A Fan's Notes
Even 48 hours later,
it feels like nothing will be the same again.
Like everyone who grew up taping one show, whose
ideas about the boundaries of listenability were stretched and shaped
by it, who found almost every band I ever really loved through it,
I can't imagine a world without John Peel.
For 40 years, British music was based on one
certainty. No matter how obscure, violent, atonal, amateurish or
plain deranged a record was, John Peel would play it. The obituaries
have fixed on his role as the great incubator of British rock'n'roll,
the first to play everyone from Hendrix to the White Stripes, the
springboard for punk and indie.
But at the core of the show were the songs he
played that never were picked up by the mainstream. Night after
night, year after year, you'd hear records, artists, labels and
whole genres that no-one else would ever play. For many bands -
some great, some dire - a Peel session was the apex of their career.
And if 40 years as the stubbornly eclectic voice
of the underground is why John Peel was so admired, his voice is
why we loved him. I can't remember a time before I heard it, rolling
out of my little transistor radio when I should have been asleep,
talking about his family, talking about Liverpool FC, and most of
all talking about music in a way I'd never heard; like it was part
of life and the point of life.
The show never changed: he'd play records, play
live sessions, then talk while he fumbled with the turntable, the
tape deck, the CD drive. At least once a show he'd cue the wrong
song, choose the wrong speed, start talking in a pause because he
thought a track was over. In 40 years he never mastered the basic
motor skills of the DJ, but that endless, gentle, amiable conversation
with the listener, along with the constant, awesome music, made
him unmissable. In later years, after I stopped being able to devote
6 hours a week to late-night radio, I'd catch a moment of the show
after the pub or before bed, half-expecting it to be stale, and
find myself shocked by a record, and laughing at one of his clumsy,
awkward jokes. For 20 years, he never failed to keep me listening
long after I meant to switch off.
And now he's gone. From today, young bands won't
have the hope of getting their demo played on radio 1, and The Fall
will, I guarantee, never get another spin on the BBC. And the shared
rite of passage into music that's shown every teenager that the
world is bigger than they could have imagined, that there really
is nothing more thrilling than the perfect new record - I don't
know where they'll find that now.