Dundee lo-fi legends Spare Snare are about to release a handsome boxset containing all their BBC sessions – to date. Spread over 3 discs the set also contains a booklet containing full details of the recordings and photographs taken in the studio.
Disc 1 contains the band’s THREE sessions for broadcasting great John Peel, between 1995 and 2001. The second collates disparate recordings for BBC Radio Scotland over virtually the band’s entire career whilst the final disc rounds up the remaining BBC recordings, including for one unexpected host!
Alan Cormack, Jan Burnett and Paul Esposito
Ahead of the set’s release on January 29th, Snare mainman Jan Burnett cast his mind back over the last years for his recollections of recording for Auntie Beeb.
It’s a comprehensive set that works as an alternative history of the band and it’s one that Jan has long been planning as he explained:
“There was always an element of it would be great to have these things released at some point. So, I was keen to always do different tracks for sessions over the years and you’re also promoting what’s out at the time. So there’s only maybe two or three duplicate tracks and even then you’re getting completely different versions to anything else.
“It’s nice to have it there to actually release, cause, let’s face it, no-one else is going to do it!”
The three Peel sessions, three years apart, are rightly given pride of place on the first disc and, as Jan recollects, the original request to do the session was surprising in its mundanity.
“I’d sent the first single to the show and he played it. Then further down the line I sent him the second single and literally within two or three weeks I got a phone call from him to the house in Dundee.
“I was in for that first call and picked it up. But I kinda wish that it had gone to the answer machine and I had to call back as it would be nice to have a recording.
“But yeah, I spoke to him and then had to sit down and realize that was John Peel, and he just sounds like he does on the radio. Very strange!
The request though provided logistic challenges for the fledgling band.
“The band was kind of created to go to America and play live. I think we did literally six shows before we went to the States to do another six or seven shows. But the band was rehearsed enough to do a Peel session.”
Barry Gibson on effects
Peel himself was again the first point of contact for subsequent sessions.
“The second session he sent me a postcard asking us to play and the third session he phoned me up as well. But he just made the introductions and then his PA called back to organize. So it was relatively straightforward and kind of strange but lovely, you know.”
Despite the personal touch in setting up the introductions, understandably, the presenter wasn’t at any of the sessions although Jan did subsequently meet him.
“I met him a couple of times, firstly at Reading briefly and then at Radio Scotland when he was he was up to do his show. I can’t remember why it was in Scotland, but along with a couple of producers I know we got invited.
“We just turned up and introduced myself and he remembered he’d met me before
and it was quite chatty. So yeah, a lovely guy.”
Turning to the actual sessions, Jan remembers that the some of the corporation’s working practices seemed to be stuck somewhat in the past.
“You have the producer who is telling the engineer where to put microphones or what they want. That’s kind of old school as I would expect the producer these days to be doing the mic movements and being the engineer as well.
“It was very much of a hierarchy although I’m sure it’s not now.
“They were actually all with the same producer, Mike Engels. He was this older guy, a bit like a school teacher, and we very much felt he was a little bit old school BBC. But he probably wasn’t!
“He was a little bit off hand at first but he warmed to us after 3 sessions. They’re obviously doing sessions all the time, and so you’re just another band coming through. But their job is to get something at the end of it to broadcast.
“You do need to make the most of that time and have some people skills so that you’re not pissing them off and they’re not ruining the mix! But you do have to and have a bit of fun as well.”
Jan is very grateful for the opportunities that the Peel sessions provided.
“You know you’re going up 24 track studio for a day so great. Whereas normal BBC sessions tend to be live on air, with the Peel ones you actually had the ability to do overdubs so that was quite nice.
“From memory, I think session one and three were pretty much live maybe with one or two little overdubs but not much. But with the second one, there was just the three of us, myself, Alan and Barry, so we had to do a few overdubs on there. It was good too.”
Graeme and Ross at the 3rd Peel Session
One of the attractions of recording a Peel session was undoubtedly working in rooms that had a long musical history although the name that Jan recalls most was not one you’d normally associate with Peel!
“The first two were in Maida Vale 4, the big room that had the Bing Crosby plaque on it.
“I think they’ve now sold it off but Bing Crosby’s last recordings were made there.”
The sessions all followed the same pattern, one that probably hadn’t changed much over the years.
“With Maida Vale you have a strict a period to work in, loading in for ten o’clock, and 2 hours to set up. Then that’s you for four or five hours recording, with maybe two or three hours recording and a couple of hours of mixing.
