John Peel 1939 - 2004
John Peel really did help make me what I am today. It was listening from beneath the sheets to the illicit sounds that he played between 10 and midnight that informed and built my musical tastes, which in turn influenced my views on politics, literature and probably everything else. More than this, in the desolate years of teenage angst, his calming tones made him seem like a true friend, someone who could pull you through anything.
And this continued right to the end.
I can't explain how proud I felt when he played the records we put out but I do clearly remember the first time this happened. I was working on a kids camp in Yorkshire, driving a minbus full of children, dozing to late night radio, back from the cinema. The other volunteers, miostly students, took this rare opportunity to ask me about my life. I went on about being a part time teacher and then the musical stuff. I don't think they believed me when I said I ran a record label - so bang on cue Peel intoned in his inimitable way 'And this is the debut release from Miss Black America from Bury St Edmunds on Cambridge's R*E*P*E*A*T Records...' The students believed me after that.
Everyone connected with R*E*P*E*A*T has continually valued his support for new music and his oh so cool disregard for fads and fashion gurus. But above all we got the feeling, as Greg says below, that he cared!
This was made obvious with one abiding memory. Peel introduced his programme on the night on the Monday after the Hillsbrough Football Disaster and broke down crying, managing only to get out the words "I never knew that I could feel so strongly for people I didn't even know."
Now I know how he felt.
Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T, 26.10.04
Now here's some people who knew him better:
A tribute to John Peel, from Greg McDonald, songwriter/singer with The Dawn Parade
John was that rarest of things: someone who really cared. Someone who gave a damn. Someone with soul. Nobodys given more to British music.
Maybe ear splitting hardcore wasnt your thing. Maybe nine minute slabs of dub werent your thing. But you couldnt deny what the guy meant to people.
And to the like of us a struggling indie band from a little town in East Anglia, touring the UK in a Nissan Primera John Peel meant everything. John played every record we released, and The Dawn Parade recorded two Peel sessions. After the session, we talked about the number of letters John received from bands, and he became genuinely melancholy for a moment, describing how he understood how much hope was contained in each package. A band is a struggle; music is a struggle; the world is a struggle; you just felt John Peel was on your side.
Struggles give birth to folk wisdom, and the indie music world, as a great, cacophonous Struggle In-Excelsis, overflows with the stuff. Ask anybody in a band and theyll tell you the following: an A&R man wouldnt know a killer riff if it beat him to death with a stratocaster; MTVs all gloss and no balls; the NMEs about hair cuts; radio stations just bin anything you send them. In the last few years Ive spent on tour with The Dawn Parade, in the back rooms of Britains pubs and clubs, where such wisdom flows like Red Stripe, the indie music world has positively radiated negativity. But you NEVER heard a bad word from anyone in a band about John Peel.
Why? Peel was a beacon. Champion of punk; reggae; hip-hop; the Radio One DJ who played the same song twice in a row. John Peel had wit and John Peel had integrity. And John had something even more than integrity he had Soul.
A John Peel story, remarkable precisely for its unremarkability: The Dawn Parades first single, Good Luck Olivia, was released on a record label I made up on the back of a beer mat in a Cambridge pub. We paid for it ourselves, did our own press and radio, booked our own tour. The record labels ignored their phones ringing. The press wouldnt touch us. John Peel didnt just listen, he played our song on national radio and it meant enough that wed phone a friend from 300 miles away in Scotland to ask if John had mentioned the gig. And now and then, hed phone up while we were on tour, just to see how things were going.
A year later, and The Dawn Parade are at Maida Vale Studios, about to play a live Peel Session. Im warming my voice up in the BBC toilets, singing scales, when John walks in, and advances to the urinal. Ive never spoken to the guy face to face before, and naturally I stop singing, but John insists I carry on, wonders if I could sing him a White Stripes tune maybe? Then he zips up, goes back to the controls and plays some trance. Or was it a grind-core metal tune? Or was it that folksy Loudon Wainwright song? John was that rarest of things: someone who gave a damn. Someone who really cared.
Someone with soul. In 2004, the music industry can give birth to baby gods in time for the Christmas singles boom and discard them like dead turkeys before twelfth night, but this one quality Soul - it cant imitate, brand and manufacture, and Peel had as much musical soul as anyone who ever lived. John Peel was number one, and he lives on in all the music hes inspired.
This from Seymour Glass, Miss Black America
I was just about to send this mail out out when I heard John Peel had died. I feel like anything I'm going to write will be completely futile and sound completely mawkish, but I don't think it would be over-the-top to say I feel like I've lost a family member, and judging by the reaction of everyone, in the World, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. John Peel gave Miss Black America, along with, at last count, 40 million other bands, our first break by playing our debut EP back in May 2001 (Gish, our then guitarist, got hold of his home address and we wrote him a nice letter), and continued to support us; he turned up to see us play live, gave us 2 sessions, played all our subsequent singles and album tracks, invited us to play Nottingham Sound City in 2002 and send us to Holland to play live on the radio all over Europe at 2003's Groningen Eurosonic Norderslag Festival. We tried to pay him back by sending him postcards and letters when we were on tour and thanking him and thanking him and thanking him wherever possible, which seemed to surprise him more than anything. I don't think many people realise this, but if he hadn't heard from you for a while he'd ring you up to find out what you were up to, which treated you to the somewhat surreal experience of having John Peel telling you stories on your OWN FUCKING TELEPHONE. I bet Zane Lowe doesn't do that. In fact, I bet no-one else does that.
