Genius who was inspired by a passion for music
• Tributes pour in for legendary DJ John Peel
• Broadcaster dies aged 65, whilst on holiday in Peru
• Summed up his own life as "fabulously lucky"
"[He] was one of those few people about whom you could truly say that the world would have been a much different place without him. For many years he almost single-handedly championed new and challenging music in the UK." - Jarvis Cocker of Pulp
Story in full HIS passion for independent, challenging music was legendary, his ability to share it with others so extraordinary that the sobriquets "mentor" and "Godlike Genius" were awarded almost casually by fans and music industry professionals alike.
Yesterday, after his unexpected death at the age of 65 from a heart attack, John Peel’s career was neatly summed up by Radio 1, the station that has employed him since 1967.
His influence, said Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt had "towered over the development of popular music for four decades and his contribution to modern music and music culture is immeasurable".
He was, the station added, "irreplaceable" and would be sorely missed.
The broadcaster, who somehow managed to straddle the diverse worlds of cutting edge DJ and avuncular Radio 4 presenter with his home-spun tales of family scrapes on the show Home Truths, died in the ancient Inca city of Cuzco, in Peru while on holiday with his wife, Sheila.
There are few DJs around who could boast an influence as great as Peel’s, let alone manage it as a pensioner. Yet last year, Peel, who had three shows a week on Radio 1, was still drawing the highest percentage of under-16 listeners on the station.
Known worldwide for his "Peel Sessions", in which he recorded live a plethora of cutting-edge talent, the Liverpool FC-loving DJ was remembered fondly yesterday by a roll-call of stars which served to demonstrate just how big his influence remains on today’s independent music scene.
"If it wasn’t for John Peel, there would be no Joy Division and no New Order," said New Order’s lead singer, Bernard Sumner.
"He was one of the few people to give bands that played alternative music a chance to get heard, and he continued to be a champion of cutting-edge music throughout his life."
Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker said Peel "was one of those few people about whom you could truly say that the world would have been a much different place without him. For many years he almost single-handedly championed new and challenging music in the UK".
Peel championed many influential Scottish bands, particularly in the Nineties, when the Delgados and Mogwai were each voted "best in Britain" by Peel. Another favourite of his was Arab Strap.
Dave Savage, drummer with the Delgados, heard the news while on tour in the United States. He told The Scotsman: "We were all absolutely gutted. He spotted us when no-one else would give us a chance and we are personally very indebted to him. It’s easy to forget that what made the guy so special, apart from his fantastic vision for music is that he was a genuinely lovely guy in every way. He was someone to be admired, he was humble and he was also brutally honest. It is a very noble way to live your life."
Aiden Moffat, of Arab Strap, said he was saddened by Peel’s death. He said: "My enthusiasm for music was a direct result of finding the John Peel show. Falkirk was a conservative place and he provided music for all those wee places. For people who didn’t have an alternative, John Peel was it."
It was part of Peel’s charm that, despite being considered a maverick by his BBC bosses - one BBC chief reportedly said ‘I think we’ve done enough for the out-of-work yobbos’ when considering whether to renew his contract - he carried on playing what he liked.
Fellow DJ Peter Powell once told him that he shouldn’t play hip hop because it was the music of black criminals.
Recalling the incident years later, Peel told one journalist: "Peter Powell was a dick, I'm afraid."
Apart from regularly topping music paper Best DJ polls, Peel won the 1993 Sony Award for Broadcaster of the Year and in 1994 was named Godlike Genius by the NME. He also was made an OBE for his services to independent music.
He was often the first to play demo tapes by little-known bands, and his enthusiasm propelled many to fame. In the late 1970s he was responsible for unleashing the first raw sounds of punk to his audience, but his eclectic taste also helped forge the careers of Bryan Ferry, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Joy Division. He promoted reggae, hip-hop and punk, and championed acts ranging from Jimi Hendrix to the Smiths, the Fall, Pulp and the Northern Irish punks the Undertones, whose Teenage Kicks Peel rated his favourite song - so much so that he once played it twice in succession.
His live studio sessions were coveted by bands, and many were released on record as the John Peel Sessions.
But his enthusiasm was undimmed by his passing years and he recently championed bands such as the Strokes and the White Stripes.
His unbridled appetite for new talent has seen him described as a "perennial teenager".
His late friend and producer, John Walters once said of him: "We are in real trouble if Peel ever hits puberty."
Born in Heswall near Chester, Peel’s career began in earnest when he moved to Texas, to begin working for WRR radio in Dallas. At this time the Beatles’ success was reaching its peak and Peel, with his Liverpool connections, found it helped his ratings to claim acquaintance with the group.
He was in Dallas when John F Kennedy was shot and was at the press conference just before Lee Harvey Oswald was shot.
When he returned to England in 1967, he had several years radio station experience under his belt and worked for pirate radio outfit Radio London before the new national radio station, Radio 1.
Up until his death, his show still ran three nights a week and in 1998 he became the presenter of Radio 4’s Home Truths, which garnered four Sony Radio awards in 1999.
On his 65th birthday earlier this year, he spoke about his "fabulously lucky" life, in which he had managed to gain everything he ever wanted including "fabulous" kids, dogs, cats, a house in the country, a job playing music and, last but not least, "free records".
He is survived by his wife Sheila and four children.
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