Tag Archives: john peel

Keeping it Peel: Remembering John, a decade on

25 Oct

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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.

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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.

He even played a Hindi cover of an ABBA song, which combined his love of songs in foreign tongues with his love of Eurovision.

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)

* Peel Tribute, Bayern Radio 2, Germany (2014)

Gone, but not forgotten.

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Diamond Geezer: John Peel’s 75th Birthday

30 Aug

 

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Today, 30th August 2014, would have been broadcaster extraordinaire and patron saint of music lovers John Peel’s 75th birthday.

Those wanting further information about the great man would be well advised to seek out other posts on this blog or to go to the outstanding Keeping It Peel website, the official John Peel Archive or the exhaustive John Peel Wiki.

But let’s remember the most influential DJ on British radio by recalling his 40th and 50th birthday celebrations on the radio, the latter of which consisted largely of a surprise concert laid on by friends and family featuring a number of his favourite bands. while remembering his dry sense of humour where he laid bare his comedic influences in a radio programme in 1981.

Happy 75th John, wherever you are.

* John Peel’s 40th Birthday programme

* John Peel’s 50th Birthday programme

* John Peel on “It Makes Me Laugh” (1981)

 

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Lou Reed: Sunday Morning After the Sunday Mourning Before

3 Nov

It was Kim Gordon who told me that Lou Reed had died, I swear.

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I turned on Twitter and there it was.

The words “So sorry to hear of Lou Reed s passing this is a huge shock!” from the blue-tick @kimletgordon account suggested this was not another of these tiresome internet death hoaxes but actually something very real. Why would the Sonic Youth (and now Body / Head) songsmith and latterday queen of NYC cool fall for such a dumb stunt if it were merely that? Indeed, Ms. Gordon went on to write a whole magazine article here in memory of the man she called “the first real anti-hero in rock”.

Lou Reed was one of these old gnarled, grumpy anti-heroes who you probably presumed would go on living forever, despite having smoked, sniffed, snorted and injected all manner of illicit substances for years (despite being “clean” for a fair few years) washed down, one would imagine, by plentiful quantities of liquor and strong coffee.

Not unlike Keef, Iggy, David or Julian, the craggy face of Lou Reed in his latter years seemed to be like one of those old trees standing strong in the middle of a storm, having absorbed years of battering from the “elements”. But in the end he died at the age of 71 – hardly a rock ‘n’ roll casualty – but still younger than my mum is now. And despite some pathetic tabloids trying to paint him as a poster boy victim of drug abuse he had been “on the wagon” for a fair while.

There is really no need for me to sum up Lou Reed or The Velvet Underground as most of you reading who are fans will know the backstory already while those who have a merely cursory interest in the fellow will have probably gleaned the relevant information in the many obituaries that were written after his demise.

You will already know that his parents sent him for electro-shock therapy at the age of 17 to “cure” him of his burgeoning, “worrying” homosexuality, that he was part of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” and got Andy to paint a cheeky banana on the cover of his band’s debut album, that he was a good mate of David Bowie and Iggy Pop (and later championed Antony Hegarty of “and-the-Johnsons” fame), probably took hard drugs and certainly wrote songs about it and hated giving interviews. We all know that John Peel championed The Velvet Underground in their early days because that’s what he did with most culturally important artists.

The fact that his most instantly recognised worldwide hit was about a series of transvestites and / or transexuals and contained a line about “giving head” is to the man’s eternal credit.

It took me YEARS to twig the innuendo in the album title of “Transformer”, which I’d always naívely presumed was some electrical power reference.

lou corn flakes

To be frank, of the man’s relatively ample catalogue, I only own four physical albums of his, although others have resided on my hard-drive for some time, a few extrapolated “for personal use” from record library borrowings.

And yet it is probably in the influence of The Velvet Underground that many of the favourite bands of my teenage self in the 80’s that casts the longest shadow over my music collection.

Of my youthful “holy trinity” of The Smiths, New Order and The Cure, Morrissey has covered Satellite of Love, New Order covered Sister Ray (which they also did as Joy Division) and also performed Do The Ostrich pre-VU Lou band The Primitives (not Tracy Tracy’s band, more on THEM later), while there are photos of Robert Smith with Lou Reed and no doubt Cure performances of Velvet Underground material circulate beyond the realms of YouTube.

