This will be a collection of personal recollections in tribute to the late, great, John Peel OBE. A man who broadcast to not only the UK, but the world at large via his BBC World Service broadcasts, for nearly forty years. He was the only DJ remaining from BBC Radio One's original 1967 presenter lineup. Despite many attempts by BBC Controllers through the years to get rid of him, get rid of this presenter that played music they didn't understand, he survived. He just played records he liked. He never had any part in playlists, he didn't go for the currently popular, believing that his job was to give airplay to bands not covered elsewhere. He did this spectactularly well, launching or helping to launch the careers of many well known bands. His importance to the development of UK/US music over the past thirty years is incalculable. He launched the careers of The Pixies and Nirvana. Pavement. He helped along Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. He was the first national DJ to give mainstream airtime to Punk Rock, Reggae, World Music. Indeed, without John Peel, i'd never have even known Dub Reggae existed. He would just play the song, then say what it was after. You'd have just heard a very obscure techno track, then he'd play Roy Orbison, then he'd play a dub reggae track, followed by an African guitar player, followed by perhaps Blur, in session in his studio. One great Peel discovery, one of his favourite bands The Fall, played in excess of 20 Peel Sessions. It's these Peel Sessions archives, and nearly every important act has played a Peel session during their formative stages... that will form an important part of his legacy. |
I remember a late night at home, I was perhaps sixteen years old? Well, it was around that sort of age. I was particularly bored one night, in my bedroom and didn't want to speak to anything or do anything. I happened to turn on the radio and I heard this absolutely awful noise. That noise was my first experience to the kind of music played by John Peel. I later found out it was 'alternative' music, the underground. Ears brought up on Spandeu Ballet or Duran Duran were unlikely to immediately make sense of Mudhoney or Barbel. Yes, this was around 1988/1989. Actually yeah, that would have made me fourteen or fifteen. It started sooner than I thought, my apologies. But yes, to my untrained ears, and bearing in mind alternative music wasn't played on daytime radio, or even early evening radio AT ALL - back then, it was like some whole other universe I simply didn't know about. A melancholic burr of a voice came on, slightly northern, slightly middle class - that was John Peel. He talked as if you were his only listener, as if he was talking to you and nobody else. He manner was so natural and charming, it drew you in. He'd play something like Extreme Noise Terror, then play something so astonishingly different in style, like a 78 vinyl single from 1920 - that it just threw you. I kept listening to the 'noise'. It soon became essential listening. During my first two or three years of listening to John Peel, religiously every single night, my entire musical tastes changed and grew. I became diverse and eclectic. I discovered most of my favourite bands, bands that are still favourites now and always will be. I also started listening to Mark Radcliffe, another BBC DJ and an obvious Peel disciple. I discovered another couple of bands. From John Peel, my most recent discoveries from him were Laura Cantrell and Clinic. Laura Cantrell was a DJ from New York or somewhere, that recorded a couple of songs for her own amusement, more than anything. She sent it to John Peel, he fell in love with her voice and songs. She's the kind of act that i'd never have heard of, that nobody would ever have heard of, were it not for John Peel. John Peel was the only DJ playing songs by Clinic, an avant-garde rock act from Liverpool. Every individual Peel listener will have their own memories. Remember those Festive Fifty broadcasts? It was more important to catch Peel's festive fifty broadcasts than it was to listen to the Queens Speech, open your presents, or almost even to eat your dinner and be merry! These broadcasts meant that much to people.
I don't know what else to say, really. I could carry on all day. Yet, suffice to say that there are people within this land of ours that will happily claim that Peel was more important to the development of UK music than even Lennon/McCartney. He launched the careers of so many bands. He was often the only person playing the music of those bands. Then, once that act had 'made it', he'd move on. He'd move onto the next musical act that managed to either surprise or delight him. He believed passionately in the BBC as an entity, he believed in serving the nation as was the remit of a national public service broadcaster. He always claimed he wanted to die on-air, whilst a particularly long record was playing. Die doing what he loved doing, listening to music and presenting otherwise unknown music to the general public at large. A Peel favourite, Captain Beefhearts 'Trout Mask Replica', is one of the most acclaimed rock recordings of all time. Peelie was the only person playing songs from the album. Due entirely to his patronage, 'Trout Mask Replica' went top twenty in the UK album charts. Through his spreading of the word, a generation of Beefheart fans was born. UK journalists influenced US journalists. Suddenly, over the years, Beefheart became a lengendary figure amongst the elite of rock music fans who wanted to dig deeper than the latest Eric Clapton guitar solo. Careers were made entirely by John Peel. The silly thing is, he didn't intend to do any of this. He just enjoyed playing records on the radio. He'll be deeply missed, his like will never come about ever again.
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