On what is, we think, officially John Peel Day Keith Goldhanger looks back at his relationship with the man the DJ, the man the music fan (of Keith’s own bands) and the man the man.
It was my last year at school and having proudly mentioned at lunchtime one day something about a tune I’d heard the previous evening on Radio Caroline (a pirate radio station broadcasting illegally off the coast of Clacton-on-Sea) I was swiftly berated by those in earshot that at that time of the evening if I was trying to be cool about listening to the radio late at night, under the bed covers, then at least I should be listening to the correct show.
That’s how I first learned about a man called John Peel.
Over the next few nights, week, months and then years I’d listen and record and then edit the best bits that I’d recorded onto a master cassette which then became my own personal “Now that’s what I call Music”.
And that’s how I killed the music industry.
(For the record, not one of those tapes that I still have (Crates of the bloody things that I never play anymore) was actually titled that.)
The first John Peel show I heard had a band in session called Swell Maps who, for the four especially recorded tunes, featured Lora Logic on Saxaphone. I taped that radio show the first night just as I still do today when I regularly tune in to John Kennedy on XFM. Over the course of the first few months, my first “master cassette” (as I would title it until I got the scissors out and cut a few words from the nearest magazine) that I listened to over and over again included Swell Maps plus many others who are included on this youtube mix that technology and a good memory has taken me less than an hour to stick together for you.
Thanks to this John Peel debut, and a few C60 tapes, I ended up going to see Swell Maps play a gig under the main stand of Chelmsford City football stadium. I would already know most of the songs that they would be playing that evening. The local punks actually hated them but I fuckin loved ’em. They were the first band I saw that I’d been listening to for weeks beforehand. They were at that time my favorite band. One or two people that also stood at the front (and there were only one or two) became friends for years. One I flat shared with when I first moved to London a few years later and the other chap I ended up forming a band with a few months later. I physically shook as I handed Jowe Head one of his drum sticks back to him towards the end of the show. There were no more than thirty people watching them (maybe a lot less, I was at the front – staring at this shambolic mess of a band play my favourite songs as I nodded furiously) and twenty five years later someone amusingly arranged for Jowe to hand me back a plectrum that I’d dropped whilst performing at my own bands gig that he was attending.
Four or Five years after first hearing Peel I found myself purchasing most if not all the records I’d previously owned on Cassette (So I didn’t kill the music industry after all, In fact I saved it) except for the DISCO STUDENTS “South Africa House”.
The Disco Students track was re released in the mid 90s and as an excited adult I deemed this would be the final piece of vinyl required to complete the set. Unfortunately the person I wrote a letter to (went all the way to the post office and put one of those sticky things with the queens face on the front) wrote back saying if I wanted to buy one of those records I’d have to go to a bloody record shop to buy one as he wasn’t allowed to post them out. Even to folk like me who wrote a very long letter, offering cash and explaining that this piece of vinyl would be the completion of a personal quest I’d only just realised I’d set when I heard about this re-release.
I went to a record shop, they didn’t have it in stock,
I still don’t own a copy, I don’t want one any more – they pissed me off and it wasn’t meant to be, don’t send me one, I’ll post it back un-played and in pieces.
The first time I saw John Peel in the flesh he was queuing up outside my first visit to Camden’s Electric Ballroom to see Spodgenessabounds (22nd August 1980 – I’ll tell you all about my five year diary one day) and the second time, again still too shy to speak to anyone “famous” was at the same venue to see The Fall. We were all in the queue to get in early because they’d been a bit of a buzz about the support band that night (Cup final evening 1983 Brighton should have scored that last gasp shot to win it – people from Sussex will remember that day well).
That support band were The Smiths.
I thought they were OK (Just found that show on youtube – see below.)
John Peel played a single I made (with a quarter of the Swell Maps mosh pit) in 1983 but I was at a RESIDENTS gig at the Hammersmith Odeon that night. I’d had the foresight to explain to my mum that at ten o’clock she just had to hit the play and record button at the same time. It would turn around itself and it was a C120. It was an educated guess that I was going to be played because my best mate at school was at the time in a band called BONE ORCHARD. John Peel played them a lot and gave them a session! Bloody hell – we all thought at the time – one of our mates is going to be a pop star, but instead of sitting around someone’s house listening to Bone Orchard’s finest moment we were all in West London watching what I thought was a very shit gig.
