'So you had better do as you are told. You better listen to the radio'
Radio has long played an important part in my life. I suppose my obsession began towards the mid 70s, listening to pirate station Radio Caroline where the likes of Stuart Henry introduced me to a wealth of wonderful music. In those days, I was guilty of listening way past what should have been my bedtime, curled up sideways underneath the covers, with my radio on as high a volume as I could get away with . Occasionally, one of my parents would hear the strains of Bowie, Alice Cooper or some other artist and demand I "turn the damn thing off and go to sleep", but mostly I achieved uninterrupted listening. There were several DJ's who I number amongst my favourite broadcasters, and one in particular who really was cream of the crop.
John Ravenscroft was born 30th August, 1939. He was the son of a cotton merchant and underwent national service in The Royal Artillery, before becoming a mill operator. In 1960, he moved out to America where he worked for a cotton producer who was friendly with John's father. After a number of subsequent occupations, John started work for WRR Radio in Dallas, and went on to become Beatles correspondent for Radio KLIF, also in Dallas. In 1967, John returned to England, getting a job at Radio London where he presented the midnight-2.00am shift, which became known as 'The Perfumed Garden'. Here, John gave airtime to Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, The Doors and Elmore James amongst others, but his tenure was short-lived. When Radio London closed, an opportunity arose at BBC Radio One, where he bean hosting a show called 'Top Gear'; a slot which ran until 1975. This show introduced John to producer John Walters, who would become a lifelong friend, and supporter of John's electic broadcasts.
My first encounter with John's 10.00pm-midnight slot came in 1976. I'd just switched on the radio, indulged in a spot of station-hopping, and happened to tune into John's show. His choice of record at that exact time was to shape my listening habits for many years: Anarchy In The UK by Sex Pistols. To say this song knocked me for six would be a massive understatement! It was time to wake up and take part in what turned out to be a vibrant, exciting movement. As the weeks went by, I discovered a whole host of new groups; many of whom participated in the famous John Peel Sessions. BBC rules dictated radio shows must air a significant amount of non-recorded music, so bands were invited to come to the studio and record a session which usually consisted of 3 or 4 tracks. The Slits, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Ruts, The Fall and many others delivered some truly amazing music, which was added to by a never-ending stream of singles and LP's. Wire, Chelsea, X-Ray Spex, The Adverts, The Cortinas, Wayne County And The Electric Chairs..... you simply never knew how many bands would be added to your must see/must hear some more list by the end of the evening. John's enthusiasm for the music was truly infectious, and he didn't stop at punk either. Other forms of music were given consistent airtime, and reggae became a firm favourite of mine, thanks to John spinning a selection of choice cuts each week (which were not always appreciated by what should have been an open-minded audience).
John always had the utmost respect for his listeners, relishing the chance to turn us onto new bands and new sounds but he hated the thought of people tuning into every single minute of his 4 shows per week. I'll always remember him reading out a listener's letter, which declared the author never missed a show. John thanked him for his support, but implored him to give the show a miss whenever there was a good band playing live nearby. There was so much live music to be enjoyed, and John encouraged us all to check it out and tune into his show whenever we had a night off from gigs. That's exactly how I played it, and struck a nice balance between the JP show and concert halls and clubs all over England.
Apart from the session slots, probably the most eagerly awaited feature in his shows was the 'Festive 50', which was launched in 1976. Here, listeners were invited to select their all-time favourite top 3 tracks so John could compile a top 50. This format was altered in 1982 when a year-only chart was introduced; due, no doubt, to repeat selections of a number of tracks, such as Anarchy In The UK which invariably retained number one slot.
In 1984, John's show was reduced from 4 shows per week to 3, and his 2 hour slot eventually cut to just 1 hour; a decision which infuriated him and royally pissed off his avid listeners.
John Peel was awarded the OBE in 1968, and passed away on 25th October 2004, suffering a heart attack while on a working holiday in Peru. In addition to radio, John also made appearances on TV, occasionally hosting Top Of The Pops. While he was always professional, he did look ill at ease and the truth is that John - unlike some of his colleagues - didn't much care for this medium until he presented a few more 'serious' programmes in later life. I was fortunate enough to be present at one of his radio shows at Derby University in the late 70s where he hosted a wonderfully varied selection of classic tunes. While I've occasionally regretted not seeking him out for a quick word, I've never really wanted to meet my heroes. I was just glad when the next film/album came out and left it at that.