John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, OBE (30 August, 1939 – 25 October 2004, known professionally as John Peel, was an English disc jockey, radio presenter, record producer and journalist. He was the longest serving of the original BBC Radio 1 DJs, broadcasting regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004. He was known for his eclectic taste in music and his honest and warm broadcasting style.
He was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio, and he is widely acknowledged for promoting artists working in various genres, including pop, reggae, "world", indie pop, indie rock, alternative rock, punk, hardcore punk, breakcore, grindcore, death metal, British hip hop, electronic music and dance music. Fellow DJ Paul Gambaccini described him as "the most important man in music for about a dozen years".
Peel's Radio 1 shows were notable for the regular Peel sessions, which usually consisted of four songs recorded by an artist live in the BBC's studios, and which often provided the first major national coverage to bands that later would achieve great fame. Another popular feature of his shows was the annual Festive Fifty countdown of his listeners' favourite records of the year.
Peel appeared occasionally on British television as one of the presenters of Top Of The Pops in the 1980s, and he provided voice-over commentary for a number of BBC programmes. He became popular with the audience of BBC Radio 4 for his Home Truths programme, which ran from the 1990s, featuring unusual stories from listeners' domestic lives.
Relationship With Tommy Vance Edit
Like many of his generation including Peel, Vance was captivated by the romance of America and, like Peel, began his broadcasting career on pop radio there. Vance found his way across the Atlantic to become a DJ on American radio as 'Rick West', a shortening of his own name, before taking the name of 'Tommy Vance' from a DJ who hadn't turned up after jingles had been recorded. After enjoying major success at KOL in Seattle and KHJ (aka Boss Radio) in Los Angeles, he returned to Britain after encountering problems with US immigration authorities - claims have been made that he was aiming to avoid being called up to serve in Vietnam.
His experience on American radio made him a natural for offshore radio when he returned to his home country, and he worked on Radio Caroline South and Radio Luxembourg before becoming one of the last DJs to join Radio London, in its final month of operation when Peel was reaching his first career peak with the Perfumed Garden. The two broadcasters came off the ship together when the Marine Offences Act came into force - Vance having presented Big L's final 'Fab 40' chart show - and both immediately joined Radio 1, where they became - along with Pete Drummond and, briefly, Mike Ahern - members of the rotating team who presented Top Gear. At the time, the BBC did not think that one broadcaster alone could sustain a three-hour show, so Peel and Vance co-hosted the show on occasions, as on 31 December 1967. This was soon to change when the show was shortened to two hours and Peel became the sole presenter. After this, Vance hosted a variety of other shows on Radio 1 into the early 1970s, such as 'Radio 1 Club', 'Sounds of the Seventies' and occasional "swingjock" duties, and was heard as the Radio 1 presenter in an episode of 'Steptoe and Son', but never reached the front rank at the station or carved out a clear niche at this stage, perhaps because of his lack of interest in celebrity status while simultaneously not being as singular and musically-orientated as Peel.
However, in the late 60s Vance also worked as a continuity announcer for BBC2 television, and began a long association (shared with Peel) with the BBC World Service, initially presenting the show 'Pop Club' and later 'Rock Salad'. After working for mainland European stations such as Radio Monte Carlo, he became one of the original presenters at Capital Radio, the first legal commercial pop station broadcasting on land in the UK, when it launched in October 1973, initially co-presenting the weekday morning show and then presenting weekend shows where he was among the few British DJs in the mid-1970s other than Peel to give airtime to reggae. In the summer of 1977, Vance co-hosted a well-remembered special show on Capital with the artist then known as Johnny Rotten, in which Lydon effectively made the links clear between punk and the more genuinely progressive and less pompous bands Peel had championed in the earlier part of the decade, when he expressed his liking for Can and Van der Graaf Generator. Vance also joined BFBS, where he presented a daily show from 1976 to 1986 while Peel was presenting a weekly show, and later presented other shows on the station.
