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A Peel Package of Challenging British Rock

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

The winners in the favorite band and singer categories in the annual British pop polls come and go, but one name seems to be in constant favor with the notoriously fickle British fans: John Peel.

Peel has been the most influential disc jockey in Britain for almost a quarter century, a champion of new and challenging voices in a profession that, at least in the United States, all too often favors the conventional and passive.

You get an idea of Peel’s fiercely independent stance from this quote in the December issue of Pulse magazine:

“I was knocked out a few years ago to hear that Duane Eddy was making a new LP, but was appalled to hear that Paul McCartney had written a track and George Harrison was playing on it, and so on. . . .

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“I don’t want to hear any more of that. . . . I don’t listen to old records. I certainly don’t want to hear anything like ‘classic rock’ radio. . . . I’m astonished that a market for such stuff exists. . . . I can’t understand why people want to hear stuff coming out of the radio that they’ve got on record at home and (have) heard a hundred times before.”

Peel, who championed punk and post-punk music in the late ‘70s and ‘80s when most U.S. radio stations steadfastly avoided it, has invited hundreds of acts into his BBC studio over the years to perform live, usually in four-song sets. The shows were widely taped by fans and sometimes released in bootleg form.

In 1986, Strange Fruit Records in England began releasing dozens of the sessions in album form and now a small New York record distributor, Dutch East India Co., has begun releasing them in this country under a licensing agreement with Strange Fruit. More than two dozen volumes have already been sent to stores and another 40 to 50 are expected by the end of the year.

These early editions--which sell for about $9 if drawn from a single session and for around $14 if it includes the music of two or more sessions--showcases such bands as the Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Gang of Four and the Smiths.

The Cure package is a four-song set, including “Killing an Arab” and “Boys Don’t Cry,” that was recorded in December of 1978, while the Siouxsie album features eight songs, including “Love in a Void” and a version of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” that were recorded in late 1977 and early 1978.

Also, “Manchester: So Much to Answer For” contains one track each from 20 Manchester, England, bands, ranging from Buzzcocks and A Certain Ratio through the Fall and the Smiths on through such relative newcomers as the Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets.

Among groups featured in Peel session albums due in the coming months: Joy Division, New Order, Soft Machine and the Jam.

“We have been selling many of the albums as imports for a couple of years and there seemed to be a good demand for them because of the historical nature of the recorings,” said Alan Mann, vice president of Dutch East India Trading.

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“We felt that if we put out our own packages with new, attractive covers and backed them with an aggressive ad campaign, we could create an even bigger market. We also have the advantage of offering them at lower, domestic prices.”


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