It was also through cover versions that I first came into contact with A LOT of Velvet Underground material that I probably didn’t know was actually by them in the first place at the time. Probably because I didn’t purchase “The Velvet Underground and Nico” until decades later, to my eternal shame. Like this wonderful Strawberry Switchblade version of Sunday Morning, probably the first of these aural delights (which you’ve already guessed I am going to catalogue):

Everyone from Ian McCulloch to Siouxsie to Japan to The Wedding Present to Ride to Nirvana to Bryan Ferry and back covered VU songs, and you could probably get a couple of complete compilations of “The Velvet Underground and Nico” with each track covered by a different artist, gleaned from a plethora of B-sides, album tracks, live recording and even the odd single.

Beck even covered the whole damn album.

The Cowboy Junkies‘ beautiful rendition of Sweet Jane is another case in point:

Could the glorious noise of The Jesus and Mary Chain have sounded quite the same without the sonic innovation of Reed, Cale, Tucker, Morrison and sometimes Yule? Although other bands have had a notable influence on UK indie and US “college rock”, I’d wager few would have had the impact on teenage ears if they themselves hadn’t been exposed to The Velvet Underground. Of course Gram and Neil and John and Paul and Alex and Jonathan and all the girl groups also left their mark, but Lou and his bandmates left a bloody great boot print.

Coventry’s recently-reformed Primitives not only nicked their monicker from Lou Reed’s pre- Velvets garage band incarnation (I may have mentioned them earlier) but also introduced my younger self to I’ll Be Your Mirror, another b-side.

As Brian Eno said, “The Velvet Underground and Nico” only sold 30,000 copies when it came out, but everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band“.

Even in his post-Velvets solo career, Lou Reed still attracted many a fine cover version.

The House of Love covered I Can’t Stand It to great effect:

Away from the world of indie, Reed’s oeuvre both with and without the Velvet Underground has also been keen sampling fodder.

A Tribe Called Quest‘s lift of a snatch of  Walk on the Wild Side for their breakthrough radio hit Can I Kick It? is probably the most well-known (the entire track is credited to “L.Reed” alone), but Massive Attack, RZA (him out of the Wu-Tang Clan), Del The Funkee Homosapien, LCD Soundsystem and even Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch have sampled Lou Reed’s compositions.

Further afield Japanese artists Pizzicato Five, Takako Minekawa and Kahimi Karie all sampled THE SAME Lou Reed song.

It wasn’t anything off “Metal Machine Music” either.

The most curious Lou Reed sampling though has to come from Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook, who managed to match Lou Reed with his future wife Laurie Anderson on a 1990 b-side, a full 18 years before they married in 2008.

For me personally, post-Velvet Underground Lou Reed had its highlights in “New York“: the man’s tribute to the city he loved with all its dirt and crime and seediness (and to his friend the wheelchair-bound songwriter Doc Pomus) and his reunion album with John Cale “Songs For Drella“: a two-man warts-and-all tribute to their late mentor Andy Warhol.

Here’s the whole concert-film-recording thing of “Songs For Drella”, a tremendous record.

I hear “Magic and Loss” is another highlight, but embarrassingly, I’ve yet to hear that in full.

One for the Christmas wishlist there.

So long Lou, and thanks for inventing indie along the way.

Oh, and as we started with Lou Reed subtitled in Spanish, here’s my favourite cover of Walk On The Wild Side, which just happens to be in Spanish as well,

 Courtesy of Albert Plà:

Keeping it Peel, nine years on (with Boards of Canada in session)

24 Oct

john peel in a boat

Nine years after the man who taught so many of us the importance of opening our ears to “different” music – music often far removed from  the mundane daytime fare of the popular airwaves – left us without an appointed heir, we at We All That Towers (okay, I’ll “fess up”, it’s only me) are still keeping it Peel.

I won’t go on about the artists who became celebrated international recording talents of note or cult heroes to a bedroom army of home-tapers or EVEN about those genres which went from underground to overground (not the Wombles, get a grip!) years after John expressed a preference, mainly because I’ve done that before.

Around this time.

And often.

But as we show our annual respects and doff our collective music-lover’s caps at the church of Peel, (a lot of which is handily frozen in time at the splendiferous John Peel Achive at The Space) are we actually keeping the spirit of the great man alive?

One of John Peel’s unique gifts was his enthusiasm for any untapped vein of music or his notion that hidden somewhere on a poorly recorded demo tape was the next Duane Eddy or whoever. New music is out there, and in my next post I am going to patronisingly explain how to find it to those of you who, like my weary self, feel that they are losing their edge in a James Murphy-like way.