Vance returned to Radio 1 in November 1978, effectively to fill the gap left by Alan Freeman's sudden departure and to bring about a clearer distinction between the two sides of Radio 1's rock output which was carried on Radio 2's VHF transmitters. Up to this time, while Freeman's still old-wave-based show had crossed over much more into punk and its aftereffects than is sometimes claimed, Peel had been playing - under duress - the likes of Yes and Boston; now Peel was to be free to play only what he personally liked, and while Vance taking over Peel's Friday night slot with his 'Friday Rock Show' reduced Peel's weekly airtime by 20%, it arguably strengthened the identity of Peel's show, definitively separating the music that was acceptable within the "NME consensus" from that which wasn't, recognising the fact that by this time they had almost entirely separate audiences and profoundly opposing politics. The Friday Rock Show, combined with Vance's Saturday afternoon show 'Rock On', became as important to a quite different audience as Peel's show was to its own audience, all the more so after Vance's show - initially still a broader-based mainstream rock show on the lines of what Freeman had done before - became very heavily dominated by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (which Peel and the NME largely viewed with disdain) in the early 1980s. While Vance lost 'Rock On' to Richard Skinner in 1982, he presented the Top 40 show throughout 1982 and 1983, his more informed, musically-aware approach seeming to fit perfectly with the breakthrough of Peel-nurtured acts to the mainstream which was reaching a peak as Vance took over the show.
Peel and Vance appeared together on occasional multi-presenter editions of Top of the Pops, and later co-presented the show on two occasions (12 July 1984 (TOTP) and 22 November 1984 (TOTP)), showing a good working relationship. However, by the time of their second show together, Peel's relationship with the BBC had hit one of its many low points - to the point where David Jensen (who had just left Radio 1) was, unbelievably, seriously suggesting in the NME that Capital might be a more natural home for him, and Peel had also lost his Thursday night slot (from the first week of October 1984) to Vance's show 'Into the Music', a heavily AOR-dominated programme aiming at a completely different audience from Peel. This would be replaced after exactly a year by Andy Kershaw's show, which obviously fitted much more with Peel, but the reduction in Peel's airtime continued to rankle.
Peel and Vance continued to serve their respective niches throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, with Peel endorsing Vance's show as one of many on Radio 1 concerned with music more than celebrity in an article he wrote for Radio Times on its 25th anniversary in 1992. For Vance's last year at the station, Peel's show followed Vance on Friday nights. Vance left Radio 1 in April 1993 to become part of the launch team at Virgin Radio; towards the end of his time at the station, as mainstream rock shifted its scope following the upsurge of grunge, Vance began playing bands who had previously been associated strictly with Peel, and Peel linked out of Vance's penultimate show on 26 March 1993, which had ended with a Dinosaur Jr track, commenting "how nice to see so many of my bands creeping into your programme - perhaps it'll be the turn of the Fall fairly soon, I look forward to that". Vance had in fact praised that band's "Free Range" when he sat in for Mark Goodier on the Top 40 of 8 March 1992, and also praised My Bloody Valentine's "To Here Knows When" when he deputised on the same show on 10 February 1991.
Peel and Vance remained colleagues at the BBC World Service for some years. Vance's domestic broadcasts in his later years were patchy, and included some ill-advised TV work, but Vance's death in March 2005 - less than five months after Peel's - was mourned by many, including some of Peel's admirers who, for all the musical differences, recognised a music enthusiast among the egos of 1980s Radio 1.
Tommy Vance Last Media Interview Edit
Below is an extract of the last media interview with Tommy Vance.  Recorded via telephone on 28th February 2005, Tommy chats to Andy Johnson of Spain's TBS magazine, where he talks about Peel's recent passing:
What was your reaction to the demise of John Peel?
- People who don’t die before their time in the music industry tend to go straight to the House of Lords. Unfortunate for him, but when you die you die, don’t you? Unfortunate for his missus who had to go through the rigmarole of getting his body back to the UK. That was a hassle but to be fair, he’s dead and once you’re dead, you’re dead.”
Did you have much contact with John at Radio 1?
- I knew John Peel when he was on the pirates. The first show I did for Radio 1 was a dual hosting thing with him called Top Gear; Sunday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon”
Is there anyone who’s got the chutzpah to take over from John Peel’s mantle?
- “… A lot of people have got the chutzpah to take over John Peel’s mantle but I don’t think the radio stations, either the BBC or elsewhere will allow them to do that. There’s a lot more regimentation in radio now than there was in those days. I don’t know who would have the breadth of knowledge that John developed. He would play anything. Eclectic is good – eclectic educates. It increases people’s appreciation of any art form. It gives people the ability to choose and to learn but it doesn’t sit very well with the accountants.”
