John PeelAn Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease

A tribute to BBC DJ John Peel

A MeFi CD Swap CD by Ralph Brandi (geneablogy on Metafilter)

Oddly, I suppose, for an American who never lived anywhere else, John Peel was one of my heroes, if that's not too strong a word. I listened to his programs on the BBC World Service via shortwave radio for more than 25 years. In recent years, I also listened to his longer Radio 1 program via the Internet. His death in October, 2004, took me aback. I still get upset thinking about it.

This is not, strictly speaking, a set of tracks I learned about from John, or of his favorite music. Certainly, some of them I did, and there are even a few of the famous Peel Session tracks scattered among the ruins here. There may be some music here that he never heard (if such a thing is possible). But this is really more an attempt to do something in the spirit of John Peel than to mimic him. I listened to a lot of the tribute programs that aired on the BBC in the wake of Peel's death. The programs on Radio 1 by and large didn't get the point; they focused so intensely on Peel's interest in indie rock bands and the various splinters of dance music that huge swathes of other music that interested him got mentioned barely or not at all. Better was Andy Kershaw's tribute program on BBC Radio 3, the station where he was exiled to when the barbarians who run Radio 1 decided that Kershaw's focus on world and roots music no longer fit on their station. Radio 3, the classical station, was more than happy to pick him up. But even Kershaw's program was lacking in respects; there was little rock music created after 1980, for example. Nobody on the BBC could cover the sheer breadth of music that Peel played. And I think that, more than anything, made it crystal clear just how irreplaceable John Peel is. Plenty of people "get" parts of him; few get all of him.

I wouldn't claim to be one of those few. This CD gives short shrift to the punk explosion of the late 70s, for example; there are no tracks by The Fall, and you'll have to listen to "Teenage Kicks" by the Undertones, famously promoted by Peel as the best record of all times and played to death in the wake of his passing, elsewhere. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love that stuff, and it provided me with my way in to Peel's world, but if you listened to the Peel presented by his colleagues on Radio 1, it was as if he were pickled in amber and never did anything important after 1980. I rarely heard him play old punk tracks on his World Service shows in recent years; there was always too much interesting new music to play. If he played something old, it usually predated punk rock. This CD is probably a little heavy on the world and roots music stuff and maybe light on the willfully obscure. And there's absolutely nothing here about Peel's program over on BBC Radio 4, Home Truths, which was also an important part of the man and of the breadth of his interests.

So ultimately, this too is a failed attempt to pay tribute to the man. But this is my failed attempt, and not anyone else's. I hope you enjoy it.

Track Listing

  1. Grinderswitch, Pickin' the Blues 3:56
  2. "An hour and three quarters of noise", Andy Kershaw 0:32
  3. Napalm Death, You Suffer (Peel Session) 0:04
  4. "Songs that go BLEARRRRGH!", John Peel 0:25
  5. Farmers Market, Gankina Horo 1:00
  6. Bad Livers, Lust for Life 1:53
  7. "Next week at the right speed", John Peel 0:26
  8. Yulduz Usmanova, Tak Boom 3:26
  9. Rotfront, The Robots 4:35
  10. "But I can play you Fuck", John Peel 0:08
  11. Lederhosen Lucil, You Suck 2:19
  12. Burning Spear, Slavery Days 3:28
  13. "Worthy of exposure", John Peel 0:12
  14. Nathan, Meritte 3:20
  15. Alèmayèhu Eshèté and Equators Band, Hameta 3:23
  16. "Transcendental", John Peel 0:04
  17. Attwenger, Kaklakariada 3:02
  18. The Postal Service, We Will Become Silhouettes 4:58
  19. "That was the end of the previous track", John Peel 0:13
  20. Bally Sagoo, Choli Ke Peeche 3:45
  21. Ethel Waters, My Handy Man 2:54
  22. Chuckling, John Peel 0:04
  23. Nina Nastasia, Stormy Weather 2:53
  24. Sinthetix, Liar 3:29
  25. "This is what I was trying to play you", John Peel 0:30
  26. Diblo Dibala, Matchatcha Wetu 5:34
  27. Ivor Cutler, Women of the World (Peel Session) 1:13
  28. "Peelmania", John Peel 0:14
  29. Margaret Leng Tan, Eleanor Rigby 2:16
  30. Ninetynine, The Process 2:34
  31. "The Doody Waltz", John Peel 0:13
  32. Manu Chao, Bongo Bong 2:38
  33. Manu Chao, J' Ne T'aime Plus 2:03
  34. "More of the same unpleasant and disorientating racket on tomorrow night's program", John Peel 0:07
  35. Roy Harper, An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease 7:12
  36. "Thank you, John Peel", Andy Kershaw 0:16

