In pre-file sharing days of yore an artist's forays into radio session work or broadcasts of live shows were the mainstay of 'evil' bootleggers. At record fairs across the land you'd find vinyl and cds stuffed with 'rarities', culled from FM airwaves. Thus there's a good chance that any self-respecting Wellerite over the age of 35 will already own a chunk of this generous four-disc helping of Steve Marriott's greatest fan. But now, with the Beeb's vaults cracked open we can all enjoy the more intimate and immediate outpourings of everyone's favourite mod.
Historically it's fascinating to see how age (or ageism) pushed Weller's sesions from Radio 1 to Radio 2 after 1997. The box set's booklet time and again reiterates, through fellow musician's quotes, how driven Weller is. A man constantly dissatisfied with his muse as well as deeply in love with the whole process of music making. This goes some way in explaining how some of these cuts come from sources as unexpected as Johnnie Walker's Drivetime show or Janice Long's late night spot. Like many of his generation Weller knew the importance of BBC sessions in allowing him to both communicate with his audience while experimenting and covering songs which he, himself, admired. Thus, as well as stripped down versions of classics from Wild Wood, Stanley Road and the rest, we hear Rose Royce's Wishing On A Star, Manfred Mann's pretty Flamingo and Ronnie Laine's classic The Poacher, all rendered with the Woking rasp.
The second half of this exemplary set springs from live dates covering a smaller period (1991-1998) and all originally broadcst on Radio 1. Unlike the studio sessions this is more standard fare, gleaned from albums rather than containing cover versions. However he still manages to squeeze in one of his earliest hero's hits - Pete Townshend's Magic Bus - into Bull Rush during his his Royal Albert Hall gig from '91. Also it's interesting to hear him still including old Style Council numbers (Speak Like A Child) or Jam numbers (Tales From The Riverbank) reinvented in his setlists as well. And while the live sets may lack the intimacy and variety of material they more than make up for it in passion. As Tim Burgess says: "He throws everything into each performance. There is never the sense of him going through the motions".
This is why for Weller completists this box (also available with a DVD) is absolutely essential, but for everyone else it's a treasure trove of soul and intent as well. --Dennis O'Dell
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