Tribute to John Peel

3 Conversations

There's an envelope lying on the floor of my room. Technically there are 10 of them, all with CDs in and biogs folded, waiting for photos to be added and then for them to be sent off to press, labels or luminaries within the music industry. What is special about one of the envelopes, though, was it was the only one that was addressed. It will surprise nobody that the first person I wanted to send the CD to was John Peel.

'Who am I going to listen to now? I'm thinking about you'
Thom Yorke – Radiohead.

I grew up with the radio, my parents listened to radio 4, and I knew voices and imagined the faces. I listened to the radio while we drove, while I worked and as I lay in bed. For years I always managed to catch Letter From America with Alistair Cooke, him talking to me became a part of my life. I think that in terms of broadcasters, only one person could reach me as much as the late Mr Cooke. While John deal shared the honesty and dignity, the dedication to his job and audience, as well as the passion for what he did with Cooke, John Peel always came over as open and friendly, he just one of us.

'... he was very warm and friendly. I never got over the thrill of being able to call John Peel a friend.'
Mark Radcliff – The Shirehorses and BBC Radio DJ.

I was sitting at my desk, at work, flicking between doing something constructive (rewriting my personal space), something diverting (band message board) and something tedious (w*rk) when a message was posted up on the message board - Crap... :shock: with a link to the BBC. Tributes such as 'RIP Peely, you were a true music guru', 'I really feel very deeply saddened by this, it's a long time since I shed tears over the death of someone I'd never met. Lost for words.' and '... never knowing what was going to happen on his show was such a wonderful thing. I will really really miss him, I feel like I've lost an uncle.' flooded in during the afternoon onto our board.

'... the single most important broadcaster we have ever known'
Feargal Sharkey - The Undertones.

For those reading his outside of the UK, who perhaps have never heard of John Peel, there is little I can say about what he has done for music throughout the world that hasn't been repeated more elegantly elsewhere on the Beeb, and on the web. Basically, without John Peel, this world would not be anywhere near as colourful as it is now. Millions of people would have never heard African music, reggae, blues, folk, industrial thrash if it hadn't been for his Radio 1 show. Bands from across the world sent in CDs to Peel, hoping that he's hear them, play them or even invite them to a session. And it didn't matter what you played, the greatness of Peel was that he had such a wide appreciation of music that if you had talent he would find it and tell the world.

'John Peel stuck up for the 'sore thumbs' of the music scene and I really can't think of anyone who could have done it better or who's going to do it now he's gone.'
Javis Cocker – Pulp

He was the last of the original line up of Radio 1's DJs and it was because of his love of new music that he was still able to appeal to the audience when other DJs were leaving the corporation or being shifted off to other channels. To tell the truth; now, almost 12 hours after the news, I am still thinking about the loss. Looking at the list of people who John Peel helped break is enough to make you wonder what the British music industry is going to do now.

'He was one of the few people to give bands that played alternative music a chance to get heard, and he continued to be a champion of cutting-edge music throughout his life.'
Bernard Sumner – Joy Division, New Order.

These are just some names that have Peel to thank for their careers, David Bowie, Joy Division, New Order, White Stripes, Pulp, Blur, Marc Bolan, Captain Beefheart, The Fall, The Smiths, U2, Nirvana, The Velvet Underground, Roxy Music, Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, The Clash. Imagine if these acts had never made it, there would be no invention in music, just one clone after another. On top of this, of course, are The Undertones, whose single Teenage Kicks was the only song to break Peel's strict star marking system.

'His view is that he was a unique voice in British broadcasting and used that voice to unearth new talent and different subjects and make them accessible to a much wider audience'
Tony Blair - Guitarist

I think Peel became closer his audience because he opened up his house to us, broadcasting from within its walls. Peel Acres had to be extended just to house his records. On his radio and television programmes he talked openly about his family; perhaps he was the model for men who want to be in touch with their feelings. I found his voice relaxing and reassuring, like an old friend. He had no DJ bravado, even though he is possibly the only DJ ever to have warranted it. Like millions of music fans, we felt we knew John Peel. We have lost one of our family.

'You have to have trust with a DJ, and everyone built that trust with John.'
Steve Lamacq – Radio 1 DJ

More and more radio stations are playing their songs straight from a file sent over a network from a central play list somewhere, there is no spontaneity, and there is no opportunity to play the record at completely the wrong speed. These are what John Peel should be remembered for. I'm dreading the coverage of Glastonbury1 this year, the highlights for me generally are the little anecdotes from a brightly anorakked John Peel sitting on a haystack.

'He was a lifeline to hearing music I would never have heard otherwise.'
James Dean Bradfield – Manic Street Preachers

So I stopped on my way home, a white van had parked up in the empty car park behind the shops in Withington. Litter flicked with the wind across the puddles, but everything else was still. There was just me, the driver and his passenger. The windows were open and the radio was loud, and playing out was The Undertones – Teenage Kicks. I stood there for the length of the song, likewise the driver and passenger sat there. Perhaps the band itself and the song are not Peel's legacy, but every single band who has tried to be heard by a listening nation. Ladies and Gentlemen, if you have a band, a song, a sound, then record it, sent it, get out there and play it. If John Peel meant one thing, it was that there are people who want to hear what you play; there is somebody out there so please get out there and show the world.


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