When I first started listening to the John Peel Show on Radio 1, I joined a massive club of people who are obsessed by music and desperate to find the Next Big Thing.
In 1977, there were amazing punk bands who hadn’t released any vinyl and John Peel gave them their first national publicity. Two bands in particular, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Slits had massive live followings but had been unsuccessful in getting recording deals like their male counterparts. ‘SIGN SIOUXSIE NOW’ was spray painted on record company walls, as at least five companies had turned them down. Thanks to the attention from John Peel and a growing fan network, the Banshees eventually gained the recognition they deserved.
The Slits also had their first Peel session two years before their debut album was released. I don’t remember him making any of those comments about them being girls or an all-female band; he just seemed to talk matter-of-factly about all bands, whatever their composition.
When he admired an artist – namely The Fall or The Undertones – Peel seemed to talk as a keen fan with great reverence. His success over many years came from his true love of diverse music forms and his down-to-earth connection with his listeners
“Peel was vociferous in his rejection of the glamour, unmerited privilege and self-obsession of the pop world. His general avoidance of friendships or association with celebrities let alone the musicians he championed was a consistent feature of his life. As Mark E. Smith said: ‘Me and John had an agreement, you know, we never were friends or anything like that, you know… this is what Iadmired about him, he was always objective – people forget that’” Paul Long
At the time of John Peel’s death, his personal record collection was estimated at 26,000 vinyl albums, 40,000 7” singles and 40,000 CDs: all card-indexed of course. In the linked academic article above, Paul Long recounts how Peel had visited Dave Lee Travis’s house (another Radio 1 DJ) and been horrified to discover that DLT did not have any records at all.
When rumours and then the full truth of the Jimmy Saville child sex abuse case came to light, the whole nature of the BBC and its history were examined. Like a lot of organsations, sexism, inappropriate behaviour and exploitation appeared to have been commonplace in the 1960s and ’70s. Radio 1 DJ Liz Kershaw was groped by unnamed DJs:
“When I walked into Radio 1 it was a culture I have never encountered before…. I have always said it was like walking into a rugby club locker room and it was very intimidating for a young woman.” Liz Kershaw
Aged 26, John Peel had married a 15-year old girl whilst working in the U.S. and had allegedly had to leave the country because of his sexual involvement with numerous underage girls. In his posthumously-published autobiography, Peel revealed that he had been raped at boarding school.
Leading the anti-John Peel faction has been Julie Burchill, whose Guardian article in 1999 didn’t hold back:
“I hated him in the Seventies, too, because he liked punk, long after punk – the whitest, malest, most asexual music ever – should have been left to die an unnatural death. I’d been a punk, and knew that the whole thing was, frankly, shit in safety pins. We came to bury the music industry; we ended up giving it one almighty shot in the arm.” Julie Burchill
As a listener, I did wonder about some of the female musicians that John Peel seemed to have a liking for, but Clare Grogan seems to consider him an important positive influence:
.“I remember John Peel saying to me when I was really young ‘If people want you, go’. And I just always thought that was a nice way of doing it – if the demand is there, turn up – and I’ve lived by that. And although I never set out to become a presenter or write books, I’ve had amazing adventures because of it.” Clare Grogan
So, as things stand, we’re generally for John Peel. But maybe we’re biased because both our bands, The Popinjays and PO! have done Peel sessions!
6 thoughts on “John Peel, anyone?”
As a teenager girl I was a guest – with a speaking role! – on a BBC program in the 70s… backstage I met a few of the Radio 1 DJs. Peel was a really nice bloke. He made no inappropriate comments, movements, gestures or anything else towards me nor towards my friends who were there with me. None, zero, zilch, nada.
Later… one of my friends who had been there told me how she had been approached by… a famous* female presenter!! *shall remain nameless
I couldnt @@@@@g believe it!
But, in hindsight, it goes to show that the whole culture at the BBC was wrong. And it was NOT just the men.
TBF My friend hasnt needed counselling, she hasnt had any trauma etc… So WTF if she was propositioned? It didnt do her any harm. We grow up. Move on. Get on with life. There are far worse things than midly inappropriate sexual advances…..