I'm sure you'll read and hear the same things over and
over again in the papers, about how he was a lovely, lovely bloke who
refused to let cynicism or ego get in the way of an amazing passion
for music and a desire to share it with the World; and they'll all be
true. So I'll just tell you about the last time he rang me, and we got
talking about punk, and the Sex Pistols, and told me about the time
in the late seventies when he and another Radio One DJ were sat outside
a cafe in Waterloo Station, eating pizza, when they noticed Steve Jones
from the Pistols and a bunch of punk hangers-on looking hard at some
benches nearby. Jones clocked Peel sat there, said something to his
associates, and walked over to where Peel was sitting. "Excuse
me, mate," said Jones, "I think you're a cunt."
He also told me he'd been asked to appear on "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here", but turned them down on the grounds that he a) didn't want them to kill him on television, and b) no-one would be that bothered about a "Z-list celebrity like me". At the time, I thought it was funny that he didn't know how many people not only liked and respected him, but genuinely cared about him too. He'd probably find all this kind of thing quite funny, especially me saying that I don't know about you, but I fucking loved the bloke. John Peel, RIP.
Here's Dom from Cosy Cosy, another R*E*P*E*A*T band to be played on the radio by John Peel:
"Good old Peely, we miss you. Cosy Cosy"
Here's Sarah of Pop Art and one time R*E*P*E*A*T band Alcopop, who also had their ep played by John Peel.
I grew up defying curfews to listen to Peel under the Duvet and I learnt a lot more from that than I ever did from the Humanities lessons I yawned my way through as a result of it. While Alcopop might not be up there with the Greg McDonalds and Seymour Glass of this world, Im still really proud (and smug) that I was a part of the first R*E*P*E*A*T band to get played by Sir John of Peel. We were lucky to have him and Im really going to miss him.
Imagining the funeral now .
Could you please turn to pages 1977 & 1978 for the offertory hymn of Teenage Kicks.
Memories of John Peel, his show and the man himself by Attila the Stockbroker
1982. A mate of mine, Red Saunders, had just released my first EP Rough
Raw and Ranting on his Radical Wallpaper label. He was keen. I
was sceptical. Poetry on a record? Whos going to buy that?
Peelie played that EP to death. Not long afterwards, he gave me my
first session. Travelled up to London, had a few beers with the great
man, an absolutely lovely bloke. Talked about our football allegiances
of course. After it was broadcast I got a deal with Cherry Red Records
and a few months later he invited me to do another session.
The following year, 1984, of course, we did it again - 2-0 at the Goldstone. More machine gunned seagulls! That summer I was wandering across a field at Glastonbury. It was absolutely pissing down. I saw him making a beeline for me. You bastards he said You did it again!
Those memories will live as long as I do.
For many years he almost single-handedly championed new & challenging music in the U.K. Through his radio sessions he allowed unknown & unsigned bands to be heard for the first time. Through his work with the BBC World Service he brought some of those same bands to a Worldwide audience. On the few occasions I was fortunate enough to meet him I found him to be a witty but quite shy man who was completely unimpressed by the "razzmatazz" of the music industry but who could instantly lay his hands on any obscure single you could mention hearing on his show whilst in your teens.
My teens were when Peel was most important to me I guess: the local radio stations wouldn't play any "Punk Rock" cos they thought it "wasn't music". One night in frustration I started tuning the dial & suddenly - Bang! - there it was; I caught the end of an Elvis Costello track, heard the dry, slightly droney voice that followed & I was hooked. A whole new world opened up - stuff that you would never get to hear anywhere else. & it was fun! It wasn't dry & academic - the monologues that invariably followed each song were often as entertaining as the tracks themselves (sometimes more so).
In a world that is becoming ever more homogenised & pre-programmed John Peel stuck up for the "sore thumbs" of the music scene & I really can't think of anyone who could have done it better or who's going to do it now he's gone. I will miss him greatly & my utmost sympathy goes out to his friends & family.
"It was because of him I got to hear some of the most obscure but influential music I ever heard.
"He was a lifeline to hearing music I would never have heard otherwise. The service he provided was getting to hear music that you couldn't buy in Cardiff. He was a portal to a whole new world."
James Dean Bradfield, Manic Street Preachers
"He was a very funny, very warm man and we will always be grateful for what he did for The Undertones.
"Personally, I find it incredible what he did for the band and we always got huge pride out of the fact that he said Teenage Kicks was his favourite single.
"He always had his finger on the pulse of the music industry and the fact that Radio 1 played the Undertones, the White Stripes and the Strokes today showed just how relevant he remained throughout his career."
Michael Bradley, Undertones
Lots of other pop star tributes here