Track Listing CD1: 01 Buzzcocks - What Do I Get 02 Stiff Little Fingers - Alternative Ulster 03 The Cure - A Forest 04 Killing Joke - Psyche 05 The Slits - Typical Girls 06 The Only Ones - Another Girl, Another Planet 07 The Jesus And Mary Chain - Just Like Honey 08 Laurie Anderson - O Superman 09 Jonathan Richman - Roadrunner 10 Misty In Roots - Mankind (Live) 11 The Rezillos - I Can't Stand My Baby 12 Ruts - In A Rut 13 The Four Brothers - Pasi Pano Pane Zviedzo 14 The Damned - New Rose 15 The Jam - Down In The Tube Station At Midnight 16 Scritti Politti - The Sweetest Girl 17 Steel Pulse - Ku Klux Klan 18 The Mekons - Where Were You 19 Ivor Cutler - Life In A Scotch Sitting Room
CD2: 01 Joy Division - Atmosphere 02 Cocteau Twins - Musette And Drums 03 The Smiths - There Is A Light That Never Goes Out 04 Echo And The Bunnymen - Over The Wall 05 Associates - Party Fears Two 06 Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message 07 Pete Wylie And Wah! - Hope (I Wish You'd Believe Me) 08 The Sugarcubes - Birthday 09 Red Guitars - Good Technology 10 Poet And The Roots - All Wi Doin' Is Defendin 11 The Redskins - Keep On Keeping On 12 The Birthday Party - Release The Bats 13 The Wild Swans - The Revolutionary Spirit 14 Gang Of Four - Damaged Goods 15 The Wedding Present - Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft 16 Cabaret Voltaire - Just Fascination 17 The Undertones - You've Got My Number (Why Don't You Use It) 18 The Fall - Eat Y'self Fitter 19 Half Man Half Biscuit - The Trumpton Riot
One of the regrets in my life is that I never had the opportunity to speak to, let alone meet, John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, OBE. However, despite this oversight, I spent countless hours of my teenage years and early twenties, which correspond neatly with the time period encapsulated by this album, in the (indirect) company of this humble man.
Peel showed, by the records that he played, that the range covered by 'popular' music could be far greater than not only that imagined by parents, authority figures, siblings, friends etc. but even by yourself. Just when you had reached the point that you thought that you had heard examples of everything that could possibly be 'out there', he would stretch the envelope just a little bit further, expanding your mind and horizons inch by inch. The extraordinary contradiction was that this cult show (and it was such, as it did little to attract or retain the casual listener) was actually responsible for playing the most diverse range of musical styles and tastes that I have ever heard in a single radio programme.
Not all of the music was to my taste - looking back it is unlikely if more than a fraction of it cut though to the heart - but when it got there it stayed for life. How else would I have heard the music of the 'here today, gone tomorrow' bands being lauded in the music papers of the time, let alone the likes of everything from Prince Far I to Pere Ubu to the Psychedelic Furs? There were certain musicians that Peel seldom played - I always considered that he had an unreasonable prejudice against the likes of Bruce Springsteen, for instance - but these were usually bands that had other BBC programmes that would play their work. The other shows had their limited range and outlook - basically Peel played whatever was left over, and as a result had a free range when it came to new or interesting work, as he was not constrained by expectations.
The tracklisting of the CD gives an indication of the nature of the Peel programmes, but at the same time presents a sanitised view. True, there is some British reggae (there was a stage during which it seemed that half the songs that he played were reggae!), and a quick visit to Ivor Cutler's Scotch sitting room, but the majority of the tracks represent a 'Greatest Hits' (or 'Close to Greatest' if you want to be pedantic) collection of a number of 'second division' punk / 'new wave' bands of the era, such as SLF, the Bunnymen, the Cabs, Associates, Gang of Four etc. Some of the more interesting selections are from bands that seem to have 'dropped off the radar' over the past few years and are therefore in danger of being lost from memory, such as Wah!, Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, Slits etc. I suppose it is a bit like asking someone to explain the Bible in 30 seconds - the outcome is going to be somewhat superficial and full of generalisations.
Looking again at the track listing, the overall impression that I get is one of dynamic, optimistic, youthful enthusiasm - the complete antithesis of the Man himself with his quiet, self-deprecating, sardonic wit (as encapsulated in the title of the CD). I suppose that it was the lack of these characteristics in himself that drew him towards this aspect of the music; nevertheless, this only represents one facet of his shows.
Listening the Peel shows late at night represents a happy memory to me and listening to tracks recorded from those shows brings those nights back. This CD provides an opportunity to those less fortunate than me to hear a small minority of the many hundreds of bands that he introduced, encouraged, championed and broadcast to the nation and the world - but it will never match the simple, gentle pleasure of listening to the Man himself. Whatever records that he chose to play - and whatever speed he chose to play them - was fine by me, and I dearly wish that he was still with us to play some more.
My first memory of the great man was one night back in 1982 when I dared to leave the radio on after listening to the David Jensen show. I was only 12 at the time and didn't know what to expect - I thought he looked scary from a picture in Radio Times and expected him to be really agressive. How wrong I was. From that point onwards I felt like I'd made a new friend in him, although I never had the opportunity to meet him. Over the years, I was able to impress people at school with my knowledge of obscure bands like The Farmer's Boys, The Higsons, APB and Southern Death Cult. I, like so many others, was devastated when I heard the terrible news on that day in 2004 and was lost for musical inspiration for nearly 3 years after his death. Thankfully I found Marc Riley's show on 6 Music, but there'll never be another Peel. He was relied on by so many, especially as the 80's progressed when the mainstream was in a similar state to what it was prior to punk.
To the kids who've been brought up on Pop Idol and X Factor, this compilation must be a revelation, but to those of us brought up hiding under the covers listening to the latest session by The Fall it's just a bit too safe. Yes, there are some absolute classics on here (Party Fears Two, Atmosphere, A Forest), but this isn't what Peel was about. Far too much of this compilation is devoted to pre-1983, but what about the likes of The Bodines, Microdisney, Bogshed, A Witness, Stump, Electro Hippies, Extreme Noise Terror and so many more. Peel's main criticism of the festive fifty was that it consisted of too many male bands with guitars and this compilation seems to mainly follow those lines and with very popular songs (replace 'There Is A Light' with 'Half A Person', 'Party Fears Two' with 'Skipping', 'Eat Y'self Fitter' with 'The Classical', 'Atmosphere' with 'Transmission'). Add 'Dead Pop Stars', 'Suburban Relapse','Safety Net', something by the Bhundu Boys, a bit more rap and reggae and then it would start to represent the John Peel show of this period.
The truth is that those of us who listened to Peel have so many of these songs already, so such a compilation is of little interest to us. A few more hard to find classics and a few more challenging songs would have made this compilation so much better.Read more ›