"I made a promise to meself, a few years ago, to play that when it was appropriate" - John Peel, 23 November 1991, a few days after the release from captivity of Church of England envoy, Terry Waite.
I'm no expert but there's a definite sense of history not just repeating but curdling in the Middle East. Militant groups taking Westeners hostage is nothing new, but the difference between now and then is that when hostages were kidnapped, they really did vanish from view. There was no bargaining, no sitting in poorly recorded videos denouncing the West in front of garish pink fabrics and, happily for many of those who were taken in the 80s, no decapitations put out on to the Internet. Instead there was only snippets of news, put out to news channels indicating that the hostages were alive, but with no real movement or advancement beyond that. There were no botched rescues, no ransoms demanded and paid and for a long time no prospect of negotiation or dialogue to try and secure the release of the hostages.
It was a time when the buzzwords of Al'Qaida and Islamic State were replaced by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad as names designed to strike fear into the Western heart. The names of the hostages, particularly the British/Irish quartet were a spectral presence as the 80s turned to the 90s. Out of sight, but not out of mind: Brian Keenan, John McCarthy, Jackie Mann and Terry Waite. Their names kept in the public eye by their most prominent supporters: Keenan by his sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham; McCarthy by his girlfriend, Jill Morrell; Mann by his wife Sunnie, who never appeared anywhere without a pair of old lady's shades. I once heard a woman I worked with who wore those glasses being good naturedly insulted by being referred to as "Sunnie Mann". Waite had the highest profile of any of the British hostages due to his success in negotiating the releases of several hostages during 1985-86. The news would often show footage of this gentle giant of a man with thick bushy beard getting into cars in Beirut to go for clandestine meetings with the groups, leaving you to think, "Oh, do be careful." In January 1987, Waite was abducted by Islamic Jihad. It's believed they did this because he had had contact with Lt. Col Oliver North and so was in some way linked to the Irangate scandal.
It seemed all the more shocking that a man representing the church and who had gone back to Lebanon to try and demonstrate trust to the groups despite the links to North should be taken in this way. Periodically over the following years, a hostage would be released who had been held with one of the other hostages and would give news of McCarthy or Keenan, but of Waite nothing emerged until the early 90s when hostages started to be released more frequently and in greater numbers as the hostage crisis began to wind down after Shia prisoners were released by Israel mixed together with pressure from Lebanese and Syrian governments as well as the end of numerous conflicts in the region which had seen hostage taking become another strategic variation. Throughout 1990 and into 1991, hostages came home. Keenan first in August 1990 followed by McCarthy, Mann and Waite between August and November 1991.
Many of the Peel recordings from late 1991 that I've been listening to include news bulletins and included stories of the release of hostages coupled with other world changing events of the time such as the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union. It's always tempting to look back and say things were better then, but at that time, it really seemed as though they were getting better. It may have been a myth, but what we wouldn't give for a little bit of late 1991 in world politics now.
Terry Waite Sez was recorded for The Fall's 1986 album, Bend Sinister and gets in more for its link to a happy historical event than anything else. Given Peel's love for The Fall and my ambivalence to them (in my more cynical moments, I regard them as one of the biggest cons in pop music; at other times, I get it. Perhaps it was that contradiction that made Peel cherish them so much?). I'm considering upping the quota of good tunes required before I will seek down any of their albums. But as Bend Sinister contains their wonderful cover of Mr. Pharmacist, you can expect to see a review here eventually.
Videos courtesy of zobythefly (Fall) and Thames News (Waite).