Wednesday, October 27, 2004

So it’s happened again, the death of someone I didn’t know had me on the verge of tears for most of yesterday. The last occasion was the death of Joe Strummer a couple of years ago, yesterday the news of the death of John Peel hit me even harder.

I think that I came to his radio show rather later than some, in the mid 1970’s I was an occasional listener although I was a fan of the sort of progressive rock music which was the staple diet of his show then. I well remember other friends of mine being outraged when he started playing punk and new wave but that anger passed me by. The real turning point for me was Xmas 1978 when for the first time I listened to the whole of the festive 50 and realised that I had been missing out on some amazing music.

As well as the more obvious bands like The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Buzzcocks, I discovered people like Magazine, Scritti Pollitti, Wah Heat, Teardrop Explodes, Ivor Cutler, Big Youth and countless others. Soon like so many people around the country, I was going to bed every night with the radio alongside me so that I could be educated, amazed and amused by this wonderful man.

In the early 1981 a few friends and I drove to Liverpool to see a gig and thought that we would take the chance to watch the then mighty Liverpool FC in action. During the match my car was stolen, never to be seen again. The thing that upset me most at the time was not the loss of the car, but of a mass of tapes of the Peel show which could never be replaced. Luckily I still have a few tapes from that period and how mesmerising they still are.

So many memories, the first time I heard The Smiths and Joy Division, the way he warned us before the first play of Blue Monday by New Order that some of us may not like it. Him breaking the news to us about the death of Ian curtis, then a few weeks later Malcolm Owen of The Ruts. Hearing amazingly moving things like Shipbuilding by Robert Wyatt and Song to the siren by This Mortal Coil, whilst driving along with the show on the car radio. The light hearted joy of the Belle and Sebastian live sessions at his home.

After an emotional afternoon listening to people from all walks of life talking about the great man, we went to The Bell where our friends Ian and Russ turned the regular Tuesday night session into a Peel tribute night. They played masses of records which may well have disappeared without trace, had it not been for the great man. Soon we were all swapping memories of the first time we heard certain records and general John Peel memories.

It’s so strange that on all those occasions when we thought we were alone in our rooms, we were really part of a huge social gathering, which is as sharp and vivid in our collective memories as any physical meeting. I suppose that was one of his great strengths, in his quiet, slightly perplexed and undemonstrative way John Peel made us all part of something. No matter that some of his musical selections were on occasions testing to say the least, his was a totally inclusive brand of broadcasting where everyone and everything with a spark of originality was welcomed.

Of course Ian and Russ had to finish with John’s favourite record, Teenage Kicks by the Undertones. God knows how many times we’ve heard that record over the years, but last night it sounded as fresh and vital as ever. He sure could pick ‘em.

You can read much more about him via the BBC websites.


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