“It’s pretty full on and quite tiring actually, but great fun and a good experience. It’s not often you get a free studio. It’s not even just a free broadcast. You get it a 24 track studio for that period, so make use of it, yeah?”
Jan is very proud of having been asked to play those Peel Sessions.
“To actually get 3 sessions, looking back, that’s kind of unusual. There’s not a huge amount of bands that have done more than a couple.”
If Peel provided UK exposure for the band in that six year period, Radio Scotland also provided an important platform for the band , particularly through the fondly remembered Beat Patrol show presented by Peter Easton.
“Beat Patrol as for me was *the* show on a national station that would play us.
“Your local stations, Radio Tay, Clyde, etc. wouldn’t really play us. There might have been an indie show on and certainly there was an indie show on Tay for a period as Graeme (Ogston) presented it for a period before he was in Spare Snare.
“But it was just an hour a week and, realistically, how many people were listening? I’m not sure.
“Whereas with Radio Scotland, they had the money to bring you in and you got paid and had the quality engineers and producers to get recordings.
“The live at the 13th Note show was for Beat Patrol. It was ourselves and Spacehopper and that was a week before our T in the Park gig.
“It was a great advert for that and a great advert for Beat Patrol putting on new bands.
“Listening back to this now, it’s quite an intense, spiky, kind of affair. It comes over pretty well.”
The band also picked up a couple of national sessions on 6 Music several years after the final Peel session, the first slightly out of the blue on the back of the ‘I Love You, I Hate You’ album then following the Steve Albini project ’Sounds’.
These sessions came about in a similar manner to the Peel sessions.
“I think it would be Michelle (Choudry), who was the Marc Riley’s producer at the time, and still is, who just dropped me an email saying ‘do you fancy a session?’
“I don’t think we were actually playing live much around then either. So there was a bit of rehearsing to do before we just went down and did it.
“Whereas the second session obviously around the Albini album. so that’s a bit more attractive.
“Again that was live which you can tell from the third track because the bass is out of tune. It was probably quite hard to fix so you’ve got it as is. I kind of fast forward that one!”
Prior to the Riley sessions, the band notched up a unique accolade that Jan is proud of to this day.
“We’re the only band to do a session for John Peel and … Aled Jones!
“When he was on Radio 2 I think it was the anniversary of Amazing Grace however many years after being written and they were trying to get a version of Amazing Grace every week.
“Graeme listened to the show and had some kind of connection with the producer at the time, and said that we’d do a version. And so we did!
The response to the session was probably predictable.
“I think the feedback was pretty poor. There’ s some good chat from Aled about the feedback from it. Good talk about music being all colors or something.
“So I don’t think, his listeners really liked it which I’m quietly chuffed about!(laughs)
“But it was quite funny, lying in bed, listening to the broadcast and hearing ourselves on the Aled Jones show!”
The Albini-recorded ‘Sounds’ reminded a lot of people about the Snare and it looks like the boxset will help maintain their profile.
“We’ve been getting a bit of feedback around the boxset and it looks like we might be getting a few reviews in January, February, which is great. That’s all down to keeping in touch with people over the past 25 years and hopefully these people are still alive and want to listen!
“It’s like OK, they’ve done this? Didn’t realise you guys had done 3 Peel sessions, didn’t realise that X Y and Z? Maybe it’s time to actually review them a wee bit and see what they’ve done.”
Getting reviews is part of the battle but fans need somewhere to buy the box and that looks like it may be relatively easy (pandemic notwithstanding).
“It’s going everywhere, which is the way it should be. Mono’s going to take it, Assai are going to take it. It’s on Amazon already.
“Interestingly enough the buyer at Rough Trade, Sean, loves it, so we might get a bit of presence with Rough Trade shops.”
The band will also be selling the box through their own Bandcamp and unsurprisingly, Jan is a fan of the website given the control it gives to the artists.
“You can make it look fairly nice and I love that accessibility and it’s quite user friendly for the fan, the customer, as well.
“If someone doesn’t want the physical because they ain’t got the room, fine, buy the t-shirts and buy the digital. I don’t mind!!
“But ultimately I kind of want to sell actual physical stuff. I get more money out of it and it makes a little bit of space in my garage!”
‘The Complete BBC Radio Sessions 1995-2018’ is available via Chute Records from Friday January 29th. More at chuterecords.bandcamp.com/.