The Delgados - The Complete BBC Peel Sessions
Down on the Devon coast, a number of people believe that there is a vast, rich oil field, just waiting to be found. Day after day prospectors test soil samples, looking for that elusive sign of black gold. When they find it, their lives will be opened to wealth and fortune, enriched beyond their wildest dreams. This is much like discovering the music of The Delgados - opening up a fresh, rich seam of musical brilliance that will pour into your life like blood. And there is no better place to start than this wonderful compilation.
Sadly disbanded over a year ago, The Delgados released five albums, expressing that rare desire to evolve as their career progressed. My first experience came late one night, listening to Mark Radcliffe who played Under Canvass Under Wraps constantly. I bought the single and loved it, but then I also bought the singles by Jocasta, Tiger, The Secret Goldfish and the other bands he was playing at the time. Then one day, I heard Pull The Wires From the Wall, which is simply one of the greatest recordings ever made. People talk of Mariah Carey and Beyonce having fine voices, but for me, there is nothing to match the smooth, soulful voice of Emma Pollock on this song - it is one of the greatest female vocal performances of all time, a bitter sweet, achingly sad melody sung with an effortless genius.
Over the years they recorded many sessions for radio, for Radcliffe and most notably for John Peel, a huge fan from the beginning. He first encountered the band after he was sent a copy of an early session they recorded for Radio Scotland, and in his biography Margrave of the Marshes it recounts how it remained one of his brightest moments on radio. Having not heard the session before transmission he became audibly more excited with each song, announcing at the end how important it is to get them to Maida Vale for a BBC session (a tale of a drunken pub quiz with bassist Stewart Henderson is also told, Henderson saying to his friends in the pub "don't act like f**king idiots" before Peel turned up). Pretty much each album saw them take the trip to the BBC studios.
This double album starts with the original Radio Scotland sessions, and it is easy to see why Peel got so excited. Recorded in May 1995 with Stewart Cruickshank and engineer Tony Doogan (who later went on to produce many of their albums) these four tracks exude raw energy. Whilst they only hint of the greatness to come, they are fine songs, particularly Primary Alternative and the short and fiery Blackwell. None of these songs made it onto Domestiques, the debut album, the next session from 1996 coinciding with its release. Of the four songs from this session three feature on the album, including the magnificent Under Canvass Under Wraps in a version with even more energy than the single release. Sucrose also sounds better here, with more punch.
There are two sessions comprising songs from the album Peloton, one recorded way in advance and one just before its release. Peloton represented a huge leap forward for The Delgados, moving away from the power punk of the debut and into more melodic, tuneful waters. Everything Goes Round the Water, is filled with charm and elegance, very different to the album version with a rumbling bass intro taking the place of the flutes. The words to this song are poetry, set against a song that manages to be both mournful and strangely uplifting at the same time. Strings, flutes, piano, and a wonderful vocal from both Pollock and Woodward make this a standout moment on this release. The Arcane Model is also quite different, as is Pull the Wires From the Wall. There are slightly different lyrics, and a harder quality to the vocal. This is explained in the sleeve notes, the pressures of time preventing them from recording the vocal separately, almost stopping them from performing the song at all. But boy, am I glad they did, such is the beauty of it.
The sessions closer to Peloton's release are closer to the finished versions, but again rich in instrumentation. Pretty much recorded live, they pack a different feeling to their studio counterparts, particularly Don't Stop and The Weaker Argument Defeats the Stronger, loaded with crashing guitars in the chorus and a dizzy arrangement to the sound. Woodward's quiet voice closes the first disc, fading softly into the distance. And then onto disc 2, which opens with the stunning, groaning cello of No Danger, taken from The Great Eastern.
On the third album, everything came together in a perfect blend of song and melody. Producing the album put an enormous strain on the band, but its release showed how far they had come and just how talented they really were. Songs like American Trilogy, sadly not recorded as a Peel session, are a perfect example - the lyrics almost make you worry for the lyricist, such is the depth of his emotions and the sadness behind the writing, set against epic tunes that more than match the likes of The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. Four songs, No Danger included, are featured here - from the stripped down, late night elegance of Make Your Move, to the patchwork quality of Accused of Stealing.
The album Hate took the band into darker territory, a dense, almost uncomfortable album at times. For the Peel session they chose to do cover versions, three chosen by the band and one by Peel himself. Peel chose a Jamaican song called Last Rose of Summer, their choices equally just as eclectic. Their cover of Mr Blue Sky, the ELO classic, is the best kind of cover version - the essence of the song mixed to the strengths of the band, almost surpassing the original, giving it a sadder quality. Their version of California Uber Alles is also worthy of mention, a nod back to their early days.
Their fifth and final album Universal Audio saw them remove most of the string arrangements and adopt a simpler sound. I Fought The Angels is indicative of this, very similar to the album version, with a harder guitar sound. Everybody Come Down is amazing here as well, a great pop song of strummed guitars, performed acoustically and sounding fantastic. For this final session, they also performed a cover by Ewan McColl, adding to a session that seems much more relaxed and upbeat than the others.
I cannot recommend this release enough. It is so much better than a singles collection, as it compiles a unique collection of songs that run parallel to their output of albums. A greatest hits would mean nothing to fans that already own everything. Instead, this is a companion piece of almost total perfection, from a band that sadly never got the accolades they deserved.