Mick Wall - John Peel

I'm sure every band didn't love him or that the relationship between Peel and the bands he championed wasn't always so respectful.


I wasn't gripped, I'll have to say. There again, I wasn't surprised. I'd already read most of it through the avalanche of obituaries and magazine articles that appeared after the great man's death, (which Wall actually quotes at times). I suppose you can be kind and say that this book is a very affectionate, affable tribute, not looking to dig too deeply - after all we still have the posthumous biography for that - nor looking to start too many fires.


Merely it is a re-stating of the obvious. John Peel was a human being, just like the rest of us, with his quirks, foibles and faults. He was also a master presenter, and, given his insatiable desire for the new, something of an artist and a visionary (albeit through other people's work). The book certainly makes great play of the help he gave new and interesting artists, drawing on quotes from Gruff Rhys and Will Sergeant amongst others.


The real problem with the book is that, (out of an understandable and very noble desire not to upset the applecart so soon after his death) we don't really get the dirt. It sounds terrible to say this of such a loved (and missed) person I know, but in some ways John Peel was a very ordinary man with an extraordinary gift and an extraordinary desire. Mick Wall doesn't - maybe out of a desire not to step on more penetrating releases subsequent to his book – really exploit this fact that Peel was seen an eccentric visionary, a loose cannon by the BBC, and misunderstood by most of his Radio 1 employees and colleagues.


I would say that John Peel's residency at Radio 1 saw a much more bitter battle fought than Wall makes out, truly a battle between "them" and "us". Andy Kershaw's rant after Peel's death is surely an indication of that. Plus we don't get hatchet jobs on DLT, Saville, Bates and the rest. All of them, incidentally, are in line to be taken to court on the very reasonable grounds of making my school bus rides a comlete misery for 6 years at least.  


We also don't get stories from the small bands that played a Peel session and then disappeared; maybe the tales from someone like Girls at our Best or Josef K may be a little less reverent and a little more spiky than those of Fergal Sharkey for instance. I'm sure every band didn't love him or that the relationship between Peel and the bands he championed wasn't always so respectful. To be fair to Wall, he does chart the "bust ups" between Peel and T-Rex and Elton John, both seen as Peel's mates early in their careers.


Anyway, I suppose I should say that the book does it's job pretty well, in that it sets out the rudimentaries of Peel's life for all to see, leaving everyone in no doubt of it's major twists and turns, of his likes and dislikes, his hopes and fears. And it is a nice read, and we do miss him terribly. So I can't be too dismissive I suppose.


Words: Richard Foster.