Wednesday, August 24, 2005

'Terri Hooley: The Day the Music died'

...A tribute to John Peel

I first met John Peel in the late sixties when he walked into the offices of “Release” in London with boxes full of records. The boxes were of promotional discs from record companies he would not play on his show; he was donating them to the charity in the hope that they could make a little money from them.

In 1967 Radio one was set up to as part of the government’s war against the dozens of pirate radio stations broadcasting from ships around the British Isles.

John had a show called The Perfumed Garden (playing hippie music) on Radio London. In a Radical change in policy the BBC recruited many of the pirate disc jockeys like Tony Blackburn, Johnny Walker and John Peel. Nobody would have ever predicted back then that John Peel (real name John Ravenscroft) would outlast all the others.

Over the years many a head of Radio One wanted to get rid of him but he survived every DJ cull. His nightly show was to become essential listening for generations of young and not so young people, turning them on to every type of music; often in styles the listener had never thought that she or he would find appealing.

The John Peel Show was to become a national institution and he never believed he would end up being a pensioner presenter.

The seventies were a horrendous period in the history of Northern Ireland and many people stayed at home at night, rather than venture out. Consequently, like many others, part of my social ritual would be the John Peel show, through the medium of which I was guaranteed to hear all the new music first.

By 1976 I was selling records from my back bedroom and in 1977 I opened “Good Vibrations” record shop on first-floor premises in Great Victoria Street, Belfast, at precisely the time punk was giving the music industry a good kick up the ass. Punk to me was my hippie revenge, and I went to a gig featuring Rudi and The Outcasts in The Pound Club. That was the night that the Good Vibrations label was formed with Rudi being my first signing.

The scene reminded me of my youth when I first started to go to see bands playing R ‘n B music in the sixties.

That period had started as a small underground thing and soon became a beat boom explosion. Then, we had dozens of bands, with plenty of clubs to play in.

Very few of the bands ever got the chance to make a record in those days. It took THEM, featuring the incredible Van Morrison, to really make it and put Belfast on the international musical map.

Belfast had been ignored throughout “the troubles” and many musicians had left the country. Many of the old clubs and dance halls closed for one reason or another, mainly through lack of customers too frightened to come into the city centre.

But the times were a-changing and unlike the groups of the sixties (who always seemed to be waiting for some fat cat from London to sign them up) “Stiff Little Fingers” were putting out their own records like “Suspect Device” and demanding an “Alternative Ulster”

It was a time of DIY. Local fanzines were spreading the gospel, telling the world that something was happening here other than bombs and killings.

John Peel was one of the few people to champion the new music of the province and when I put out the fourth single on the label it was to change his life. “Teenage Kicks” by Derry band The Undertones was the first record in the history of the BBC to be played twice in a row and remained his all time favourite record.

Four days after he played it the band got signed up to Sire records. When John made his first pilgrimage to Good Vibes, he couldn’t believe that our offices were what he described as “a dinky toy telephone booth”.
Many of our bands got to go to London and do sessions for his show, and go on to better things.

When the label was in trouble and we had a big concert in the Ulster Hall John flew over to be with us, and got a standing ovation. If he stayed with my mother-in-law, he would send her a bunch of flowers. And if he heard that I was coming over to England he would invite me down to Peel Acres or round to the show. A few times he changed the show to include a new record that I had just discovered.

One night out drinking with my old mate Shane MaGowan, he found out that I was going down to stay with John. A bootlegger friend of Shane’s offered me £5.000 to steal a radio session tape from John’s house.

When I arrived John told me I was sleeping in the bed amongst his record collection. I asked him where the tape was “he said right beside the bed, why the interest?” When I told him how much I was offered to steal it, he laughed and said, “It wasn’t enough”.

John used to tell me off for treating him like a rock star, but to me he was bigger than most rock stars. He was a rare breed amongst radio DJs the genuine article and just the same lovable man on radio and off.
He truly was a legend in his own lifetime and he could never be replaced.
John thanks for all the great music and everything, we are all going to miss you.
When I think of you there will always be a tear in my beer.


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Blogger wildredbeard said...

Thanks, Terry. You did great work finding the Undertones and connecting them with John and the world. When they cast John Peel, they threw away the mould.

3:24 PM  

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