About the Songs

Grinderswitch, Pickin' the Blues

John Peel's signature tune since about the beginning of time. I have no idea if this is still in print. Typically, each Peel show on the World Service would start with a few seconds of this, then that classic dry voice would tell us what kind of wild ride we were in for for the next 45, or 30, or 25 minutes (his show seemed to get shorter by the year as the World Service management decided that what they really wanted to be was CNN.) I mention the World Service because it's what I listened to more than anything, but he also used this on his domestic Radio 1 program as well.

"An hour and three quarters of noise", Andy Kershaw

This was part of the introduction by Andy Kershaw on his Peel tribute program on BBC Radio 3 a few days after John Peel's death.

Napalm Death, You Suffer (Peel Session)

John Peel's show distilled down to three-quarters of a second, the shortest song I know of, and about as much grindcore as anyone should listen to. I suspect this is the song Peel's correspondent in the next item was thinking of.

"Songs that go BLEARRRRGH!", John Peel

See above. I found this sound clip online somewhere. There are a number of MP3s of clips from Peel's shows over the years available if you look for them.

Farmers Market, Gankina Horo

A Scandanvian rootscore band notes some similarities between what they play and the folk music of the Balkans and comes up with this classic, hilarious minute-long track. Note that this is presumably not the song Peel mentioned in the previous item; all the Peel soundbites are taken well out of context, although I have attempted to make them fit in some sense with the music that surrounds them.

Bad Livers, Lust for Life

Bluegrass cover of a classic Iggy Pop tune, currently being used in the original version to shill for some line of cruise ships. For some reason, they leave out the line "of course I've had it in the ear before" and all that stuff about the liquor and the drugs in the commercial.

"Next week at the right speed", John Peel

Peel was never one to let his ineptitude with sound equipment get in the way of presenting his program. I think this may have been from his World Service show, because I think I remember hearing this. Another clip found online somewhere.

Yulduz Usmanova, Tak Boom

I have no idea if John Peel ever played music by Yulduz Usmanova on his program, but this is the kind of collision of cultures he loved, so if he didn't play it, it was no doubt an oversight.

Rotfront, The Robots

A bunch of Russian expatriates in Berlin take on Kraftwerk's classic, doing it as a klezmerap tune. More cultural collision. I got this on a CD called Russendisko Hits on the German label Trikont, and I think I've heard tracks from that CD on Peel's show over the years.

"But I can play you Fuck", John Peel

I think John just really enjoyed saying this band's name.

Lederhosen Lucil, You Suck

Canadian high-concept lo-fidelity Casiodler with a fake British accent. No idea if Peel played anything of hers, but this is the sort of oddball thing he would have liked.

Burning Spear, Slavery Days

John was the first DJ on the radio in the UK to play reggae. This classic comes from the album Marcus Garvey, which is also available in a dub version as Garvey's Ghost.

"Worthy of exposure", John Peel

A clip from Peel's very first program on BBC Radio 1 where he lays out what he intends to do. And then he did it for the next 35+ years.

Nathan, Meritte

A band from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. No idea if Peel ever heard them, but I love them and I think he would have too. This is from their first self-released album, Stranger, which you can buy through their web site. They have since signed to Nettwerk Records and released a second album.

Alèmayèhu Eshèté and Equators Band, Hameta

The late 60s and early 70s truly were the golden age of Ethiopian pop music, and for none less so than the James Brown of Ethiopia, Alèmayèhu Eshèté. Starting in 1960 with the state-sponsored Police Band, Eshèté eventually moved on to some of the pioneering private bands that sprung up as Swinging Addis went into full swing. Tracks by Eshèté litter much of the phenomenal Éthiopiques series, now up to 18 volumes and showing no signs of flagging in quality. Volume 9, also highly recommended, is given over entirely to Eshèté. The records are on Buda Musique; Record available from Tower and other world music outlets.

"Transcendental", John Peel

I think this clip was used in the hour-long documentary "Teenage Dreams so hard to Beat" that aired on BBC Radio 1 on their "Keeping It Peel" evening-long tribute back in December.

Attwenger, Kaklakariada

I know John loved Austrian alpine folk-punk duo Attwenger, at least until he met them and they were quite unpleasant. This track is from their album Sun, released in 2002 on Germany's Trikont Records. They've got videos and stuff at, if you can navigate in German. (I really like the video for Mei Bua.)

