Fans of ’60s English blues rock band Free might have been saddened to learn one of their sessions for a seminal music show was missing from the archives, but it’s all right now thanks to the work of one radio enthusiast.
Rare music collector Andrew Smith has discovered an off-air recording of Free, regarded as one of the definitive bands of the era, performing on late ’60s BBC Radio 1 show Top Gear, presented by the late John Peel.
As with TV, much of the BBC’s radio output was wiped soon after transmission, but music shows were especially vulnerable due to the copyright issues of ever re-broadcasting material by featured acts.
Thankfully, music lovers made home recordings of broadcasts and this is how the Free session has survived – on a reel-to-reel tape.
The recovered Top Gear session, recorded on 15/7/68 and transmitted six days later on Sunday, July 21st, consists of four songs: ‘Waiting On You’, ‘Walk In My Shadow’, ‘Moonshine’ and ‘Free Me’. ‘Walk in My Shadow’ and ‘Moonshine’ appeared on Free’s debut album, Tons of Sobs, released later that year, in November 1968.
Speaking about how his interest in rare recordings began, Andrew Smith said:
‘I’ve been collecting radio and TV shows for about five years now and it all started when I found the Radio Rewind site and put a request on asking for old Radio 1 shows.
‘I look mostly for BBC Radio shows and have located quite a few BBC shows – mostly old Pick of the Pops from the ’60’s, Top 20 and Top 40 shows, and Radio 1 Roadshows.
‘I have found these tapes in charity shops, car boot sales and my local Household Waste tip,where they sell off items that have been dumped. I recently found two original Pick of the Pops shows from 1962 on reel-to-reel tapes that I bought from the tip.’
Explaining the Top Gear discovery, Andrew said: ‘I found the Free session on a 5 3/4″ reel-to-reel tape that was included in a batch of tapes I’d purchased from an advert on website Gumtree along with an old Akai 4000DS deck (a reel-to-reel tape deck).
‘I only really wanted the Akai deck because I had some tapes I wanted to check the contents of. The person who recorded the tapes did so off-air and just recorded the music from John Peel’s Top Gear shows, cutting most of John’s links out. There is only one intro on the four tracks.
‘The quality of the recordings is not fantastic. Considering they are off-air, Mono and recorded at only 3 3/4 ips (inches per second), you can’t expect brilliant quality.
‘But they are listenable and I am sure they can be tweaked to sound better.’
Andrew has been assisted with his find by Peel authority Ken Garner – author of The Peel Sessions – who identified the recording as featuring a missing BBC session.
Ken is currently sifting through the other recordings recovered by Andrew to see if they contain any more lost gems.
Andrew added that there is a possibility that one of the Free tracks might be released on CD in the future:
‘Ken contacted Universal Music Group (who own the performance copyrights) on my behalf to alert them to the existence of the tracks and they came back to him saying they may be interested in issuing one of the tracks on a Peel Session compilation in the future.
‘I feel quite proud of discovering the material,’ reflected Andrew, ‘even though I wasn’t really looking for it.
‘I am still on the lookout for material, but first and foremost for my own pleasure’.
Wiped would like to thank Ken Garner for his help in researching this story.