Arts: Feast from the dark side of Pink Floyd

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The Independent Online
Vintage sessions by bands including Pink Floyd and the Who are being unearthed by the BBC following the interest in the Rolling Stones tapes. David Lister, Arts News Editor, visits the archives and listens to the music.

For any rock music fan the basements containing the BBC radio archives are a treasury. Shelf upon shelf of tapes contain vintage performances from the last 30 years.

Not before time, the BBC are drawing up plans to release some of these sessions, both concert and studio performances, by the world's most famous groups.

This follows the success of The Beatles: Live at the BBC, which made the corporation pounds 2m, The Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions which has sold 1 million copies and aroused huge interest in the United States, and the compiling of Sixties sessions by the Rolling Stones, exclusively reviewed yesterday in The Independent.

Those sessions are likely to be released this year. But with the BBC realising that the archive recordings, all of studio quality, can attract massive sales, the Stones are almost certain to be followed by other big names.

John Willan, head of music at BBC Worldwide, who is overseeing the project, said: "Gradually the record companies and artists are discovering that there is a certain cachet about BBC sessions."

I visited the basement containing the BBC archives this week and saw shelf upon shelf of tapes containing sessions from names such as Pink Floyd, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, Elton John, Genesis, Cream, and - presumably spelled by a BBC employee who was not a music fan - a group called the "Beetles".

I listened to Pink Floyd recordings from 1971 that sent a shiver down the spine: three completely different and mesmerising versions of their classic track "Echoes", and an alternative and richer version of their 1970 album Atom Heart Mother.

A compilation of Pink Floyd BBC sessions possibly holds the most exciting potential. The band was at its peak, just before the release of Dark Side Of the Moon, its biggest selling album, and used the sessions for a feast of improvisation.

These alternate takes and the chance to own hitherto unreleased tracks are factors that will encourage fans to buy BBC sessions by groups such as Pink Floyd. Another factor is the different perspective youthful performances offer on well established international acts.

For example, I shall not easily forget hearing a 1964 session by the Rolling Stones this week, a soulful rendering of their still underrated tune "You'd Better Move On" with Keith Richards in the background crooning doo-wah-doo-wah into the microphone, surely the only time in his career he has so nearly risked losing all his street cred.

Occasionally, the BBC tapes offer endearing moments of the primitive in performance techniques. Bernie Andrews, the producer on Saturday Club, had to buy a builder's board so that he and the programme's host Brian Matthew could stamp on it as backing for the Dave Clark Five thumping out their song "Bits And Pieces".

All that is stopping BBC Worldwide from reaping the rewards of the corporation's archives is the need to get agreement in from the relevant band and its record company. Some groups, such as Pink Floyd, are still active and may have plans to release new work. But it is unlikely that any potential objections would survive the bands listening again to the quality of the work that they will not have heard for two decades or more.

Leslie Golding, business development manager at BBC Worldwide Music, has been scouring the archives for both rock and classical sessions, as classical sessions are also being released. He describes some of the rock sessions as "astonishing" and almost all of recording studio quality.

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