John Peel RIP
I can first remember listening to John Peel beneath the bedclothes of my modest rural bedroom, constantly in a state of panic that my parents would hear me, enter the room, & subsequently confiscate said radio. I would wait patiently through sides of Lounden Wainwright the 3rd, hours of Culture, days of Ivor Cutler just to hear the new session from Stiff Little Fingers.
I remember, as I got older, being allowed to stop up alone & listen to Peel in our front room whilst making appalling quality recordings from the radio speaker to a built in condenser mic on the tape machine. I’ll never forget the wonderment with which I replayed SLF’S version of Marley’s “Johnny Was” the night after it was recorded. Or the snatches of Peel’s intros/outros that haunted each end of the tape. Peel’s voice always sounded so calm. So reassuring. There was an exciting world out there the other side of the curtains - & John Peel could take you there. Talk amongst yourselves. Aaah, it would appear that this was in fact manufactured to play at 45 rpm not 33 & a third. Technology doncha just love it?
In those days, an evening listening to Peely would produce a list that would have to be cross referenced with the NME or Sounds before mail orders to Rough Trade or Small Wonder could be duly placed. Heaven forbid if you missed a night or a particularly exciting new group in session. Tim Lewis would be there pointing at his palm extolling the virtues of Throbbing Gristle, The 13th Floor Elevators, The Residents or Devo. Those who had failed to hear were the squares. That was the power of Peel.
I 1st met John Peel at Stratford On Avon CFE where he was DJ-ing in support of X Ray Spex. I handed him a copy of my own group’s appalling record in hope more than anything. No matter how crap it actually was he played it 3 times on his show - & even bothered to find out where we were from. Shit like that tends to stay with you no matter how much success you later do or do not have.
John Peel entered my life directly again in the late 80s when a letter he wrote to the NME alerted me to the plight of a certain Predrag Strazmester from Serbia. Predrag was a DJ operating under very stressful circumstances in the pre-war Balkans with a total lack of support or new product from the record industries of the Western World. Predrag & I soon became the best of mates - & I fired new stuff out to him in the mail whilst helping him to network with UK & US labels of interest. When Pedja visited the UK in 1999, John Peel even rang me at home to proffer his own home address & contact details along with the offer to reimburse me directly should Predrag incur any ‘costs’ (there then followed an amusing tale regarding a young Norwegian who went on the rampage in London & ended up leaving Peely with a bill for hundreds of pound’s worth of damage). Needless to say Predrag’s visit passed without a hitch - & he even sat in with JP on a couple of his radio shows. That was the mark of John Peel.
My last encounter with the man occurred in 2001 when I approached him to write the foreword for my Damned book (given away free with Issue 17 of tMx, by the way). I asked him if I should e-mail him a synopsis. He replied, “E-mail. Oh my God, no. Last time I looked in the box there were over 5000 waiting to be answered. Look, I’m just about to record one of my shows for the World Service. Can you talk to my wife about this?” I duly did. The manuscript arrived by fax several weeks later. When such a busy & influential man as John Peel takes the time to write about a feeling he once visited fleetingly over a quarter of a century earlier for a two bit writer with nothing to bragg about but his subject you know you are dealing with the very salt of the earth. Without John Peel, my life could have been tedious & humdrum. Thankfully it didn’t turn out that way.
God bless you, John, wherever you may be. You turned my head - & with it my ears.
Jean Encoule tMx 17 10/04