Just as all those years ago, business types had typists or secretaries who would do a lot of the tiresome stuff like booking hotel rooms or typing up documents freeing up more valuable time to play golf, nine years ago (and before, obviously) we had John Peel to steer us through the mire of alternative music in its various forms and select the good stuff for our eclectic ears’ delight. And just as in the modern office of today only the creme de la creme of corporate top management are afforded the luxury of a personal secretary or PA, while most rank and file office bods have to do the typing and so on themselves. Without external help.

And with one finger if necessary ( * coughs *).

Surely the best way to pay tribute to the John Peel is to discover some quality new music and spread the good word, as he himself dedicated his working life to doing?

Do it yourself?

Wasn’t that the essence of punk, or post-punk, or C86 or whatever?

As the clip below shows, even when nominally kow-towing to his Radio One paymasters, Peel could still worm in a cheeky plug for his favourite Salford band the way that no-one else would have the audacity to do.

Yet the day does provide us with an opportunity to look back and celebrate all manner of great music from skiffle to happy hardcore and back again. Keeping-it-Peel-the-website will be doing this all day, and they, I and various like-minded Peel disciples will be tweeting at you over the next 24 hours with links to session tracks, tribute shows, TV specials, articles and whatnot. I’ve been “ordered” not to mention The Fall – presumably to show this is a “special day” unlike all the other days I tweet about the “mighty” Fall (Peel’s coinage, naturally) – but I can’t promise you that.

But I will leave you with a rather splendid end-of-an-era show where John had Boards of Canada in for a session.

Years before talk of “hauntology” or limited promos hidden in record shops around the world.

Enjoy it, and if you do the Twitter thang, be sure to hashtag your Peel memories or links with a #keepingitpeel hashtag-thing.

And here is the master, at work, fifteen years ago:

John Peel Show, with Boards of Canada in session, 1998

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Tomorrow is the day we’re Keeping it Peel

24 Oct

 

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You know what to do.

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Bowie is Back: The return of the Thin White Jukebox

1 Mar

Well, today, the first of March, is Saint David’s Day, and it seems that this merry month of March 2013 has been unofficially dubbed Bowie Month, as the elder statesman of chameleonic pop (or rock, or blue-eyed-soul, or glam, or whatever), the gentleman known to Smash Hits readers as “the Dame” is officially back with a new album housed in the most controversial Bowie cover art since a canine male member graced his inside leg on the gatefold sleeve of Diamond Dogs in 1974.

Bowie’s unannounced return to the radio waves with new material (a paltry TEN YEARS, less than half the time it took Kevin, Bilinda and the other two to deliver the third “proper” My Bloody Valentine album) was even more surprising considering that it had been generally considered that the artist formerly known as Ziggy Stardust had discreetly retired from rock and roll to be a doting dad to his  second child and basically to chill out following a heath scare (and… er…  a lollipop in the eye). Rumours even floated around cyberspace that Bowie had cancer or was wasting away, victim of some unutterable lurgy.

Where Are We Now? was thus a bolt from the blue, a slice of unexpectedly elegant nostalgia that surfaced – totally unannounced – on the man’s 66th birthday. Many of us old enough to remember when vinyl was the main “physical support” for all music (rather than being the preserve of hipsters, djs or audiophiles) were then transported back to an impeccable run of albums and characters from the close of the 60s to the early 80s, conveniently blocking out all memory of diabolical duets with Tina Turner or Mick Jagger, never mind Tin Machine.

Most unfortunate for Brett Anderson – once chided for aping early Bowie vocal delivery – that the day chosen for Suede’s announcement of their reformation and return from an equally long hiatus unintentionally coincided with that of the return of Bowie himself. Ouch.

bowie chameleon

David Bowie’s back-story is pretty much common knowledge to anyone with a passing knowledge of music in the last 50 years. He changed his surname to Bowie because he didn’t want to be confused with one of The Monkees, his missus caught him in bed with Mick Jagger and John Peel told him to drop the miming spiel. He “invented” glam rock,  penned some of the finest songs in music history and once lived on a diet of milk, peppers and DRUGS. He named his son Zowie Bowie (the lad later became known as Duncan Jones, the film bloke), he shared a flat with Iggy Pop in Berlin (where he moved in a rather hopeless attempt to stem his substance addiction) and his career went downhill rapidly when he got his teeth fixed. But despite that consistent run of groundbreaking albums in the 1970s he only clocked his first solo number one single with the 1983 hit Let’s Dance. As any fool know.

Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, Pierrot, Young American, spikey-haired-goatee-bearded junglist… Bowie has had slightly fewer characters than the typical Frank Ocean tweet. And then there was Tin Machine.

But let’s not go there.

Today a stream of “The Next Day” has been unveiled for the world’s aural delight, while a few days ago a cannily casted video featuring Tilda Swinton alongside Bowie set the internet alight with tweets that the previous video had really been rather lacklustre and links to the Tilda Stardust tumblr page which may just have inspired the aforementioned canny casting. As with the My Bloody valentine album I am lazily going to pass the baton to the more polished wordsmiths in the employ of  The Quietus and The Guardian Music Weekly to review it, while we concern ourselves with curious Bowie reworkings, as if stocking a virtual Wurlitzer with bizarre promotional and semi-legal re-treads of his finest hours (see what I did there) , past and present.

And so. let us unveil…

THE THIN WHITE JUKEBOX!!

One of the first (cough) semi-legal Bowie remixes I encountered online that impressed me more than a bit was a fine cosmic take on Space Oddity, the song that really catapulted the former David Jones into the consciousness of the British record-buying public when it was used to accompany BBC reports on the moon landings in 1969.

At remix controls is Appo, a Middlesborough native who – it says here – has worked with the likes of Danny Rampling, Pete Tong, Graham Park and other turntable luminaries from the acid-infused 90s, and the balearic edge of his chilled re-work is testament to that

I would have added a link to Appo’s site, but it appears to be infected with a virus. Which is a shame.

Anyway, enjoy the choon:

Atlanta’s DJBC, veteran patron of the genre-defining Get Your Bootleg On (or GYBO to its pals) internet fraternity, managed – with other like-minded bootleggers such as SF’s Bootie collective – to produce an entire “mash-up” album of the “Ziggy Stardust” LP, and stick it up on the internets for no money. Click on the link and find out!

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Fritz von Runte (sadly not a Berliner, but a Manc who has worked with Peter Hook’s ill-starred vanity project Freebass, among other things) has also created his own album of Bowie reworks – spanning most of his career – entitled Bowie2001. Not only has he created an album’s worth of stuff, but there’s a DVD too as the whole project is inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, which has now passed was once the future and predicted the internet which brings this whole journey full circle. Or something. Read more here, where you can sign up for a free download of the album, or even purchase the DVD. In case you didn’t twig, what’s being done here is Space Oddity  is being melded with “A Space Odyssey”. Right.

Oh, and there’s also one mix which makes the latter-day Bowie sound like Antony on that Hercules and Love Affair track Blind. This isn’t it though.

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Go Home Productions (Mark Vidler to his doctor) is best known to bootleg (or “mash-up”) aficionados for being “there” when the genre was fresh… and for making classic couplings of other people’s records, the Sex Pistols vs Madonna “boot” Ray Of Gob, being a prime example (which apparently met with the approval of both Steve Jones and Madge herself). Bowie was also impressed with GHP’s “skillz”, as he commissioned him to do a mix of Rebel Rebel with his “Reality”- era single Never Get Old called (true to old skool bootlegger track nomenclature) Rebel Never Get Old.

GHP also “mashed” the Dame’s I’m Afraid of Americans with his beloved XTC (and later went on to work with Andy Partridge), but for now lend your ears to this splendid remix of Fame:

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Jeremy Sole is a “roots” DJ (whatever that is) on Santa Monica radio station KCRW. Bowie liked his remix of Golden Years so much he officially sanctioned it for release to promote the “Station To Station” box set thing.

Not hard to see why, as it’s a fairly tasteful re-rub:

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Chicago’s TR34TM3NT (obviously a one-time 5IVE fan) wasted no time in putting out this trippy, almost post-dubstep mix of bolt-from-the-blue return from oblivion single Where Are We Now?

With no officially sanctioned 12″ mix, this makes for a fine substitute:

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The Pinker Tones are a jaunty Barcelona-based duo / trio (in a twee-pop-meets-Shibuya-kei vein) who have remixed Pizzicato Five, among others.

Here’s their mix of number two single off the new LP – The Stars Are Out Tonight:

Happy Saint David’s Day, everyone, Welsh and otherwise!

