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October 26, 2004 12:20PM
John Peel.
October 26, 2004 03:01PM
October 28, 2004 02:07PM
There is a lot outpourring of grief over here in the UK following John Peel's passing. Lots of Peel sessions on the radio, which nice, and Mark E Smith on Newsnight, which was not.

The most moving piece I have encountered is this lengthy tribute, posted by Bill Nelson on his website:


John Peel, a British broadcasting legend, a personal mentor and a man who I have always regarded as a friend, has died from a sudden heart attack whilst on holiday with his family in Peru. I heard about this through my ex-brother-in-law and one-time Be Bop Deluxe guitar tech, Stuart Monks who telephoned me this morning after hearing the news on the radio. I'm still shocked and deeply upset to hear of this and will no doubt be ever more so as the sad truth sinks in...

As readers of my on-line diary are aware, I was talking with John only a couple of weeks ago. I was in London to give two radio interviews for BBC 6 Music and, by a wonderful coincidence, John was sitting in the BBC's lounge area, giving an interview to a newspaper journalist. He spotted me and waved me over, saying how pleased he was to see me. We hadn't met face to face for some years but John was as warm and enthusiastic as ever.

He completely abandoned his interview for several minutes to ask how I was and to tell me that he'd just been reading through some of my old letters, ones I'd written to him in the early 'seventies. He told me that he was in the process of writing his autobiography and had been going through his archives and came across the letters. I told him that I'd been reading some of his letters to me from the same period as part of the research for the forthcoming book about my own career, currently being written by Paul Sutton-Reeves. (John had generously given an interview to Paul for the book, earlier this year.)

Before returning to the journalist, who was waiting patiently for John and I to finish our conversation, John grasped my hand warmly and held it a while, (the strange thing, remembering the moment now, is that it wasn't a formal handshake but a truly affectionate gesture, quite soulful, heartfelt,) and John said, "Stay in touch, I'm still at the same address you know...we never moved, you should write to me."

I said I would and, in fact, intended to drop him a line as soon as the current tour was over and tell him how very much I still appreciated his championing of my music back in the early 'seventies and how pleased I was to have met up with him again after so many years. I can't believe that he's no longer going to be around for me to do that. John seemed to be a permanent fixture on the British cultural scene, almost eternal, indestructible...For me and so many others, a world without John Peel will be a poorer place.

I first came across John's name and work back in the 'sixties, when I was an inquisitive teenager. I used to buy an 'underground' counter-culture newspaper called 'The International Times', eventually known simply as' IT.' I had to order the publication specially from a local newsagent as it was a fairly obscure item. 'The International Times' became the 'house organ' of the emerging psychedelic movement and, being a young, fashion conscious art student, the newspaper's reporting of the alternative culture scene in London was both exciting and seductive.

John's name and photo came up often in the publication, generally with reference to his 'Perfumed Garden' pirate radio show. Later, he was taken up by the BBC and hosted Radio One's 'Top Gear', (not the tv motoring programme,) which aired on a Sunday afternoon. I remember listening to it whilst I washed my father's car, (often my Sunday afternoon chore,) or while I lay on a summer hillside in Wakefield's Thornes Park, (now Clarence Park,) with my then girlfriend, Lynne Holliday, dressed in our home made psychedelic exotica.

It was this weekly show that introduced me to a wide range of unusual and obscure musics, many of the recordings being only available via a few import specialist shops in this country. It was John Peel who introduced me, via his broadcasts, to John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Terry Riley, Moby Grape, Buffalo Springfield, Spirit, The Electric Flag, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Frank Zappa, and literally hundreds more, far too many to list here.

That part of my life, the people, places, bands I played in, girlfriends, etc, is measured in my memory by those literally utopian John Peel radio shows, programmes which formed the background to my young life and also, magically, changed my attitudes towards music forever. If I can claim any real musical education at all, John's enthusiasms and discoveries would be it. Quite simply, without John's pioneering work back then, I wouldn't be making the music I'm making today. A phenomenal taste-maker, educator and, in a gentle and undemonstrative way, an authentic humaniser, possessed of qualities, (beyond and apart from his passion for music,) that transmitted something worth knowing and sharing.

