Still can't believe he's gone

I know I’ve blogged about the death of John Peel before, but this evening I finally got to watch the back to back documentaries about him that were on a week or so ago (thanks Neil!!).

The first was various celebs who knew him talking about him post-death. The second one was a doc that was made for his 60th birthday – 5 years ago, and what really struck home was that then, when he was alive, he was getting more effusive accolades than most people get when they die. His influence on the UK music scene really is immeasurable. I have numerous records in my collection that would never have been there if it wasn’t for Peel – both those that I bought as I direct result of hearing the bands on his show (The Fall, The New FADS, The Pixies, etc.) and those who probably wouldn’t have reached the attention of the listening public if it wasn’t for his championing (The Smiths, Billy Bragg, Pulp, etc.)

Listening to Peel’s show in the late 80s told me that it was OK to have no boundaries on your listening. Thanks to Peel, I knew metal-heads who bought Ivor Cutler records, and I ended up owning a compilation album called ‘Hardcore Holocaust’, featuring bands like Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, The Electro Hippies and Dr And The Crippins!! The feeling that stylistic boundaries meant absolutely nothing permeated my record buying and my own music experimenting – I bought ACDC records and John Zorn records, Yes albums and Sade albums, Nick Heywards and Charles Mingus, The Fall and Mendelson… I had no boundaries to my listening at that time, and it did me no-end of good when it came to finding my own musical voice. I avoided the musical myopia that people learning instruments often get caught up in, playing along to The Cure and Stu Hamm, The Pixies and Olivier Messiaen.

A huge amount of that can be traced back to Peel and, as was noted in the documentary by Benjamin Zephaniah, the completely matter-of-fact way that he would introduce the most extraordinary music on the planet, juxtaposing hardcore punk with techno, reggae with folk, records from the 30s with electronica from Belgium, Japanese Pop with English protest songs.

I just can’t believe he’s gone. The hole it leaves in the middle of British music broadcasting landscape is crater-sized, with no chance of ever being filled. Johnny Marr commented in the doc that he was a total one off, and wasn’t even training up a protege. There really is no one that can fill that space, and the British radio airwaves will feel the lack of it for ever.

We were exceedingly lucky to have grown up with John on the airwaves – he championed just about everything that’s been intersting in music in the last 40 years. Rock ‘n’ Roll, hippie folk, prog, jambands, punk, hip-hop, electronica, rap, folk, hardcore, techno, indie, protest, african and utterly unclassifiable music. Radio formatting was shown to be the shallow market driven bollocks that it is.

And once again, the second documentary brought it all back to the pain of his wife and kids. Regardless of his legacy, they’ve lost a dad and a husband. I just hope and pray they find some comfort in the way he changed british music for ever.

Soundtrack – Nick Harper, ‘Double Life’; Gillian Welch, ‘Time (The Revelator)’; Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘Between Here And Gone’; Ani Difranco; ‘Little Plastic Castles’.

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