Category Archives: Interview

FROM THE ARCHIVES: a conversation with JOHN PEEL

WHEN SOMEONE IN THIS GAME PUBLISHES ANYTHING WITH THE WORDS “FROM THE ARCHIVES” ATTACHED, WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN IS THAT THE RUSTY OLD FILING CABINET IN THE CORNER HAS BEEN CROW-BARRED OPEN AND – AVERT YOUR HEARTS NOW, READERS OF EVEN MILDLY FRAGILE SENSIBILITY – ACTUAL CASSETTE TAPES, OR POSSIBLY THINGS PUT ONTO ACTUAL PAPER BY AN ACTUAL TYPEWRITERHAVE BEEN FOUND WITHIN. SOMETIMES, IF YOU’RE LUCKY, THE DISCOVERIES MAY EVEN TURN OUT TO BE OF ACTUAL INTEREST

… AND SO IT COMES TO PASS, FRIENDS, THAT – HERE! NOW! – YOU CAN CONSIDER YOURSELVES TO BE VERY LUCKY INDEED. THE MOUTH MAGAZINE IS DELIGHTED TO BLOW A QUARTER OF A CENTURY’S WORTH OF DUST FROM THIS PARTICULAR GEM AND GIVE IT A 25TH ANNIVERSARY DIGITAL POLISH.

A NATIONAL RADIO DJ, TV BROADCASTER AND PRINT COLUMNIST WHO, IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT HE’D HAVE CHOSEN TO BE SO IMMODEST, COULD JUSTIFIABLY HAVE BOASTED AN EXTRAORDINARY INFLUENCE OVER THE MUSICAL LANDSCAPE OF THE BRITISH ISLES. LADIES AND GENTS, WE GIVE YOU THE LEGENDARY JOHN PEEL IN CONVERSATION, IN JANUARY 1988…

1 John Peel Quote

I RECENTLY READ AN ARTICLE ABOUT YOU WHICH SUGGESTED THAT IT’S A LITTLE BIT STRANGE FOR A 48-YEAR-OLD BLOKE TO BE INTO WHAT’S THOUGHT OF AS NO MORE THAN A YOUTH SUBCULTURE – ie. INDEPENDENT MUSIC…
Right. Well, obviously that’s other peoples’ attitudes and not mine. I don’t think it’s strange at all. Hmmm. There’s actually no other area of human taste where you’re expected to just drop off from it when you reach a certain age. You’re not supposed to stop supporting a football team because you turn 30… You’re not supposed to stop going to the cinema when you get to be 35… So it seems rather illogical that you can’t find anything interesting in popular music just because you’re cracking on a bit. Obviously things like Johnny Hates Jazz don’t interest me at all… But, you know, there’s more to  it than that…

INTERESTING SESSION RECORDINGS FROM YOUR SHOW HAVE BEEN COMING OUT AS 12″ SINGLES… WHICH HAVE PARTICULARLY APPEALED, AND WHICH SESSIONS WERE THE BEST THAT HAVEN’T BEEN RELEASED?
Can’t really answer that. Erm… There’s a lot that I’d like  to see come out, but that won’t…

FOR WHAT REASON?
Well, a lot of the bands don’t actually want that stuff coming out anyway – which is perfectly reasonable. Bands like, say, Pink Floyd or Genesis. They both did sessions for us but it’s those ones where we’ve still got the tapes but the bands themselves – or quite often the record companies – would never give us the necessary permissions to release them. Having said all that, there’s a good Syd Barrett one coming out…

OH, REALLY?
It’s from after he left the Floyd, but it’s got members of Pink Floyd playing on it.

YOU WERE ACTUALLY A FAN, BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THEM THESE DAYS?
I didn’t like the recent LP (A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF REASON) very much. But, yes, I have listened to it. What tends to happen is that those sort of people get to a point where they’re making a lot of money, and they’re living very comfortably indeed and they end up getting rather divorced from reality. As soon as their attention starts to wander from the music, they find that they’re doing it wrong. Even those artists who generally keep up – or actually even manage to stay one or two steps ahead… David Bowie…

HE RECORDED SESSIONS FOR YOU IN HIS EARLY DAYS…
He did. Dozens. Well, no. Not dozens. But he did record quite a few…

WILL HIS PEEL SESSIONS COME OUT?
I don’t know. The thing is, some of the record companies… Say you get a band like Echo And The Bunnymen, who really would quite like their session stuff to come out… Again, it’s the record company that says it can’t… which is a bit short sighted of them, really, because a lot of that stuff is, as you’ll know, already available on bootlegs anyway. So it’d mean the bands would get some of that money rather than some Belgian businessman, or whatever.

DO YOU GET ANYTHING FROM THE RELEASES?
I wish I did. People assume I do, but I genuinely don’t get anything out of it at all. Obviously they’ve got my name on the cover, but the money is divided up between the bands, the record companies and the BBC itself. The only involvement I actually have with it is that they, the BBC, send me a list of the tapes that are available to me – to them – and ask which ones I think ought to be the ones that come out.

