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on 1 December 2005
Like so many others, John Peel was part of my life when growing up, both on radio and in his columns for Disc and Sounds. In recent years, however, the facetious of his linking comments in Home Truths, and what I perceived to be the spurious cosiness the programme promotes, has been less to my taste, so I approached Margrave of the Marshes cautiously.
I needn't have worried: while the picky part of me wants to maintain that judicious snipping could have sharpened the humour, the voice is so indivisibly John Peel's, and the story so unusual and compelling, that you pretty much surrender to both. There's a real pang of regret when you discover just how early his side of the story ends (though there's a fair amount of zipping between past and present en route); the second part of the story is fine, but you will miss the Peelian voice as guide.
My memories of the Disc and Sounds columns are dim, but I wonder whether (using the framework he himself provides in the appendix) another volume could be produced telling the latter part of the story entirely in his own words? It would be good to save some of his many fugitive pieces and weave them together into some semblance of a story. I'm sure there would be problems with consistency of tone and it wouldn't be the same as the autobiography he might have completed, but this brief exposure to full-on Peel will make you yearn for more.
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As is well known, this book was left unfinished when John Peel died, and it was completed by his wife Sheila and his children. That might sound unpromising at first, but please don't be put off. John's family deserve a lot of credit for finishing the book, which must have been painful for them - and it has been done very well indeed. In fact, the book gains extra depth from this two way process - not just John looking out, but the family looking in. And he lived a fascinating life! Strongly recommended.
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on 2 December 2005
A beautifully endearing book which made you feel a friend of the family by the time you turned the last page.
Witty and incredibly sad making you empathise with the love and adoration he and his wife Sheila had for each other which brought you to tears on several occasions.
Well done John and Sheila. You were a couple made in heaven
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on 8 September 2006
How frank should an autobiography be? John Peel clearly thought "pretty frank" because quite a lot of the material in this book is far from flattering and seemed to me, in places, downright disturbing.

Peel comes across as a rather odd sort of person, inclined to fantasy (and, in his younger years, a degree of untruth) and seems always somewhat at odds with the world around him. This alienation from the mainstream appears to have originated in his early family life before running through his schooldays, his period of National Service, and then into his years in America as a clerk, insurance salesman and DJ. His return to the UK in 1967 and his associated rebirth (at close to 30 years of age) as a sort of self-appointed 'princeling of the Underground scene' gave him the popularity that he had missed during his younger years. But despite this, he then formed strong, and apparently rather irrational, dislikes of certain well-liked colleagues in the media.

His alienation perhaps explains why he favoured artists who were themselves struggling, or operating on the fringes of the music business. His initial 'Underground' image was associated with psychedelic music, but having read this fascinating book, I now have doubts as to whether such music was really much more than a kind of raw material which he was able to use to further his DJ career. For as psychedelia withered as the Summer of Love passed into winter, Peel adopted new enthusiasms for such very different musical styles as reggae, punk and hip-hop.

