Dave Cronen and Marc Riley on Daniel Johnston’s “Love Lives Forever (BBC Sessions 2003-2011)” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, May 18th, 2024  

Dave Cronen and Marc Riley on Daniel Johnston’s “Love Lives Forever (BBC Sessions 2003-2011)”

Labor of Love

Jul 27, 2023 Photography by Dick Johnston Web Exclusive
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I’ve never been a runner or had any inkling to consider the prospects of becoming one. But, one can certainly envision the clear head space that pounding the pavement on a deliberate path forward must create. And it was in that mode that band manager/label owner Dave Cronen first caught wind of a series of BBC recording sessions that the legendary songwriter Daniel Johnston produced. “I go running every morning to plan out my day and I always listen to DJ Marc Riley on 6 Music. I’d say 80% of the new music I find is through Marc’s show. In June of 2021, Marc played a Daniel Johnston song and mentioned that Johnston had done three recording sessions for the BBC,” Cronen shares over Zoom from his home in Oxford, England.

Cronen has been in the music industry since working for Rough Trade in the 1980’s and was aware of Johnston from 1988’s Hi, How Are You album that Rough Trade distributed for Homestead Records. Though not an expert on Johnston’s music by any means, Cronen was surprised that these BBC sessions had never been licensed and brought to market. That’s especially true when you hear the quality of some of Johnston’s best live recordings over the album’s 21 tracks. How Cronen was able to get the necessary permissions, obtain the masters, remaster the tracks, and bring the album to market in less than two years since first hearing of their existence is quite remarkable.

Spanning five recording sessions over nine years, hosted by either Riley or fellow DJ Rob da Bank, Cronen had his work cut out for him just to get his hands on the original recordings. “I went to the BBC to clear the six [Riley produced] tracks I was aware of and they told me about two other sessions hosted by Rob da Bank. So I worked with them on licensing the tracks and that’s when they came back to me and told me they had lost 15 of the 21 masters,” Cronen says. Undeterred, Cronen set about to recover what the BBC had let slip away.

Not surprisingly, Johnston (who passed away in 2019) has a legion of super fans and it’s to them that Cronen first turned. “People got in touch with us and gave us details [of the sessions]. One guy [Daniel Potter] had a digital recording he had lifted live from the session. They weren’t great quality, but when we heard them we were like, ‘Oh God, this is with a full band. This is amazing,’” Cronen explains.

The specific session Cronen is referring to makes for the first 11 (and most scintillating) tracks of the album and were recorded in 2008 with an indie lover’s super group of support. Amongst others, Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous played keys, Yo La Tengo’s James McNew played bass, and underground legend Jad Fair played drums. Of the session, da Bank shared via email, “I still assert that playing at Maida Vale [BBC’s recording studio complex] must be up there with any musician’s biggest dream gigs. Daniel of course showed no showbiz awe or stage fright, but just wowed us with his honest art and wonderful songs.”

In order to bring the project to full fruition, Cronen made a hastily arranged and whirlwind paced trip to Johnston’s native Texas in the summer of 2022. Johnston’s brother, Dick, lives in Katy (outside of Houston) and maintains a full archive of Daniel’s works and art. “I felt it was important that I met with Dick face to face to let him see how seriously I was taking the project. And for me, it’s some of Daniel’s best recordings and it needs to be part of his legacy. I felt I was in the middle of a surreal dream being in Daniel’s brother’s house where all of the archives, literally all the artwork, all the cassettes are archived. [They] also took me to Daniel’s house in Waller and we spent about an hour there,” Cronen says.

The most fortuitous moment of compiling this release took place in the Katy archives. Knowing that Cronen was operating with some less than stellar fan recordings of many tracks, Dick quickly came to the rescue. “I mentioned to Dick how we were struggling to find some of the masters. He just literally sat at the desktop computer going through all the drives and found copies of the masters and ran it off for me on CD there and then. At the end of the BBC sessions, a lot of times, the producer would run off a copy for the artist and this must be how Dick, through Daniel, had a copy of it,” Cronen shares.

With workable versions of all of the album’s 21 tracks, it was time for the finishing touches to be applied. The cover art is from Johnston’s own hand, but getting the tracks ready for prime time needed another level of mastery. “I’ve worked with Johnny Marr a lot and every time we did a Smiths remaster we used this guy Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road. He’s been there for years and he’s got the safest ears in the business. We thought it was karma that Frank would be the one to master and cut the tracks. [With Daniel being a huge Beatle’s fan,] I truly believe it would probably one of the highlights of his life [to have his music worked on there],” Cronen says.

The album (including vinyl and CD versions, as well as streaming) has been well received since its March release and at the time of our interview the initial vinyl run of 500 copies was running low. Once Cronen has recouped his costs, all net proceeds of sales of the album will go to support Austin’s Hi, How Are You Project (the not for profit which is run by Johnston’s long time manager Tom Gimbel focuses on addressing the stigma around mental health issues). “I’ve been touched and surprised about how much reach we have had with only a little bit of marketing really. We’ve had one or two people who might see what we are doing as exploitation of Daniel’s catalog, but I’m not making money from this and felt it was important to come out because it deserved to come out [particularly given the quality of the recordings],” Cronen explains.

No doubt given all the love and care that went into bringing Love Lives Forever fully to life, the sound quality and Johnston’s enthusiasm (particularly on the first half of the album) make for an essential listen. The thought of Johnston being backed by a deep bench of talented friends on some of his best live recordings is heartwarming in and of itself. Marc Riley, who Cronen first reached out to, also sums the gathering up best. “I felt it something of an honor to be able to welcome Daniel and his sidekicks in to our studio,” he says. “He usually had a fizzy drink stain on at least some of his clothing and always brought a smile to my face with his unguarded stories. He once told me that his brother Dick used to take his comics off him when he went to bed if he’d said anything out of order on stage, which he was prone to do. He told me he liked to read comics under the bedclothes at night but it was difficult. I went out and bought him a potholer’s [spelunkers] head torch to wear at night to help him in this task. I don’t know if he ever used it. One of my most favorite performers ever. I was really upset when news of his death came through. A brilliant, funny, mischievous fella.”


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