Thursday, 16 October 2014

Radio 1 - the state of play in 1991

In 1991, John Peel clocked up 24 years of unbroken service on Radio 1.  He was the longest serving disc jockey on the station, though 2 other DJs who had been there at the beginning of Radio 1, were back at the station for a second stint: the twin legends of Alan Freeman and Tommy Vance.
Peel's days of broadcasting on weekday evenings and effectively wrapping up Radio 1's output for the day had come to an end in September 1990 when his show was moved to weekends, transmitting Saturday and Sunday from 11pm to 2am.  Although the slot was effectively a graveyard one, according to his autobiography, Margrave of the Marshes, Peel had asked for the move ostensibly for family reasons.  By 1991, Peel had been married to his wife, Sheila aka The Pig for 17 years.  His oldest son, William was 15, oldest daughter, Alexandra was 13, youngest son and future 6 Music DJ, Tom was 11 and youngest daughter, Florence was 9.
June 1991 brought a major change to the world of the Peel show as his longstanding producer, John Walters retired from producing after 22 years to be replaced by Mike Hawkes.

Musically the two big records of the year were Nirvana's album, Nevermind (in terms of influence) and Bryan Adams's single Everything I Do (I Do It For You) from the soundtrack of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (in terms of sales).  Of the two artists only one of them was given house room on Peel's programme and it wasn't the Canadian.  Moreover, while the Seattle Sound which would be marketed as grunge within the year began to gain more attention, Peel could reflect that he had been playing records by Nirvana and their contemporaries since the late 80s when they had been releasing singles on the Sub Pop label.
In Britain, the Baggy movement of 1989-90, had been superseded by the less partified but sonically more thunderous sound of shoegazing, which substituted grunge's intensity for a more detached, ethereal ideal.  The year would also bring through the emergence of a couple of important figures on the British music scene in PJ Harvey, who went straight onto Peel's playlists and Blur, who had to wait a number more years to do so.

As with most perceived threats to the nation's youth, the acid house movement of the late 80s had become subsumed under an all purpose dance label.  Indeed techno music would go on to deliver a highly marketable sound which would dominate the charts for many years. Certainly my memories of Top of the Pops in 1991 nearly all relate to stages of dancers and some bloke called into call out a single line response over the beat.

Hip-hop continued to gain traction but the chart as of 2 November 1991 had only just seen Adams knocked off the No.1 spot by U2's The Fly.  The highest dance record was Get Ready For This by 2 Unlimited though Moby was also in the top ten with Go; the highest rock record was Wind of Change by the Scorpions and the highest hip hop record (of a sort) was Let's Talk About Sex by Salt 'n' Pepa.  Go on, admit it, you were singing along to each of those as you read them, weren't you?  It's alright, so was I.
Elsewhere the chart was packed with other dance acts (Bizarre Inc, Oceanic, SL2, Rozanna), established MOR (Lisa Stansfield, Cathy Dennis, Mariah Carey, Kiri ti Kanawa), surprise hits (Slade, Julian Lennon, Paul Young) and a glut of reissues (Monty Python, Queen, Don McLean). The chart for the week can be found

The Radio 1 of November 1991 looked from a distance to be as preserved in aspic as that chart was, with the approaching earthquake of Matthew Bannister's arrival still over a year away.  Weekdays were dominated by long running names like Simon Bates, Gary Davies and Steve Wright.  Dave Lee Travis was being tactile on the weekends.  The Peel weekday slot was now hosted by Nicky Campbell with a mix of album music and interviews and there was still space on the channel for Andy Peebles (with a soul music show) Richard Skinner (with an AOR show), Bob Harris (who had a whopping 16 hours a week between midnight and 4am, Monday to Thursday) Mike Read (hosting a record review show) and Adrian Juste (with 1 hour of comedy).
Apart from Peel, specialist shows were provided by Andy Kershaw (world music), Mark Radcliffe (indie on his fondly remembered Out on Blue Six), Pete Tong (rap it says here, but that can't be right) and The Man Ezeke (reggae).  Mark Goodier doubled up on The Evening Session and did the Top 40 on weekends.  Tommy Vance was still serving up The Friday Rock Show which Alan Freedman hosted on Saturday together with the evergreen format of Pick of the Pops on Sundays.
The indispensable guide to the vagaries of the Radio 1 schedule through the years can be found here