Relationship With Alan Freeman Edit
In 1967, when Peel returned to the UK and presented the Perfumed Garden on Radio London for a few heady months, he took pop radio further than it had ever been before from Freeman's more showbiz approach. When the BBC launched Radio 1 soon afterwards, Top Gear initially preceded Pick of the Pops (by then extended to two hours), and later succeeded it when it was moved later in the evenings. The shows could not have been further apart - Top Gear was Radio 1's token gesture to the British underground, while Pick of the Pops would play whatever was popular, often the highly uncool likes of Engelbert Humperdinck. Freeman by his own admission initially regarded Peel as something of a freak, almost an alien from outer space, but he listened hard to the shows, and realised that he was missing something, that his own show had become comparatively narrow. As a result, he began to pick up on bands such as Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young etc., who had received initial UK airplay from Peel before they reached their later commercial status, and would play their records in the opening section of Pick of the Pops which covered new releases and album tracks. By the early 1970s, Freeman was becoming an enthusiast for heavy metal and progressive rock, and was moving away from being purely a pop DJ - a change that was largely the result of Peel's influence on him.
The original Pick of the Pops ended in 1972, and the following year Freeman was also taken off his weekday afternoon show, partially because he had played too much Black Sabbath and not enough Donny Osmond. In the summer of 1973 he was given a two-hour Saturday afternoon show to do what he wanted (carried on Radio 2's VHF transmitters), and this show - in which the obvious megabands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer would rub shoulders with acts as diverse as John Martyn, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Van der Graaf Generator and the Chieftains, always interspersed by classical excerpts - would become essential listening for most "serious" rock fans during the mid-1970s, sharing much of its audience and a good deal of its playlist with Peel's shows of the period. In January 1975, as a partial compensation for the loss of the late-night weekday VHF rock shows, Freeman's programme was extended to three hours, and would be followed until September of that year by 'Rock Week', the only FM programme Peel had for those eight months. Peel and Walters - who by this time had a good working relationship with Freeman - began contributing humorous skits to Freeman's show, which would be fondly remembered by many, although in later years Peel found them embarrassing to hear again. A further element of crossover with Peel's shows lay in the fact that Freeman's producer, Tony Wilson, was also responsible for producing many of the contemporary Peel sessions, selected tracks from which (although rarely, if ever, the complete sessions) would duly turn up in the Saturday Show, always trailed by Freeman as "Tony Wilson Recreations."
Come 1977 and the upsurge of punk created a major generational gulf within pop and rock music, and Freeman retained a greater enthusiasm for the earlier bands and styles of music than Peel did. However, Freeman did not ignore punk altogether as was claimed in some of his obituaries - a Saturday afternoon show of his from July 1977 features The Ramones, Slaughter and the Dogs, The Jam and other acts who would have been strongly associated with Peel at the time. Freeman was one of the very few DJs other than Peel to give airtime to the Sex Pistols, and also became an early champion of Althea & Donna's "Uptown Top Ranking", which went from Peel's shows, via Freeman, via daytime DJs such as Paul Burnett, to the number one spot. By 1978 the two shows had more of a complementary role and appealed much more to separate audiences than they had done two years earlier, but Freeman continued to play the likes of the Buzzcocks and Ian Dury while Peel continued to give tokenistic (and unwilling) exposure to the likes of Boston and Yes.
Freeman departed Radio 1 in August 1978 with his popularity still on a high - Peel paid tribute to him in his next show after Freeman's last. His departure from Radio 1 brought about a reorganisation of Radio 1's rock output, where the old and new waves were definitively separated when Tommy Vance took over Peel's Friday night airtime, effectively absolving Peel of the duty to play more traditional rock, and also began a Saturday afternoon show 'Rock On' which covered many of Freeman's old bases. Freeman would not broadcast regularly again in Britain until January 1980, when he joined Capital Radio to present a rock show, which swiftly moved (as Vance's show also did in this period) towards a much greater dominance by heavy metal, a genre rarely played on Peel's shows and generally distrusted by the subculture Peel represented. Peel and Freeman would never be close musically again, but they retained a strong friendship, appearing together on the 20th anniversary edition of Top of the Pops. Later that year, Freeman - by this time also presenting a chart show on Capital, Pick of the Pops Take Two (which combined the then-current chart with a chart from years gone by) - good-naturedly told the NME that he enjoyed reading it so he could ring up Peel, who would then explain it to him. Also, during his stint at Capital Freeman also presented a rock show on, where he again became a colleague of Peel.
