Siouxsie & The Banshees / The House of Love
Voices on the Air (The Peel Sessions) / The Complete John Peel Sessions
A- / B+
veryone of noble heart and true spirit loves a Peel Session. Try thinking back to the last time you heard someone say “By jove! I am certainly grooving mightily to this track, but the album version is so much stronger than the Peel one, do you not agree sir?” You won’t be able to. And not just because nobody speaks like that. Good news, then, that Universal are issuing a handful of Sessions collections—including these two lovelies—that had previously drifted out of print, never been released, or were lost down the side of a sofa somewhere. Slightly less encouraging that the man himself had to die in order to create the necessary two-year-anniversary sales window before the records saw the light of day, but I guess we have the joys of contemporary marketing strategy to thank for that.
Available on CD in their entirety for the first time, the Banshee bits burst into action with a set performed before they were signed (or, perhaps, before any labels were entirely aware of what the band could do). Whether the energy levels are so high because they’re aiming to impress, or whether it’s simply a natural by-product of making a racket and having a thoroughly good time doing so, it’s hard to say. Either way, the resulting versions of “Love In A Void” and “Metal Postcard” are even more jagged and raucous than their soon-to-be-recorded counterparts.
And that, really, is what the Peel Sessions always seem to be about—highlighting the raw essence at the centre of any given song, harnessing it and bringing it out in ways that studio versions can’t quite manage. Due to the frequency with which Sioux and the boys visited the BBC during that period, the Scream / Join Hands era material is in the majority, meaning the record certainly isn’t short on spiky, psychological thrillers. It’s rather a shame that they never popped in to showcase any of Kaleidoscope (the chronology jumps straight to Juju)—“Happy House” in particular would surely have sounded fantastic. However, that’s merely the voice of personal greed taking over.
Indeed, the Juju tracks offer ample compensation. Much like “Land’s End” from the concluding session, “Voodoo Dolly” provides an exceptional, smouldering broodfest, sustained over the five-minute mark and beyond. There’s even a cameo appearance from a Creatures tune, the percussion-heavy “But Not Them”—slotting in before an “Into the Light” which possesses even more majestic menace than usual. Pleasingly, “Cannons,” an oft-overlooked track from Tinderbox, not only features, but is also unexpectedly concluded with a gigantic, resonating drum-roll.
It’s these additional touches or twists in style that contribute further to the Peel Session listening experience, and there’s no shortage of them on the House of Love set—expanded to a double-disc format in order to include the post-Bickers appearances for the first time. His presence is definitely felt throughout the opening CD, in the playful use of an alternative guitar line for “Destroy the Heart” and tearing through an early, looser conception of “Hedonist.” Not long after that, he really tries to steal the show. Wrapping up the second of three sessions, the Peel take on “Love in a Car” comes across as even more quietly intense and touching than ever, as it builds to a swirling climax.
At first glance, other track selections seem somewhat eccentric. B-sides feature quite heavily alongside more recognizable pieces—though when they are of the quality of “Safe,” this hardly matters. Just occasionally though, this bold attempt to exhibit a diversity of material slips up a little, as on “Blind” where the usually dependable Guy Chadwick lyrics stray a touch close to being throwaway.
The most dramatic deviation from the norm, however, is part of the closing acoustic session from April ‘89. The densely layered “Christine” is converted from a cloud of ringing guitars into a far lighter, laidback affair. It’s different, but it works a treat. Others like “Beatles and the Stones” (now with added bongos) or “Loneliness Is A Gun” were semi-acoustic in nature to begin with, and so already flow seamlessly in such an enterprise.
That, then, is all fine and dandy. So what of the added second disc, the disc where the band are cut adrift of Terry Bickers, their guitar maestro? Well, it’s of much the same high standard. The material may be a touch weaker here and there (although there’s also simply less of it), but the performances remain unruffled. Which is not to suggest that Bickers’ influence on the earlier material is overplayed—merely that the group was able to admirably cope with his departure and move on.
In fact, the gloriously lengthy maelstrom that forms “Into the Tunnel” could make a convincing pitch for “best thing on the whole collection.” When heard in the right light, anyway. Eleven elevating minutes, starting slow and spacey but culminating in an all-engulfing chaos reminiscent of Mr. Shields himself. Mmm. “Crush Me” and “7.45 AM” are no slouches in the department of excellence either. Really, what more could one want?
Perhaps the show recorded for John Peel’s 30th Birthday Party, but ... no, that’s just the frightful glutton talking again. These releases have righted enough wrongs for now. The Banshees—finally available. The House of Love—finally complete. Two rather different groups, united by the common theme of being enjoyed by a chap who also enjoyed an awful lot of others. He just happened to have a radio show that allowed the indulgence of live sessions for his favorites; sessions which had a habit of bringing out something rather special in the material being performed. These two collections being no exception.