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 Everett True

John Peel would have been 72 today

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John Peel

A colleague just reminded me on Facebook that British DJ John Peel would have celebrated his 72nd birthday today. In commemoration, I thought I’d reprint this editorial from Plan B Magazine #3 mainly because it feels like I miss him even more now then I did then. A rare kindred spirit.

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Just heard the news about John Peel.

Don’t know what to write. I’m gutted. I saw him on Room 101 a year back, and he was talking about his fear of death. It left a deep impression on me. He was scared. I could so relate. It made me so sad, seeing Peelie like that. I hope he resolved his fear before the end.

I don’t know what to say. It’s undeniable that Peel’s influence and enthusiasm brightened up my own life, and that of thousands of my friends and loved ones. I never envied him, always admired him: felt that just once – just for one time – someone from our side had managed to slip through and infiltrate the mainstream. That he followed his own path was undeniable, that he continued to follow it, uncaring of what those with the power to make his life exceedingly difficult thought, was incredible. And he continued to follow his enthusiasm for music all the way through his life. He was also about the best presenter I think I ever heard on radio: I loved the way he’d um and ah, stumble over words, mumble and play records at the wrong speed, in a medium where glibness and smugness is prized above all.

And he was so funny!

Herein follow half-a-dozen gems that sprung up on the web within 24 hours of his death, showing his dry, understated wit:

“Ah, the sound of distant seagulls” – after hearing Morrissey’s falsetto wailing at the end of ‘What Difference Does It Make?’

“You know, Aretha Franklin can make any old rubbish sound good, and I think she just has” – after watching the video of the Aretha Franklin/George
Michael duet, presenting Top Of The Pops.

“He’s a dickhead in love” – talking about Robert Palmer, same programme.

About Simple Minds: “Well, that was the most exciting video I’ve seen since teatime. Mind you, I did have a late tea.”

About Pete Wylie’s Mighty Wah!: “If that doesn’t make Number One, I shall come and break wind in your kitchen.”

About Josh Wink’s ‘Higher State Of Consciousness’: “I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that sounded better when I played it the other night, at the wrong speed.”

Like all of my generation, Peel was omnipresent when I was a teenager (late Seventies). His radio show was a lifeline for those of us not based in London: the only place one could hear all those records argued over with such passion in the music press each week. There was nowhere else – no Internet, no cable TV and no deregulated radio stations. No record stores, even. Like millions of others, I barely listened to his actual show. I didn’t need to: his taste informed everything around us. Early Eighties, I had a friend who’d make me tapes of Peel Sessions and let me know when a particular band would be on that night – Dolly Mixture, Strawberry Switchblade, Sophisticated Boom Boom. It must have been one of those years while Peelie was going through his punky girl group phase.

I can still remember the sheer disbelief followed by exhilaration upon hearing that John had played a white label of my first single on his show. He didn’t know what to make of it. He played it three times, and compared it to his then cult favourite, …And The Native Hipsters’ ‘Ooh, Look There Goes Concorde Again’. Man, we were excited. It remains one of the most magical moments of my life.

He was always there for us. No matter how crap radio and the press and festivals got during the Nineties and beyond, no matter how corporate and passionless the music industry got, it was so fucking reassuring to know there was someone like Peelie out there for us, holding his corner, never losing the thrill, forever seeking the new…

He gave us hope – not fake, not forced – in a life where hope is almost the most precious commodity of all.

It feels like some of the goodness and magic has gone out of life, never to return. Peelie didn’t give a shit for passing trends: all he dug was the music, the thrill of the new, one more brain-damaging haemorrhage-inducing blast of speed metal, of Fall B-sides or Marc Bolan or Bogshed or Sarah Records or Aswad or Joy Division or The Wedding Present or The White Stripes or The Slits or Beefheart or Static Caravan or Robert Wyatt or Undertones or Bonzo Dog or PJ Harvey or Girls At Our Best or This Heat or Swell Maps or Babes In Toyland or… I’m crying as I type these words.

We’ll miss you, John.

Everett True, October 2004

4 Responses to John Peel would have been 72 today

  1. Tamsin Chapman August 31, 2011 at 3:49 am

    The only famous person’s death that has ever made me cry. I cried for aboout an hour when the news came out. There has still been no-one to replace him

  2. hannah golightly August 31, 2011 at 4:42 am

    I met him in one night when I’d jumped the train to Liverpool from North Wales with nothing more than a bottle of Lambrini on me. I was determined to get into the Pavement gig despite having no money or ticket with my best friend who lived in the city. We met him by the stage door. We stepped out of his way to let him in and only saw the back of his head. We recognised him by his voice immediately. Shouting Mr Peel Mr Peel! at him. He came out and chatted to us. He said he didn’t think he could do anything to help us get in. We chatted some more and then he went into the BBC caravan and came out with hand written passes. Me and my friend didn’t know anything about Pavement other than that they’d shared a bill with Nirvana. We were seriously disappointed by the music that night… but meeting John Peel was amazing. He was so down to earth, friendly and modest and a little bit bashful. Me and my friend were massive fans of his show. I was planning to post him a cassette of my first album, but never got around to it. I knew he’d have liked it.

    Radio one did some IN NEW MUSIC WE TRUST slogan/campaign in his honour… but no one at radio one has his ear. They seem to play ‘any old’ new music, without a discerning ear for what is good. They wouldn’t know the value of something like Syd Barratt there if it was played to them on repeat. They give us fucking Vampire Weekend and shit like that. Maybe the problem with no decent music on the radio here in the UK is down to the loss of John Peel.

    er… Everett True. Any good at DJing on radios? I think the country needs you.

  3. chuck August 31, 2011 at 4:43 am

    amazing rock n roller – still trying to make sense of the contents of lists like this one – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Peel_sessions..
    so much music , so little time …

  4. Modal Roberts August 31, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I went through my teenage years listening to John Peel then a little later it was my privelege to twice go to the BBC Maida Vale studios to record sessions for his show. He always struck me as a complex person who sometimes felt uneasy in the role of a public figure and perhaps this is one reason why he often sought to portray himself as a simple man with plain everyman tastes. His oft stated belief that Teenage Kicks by The Undertones was his favourite ever record is an example of this. It has always seemed to me unlikely that he truly preferred this song to anything by The Fall,for example. It is a perfectly acceptable piece of punky pop but by no means a classic and the sort of thing you rapidly tire of the more you hear it. I even turned my musings on the subject into a song “In the Head of John Peel” which can be heard here http://vimeo.com/modalroberts/intheheadofjohnpeel Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying the man was a hypocrite or a liar but on the contrary I feel sad about how he constantly fretted that the BBC was planning to cut back or axe his show. When we remember him we shouldn’t make the mistake of simplifying or mythologising him because we need a hero, that was the type of attitude that sometimes made his life uncomfortable and perhaps led him wrongly to believe that he must keep up appearances if he was to retain our affection

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