john peel

When people pass away, they’re invariably described as being ‘unique’. While this rather trite observation can easily be applied to anyone who tumbles off this mortal coil (with the rare exception of Dolly The Sheep, perhaps), it does appear to carry some real weight where John Peel is concerned. For a start, he was probably the only person in the World to be a fan of The Bhundu Boys and Bum Gravy.

I met John Peel once. I was working at a radio station, and we’d invited him to guest on a show. This in itself was unusual enough; a rival broadcaster appearing on a station which, to all intents and purposes, was competing for the same audience. The fact that both parties were happy for this to happen was a measure of the man, and to compound the unusual nature of the occasion John turned up half-an-hour early, and by himself. In a business filled with gargantuan egos most usually accompanied by PR lackies and other hangers-on, John rolled up alone, knocked on the door, put his feet up and sat down with a cup of tea.

Like anyone in the UK serious about music, I’d gone through a Peel phase, huddled obsessively next to the radio eagerly awaiting the next session track from Head of David or Prong. I’d even been present at the recording of a couple of Peel sessions, and fully expected to fill the time until he went on air by boring him with questions about The Four Brothers and Bolt Thrower, and why the BBC studios at Maida Vale were used more often for recording bands than those at Golders Green. Instead we talked about religion, and then death. To this day I’ve got no idea how the conversation developed along these lines, but it ended with John saying how he didn’t believe in any sort of afterlife, that such a thing would invalidate the very point of living. If there’s more when you’re gone, why hang around? Why not cut out the middleman and get straight on with the cherubs and fruit trees and waters of life? Every moment of our time on Earth was there to be experienced and, above all, savoured.

Now I don’t expect for a moment that this offers any great insight into the personality of the man, and I’m not really sure what point I’m trying to prove. Or even if I have one. But the conversation stayed with me. Peel was a bumbling, loveable and, it seemed to me, contented fellow; someone who’d lived a life he probably wouldn’t change a moment of, and who knew precisely how lucky he was to have done so.

Of course, if he’s wrong, and there is a house band in Heaven, I hope they’re playing Ukrainian Electro Death Dub. And if they’re not? Then he’ll probably find one that does.


  1. I probably speak for 1000’s of others by saying I probably would never have started a fanzine or a band, let alone heard the bands I did during the 80’s crapfest if it weren’t for Peel.

  2. i’ve been reading eulogies for the last 24 hours or so now. one of my favourites has been this. what you wrote reminded me of it….

    “If I’m still enjoying new music and wandering about blissfully enthusiastic at Glastonbury when I’m 65, then my life will have been a success!”

    i had one of those conversations with the man. i was supposedly interviewing him about swedish music and we got onto childhood and all sorts of personal things. listening back to it afterwards was like having my own personal john peel show. an honour.

  3. Back in the days when releasing 7″ singles by unknown, and reasonably untalented, US hardcore bands seemed a viable proposition I spotted the great man at that years Glastonbury shindig. Grasping the opportunity my mate and I awkwardly approached to give thanks for his support, and quite frankly, his existence… After skirting my quite obvious shambling hero worship he promptly dispatched longtime cohort ‘The Shend\’ from The Very Things (surely a thread in itself) to buy us each a beer. I was 19. From Droitwich. John Peel, who we’d met literally minutes previously, was buying us beer… Christ on a bike.

    With only a couple of chairs in the whole tent we sat at the feet of Messers Ravenscroft & Shend. I quite vividly recall thinking the scene must have had some kind of biblical theme. Hesitant chit chat ensued for a while before a young William Ravenscroft appeared to interrogate his old man as to the clean towel situation within the Peel tent-household. Sent packing with a verbal clip round the ear, including numerous and quite shocking extremely non-BBC ‘phrases\’, Mr Peel launched into “I\’m sure it\’s just an age thing but our William seems an almost constant source of embarrassment to me lately. Just the other night I was sat at home watching some god awful late film and he wanders into the room, seats himself in the chair next to me and starts nodding off. It\’s almost 2am and he\’s quite obviously shattered so I say to him “Son, it\’s late. There\’s a direct link between sleep and fatigue so why don\’t you get yourself to bed. To which he replied “Come on Dad you know if I go to bed now I\’m only gonna masturbate”

    What a great man. Utterly peerless.

  4. On tuesday we spent the afternoon telling our ‘when i met John Peel’ stories. I can’t believe how many people I know met the man and every story is funny / heart warming. I met him at Reading festival, with my best friend Tabitha – who likes to shout alot when she’s had a few… we see Peelie walking past us in the backstage area, so she shouts out ‘oi John, y’beardy bastard, come over here’. He smiled and walked over to us. I asked him if he’d played our 7″ we’d sent him a month or so before. he said he had and told us when and what he’s thought of it. What a lovely beardy bastard he was. A sad loss.

  5. i would just like to say the guy who runs “Mr CD’s” in berwick street is a cunt.

  6. Met him at Anfield a few times, I hope his only regret is wearing that Everton shirt on room 101. Oh, and The Fall.

    He played my record once, just the once mind.

  7. I was working at Maida Vale BBC studios one day and John Peel turned up for a session in a taxi. I was sitting on the front step having a fag and wanted to berate him for not letting me ever have an early night during those really wierd times when I was changing from a child to an adult (kind of).

    I didn’t dare talk to him. How can you talk to a god? He was my late night musical god. I was there scribbling down his track listings.

    My best Mate thinks that all the bands who were supported or found by God Peel should do a benefit gig, all the money should go towards establishing the John Peel Foundation for New Music.

    I don’t think that the Great Man would complain, and I don’t think the bands would….

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