John Peel told an interesting story in one of the 2002 shows (I think) that have kept me companion on the long lonely trips to and from Seoul on the subway for the last few months, armed with my Sony Discman and an mp3 disc of ripe Ravenscroft treasures, my newly acquired copy of the Olivetti Chronicles waiting disconsolately in my backpack for when somebody leaves the train and I can grab a seat. It concerned the fate of those ‘lost’ Peel Sessions from the late 60s, and was in response to a listener query. He related that the session artists routinely signed a contract stating that the BBC was only allowed to keep the recordings for up to three months after the first broadcast, and then they had to be disposed of, because keeping them would be a breach. In essence (he said), they were ‘left in a skip’ outside the Radio 1 studios and anybody could help themselves to whatever they wanted. Yes, people, the BBC had little regard for these treasures in those far away days, and recycling magnetic tape was a greater priority than preserving these monumental jewels for future generations.
Nonetheless, due to the activities of a small group of dedicated individuals at the Peel Mailing List, a host of Top Gears (and Night Rides) have been rescued from the depths of a reel-to-reel collection, and from one of these I present to you most of the only session by Mandrake Paddle Steamer. During that aforementioned reminiscence, this was spoken of fondly by Peel, who speculated that the BBC had since wiped the tapes. They were formed in 1967 by vocalist Brian Engel and guitarist Martin Briley, subsequently joined by Paul Riordan (who has a good site about the band here), and debuted at Walthamstow Town Hall supporting Pink Floyd and subsequently gigged long and hard around the UK, releasing one single on Parlophone. Paul seems to think that there was more than one session, but Ken Garner’s The Peel Sessions argues otherwise.
My personal favourite from the three surviving songs is ‘Senlac Lament’, which between broadcasts became ‘Senila Lament’, but, unless you really enjoy King Crimson and music of that ilk, it’s unlikely you will see what John did in this session. Apparently EMI released them on Parlophone because they were ‘too commercial’ for Harvest, as Paul says. Does that come across in these tunes? I’ll let you be the judges of that.
Mandrake Paddle Steamer, Peel Session
Cooger And Dark/Senila Lament/The Ivory Castle Of Solitaire Huske
P.S. The session tracks have been removed at Paul Riordan’s request pending a full reissue.