The Postal Service, We Will Become Silhouettes

This has got to be the most cheerful song about nuclear winter that I've ever heard.

"That was the end of the previous track", John Peel

Sound equipment 2, John Peel 0. Found somewhere on that Interweb thing.

Bally Sagoo, Choli Ke Peeche

Early bhangra music, the mix of Punjabi folk music and western dance music that arose among U.K.-resident (and born) ethnic Indians. Again, John Peel was there very early on. This comes from Sagoo's album Bollywood Flashback.

Ethel Waters, My Handy Man

A randy pre-war blues track, taken from the Trikont compilation Copulation Blues 1926-1940. Dunno if John ever played anything from this, but his taste was so wide ranging that it wouldn't surprise me.

Chuckling, John Peel

Seemed like an appropriate response to the previous track.... Found online somewhere in a completely different context.

Nina Nastasia, Stormy Weather

American chanteuse much favored in recent times by Mr. Peel. She was one of the artists who played a live session for the BBC's Keeping it Peel memorial evening. It was a choice between her and Laura Cantrell for this CD, and I couldn't find my Laura Cantrell CDs.

Sinthetix, Liar

Dance music. Once upon a time, any time John played something like this on his World Service show, I would mutter "gee, think I've heard that one before", my way of saying that all this dance music sounded the same to me. Not so much any more. I don't go out of my way to buy it, but I'm capable of enjoying it now. This is from a CD of a live DJ set that John did at a club called Fabric in London. If you were ever curious what an evening of dance music programmed by John Peel would sound like, wonder no more. Fabric has a whole series of these DJ platters, and I dare say none of them sound remotely like Peel's.

"This is what I was trying to play you", John Peel

Sound equipment 3, John Peel 0. More interwebly sound clippage.

Diblo Dibala, Matchatcha Wetu

One of the all time great Zaïrean guitarists in a solo turn. This particular track name checks John Peel. Listen for the words "BBC John Peel" about 1:16 in. I understand Andy Kershaw's also mentioned, but I haven't found that one yet. This belongs to a genre of African music known as praise songs. So the fact that they're mentioned is very good indeed.

Ivor Cutler, Women of the World (Peel Session)

Ivor Cutler! A man who owes pretty much his entire career to John Peel, a real eccentric, and purveyor of some of the strangest recordings I've heard. I would have liked to include Cutler's "Scenes from a Scotch Sitting Room, Part 12" as well, which has to be heard to be believed, but there's only so much room on a CD.

"Peelmania", John Peel

John describes his early days as a DJ in Dallas, Texas, during the initial hysteria surrounding the Beatles. This was used in the "Teenage Dreams" documentary aired on BBC Radio 1 to kick of their Keeping It Peel tribute evening in December.

Margaret Leng Tan, Eleanor Rigby

The world's foremost concert toy pianist relaxes a little. From her album The Art of the Toy Piano.

Ninetynine, The Process

Lora MacFarlane, original drummer in Sleater-Kinney, moved back to Australia when she was kicked out of that band and has been putting out some incredible albums ever since under the name Ninetynine. The first two albums were more or less her solo, but since then, Ninetynine has become an actual band. The good news is that the band can play pretty well; the bad news is that they're lousy singers, so it's best to program the few bones thrown to the other members out and just listen to MacFarlane's gems. This song is the title track from her latest.

"The Doody Waltz", John Peel

I just liked hearing Peel say the word "doody". (Oh, and if you want to hear the track he was actually referring to here, you can find it here [bonus track!!])

Manu Chao, Bongo Bong and J' Ne T'aime Plus

Two tracks, but one backing track, and they blend seamlessly on the amazing Clandestino CD, so it seemed a shame to break them up.

"More of the same unpleasant and disorientating racket on tomorrow night's program", John Peel

Peel pokes fun at the complaints he received when he moved away from hippie stoner music towards punk. Gotta love that Interweb thingy for preserving this for the ages. The music in the background sounds like Siouxsie and the Banshees' Hong Kong Garden.

Roy Harper, An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease

John told his long time producer, John Walters, that if he, Peel, were the first to go, Walters should play this song on the radio in his honor. Walters died in 2000, leaving it to Andy Kershaw to do the honors. Certainly none of the Radio 1 DJs would remember this; they were too busy playing The Fall and The Undertones.

"Thank you, John Peel", Andy Kershaw

The closing moments of Kershaw's tribute to his friend.

Liner notes written 2 March 2005. Enjoy!