Where has the time gone? This weekend marks 10 years since John Peel’s turntable stopped spinning. As we are all managing the juxtaposition of sadness and celebration, I have asked Paul Court of the Coventry band the Primitives for his remembrances of listening to and performing on the legendary BBC Radio DJ’s program. Special thanks to Mike Turner at Crashing Through Publicity for helping me get in touch with another one of my heroes.
Linear Tracking Lives: As a kid, what are some of your fondest memories of listening to John Peel’s show?
Paul Court: I started listening to the show in 1978. Radio One used to turn into Radio Two in the evening and then revert back to Radio One at ten for the John Peel show, so it really felt like a visit to some secret, cut-off place. I loved all the post-punk stuff coming through in ’78/’79. Lots of melody and experimentation creeping in. I’d listen in bed and would normally fall asleep before the end and wake up in the early hours wondering why the fuck he was playing Leo Sayer, before realising it had gone back to Radio Two and some truckers request show was on, and that I’d missed the next installment of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End or the final song in a Spizzenergi session.
LTL: What do you think made Peel so good at what he did?
Paul: I think because he was just left alone to get on with it, which fortunately meant giving the underdogs and outsiders a chance.
LTL: What standout Peel Sessions do you recall from other bands?
Paul: Loads of different contrasting stuff, such as The Birthday Party and Helen and The Horns. He played a lot of stuff that I really disliked to begin with, but couldn’t stop thinking about the next day, so I would tune in wondering if he’d play it again that night, subsequently becoming a big fan — The Birthday Party, The Fall, etc. I loved the first few Mary Chain sessions.
LTL: For many reasons, 1986 must have been such an exciting time for the Primitives. It was also the first of three consecutive years the band appeared on Peel’s Festive 50, and in the fall you recorded your first of three Peel Sessions. What was it like going into the studio and then hearing yourselves on the program? Is there a particular song or session that really stands out in your mind?
Paul: The studio was at Maida Vale in London. It was an ornate single story cake of a building with studios below the ground. It felt very much like being in the 1930s down there — I don’t think much had been altered since then. The first couple of sessions we did were produced by Dale Griffin, the drummer from Mott The Hoople. You could tell he wasn’t best pleased having to record all these musically inept bands. I remember him saying the guitar jangle on the chorus of “Stop Killing Me” didn’t fit, but I refused to change it because that was what I played. Eventually he conceded that it sort of worked. When we went back for a second session he was a bit friendlier and told us we’d improved. Hearing the session on the radio was a massive thrill. It would take a few weeks for it to appear on the show and they wouldn’t let you take a tape away, so you couldn’t really remember how it sounded. This was our first John Peel session. [sends YouTube link]
LTL: More than a quarter century after the band’s days on Lazy Records, the Primitives have returned to its indie roots with ‘Spin-O-Rama’ on Elefant Records. What do you think John Peel would have thought about that?
Paul: Hard to say really. I’d like to think he’d show some small acknowledgment, but his thing was always about the new young upstarts.
If you have heard ‘Spin-O-Rama,’ I think you’ll agree Paul is being far too modest with that last answer. So, I’ll say it: Peel would approve. If you haven’t heard the new one yet, check out a few of the new songshere. Then buy it on LP or CD. For more of the Primitives, listen to the band’s second Peel Session (and my favorite of the three) from the spring of ’87. Songs include “She Don’t Need You,” “Ocean Blue,” “Everything’s Shining Bright” and “Dream Walk Baby.” It’s nine minutes of pop perfection.
This very grateful fan would like to thank Mr. Court for taking the time. Thrill of my life.