Countdown to Keeping it Peel!

24 Oct

What better way to count down to Keeping it Peel 2012 (tomorrow – 25th October) than by these handy ten-to-twelve-minute Festive Fifty chart rundowns, starting in 1982.

As a nod to The mighty Fall (who unsurprisingñly, feature heavily), these are the FFs 80s – 90s.

Hats off to YouTuber “John Peel” (blimey, there’s a coincidence) for stitching it all together.

EDIT: Well in true John Peel style I suppose this is the virtual equivalent of playing the records at the wrong speed.

I will try and remedy this in due course :/

New music in the Spirit of Peel: Pegasvs

23 Oct


It was on Twitter that an esteemed Catalonia-based “follower” introduced me to the sounds of the mighty Pegasvs, a two – piece electronic “combo” from that part of the world that sometimes likes to declare that it “is not Spain“.

But far from espousing Catalan nationalism (neither member of the band is actually from Barcelona: singer Luciana is from Argentina while producer Sergio is originally from Asturias) the sounds of Krautrock-y melodic discord (dischord?), the experimental noise of the Radiophonic Workshop and the likeable drone of early Stereolab appear to be the influences of this listener can discern from their excellent eponymous debut album which was released on iTunes at a dirt-cheap recession-friendly price that propelled it into the iTunes top 3 downloads that week.

The likes of The Quietus, Frenchbloke, Soundhog and venerable Mixclouder Mixless have sung the band’s  praises since hearing this sonic slice of excitement since it came out earlier this year. But don’t just take my word for it, you can stream the whole album here. If you like it, why not (gasp) buy it here, on vinyl and freshly old-school CD.

While you’re at it you can also catch this live clip of a new soundtrack (in the footsteps of the likes of Moroder or the Pet Shop Boys) Pegasvs composed for a screening of cult German film “Das Kabinett von Doktor Caligari” here:

I’m sure Peelie would have loved ’em.

Spirit of Peel: Ted Chippington Greetings Cards

19 Oct


John Peel’s favourite brothel-creepered prematurely-balding deadpan comedian from Stoke-on-Trent was, as you may have seen around these parts a year or so ago, one Francis Smythe, better known to thee and me and Stewart Lee as the one and only Ted Chippington.

I would love to be able to offer you the fantastic gig Peel broadcast from the Royal Iris Ferry where Ted was lambasted as per usual by a (probably drunken) audience, but as that seems impossible to find (even Peter Hooton couldn’t help, and he was there!) instead I am going to give you a preview of my own Ted-inspired creations, the Ted Chippington greetings cards which, in an ideal world would be gracing the mantelpieces of the United Kingdom on various special days throughout the year, but in reality would probably sit in a cardboard box at the back of a newsagent’s somewhere.

For multiple Ted Chippington – related mirth head on over to Frankosonic’s blog (click just there) where I believe he has even posted something new in the last weeks or so.

Oh, and good evening.

John Peel: home truths

18 Oct


As is the case when one’s heroes are thrust into the tabloid spotlight for the wrong reasons, there are normally three options.

The first is to mount a vigorous, impassioned defence as to how your godlike idol could never have done such a thing, or that the very thing your godlike idol is alleged (or even has been proved) to have done is really “not all that”.

The second is to spurn your godlike idol for being charlatan and a fraud, sever all emotional ties with him or her, burn all related memorabilia you may have accrued during your blind years of ignorant fandom and publicly announce to all and sundry that he or she is no longer the apple of your heart’s desire but the evil object of your deepest disdain.

The third option – probably the most English and by far the easiest – is to “keep calm and carry on” as if nothing had happened.

The unpleasant – and quite probably genuine – revelations this month that John Peel had engaged an ongoing (3-month) improper physical relationship with an impressionable 15-year-old Black Sabbath fan (female), back in 1969 (when he was around the should-have-known-better age of 30) has given a lot of us pause for thought. Here was someone widely regarded as little short of a saint committing one of the most repugnant crimes known to society.

