It’s coming up to the sixth anniversary of John Peel‘s death, and after all this time the hole that he left has never really been filled. Other broadcasters in genre specific areas have kept torches burning, but the fountain-of-eternal-great-music-regardless-of-genre has run dry since his passing.
Every army needs a leader; for those with a passion for alternative and interesting music John was without doubt the commander-in-chief. In recent years the influx of media from seemingly never ending sources has bombarded the music fan like never before, but the downside of this vast amount of choice is how to find the needles in the haystack. John, it seemed, could run through the fields and come out looking like a volunteer at the local acupuncture college. Although it may have seemed effortless, his time spent ploughing through mail bags of mediocrity, motivated by an urge to find great stuff alongside a sense of guilt that he wasn’t listening to it all yielded spectacular results throughout his illustrious career.
Some days when I manage to leave my desk for lunch I come back to find my inbox overflowing with details of hundreds of new bands, free downloads, gigs and other requests. Even if there were one-hundred hours in the day I simply couldn’t listen to it all. I often get pangs of guilt that bands have spent hours producing something amazing, but I just never get round to playing them even once, let alone finding the time to listen to it properly. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a day in the life of John Peel – quite how he managed it I will never know.
His broadcasts were a laser piercing through the fog, highlighting what was important and offering some direction. Whether a solitary trusted compass for the music fan was enough (or even fair) could be debated, but the results speak for themselves. He was on the money time after time, year after year. Quite how he would have functioned amongst the information explosion that followed would have been intriguing. One suspects he’d have continued on the same tried and tested path, but with an e-mail inbox replacing a plethora of postman with back problems – incurred after years carrying sacks of vinyl, tapes and CD’s up the drive to Peel acres.
Alongside his heart and amazing character I’d argue that the focal point he offered is sorely missed. Being featured on his show, or even being asked to record a session carried infinitely more weight than being MySpace’s band of the week or getting details of your new single re-tweeted by Lily Allen ever will. But, with so much change in the music industry over such a short period I don’t think anyone’s had the time to stop and actually comprehend what we’ve lost since he departed. Dandelion radio do amazing work, but they don’t get the love they deserve. Where are all those people who tuned in to Peel? Where did a central point of quality control go?
It makes me sad to see how each year the celebrations around his life seem to get downscaled. Who remembers Radio 1’s minute of noise? Or the compilation CD’s of great things he played? Events are going on this year; there is a great line-up for World International John Peel Day at Bloomsbury Lanes, London on Saturday the 9th of October. But more needs to be done by those with greater clout and those people that are making things happen need more support.
I’m hoping his legacy isn’t slowly eroded and people still remember what a unique position he held with dignity and humility. As part of my own Podcast series I’ve recorded a one-off tribute show, to play just a few of the great songs he loved (and I probably wouldn’t have heard without him (plus a couple of new things I think he would have loved)). I could never hope to be inclusive, but I hope you enjoy this selection and it brings back some happy memories of this legend of broadcasting.
Also, if you are organising or involved with Peel related events and want to post details of them below please do.