'BBC Sessions' is a 14 song CD which chronologically compiles 3 Peel Sessions The Passage recorded, plus 3 demos from 1982 which were never released. The Passage existed in the early 80s in Manchester. They had an identifiable sound which merged a Factory Records and The Fall feel with the tom tom heavy drum style which was commercialized by bands like Adam & the Ants and Bow Wow Wow.
Band leader Dick Witts wrote thoughtful lyrics with the passion of Paul Weller's finest Jam compositions. Some of his lyrics explored the human condition, some were political, and some talked about people or situations.
Unique to The Passage were the piano, synth, and tympani sounds. While these same elements have been used by other bands, no one used any of the elements in quite the way that The Passage did. All of this made The Passage a band loved by a core group of followers, but obscure to the bulk of the record buying public. Considering this fact, it is heartening that John Peel invited them to record for his Peel Sessions show on three separate occasions: November 1980, October 1981 and June 1982.
Peel Sessions allow the band to put together a roughly hewn studio recording in one day at the BBC studio. These sessions frequently bring out a different form of magic from bands we love. The recordings have high quality, but the bands do not have the time to pore over the recordings and add the flourishes that so clearly separate studio recordings from live performances.
I really like 8 of the 14 songs on this disc. I was really excited to hear the 1980 session, as it features the vocals of Lizzy Johnson, who was the lead vocalist of the band for short time. The only studio recording she did with the band was the Devils and Angels b-w Watching You Dance 7inch.
- Dark Times is my favorite track on this CD, though several others come mighty close. The first four songs are from the 1980 session. Dark Times is a song I loved on the 'For All and None' LP. Though I couldn't picture anyone but Dick Witts singing the song, Lizzy Johnson's version is every bit as good. The energy level is high, and the song is translated to the live environment almost completely intact.
- Devils and Angels allows us to see how close the band sounds on vinyl and in session, as Lizzy sings this song on the single of the same name. The answer? The band sounds very close to the version on the single. As I love the single, I enjoy the version of this disc as well.
- Shave Your Head is yet another joy. Lizzy Johnson's vocal has inflections that Dick Witts does not. Shave Your Head is one the the fastest paced songs The Passage recorded, with the oddest lyrics. This 1980 Peel Session could even be the definitive version of the song. This recording makes me believe that if Lizzy had stayed with the band I may have loved them as much as I did with Dick Witts singing. In the past I had always said that the band was meant to be led by Dick Witts and the Lizzy Johnson idea was a mistake that was rejected by the body of The Passage as a foreign object.
- The Shadows does not engage me the way the first three songs did. The energy level is lower and the vocal is a very different style than the first three.
- Rod Of Iron is the first of 4 songs from the 1981 session. The band has an almost free-jazz feel, the way the drums seem to be playing an entirely different song that the rest of the band. Disc Witts has a Factory Records styled baritone voice coated in reverb. My favorite part of the song is the harmonica part. Instead of playing different notes on the harmonica as most artists do, the harmonica is held in the mouth as a single spot and played by moving air both in and out through the instrument. It is a neat effect.
- Form and Void is not a favorite either. The keyboards have a prog rock feel, and the lyric sounds overly dramatic with being particularly engaging to me. I like the talking part which occurs in the song, but not the singing part.
- Man or War is my favorite song from this session, and one of my favorite tracks on the whole CD. The song is based on piano, an electric guitar doubling the piano part, a tambourine for the beat, and Dick Witt's vocal. There is a part with church bells as well. Man or War is high energy, and very unique sounding.
- Love Is As has a glockenspiel part that will remind people who have watched the X-Files of the coda from that TV show's theme. Love Is As works on every level, though it is not one of my favorite from this CD. The song is too wispy and ethereal for my personal taste.
- A Day is the first of 3 songs from the 1982 Peel session. This is another of my favorites from the disc. The energy level is high, the vocal melody is strong (a characteristic of The Passage around 1982 to the delight of some fans and the disdain of others), and the trebly guitar goes crazy at times in the song. There are moments when the synth has the prog-rock feel to it, but as a whole I would say that The Passage have become fully realized and a true delight at this point in their career.
- Empty Words has the type of Passage feel where many time signatures seem to be at work, and elements only touch each other briefly for the hook and beat effect. The glockenspiel part is nice, but as a whole Empty Words is not one of my favorites.
- Horseplay is a killer. The song starts off with tympani (I have always loved tympani!). The song kicks in with guitar sounding like the Glasgow band The Scars in their All About You phase. Dick Witts voice sounds more confident than ever, and the song has a lot of energy without having any sort of normal rocking beat.
- Angleland is the first of three demos from 1982. I don't particularly like this song. It has the prog feel that The Passage sometimes approached, and the odd 'not beat' that many of their songs are based in. This combined with the low energy vocal leave me no elements to grasp onto in this track.
- Clear As Crystal is quite another story than Angleland. Clear As Crystal was written in reaction to a lot of the things Dick Witts saw (and didn't like) in America when The Passage toured. Clear As Crystal is as close to a punk song as The Passage ever got (except maybe Troops Out). I think the main focus is televangilism, which was indeed all over the airwaves in the early 80s in the US.
- The CD closes with Dogstar, also a winner. Dogstar starts off talking about a TV show The Passage played in Munich, and a club they went to afterward. The song has a talking vocal that concerns his dog named 'Red Star.' Dogstar is a strange song that is deeper than the surface meanings of its lyric. I am glad that it was included on this CD.
'BBC Sessions' is a really fine disc that will be enjoyed by any fan of the Passage. I encourage you to buy it.