That night (28th June 1983, the night before her birthday) on Radio one, whilst my mum was staring at the wheels of a C120 go around, John Peel said hello to her.
She’ll tell you today…
“John Peel…oh he once said hello to me”.
My prediction that he’d play my first record (it faded in, he hated records that faded in) the same evening as the Bone Orchard session was also a calculated one – I’d mentioned in the letter that accompanied the 7″ that I knew Bone Orchard and that I would be at a Residents gig in London and would have to rely on one of my parents to get the technology to work. Had the pressing of two buttons simultaneously failed then that would have been it. No second chance in those days. No repeats, no playback feature – nothing.
I still have that recording today.
Even people in bands today will tell you that hearing your own music on the radio can be one of the most exciting things in the world. It doesn’t matter who plays it but it’s the thing that suddenly justifies what’s been worked on during those hot, sometimes frustrating moments in rehearsal and recording studios (or bedrooms) during the previous weeks, months or sometimes years.
During John Peel’s employment at the BBC that was all there was for many of us to achieve. One my own observations with bands nowadays is that a lot of them are very good musicians. Many people in the bands we see and write about today seem to have been playing their instruments since they were about twelve years old (or younger). When I was a teenager I purchased a bass guitar when I was about eighteen and by the age of nineteen was playing gigs. Therefore getting played by John Peel not only justified that we didn’t need to have studied at music school for ten years, but was really the only chance available of getting any musical artistic recognition, some justification for what we were doing and two fingers to stick up to the neighbours who complained about the racket and the blokes in vans who shouted abuse at us as we strolled down the high street with our ridiculously coloured hair.
In the late 80s, after months of rehearsing, failing to get any gigs, losing a drummer in a fatal accident and the realisation that if we edited a recent recording down to a couple of minutes we could have a decent 7″ single, I released my second piece of vinyl by the second band I’d been involved in.
John Peel played this as well.
This one he played a lot.
He read out my address and we received a couple of carrier bags full of self addressed envelopes with 50 pence pieces sellotaped inside. One bloke from Blackpool actually bought about ten copies.
We took a box of these to a Pussy Galore gig and also sold them for 50p. Sold about thirty of them to people who we recognised were in bands. People like Steve Albini from Big Black and to people we didn’t know but seemed keen to get a copy. The people who we didn’t know I think were the people who rang us up the next day and the day after that one of us got a call to do a session for the BBC.
Excited was an understatement.
I don’t think any of us actually met John Peel during this time but I do remember drunkenly telephoning him in the studio (The number wasn’t a closely guarded secret) from a public telephone box one night to tell him that I’d just been standing in a chip shop in Willesden Lane, Kilburn hearing one of our own songs being played on the radio which was perched on the shelf behind the man serving me chips.
“Oh, he must be listening to Radio One….” he replied, before I froze, hung the phone up and regretted actually calling him whilst wondering if this was the same sort of behaviour that say, the bloke from Bogshed got up to after he’d drunk too much Guinness on a cold Tuesday evening.
BASTARD KESTREL were never going to get played on “Steve Wright in the afternoon” and Simon Bates even refused to say our name (I have a cassette marked “Simon Bates NOT saying Bastard Kestrel” where he talks about the show and stumbles over his words when mentioning The John Peel show just before turning a nation into floods of tears with his daily “Our Tune” segment)
At this particular time, early 1988, the John Peel show ran from 8PM to 10PM which meant that further on in life we would meet people in other bands or out watching other bands who would suggest that the reason they failed their A levels was due to being distracted from their homework by hearing us, not just us mind, on the radio whilst they were meant to be studying.
Before the year was out we did a second session and I remember punching the air when I found out we were doing another one and began thinking we might actually eventually get to be as big as someone like Dinosaur Jnr.
We didn’t get as big as Dinosaur Jnr though because they were great and we were shit. Other bands doing similar stuff were also a lot better than us and then one of us stubbornly went on to form a band consisting of just bass players and drummers, getting years of sore throats, European tours and the occasional play by John Peel whenever we released a single.
Which was about every six months.
A friend of mine often reminisces about being in his car one night after a heavy weekend at which I was present at and hearing John Peel wonder out loud “I wonder what HEADBUTT are up to at the moment….?”. If my mate had been in possession a mouthful of coffee it would have hit the windscreen apparently and the radio then blared out a tune we’d just released on a German Label that the DJ sounded very proud to have been in possession of. I have a mini tape somewhere (well actually not somewhere, it’s on the mantlepiece, I found it last weekend) of John Peel leaving a message on my telephone answering machine requesting a copy of our new single called “I Fix Shit”. These things are always worth preserving.
