Sunday, July 02, 2006
John Peel Every Day Site Redesign
JOHN PEEL EVERYDAY, the site dedicated to the late and fantastically lamented British disc jockey, has had a haircut and a facial and is ready to view in its new gussied-up condition by hitting the link in the Reading Room . If you remember Peel, you will probably have gone over for a look already. If you don't, have a look anyway. The indie bands that are all over the British charts like chicken pox are presenting a commercial version of the music he alone (more or less), supported on national radio throughout the Eighties and Nineties--at least until the Bugsy Malone version of the Peel Show, Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley's Evening Session came along. Andy Kershaw was always a kindred spirit of course (though he slagged off the marvellous Home Truths), but Kershaw--in true independent fashion (for let us not forget "indie" means independent)-- disappeared up a side alley and ended up playing World Music on Radio 3.
It vexed me as only an irritable old man can be vexed when a 20-year-old indie-loving work colleague saw me with Peel's autobiography and asked me who he was. You can't expect anything else, of course. Time marches on. Peel himself wouldn't have had it any other way, though by all accounts he worried constantly about being superseded by some new young turk who would expose him for the old fart he felt himself to be.
It never happened.
And it still hasn't happened, even though Peel is no longer with us (at least in portly bodily form).
I would venture to suggest that as society moves further and further away from the hippie/ punk/ radical hip hop counter cultures, the chances are increasingly remote of another genuinely independent voice like Peel's coming along and influencing the direction in which the artists and "the industry" go. But I hope I'm wrong. It was fun, while he was alive, having one person on the cultural scene that money couldn't buy.
But I am rambling. Just have a look at the site!
(By the way, if the owner of the copyright on the above photo, whoever he or she or it--if it's a company--might be object to its presence here, just let me know and I'll remove it. You could sue me, of course, but since I have nothing it might be a waste of time.)
some helpful biographical data
While sitting in the bath, where I do a lot of creative thinking, it crossed my mind that since most S.P. readers don't know who Peel was, I should provide, as the subheading indicates, some helpful biographical data.
Peel was born John Robert Parker Ravenscroft. The surname morphed to "Ravencroft" in the Sixties when Peel was working on radio in America, as somebody mysteriously believed the "s" was superfluous, then morphed still further into Peel--I believe on his return to the UK in 1967 (though Domestic Empire may be able to correct me on that one).
After returning to England, Peelie became one of the infamous "pirate" djs broadcasting from a ship just off the English coast for a radio station whose name I've forgotten: was it London? or Caroline?--the only way, in those days, to break the hammerhold that the BBC had on the British airwaves. His show, The Perfumed Garden, was by all accounts a fascinating hippie affair (John, in those days, was as hippie as they came), full of music nobody else would play, poetry, John's own idiosyncratic verbal meanderings. It became a legend in its own lifetime, and the fortunate folks who remember it still talk about it with admiration.
As tends to happen when something new and vital starts stirring things up, the BBC looked down on the pirate ships and dropped a cheque book on their heads to neutralise the threat they posed. The worst and the best of the djs were handsomely rewarded to come in from the sea and join the roster of the newly established youth radio station, Radio One; and John Peel, who can blame him, took the king's shilling and went along. I doubt he expected he would be there very long, hoeing a row that had seemed perversely independent even among the pirates. But he was to be there for the rest of his life, his late night shows still required listening for those who liked their music raw-boned and independent even into the daftly-named noughties.
I first became aware of John in the late Seventies, when school friends who were into punk rock began talking about his shows. Peel made punk in the UK, arguably, by packing his shows with the emerging new music when no other disc jockey at the BBC--or anywhere-- would touch it. His own listeners hated him for it--they were hippies and this new music did not fit the hippie template at all: it was short, violent and determinedly stupid, a celebration of everything negative and anti-life. Or so it seemed . But Peel ignored their criticisms. If anything, actually, he was encouraged by them. If punk was inviting that much contumely, it must be breaking new cultural ground: didn't Elvis Presley, after all, bring the towering wrath of the older generations down on his head when "Heartbreak Hotel" sent shock waves around the world in 1956? Peel had never forgotten the excitement, the sheer physical release, of hearing Presley for the first time; and he said somewhere that discovering punk in his late 30s had a similar seismic impact on him.
And so it continued. Punk came and went, Two Tone arrived, the Eighties arrived, grunge closed the Eighties off, hip hop seared itself on the international consciousness and a hundred other half-remembered musical sub-movements had their moment; and John Peel was the first disc jockey on the British airwaves to announce, to promote and to sound the death-knell (as they became commercial successes) of all of them. It wasn't that he was a trend-hopper or that he was concerned with being hipper-than-thou. He was, actually, the supreme old-fashioned middle-class English curmudgeon (which may be why I like him so much): one of his regular gigs, in later years, was as a commentator on the tv show "Grumpy Old Men", where ageing media figures bemoaned the ridiculousness of modern society and of the younger generations. Peel loved music and he wanted it to excite him as Elvis had excited him, as Captain Beefheart had excited him, as--latterly--the Fall had excited him; he wanted to be discovering music every day like a trapped sixteen-year-old stuck somewhere he doesn't want to be in company he can't abide, dreaming of new worlds in which he will be the Man. He once claimed--and I think we can believe him--that he was truly mystified by the attraction, for men of his generation, of staying at home playing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for the millionth time. The old heroes, to Peel, were like family uncles he visited occasionally, but usually preferred to avoid.
An attitude, I think, that people in any creative field might do well to assume.
In later years, Peel became the presenter of Home Truths on Radio 4, a "magazine programme", as they're called, about the joys and pains and peculiarities of family life. He invited much criticism, again, for doing this, Radio 4 being seen as too sedate for the Peel of our imagination--it is, also, the home of the Establishment in the UK, well known as the station that politicians listen to--but he persisted, in the old familiar pattern, because he liked it. Family was the only thing that was more important to John than music, as his children discovered to their discomfort when he told stories about them on the radio they would have preferred him not to broadcast. At their request, he stopped doing it.
I have already written extensively about what the world lost when Peel died, so I won't go into it again here. Try a couple of the downloads available at the site and you'll start to get it. And read "Margrave of the Marshes", his autobiography, beautifully finished for him by wife Sheila after his death. You'll find a review of it somewhere in the "Suffolk Punch" archives.
Posted by Bruce Hodder at Sunday, July 02, 2006