Re: Peel

October 25, 2010

There will be places around the Interweb today “Keeping it Peel”. It may be 6 years since the legendary DJ passed away but it must be 26 years since I last listened to a Peel radio programme from start to finish. In fact I think I can even recall the day. I’d made a rare visit to London and was driving north up the M1 so I was a captive audience. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t midnight, or even dark. Was his show on at 8pm/9pm at some point in the 1980s ?

It’s all well and good playing new music all the time but there has to be some quality control. He was lucky enough to receive a constant supply of free new records (and cassettes from unsigned bands) in the post. He must have had many many thousands of shiny black flat plastic round things with holes in the middle. I’m sure at some point he must have held a record ?? There is an old saying that everyone who bought the VUs first LP at the time of its release went on to form a band of their own. I have a saying that half of John Peel’s audience consisted of people who had sent him demo tapes and were waiting to see if he’d play them. In the days when the BBC held a monopoly of the airwaves there weren’t many other outlets. After the late 1970s the majority of the records he played did absolutely nothing for me. Although he may have seemed endearing when he played records at the wrong speed, if said record was by The Aphex Twin how would the audience even know ? Personally I always thought The Fall were vastly overrated and I even think I could come up with 100 singles that are better than “Teenage Kicks”. (Sorry if that offends someone but isn’t the whole idea of a Blog meant to be a place where you can voice your own opinion ?). Over the years I think Johnny Walker has shown the best taste in music. Over the last decade Radio 3’s “Late Junction”, Bob Harris and Mark Lamarr have produced the most entertaining radio shows around the midnight slot. But I do commend Peel for being an early champion of the genre known as Dub though. Along with his Producer John Walters he did enable 100s of young bands to get into a studio for a Peel session, most of which seem to be available from various sources. I think John Peel’s best broadcasting was in his later years for Radio 4’s “Home Truths” (and thinking about it, John Walters was an under-rated and overlooked broadcaster who should have spent far more time in front of a microphone rather than standing in the background).

Here is Peel playing a record in July 1992

Talking of things Peel I would love to replace my long lost copy of “There is some fun in going forward” which was the final LP release on John Peel’s Dandelion label. It was a compilation LP which I believe sold for 99p. There was a picture on the back of Peel in the bath with someone who may well have been the pig ? (his not particularly flattering nickname for Sheila). I know there is an expensive CD version (with extra tracks) available but I still like LPs. They’re collectible and some of them are pieces of art. And compilation LPs were a relatively cheap way to hear music from bands I wasn’t familiar with (stuff like “Picnic”, the two CBS LPs entitled “Rock machine turns you on” and the fabulous “The house that Track built” spring to mind).

PS: In hindsight, compared to the mass of inane babble produced by DJs over the last 50 years John Peel was an erudite and interesting broadcaster. He was a busy man. As well as gigs, record labels, TV documentary voiceovers and the (very) odd Top of the Pops presentations he wrote books and newspaper articles. In the early 1970s Peel even wrote a weekly column in the chart-orientated pop music paper “Disc and Music Echo” at the time when T Rex were appearing on the front page and co-incidentally no longer appearing on Peel’s radio show.

5 Responses to “Re: Peel”

  1. dirigibledave Says:

    very odd – I spent yesterday transcribing some old cassettes to hard drive, nearly at the end of a 3 year project before they disintegrate! The second of the day was a 1980s Radio 3 broadcast of Ockeghem’s Requiem, a wonderful 14th century vocal piece. On the other side of the tape was 45 minutes of a Peel show from late 1986 – including an early Joe Gibbs production, a gospel number, an American post-punk thrash and yep, a Fall session. I recorded every possible show for years from July 1969 (a Third Ear Band session, The Groundhogs and Dick Hyman’s synth piece ‘The Minotaur’) until around 1988, sadly only copying the best tracks instead of saving any of the whole shows.

    Hearing his voice again made me listen to the whole thing through. It was only when I read the post I knew it was the anniversary of his death. Oddly apt cassette really.

    Yep it was ‘The Pig’ in the bathtub pictures (he used several different ones on the Disc columns you mentioned). Personally I’m on the ‘there’ll never be another like him’ side of the fence, but as the tape I played yesterday showed, it was all very hit and miss, and he played acres of rubbish – still at least it gave everyone a chance to make their own minds up on stuff we’d never hear otherwise (I’m with you on ‘Teenage Kicks’), and you could pretty well guarantee three great tracks a show at least.

    His services to dub, punk, drum and bass, trance and Captain Beefheart alone should be enough.


  2. Perhaps I’m just becoming an old cynic but Isn’t it the case that with a lot of “successful” people in the media in the 1960s it was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time. Mixing with the right people/drinking in the right bars and suddenly from journalism to Radio to TV became a natural progression for many talented (and talentless) people. Peel got a great start just by being an Englishman in America when that was still considered to be a novelty.

    Personally I’m (hopefully only temporarily) currently in the wrong place at the wrong time…………

  3. dirigibledave Says:

    See where you’re coming from in respect of his start in broadcasting, and he accepts exactly that in both the books. However, there’s no denying that on coming back home ‘Perfumed Garden’ was something extraordinarily different in UK broadcasting and enormously influential, as was his ‘Night Ride’ and ‘Top Gear’ etc.

    I’m as cynical as you about ‘right place right time’ – especially frustrating these days with the Cowell coup and the kids being utterly impressed with fame as being something you get by being seen and being there rather than talent. The Delfonts and the like did the CowellSatan in the 60’s, and Tin Pan Alley was exactly the parallel of Cowellgod today. So as it’s always been like that anyway I don’t see how we can just say the 60s was specifically a media thing (let’s face it. Simon Dee may have been one of the first major stardom self-immolations in public, but he’s got a long legacy since). Showbiz is and always has been exactly that, and its no different now to what it was before (although we put on rosy-tinted glasses and insist our heroes were of course nothing to do with such commercial evils)

    But in Peels case, his UK reputation was nothing to do with his American start, and he clearly showed his credentials and his worthiness time and time again over the years. And, let’s face it, would you rather he was your weird uncle or Dave Lee Travis? I know which one I’d rather arrive unannounced with a box of records.

    Soemtimes in the smoke of a long evening its easy to confuse a large glass of cynicism with a small tumbler of ennui with a dash of uncertainty and two lumps of age
    er … I’ll shut up as I’m rambling


  4. There’s a thought/nightmare. In some alternate reality maybe John Peel was an earlier version of Mr Cowell, signing every band from the Fourmost to Spacemen 3. Dandelion Records would have been bigger than EMI and he would have had his own TV Shows/Channels where talentless oiks could perform cover versions of cover versions to hippety hop music while he surveyed his kingdom and mentally counted his million$.

    It’s a good job that in our reality he was just into the music rather than “celebrity”.

  5. dirigibledave Says:

    Yeah, but at least we’d have regular appearances everywhere by Dick Dale and Earl Bostick and …
    On the other hand, we’d also be treated to an eternity of Kevin Coyne and Henry Cow. Oh well.


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