One of my favourite chapters in The Olivetti Chronicles was a 1994 article for Radio Times in which Peel drove from Suffolk to Glasgow and chose to soundtrack his journey not with demo tapes from acts hoping to get a play on his programme, but music from commercial radio stations based in the various counties he drove through. In cultural terms, it was not a transportive experience:
"(Visitors from outer space) would assume that, judging by the records playing during the day, either life had come to an end in 1980 or the ultimate human dream was to get it together with the only one worth thinking of, with a view to making it through the night." (John Peel - Local Radio, p.144, The Olivetti Chronicles, Bantam Press, 2008). If I tell you that he pledged to change channels every time a Cyndi Lauper record came on, it should give you some idea of the musical diet he was served up by stations as diverse as SGR FM (Suffolk), Q-103 (Cambridgeshire), Lincs FM (Lincolnshire) and Viking FM (Yorkshire). Speaking as someone who really can't abide local or commercial radio, I can only admire Peel's tenacity at undertaking such a journey with nothing but "trite radio with play-safe musical policies" to listen to. He wrote the article, apparently in defence of a Radio 1 which was still taking flak and losing listeners as Matthew Bannister's changes and updates continued to take hold. Those departing listeners may have been going to commercial and local stations. The roots for the article though were first brought to my attention on this show when Peel denounced "oldies" radio stations as they used to be called for not playing anything by The Big Three. However, given that JFM bore him through Manchester with plenty of rhythm and blues while "Jenny-at-Drivetime" on West Radio over the Scottish border "played me three good (if elderly) records in a row", perhaps the balance was slightly redressed in the intervening two years. He advised listeners who didn't want to listen to Radio 1, but who wanted to avoid listening to unadulterated wallpaper music to "drive from Preston to Glasgow a lot." I can endorse this point of view. Not from a musical perspective but the scenery from a train window between these two places is so breathtaking that Peel admitted to switching the radio off because of it, so that he could enjoy it more.
On this show, he told listeners about a mind-boggling TV preview in The East Anglian newspaper in which Jack Pizzey met a remote tribe in the Philippines who collected kneecaps as protection against bullets, "...and that's all it said!"
Amid the usual gig guides, he promoted an upcoming "anti-racism do" at Leeds University featuring Cook da Books who Peel was surprised to see were still going.
The show also kicked off a feature that would run for the next year and beyond on Peel's show, The Little Richard cover search. Click the link if you want to find out in great depth, right now what the fuss was about, but in short - Peel became fixated in trying to track down a cover of a Little Richard song that he had, and which he thought was tremendous but which he couldn't remember the title of, or who had performed it. As a result, he started working his way through his collection of 45s and started slipping in records he had forgotten about as a result until he found the one he was looking for. The above mentioned Big Three were beneficiaries of this tonight.
The selections from this show came from an 80 minute file in which the taper, a person after my own heart, had made up their own mixtape of the show. I only have one selection of my own which couldn't be shared:
The Meathooks - Tribute - or to give it its full, unbroadcastable title, Tribute to Gerogerigegege ->. Shithead..Dum Dum Noise..Pistol Fuck Attack...Meat of Meathooks...Shitface. Taken from their album, Cambodia Soul Music. Given the titles, you can probably guess what the music was like. Listening to the track again last week for the first time in several months, I found myself thinking - perhaps unsurprisingly given the band's name, that this track would have made a perfect accompaniment to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had the late Tobe Hooper chosen to use hard, noiserock, grindcore as the soundtrack, because Tribute is essentially a rock music horror soundtrack taken at breakneck speed with pure noise and shafts of melody chasing the listener into the abbatoir. And rightfully so given that Peel's show and this blog recently featured the sound of Leatherface.
If the thought of Texan cannibals is too upsetting to finish on then why not enjoy a little sport. The last half hour of Grandstand going out around 6 hours before Peel's show did on this day. I don't know what it is but there's something incredibly restful about David Coleman and Brendan Foster's commentary on the Boston cross country race. As for the football results, Peel would have been cheered by Liverpool beating Tottenham. The Pig may have taken a jaunt up to Cambridge to see Ipswich draw up there, unaware, as I was, that the next five games would take us to the brink of promotion....
Video courtesy of BiroWybz.