Colin Newman from Wire and David Gedge from Wedding Present Help Josh Norcliffe Explore “The Importance Of John Peel’s Support.”

John Peel, who died 10 years ago last month, shaped the taste of generations of music devotees – a genuine visionary who spring boarded some of the world’s most important groups into the mainstream.

As Peel himself cynically put it, he was …

“…the one who comes on your radio late at night and plays lots of records by sulky Belgians.”

Of course, it wasn’t just that – he would go on to champion everything from “world” music and drum ’n’ bass to indie and post-punk through his celebrated ‘John Peel Show’ and the iconic Peel Sessions.

The disc jockey was central in helping to propel the careers of Pink Floyd and David Bowie in the late 1960s and then again in the 1970s with punk rock pioneers The Ramones and The Damned. As 1980 approached it was time for a bill of new bands and artists to take stage as The Smiths, Billy Bragg and The Wedding Present prevailed as favourites among Peel’s loyal followers. The success that the Wedding Present went on to achieve was parallel to the support that Peel provided as front person David Gedge explains…

“In those days it was different from now as you were more reliant on the support of radio and other things. He had the power to almost make or break a band in a way. As soon as Peel played our record people were coming to us and asking us to play places. We got reviews in the NME and music papers and it just increased the awareness of the band really. We embraced the sessions too – we’ve always been a live band and with a Peel session you’ve got to play live. A lot of the time with bands, Peel sessions sound better than tracks that you spend months in the studio working on.”

Gedge carried on…

“I don’t think it can be like that again … I do miss that programme a lot. I think other people do and I think there are efforts made to replicate that like on BBC 6 Music. Peel had a boyish energy to seek out new music and help new bands that he liked and play them on the radio. His support was completely invaluable.”

The Wedding Present singer also confessed that, while his group benefited from the DJ’s support, he has…

“…met other bands in the same genre as us who didn’t get that original support…”

…and ultimately failed. While Peel may have overlooked some bands, it is impossible to understand music as an oral history without skipping over one or two things.

American indie-rock outfit Wheat are undecided on whether or not Peel’s sessions had a direct impact on their band although they prized the experience, as Scott Levesque said…

“I’m not sure if we ever found any direct impact from doing a session, other than the excitement on our end of being a part of such a cool rock ’n’ roll experience. We did so much touring in EU that it was hard to pick out specific moments. The spoiler for us was that Peel didn’t appear at a lot of sessions.”

While analysing the benefits of John Peel’s support proves difficult, it’s worth remembering that Peel sought out underground music – and where he often brought these bands to chart prominence, some bands are simply not destined to crash into the mainstream.

In contrast, London post-punk group Wire rose to prominence in the late 1970s following the short-lived punk era and already gained a lot of press attention before their first Peel Sessions in 1978. Wire vocalist Colin Newman attempts to evaluate the long-standing affect the sessions had on the band…

“Although Wire got a lot of press in the 1970s, we were virtually absent from radio & TV so John Peel was pretty much the only place anyone could hear us on the radio…”

…although being part of a British institution was something the influential group revelled in…

“…we used to have fun with it. Probably our most notorious Peel Session dubbed ‘15 minutes’ was the track ‘Crazy about Love’ which was semi-improvised in the studio and lasted 15 minutes – the length of three standard Peel Session songs. It meant that 15 minutes of continuous airtime had to be devoted to Wire and I don’t think anyone else had taken quite so much of a liberty with the format.”

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While on the subject of Peel remember you can still vote in this year’s festive fifty over on Dandelion Radio’s website: here: dandelionradio.com/festive50. See our article “The Festive Fifty – The Dandelion Radio Years” here.

All words by Josh Norcliffe. More writing by Josh on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.

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