Seven years ago today saw a vast number of popular, seminal or struggling musicians and an even vaster number of music lovers around the world shed a tear over the unexpected death of an avuncular balding gentleman from the Wirral with various children named after vestiges of Liverpool Football club and a wife he fondly referred to as “the Pig”.
John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, better known as John Peel, was responsible for bringing artists as disparate as The Smiths, Bob Marley, Orbital, Bolt Thrower, The White Stripes, Public Enemy, PJ Harvey and The Bhundu Boys to a wider audience.
His late night BBC Radio One show, with its specially recorded sessions (which somewhat logically became known as Peel Sessions) had generations of spotty teenagers like myself waiting, fingers poised over the rec and play buttons of a radio cassette recorder, for the latest offering from The Fall or the latest import from far away, be it New York, Kinshasa, Nagoya or Brussels.
Although it was tempting to provide links to Peel Sessions by the holy trinity of my teenage years – namely The Cure, The Smiths and New Order, each of whom recorded at least a couple of Peel Sessions – or other much-loved Peel staples The Fall, Half Man Half Biscuit or The Wedding Present, you’re going to get another couple of personal favourites.
First up is another balding (now completely bald, but in the 1980s he was merely balding) fellow, from Stoke-On-Trent.
Ted Chippington. Ted by name and Ted by nature, Chippington dressed like a 50s Rock-n-Roller, brothel creepers and all. I was fortunate enough to see this legend of “top entertainment” in his prime and even purchase one of his “A Good Mate of Ted” badges afterwards. Deadpan before Jack Dee had bought his first suit, poker face before Lady Gaga was out of nappies, Ted was, at the time, a unique proposition: old style comedy coupled with the kind of 70s karaoke singalong one might encounter at a Brit-filled bar in Benidorm. But with his own personal touch, as seen in the following visualisation of his oeuvre below:
Peel played Ted’s first single “Non-Stop Party Hits of the 50s 60s and 70s” featuring Ted’s own spins on chestnuts such as “Hound Dog”, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” and “Rock around the Clock”, along with a first airing of his own composition “Rocking With Rita” and a wheel was set in motion.
An album, Man in a Suitcase, was released with a trucking theme to its sleeve and Peel’s nemesis Steve Wright (not the murderer, but the Radio One DJ) soon picked up on Ted’s masterful rendition of the Beatles’ “She Loves You”. Fame and fortune beckoned, with Ted even getting a TV spot on Pebble Mill at One. It used to be up on YouTube, but after a glance at this, some sourpuss has taken it down.
So here you can enjoy one of Ted’s trucker’s tales, set to music instead:
Other joys on this quintessential slice of alternative Midlands variety were a version of Russ Abbott’s cheesy wedding-disco anthem of the time – “Atmosphere” (the original of which Peel once memorably introduced on Top of the Pops as a Joy Division cover.)
Later, a version of “Rocking With Rita” was released with an all-star crew of labelmates from Vindaloo Records, meaning that Ted was accompanied by We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It (who had also released a Peel Session by then and who would later go on to bother the charts with radio hit “Pink Sunshine”) and The Nightingales. If I recall, Vindaloo Records rock was produced for the occasion, featuring the legend “Greetings from Ballsall Heath“.
A follow-up – “The Wanderer” was released in 1987 (where Ted revealed he was not the wandering type, but would rather spend a quiet night in “with the missus”). Shockingly, it did not set the UK Top 40 alight, and only made 28 on the indie charts.
By 1990, Ted had apparently had enough of the rock n roll lifestyle and retired from “the business” (allegedly) to become a trucker in the US, but abandoned this romantic career option when his lorry shed its load on the highway somewhere. After fleeing to Mexico to work as a cook (it says here) he returned to the UK, eschewing Stoke-on-Trent and Bank’s Bitter in favour of a house on the English Riviera.
Other soon-to-be-far-more-popular fledgeling comedians were later to take a leaf out of Ted’s book. As well as Jack Dee (who I mentioned earlier) Stewart Lee has often spoken of his love for Ted’s unique brand of entertainment, and even subsequently tracked him down at his Torquay abode to record this. His sometime sidekick Richard Herring was no less forthcoming in showing respect to Stoke-on-Trent’s finest. Even Vic and Bob were apparently regulars at Ted’s early gigs.
In 2006 he returned to the stage, dog collared-up, and re-styled as The Rev. Ted Chippington (possibly inspired by Run out of RUN DMC or Kurtis Blow), and the following year Lee and Herring and other comedy luminaries hosted a “Tedstock” benefit gig to raise money for a very noble cause: a 4 CD Chippington box set.
The other week Ted performed to “a crowd of aggravated Welshmen” , supporting The Fall and The Nightingales, with a mixture of old and new material.
Predictably, he was bottled off.
Peel was an avid supporter of Ted Chippington, and once played a legendary set that he had performed on a ferry in Liverpool in 1985 (supporting Scouse indie-dance chancers The Farm) in its entirety on his show. Hopefully some kind soul will post this today as I personally love to hear it again! However, let’s leave Ted with a clip of the b-side of his first single, introduced by John Peel himself, and then a few random moments of “True Greatness”
The Popguns were a jangly pop band from Brighton, fronted by one Wendy Morgan and featuring ex-Wedding Present sticksman Shaun Charman. They recorded two Peel Sessions, both – I think – first broadcast in 1990. Amazingly they never became the “next Sundays”, the “next Primitives”, or even the “next Darling Buds” (who were themselves the next Primitives), although their first two albums Snog and Eugenie should rightly be championed as indiepop classics.
I forked out for the 12” singles of their debut “Landslide” (which made the lower echelons of the Festive Fifty) and follow-up “Waiting For The Winter”… both had a special quality, maybe the combination of those jangly guitars and the singer’s voice, the wistful lyrics… but one of the rare moments that Peel played something and I thought I’ve got to have this record instead of just contenting myself with three or so minutes of a C90.
Charman left the band and the Popguns’ moment in the indie limelight seemed to be running out. A third LP – entitled Love Junky – was released in 1995 and the following year a final album – Á Plus de Cent – appeared, featuring covers of both Serge Gainsbourg (in French!) and A Tribe Called Quest. Their finest hours were compiled on a Best of the Midnight Years collection.
Amazingly all four LPs, along with the compilation, are available on iTunes, and the band even have a website with bits and bobs from their fleeting career here.
Here is their first Peel Session from 1990.