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John Peel one year on

§ Music

Thumbs up from John Peel

It is exactly one year since John Peel died. This time last year I put together a compilation to celebrate what John Peel had done for my music listening down the years. I also tried to make the song list as eclectic as possible. Each song also had to have a direct connection with John Peel – some are Peel sessions, some are featured in his Peelennium and others were special in other ways. At the time, the compilation was very much a personal thing but time marches on so here’s what I came up with:

  1. The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train by Half Man Half Biscuit
    Peel session with a typical Peel link tacked on the end. Half Man Half Biscuit are one of my favourite bands, and one who Peel promoted relentlessly – he even offered to bank roll them when they split up a few years ago (fortunately they reformed).
  2. Siva by Smashing Pumpkins
    Peel session, and a cracking one at that, back in their early days, when they were still considered a grunge band. Brings back lots of good memories from my second year at uni.
  3. 32–20 Blues by Robert Johnson
    This track represents 1936 in the Peelennium. When I first started listening to Peel, I’d never really heard Mississippi delta blues before – one of the great things about Peel is that he’d occasionally dig into history like this. I found it fascinating.
  4. The Science Fiction by Hefner
    I went straight out an bought ‘Boxing Hefner’ after hearing them on the Peel show. This track is off that album and is a Peel session.
  5. Your Charms by Cinerama
    I few years ago I won the chance to see Cinerama perform a Peel Session at Maida Vale Studios. During some chat with lead singer David Gedge, Peel challenged him to write a song called ‘Your Charms’. And here is the result, itself a Peel session.
  6. Aquarius by Boards Of Canada
    Ambient techno had to appear somewhere in a Peel compilation and these boys from Scotland do it so well.
  7. Disco Pig by Melys
    Welsh music too required a place. I chose Melys because Peel played them on the last show I caught and they were a huge favourite of Peel (they did eleven sessions!)
  8. I Know You Got Soul by Eric B & Rakim
    Old school hip hop at its best – one of my favourite tracks of all time and it represents 1987 in the Peelennium.
  9. Rock Island Line by Lonnie Donegan
    I remember Lonnie Donegan doing a joint session with Half Man Half Biscuit, this was one of the tracks performed.
  10. Victory by PJ Harvey
    From her first Peel session. PJ Harvey has been played by Peel all through her career and she’s one of my faves.
  11. Heather by The Wedding Present
    The second of three David Gedge tracks on this compilation, for which I make no apology – his music was a favourite of Peel after all. This one’s a Peel session.
  12. Rough Dogs by Melt Banana
    No Peel show would be complete without a short burst of mad Japanese music. Melt Banana do just that and were on the last show I caught.
  13. Hands Up Billy by The Fall
    Well I had to stick in a Fall track – everyone knows they were ‘officially’ Peel’s favourite band. This is one of my favourite Fall songs.
  14. Slab Square by Six By Seven
    I bought ‘The Closer You Get’ following a recommendation on the Peel show. I remember Peel reading a letter a from someone who wanted to hear Rage Against The Machine – he flat out refused and played Six By Seven instead as a superior example of ‘angry rock’.
  15. Lion Rock by Culture
    Another genre (reggae) to be included. This track is on Peel’s only compilation (his Fabric set) and represents 1982 in the Peelennium.
  16. You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends by The Wedding Present
    The final Gedge track, from my favourite band, recorded during their first Peel session.
  17. Here by Pavement
    Pretty much my favourite track of all time. Pavement did a much rockier version for a Peel session, but I prefer the melancholy of the original.
  18. A Legend In My Time by Half Man Half Biscuit
    One half of a weirdly prophetic birthday present for Peel (the Fall were on the other half of an acetate). “Aaah, you ought to hear me sing that. One of these days.” Sadly not to be.

If you want a CD copy drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do (I normally ask for something similar in exchange).

At this point it’s also worth mentioning the newly released John Peel Tribute album, a two disc compilation, some of whose proceeds go to charities including the Salvation Army. The album does well to cover four decades of broadcasting and one could be generous and say that it demonstrates the importance of Peel’s work in bringing fantastic artists to public attention. But that in itself highlights the downside of this album – music lovers will know just about every artist on the compilation, if not every song, and there is not that much representation outside of rock and pop.

The album has forty great tracks, of that there is no doubt, and it could be said it is a valid tribute to Peel’s effect on modern music taste in the UK. But it doesn’t feel like John Peel, simply because it’s all too familiar. On the other hand, Peel’s FABRICLIVE album – the only compilation he ever published in his lifetime – feels much more like a Peel show. It’s still plenty accessible but with enough of an edge to keep it Peel, as the BBC insists on saying at the moment.