So that was where Radio 1 and John Peel were in late 1991.  Before we start getting some music posted, I need to tell you a little about where I was and my first tentative steps into the acting that will intertwine with the Peel show on this blog.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

DJ Preach - Return to the Source (14 October 2004)

The video IS working, I promise.

The Last Show - 10 Years On

But before we go to the start, let's take a quick leap forward to the end. As I write this on 14 October 2014 at 11:06pm, I have to reflect that 10 years ago, this date and around this time Peel was playing his second record of his last Radio 1 show, namely Jimmy Reed's Hush Hush. This blog was not set up to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Peel's death, it's just a quirk of timing. However, I thought it would be remiss of me not to mark it appropriately. Also, bringing up the last broadcast before we've reached the first (for the purposes of this blog) takes away that horrible sense of it looming in the distance like an approaching meteor. I will return to these tracks in due course to provide some more details about them once I've tracked down the 7", 12", EP or album they come from, but for now here are the tracks which would have made my mixtape from October 14 2004:

 Jimmy Reed - Hush Hush
 DJ Preach - Return to the Source
 The Fall - Powder Keg
 Horace Andy - Skylarking
 22-20s - Why Don't You Do It For Me
 Haze and the Acolyte - Executive

Tracks unavailable for listening but which would have been taped:
Black Diamonds - 3rd Density
Matoa - Mixed, Flipped and Twisted
Dollhouse - Shangri-La Tiger
Hoffmann - Dimlix

 Videos for the first 6 tracks be found below. I'm having trouble embedding them within the blogger posts at the moment.

 So this gives you some idea of how the blog will work once we get underway. You can make your own decisions on what you would keep from this date by going  Here

So here's where our journey is heading towards, now back to November 1991 and the shape of Radio 1 at that time.

Jimmy Reed-Hush Hush (October 14 2004)

The Fall - Powder Keg (14 October 2004)

Horace Andy - Skylarking (14 October 2004)

22-20's - Why Don't You Do It For Me (14 October 2004)

Haze & The Acolyte - Executive (14 October 2004)

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The relationship between amateur dramatics and a John Peel mixtape

This is the story of the link between the most important disc jockey who ever lived and an amateur actor whose progress through life and amateur dramatics was sound-tracked by the music played on his show.

"I always used to listen to his show, tucked up in bed with a single earpiece in my ear so my mum wouldn't know I was awake."  How often did we hear this kind of remembrance after John Peel passed away in October 2004.  In those pre-iPlayer days, the relationship between Peel and his listeners was one of immediacy.  Unless you were taping his show, you had no listen again feature.  Instead, you had to absorb a bewildering, beautiful, frightening, strange, exciting and, at times, terrible mix of music in the moment wherever that was - under your bedclothes, by a hi-fi, through a cheap transistor or while listening in your car.
The car radio was my point of entry to Peel's show.  By the mid 90s, 1995 to be precise, I was 19 and fortified by the Britpop records that were reflecting the 60s music which I had gotten into and which had lead me to what I regarded as my natural listening home - Radio 2 - I started listening to The Nation's Favourite.  I can reel the names back to you even now:  Chris Evans (on the days when his ego didn't keep him off air) Simon Mayo (with Mark Kermode ranting about cinema in 10 minute chunks each Friday), Lisa I'Anson (who appears to have fallen off the face of the earth since the mid 90s), Nicky Campbell (with the teasingly topical Triple Tracker), Mark Goodier (who I saw do a live DJ set at the Twilight Zone nightclub in Redruth that summer).  The Evening Session with Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley (was her move to daytimes really such a promotion?) and then Mark Radcliffe and the boy Lard to finish the day off.  I lapped it up and at the risk of sounding like an old bastard, I'd gladly have it as Radio 1's daytime nowadays (and I'm aware that those kids who love today's Radio 1 line-up will say the same thing themselves in 20 years time).