The formative years of British rock were between 1961 and 1967, seeing the birth of bands such as the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Incredible String Band, Pink Floyd, John Mayall, Graham Bond, Cream and so on. Peel seems, to me, to have presided over a period of relative decline, compared to those heights. So much for influence! But whether or not you agree with me, I do recommend this book.
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on 9 February 2006
This book is just simply brilliant. I always new that John Peel was witty but he excells himslef here. He has a knack of making the most mundane activities sound interesting and his dry sense of humour makes this a must read. When I was raeding the first part of the book I was upset that he didn't manage to write it all and thought that it would tail of once Pig took over. How wrong could I be! If you didn't know better you could honestly believe that it was still John writing. The anecdotes are still brilliant and the writing is almost in exactly the same conversational style. In fact, you could argue that the book benefits from Sheila writing the last half as it allows you to understand more of what John meant to those he had the pleasure of knowing. I would urge everybody to read this!!
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on 8 January 2006
It is almost too upsetting to read this posthumous autobiography. He was a man that I just though would always be there, and am of an age (46) and atitude (daft) where I enjoyed both his Radio 1 and Radio 4 programmes. I remember early in 2005 saying that the worst moment of 2004 was the death of John Peel. My wife correctly had a go at me, asking "How about the tsunami or the Beslan massacre?" She was right of course, but this single death just felt more personal.
The start of the book itself is written by John and finished by his astonishing wife Sheila. It must have been a heartbraking task for her to have to finish it. However the book still flows very well, as their individual styles are very similar; i.e. very self-effacing and funny. It also threw up many surprises, including how he was actually tolerant and even friendly with most (but certainly not all) of those 70/80's Radio 1 DJ's; people who I would happily want to hang for their crimes against humanity.
Rest in peace Mr Peel. You'll be missed for many years to come.
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on 1 December 2011
I listened breathlessly to the early 80's broadcasts of Peel on Radio 1. The main reason, it is not surprising, was the music he played: Always new, always unknown and always great. Peel's understated sense of humor appealed to me. And it did it again.... at least in the first part. The following is the case. The first part of 'Margrave of the Marshes' is by Peel himself; the second part by his wife Sheila.
Peel died halfway through the completion of his autobiography at the age of 65, and Sheila completed his work. The latter has done it with incredible love, and she occasionally uses even the same writing style, but the last 100 pages is one great ode to her husband, with 'special' anecdotes listed in an obligatory way. Who can blame her for that, and I will certainly not, but it makes reading at the end one dimensional and predictable.
Peel did the first part of the book: in a loose writing style, humorous observations and a lot of intensity. In particular his time in America appealed to me: about his first radio show, his meeting with Kennedy and his first sexual contact (one Session where I was less interested in).
A final note: this is a book about Peel the person and less about the music he played. Ofcourse: The Fall is mentioned, his friendship with Marc Bolan ditto and sometimes a special Peel Session. But it is mainly about Peel, or rather John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, which is his real name.
I got a glimpse into the life of Peel, but after almost 500 pages, I would not dare to say that I also got a look into his soul.
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on 22 October 2005
A funny book which will have you laughing out loud within reading the first chapter. Really enjoyed this book so any one with a sence of humour will love it too; and liking university challenge is a not a nessecity to read it. Soon to be a film which should be intersesting, but no doubt not as good as the book.
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on 7 February 2006
didn't know much about John Peel until he died. I had heard of the illustrious Peel Sessions that many indie bands clamoured to do, but I had never heard one (apart from a few Nirvana tracks), or even heard the great man himself utter a single word until the day he died and he was everywhere on television. I feel bad about that. Reading this (a Christmas present from my wife), I think I would have enjoyed listening to his show.
The first half of the book is written by Peel himself, discussing his youth and time in America with much wit and intelligent turn of phrase; he comes off as an all round nice chap. However, he sadly died before finishing the book, a task which was taken up by his family (helmed by his widow, Sheila Ravenscroft). This provides a unique twist to what may have otherwise been an eventful but run-of-the-mill biography. Sheila's love of her husband doesn't take away from her writing, and the memories she conjures up show the man as he possibly truly was, rather than how he would have portrayed himself (being one prone to humility).
A fantastic read, to be sure, and I have no doubt that - even having never heard his shows - he was a great DJ and music lover.
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on 10 June 2009
I used to listen to John Peel on Radio London's Perfumed Garden, and, like many ageing hippies, had a great deal of warmth and affection for a man who blazed the trail for so many musicians through his radio shows.

But this book just didn't do it for me.

OK, I enjoyed the first half of the book in the main. There are some very funny bits in it, and some interesting anecdotes. But in all honesty I have to say that it was far from the best book I've ever read. Once Sheila takes over though it goes right down. I can understand why she's so praiseworthy of her husband, but it does rather pall after a while to keep reading "John was first to do this" and "John was so wonderful to do that". And Sheila doesn't have the same lightness of touch or humour that JP did.

There are lots of reasons to regret John's premature passing. The inability to finish his autobiography must rank as one of them.
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