Later, in the early 'seventies, my own career in music began as a direct result of John's personal generosity, help and encouragement. I'd recorded a very limited edition album of songs, an album called 'Northern Dream' which was a real DIY affair, a two-track tape recorder creation, made in my then home town of Wakefield. John Peel got hold of a copy and played it on his radio show...not just one or two tracks but the entire album, both sides, without a break.

I was flabbergasted and, as you might imagine, absolutely thrilled to bits. John's enthusiasm for the album brought it to the attention of EMI Records who eventually contacted me with view to signing a solo recording contract. By now, though, I'd formed the embryonic Be Bop Deluxe and wanted to pursue a band approach, rather than a strictly solo one. Be Bop Deluxe were not quite what EMI were after though, and it would be sometime later that they'd eventually agree to signing the band, rather than just myself.

In the interim, John publicly championed the band, inviting us to London to record a session for his radio show. I was as nervous about meeting John Peel as if he'd been Jimi Hendrix, he was such an important person in my eyes. John, of course, was warm, down to earth and witty, not at all 'showbusiness' like so many of the other radio personalities of that time. Nevertheless, John's self-deprecating humbleness didn't defuse his star-status in my eyes, I always thought of him as a hero, a legend and man worthy of the utmost respect.

The next surprise that John had for me was rather special and something I'll never forget: He invited me to his wedding. I still find it hard to understand why he did so, the other guests were mostly all well known artists, some of them superstars, (Rod Stewart, Kenney Jones, etc,) but some were more adventurous musicians. I remember being thrilled to meet Robert Wyatt at the wedding reception.

I was a nobody by comparison, just some naive, clumsy, overawed geek from Yorkshire, feeling like a fish out of water amongst such revered company. But John and his lovely wife Sheila, ( somehow, I could never bring myself to call her 'The Pig' as John did,) made me feel welcome and appreciated.

Later on, just after Be Bop Deluxe finally signed to EMI, John invited us to play at his small village hall in Suffolk, a local community event if I remember correctly. (Local Scouts fund raiser, something like that?) Well, we were a bit on the noisy side for the locals, I think. Anyway, John and Sheila generously put myself and the other band members up overnight at their home, the legendary 'Peel Acres' as John used to refer to it on the radio, in reality a pretty and charming cottage situated in a soft cleft amidst the surrounding, gently rolling fields.

Whilst there, he showed me the big room that housed his record collection and also, proudly on display, a toy plastic wind instrument that had been given to him by Captain Beefheart. I was tremendously impressed and also moved to see how genuine John's enthusiasms were. He was a real enthusiast, had cultivated a vast knowledge of music of all kinds, (far broader than his already broad radio shows indicated,) and had the rare gift of being a truly talented listener. He lived his music as deeply as any musician, maybe more so than some. That and football, particularly Liverpool.

Being an absolute dullard when it comes to sport myself, this was an enthusiasm I found hard to share with John. Typically though, his football passions were as strong and all-enveloping as his musical ones.

When I faced the difficult decision to split up the first Be Bop Deluxe line up and re-form the band with new members, there was a period of limbo whilst the future pieces fell into place. During this time, John Peel picked Be Bop as his' tip for the top' in a special Christmas edition of Radio Times magazine. The publication needed to photograph the band standing next to John. When I got the call about this, I explained to John that, at that moment, I hadn't actually got a band at all. He said, " don't worry, just come along to the photo session on your own."

And so I took a train to London and stood next to John at the photo session, amidst all the other Radio One d.j's and their personal choices, bands such as 'Sparks' and so on, feeling completely out of place in my cream-coloured mackintosh that I'd travelled down to London in. Looking at that photo now, a full-colour, double-page spread in an ancient Radio Times Christmas Special, I can only marvel at the faith that John had in me. His printed comment was unbelievably flattering to me. There we stood, shoulder to shoulder, two people visibly out of step with the rock and pop environment surrounding us. Part of it but somehow to one side, if not physically, then at least tempermentally.

Be Bop Deluxe's career spun on from there, changing, mutating, gaining commercial momentum and off we went to America, as bands always did back then. The 'Great Marketplace,' at least as far as the industry was concerned. But we always looked forward to recording more radio sessions for John's programme when back in England, and he was always supportive and kind to us. He also exposed my later, more radical, 'Red Noise' project to his radio audience and, in the 'eighties, invited me to play some of my more esoteric solo instrumental music on his show . I remember a session I did for John where I brought Richard Jobson along to read some of his poetry over my guitar improvisations.

