Turn the Heater on

Stumbled across this – #keepingitPeel – on Twitter, great idea. People posting their favourite Peel session track, in honour of the great man.

The only time I ever wrote in to John Peel was to ask him to replay this Peel session… which he did, dedicated to me and my little sis, Emma. I must have been 17 at the time, at sixth form college. He also wrote back to a sixth form friend when she complained about a band being Bauhaus copyists; he scribbled on her letter ‘And who do Bauhaus rip it off from?’ She wrote back: ‘Bowie?’ He wrote back ‘No’. I still don’t know who he was talking about.

From the age of 15 of so I used to hang out in Wardown Park every evening, on the steps of the museum when it was cold, under a big horse chestnut tree when it wasn’t, with Chris, Steve, Mark, Lewis, Joe (until he died), Emma and Antonella, listening to Joy Division, The Fall, Theatre of Hate, Inflammable Material, Dirk Wears White Sox, The Correct Use of Soap, on Lewis’ ghetto-blaster. And Linton Kwesi Johnson and Michael Smith’s Mi Cyaan Believe It. Lewis was into his dub poetry. And then at ten-to-ten everyone disappeared so we could get back for John Peel, cassette recorders at the ready.

I still remember the first time I heard Joy Division on Peel, lying in the dark with the radio on, hearing an angry voice sing ‘So lose some sleep and say you tried…. say you tried, say you tried’ (Autosuggestion from the Earcom Two EP). It scared me then, and Joy Division still scare me now. I was in the Watershed the other night and they were playing Unknown Pleasures…. which was great, but the only way to really listen to New Dawn Fades is in the dark, at full volume; lying on the sofa with the lights out and just the glare of the telly with the sound turned down, or walking through the streets in the rain at night, with autumn leaves on the ground and that frosty fireworks night smell in the air. It’s kind of sacrilege to listen to it any other way… it’s the absolute antithesis of background music.

I remember little snippets from Peel, still. The way he recited a band’s line up (the Wake, I think, or Section 25?) with someone on sequencers and then said “I say sequencers with all confidence as if I had the slightest idea what they were, but please don’t write in to try to explain it to me ‘cos I’ll only get ‘one of my heads’ and still won’t be any the wiser” and when he introduced Aretha Franklin singing Without Love, saying “Not the Without Love you’ll be familiar with… well, it might be, how would I know?” It took me years to finally find out what the other Without Love was… I assume he means the Irma Thomas/ Clyde McPhatter track, which is great but not quite up there with Aretha singing “All night long one night, I could not sleep, for ringing in my ears…” and her voice on ‘ringing’ actually sounds like ringing. As Peelie said when the track finished, ‘that woman could turn water into wine just by singing at it’. (A theme developing here…. songs about not being able to sleep. I was obviously insomniac even then.)

The Festive Fifty was the highlight of the year. Look at the 1978, 1979 and 1980 lists, one punk classic after another (and those poor guys who were still religiously voting for Stairway to Heaven and Derek and the Dominoes). We’d replay the tapes over and over again at what we called our ‘gatherings’ in Mark’s outhouse at the weekend, and I would grumble about why people liked the Cocteau Twins so much. It was a time for great celebration when New Order beat the Cocteau Twins and The Smiths to the top of the 1983 Festive Fifty. At the time it seemed terribly important that they should.

The songs I most associate with the Peel show were those that would never have got played anywhere else: the Only Ones Another Girl Another Planet (pre Vodaphone ad days!), the Red Guitars Good Technology, Artery Into the Garden, The Naturalites Picture on the Wall, The Chameleons In Shreds, Spizz Energi Where’s Captain Kirk? I could go on and on… John Peel: a true legend.

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  • keepingitpeel  On October 25, 2010 at 6:17 am

    A fan of John Peel.. a vegan…
    Wish you were my MP.

  • Matt Moran  On October 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Hold on, you used to hang around a park when you were 15 listening to music?

    I hope people stop for a second & think about this. The same kids we see hanging around in parks listening to music, chatting & socialising, that we ironically accuse of “anti-social behaviour” for socialising (i.e. social behaviour!) outdoors, are potentially tomorrow’s MPs. High time we stopped demonising kids for such behaviour.

    I used to hang around with my mates drinking & playing guitars under canal bridges (good shelter from the rain & the acoustics were nice & echoey) when I was a teenager. I’m a Java developer now. What is the nation coming to, eh?

  • kerrymccarthy  On October 25, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Yeah we used to hang round the park, and some of us had funny haircuts too!

  • hookersandgin  On October 25, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    I have a recording of one of my favourite moments when he played Captain Beefheart’s Big Eyed Beans From Venus as part of the all-time Festive Fifty. He’s choking back tears and clearly affected by it.

    Then there was that time he played Sheena Easton’s Nine To Five as part of the Peelenium. I honestly thought the fire alarm had gone off and they’d switched to the emergency tape.

    • kerrymccarthy  On October 25, 2010 at 11:22 pm

      Peel was rather fond of short female singers…. Cocteau Twins, Altered Images, Sheena Easton. I’m sure there are more examples to prove my theory, which I was certainly convinced of in days gone by. (The Sundays? Was she short?) I wasn’t particularly keen on any of them – especially Sheena Easton!

      The first thing I ever ate in an Indian restaurant was mushroom biryani. That was another thing I got from him… was the only thing I’d heard of!

      • hookersandgin  On October 25, 2010 at 11:41 pm

        Interesting theory! But he was very fond of Courtney Love and she’s tall.

        I’m rather fond of her myself…

      • kerrymccarthy  On October 25, 2010 at 11:47 pm

        And I supposed he liked Siouxsie too. But he seemed rather fixated with Elizabeth Frazer and Clare Grogan and Sheena Easton… weren’t they all Scottish too? Did he ever express a fondness for Lulu or Lena Zavaroni? That would nail my theory totally!

  • crossland  On October 28, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I would guess the missing ‘influence’ that Peel was referring to would have been either the velvet underground or Krautrock (Can/Neu!).
    Who were both key influences on Bowie also.
    They did a version of ‘waiting for my man’ with Nico.

    Bauhaus werent that directly copying anyone though as far as I know , theres also the dub and T-rex influence as well.

    My key peel years were late eighties so that still includes beefheart but also Pixies,MBV, lunachicks,mudhoney etc .
    I liked the cocteau’s but my bete noir was the Smiths.

  • crossland  On October 28, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Growing up in Manchester ,we also thought the Chameleons were a sort of secret still being kept alive in indie disco’s and no one outside of the north west seemed aware of them.
    Kind of Manchester’s ‘missing band’ .

  • Nils Boray  On October 31, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    I remember you writing about hanging our in ‘gangs’ probably about two years since. I did a lot of it as well. Did you not get hassled by police ? We often did – quite rightly too if I’m honest but it was uncomfortable at the time. I rather wish I hadn’t done all that hanging out on street corners – not that I didn’t enjoy it. Just think it steered me down some negative paths.

    I always found John Peel a bit dull to be honest.


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