This show pays tribute to legendary BBC 1 host John Peel, who died eight years ago. There were many words written at the time of his passing, from some of those who have made a big difference in the world of music, and the BBC even retains its tribute webpage, "Keeping it Peel," to this day. To get a comprehensive bio, or an account of just how much he meant to musicians and other people in radio, sites like this are the best resources.
I can only tell you a personal story, in two parts.
In a previous life, I had a weekly radio program on a college station. I began volunteering there in the fall of 1986. That term, New Order, one of my favorite acts, had released their Brotherhood album, a record which disappointed me at the time [but, in retrospect, one that I think many bands would kill to make]. It is silly to invest so much emotion as to be "disappointed" by these wonderful things called "records" that drop into our lives from time to time, but that was one of the least silly things about the person I was back then.
Anyway, in the "Currents" bin at the station there appeared that October another record by New Order. This one did not have the usual Factory / Qwest imprint but was instead the first release [cat. # SFPS 001] on a brand-new label called "Strange Fruit." The four songs had been recorded four years earlier, and only for radio broadcast. All of our records at the station had stickers on the cover so that DJs could comment on the contents. [Related anecdotes will follow, I'm sure.] This sticker bore just
five six words: "the way things used to be."
And those contents? New Order's cover of Keith Hudson's "Turn the Heater On" was a boundary-stretching reggae excursion that quickly got my mind off Brotherhood--
but more importantly that record started a life-long obsession with the "Peel Sessions" series of recordings made specifically for John Peel's BBC show. Not living in the UK, this was the closest I could hope to get to this greatness, ironically inspired by England's restrictive "needle time" laws mandating that most music on the radio be performed "live." I could not have the same experiences that Her Majesty's subjects of all ages have testified to, listening avidly to John Peel several times a week, having their lives changed by his stunningly broad taste in new music, his charmingly haphazard delivery of the music, and the freedom and comfort that artists felt when recording for him. But I could at least listen to the records, without which my life would be much shabbier.
By October of 2004, the BBC had been streaming online for about 3 or 4 years, during which time I had finally been able to experience the John Peel "wingding" in its full context. The "needle time" regulations had been relaxed, but Peel was still inviting bands to Maida Vale, still the finest studio environment that some of those bands ever experienced. I finally got to hear my share of segments like "Pig's Big 78" and the legendary "Festive Fifty" yuletide countdown. On a nightly basis, Peel, by now in his sixties, was outpacing his younger Radio One colleagues in taste and innovation. It was the best of times.
That fall I was especially busy for whatever reason and had neglected the program's streams and archives for several weeks. I tuned into the stream one night and heard unfamiliar voices on the air. I immediately wondered whether Peel had been let go, or quit--his slot had recently been moved to a later hour, and I seem to remember reading that he wasn't very happy about it, what with it screwing up his nightly commute from London to his house in East Anglia.
Soon, it struck me that something much worse could have happened to him, so I did a quick news search to see if my fears had any foundation. I was relieved to discover that he was simply on vacation in Peru, and that the guest hosts that week--I don't remember whether it was Siouxsie or the guys from Orbital on this particular night--were totally planned. I went on with my day, thinking that I would catch up with John Peel when he was back from vacation.
A few hours later that evening, I was doing a news search for something totally unrelated, and saw the headline: "John Peel Dies."
Sometimes the circumstances in which you are struck by loss compound the loss itself and become inextricable from the actual event. I don't know how things would have been different had I heard the news in some other way and not experienced the brutally random stomach-punch of this bizarre evening. But I do know that it somehow gets a little dusty in the room every single time I think about this, even eight years later. And as much as I treasure my personal collection of Peel Sessions recordings, I would trade the whole thing in exchange for still having John Peel around.
If any of my programs approach a fraction of the quality that Peel delivered on a routine basis, I will consider that a life goal: met.
I do feel very good about this particular show, in large part due to the companionship of a fellow volunteer at WRFI, Persephone ["Goddess of the Underworld"] Doliner [thanks for that, Catharsis Junior!]. Persephone, as you will hear, is a natural for radio and her commentary on the music is a delight. I know you will agree with me on this. I begged her to come visit me again during the normal Bombast show, and I am happy to report that she will return. I need to take advantage of the free time she has before she [hopefully] gets her own program, tentatively named (I hope I have this right) "Gran-ola's Variety Hour."
Of course the show could not pass without a grievous error, and I called it beforehand, but we still repeated it three times: Amayenge are of course from Zambia, not Zimbabwe. Also, I'd forgotten to bring my Cure cd, so I was playing that track off my laptop, which accounts for the momentary craziness of the levels and the fact that the next track starts playing through the station ID at the end. Some would call it slapstick. There will come a time when you will consider that a tame example.
Notable omissions: I should really have played Peel favorites PJ Harvey and The Wedding Present, and planned to, but it is a habit of mine to ramble in my shows, guest or no guest, to the point where I must skip some items in my intended playlist. No doubt "Jeremy," friend of Bombast, will be disappointed that the David Gedge Experience didn't get a deserved airing. Jeremy: if you ever find yourself in the Ithaca area, I'm hoping you will make an appearance on the program so that we can properly induct them into the Bombast Hall of Legends. I can't give them the pomp they deserve all by myself.
BOMBAST playlist, 2012 December 8, 7-9:30 p.m.
- The Specials: "Longshot Kick de Bucket / Liquidator / Skinhead Moonstomp" [EMI]
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience: "Day Tripper" [Experience Hendrix / MCA]
- Orbital: "Lush [Euro Tunnel Disaster] / Walkabout" [Internal]
- Robert Wyatt: "I'm a Believer" [Strange Fruit / NME]
- Young Marble Giants: "Brand New Life" [Strange Fruit]
- George Lewis & His New Orleans Music: "Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula" [Trikont] ***"Listening Parlour"
- Plaid: "Eph" [Warp]
- Eat Static: "Area 51" [Strange Fruit]
- The Flaming Stars: "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" [Vinyl Japan]
- Billy Bragg: "This Guitar Says Sorry" [Dutch East India]
- Nico: "Secret Side" [Strange Fruit] ***"Listening Parlour"
- mum: "Awake on a Train" [Fatcat]
- Culture: "Lion Rock" [Strange Fruit]
- Amayenge: "Munise Munise" [Strange Fruit]
- Timeshard: "Oracle" [Strange Fruit]
- Olly Oakley: "The Jovial Huntsman" [Trikont] ***"Listening Parlour"
- Stereolab: "Difficult Fourth Title" [Strange Fruit]
- The Fall: "Theme from Sparta F.C." [Castle]
- Pixies: "Wild Honey Pie" [4AD]
- Gang of Four: "At Home He's a Tourist" [Strange Fruit]
- Gallon Drunk: "Drag '91" [Strange Fruit]
- The Cure: "10:15 Saturday Night" [Strange Fruit]
Next time: Put on your headcoat. Strap that thing upon your head. For now, enjoy the music and banter! --kid catharsis