Wednesday, 24 February 2010

John Peel

Just finished reading the book "John Peel:A Life In Music" by Michael Heatley. I read it in week, which is strange for me - I am a notoriously slow reader - but I read the book in the style of which it was written. Quickly. After finishing the excellent "England's Dreaming Tapes" I found myself with no book to read. OK, I have Barry Hale's "Legion 49" + "Thee Psychick Bible" by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge...2009 version - but I'm not taking them to work to read! They cost too much money to be smeared by canteen food and greasy I dug down to the bottom of the "to read" pile and found this book. I picked it up for a pound at Christmas from Saint Marychurch "Animals In Distress".
I've already read the Peel (auto) biography "Margrave Of The Marshes" and his printed columns "The Olivetti Letters". I got them as Christmas/Birthday presents over the past few years - well...what do you buy a guy who likes music, but not like proper music that other people like? A couple of years ago I spent a long weekend in Penzance, Cornwall, and found it bereft of secondhand record shops and charity shops so I bought the Ken Garner "Peel Sessions" book. All these three books are great reads. Unputdownable books. "A Life In Music" is the opposite. An easilyputdownable book.
It was 50p. 50p. You can't go in to a charity shop and not spend money. 50p on a book about John Peel. Bargain.
This book is a fleshed out obituary. The publishers, Michael O'Mara Books, gave the job to music journalist Heatley to flesh out the obituaries that were in the nationals and music papers and add tributes from the fan pages on the Internet...collate the material - put in some pictures that are free - i.e. pictures of Anfield, Scissor Sisters, Radio 1 DJ's and hey presto! A book. There is one chapter in this book that covers the 1980's in 20 pages "From Hip Hop To Hardcore" that just names bands that Peel played. Throughout the 1980's there is no insight to Peel's life. Not that I am interested - it was all covered in the (auto)biography - but it is just bad journalism.
In 1983 he played Stump and The Smiths and had a session by etc etc. In 1984 he featured records by Sonic Youth and Shamen. Just very poor.
I do not recommend this book.
The last few pages are of tributes from artistes who have been touched by John. A blatant exercise in appropriation from Peel tributes pages on the Internet.

One night - August 1978 - I was in a hotel in Newquay (Cornwall) on holiday with my parents. They had had a long day and were ready for bed by ten. I, as a 16 year old, wanted to stay up and carry on drinking at the hotel bar - but i was sent to my room. Mum said "Listen to John Peel". The hotel had one of those radios built in to the walls - so I did and immediately heard Ultravox! and Ian Dury. From that night on - I was hooked. In 1981 I taped every Peel Session. I think I am right in saying that the first Peel Session of 1981 was Crispy Ambulance.
My Peel story: I met John Peel one night. It was 1985, I am sure it was 1985 and Peel was curating a week at the ICA in London (in conjunction with Heineken Lager). Thursday night was Shoot Dispute! (From Scotland), Big Flame (From Hulme, Manchester) and SPK. I travelled from Hulme, Manchester as a guest of SPK.
The gig ended in a riot. A riot at the ICA! It was all down to the London Fire Brigade and them not allowing SPK to use axle grinders and flame throwers during their set and SPK refusing to play under those conditions. I was in the "changing rooms" as the conversation was taking place. Squatting on the floor next to Brian Williams and a guy dressed as Fireman Sam - it was surreal. But surreal, real surreal was yet to happen. SPK played for 10 minutes. "Junk Funk" was the opener, then Brian started with the axle grinder and the sound was turned off. Audience threw objects at the stage, picked up monitors to throw at the speakers etc. Graeme Revell handed me his Fairlight synth and said "Keep It Safe".
I ran backstage, Fairlight underarm and hid behind a large PA cabinet case. I was soon to be joined by Bruce Foxton and John Peel. We looked each other in the eyes as if to say "FUCK" and then Bruce said "Nice Synth those", and that is all I remember. I was squatting behind a PA Stack cabinet case staring John peel in the face whilst a riot ensued all around and Bruce bloody Foxton is trying to chat to me about Fairlight synths.
I was staying in Mile End that night and I caught the last tube back dressed in army fatigues. I got stick from Cockney wide boys all singing the Status Quo song "You're In The Army Now".
A night I shall never forget.

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