Legendary BBC radio DJ John Peel (born John Robert Parker Ravenscroft) was solely responsible for exposing the world the artists that wouldn’t get a chance to be heard otherwise (although he also recorded popular/mainstream acts, such as 10,000 Maniacs, AC/DC and A Flock Of Seagulls). With his passing in October of 2004, the world lost one of the most respected supporters of independent music.
In the late 60s Peel started working with a pirate station called Radio London (also known as Big L) and eventually was offered to host a show called “The Perfumed Garden”. At that period he adopted the name John Peel and he started exposing British listeners to classic blues, folk, as well as music by the likes of Doors, Love, The Mothers Of Invention, Captain Beefheart, The Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd and Cream.
After Radio London was closed in 1967, Peel started writing a column for an underground newspaper International Times, where he demonstrated his support for the underground once again. The late 60s also saw him joining BBC Radio 1, where he ended up working until the end of his career.
Radio 1 started out by playing a mix of recorded music and broadcasts of live orchestras. At first, Peel was assigned to work with other DJs and introduce a show called Top Gear, but eventually he was given a sole charge of the show, which ended in 1975.
His subsequent shows further demonstrated his eclectic taste, which also got him into trouble with BBC and conservative radio personalities. He was responsible for introducing listeners to such genres as hip-hop, electronic and industrial music and he received plenty of complaints for playing this kind of music, but somehow was able to avoid being fired.
He was a big fan of Mark E. Smith led Manchester band The Fall (who played 24 session for his show) and he also continously played some of the records that liked, including Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” and one of the records by Cocteau Twins. In the late 70s, he became the first to play Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” (having previously played BBC-banned “Anarchy In The UK”).
One of the most important feaures of Peel’s BBC radio shows were Peel Sessions, which consisted of four tracks pre-recorded at BBC’s studios. Most sessions were mixed/recorded in a single day and they had a rough quality that was between finished recording and a demo. Many Peel Sessions were released through Strange Fruit – a label founded by Peel and Clive Selwood.
Here’s just a short list of artists that recorded for Peel’s show from 1967 to his death in 2004:
3 Inches Of Blood
3 Mustaphas 3
A Certain Ratio
Add N To X
Atari Teenage Riot
Band Of Susans
Black Heart Procession
Boards Of Canada
After his death in 2004, first John Peel Day was organized in UK and took place on October 13, 2005. It included performances by more than 500 bands including Peel’s favorite The Fall and New Order. Second John Peel Day took place in 2006 and the third one in 2007. Also, recent years saw the release of numerous albums dedicated to Peel. A huge number of blogs dedicated to his activity also sprang up all over the web.
Peel Sessions List #1 (Wikipedia)
Peel Sessions List #2 (Peelsessions.co.uk)
A Life In Pictures (Guardian.co.uk)