An OBE, a victim of This Is Your Life, a guest appearance on The Archers and an obsession with The Fall. It can only be John Peel, born today in 1939.
Broadcaster John Ravenscroft aka John Peel was born in Heswall, Cheshire. Single-handedly responsible for launching the careers of countless musicians, not to mention turning on generations of radio listeners to a bewildering variety of “alternative” musical genres.
Beginning his broadcasting career in the unlikely location of Dallas, Texas in 1961, Peel’s “provincial English” accent stood him in good stead as Beatlemania swept the USA and he was even deployed as reporter in the aftermath of John F.Kennedy’s assassination. Later spells with radio stations in Oklahoma and California followed, with the latter seeing him first air his own particular music choices, rather than chart-based playlists.
Back in the UK by 1967, a six month stint on the Radio London pirate broadcasting ship saw his eclectic “Perfumed Garden” programme first aired and by the end of the year he’d been accepted by the establishment as a Radio 1 presenter. An involvement in the Dandelion record label also saw a short series of album releases by non-commercial or unknown acts (as well as his idol, Gene Vincent).
Peel’s self-effacing style and laconic wit would be evident throughout his career, be it on “Top Gear” or the weeknight slot that did much to usher in the punk, new wave and post-punk era – complete with treats such as exclusive sessions and the annual “Festive Fifty” chart.
His sudden death in October 2004 at the age of 65 (suffering a heart attack while on holiday in Peru) came as a body blow to the nation and he was rightly mourned by generations whose musical taste had been shaped by his broadcasts. Younger fans meanwhile were aware of him for presenting BBC Glastonbury Festival outside broadcasts, contributions to “Room 101″, ”Grumpy Old Men” or the hidden gem that was his “Home Truths” show on Radio 4.
For many years his evening radio show theme tune was “Pickin’ The Blues” an old Elmore James slide guitar tune, as covered by 1970′s US band Grinderswitch – and inevitably covered by some of the artists who recorded Peel sessions, The Housemartins supplying an A capella version during one of their visits to the BBC’s Maida Vale studio.