TV Cream

Radio 1: The Jocks

PEEL, John

Even Harry Hudson & His Melody Men weren't safe from being played at the wrong speed.FORMIDABLE alterno-colossus and one-time tramp-resembling bloke scowling at the back of that infamous original group photo on the steps of All Soul’s Church by Broadcasting House. Got there via California, Dallas and the heady days of the pirate stations, but John Robert Parker Ravenscroft (as we’re duty bound to refer to him), despite often embodying the exact opposite of many of the station’s favourite fly-by-nights, remained a solid fixture right up to the end, mostly by dint of being any good. From the days of the wonderfully of-its-time Perfumed Garden and Top Gear, through prog, punk, ‘new wave’ (Gang Of Four and Wire, generally), ‘indie’ (anything on Beggars Banquet and Factory, generally), and onwards, The Peel championed and promoted the best (and, to be fair, a good measure of the worst – Carcass, anyone?) music of the last three-plus decades, without ever appearing a bandwagon-jumper. Show always introed with the increasingly inappropriate blues plodding of Grinderswitch, while Peel developed an unmistakeable aural persona – playing records at the wrong speed (even after about 40 years in which to get it right); never talking over a fade-out if he could help it (often resulting in a battle of wits with some avant-garde stop-start-ending disc); continually praising The Fall above most everything else except Liverpool FC; continually bemoaning the state (i.e. lack of Fall songs) of the reader-voted and self-compiled Festive 50 chart; odd, whimsical shaggy dog anecdotes about his kids meeting the bloke out of Napalm Death on a ferry, or buying underpants; odd, silly anecdotes about long-time producer John “What’s On!” Walters etc etc. It all sounds frighteningly misconstrued, but it worked, generally due to Peel’s unforced and self-effacing on-air style, unlike his one-time sworn enemy The Bates (fact – the only two people in the world who hate John Peel are Bates and the singer off The Pooh Sticks. Enough said). Died suddenly in 2004, shortly after finishing his last show with Klute’s No-one Is Listening Any More (from the album Time For Change), and an entire way of life went with him.

Happier note to finish on – In 1993 Peel took over the lunchtime slot for a week after then-controller Johnny Beerling was challenged by someone at a conference. He’d obviously been told “Look man, we don’t want to compromise your show, but remember there will be a different audience listening, and we do have a daytime playlist to follow… just bear that in mind, OK?”. First record – Why Are People Grudgeful? by The Fall, followed with the obscure reggae original version of the same song. He then continued in the same vein, playing a lot of hard-trance, the odd Beefheart classic and making snide comments about most of the playlist. For instance, the John Secada song which included the line “…there’s nothing you can do to stop me” to which Peel retorted, “Yes I can, mate, I can take your awful CD out of the machine and throw it as far away from this studio as possible”. For a brief moment, we thought we’d won. Next week, he was back on the night-shift. Bet off.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Steve Williams

    June 17, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Of course, Peel always used to say that he was so terrified of death that he always made sure the last record he played in any programme didn’t have a title that, in the event of his death, meant his obituary would say “Ironically, the last record he played on his programme was Overweight DJ Killed Trying To Read The Name Of A Band On A Demo Tape And Driving Into The Back Of A Lorry On The M4”.

  2. TVS

    June 26, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    The master bar none!

    The best track I ever heard him play was “Voices of Wasps”- a 20 minutes track just containing wasps buzzing!

    I reaaly loved the “Peel Sessions”, and many of my favorite muso’s have played. He remains a god and will never be matched.

    Cheers John!

  3. David Pascoe

    June 27, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Accompanied me on many a late night car journey in the late 90s/early 00s. Finally got around to recording and making mixtapes of his shows in 2002. Would have carried on doing so into 2003 but a wonky tape machine stopped me from doing so. Tragically, I remember deciding that I would re-start taping his show when he got back from Peru….
    Radio 1 did a reasonable job of maintaining his legacy with the OneMusic show, despite a typical BBC fudge in having three different hosts. They then pissed all over it by pushing the alternative music strands back to after midnight and drafting in Colin Fucking Murray to play Family Guy clips and bellow all over the airwaves between 10 and midnight, which is not what you want to hear at that time of night.

    Mercifully there are a number of Peel related websites with old programmes available for download.

    It is always to be regretted that Peel did not learn to use a computer earlier than mid 2004. Margrave of the Marshes would have been an even better read had he had 18 months to work on it.

  4. David Pascoe

    October 3, 2010 at 1:51 am

    Take it down if you must, but someone’s put Peel’s 1993 lunchtime shows up online:

    http://www.radiogeronimo.co.uk/johnpeel.htm

  5. TGOBE

    January 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Started listening to Peel in 1980, my earliest recollection being the announcement of the death of Ian Curtis. He played two tracks, one of which was “Shadowplay”.

    The last time I listened to Peel, he announced the death of Kurt Cobain. I don’t recall what tracks he played.

    In between the deaths, I bought a lot of records that I had heard on his show.

  6. David Pascoe

    March 18, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Found this clip today from 2003 of Peel crashing headlong into some Chris Moyles jingles that had been left on the system.

    http://chrismoyles.net/soundvault/pafiledb.php?action=file&id=825

  7. Glenn A

    January 28, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Catch him on BBC Four’s Top of the Pops re runs from 1982 and 1983, where he is on top form by slagging off pop and AOR tracks that he probably despised in an amusing way that doesn’t have the likes of Spandau Ballet wanting to lynch him in the BBC bar afterwards. Never really been a fan, though, late nights it was always Nightowls on Metro for me, far more fun than JP playing some band who were likely to sell seven records. Maybe I should have bought Melody Maker over Q more then.

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