts gifted a session were from London, so in answer to the question in the title, here are a few of the things the much-missed man did for London, plus some of those Peel sessions themselves.
The Psychedelic Furs
There’s a lot more to the Psychedelic Furs than the song most people know from them, the slightly dull Pretty in Pink, used in the John Hughes movie of the same name. Their early shows were more punk-based, but they transitioned easily into post-punk and first came to John Peel’s attention in 1979. What on earth possessed them to fill their first Peel session with saxophone is hard to say, but if that remarkable instrument is your thing, this may be the session for you.
Here is the session in question, from July 1979.
Some of the bands championed by Peel went on to be championed themselves by other acts, and Killing Joke fall into that category, with a heavy influence on the sound of mostly American bands such as Nirvana, Faith No More and Metallica. They formed in Notting Hill in 1979 and went on to record five Peel sessions. They’re still at it today, yet despite their success they never seem to have secured the recognition they deserve in their homeland.
Here’s their Peel session from April 1981.
Curve made sizeable waves when they burst onto the scene with a trio of EPs in 1991, not least among teenage boys making doe eyes at singer Toni Halliday. Halliday and band-mate Dean Garcia were introduced to each other by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, which might explain why their music sounded so angry. Their abrasive wallop evidently appealed to Peel, who had them in for three sessions in successive years.
Here is their second Peel session, from February 1992.
‘Mod revival’ is a grim term, but there's no denying there was one at the end of the 1970s — the Jam at its vanguard. The Chords were one of the bands riding on Paul Weller and co’s coattails, and due to their similarity, they fell between the cracks. They band formed in south-east London in 1978 and released a bunch of singles, one studio album, and a live album called No One's Listening Anymore, which was all too true in their case. They’re proper gems though, and certainly worth 14 minutes of a Peel session.
Here is their session from July 1979.
Little introduction is needed for these London punk godfathers. Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies and the gang formed in 1976 and recorded the first of six Peel sessions that same year. They’re still going too, opening up for Motorhead at Wembley Arena on 8 November and headlining Camden’s Roundhouse next June.
Here is that first Peel session from November 1976.
The early 1990s saw a sudden boom in indie punk bands — the concoction of melody and attitude seemingly created solely for the bill of the Reading Festival. One of the more notable acts to appear at the time were Senseless Things, who formed in west London in 1986 and set about taking a few years to be noticed by anyone but John Peel, who awarded them sessions in 1990 and 1993. Fun but forgettable best describes them, though the 1993 song Homophobic Asshole could be said to be ahead of its time.
Here is their Peel session from February 1990.
Barking’s most famous son was born when Barking wasn’t actually part of London, but we’ll gloss over that. As the famous tale goes, Bragg was once listening to Peel’s show, heard the DJ complain that he was hungry, and duly installed himself in Peel’s affections by scampering round to the BBC with a mushroom biryani. The DJ subsequently played a song off Bragg’s debut album, Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy. At the wrong speed, obviously.
Here’s Bragg’s Peel session from July 1983.
The Only Ones
Some songs are destined to be greater than the bands that produce them. The Only Ones are the gang behind the perfect piece of new wave that is Another Girl Another Planet, though few can name the band when it crops up on the radio. It’s possible the band had no idea of the splash the track would make, because though it was included on their debut album, they didn’t play it in their Peel session recorded the same year.
Here is that Peel session, from December 1978.
Elastica never seemed to fit into the NME-created Britpop mould, in a way that another of Peel’s London bands, Sleeper, did. Formed in 1992 by two former members of Suede (who never had a Peel session themselves), Elastica began the first of their four sessions with Line Up, a song that includes the drummer making noises like he’s throwing up, and followed it up with Vaseline, a song about... lubrication.
Here is that debut Peel session, from August 1993.
We’ve included this for a reason that doesn’t have much to do with Generation X as a band, though they were an acceptable enough outfit themselves (if lacking the pure bile of some of the more anarchic punk bands of the late 1970s). No, this is here because Londonist had cause to wonder what had become of Billy Idol, and it turns out quite unexpectedly that he has a brand new album out just this week, named Kings & Queens of the Underground. So John Peel really does have a lot to answer for.
But anyway, here is Generation X’s Peel session from April 1977.