Hands in the Till: The Complete John Peel Sessions by The Wolfhounds

Release date: August 3, 2018
Label: A Turntable Friend Records

One of the alluring qualities of listening to the vast collection of the legendary John Peel sessions is they had a knack of capturing the core-essence of artists sounds. Due, in part, to band’s recorded playing songs live with minimal overdubs. Many of these sessions were released on the Strange Fruit label in the late 80’s and 90’s but, of course, there are those that never have been released. One of those bands, East London/Romford C86 (NME cassette) indie pioneers The Wolfhounds, now sees their collection of all three John Peel sessions get the full release treatment on A Turntable Friend label.

They capture the band in the period between March 1986 and January 1988 before their split in 1990. It is a perfect snapshot of the band who were always, and still are (more later), spikier, wiry, fiercely independent, and experimental than the twee tag which has been attached to some of the associated original indie scene’s artists around at that time. It was no accident Wolfhounds were often compared to The Fall.

Their story doesn’t end in 1990, when invited to play at a C86 20th year celebrations at London’s ICA by St Etienne’s Bob Stanley in 1996 signalled their reformation. Since 2012 they have been writing and recording and 2016 saw the release of arguably their career best so far, the expensive and consistently thrilling double album Untied Kingdom (or how to come to terms with your culture). So, while they are currently recording their follow up it is a great time to remember how Wolfhounds were always carving out their own distinctive brushworks on a vastly busy canvas in the mid to late eighties.

While there have been a few line-up changes over the years the constant has always been guitarist/vocalist Dave Callahan (later to form Moonshake) and guitarist Andy Golding. The creative driving force, Wolfhounds is their band and their imprint on their sound is paramount. Across the three sessions sees their most well-known song ‘The Anti-Midas Touch’ (did Kurt Cobain hear this song?) with a few songs which appeared on albums of that time ‘Sandy’, ‘Rule of Thumb’ from their debut Unseen Ripples on a Pebble, and ‘Happy Shopper’, ‘Non-Specific Song’, ‘Son of Nothing’ from Bright and Guilty. While deeper cut B sides like ‘Whale on a Beach’ and ‘Disgusted E7’ reveal the depth and breadth of their creativity.

It is the last four songs from their final Peel session which the songs have a greater noticeable difference from the Bright and Guilty album. And it is these songs which, free from the heavy reverb of their parent long-player, are all the better for it. ‘Non-Specific Song’ is the Wolfies at their intricate, intense, ferocious best while one of the two unreleased tracks on offer, the excellent ‘William Randolf Hearse’ captures the band excercising their love of The Byrds and their forever open ears on a good tune. But if one song benefits the most from the absence of the said reverb is the superb ‘Son of Nothing’, where their Indie riffage mastery and the rolling rhythms of the underrated Frank Stebbing on drums culminate in a fine thrilling guitar solo climax.

For Wolfhounds fans the complete John Peel sessions is an essential purchase as it offers the chance to hear some hidden gems, unreleased tracks, and arguably, better versions of firm favourites. But, essentially, hearing a cohesive snapshot of the band in a key period sounding truly inventive, firing on all cylinders, and ultimately sounding only like Wolfhounds can. For those unfamiliar, this may be the best place to start before branching out. And, remember, new album underway, the story doesn’t end here……

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