Thursday, 16 October 2008

Keeping it Peel

It's four years since the death of John Peel. There's lots and lots all over the internet about why he was held in such high regard by so many, expressed much better than I could. But here's a couple of my personal experiences.

I, like so many other people who grew up in the UK from the 1960s onwards, have fond memories of staying up late to listen to Peel's Radio 1 show, during which he'd play some of the most obscure and brilliant music there ever was. An awful lot of unlistenable crap too, but that was part of the charm. And it was all tied together with anecdotes and ramblings that were warm and witty and passionate and frequently better than the songs he played. My friends and I used to listen religiously back in our school days, and I recall an occasion when myself and some of my friends attempted to organise a night out by no other means than getting John Peel to read our messages to each other on national radio. Emails were still something of a novelty to Peel, back in the mid 90's, and we noticed that if we chucked in a few references to obscure bands he liked, he'd read out pretty much anything that we sent him. We were actually successful in getting him to organise for the entire group of us to meet at particular pub at a particular time purely by reading out our stupid messages to his audience of millions on Radio One. He seemed genuinely pleased to be able to help us arrange our evening. There weren't many DJs who'd offer that kind of personal service.

I never met Peel, but I saw him in person once. I spotted him at the side of the stage during Spiritualized's headline performance in the New Bands Tent at Glastonbury in 2004. It was clearly Peel's natural habitat - a stage for up and coming bands, and bands that belonged well outside of the mainstream. As far as I could gather, he'd stayed at the side of that stage all day, watching as many bands as he could. I was struck by how enthusiastic he still was about live music, despite having surely seen thousands of bands in his time. Four months later, he was dead, but by the time Glastonbury rolled round again, the following year, the New Bands Tent wasn't called the New Bands Tent anymore. It was called The John Peel Stage. Fitting.

He's greatly missed.

Listen: Mitch Benn's John Peel tribute

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