The whole grisly Jimmy Savile scenario, while shocking and stomach churning, and certainly one that affected far more people, many of whom who were far more vulnerable, was somehow less of a shock because it had been the subject of jokes and rumours for years. Like many of my peers I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It as a boy and unsurprisingly none of this went through my impressionable mind, but decades later it became patently obvious that this jingly-jangly, cigar-smoking, latterly be-tracksuited character was definitely more uncomfortably strange than eccentric. I was also quite fond of Gary Glitter in the 1970’s too. Then again, these were the times when some people were shocked at the suggestion that the Village People (or Freddie Mercury, or Rob Halford)  were gay, let alone that a pudgy Bacofoiled-up preening turkey was a paedophile (ostensibly heterosexual) sex tourist.

Abusing the trust and ingenuity of minors is WRONG, even if you consider that they are “gagging for it”. Even if they actually ARE. It’s always wrong, no two ways about it.

THIS girl was fifteen too, I’ll have you know

Peel was probably the nearest I had to a hero, and as The Stranglers once pondered… whatever happened to all the (real) heroes? When Peel’s affair with this underage girl began, he had just come out of an unhappy marriage to an American girl of a similar age (which was freely admitted by Peel in his autobiography, and, if I’m not mistaken, before), possibly as an altruistic gesture to get another emotionally screwed up young person free passage out of the country and back to the UK (or even to help his own immigrant status working in the US) or maybe just to legally take advantage of a young “bit of skirt” (to use the demodé parlance of the day).. who knows. Although this is pretty worrying behaviour by 21st century mores, back in the 60s and earlier, it was apparently a common practice in that part of the US. NO EXCUSE, I grant you, but that’s how it was, and probably why these “revelations” did not shock Britain to its core when they were made, either in Peel’s lifetime or immediately after Margrave of the Marshes was published.

It is at this juncture that I feel tempted to engage in my own rather irritating vice, and one John Peel probably has something to do with – quoting song lyrics. And curiously the lyrics of another “fallen idol” in many of my peers’ eyes: those of Steven Patrick Morrissey. For it was Mozzer who stated that “Fame, fame, fatal fame” could play “hideous tricks on the brain“, and who himself went on to win himself enemies and lose himself fans when his militant vegetarianism and easy-to-(mis)interpret-as-racism comments about England or the Chinese veered dangerously into the realms of self-parody.

I imagine early transatlantic fame had also played a few hideous tricks on Peel’s brain as well, and sad as it is to admit it, I imagine that it wasn’t until he met “the Pig”, his future wife Sheila, that his brain settled down and he evolved into the benign patron saint of alternative music that he was until so very recently best known for being. I do recall someone on a Peel documentary – a fellow DJ perhaps, or maybe even his brother – saying that marrying Sheila was the best thing Peel ever did, a far greater thing than giving so many amazing musicians a leg-up in the business (along with a handful even he might have been glad to forget). Maybe this was the true significance of what on the surface seemed like a mundane platitude.

John Peel did not register on my conciousness radar until the early 80s, when I was at secondary school, by which time he  had been a married man for almost a decade. “My” John Peel didn’t play Black Sabbath, Yes and T.Rex but Bogshed, Yeah Yeah Noh and T. Chippington. And electro, and dub and happy hardcore… and more.

Just as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band bore little resemblance to Love Me Do.

He evolved.

The John Peel I “knew” would probably have been ashamed of playing some of the prog rock noodling that he aired in the 70s in the 80s or 90s.  Just as he was probably ashamed of certain other things that went on back then.

No excuse, but everyone makes mistakes, it’s just that some mistakes are a bit more serious than others. Or a lot more.

But being English, an unfortunate trait that both the late man and I share, we often tend to be fairly “matter-of-fact” about these things. The traditional English response to the classic opening conversation gambit “How are you?” is seldom “I’m fine!” but “Not bad ” “Can’t complain” or ” Mustn’t grumble“.

We’re not very good at the Tiger Woods-style mea culpa in dear old Blighty.

Just ask Nick Clegg.

Often a dignified silence is considered best, not unlike in the Vatican City.

The mighty fall..

Nonetheless, the whole “Dead Radio One DJs in Paedo Shocker” scandal (linking Peel to Jimmy Savile’s shuddersome predatory “activities” in a similar way to the way George W. Bush linked 9/11 with Saddam Hussein) also shows a continuing hypocrisy in British journalism, especially of the tabloid variety. Did anyone notice that the Daily Star turned Peel’s grim 3-month dalliance into THREE YEARS? Google it yourselves, I’m not linking to it here. And the Daily Mail, whose awe at such horror has turned it into the WORLD’S favourite – or maybe I should say “favorite”, there are so many Americanisms and US spellings in their damn hackery – online paper, while simultaneously printing stories about how Punky Brewster or the nine-year-old on the Cosby show is no longer jailbait, or that some 15-year old model is “looking good“.

