In discussion with Max Duley on “The Peel Sessions” by Napalm Death (1989).
Although I suspect it was a moment with long lasting consequences, can you tell where and when you first heard Napalm Death? Was it these very sessions when John Peel played them on his show?
I didn’t hear them on Peel’s show. I can’t remember the exact details of where I was when I first heard ND, but it was the compiled cassette release of the first two Peel Sessions (originally broadcast in 1987 & 1988) that I heard, and I can relate the background story: I grew up listening to music from my parents’ collection which included stuff like Frank Zappa, Springsteen, 10cc, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Pretenders, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel and stuff like that. When I started high school at about 12 years old I made new friends and started to listen to a bit of pop and briefly got into some of the early acid house hits that made it into the UK pop charts around 1987-88. But all the while I was continuing to hear the music my dad was into. Being a guitarist himself, he would listen to virtuoso artists such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Alan Holdsworth. I found myself attracted to much of that, but in particular the heavier sounding tracks.
I clearly remember one day in a maths class in 1989, my old friend Alex with whom I’d also been at middle school called my name from behind me, and when I turned around he handed me a cassette tape: Iron Maiden’s “The Number Of The Beast”. I spent a weekend listening to it over and over, loving the attitude and pace. I think I then borrowed a Guns’n’Roses tape which I also enjoyed for a couple of days but which didn’t leave any lasting impression. Then a week or so later he lent me another tape: Metallica’s “Ride The Lightening”. I was sold. This was intense, angry stuff. I was 14, and probably a bit angry myself, I don’t know. About another week later again, Alex had introduced me to a couple of messy looking guys from the year above us who had longish hair and wore denim jackets. One of them lent me a new tape: Napalm Death’s first two Peel Sessions recordings.
Like I said, I don’t remember exactly the first time I listened to it. Doubtless I listened to it many, many times over just that first day. What I do know is that from that point on, everything I had heard previously seemed thin, weak, and vapid. Iron Maiden? No thanks! Metallica? A bit lightweight!
Within two weeks I had gone through a kind of musical rebirth and “other music” seemed to be from a previous existence. That was temporary (although long lasting) and I’ve long since gone back to most of the music I was into before that experience, but for several years I was unable to listen to and appreciate anything which did not attempt a similar intensity.
What made you opt for the Peel Sessions out of their back catalogue? Is it because you think it is the epitome of their work, or is it because you were introduced to the band by these recordings?
Primarily I chose it because of its significance in my musical evolution. It was the life-changing release, the springboard release that turned me from a music enthusiast into a music obsessive, despite having a couple of logical steps up to that springboard which whetted my appetite. But yes, I also consider these to be their finest recordings.
Some time in the late 1990s I remember reading an article by a musician who had been in a band which had recorded a John Peel session. He described arriving at the BBC studios to be greeted by a grumpy producer and engineer who treated them a bit roughly and hurried them into the recording booth telling them they only had an hour or so to do the whole thing. He also described how this treatment got the band a bit angry and how this resulted in the most intense and powerful studio performance his band ever achieved, and how he later came to understand and appreciate the way in which the producer and engineer had deliberately “produced” and “engineered” this intensity in them with their behaviour as well as their technical prowess. Relating this to the Napalm Death recordings, it’s interesting to imagine a band whose music was already so intense going through a similar sort of experience. At that time the label releasing their work, Earache Records, was a fledgling project, not the hugely successful international monster it later became. This meant that they could never have otherwise afforded access to the level of technology and studio expertise/experience available at the BBC. Of course, their other major studio recordings from that time (”Scum”, and “From Enslavement To Obliteration”) are partly defined by the rough quality, but the Peel sessions are on another level in terms of production and the band are incredibly tight, too. In particular the levels of the ridiculously distorted bass guitar and the use of reverb add a quality which is unheard on any of their other releases from around that time.
I should probably point out at this stage that I am only into the first few ND releases, up to “Mentally Murdered”. Read the rest of this entry »