Almost 15 years ago a Glasgow-based journalist (not a musicologist, he insists) wrote a book called In Session Tonight. I say “wrote”, there is a considerable amount of interesting prose in there, but perhaps ’compiled’ would be a more accurate part – certainly the bulk of Garner’s work will have been trawling the BBC archives gathering details on every session ever recorded for John Peel’s radio shows.
Now, there is a ‘new edition’. Except, again, it’s not that simple. You might imagine that the subsequent 13 years were well ripe for an update and you’d be right given the amount of sessions recorded since that first tome was published. However, given that John Peel passed away in 2004, there’s a lot more to this edition than the extra listings. And more than half of the 400 pages are Garner’s writing, about the life of John Peel as well as the mechanics of the sessions and the inner workings of the BBC.
That’s not to do down the research Garner has put in for this book – as well as the new data he’s gone to great lengths (as members of the Peel yahoogroup will attest) to correct original errors and omissions in the ‘original’ book as well as gather more data on the Festive 50 and Peelennium.
When Peel’s biography Margrave of the Marshes was completed by his wife Sheila and appeared two years ago, it seemed like the end of the chapter in a sense, John’s early life in his own words and Sheila filling in the considerable gap from her own perspective. However, this acts as an essential addendum to the autobiography as it details pretty much all the Radio One years – John’s day-to-day working life and his legacy in the form of the Sessions and the radio shows (which remarkably, are detailed, in synopsis form, show-by-show).
So, while the input from John Peel himself is understandably limited to some ‘archive’ interview quotes, there is input aplenty from those crucial to the story – Johnny Beerling, producers Anita, Hermeet and Alison, and from the artists themselves – the recording process at Maida Vale remembered by the likes of the Undertonres and Robert Wyatt. Plus, ‘Classic Sessions’, ‘First Heard Here’ on landmark moments in the show, ‘One Session Wonders’, and listeners’ contributions as they tell stories of how certain moments in Peel’s 40-year broadcasting career shaped their lives. And for what is partly a list book, the look is great, the necessary wordiness broken up by some classic pictures, and rare glimpses of session sheets and other curiousities, including a Festive 50 listing which has, infuriatingly, seen Peel’s signature eaten by mice in the loft…
So, a great read which if anything will be even more essential to people who already have copies of In Session Tonight. For the rest, a great Xmas present for not only those who remember Peel, or those like myself who enjoy ploughing through lists, but anyone who has an interest in alternative music over the last 40 years.