Today – Saturday 25th October – marks the tenth anniversary of the day we lost John Peel, who, in the days before 6Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, YouTube and a myriad of music blogs from the shinily corporate to the shoddily pirate, showed the discerning music enthusiast a planet of sound quite often far removed from that on the daytime airwaves but also one that often was a window onto future popular taste.
Although eclectic radio shows are now another genre on yr TuneIn app, Peel almost invented the concept, with the aim of introducing the curious listener to new artists, bands and genres outside the traditional comfort zone. Similarly, Peel would seemingly be constantly reinventing the content of his shows: discarding prog rock for punk rock, snubbing indie guitars for dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass, irking the purists with his ambivalence towards The Stone Roses and Springsteen and his love of happy hardcore. Whilst apologising for being a slightly podgy middle-aged man who sometimes let studio technology get the better of him.
Like his beloved Fall, always different, always the same.
Many forget that Peel – in his later years and Home Truths days often considered The Greatest Living Englishman or something of a National Treasure – was actually quite a man of the world. As well as his celebrated night time Radio One programme, he also recorded programmes specifically made for German, Finnish, Austrian and Dutch audiences while additionally recording for Armed Forces network BFBS and also for the BBC World Service. He also cut his broadcasting teeth on KLIF, KOMA and KMEN in the US, the latter of which – despite sounding like a superhero legion or a niche magazine – was actually a radio station in San Bernardino, Californ-i-a. And as well as being broadcasted in various areas of the globe, Peel also played music from bands with unpronounceable names from Zimbabwe, China, Japan, Belgium and Wales.
With such a global reach, it may come as no surprise that there are pockets of Peel-respecting indiedom in places such as Yogyakarta, Indonesia or Chonburi province, Thailand.
Here he is a little closer to home, in Germany, in a TV special called John Peel’s Autobahn Blues, where he drives his ageing Merc between various German cities, visiting record shops, radio stations and even meeting up with Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle.
Out in the US Peel does have a vague cult following – having “broken” some American artists that could have stayed on the fringes of parochial sub-stardom if not for the exposure garnered by a few plays or indeed a session on his show, Nirvana and The White Stripes being just two better-known examples. This special – for “Big Apple” station WNYC – attempts to introduce the John Peel Archive as the hoardings of “Britain’s Supercollector”, with Tom from the Archive itself and Sheila (Ravenscroft – “The Pig”) on the blower and Lee Ranaldo out of Sonic Youth on hand to reminisce over recording various Peel Sessions.
* John Peel’s Record Collection on WNYC (2012) (stream or download)
Further afield, as well as the World Service programmes, Peel disciples got a treat when the man himdself turned up at an Auckland radio station when on holiday in those parts in 2002. New Zealand music, most notably The Go-Betweens and The Chills, had been given an international boost by Peel’s patronage, and luckily one listener taped the whole thing for posterity.
Our hero even got to visit Russia in the dying days of the Soviet Union to reveal the local music scene to be somewhat more than balalaikas and mulleted Deep Purple impersonators. The result was recorded for Radio One, and is now a fascinating document of Russian music culture before Putin and Pussy Riot.
* John Peel’s Russia (download only)
John’s linguistic prowess was – by his own admission – not impressive, but he usually made an effort to pronounce the names of at least the European bands and their non-English song titles that arrived on a variety of formats at Broadcasting House. German seems to be his most convincing attempt, oddly the same as Mark E. Smith of The Fall who claimed he himself learnt some rudimentary German in order to make sure the band got paid during his many tours of the country. It was a while before John discovered the meaning of Yo La Tengo, although that was only because Andy Kershaw, who apparently boasts a Spanish A-Level, told him.
Nonetheless, he often joked that his popularity in Holland came from the fact that the name Peel is a homophone for the male appendage in Dutch.
Additionally he regretted not being able to speak or understand Welsh, despite having a soft spot for Welsh-speaking bands such as Melys, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and
Ahnreven Anghreven Anngrvhin Gryff Rhys.
Japanese acts were also popular at Peel Acres, with John playing music by Cornelius, Shonen Knife, Melt-Banana and Polysics, as well as the inimitable Frank Chickens (who actually got a TV SHOW out of being Peel favourites, here’s an episode with Frank Sidebottom AND John Cooper Clarke .
* Frank Chickens Peel Session (download only)
Regrettably, it was a foreign trip to Peru that was robbed us all of the great man’s talents forever ten years ago to this very day, but thankfully we have the tapes, the uploads, YouTube, the Peel Wiki, The John Peel Archive and Keeping It Peel to help us remember… along with a plethora of tweeters, bloggers and specialist radio stations.
And finally, here’s a smattering of the truly international world service provided by Mr. John Peel, yours to take away (apart from the video, obvs):
Firstly, the authentic Cold War Radio experience replicated, a Russian shortwave recording of a 1987 BBC World Service broadcast cassette, with godawful reception, bits edited out and everything:
* John Peel Show on BFBS Forces Radio (mysteriously undated)
* Peel on Rock Radio, Finland (1987)
* John Peel on Radio Mafia, Finland (1991) [may contain festive references]
* John Peel on Radio Eins, Germany (2003)
Gone, but not forgotten.