Jeremy Spencer / Danny Kirwan
BBC session, “First Gear” July 07, 1970
Fleetwood Mac was close to wrapping up what would be the band’s fourth LP, “Kiln House” (their first without Peter Green) at the time they taped this session for the BBC.
The five songs the band performed for the show, were all included (despite the collection’s title) on “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac Live at the BBC” (Castle 1995). The original liner notes for that two CD collection mistakenly include Peter Green in the line-up for all five songs.
With three of the five songs being covers, and four of the numbers clocking in at under two and a half minutes in length, the session is often cited as proof that after Green’s departure, the band was treading water, uncertain as to what they were going to do now that their “leader” was gone.
With all the numbers bearing the unmistakable stamp of Spencer’s infatuation with early rock ‘n roll and teen pop music, one might also assume that Spencer was now exerting greater influence on the direction the band would soon take.
The problem is that all those assumptions would prove to be incorrect.
The way in which we view the session is completely altered when one learns that the songs were specifically recorded for a short-lived BBC Radio show called, “First Gear”, a two-hour program broadcast on Saturday nights in place of John Peel’s “Top Gear”.
The purpose of the show seemed to be two-fold: to relieve Peel of his “Top Gear” duties for a few weeks and more importantly, to showcase some of the stars of England’s nascent rock ‘n roll scene in the early sixties. Among the performers featured during the program’s brief run were Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets, Marty Wilde, Bert Weedon and Billy J. Kramer.
The show, hosted by Johnny Moran, only aired for four weeks, in August of 1970.
Jeremy Spencer: guitar, piano & vocal /
Danny Kirwan: guitar & vocal /
John McVie: bass / Mick Fleetwood: drums
BBC session, “First Gear” Maida Vale 4, London
Recorded July 07, 1970 – Broadcast August 22, 1970
Released on: Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – Live at the BBC (Castle 1995)
Availability: Out of Print /
When Will I Be Loved (Everly Brothers) (2:13) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icgGssjTLqg
Jenny Lee (J. Spencer) (2:19) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yb6hmKWcvU
When I See My Baby (D. Kirwan) (2:11) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kB3sNFJayEc
Honey Hush (Big Joe Turner / Johnny Burnette) (3:09) –
(starts at approximately 41:05)
Buddy’s Song – often mistakenly credited to Spencer, this is a cover of a song written by Buddy Holly’s mother and recorded by Bobby Vee on his 1963 LP “I Remember Buddy Holly” (released in the U.K. in March of 1964).
With less than two minutes to work with, legendary producer “Snuff” Garrett and his stable of studio musicians whip up an effective homage to Holly, with Vee hitting the inflections and style of Holly’s vocal without imitating him.
The drummer fuels the number with a tirelessly fast shuffle on his snare, breaking to add fills where needed. The dominant sound is the guitar, a twanging, steady strum with a slight hint of fuzz.
Unfortunately, Fleetwood Mac’s version is reductive. Spencer appears to both be paying tribute to and spoofing Holly.
Spencer’s guitar sound is closer to what was heard on Holly’s records, but Fleetwood reflexively locks into the gallop of ‘Peggy Sue’ (as was his wont; see the band’s covers of ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’, ‘Shelia’ and Spencer’s own ‘Linda’) and refuses to let it go (there are no fills when the song shifts to ‘Rave On’)
It is the “chorus” (Spencer has overdubbed himself for the number) that truly sours the number for me. Spencer sings it in a bratty, childish pitch, that, rather than humorous, boarders on condescending.
I feel certain that was not the intended effect, but that is how it comes off to my ears.
When Will I Be Loved – like Buddy Holly (and even Bobby Vee), the Everly Brothers were hugely influential in England in the late fifties and early sixties, and they remained so even after their popularity had faded in the U.S.
Like the Everly Brothers, Kirwan sings harmony with Spencer throughout the number. Based on Kirwan’s own compositions, the lyrics seem custom made for his view of romantic entanglements.
Once again, the band simply cannot match the elegant craftsmanship of the original’s session players. The deceptively “simple” flow of the original is cut into pieces by Fleetwood’s repetitive cymbal splashes.