THAT’S AN ENORMOUS TASK – THE COVERS OF THOSE 12″s CARRY A NEVER-ENDING LIST OF THE BANDS WHO’VE RECORDED SESSIONS FOR YOUR SHOW…
Unfortunately, the tapes no longer exist for a lot of them. Some of the early ones, the tapes just got thrown away. In theory, the BBC is only supposed to keep hold of the recordings for four months anyway – that’s part of the contract they had with the record companies, so that the bands couldn’t be “exploited” at all! So, yes, sadly a lot of those tapes have now gone. 

SESSIONS OFTEN FEATURE SOMETHING SPECIAL OR UNRELEASED. UNIQUE.
Yes. We do try and catch people before they’re in that position of having Greatest Hits, and we try to encourage them to do stuff they might not otherwise do. But, you know, we don’t tell them what to do. When they come in to record the sessions they sometimes see them as a bit of an opportunity to try things out, songs they’ve just written or… whatever the band wants…

DO YOU MEET THEM? OR ARE THE SESSIONS RECORDED ELSEWHERE?
Oh, God, no. I don’t meet them, no. I don’t live in London, where the studios are. They’re recorded on Tuesdays – when I’m working – and on Sundays – when I’m at home. I find recording studios amazingly boring places, anyway. And the bands are working. They don’t want a middle-aged twerp coming in and shaking hands with them while they’re trying to get on with their recording. I respect their privacy. I would actually find it rather off-putting if they were to come into the studio while I was “on air” doing the programme at the BBC… 

… THE BBC… MUSIC ON TV, IN GENERAL… WHISTLE TEST AND THE TUBE HAVE BOTH NOW GONE. SO, REALLY, THAT ONLY LEAVES TOP OF THE POPS AND THE ROXY – NEITHER OF WHICH ARE BREAKING ANY NEW GROUND…
No, they’re not exactly breaking new ground, are they? In a way Top Of The Pops is at least true to itself in that it does seem to genuinely reflect what people want to see and hear, but most television music shows have been seriously flawed anyway, I think… Obviously I’d be pleased to see some of the bands that I like being featured on the television, but the other thing is I think music programmes just end up becoming too indulgent. Something like The Tube. You just know that, after however many series they did, however many Jools Holland and Whatsername did it for, that they could do it much better, you know? I mean, all that pretending that they didn’t know what was next and so on. Quite clearly… bullshit… I used to find that stuff really irritating, that contrived amateurism. I used to sit there watching, and thinking “Don’t  say that – you know very well  what’s coming up next..!”

I LIKED THE TUBE, BUT WHISTLE TEST WAS BETTER IN THAT REGARD…
Yes. It was. It was better. But I just found a lot of the stuff, the music, that they actually put on Whistle Test to be rather dull. There really isn’t that much that I do watch on television, to tell you the truth. The only thing I watch now is the football. And the Grand Prix…

DOES DOING TOP OF THE POPS PISS YOU OFF?
Erm… Well, I’ve actually stopped doing it, now. I don’t do it anymore. There’s no money in it. People assume you do these things for money, but you get paid peanuts at the end of the day. I used to do it because I actually quite liked doing it…
 I used to like doing it with Kid Jensen. I used to like doing it with Janice (Long), though I don’t think she was too happy doing it with me. Also, whatever joke there might have been in some middle-aged man wobbling on and taking the mickey out of it was wearing a bit thin, I think. If I was 30, or something, I might feel a bit different about it. But I don’t actually enjoy the kind of notoriety that attaches itself to you for having been on the television.

WHY’S THAT?
I’ve just found that people recognise you in the street but they aren’t sure whether you’re the bloke they’ve seen in the Identi-Kit picture in the local paper or… I don’t know… some member of the Royal Family or something. But you get a lot of nudging. And nudging just makes me feel very very uncomfortable.

DO YOU HAVE GOOD RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE OTHER DJs AT THE BBC?
Andy Kershaw and I, we do actually share the same Producer so… we have the same… well, to call it an office is something of an overstatement. It’s, seriously, only about a quarter of the size of this room… and, erm… it’s the Producer’s office anyway. But there’s an extra chair in it. So, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday that’s my chair. And on Thursdays it’s Andy’s chair. We don’t work in quite the palatial surroundings that everyone seems to imagine we might! When we get people coming over from, sort of, Belgian radio or Swiss radio or somewhere like that, they’re usually faintly horrified at the pig-sty we have to work in. As far as the other DJs go… Erm… I don’t really. Their requirements are… not particularly musical…

YOU HAVE BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING THAT YOU LIKE TONY BLACKBURN…
I don’t see much of him. But when I do we’re not exactly punching each other in the face.

