Radio sessions were born in the early days of pop radio when industry and Musicians’ Union airplay restrictions on the use of records was forcing the BBC to broadcast cover versions played by hired or in-house bands. This was all very well for more traditional forms of music, but bearing in mind the BBC was in competition with the pirate stations who operated outside the law, the idea of a house orchestra performing, say, Purple Haze, was unlikely to attract listeners.
So the BBC hit on the idea of “sessions” where bands were brought in either to play live, or with a very limited post production. The idea persists to this day even though the original restrictions have been lifted, and in fact most new bands record a plethora of sessions either for radio stations or online.
The interesting thing is how ephemeral these recordings can be. Especially for up and coming bands, you usually have to be around when they’re broadcast, and often no-one bothers recording them. In some cases even the BBC no longer have copies, and commercial radio archives are scattered and utterly inaccessible. Where off air recordings exist, often they’re subject to interference or damage, and in some cases (though not for Prefab Sprout as far as I know) had to be recorded late at night from AM radio which is horrendously subject to noise. You also have the problem of DJ gobshitery where they would talk over the music at various points, often with the taper attempting to second guess the beginning and end with the pause key and fades in and out.
This post gathers together the best versions of the radio sessions I have, and as usual is also a plea for better or different versions.
Kid Jensen: January 9th 1984
The “session” that doesn’t in reality exist. This is circulating but on analysis turns out to be just advance copies of album tracks (“I Never Play Basketball Now”, “Cruel”, “Don’t Sing”) plus the B Side “He’ll Have To Go””. Not going to dignify this piece of deception with a playlist.
Saturday Live: March 17th 1984
The best version of this appears to be an old MP3 set that’s been circulating for a while. I’ve a couple of tapes of it but in fairly poor quality. I spoke to Andy Batten-Foster who worked at Radio 1 at the time, and he told me that at least one of the early sessions was recorded down the wire from Newcastle, and I strongly suspect it’s this one. One of the tracks from this – Hallelujah – was included on the impossible to find Kitchenware “She Moves Like God in the Breeze” cassette.
Saturday Live: July 27th 1985
Coming out of the brief summer “Great Escape” tour, featuring Kevin Armstrong on guitar, the band recorded a number of superb sessions. This is the first of them, from a chrome off air tape with minimal recording problems/dropouts. Engineered by Simon de Bono and Simon Clifford.
An alternate take of Bonny was not broadcast, but later released as the B Side, “Live from Acapulco Rolf’s”
John Peel: August 18th 1985 (broadcast date)
A band had only really arrived after it had had a Peel session, and this one is particularly special because it features the only studio recording of “Rebel Land” plus an early “Cars and Girls” as well as Peel’s personal favourite “Lions””. Recorded at Maida Vale, with Dale Griffin as producer. This is a carefully pieced together version from 6music rebroadcasts, with combinations from different broadcasts to remove DJ chat and cross fades, so the most complete and best sounding of any available version, even given the tendency of digital radio producers to overuse compression.
Graham Bannerman: Summer 1985
The BBC didn’t keep Saturday Live sessions, but for some reason they did keep the very obscure Graham Bannerman material, which is great because no-one seemed to record it at the time! This material is a staple of 6music and is frequently broadcast, once again I’ve combined multiple versions to get the best possible results.
Presumed Manchester Piccadilly: Summer 1985
This is largely conjectural, but we know from the “Acrylic Daze” fanzine that Prefab Sprout recorded a session for Tony “The Greek” Michaelides, which is otherwise lost in action. I haven’t been able to track down anything about this, and Tony has ignored contact attempts. One day it will emerge…!