John Walters
John Walters

Twenty-five years ago this month in Zigzag - which was celebrating its hundredth issue - John Walters was on more than top form. Peel's producer started his monthly column with a few surreal jibes at sad art-rock bands before 'Radio One Revelations Time' and he's off on a rant which kicked off from why Peel didn't go on holiday any more.

'Apparently, he enjoyed holidays abroad until he heard the Pistols mention cheap holidays in other people's misery. Now every time he's about to leave those words come ringing back.. A message for our times there I think. The Sage of Stowmarket not too proud to be shown a Great Truth by folk philosopher J. Rotten. Rotten smiles knowingly and self-effacingly as Peel sees the light, frowning slightly and trying to run his fingers through his hair, stopped only by the fact that his trousers are too tight to allow his hand down them.'

Pausing only to write an imaginary letter from an Eastern European saying how they didn't want our tourist trade income anyway - 'Now we are free to return to our old ways, such as tree-weaving and dropping dead from malnutrition' - the unstoppable Walters charges into a lengthy state-of-the-nation style address about the Peel show and how it was coping with the ever-increasing deluge of post-punk DIY musical projects. But first he lambasts the ever-woeful state of local commercial radio and how there was little chance of local talent being encouraged in this world of golden odlies and car showroom adverts [No change there then]. It was all down to Peel, wrote Walters. That tireless devotion to ploughing through everything that landed on his desk later became part of the Peel legend, but this was one of the first places where the sheer magnitude of his self-appointed task came out. I knew how they felt. Back then, the same went for Zigzag. The music press simply didn't cover unknown bands. Apart from fanzines who might mention a couple of groups, it was down to Zigzag - or rather me - to also sift through a daily barrage of cassettes and records all vying for space. I talked about this mission several times with Peel and Walters. We agreed that you had to love music if you'd subject yourself to this. Some of it was dire, but it was worth it for the surprise gems. How else would he have happened upon an unknown group called the Undertones?

As Walters explained in April 1980...

'Speaking of Radio One, a few words about the Peel prog. Firstly, you're jolly lucky to have it. Let's own up. The commercial boys, in any area I've heard, are pretty much a waste of time for the likes of you [unless, of course, I've misjudged the readership and you are all manufacturers of double glazing and owners of cut-price carpet warehouses]. I remember Peel having a row years ago with a well-known group who had made a self-indulgent mess of an In Concert and pointing out that there were few enough opportunities to get the music across without blowing one. "Stay cool", said the leader, "Independent radio is coming and then we can all have our own music station". Independent radio has, of course, simply become safety-first mid-Atlantic 'entertainment' and any provincial chap who reads his station's charter with its encouragement for local events and local talents - King Lear performed with regional accents and so on - must be a bit taken aback with his daily diet of someone who's a "star from New York to LA" telling him to shake his booty while he's trying to eat his butty. In other words, the local talent in this country has more chance of radio exposure through Radio One - in particular the Peel Show - than on their local stations.

But let me give you an idea of what we're up to. Firstly, now that rock's the new folk music with a group on every corner, we frankly can't cope. By that I mean can't cope in a thorough and orderly manner. There are just too many little labels and homemade tapes to be heard, let alone broadcast. We get eight hours a week and certain facilities allocated by the Beeb and our aim is to get as much of the stuff through to you as we can. Peel has over a thousand tapes at home and more come into my office by every post. We used to at least write down the names but then decided we were like an Oxfam post facing refugees. We can't satisfy everyone but it was more important to get the stuff out to the needy than to put the tins of beans in order. So we try and hear what we can and we have far more known and unknown material to fill the week than we need. Peel can't do more unless he gives up broadcasting so we have to be satisfied that we have filled the week with an entertaining or stimulating or at least interesting slice of what's around. You probably feel that you should be part of that slice and I hope you make it and if not I hope you get a letter saying "thanks anyway".

Every chart, even TOTP, now has a large percentage of stuff that first saw the light of day through the Peel show and while that's very nice it's not very relevant except to show that we're not out of touch with kids' tastes. Nothing's picked with commercial success in mind. We just feel "this sounds right" or "this deserves a chance". If everybody doesn't get a tin of beans, tough, but we try to fill the eight hours using some knowledge, some instinct and a lot of good intent and as we now get quite a lot of material sent from abroad seeking the Peel seal of approval when they can't get played on their own stations then I can't see how things can be handled better anywhere in the world.

'Course, he has most say and people often ask what our relationship's like. I've said elsewhere that it's like a Holmes and Watson but probably at my most optimistic I'd say a Clough and Taylor. At my most pessimistic I'd say a Paul and Linda McCartney where cameramen rush to snap him while she desperately pushes into the picture pulling a "star" face. Of course one could say a Laurel and Hardy, a Bogart and Becall, a Tooting and Mitcham, a Light and Bitter, a Steak and Kidney, a Brighton and Hove Albion...the list goes on.'

Walters finishes up by congratulating Zigzag on reaching a the hundredth issue, noting that it coincided with an eclipse and that 'many of our foreign chums took the twin phenomena pretty strangely...It's just that I read that certain of our Indian colleagues celebrated by burying themselves up to the neck in cow dung - oh well, what's good enough for them, here goes...schlumph...glumph...ffslupp! [The other way way, you twerp.].'

John Walters – tMx 19 – 04/05


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