Various Artists - Kats Karavan: The History Of John Peel On The Radio (Universal)
Every now and then a release comes along which is so intrinsically right, so perfectly conceived, one cant help but smile broadly, and wish everyone involved the best of luck. Kats Karavan is one of those releases. A four-disc box, which celebrates John Peel's music radio career, chronologically, over five decades. Disc one, the `60s and `70s, features Peel's much-loved Misunderstood (the only band he ever managed), a Free track thought lost until found on an old BBC reel-to-reel tape, together with many favourites of the period; The Damned, Aswad, Medicine Head, Traffic, etc. Compared to later selections, it sounds almost mainstream, but that's possibly because, especially in the early days of his career, he had knack for discovering and playing breakthrough artists. Whatever the reason, it's a solid start and a consistently enjoyable mix, without a teenage kick to be found.
Disc 2, the '80s, features Altered Images version of Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue" with Peel on backing vocals, The Cure's "A Forest", Musical Youth's number one hit "Pass The Duchie", Cud's "You Sexy Thing" and Costello's "Hi Fidelity". Not necessarily natural bedfellows, you may think, but it all hangs together perfectly, in much the same way the shows used to. Although the BBC omitted to keep any tapes of the show, old cassette tapes have been plundered and cleaned, and between some songs there are clips of the old boy, and I must say, it's a pleasure to hear him again, playing music, and enjoying himself.
Disc 3, the `90s, is where he lost me as a regular listener, though revisiting the decade's alternative landscape, it's well represented in my own record collection; PJ Harvey, Hole, The Orb, Tindersticks, etc. Strange that Ivor Cutler doesn't appear `til now... and no sign of The Fall anywhere. Statistics show that single people, the majority of them men, primarily listen to late night radio. You find yourself someone to cuddle up to and you've suddenly got better things to do that stay up for the new Violent Anal Death session - though you secretly miss it.
Disc 4, the `00s, though cut short by Peel's sad death in 2004, reveals no drop in quality. Laura Cantrell, Mercury Rev, Bong Ra, Bloc Party and Yeah Yeah Yeahs are all present, and although it's a return to guitars, I'm sure he'd have been championing the new electronica - probably in early 2006.
The package is completed with rare and previously unseen photographs, personal recollections from many of the featured artists, and the whole thing looks very tidy on a bookshelf next to "Margrave Of The Marshes", Ken Garner's "The Peel Sessions" and the recent "The Olivetti Chronicles". 10/10.