In fact, I've just recalled that John invited me on to his programme once to do a spot of D.J'ing, not long after I'd first been to Japan in the early 'eighties. I took a pile of obscure Japanese albums along that I'd bought in Tokyo, and played a few tracks from them whilst John asked me questions and made witty comments about the music.'Sandy And The Sunsets' was one of the bands I featured, and Yellow Magic Orchestra too, I seem to remember.

John and I lost touch in more recent years, inevitable to some degree considering our own individual obsessions with music and the amount of time that obsessives devote to such pursuits at the expense of social interaction and communication. Despite this, he generously gave a little interview for a local television channel feature about the 25th anniversary of Be Bop's 'Ships In The Night' hit, a few years ago. I remember being both pleased and surprised that he'd given up some of his valuable time to be interviewed about it, even though we'd not seen each other for quite a while. I understand that he'd also played my son and daughter's band's recordings on his show a couple of years ago.

Meeting John once again, a couple of weeks ago, now seems somehow mysterious and, perhaps fated. Or am I over romanticising what was perhaps nothing more than mere coincidence?

Whatever the reason, I'm extremely grateful that events in my life conspired to bring me face to face with this very special person once more, someone who I will never forget and to whom I will be forever in debt. When John said goodbye to me the other week, and stood up to walk away with the newspaper journalist who had been waiting for our conversation to conclude, I had no idea that I would never see John again.

I'm deeply saddened and upset by this loss, as, I'm sure, are many thousands of other people who felt a genuine love for the man. I pray that Sheila will find the strength to bear this loss and that her and John's children will find some solace, however meagre, in the fact that John Peel meant so much to so many people and was loved by all those whose lives he touched, either in person or through the airwaves.

The televison is full of tributes, sound bites and film clips of John Peel as I type these words. I'm pleased that his tremendous contribution to our lives and times is being recognised in such a tangible fashion...but how I wish he was still with us, contributing what only he could to our cultural lives.

God bless and rest you John...you're irreplacable and unforgetable.

Bill Nelson

"I never make stupid mistakes. Only very, very clever ones." - John Peel
October 28, 2004 04:06PM
Nice tribute, TFP.
October 28, 2004 07:28PM
If anyone missed Mark E. Smith's "poignant" eulogy for John Peel on BBC's Newsnight (mentioned by LMG) and is interested in seeing some screenshots documenting the event, use the URL listed below. I think these images convey the moving, heartfelt sentiments that MES so eloquently expressed. Although the BBC were presumably aghast at the Gollum-like Smith's performance, I'm sure that Peelie himself would have thought it hilarious.

October 28, 2004 08:15PM
Indeed.I think the long association between MES & the BBC is now over!!
October 29, 2004 04:41PM

Post Edited (09-18-12 15:54)
October 29, 2004 08:56PM
i saw it on someone's blog--steve woods from rock critics.com??--and since 4th hand description ain't my bag and since if one more person calls MES Gollam (sp?) from that hobbit crap i'm going to scream.

to say the least, he was apparently: drunk, spastic, and inappropriate (and memorable): like the great Fall.

for brief bio on JP

October 29, 2004 10:29PM
Lots of people flaming on Mark E. Smith ; he's obviously being shot remotely without a video monitor.

Post Edited (09-18-12 15:53)
October 30, 2004 05:39PM
Fall did 26 Peel sessions i believe.
October 30, 2004 07:56PM
26, wow. MES denies they were chummy. I realize Peel is not well known in the US but wouldn't that make better newscopy than Ashlee Simpson? The fact that Ashlee Simpson is a lip-syncher is about as new and surprising as strife in the middle east.

Post Edited (09-18-12 15:55)
October 30, 2004 11:11PM
I get the feeling that MES resented the patronage of Peel, as if Peel was responsible for the longevity of The Fall and nobody else.
Nowt as queer as folk as we say here in Britain. smiling smiley
November 01, 2004 02:04AM
MES, the man who cancelled a tour when he started driving west from Texas and realized how big the desert was going to be...

Post Edited (09-18-12 15:56)
November 13, 2004 01:47PM
November 13, 2004 04:30PM
Thanks to Bill Nelson for sharing his thoughts and experiences about John Peel. They are utterly touching.
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