Michael Alexander speaks to Jan Burnett, singer with Dundee band Spare Snare, about the release of 25 years worth of BBC radio sessions.
The permutations of lockdown over the past year mean that Dundee band Spare Snare haven’t recorded anything new together or seen each other in the flesh since late 2019.
But the challenging times have given singer Jan Burnett the impetus, outside his day job, to pull together a very special box set that celebrates 25 years since the band’s first iconic John Peel Session.
The Complete BBC Radio Sessions 1995 – 2018 by Spare Snare, being released on January 29, comprises 42 tracks covering three Peel Sessions, two Marc Riley Sessions, a track they recorded for Aled Jones and a whole disc of BBC Radio Scotland sessions, all remastered.
How did it come about?
It all came about when, in October 2019, Jan discovered he could licence Spare Snare’s complete BBC output from the corporation for “next to nothing”.
“The past nine months outside of my day job have been organising and fixing all that,” says the “still young” 53-year-old father-of-one who works in a Glasgow bank these days after almost 30 years as singer with Spare Snare, 15 years working in Dundee record shops and nine years DJ-ing at legendary nightclub Fat Sams.
“I’m really chuffed with it now – 25 years of work all put onto three discs!
“When doing it, it was quite interesting how you can hear the band mature – I suppose like a cheese.
“You’ve got the bright sparks. For example, the highly energetic live show we did for BBC Radio Scotland Beat Patrol from the original 13th Note pub in Glasgow a week before our first T In The Park performance, then maturing and playing better.
“It’s weird hearing it after all these years.”
With recordings from the BBC Studios in Maida Vale, Salford, BBC Glasgow and the 13th Note, Jan admits the band sound “pretty scrappy” on some of the earliest sessions. That’s reflective of the fact they were “on edge” and “not very rehearsed”.
But looking back, Jan is not one for being self-critical or changing history because that was part of the charm at the time – “not knowing if it was going to collapse around you”.
“Peel was our first Radio One session but we did Radio Scotland before that – a 25 minute set live on air with no 25 seconds delay. It was genuinely live!” recalls Jan.
“We were promoting our T in the Park slot the following week. That was a great period.
“Then two or three months later John Peel phoned me up and asked ‘would you like to do a session?’ ‘Yes, of course I would’, was the reply.
“That happened three times. He called me twice and wrote to me once asking.
“We did three sessions which people are really surprised at because nobody has really heard of us.
“We’re a wee Dundee institute. But we’ve done nothing out with that, so it’s a bit strange!”
First Peel session
The first Peel session came about after an “old school” approach by Jan who sent the late Radio One legend a seven inch single of Super Slinky in the post which he played and liked.
However, there were other “weird” connections that developed, he says.
For example, Radio One live music engineer Andy Rogers bought a copy of the single off the back of Peel playing it, phoned up Jan, and ended up producing a couple of their records. He’s included in the box-set to reflect the Spare Snare “extended family”.
A lot of thought, meanwhile, has also been put into the presentation of the clamshell box set, which, in addition to the three CDs includes a 36 page booklet featuring photographs and full details from the sessions.
The artwork is based on the original BBC Study Series from the 1960’s, while the art of the CD labels is based on BBC Sound Effect 7” singles.
“BBC records in the 60s and late 70s were designed by Andrew Crooit,” says Jan.
“A couple of others have used that same kind of layout but never credited him.
“I was quite keen to do so. The actual wave lines we’ve used on the sleeve is actually John Peel introducing us on the first single.
“But I just found out the other week Andrew is alive. I sent him a box and he’s mighty chuffed that I’ve given him a credit! It’s this lovely full circle credit!”
Doing their own thing
There’s not that many bands that did more than three sessions for John Peel.
Jan puts their return into Peel having “that bit of faith” in them.
“He thought we were interesting I suppose and just a wee bit different,” smiles Jan. “We never made a point of trying to sound like anyone else. We just did our own thing.”
He laughs, however, when he reflects on Spare Snare being the only band ever to do sessions for both John Peel and Aled Jones.
“We did an Aled Jones track on his Radio Two show,” says Jan.
“It is what it is – but it’s quite nice because doing a version of Amazing Grace and doing some very noisy punk stuff – that’s the spectrum that we are.
“That’s what we do. You don’t know what you are going to get with us depending on what day you get. That’s all on there as well.”
“On the third session we did a couple of jingles that were never broadcast, so there’s some unreleased unheard stuff on there which is quite nice too.”
*Spare Snare, The Complete BBC Radio Sessions 1995 -2018, is released on Chute Records on January 29, 2021.