The most exotic of them was Top Gear - not that the name was all that far out, but the guests! Hendrix, Cream, Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, The Nice, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - everyone who was breaking in 1967 and 1968 seemed to be listed for this show, and they didn’t turn up every few months - it seemed that someone like Hendrix was on the show every other week and the line-up for each show usually had two or three names I could only drool over...

So how did this come about? I hear you ask in your relentless search for knowledge and enlightenment. 

To explain that, we need to travel backwards in time to a universe many people living today would find unimaginable, where television shut down before midnight, where radio stations didn’t just play records and do talk back.

Strange as it seems today, British radio at the time was restricted to one broadcaster, officially at least, and the BBC was limited to a minimal amount of what they referred to as Needle Time when records could be played on-air. 

Everything else had to be specially recorded or played live in the studio by members of the Musicians’ Union. 

The easiest way to cover the deficiencies of that set of regulations was to get the artists who were storming up the charts to come into the studio and play live. If you’re looking through the discography of your favourite British artist from the sixties or seventies and you see something called BBC Sessions that’s what they were, the band playing live so the track could be played on a radio station that couldn’t spend all its time playing records.

It took a while for me to figure out the way it worked because that code of practice was completely alien to someone listening to commercial radio in Australia, but you can see why whoever was playing not quite live on a top-rating radio show would be listed in the weekly gig guide.

On the other hand it didn’t take long to find out  the presenter of Top Gear was someone called John Peel and that he hosted the coolest radio show imaginable. He was playing the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe & The Fish, The Incredible String Band, names I saw attracting rave reviews in the overseas press. Sitting in suburban Townsville this seemed like a musical utopia.

B© Ian Hughes 2012