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.