Peel and Freeman became colleagues again in January 1989 when Freeman came back to Radio 1, presenting the Saturday Rock Show and an all-oldies version of Pick of the Pops on Sunday lunchtimes. Although there was no musical crossover to speak of between the shows, the two broadcasters remained good friends and admirers of each other - the Saturday Rock Show was initially on from 11pm-2am, and when it moved earlier in the evenings in October 1990 to make way for Peel's show, Freeman would regularly plug Peel's show, recommend it and mention who would be in session. Also, Freeman's show regularly featured archive BBC sessions, some of which had originally been recorded for Top Gear, Sounds of the Seventies and other shows presented by Peel. In the Radio 1 25th anniversary book published in 1992, Peel cited Freeman as his favourite DJ of all time (though he had earlier described Johnnie Walker as the best DJ Radio 1 had employed in an article he wrote for The Times on the station's 15th anniversary). He also paid tribute to Freeman when the latter deputised for Tommy Vance on the Friday Rock Show of 31 July 1992, which at that time preceded Peel's show, and in an article he wrote for Radio Times on the station's 25th anniversary, where he cited Freeman's rock show as one of the shows on the station driven by music rather than celebrity. Freeman finally departed Radio 1 in October 1993 as part of the station's shift towards a younger image when Matthew Bannister became controller; the following week, Peel's Saturday show moved forward to take over part of the Saturday early evening slot that Freeman occupied by then.
Freeman went on to work for Capital Gold, and presented a rock show on Virgin Radio in 1996/97 which included certain bands, such as Nirvana, who Peel had championed while Freeman was very much preoccupied with "hair metal". Freeman appeared on Peel's edition of This Is Your Life in 1996, and Peel continued to allude to Freeman from time to time, always positively even if he acknowledged Walters' barbed comments or simply an affectionate, if codified, allusion. By the late 1990s, Freeman was regularly presenting yet another revival of Pick of the Pops on Radio 2, where the two broadcasters became colleagues for the last time when Peel occasionally appeared on the network to present documentaries such as As I Roved Out: A Century of Folk Music. Freeman retired from regular radio work in 2000, and died in 2006, an event as sad for many as the death two years earlier of Peel, who to the last always acknowledged the debt he, and everyone else in British pop radio, owed to Freeman's pioneering work at a time when Peel was fully ensconced in the system of radio that Freeman's listeners - like he himself a few years earlier - were dreaming of.
The following is a list of Peel Session tracks by artists played on the Friday and Saturday Rock Shows:
- 24 November 1978: Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Racing Cars
- 01 December 1978: X Ray Spex, Be Bop Deluxe
- 12 January 1979: Stretch, The Only Ones
- 19 January 1979: Alternative TV, Queen
- 26 January 1979: Frankie Miller, Magazine
- 09 February 1979: Brand X
- 02 March 1979: Streetwalkers, Thin Lizzy
- 09 March 1979:David Bowie
- 16 March 1979: Eddie And The Hot Rods
- 23 March 1979: Tom Robinson, Jethro Tull
- 30 March 1979: Man, Skids
- 20 April 1979: Family
- 04 May 1979: Roxy Music
- 15 June 1979: Magazine
- 22 June 1979: Genesis
- 29 June 1979: Ruts, Faces
- 06 July 1979: The Ruts, Free
- 13 July 1979: Lone Star, Gary Numan
- 20 July 1979: Wayne County
- 17 August 1979: Police
- 19 October 1979: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Thin Lizzy
- 26 October 1979: Be Bop Deluxe
- 09 November 1979: Caravan, Praying Mantis
- 23 November 1979: Jeff Beck Group, Queen
- 04 January 1980: AC/DC, Syd Barrett
- 11 January 1980: Public Image Limited
- 25 January 1980: Roy Harper
- 11 April 1980: Nice
- 18 July 1980: Heads, Hands And Feet
- 28 November 1980: Damned
- 06 March 1981: Snafu
- 27 March 1981: Steve Gibbons Band
- 03 April 1981: Robin Trower
- 17 April 1981: Pretty Things
- 24 April 1981: Rory Gallagher
- 22 May 1981: Pink Floyd
- 29 May 1981: Cozy Powell
- 12 June 1981: David Bowie, Thin Lizzy, Roxy Music
- 19 June 1981: Who
- 03 July 1981: Gentle Giant
- 17 July 1981: Be Bop Deluxe
- 31 July 1981: Van Der Graaf Generator
- 16 October 1981: Brian Eno
- 26 December 1986: AC/DC, Thin Lizzy