John Peel: A Tribute to the Much Loved DJ and Broadcaster – book review

John Peel: A Tribute to the Much Loved DJ and Broadcaster
Mick Wall
Orion Books
2004

Most of us still remember John Peel really fondly, however there’s a growing number of music fans out there who were never lucky enough to have heard Peel on the radio. Chris Hearn is one such person & in an attempt to understand more about the man he read Mick Walls 2004 tribute to Peel. Read on to see what he thought.

Mick Wall loves John Peel. Mind you, it seems that there are very few people out there who don’t love John Peel, at least according to this book. To say this is a glowing ode to John Peel would be putting it pretty mildly. In this account of John Peel and his life, you will find very little criticism, just much adulation from cover to cover.

Now, I must say that before picking up this book, my knowledge of John
Peel was limited. I knew about the Peel Sessions. I knew he was a BBC DJ. I knew that he was well known, at least in Britain. But, I had never heard his show or read much about him. So, this was, in a way, my official introduction to the guy. I like him, and I think I would regardless of this pro-Peel love fest of a book.

Back when I used to work in the world of commercial radio, I became quite disenfranchised. I couldn’t believe that so many people that worked in radio didn’t really seem to care about music. Commercial radio really is about the commercials. It is set up to revolve around the commercials, with the music being seen as filler and a way to attract listeners to the commercials. And, because I wrote commercials, guess what: I actually WAS exactly what I didn’t like about commercial radio.

So, the idea that there is / was a DJ out there who was not obsessed with himself (as too many DJs truly are), but did his job for the love of music and sharing that music with his listeners restores my faith in humanity. And, he did truly love music, and, it would seem, had a good ear for it, regardless of what decade it was in. After all, he had been on air for close to 40 years. He fell in love with music when he heard Elvis, for gawd sakes. Now, over the years, he played plenty of stuff that just didn’t catch on of course, but this is also the guy who introduced the UK to people like David Bowie, The Faces, T. Rex, The Damned, The Fall, Nirvana and the White Stripes, among many others. So, he had something going on and can be forgiven for the odd piece of crap jammed in between his gems.

From what I have garnered, both from the book and from extra reading and researching about the guy, his interest in music was almost obsessive, as was his approach to his show, and for that matter, life. He would spend eight hours a day just listening to new music, at least in his later years. That’s dedication. His famed record collection was filled with stuff sent to him by bands and artists from all over trying to catch their big break. Not only did he try hard to listen to all of them, he also meticulously labeled, categorized and recorded on file cards every record, single and CD he had. Estimates are that this collection has 26,000 lps, 40,000 7 inch singles and 40,000 CDs. No mention of 8 tracks or cassettes, oddly enough. The guy must have had a Walkman, no?

But, of course, he did have a life outside of music, and it revolved around his wife Sheila. The way the book describes it, they had an almost fairy tale relationship, where they seemed like giddy school children right up until the day John Peel died. That’s a beautiful thought.

And, of course, the book does wind up after he passed away on a trip to Peru with his wife. It probably doesn’t need to go on so much about all of the accolades and the outpouring of love that came about upon his death. By this point, we get it; everyone loved the guy and owed their career, if not their lives to John Peel. And I wonder if the man himself, who is portrayed as being so very humble, would get about half way through the preface and stop reading right then and there, either being overcome with tears (he was a very emotional man) or having read quite enough positive gushing over himself, thank you very much.

All words by Chris Hearn. More articles by Chris can be found here.

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2 comments on “John Peel: A Tribute to the Much Loved DJ and Broadcaster – book review”

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  1. This book is a “scissors & paste” cash in rush released after his death.
    Better off with his autobiography “Margrave of the Marshes”

  2. Great blog, which I came across by the way when googling “I’m in Love With
    Margaret Thatcher,” the Notsensibles tune that appeared in the Meryl Streep movie “The Iron Lady.” In any case, wanted to add that another good Peel (auto)bio is “John Peel: The Olivetti Chronicles,” which collects the best of his writings and those of his wife Sheila and their three children. As a Yank, Peel turned me on to lots of great bands (e.g. The Fall, Wedding Present, etc.) on his weekly BBC World Service Show in the late 80s & early 90s, and was later gratified to know that he had championed even the bands I already knew (such as the Undertones…see the DVD or YouTube “The Story of the Undertones: Teenage Kicks,” in which Peel tracks down the band 20 years on).

    At any rate, cheers for the blog!

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