WHAT’S HE REALLY LIKE, JOHN?
Well, at one time, of course, that is  actually what everyone wanted to hear, wanted to know… As soon as people found out what job you did they’d ask “What’s Tony Blackburn really like, John?”… In fact, I used to do a lecture. I used to go round… (I really quite like the idea of lecturing)… I used to go round these places and my lecture was called “What’s Tony Blackburn really like?” – because that was the question I got asked more than any other…

… HA, I’LL MOVE ON… YOU DOUBTLESSLY GET STACKS OF DEMO TAPES THRUST INTO YOUR HANDS WHEN YOU’RE OUT AND ABOUT…
I do – and they do get listened to. I previously used to put them all in boxes and listen to a few and write back to the people, but quite a few of them got thrown away. Now I do actually manage to listen to them all  but I really don’t have the time to write back – and I can’t afford the postage to send them all back, so… The ones that I like, you know, are the ones where we book the bands to perform sessions for us. And the ones I don’t like… I give the tapes to a bloke who runs a club in London for kids so he can give them to the kids to use to record things over. As I say, I just haven’t got the time to write back to people these days. You could write back to them, I suppose, but then you’d wouldn’t have the time to listen. It seems to me to be more important for me to listen to their tapes than it is to be writing letters to each other… Actually, Tom Robinson used to write to me a lot. He used to write when he was 14 years old and at some strange school for bewildered children of the middle classes, down in Kent. He used to write these really rather entertaining letters which were illustrated by a mate of his… Still got some of them, actually… Good lad, Tom.

I IMAGINE THE TAPES THAT YOU’RE GIVEN ARE REALLY VARIED…
Yes, they are. That’s good. On the programmes I do I tend to mix in all kinds of things, you know… Sometimes people don’t like it but, on the other hand… if they’re listening then I think they’re probably not narrow minded. I think perhaps people sometimes pretend to be, for whatever reason… On those rare occasions where I get to listen to anything for pleasure, myself, rather than for work… well, at the moment it’s the Bhundu Boys…

… THE BHUNDU BOYS – ANDY KERSHAW AGAIN… I WAS AT A DJ NIGHT HE DID RECENTLY AND HIS SET WAS NOT WELL RECEIVED. LOTS OF COMPLAINTS…
People shouldn’t be so stupid… What he does is on public display at least once a week… so they actually ought to know what it is that he does, the type of thing it is that he plays. The idea of going along to something and then complaining because it’s been what it’s supposed to have been seems, to me, to be ludicrous… It’s like going to the butcher’s shop and bitching because they won’t take your bet… You know what I mean?

YOU RELEASED A COMPILATION ALBUM, A VARIOUS ARTISTS THING, IN 1972 ON YOUR OWN LABEL. THE COVER WAS A PICTURE OF YOU IN THE BATH WITH A YOUNG WOMAN, BOTH OF YOU NAKED…
Yes, that’s right! I used to have a record label of my own, called Dandelion Records. It was catastrophically unsuccessful from a commercial point of view, but I quite liked some of the stuff that we managed to put out. We did do a couple of compilation LPs. And I did sit in a bath with this… for about two hours… with this young woman without any clothes on. I was far more embarassed about it than she was. It turned out she was rather used to doing that sort of thing, whereas for me it was something of a novel experience…

… IN AN OTHERWISE RELATIVELY NORMAL LIFE..?
Well, as normal as a life can be when you’ve got four children. Yes.

WHAT I MEAN IS, IT’S CLEAR THAT – TO YOU – YOU’RE JUST A NORMAL BLOKE DOING A JOB… OTHER PEOPLE MIGHT EXPECT YOU TO BE DRIVING FLASHY CARS AND ALL THAT. THEY MIGHT EXPECT TO SEE YOU HANGING OUT AT THE GOLF COURSE WITH… I DON’T KNOW… TARBY.
Ha! Not bloody likely! I’d set the dogs on the bastard if he came anywhere near me… I’m just not interested in that sort of stuff at all. Like, all I really want to do is go home so I can wake up in my own bed in a morning… When I go to “ordinary” gigs I do stand out, I suppose – but that’s primarily because I’m twice the age of everybody else there…

… AND YOU OBVIOUSLY GO TO A LOT…
At the moment I’m doing a piece each week for The Observer, so I do have to go to at least one a week. I actually try and go to things that I wouldn’t normally go to. The gigs I enjoy the most, the ones I really do like going to, are gigs by people like Nana Mouskouri… though I gave her a bit of a panning, I must admit. But those are the kind of gigs I like going to. Not to take the piss, particularly, but just because I like them as events. I find them fascinating. I thought I was going to be sick during the Nana Mouskouri gig, because there was so much cheap perfume in the air. I actually did feel quite queasy… Do you know, there’s no national publication which tells you where people like Nana Mouskouri are appearing? I find that very frustrating.

… PEEL SESSION ..?
Ha ha. No, not Nana Mouskouri, no. We have, in fact, somehow managed to bypass Nana… We actually only book bands in for the sessions about a week or two ahead. Erm… I’m trying to think who we have got coming in. But I can’t remember… Not Nana Mouskouri, anyway…


visit  THE JOHN PEEL ARCHIVE  here   and   KEEPING IT PEEL  here