In broadcasting though nothing is set in stone and through 1996 and into 1997 that schedule changed.  The most seismic change saw Radcliffe and Lard move from 10pm to replace Evans at breakfast.  The Evening Session moved forward to 6.25pm and that left the way clear for John Peel to move back into weekday evenings for the first time since 1990.  At this point, with his show running from 8.40 to 10.30pm, I only caught snippets of his show while driving to see my girlfriend in Truro, 20 minutes away from where I lived in Falmouth.  Other times I would hear him were when I would be driving home from rehearsals for plays I was doing with various drama companies dotted around Cornwall and it's these times that form the basis of this blog.

I've been doing amateur drama since 1991.  I started acting during my GCSE year, using it as a way of releasing the pressure of the exams.  I followed this up by doing a BTEC in Performing Arts at Cornwall College and through this started making contacts which got me invited to start performing with some of the local amateur dramatic societies - Falmouth Young Generation and Carnon Downs Drama Group were my main societies, all very local and easy to reach after I passed my driving test in 1994.  My horizons started to expand a little in 1997 when I was asked to take part in a production of A Tale of Two Cities with West Cornwall Drama Group based just outside Penzance.  This meant a 90 minute round trip and on the journey home, my company was John Peel, which meant drum and bass while driving through Rosudgeon and death metal in Helston.  A year later, I started acting with St Austell Players, which meant another 90 minute round trip and Peel on the journey home - reggae in Grampound and Indie pop in Tresillian.  2 or 3 times a week, every couple of months, I was exposed to an incredible onslaught of music across every concievable genre by someone who it felt as though was in the car with me.  The best possible company while driving through quiet Cornish villages on the long and lonely A30 or A390.

Why this sticks in mind is that once the productions were over, Peel and I would go our separate ways until the next time I was in a play.  I didn't listen to his show at home.  Sometimes, I would go to Compact Records in Falmouth High Street to try and order a record I'd heard on Peel's show.  But
it wasn't till 2002 that I finally did what I should have been doing all along and started taping his
show at home.
I had no interest in keeping complete episodes of his show because invariably there would be stuff I didn't want to hear again.  What I was looking for was the stuff that connected with my ears, with my feet and with my soul.  Some of it weird and novel, some of it traditional and everyday, but all I knew was that I would know it when I heard it.  And if I could bundle it all into mixtapes with his links included, I would be able to make my own Peel Shows for posterity.
I started on 14 May 2002 while I was acting in a play with West Cornwall Theatre Company called The Shaugraun at Minack Theatre on the cliff tops near Land's End.  The first track to go onto a mixtape of mine was This Girl's on Fire by Dayglo Superstars released as a split 7" single on Versechorusverse Records with Seedling.  At various points through the year, I made recordings and picked out the tracks I liked, putting them on to mixtapes.  Mainly guitar based but with enough dance, reggae, electronica and vintage material to avoid sterility.  By the end of that first year, I had 4 mixtapes worth.

However, storm clouds were gathering for a variety of reasons:
1) I didn't have a particularly happy year in 2002 apart from meeting the woman I would eventually go on to marry, but that seemed a long way off then.  For the most part, the year was characterised by loneliness, isolation, disappointment, poor choices and blind alleys.  Peel was a comfort during this time but he also became an association with these bad emotions and as I cautiously looked  for an improvement in fortunes going into 2003, I started to move away from listening to his show.

2). I had also started to become a bit irritated with him.  All the talk about life at Peel Acres and his family seemed to me to be as self-indulgent as those disc jockeys who went on about their celebrity mates and apparently guilded lives.  I knew that this element of home and hearth was crucial to who Peel was but it still grated.  I don't know why, probably because I'm a dick.

