Today is John Peel Day. Seven years after his death, his friend and fellow Liverpool fan Peter Hooton remembers the great man's passion, humour, generosity and ability to doze.
Seven years may have passed since John Peel’s untimely death in Cuzco, Peru but I still feel and hear his influence and sometimes I even imagine I can still hear his dulcet tones coming through the airwaves. In fact I have several tapes (yes, tapes) of his shows which I put on now and again. I first got to know the late great DJ John Peel through The End magazine in the early 1980’s. I used to send the magazine to him at Broadcasting House when he did his late night show from there. The magazine was usually accompanied by scathing satirical attacks on his show which I complained didn’t reflect the ‘underground’ music scene in Liverpool. I mean how could it when he was commissioning sessions by Xmal Deutschland and Children of the Bong interspersed with cutting edge Ukrainian folk music. When he later got to know me he admitted that he was intrigued by the irreverent tones of mine and other letters from The End staff and then he said he thought to himself that maybe we had a point. I must admit I never religiously listened to ALL of his shows like some ‘strange people’ (his words) but I was aware of his eclectic musical tastes and would listen to sessions by groups I liked when I found out they were on.
I knew we had some things in common i.e. our love of Liverpool FC and music but I was surprised one day when he rang me up and arranged to meet for an interview during a Radio One fun week in Liverpool. I still laugh to myself when I think of the Radio One fun week. You would never have expected John to be rubbing shoulders with DLT and Mike Read who were self proclaimed celebrities of their day the sort of forerunners to Simon Cowell. He was as far removed from the Radio One celeb DJ’s as you could get. Whether he was ordered up or volunteered I never really got to the bottom of but he used his time in Liverpool to get to know what was going on here and I think a few groups got the much sort after Peel session on the back of that trip.
Soon after we first met him he started inviting us to family parties and Radio One events and even came to the match and stood on the Kop with us where he commented on the amount of marijuana he could smell wafting through the air. He said it reminded him of his hippy days.
When we met John Peel for our interview several of The End contributors turned up such was the status of our new mate. The interview took place at the Holiday Inn in Liverpool city centre and what a laugh we had with John destroying most of his Radio One colleagues apart from Kid Jensen and Peter Powell. He quite liked them because they sometimes talked about music as opposed to the other ‘stars’ that talked about cars and page 3 girls. The interview appeared in issue No 5 of the magazine and from that moment on John championed the magazine. Soon we were appearing on the Oxford Rd Show in front of millions and John was declaring it to be his favourite magazine/fanzine because it combined football, music and beer. Years later he would say ‘everything about The End was perfect. It cannot be equalled and it certainly cannot be surpassed. In its time and place it was like a bible.’ Coming from John Peel that meant everything to me and the other writers!
Soon after we first met him he started inviting us to family parties and Radio One events and even came to the match and stood on the Kop with us where he commented on the amount of marijuana he could smell wafting through the air. He said it reminded him of his hippy days. He quite simply loved coming out and socialising with The End staff and our mates. He even commented many years later that he could see we were having such a good time that he wanted to be like us free from the pressures of the constant threat of the sack which he always worried about. We would convince him in his moments of doubt that if he was ever given the sack we would mount a guerrilla campaign to re-instate him which seemed to reassure him. I really don’t think John knew how much he was loved by not only music fans but the public in general. He didn’t like the limelight but when he was asked to present Top of The Pops he agreed because he thought it was a trap to use it as an excuse to get rid of him if he had refused. Some of my abiding memories of 1980’s Top of The Pops were his deadpan introductions to groups he obviously despised. John was truly a remarkable man and he introduced us to groups and sounds we had never heard before. He truly was a one off and can never really be replaced. His wit and sarcasm was the stuff of legend which is probably why he loved Half Man Half Biscuit so much. I can still imagine him asleep in his office in Broadcasting House as I arrived unannounced with his producer John Walters who loved John Peel like a brother but would constantly complain that Peel dozed off most days surrounded by a mountain of mail. John was an extremely generous man and would stage magnificent parties in his home in Suffolk which involved copious amounts of drinks pyrotechnics and music. The last one I went to was in 2000 a few years before he died and what a great weekend we had. On the Sunday afternoon as me and my mate Mick Potter were about to leave his we could hear him snoring in another room. One of his daughters said you better not wake him or he will be in a mood but Sheila his wife said "It's ok. It’s Hooton and Potter he’ll be fine!"
RIP John we miss you so much and thanks for the memories. It was an honour and privilege to know you but I still cant stand Ukrainian folk music!
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