John Peel

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John Peel
Photo by Andrew Buurman/Redferns

On 25th Oct 2004, John Peel died in Cuzco, Peru of a heart attack, aged 65. He was BBC’s longest-serving radio DJ and the first DJ to introduce The Ramones, Roxy Music, The Smiths, The Fall, Rod Stewart, Blur, the Sex Pistols, T. Rex and others to the masses. He founded Dandelion Records in 1969, which released records by Kevin Coyne, Bridget St John, and Medicine Head. He was also known for his Peel Sessions releases of live radio sessions. Peel was appointed an OBE in 1998.

Hearing about John’s untimely death was similar to hearing the news about John Lennon’s murder, or Michael Jackson’s death. Now I’m not comparing Peel in any way to the musical genius of Lennon or Jackson, but Peel introduced us to so much music we would’ve never heard, he became like a close personal friend.

Bands from all over the world sent their demo tapes to John knowing that he really cared. John had an uncanny knack of being ahead of any trends or fads. He just loved new music. You’ve only go to look at the list of acts who appeared on the John Peel Sessions to see it reads like, well, just about every decent act worth hearing.

He was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio, and he is widely acknowledged for promoting artists working in various genres, including pop, reggae, indie rock, alternative rock, punk, hardcore punk, breakcore, grindcore, death metal, British hip-hop, and dance music.

Like most teenagers, I listened to Peel on the radio – it was the window of the world to music. Apart from introductions to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, T Rex, Neil Young, and countless others, I remember hearing ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ by Joe Walsh for the first time on Peel?s show. At the time, I’d never heard anything like it; maybe it was the “talk box”gadget that Walsh used on the track, but it struck a chord with me. I decided there and then I had to hear more, so the following day I skipped school (again) and took the train to Manchester to pay a visit to my favourite record shop, Virgin.

In this small store, you could request to hear things and listen to the whole album sat on a stool, wearing a rather large pair of headphones. So I listened to both sides of the latest Joe Walsh album The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get. I loved it. But seeing as I’d barely enough money for my return train journey, a few weeks passed before I could afford to buy the album for myself. My point here is that thousands of other youngsters over the years would do the same as me after hearing something played by Peel; it might’ve been Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, The Smiths, The Sex Pistols, Nirvana, Blur, or Atari Teenage Riot.

Peel was born in Heswall, near Liverpool, and after completing his military service in Britain in 1962, went to the US where he began working for a radio station in Dallas.

He joined BBC Radio 1 at the launch of the station in 1967 and established himself with the late-night programme Top Gear. Peel appeared frequently on British television as one of the presenters of Top of the Pops in the 1980s, and he provided voice-over commentary for a number of BBC programmes. He became popular with the audience of BBC Radio 4 for his Home Truths programme, which ran from the 1990s, featuring unusual stories from listeners’ domestic lives.

In later life, I met John on several different occasions and he always took time to engage in a conversation. One such time I walked into the reception area at BBC Broadcasting House where John was trying to take a nap before his show. On seeing me, he sat up and we started to chat. He never got back to his nap.

Peel’s enthusiasm for music outside the mainstream occasionally brought him into conflict with the Radio 1 hierarchy. In early 1977 station controller, Derek Chinnery contacted John Walters and asked him to confirm that the show was not playing any punk, which he (Chinnery) had read about in the press and disapproved of. Chinnery was evidently somewhat surprised by Walters’ reply that in recent weeks they had been playing little else.

I feel like I’ve not even touched the surface of what John achieved – I could carry on writing all day.

On 26 October 2004, BBC Radio 1 cleared its schedules to broadcast a day of tributes. London’s Evening Standard boards that afternoon read “the day the music died”.

When his death was announced on Radio 1, the station played his favourite song, ‘Teenage Kicks’ by the Undertones.

Peel had often spoken wryly of his eventual death. He once said on the show Room 101, “I’ve always imagined I’d die by driving into the back of a truck while trying to read the name on a cassette and people would say, ‘He would have wanted to go that way.’ Well, I want them to know that I wouldn’t.”