3). My stereo system's tape function was starting to play up.  I recorded a fair wodge of the 2002
Festive 50 show (which won't feature in this blog as I wasn't doing a show at the time) but I was only able to preserve one song, Jeffrey Lewis's The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song because the tape became scrunched up and compressed just at the point that The Datsuns launched into In Love.  I tried to record an early 2003 show but the same thing happened.  I didn't have the funds to get a new unit and so we drifted apart.

I even stopped listening to Peel on the journeys home from rehearsals through 2003-04.  It seemed that whenever I turned on to him, I'd always be coming in just after the start of a
lengthy DJ set.  No variety to see me home or I would reflect that there was no point listening as I had no means to record the next night's show.  The last Peel show I heard was on March 16 2004 when I was driving back to Cornwall from Walsall having gone up to see my favourite team, Ipswich Town, play there.  But this absence didn't really matter because I could always go back to him eventually, he wasn't going anywhere was he?

In October 2004, I was reading the TV supplement from a newspaper and saw a picture of Peel in the radio listing Pick of the Day.  It explained that while he was away on holiday, his show would have guest hosts for the week, namely Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of Underworld, Robert Smith of the Cure and Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees.  "It's time" I decided.  Some more tempestuous times were round the corner and I realised that it was now nearly 2 years since I had last listened to Peel.  I decided to start taping again when he got back from his holiday and if the machine was still playing up, I would ask for a new unit as a Christmas present.

When the news of his death came through the following week, I felt as shocked as everyone else, but I also felt responsible.  I'd neglected him for some seriously stupid reasons and now, just when I wanted to make it up with him, he was gone.  The 4 mixtapes were precious to me, but undercut by the realisation that if I hadn't been such a dick and been a bit more proactive in replacing my wonky tape machine, I could have had a dozen mixtapes to enjoy.

However, despite the proclamations that Peel's passing was the end of an era, I stuck to my decision and started taping and making mix tapes again, reasoning that just because Peel was gone, it didn't mean that music would stop.  I taped Rob Da Bank when he saw the Peel show through to the end of the year.  I was there for OneMusic in 2005-06 and I supported Huw Stephens's Introducing programme and Da Bank's Sunday night show.  However I did still miss Peel and found Radio 1's decision to replace OneMusic with Colin Fucking Murray's Evening Session-lite shit deeply depressing.

It was while lamenting this state of affairs that I went to the interent and typed the words "Peel Tapes" into Google.  It brought up a website called The Peel Tapes, which featured to my amazement a selection of Peel shows from the final Perfumed Garden  in 1967 up to shows broadcast a few weeks before his death.  It was my entry into the online world of Peel, a worldview that would expand significantly when I came across the John Peel Wiki a few years later. I was soon to discover many more dedicating to sharing and celebrating his legacy and the music he championed.

When listening to old Peel programmes, I found myself hearing certain tracks and thinking, "That would have definitely gone on a mixtape".  We have now reached a point with YouTube, iTunes and Discogs where such tracks can be shared, kept and found more easily. With this in mind, I've decided to embark on a challenge to listen through Peel programmes from a certain point in time and identify the tracks that would go onto a mixtape.  Further to this, I am going to try and track down further examples of each artist's work so that I can get a better picture of their work at the time Peel played it.

The choice of tracks will be subjective, I don't expect anyone to agree with me on their merits, though I hope anyone who does find this blog and listens to any of the clips finds more good things than bad things.
Given that it was drama that introduced me to John Peel, I have decided to start this endeavour from November 1991, which is when I started rehearsals for the first show I ever did, Lionel Bart's musical of Oliver, which was a school production staged in April 1992.  Along the way, I'll provide context about the shows and the times as well as the music.  But before we start with that, let's look at where Peel was in November 1991.

John Peel Wiki

Saturday, 4 October 2014

In the beginning....

John Peel in 1991 when our story starts.....

Image taken from John Peel wiki.