Spencer’s fifteen second guitar break (epic in comparison with the one in ‘Buddy’s Song’) fits seamlessly and is a welcome addition.
Jenny Lee – a Spencer original, first recorded in September of 1969 and released in January 1970 on his self-titled LP, Spencer reworks the original arrangement, improving upon it, but not necessarily redeeming it.
The original clocks in at a brisk one minute and fifty-nine seconds, with Spencer’s vocal seemingly mastered at the incorrect speed, as his voice constricts to an ever-higher pitch as the verses unfold. The backing vocals, pitched to a Chipmunk squeak, making one imagine a Greek chorus each with a single capitalized letter sewn onto the front of their togas.
The arrangement is also more cluttered, with the rhythm section, two guitars and shivering tambourine all vying for space.
Unspooling now at a comparatively leisurely two minutes and nineteen seconds, the number is opened up, with Fleetwood supplying an easy shuffle and Spencer and Kirwan intertwining their guitars to create a “greeting card” pretty effect.
The background vocals are equally pleasing and it is only Spencer’s imitation of an insipid teenager whose voice hasn’t broken yet that sinks the number.
When I See My Baby – Kirwan shows up Spencer at his own game here, writing a number to match the new direction that Spencer was bringing the band in with his material for “Kiln House”.
It would have fit with the other material on the album perfectly, but maybe that was the problem; they really didn’t need or want another track that sounded like what Spencer was doing.
Another song in the long list of Kirwan originals that were never put to tape in the studio.
The number is a reasonable facsimile of the better produced teen pop that Spencer so enjoyed. Kirwan certainly had the looks to be sold as a teen idol, but unlike most (Fabian, James Darren, Frankie Avalon) he could sing; he could play; and he also wrote his own material.
The interplay between Kirwan’s lead work and Spencer’s supporting guitar are a pleasure to hear and it is unfortunate when the “doo-wop” chorus comes in (Spencer actually sings the words “doo-wop”) and obscures the music.
The too brief opening and the cruelly quick break offer just a taste of Kirwan’s more melodic style and though leaving the listener wanting more, they still satisfy.
Honey Hush – we have no way of knowing if they had already cut the studio rendition (titled ‘Hi Ho Silver’) at the time they performed this version for the BBC. There are differences in the arrangement, with the studio recording hewing closer to the 1956 Johnny Burnette and the Rock ’n Roll Trio’s more guitar centric cover.
The BBC recording brings the piano to the fore, nodding to Big Joe Turner’s original 1953 recording, with its Boogie piano.
Turner re-recorded the song with Leiber and Stoller producing, for the Atlantic label in 1959. Other than a faster tempo, the re-recording duplicates the arrangement of the original.
The best of the five song set, the staccato piano sets the threatening atmosphere, sounding like the opening to the theme of a television crime series.
It is Spencer on piano here, as Christine McVie had not yet joined the band at this time.
Unlike on the other three songs that Spencer sang on the session, he does not use any affectation, and the song is all the better for it.
Danny Kirwan provides expert support on rhythm guitar throughout the song and Spencer overdubs the high-energy break (a brief twenty-one seconds). The sense that the break could come apart at the seams at any second adds to the tension.
* Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – The 1970 Sessions (Iconography 2022) – this release is representative of many of the dozens of quasi-bootleg releases that have flooded the market as the European copyright has lapsed on Radio Broadcasts – this one fails to fulfill the promise of it’s title by having on two numbers from an April 29, 1970 session, ‘Sandy Mary’ and ‘Only You’ and just one from a November 1970 session, ‘Preachin’’. (These tracks were all also originally released on the “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac Live at the BBC” (Castle 1995) collection.
The other nine numbers are all from an April 09, 1970 session done for Radio One, at the Paris Theater, first officially released on the “Show-Biz Blues: Fleetwood Mac 1968 to 1970 Vol. 2” (Trojan 2001) 2 CD set. (unfortunately, also out of print).
That particular show has been in circulation among collectors for decades (depending on the bootleg or quasi-bootleg release, there is a fair amount of talk between the tracks – this release removes the bulk of it).
The earliest bootleg of the show (complete with between song banter) was titled “They Play On” on the Genuine Pig label in 1990.