Important Dates In The Life Of John Peel:

On this day in music
15 Jun 2022
Rare items from the late veteran BBC DJ John Peel's home collection sold for a total of £465,784 at an auction held by Bonhams in Knightsbridge, London, UK. A signed Lennon/Ono album went for £15,300, while the highest bid was for a Sex Pistols test pressings single 'Anarchy In The UK/I Wanna Be Me' from 1976 that went for £20,400.
17 Jan 2016
English drummer Dale Griffin died aged 67. He was a founder member of Mott the Hoople best known for classic tracks 'Roll Away The Stone' and 'All The Young Dudes'. The band who made eight albums during their five-and-a-half year existence, reformed to mark their 40th anniversary in 2009 - but Griffin was too ill to take part. Griffin also produced numerous BBC Radio 1 John Peel sessions from 1981 to 1994 including the first professional recording session for Pulp in 1981.
21 Oct 2006
British broadcaster John Peel left over £1.8m and over 25,000 vinyl records in his will. Peel died suddenly at the age of 65 from a heart attack in 2004.
12 Nov 2004
The funeral of DJ John Peel took place at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey and The White Stripes were among mourners, while Sir Elton John left a wreath of yellow roses.
25 Oct 2004
John Peel died in Cuzco, Peru of a heart attack, aged 65. He was BBC’s longest-serving radio DJ and the first DJ to introduce the Ramones, The Smiths, Rod Stewart, Blur, the Sex Pistols, T Rex and others to the masses. He founded Dandelion Records in 1969, and was also known for his ‘Peel Sessions’, releases of live radio sessions. Peel was appointed an OBE in 1998.
18 Dec 2001
English singer songwriter Clifford T. Ward died aged 57 after suffering from multiple sclerosis since 1984. His first album, Singer Songwriter, was released in 1972 on Dandelion Records (a label formed by the late disc jockey John Peel). He had the 1973 UK No.8 single 'Gaye'. Working as an English teacher in the late 60’s, one of his pupils was the future wife of Sting, Trudie Styler.
31 Jul 2001
BBC producer John Walters died aged 63. Walters produced and worked with Radio 1 DJ John Peel, who teamed up with Walters to broadcast some of the most groundbreaking music of an era. He joined the BBC in 1967, and became producer on John Peel's Top Gear show two years later. Walters played the trumpet with the Alan Price Set in the 1960s.
3 Sep 1991
During a European tour, Nirvana recorded ‘Dumb’, ‘Drain You’ and ‘Endless Nameless’ at Maida Vale studios in London for the BBC Radio 1 John Peel show.
16 Jul 1970
Pink Floyd recorded a show at the BBC Paris Cinema, in London, England for broadcast on the John Peel Sunday Concert, on BBC Radio 1 (broadcast 19 July of this year.)
5 Feb 1970
David Bowie recorded four songs at the BBC Paris Cinema, London, for the John Peel Sunday Concert radio show. This was guitarists Mick Ronson's first appearance with Bowie who went on to work with Bowie as one of the Spiders from Mars.
28 Jun 1969
Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, The Nice, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Ten Years After, Taste, The Liverpool Scene and Chicken Shack all appeared at The Bath Festival of Blues in England, with DJ John Peel. Tickets cost 18/6. The festival proved very popular, selling out all 30,000 tickets in the first week, surprising both the townsfolk and the promoters. The only major problem occurred when the Nice's use of bagpipers caused the stage to collapse.
25 May 1969
A benefit concert was held for Fairport Convention at The Roundhouse, London to raise money for the families of the band's drummer Martin Lamble, Richard Thompson's girlfriend and clothes designer Jeannie Franklyn who were all killed in an accident driving back from a gig. Also on the bill, Family, Pretty Things, Soft Machine and John Peel.
27 Apr 1969
Pink Floyd appeared at Mothers Club in Erdington, Birmingham, England. Radio 1 DJ John Peel reviewed the gig as '...sounding like dying galaxies lost in sheer corridors of time and space'. Recordings from this show were included in the group’s 1969 album Ummagumma.
22 Dec 1967
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd, The Who, Keith West and Tomorrow, Eric Burdon & The Animals, 1984 (featuring future Queen guitarist Brian May) and Soft Machine all appeared at The Olympia, London at an all night festival 'Christmas On Earth Continued'. The DJ was John Peel plus the venue featured a paddling pool, light shows and a movie theatre, tickets £1.
1 Oct 1967
The first edition of UK BBC Radio 1's 'Top Gear' was aired. Presented by John Peel and Pete Drummond they featured The Move, Traffic, Pink Floyd, Tim Rose and Tomorrow featuring Keith West.
26 Aug 1967
Small Faces, Move, The Gass, Tomorrow, Denny Laine, Jeff Beck, Eric Burdon and Marmalade all appeared on the first day of the 3-day non-stop happening 'Festival of the Flower Children' at Woburn Abbey, England. Plus DJ's John Peel and Tommy Vance, day tickets cost £1.
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