In all fairness to my besties who accompanied me on my journey to Peelie Manor ~ one was more interested in music for albums while the other wanted us to concentrate on hit singles, novelty stuff, she was into working methodically for her fame. So mi bestie gave her da boot because she understood that her approach was long-term and I had a chance of surviving from her vision. Together we worked on a concept Punk opera in secret, after we’d managed to extricate ourselves from others` greedy grasping. We worked from late to early on a 4-track Portastudio in my attic flat. But she panicked because she felt we were missing the moment and she wanted to sing on a stage. She couldn’t abide headphones so she sang without them and I played live, then overdubbed trax later. Then breakfast and chillax time until midday, then sleep until the doorbell started ringing about 4-ish.
And Peelie was complimentary about us which added to our local fame. And I just needed decent drugs not rat poison and everyone was happy.
Sadly I found the 2 Johns creepy ~ Peelie and Walters. Neither tried to put us at our ease during our Peel session but stood there gawping at us. Walters occasionally made sarky and snarky comments in our direction. We were still only teenage young women. Then we were bullied by the sound engineers bc we knew nothing about BBC recording technology. I felt manipulated then rejected once the session had finished.
Ima k with Burchill’s assessment.
Just watched the Arena TV programme of your band recording the Peel session. Wow! You were so young! There were a lot of creepies about….
Sterling research! Not sure I’m that impressed with the filmed footage. We’d driven all night to make it to London and everyone was the worse for wear. Ten minutes free time then Boom! For real.
It was just depped on us when we arrived for the Peel sesh that a film crew was making a documentary about Peel. They didn’t tell us that Peelie would hang about watching us while being filmed.
I was uncomfortable about the filming part and was forced into interview in a cramped van with 3 film crew pointing bulky equipment at me. My bestie pointed out that PRS earned a packet from royalties and that we wanted more financial support from the industry. I wasn’t happy being tacked on to Peel the man, particularly bc he made no attempt to connect, we were the show girlies in the background.
Then Alan Yentob, Controller of B.B. C2 showed up for more silent appraisals. So we had a group of older men in corporate Media suits watching us while filming.and making crazy lighting decisions in a bid to be edgy.
It just made me feel restless and stir-crazy and my bestie refused to move as her silent protest.
It all seemed a rush to shoehorn us into the same space with Peel and Walters and rock engineers.
I loathed it’s institutional indifference, hated cameras up my nostrils, felt like I had St Vitus’ dance bc I couldn’t keep still and generally retreated after that.
As I said I’m not performer-interested really.
It seemed nosey of powerful media men wanting to check out the potential of sensitive young women without providing us with what we needed to chill and prepare beforehand.
Instead we walked into a whirlwind, no other women present so I freaked about that, being surrounded by crews of guys.
That’s what tipped me into retiring from performing and concentrating on my songwriting, composition and production skills. But sadly my bestie went on an ego trip afterwards and we weren’t that productive. Too many parties not enough work.
I missed my original crowd of musical girl mates earlier from school. We were more rounded and stronger together.
And yet we’d always been surrounded by hordes of male musicians,men young and old hanging around our studio space at school. It made me angry bc we were not privy to their private rehearsals and recording sessions and it felt like we were on show, while they checked our style out snottily, Jagger, Richards, Peter Gabriel, Bowie, Eno, Freddy Mercury followed by American heavyweights. I did want to tell them to Feck Off!
Vampires to my mind. But everyone else was star struck, our music teacher rolled star after star at us and they never offered us a bean.
I wasn’t cut out to be a popstar and my bestie was enjoying the lifestyle. In my paranoia, I felt she was preparing to throw me under a bus to further her own ends and after that Peel session I was never sure of her trustability again.
I was ready to retreat to a home-studio and work on another 500 songs as my earlier group of young woman had done.
All the exposure did was bring more jealousy and resentment from other Manc musicians who did not have a clue how our stuff fitted the postpunk moment. And I was bored of being in a band.
I don’t know if I agree with Burchill’s assessment of the vitality imparted to the industry by pink. If you really look at what has sold in the last 50 years, punk was less than nothing in the grans scheme of things. Now was it influential? Absolutely, but I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that punk save the music industry! I am aware of Peel having an unseemly crush on Ms. Grogan, but but at least he did not act [so far as we know] on his impulses. I did not know about his child bride or the others. Ewww.