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.