Thursday, October 12, 2006

May you continue to rest in peace John

''Somebody was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don't have any surface noise. I said, "Listen, mate, *life* has surface noise."

If there's one thing that music lovers from 16 to 70 can agree on it's that John Peel was the greatest DJ ever to bestride the earth.

Universally deified by his colleagues, the music industry and his generation after generation of fans the man was a colossus. he fuelled the Beatlemania in the states, he broke punk in the UK, he gave the Smiths their first national airplay, as he did with Pulp, The Small Faces, The Sex Pistols, Orbital, Underworld, The Cure, The Clash, The Damned, New Order, The Cocteau Twins, The Pixies and on and on and on.

I discovered John in 1987, I was 14 . At the time I was listening to Pat Sharpe on Capital Radio in the evening and I think in a belligerent teenage strop I decided that i'd had enough of Rick Astley and switched to Radio 1. It wasn't a station I listened to. At the time it was in the depths of the Dave Lee Travis, Tony Blackburn, Steve Wright era. Mike Reid acted as moral arbiter of the station by getting 'Relax' banned from the BBC altogether and generally it was the antithesis of what it originally set out to be. Peel's view was thus:

''People like Mike Read and DLT would often complain that they couldn't go anywhere without being recognized, but of course would go everywhere in a tartan suit carrying a guitar, so they would have attracted attention in a lunatic asylum. In the streets of London, people would go, "Who the fuck is that? Isn't that that Mike Read bloke?"

However, I switched on to Radio 1 one evening and the first tune I heard him play was Nimrod's Son by the Pixies. Now oddly this was a band my Dad was involved with, but Dad tended to keep work as work so I had no idea - that was until I realised that actually he was working with 4AD, at which point I badgered him to bring home every record, t-shirt and gig ticket I could get my hands on - that's gone on now for just shy of 20 years.

Anyway that first show, as lots of Peel fans will tell you was magical. Undeniably it was hard work to listen to - on his Top of the Pops debut he opened the show with the line ''In case you're wondering who this funny old bloke is, I'm the one who comes on Radio 1 late at night and plays records made by sulky Belgian art students in basements dying of TB'' - that mix of death metal, bluegrass, New Orleans Jazz, Experimental electronic and everything else you could ever wish to hear made for an often confusing listen, but without fail each night he'd play an absolute gem, if not 8 or 9 gems. He's still the only DJ I know who'd play a whole album on one show if he thought it was good enough and also the only DJ I know who'd play what appeared to be 12 seconds of horrendous feedback and then cut in with the words 'that was three new tracks by Napalm Death'

Somehow he managed to stay at the cutting edge of every genre that made it's appearance, he was first into punk, new wave, acid house, hip hop. It's where I first heard NWA and Public Enemy, it's where I first heard Chime by Orbital, Shelia Take a Bow by The Smiths who by then were massive but who I hadn't yet been introduced to. However the tune that resonates for me most was French Kiss by Lil Louis. Now I was a South London boy right at the heart of the M25 rave scene, well the Clapham Common chill out scene anyway. There were dozens of pirate radio stations playing acid house and US Garage and pure House and early German and Dutch trance, yet it was Peel who I heard play French Kiss first. I remember being at a party a week or so later and someone else dropping it and I turned round to all my mates with that wide eyed excitement going 'listen to this, listen to this, this is fucking amazing' and of course it was and when you're 16 that orgasmic breakdown does wonders.

Anyway enough of that crap, John Peel was a legend and quite rightly Radio 1 appear to have given over the anniversary of his final broadcast to an annual John Peel day.

I cried good and hard when I heard of his death. He gave me a love of a music that will never leave me. He should have lived longer, however if you're going to go early, dropping down dead on your dream Peruvian holiday is not a bad way to go. As John may well have said himself "Sorry - that was supposed to go on another 20 years, according to the timings I have here".

RIP John.


Les Paul Junior said...

I'm fairly sure that the British music scene owes a lot to John Peel. It just wouldn't have been the same without him and there's not many people you can say that about.

Paul said...

I was 13 (1973) when I first listened to JP - I've mentioned it on my blog today.

He did make some mistakes with his choices but generally he was very good.

Rupe said...

John Peel would have loved your appreciation of him Six.

I didn't realise you that you are so young.

Six Years Late said...

Rupe something in that answer makes me think you've met him. You haven't photographed him by chance have you.

Six Years Late said...

Paul, yep he had his faults but it's a bit like criticising Pele for missing from the halfway line.

Paul said...

I agree.

I remember the day after he died people on the MSG boards sharing memories and it was great that besides all the usual suspects a lot of people had been turned on to Ivor Cutler by Peely.

Curmy said...

He lived near us in Suffolk. He was never really a favourite of mine, but I was very sad when he died.

Rupe said...

Six, yes I did meet meet him. Such a long time ago, he was a really good guy, but I never photographed him

Unfortunately at that time, I knew exactly nothing about music scene.
Not that I know much now.

I had to go to photograph Johnny Marr ages ago.....I had plenty of time to find out who he was, (don't faint) I bought Smiths recordings and read a good book about them, and how they broke up, so I knew a bit before I went to meet him. He was a honeybunch.
And of course I loved their music.

Although this has nothing to do with anything, I went to Dorchester Hotel with Philip Norman
to meet The Beach Boys.
The most peculiar, wonderful , strange, 4 hours. Philip has often written about this experience. I have a print here, one day I'll put it on my blogette and describe what happened.

Rupe said...

That photo' you have of John Peel is very good, where did you find it?

Augustus said...

This resonates with me so much Six. I shed a few tears when i heard of his death. He was just a musical giant and a gentle one at that. I can't begin to guess just how much impact he had on me personally but its immense. I heard This Charming Man on Peel first, Radiohead for the first time, Sonic Youth, the Fall, a hundred others.

After I got divorced I started to listen to him again and I emailed him to say I was back after almost 12 years and he hadn't changed and he was still the best by a country mile and he read it out with a terse "Welcome back this is..." and went into some God forsaken African weirdness. A real highlight for me to hear him mention my name. A loss to music so profound it's impossible to overestimate it.

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