John Peel: A Life In Music

Just finished this book, by Michael Heatley and have come to the conclusion that, should the body of work exist to support such an endeavour, I could happily read about John Peel for the rest of my life.

I say happily – I get the most jumbled mixture of feelings when reading about Peel, ranging from nostalgia for the late 80s, gratefulness that someone like him ever existed and dread for what the music world could descend into in its post-Peel state, all underscored by an aching sadness that he’s gone, and disappointment that I never met him. (He did walk past me once, outside Broadcasting House – maybe I should’ve stopped and said something. I think I was probably lost for words though…)

I can’t think of the death of anyone else that I haven’t actually met that has affected me as much – the more I think about it, the clearer it is what an influence listening to his show had on me in Berwick in the late 80s/early 90s. You’d have to spend a good couple of years in Berwick, without the internet or freeview, to fully understand the significance.

And the weird thing with Peel – and a testament to his broadcasting uniqueness – is that they can’t rebroadcast his shows. It wasn’t about ‘legacy’ music, or playing ‘classics’. It was about playing what grabbed him now. As much as i’d love to listen again to those shows from the late 80s, filled with Cud and Bongwater, Napalm Death and the Bhundu Boys, The Pixies and Marta Sebastian, Kanda Bongo Man and BoltThrower, they aren’t what Peel would play now, and repeating them isn’t what he was about. When Ronnie Barker died, his legacy was palpable, celluloid, archived and repeatable. Peel’s is wrapped up in the experimentation of hundreds of thousands of bands through the last 50 years, inspired to say ‘bollocks to convention’ and try something new, something that mattered. You can’t turn that into a retrospective series, beyond getting endless bands to say ‘yup, without Peel, I’d be driving a van’. And they queued up to do so when he died. Genuine tributes to the man who handed them a career.

In this book, I’m reminded of how so many of those people that I listen to, so much of the music I love was launched on listener’s ears by Peel. Just about every non-jazz influence I have can be traced back to Peel’s patronage.

Anyway, it’s a fine book – read ‘Margrave Of The Marshes’ first, but get this one to fill in a lot of the geeky musical info.

2 Replies to “John Peel: A Life In Music”

  1. Glad you liked it! It was nearly the hardback you got but I was feeling a bit stingy that day. My favourite quote was this bit:

    “Not only was he capable of reassessing the past, he was never going to get to a certain age and become one of those people who decide that they know what they like and like what they know.”

  2. yes, thanks so much for giving me the book, Andrew – I really should’ve thanked you in the first post, so apologies there.

    As one of the few close friends I have who were played on Peel’s show, I count you as a hero of mine. :o)


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