The Times (UK) OPINION Aug 18: Centre of attention: John Peel
Thu Aug 19 04:59:51 CEST 1999
Wednesday August 18 1999 OPINION
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Centre of attention: John Peel
It's hard to know what Half-man Half-Biscuit would have made
of it. The DJ who made that group almost as famous as, well,
Captain Beefheart in the Sixties is still alive, has the OBE
and is about to have two nights - one on BBC2 and another on
Radio 1 - dedicated to his survival and his 60th birthday.
Yes, John Peel, once the glummed-down voice of alternative
pop, is now, as that other erstwhile rock 'n' roll rebel Tony
Blair said, "truly a living legend". Or, as his long-term
producer John Walters put it with cruel irony: "He's like the
Queen Mother. Everybody loves him."
Loves him? This was the man the columnist Linda Lee-Potter
said should be gagged for his music and seditious opinions.
This was the man of whom Joe Strummer said: "Listening to him
is like having a dog be sick in your face."
Now it's not so much hip as hip replacement. . .
But that was 30 years ago when he was one of Radio 1's first
DJs. Now rock jock has become schlock jock. OK, he is
narrating a series on pop, but this is about the Vimto, Fanta,
children's drink variety. And we have to endure his Saturday
morning Radio 4 show, Home Truths, a kitchen table
confessional with its mix of Agas and Angst topped up with
gooey whimsicality about his family and detached country
living. . .
He talks oft of his wife called Pig (because of the way she
laughs), and his four children (two have Anfield as their
middle name, Dad being a Liverpool fan). All very whimsical -
like his career which started in Dallas, Texas, when the
Beatles hit it big. That's when the ex-public school boy
remembered his Liverpool roots, flattened his vowels and hit
the small time on Radio KMEN. In the Seventies, he segued from
hippy to punk...
His Radio 1 show, often idiosyncratic to the point of being
completely impenetrable, espoused the causes of Bogshead, T
Rex, Pulp and The Smiths (what did happen to The Incredible
String Band?) at a time when Tony Blackburn, and Co. were
clogging the airwaves with The Carpenters. He kept his cred
when all about were losing theirs, though the image slipped a
bit when - to everyone's embarrassment, mostly his - he
fronted Top of the Pops. Still, it's been gear, sometimes Top
Gear. Just ask Captain Beefheart. Or your gran.
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