What for ?
Who knows eh? Maybe just in case in years to come you might feel the need to digitalise it and let the world hear it….but I won’t.
I got to meet John Peel a few times in the ’90s. Outside Broadcasting house (If you could work out what time he arrived you’d get the product in his hand!) Reading Festival (we watched the Fall from the side of the stage but didn’t chat as it was very loud) and at Phoenix festival (where he introduced me to a young lad that we all know today as Thomas and does a show on 6 music, sounding at times very much like his father I tend to think).
My favourite thing that John Peel managed to do, probably without actually thinking about it, was wearing one of my bands T-shirts in an advert.
For about nine months during the mid 90s my telephone would ring at various points of the week with people I knew beginning the conversation with “Hi, guess what I’ve just seen”….and then proceeding to tell me they’d just been to the cinema and….. “Yeah I know” I’d say – …”Glad you saw it” and then chatted about the weather before hanging up. John Peel did one of those pre-film adverts about video piracy and making sure that what you were watching wasn’t going to be responsible for the collapse of the movie industry. As the camera panned out a small section of cinema goers would punch the air and give a tiny shriek as a twenty five foot long HEADBUTT logo appeared on his t-shirt. I know this is true, I went to the cinema ninety five times that year.
When the BBC broadcast one of the many tributes after his death they used this picture as well.
So what of his shows then….? Well, most of us got annoyed with one thing or another. Too much reggae, too much electronic unlistenable noise, too much bloody Fall people would say, and Sheena Bloody Easton!!!??? …but we still tuned in as much as we could every now and then because sometimes, if only just the once during the evening, we’d catch a gem of a track.
Like the first time I heard “Schizophrenia” by SONIC YOUTH
…or a band called FLYING SAUCER ATTACK absolutely murder Suede’s “The Drowners”:
…or “Geek Love” by BANG BANG MACHINE:
Blimey if there was ever a band to accuse of being a “one hit wonder” without actually having a hit it was this lot surely?
I remember hearing the show on the night of Lockerbie, Kurt Cobain’s death announcement, and the Monday after Hillsborough. We all remember he played records at the wrong speed. I remember being really pissed off when THE SMITHS “There is a light That Never Goes out” was number one in the 1986 festive 50 and not “Kiss” by AGE OF CHANCE and that positions 5,6,7 11 and twelve were all bloody Smiths songs and that “Dickie Davies eyes” by HALF MAN HALF BUSCUIT eyes was only number 39 – what had everyone been listening to that year? – I had NOT ONE Smiths song on any of my cassettes and I felt cheated. Really hard done by but wise enough to blame the listening public and not the man himself.
My regret after his death was not going to his funeral. It didn’t cross my mind until a mate called me asking if I was there. I was given his funeral service program though. You’ll know what I’m on about if you’ve been to a funeral. A simple folded up A4 piece of paper with his picture on. It takes up about a 10% space on a framed picture that includes some of the newspaper cuttings from ten years ago that still sits above the fireplace, you know above the tape with the phone message on.
And that kid from Blackpool with all those Bastard Kestrel 7″‘s ? – well if you’ve not guessed yet, he’s the chap that allows me a free reign of terror on these Louder than War pages – John Robb.
No one really ever remembers Bastard Kestrel’s music but I’d like to think all these years later the odd person from the earlier mentioned Bogshed or any other obscure band that appeared on national radio during these years might remember the name fondly. I’d like to think there’s a member of the Disco Students reading this with boxes of the aforementioned 7″ still sitting under their bed and if possible, then yes, I’d love a copy of your single please – I won’t snap it apart, honest.
My personal facebook page contains loads of people who appeared on the John Peel Show between the late 1980s and late ’90s. That’s mainly because many of us were in bands and strived for the acknowledgement that we felt was always a realistic possibility. We do all meet up intermittently, usually unplanned at other people’s gigs. We all still keep an eye on each other’s current activities and I’m sure each and every one of us is proud to have been a part of the John Peel show in the past even if it was (for some) only for three minutes.
That’s an impressive legacy.
All words by Keith Goldhanger. More from Keith can be found over at his Author Archive.