John Peel Day - 12th October 2006
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When I got to speak to Radio 1’s Huw Stephens (who was one third of the BBC’s orginal John Peel replacement along with Rob da Bank and Ras Kwame), he told me, “John was like air… he was always around.” And he was and is many way he still is, whether it be turning up as a taking head on the TV as a ‘Grumpy Old Man’ or on the recent BBC4 documentary on The Fall (which was very good) or on compilations of the many bands that did sessions for any of his shows (like a Soft Machine series 1971-1974) or even a lady I met the other day reading his autobiography (she told me, “To be honest, I liked Home Truths more than his music”) or just in our thoughts and memories.
And there were always great cover versions, done with humour — a million miles away from all the earnest stuff I’d been listening to before. Still have a vivid memory of hearing echoes and rimshots coming out of a plastic tranny in the kitchen as I did the washing up in Selly Oak….God bless ya John, we need you more than ever now
Inspired by Mixmaster Morris (another Soft Machine fan) with his John Peel memories of last year, I’ve gathered just a few thoughts on the great man from some of our contributors.
The highlight was finding out the Judy Dyble and Jackie McAuley’s band Trader Horn has a John Peel connection. Judy tells me, “Jackie and I had formed a duo between us but we hadn’t been able to come up with a name. As I had known John through my time with Fairport Convention, I contacted him to have a chat and probably a cuppa.
While chatting I was bemoaning the loss of the stereo electric autoharp which I had had to leave behind with Fairport when I left and he very kindly offered to buy me the only other electric autoharp that was available in England at the time, a mono one, that I still have and have recently had restrung and that still sounds like a dream.
He also suggested that we call our band after his old nanny, Trader Horne, well documented in his recent autobiography. It seemed to be suitably off-the-wall idea for a band name and so Jack and I became ‘Trader Horne’.”
Judy has started recording and singing again after 35 years being out of the music business, “I wanted John to hear the new CD, so I emailed him at the BBC where I discovered that he was on holiday for a couple of weeks in South America… I thought I’d contact him again when he returned from his holiday, but alas… so sad! What a goody he was.”
Earlier this year, One Deck Pete of Madtone was telling me how the track ‘Inner Space’ got on Nick Luscombe’s Flo-Motion Volume 2 compilation. “That was thru Raul in Estonia who did the remix and gave it to Nick Luscombe when he was playing at one of his nights in Tallin. Raul (Saaremets) is the (sort of) John Peel of Estonia and I met him thru a sort of “appeal” John Peel did on his show wanting people to send music, fanzines, tapes etc to Estonia years ago.”
Still in Europe, looking back at those sleeve notes to the Quintessence album mentioned in the review of the ‘Hot As Hel!’ 12”, Gilles Peterson says, “The first job I ever had where I got paid was with John Peel on Radio Mafia (Finland). I was only 20 years old and he told me a lot about the interest in cutting edge music that there was coming out in Finland, we were constantly searching for stuff.”
Don’t forget, there’s also Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide ‘The John Peel Play More Jazz Award’ to think about.(approaprstrely won by Soil & ‘Pimp’ Sessions last year; “F****ing crazy Japanese jazz cats”).
So that’s a few instances where the old hippy Peel was prepared to help folks out when he could. Proceeds from the 40 track John Peel: A Tribute compilation that came out last year went to some of John’s favoured charities: the Salvation Army, East Anglia’s Childrens’ Hospices, and Kariandusi School Trust, Kenya. The variety of the tracks picked by Peel’s widow Sheila and their four children, with particular input from his son Tom Ravenscroft. Said the family: “A wonderful tribute to John and his music. This is only the tip of the iceberg of the bands and music he championed.”
Nowhere else could you’d find Fairport Convention’s ‘Meet On The Ledge’ followed by all time favourite, ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus’ by Captain Beefheart. Following on from that theme, Glyn ‘Biggabush’ Bush told me, “Peel introduced me to so many of the bands I’ve known and loved since I was a teenager, Black Sabbath, Henry Cow, Egg (not The Egg, just Egg), Roxy Music, David Bowie, all those sounds of the 70s. When I left home and moved to Birmingham I started to get exposed to less prog/rock and more kind of urban music, going to post-punk/new wave gigs and hearing those short sharp songs from bands like the Slits, Delta 5, Pop Group, Prag Vec. Gradually, the missing piece of my musical education started to filter through: Dub. The thing I remember most about the reggae tunes Peel used to play was they always had a crazy mad drum fill which gave no clue whatsoever as to the tempo of the track. That’s how it seemed to me at the time anyway. And there were always great cover versions, done with humour — a million miles away from all the earnest stuff I’d been listening to before. Still have a vivid memory of hearing echoes and rimshots coming out of a plastic tranny in the kitchen as I did the washing up in Selly Oak….God bless ya John, we need you more than ever now.”
Although I still enjoy, Jo Whiley saying that of her time hosting the Glasonbury Festival TV coverage with Peel, she would be enthusing about the main acts while Peel would say (off air of course), “F*** Radiohead, I’m off to see Kanda Bongo Man (who was at Bestival in the Huw Stephens tent). Huw Stephens was saying his new show which aims to promote unsigned bands with sessions and new label features continues the Peel legacy.
Dr. Rubberfunk’s new album Life At 33 is coming out soon and his John Peel moment was a little like mine. He says, “I only met him once — I was dropping some new records in his pigeon hole at Radio 1 (back in my radio plugging days) when he suddenly appeared next to me and said something like “Anything good for me?” I was caught on the hop a bit, despite not generally being the star struck type, and so I mumbled something about the records I was leaving for him, which he took and went on his way. Of course later I thought of lots of witty things I could have said, like ‘Yes, they’re all great, and even better at the right speed ..’ that sort of thing, but I was too late. I saw him at a few Radio 1 events, but never got to have a proper chat with him…”
That was so similar to my experience when I met Peelie. By coincidence New Order were playing the Bournemouth International Centre Monday (tickets £35.00) with an after party at the Young Knives gig at the Opera House. I think we know where John would have gone even if New Order were one of his all-time favourite bands.
Last year’s John Peel Day was a bit strange for me but with such a Fly hectic week so far, I think I’ll just listen to the radio tonight. Just sad there’s no JP to listen to. John, we all miss you lots.
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