Did you notice John Peel Day? It was all over Twitter and Radio 1 and the such. It was a day in honour of the late DJ and his box of records. I bet, if you did indeed notice it, that you had an opinion about it, didn't you? After all, there's a hot debate to be had: Should we continue to worship the man, or forget about him and charge forwards into the musical future?
Music journalists certainly had opinions about it. In fact every music hack we know is scoring easy coin churning out nostalgic and anti-nostalgic platitudes, and toadying to your overinflated sense of self-importance. So we created two journalists out of thin air to wrap the warm blanket of righteousness around you and whisper in your ear: "It's okay, baby – it's the world that's wrong."
JOHN PEEL WAS A TEENAGE KICK WHO WAS HARD TO BEAT. WE NEED TO REMEMBER HIM NOW MORE THAN EVER.
by Mark Hepworth
“Whatever happened to, all of the heroes? All the Shakespeare-os?”
− The Stranglers, "No More Heroes" I remember sitting hunched over the radio as a teenager, taping the best tracks off of the John Peel show on the radio. What bliss it was! He told us everything we needed to know about music. Literally everything. I remember writing down all of his rambling between-song monologues and practising them to my friends the next day at school. “As I was driving down to the studio tonight,” I'd begin, “I reached into a pile of old tapes I hadn't revisited for years and came across this one from a band from Kettering, called The Scanwiches, who have been putting out material for some years now on an imprint called Third Ear Records. I quite liked it. It's a jolly little number. See what you think.” I'd watch their faces morph into awe at my ability to impersonate our mutual hero. Back then, all mainstream music was crap. Especially if you lived in a small provincial town, like I did. I remember walking into our local Woolworths, going: “Have you got anything by [longtime Peel favourites] The Quentin Magic Daguerreotype Band?”, and getting nothing but incomprehension from the silly 15-year-old shopgirl behind the counter. During the day, all you heard on the radio was Donny Osmond singing “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool”. I once heard Dave Lee Travis play it 27 times in a row, all the time talking over the top of it in a silly voice. Of course after dark all that changed. Then, we all pressed our hot faces against the speaker cone, to experience the only long-haired lover from Liverpool I was interested in: music-lover John Peel. He turned me on to so many great bands: I remember the first time I heard The Smiths was on his show, some time in the mid-90s. Likewise, the first time he laid down Joy Division (at the wrong speed – typical Peel!) you just knew that this was really going to kick Nirvana's ass. Like Eddie Cochran or Janis Joplin, he died tragically young, and has left a gaping hole in our musical universe. Yet who are his heirs? The dreadful Rob Da Bank? The appalling Tom Ravenscroft? These people are not fit to lick his stylus. Given how few outlets there are for listening to new music, it seems like we need him more than ever. We ought to make every effort to keep the spirit of John Peel Day alive. After all, where can you even go to scout out new tunes these days? Now that my local record shop has closed (no more 7-inch singles for yours truly!), once I've exhausted Spotify, Last.fm, Bandcamp, MySpace, SoundCloud, Pandora, The Hypemachine and 40,000 sundry blogs, there just doesn't seem to be anything out there. Of course, part of this is simply that new music just isn't as good now as it used to be. It's all gone massively downhill, and frankly these days most of the time all I want to do is seek out the new music of yesteryear. Somehow, I think if he were still alive, John would definitely agree with me on this point.
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WE SHOULD KEEP IT PEEL BY NOT GIVING A DAMN ABOUT JOHN.
by David Ellen
The other day, on Twitter, I noticed the world trending the hashtag #keeptingitpeel. This, of course, was John Peel Day, Radio One's annual celebration, of the life and legacy of the late-night DJ. “How ironic!” I thought. “How very ironic. Oh how terribly terribly ironic. That Radio One, supposedly the bastion of the new, should be solely interested in preserving the old: to dwelling over John Peel in a fog of dusty nostalgia that Peel himself, with his constant thirst for the new, certainly never had.” It is only slightly more ironic than the fact that, were he alive today, John Peel would almost certainly not be on the Twitter social networking site, or indeed any other, because he was implacably opposed to the sort of herd mentality they represented. Here, after all, was the ultimate individual: a musical renegade implacably opposed to received wisdom. I still remember listening to John Peel as a teenager, in my small provincial town. Crouched over my primitive tape deck, taping some primitive music off of the creaking candle-powered family stereo late at night, in my winkelpickers, drainpipes, crushed velvet jacket and neckerchief (what a sight I looked!). It was an era when the mainstream was very sheep-like in the way they bought music, hoovering up whatever Donny Osmond single was being played on the radio. That was all right for the sheeple, sure, but not for the likes of us individuals. No, for us, you listened to Peel. He told you what was good. Then you all went out and bought it. When I formed my first band at college, we tried to get our songs played on his show by going to gigs, hoping that Peel would be there so that we could present him with our demo tape. I will never forget his response when we finally ran into him at a Scanwiches show in Northampton: “Don't you want to give that to me a bit later? I'm trying to carry three pints of lager.” 'What a dry wit!' I thought, as I trailed one pace behind him as he made his way unsteadily across the bar. In the end, he never did get round to playing it. I can only imagine it got lost in his famously heaving stacks of records. Much like the next 19 I sent him. But for all our treasured memories, it is high time we all got over our national fetish for the dead DJ. We should stop bending our knee at his grave like medieval Papists mistaking the symbol for the reality, and instead go forth and find new music ourselves. The lesson of John Peel is not John Peel. It is that that we are all our own John Peels. That we all have it within our power to find the latest Bolivian bluegrass-techno sensation (and play it at the wrong speed!). So if you really want to celebrate John Peel, take down your pictures of him and piss on them. Burn your Festive 50s anthologies. Instead, put up a picture of yourself. Then pick up a pair of headphones, and start listening to collections of obscure juke music for six hours a day, until you find the one track that's quite good. I like to think that if he were alive today, John would very much appreciate me pointing this out.