It’s difficult to convey the influence John Peel had on the music industry. There is no-one in the world since who has become a voice which so eagerly and honestly championed music of every possible kind so readily and also gave a platform for these very same artists to perform for the masses in such an informal setting. It was one thing to be a struggling musician looking for his patronage but his influence was appreciated around the world, leading to some of the biggest bands in the world clamoring to record tracks for his show. Queen; Led Zeppelin; Jimi Hendrix; Nirvana; White Stripes…the list isn’t endless, it stops after around 4000. Some were so appreciated by Peel that he asked them back. Some, as if anointed by some musical priest, enjoyed a relationship approaching an affair. Three act top the list for the most Peel Sessions: The Fall, his favourite band; Ivor Cutler, the brilliantly eccentric Scottish poet-musician; and The Wedding Present, the Leeds band whose indie ethic lead them to be something of a figurehead for everything Peel’s musical taste stood for. Their bond was such that a chance comment from Peel led to the formation of one of the most unlikely indie success stories in the world.
It was just that John Peel was so receptive to music of all kinds – he was equally fascinated by people. When the Wedding Present entered the Maida Vale studios to once again record a session, it was typical that Peel should wander in to watch them rehearse. Guitarist, Peter Solowka, had begun to go off on something of a tangent by playing some of the band’s tracks in the style of a Ukrainian folk musician – not as peculiar as it may seem, given he had grown up in a household where his father had played music from their ancestral home. Peel, delighted to hear songs he already knew reinvented with a joyous reverence, suggested, perhaps little realising the long-felt consequences, that the band record a whole session in this style. Given The Wedding Present’s confidence that even if it failed miserably, they’d still be welcomed back, they invited along fellow Leonian and Ukrainian-speaker, Len Liggins, to take over regular vocalist, David Gedge’s role.
The success was remarkable – genuinely remarkable. At a time when indie music was still treated as the runt of the musical litter, buried on the Chart Show on ITV with a still image on screen as 15 seconds of a track played, the record release of the session climbed to a preposterous number 22 in the UK album charts – the first time a collection of tracks in an East European infiltrated the mainstream. Two further sessions were sanctioned to a public who took the project to their hearts and to RCA who released them collectively. The divided interests within The Wedding Present ultimately led to Peter, Len along with Roman Remeynes and Stepan Pasicznyk splintering off to form The Ukrainians, the world’s first, some might say only, practitioners of Ukrainian folk-punk.
With their album releases now comfortably into double figures, audiences both in the UK and the region to which they paid homage continue to support them with regular tours and new music. This year marks their 30th anniversary and a new album, Summer in Lviv, showing they’ve lost none of their spark. It seems unlikely the creation of band could ever come together in such a fashion and to such success in the same way in the musical climate of today – a testament to both the band, their passion for music and the unerring ear of a man who only wanted to hear more good tunes.