Confession time – I’m a sucker for a box set.
Some of them are vanity projects by record labels or artists generated to scrape that old barrel one more time. A few though have become genuine entrance points for an artist that I’ve come to love – Steely Dan’s “Citizen”, Miles Davis “Columbia Years” box set or the Bob Dylan’s “Biograph” LP.
Others though have sat on my shelf, goading me at my foolishness in buying such a monolith.
I’ve had the Fall’s “Peel Sessions” box set for a few years now. I recall picking it up for a tenner at Fopp. As I’ve written before, I didn’t get the Fall immediately. We intersected around the Brix Smith years, when I was in the sixth form at school i.e. 16 years to 18 years old. For those not of a certain age, John Peel hosted a radio show on BBC Radio 1 Monday to Thursday from 10pm for two hours during the 1980s. There were regular recording sessions at the BBC studios, often in Maida Vale in London which generated four tracks that were interspersed amongst the rest of the listening on a given night.
The Fall and I spent sometime together. I saw them performa a cracking show in Liverpool in support of the city council (read about it here). I bought the Brix era albums and then as time wore on, I drifted away.
The volume of their continued output now looks dizzying and intimidating. However with streaming now opening up wider listening opportunities, it is easier to go backwards. Another over-whelming issue is the quantity of the material on a given re-issue. The bonus material typically includes demo versions, alternate takes, live versions and Peel session versions. Add in the expansion of LPs in the doom days of CD dominance to accommodate an imposing 60 plus minutes of music. The Fall’s LPs aren’t the easiest of listens at the best of times but catching up feels more challenging as the years draw on.
I therefore felt that the Peel sessions would be a digestible way back into their back catalogue.
The timeliness of this was reinforced by the recent Fall related activity. Brix’s book from last year is a fine read in the recent tradition of female rock’n’roll literature. Brix and the Extricated’s debut album is a luminous stunner. I’m just about to read Steve Handley’s award winning “The Big Midweek”. The Fall have released their 32nd studio LP. “New Facts Emerge” in 2017.
So this is what I’m going to do.
Once a month I’m going to do a post on one of the 24 Peel sessions working sequentially from start to finish. I’m going to compare them with the non-session versions of the songs. There will be a bit of wider historical context and a smidgeon of statistical analysis, fuelling my inner musical statto. One of the appeals of this approach is that it is finite following John Peel’s death, unlike the Fall’s career and associated musical output, which just goes on and on.
Four tracks per session per month though – two years. Easy peasy.
Or alternatively just over 7 hours of music, recorded over a 26 year period. Not so easy peasy.
This isn’t intended to be encyclopaedic. I’m not the world’s biggest Fall fan: websites such as this one demonstrate that. They do seem to appeal to a certain type of middle aged man. Both Stewart Lee and Frank Skinner are fans and there is some possibly some shared residual connection with the world weary Midland rooted world turned Metropolitan Liberal Elite that resonates with me. I will inevitably be drawing from the excellent sleeve notes that accompany the box set, written by Daryl Easlea (@LordWakering).
So this is for me essentially. A way into the Fall’s daunting back catalogue.
Wish me luck.