Billy Bragg, whose gift of a mushroom biryani to John Peel famously opened the door to “fame”, probably addressed this tabloid hypocrisy best in this ditty “It Says Here“, when Auntie Beeb allowed him to say the word “tits” in front of Selina Scott and thousands of other breakfasting Britons in 1984:

If these accusations made against John Peel are true (and it looks like they probably are, given the acknowledgement of a sexual relationship in the unmistakable Peel vertically-inclined handwriting that appeared in the press) , then his actions cannot be defended or excused. The papers, just as they have ensured the words SAVILE ROW will no longer be associated with tailoring but with sexual predators at the BBC, have forever associated Peel with underage sex.

Of course it takes “two to tango”, and I would like to imagine it was she and not he who made the first move, but that is still no excuse. He was also unaware of any “impregnation” (despite the era of “free love” having  made its mark, I imagine a widespread awareness of “safe sex” was yet to hit a pre-AIDS-aware world), although he may have suspected as much he was never informed.

But the papers are always willing to place their godlike judgements.

In another situation where the man was less of a role-model figure, then maybe the girl might have been derided as “loose“.

Or have we forgotten Charlotte Church and her “voice of an angel”?

What good does dragging up the misdoings of the dead if it does not go hand in hand with an investigation of the living and the apparent  “anything goes so long as no-one knows” culture of the BBC and other institutions, and if it merely causes distress, grief and embarrassment to surviving spouses, children or other relatives?

All hands on decks

The regrettable prevalence of haterz and trolls in this (totally) wired world often means that even friends, Peel-friendly musicians or merely admirers of Peel’s championing of diversity and “the new” against the same-old-same-old are ignorantly tarred with the child-abuser-apologist brush unless they “disown” him.

It’s all so black and white… so “us and them“.

To end this rather atypical post I will just state that I will be “Keeping It Peel” on October 25th… although I am expecting to read a lot of tweets and the like saying “I’m Keeping it Peel today, I’m shaggin’ a 15 year old LOLZ” to go with the “Now I know why he loved Teenage Kicks” and “Gives a new meaning to the words ‘Peel Sessions’quips that pass for wit these days from people who usually find the notion of creating a false death rumour (to get their egos trending on Twitter) hilarious or who send threats of violence or death to footballers each time they fluff a penalty or whatever.

I’ll leave the last words – more or less – to Morrissey once again. Although these words could well be addressing himself, I’d like to redirect them to reference the post-Sheila, post reckless-wild years-John Peel, facing the wrath of the self-righteous media and the Frankie-Boyle-wannabes on the social networks. This was the John Peel I “knew”, or at least the John Peel I grew up with.

“It’s so easy to laugh,
           It’s so easy to hate,
                 It takes strength to be gentle and kind”

The song – “I Know It’s Over“, as you may have guessed – is sung from the grave, and seems to be appropriate for someone who was frequently described as both “gentle” and “kind” during the time I knew of him.

I also do feel that Peel himself – once he’d expunged his demons with the help of the family he created to replace the distant absent parents he had suffered in real life – would have been totally disgusted with his younger self, but that his matter-of-fact dismissal of his relationships with “groupies” etc was his stiff-upper-lip boarding school upbringing showing through.

After all, he was a devoted father of four, and regrettably, for some of us men, maturity only comes with parenthood.

So this coming October 25th we will be celebrating the good that Mr. Ravenscroft produced and how (as I’ve stated previously in these parts) the music made the people come together and how (musical) PREJUDICES were broken down thanks to his sterling work. Which is in no way a defence of child abuse, whatever a handful of haterz and trolls and tabloid journalists might want to make you believe.

Jarvis Cocker – a fellow Peel devotee – was once, you will recall, moved to invade the stage and make comical (read “obscene” in tabloidese) gestures to protest at Michael Jackson’s “god-complex” at the Brit Awards. He later explained that if Jacko had stuck to what he was good at (i.e.: making great pop songs like Billie Jean and Thriller and moonwalking) instead of trying to “heal the world” (and inviting small children to stay over at Neverland) he would still have been universally hailed as a genius instead of a fallen star in his later years.

John Peel, contrary bugger as ever, did most of the good in his life after the bad bits.

* Another, possibly better written piece on the subject here.

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