73 isn’t a particular number of note (his wife had a collection of 78s as I recall, or was it her pick of his 78s.. not sure..) but it is always worth celebrating the life of the man who in his own way fomented the eclectic tastes of so many of us and who, for people of a certain age (my age and older, I suppose) who lived out their student years before the so-called interweb, was sometimes the sole or at least the initial conduit into a world of music outside the traditional realms of Top of the Pops, although of course many of the musicians he gave an initial airing to would go on to be staples of such programmes.. but that’s another story.
Just as many today would scour music blogs and cheeky content sites trying to find interesting new-to-me music for no money, their counterparts of the 1980s (and before) would sit listening to John Peel’s programme at 10.00 pm on the one-time-wunnerful Radio One (“275 – 285, and stereo V-H-F”) with sweaty fingers paused over rec and play. Downloading a podcast from 6Music or listening to Zane Lowe or whoever on the iPlayer doesn’t really match up in the “magic memory” stakes, however fantastic Stuart Maconie’s musical taste is (and it is, believe me). And just as we would tape the songs off Peel’s programme (or in some cases, just leave the thing running and tape the whole programme), young men and women up and down the country would be inspired to start their own bands, record a demo tape and send it to the BBC for him to hear. Some with the idea of becoming professional musicians, others just keen to meet the approval of their revered tastemaker. Peel usually listened to these tapes in his car while driving to Broadcasting House, or wherever, and once quipped that he imagined many listeners imagined he would be more than happy to meet his maker in a road accident while trying to decipher a cassette inlay. Something he made quite clear was not the case!
Tapes were central to John Peel’s BBC shows, whether they were specially-recorded ones he received in the post from bands, African cassettes sent from foreign parts (like.. er.. Africa) or the cratefuls of TDKs and BASFs that were used to record his shows by listeners like me (and quite possibly by you as well).
Which leads on to the tapes themselves. Thanks to the web you’re reading this on now, collaborative projects like the fantastic John Peel Wiki compile months and months of Ravenscroft-selected broadcasts, from semi-muffled recordings of The Perfumed Garden and Top Gear (the pre-Clarkson, even pre-Woollard Top Gear – the “gear” in question probably being a drug reference than anything motor-related) where the great man spoke in what seems a fairly posh-but-weedy voice to crystal-clear digital DAB recordings in the 21st century… recordings of the wise-but-sufficiently-with-it-but-not-embarrassingly-so dad we never had or the one we would have liked to evolve into ourselves one day.
The equally wonderful John Peel Archive, who are currently working their way though Peelie’s “hallowed shelves” a hundred records at a time (100 records per letter, A-Z), have also been keeping their own collaborative documentation of those cassettes on which we tapers recorded Peel’s shows. I myself thought I was being incredibly original in calling one of my “taped off the radio” cassettes “Mixed Peel” until I saw that someone on the Peel Archive Pinterest page had posted photos of his own collection including one with the same name (along with an “Orange Peel”, an “Emma Peel” and so on).
So here are some of my “original” custom-made Festive Fifty cassette inlays from the mid to late 80s, my “golden era” of listening to John Peel. These were the days of photocopied fanzines, of Rotring pens and Letraset, of Pritt Stick and typewriters that jammed. A colour photocopy was a thing of wonder, and nobody owned their own printer. In fact, mention the word “printer” to a sixteen-year-old schoolkid in the 1980s and they’d probably think of orange xerox-mecca Prontaprint or Mr Munnings out of Trumpton.
Looking back on these lovingly-prepared covers (who said “sad bastard” back there?) I really don’t think I could have imagined making such an effort for any of Peel’s contemporaries, even though I regularly listened to Janice Long, Kid Jensen and Annie Nightingale (as well as Mike Allen on Capital and other stuff) and enjoyed most of the music. I no longer own a working tape recorder as various Walkmen, ghettoblasters and tape-to-tape separates have long given up the ghost. Occasionally I dip into the very programmes that live in the cases you see here, recorded by someone else at the same time I was listening (these shows – at least to my knowledge – were never re-broadcast on Radio One) and digitised by that same person or those same persons with more technical flair than myself.
Home taping didn’t kill music, you see. It saved it. For posterity.
Here are some links to some site with shows originally preserved on tape:
Now to start digging around for something for Keeping It Peel day, October’s not that far away!