From the Archive: Remembering Iconic British DJ John Peel
19 years after his passing, the DJ's legacy lives on.
We don’t run ads here. On Repeat is made entirely possible through the support of our paid supporters. If you find value in what you’re reading, please consider becoming one.
Today marks 19 years since the passing of iconic British DJ John Peel. Peel left behind a legacy of championing up-and-coming English bands and used his time slot on BBC Radio 1 to promote them.
"I just want to hear something I haven't heard before."
In the States, DJs such as Rick Dees and Casey Kasem had wide audiences, but they were playing music that was already climbing the charts. Peel exposed millions to new music and was responsible for launching many careers.
Peel first found work at a "pirate" radio station, Radio London, in 1967 and developed a program called "The Perfumed Garden," where he played folk-rock and psychedelia, emphasizing groups coming out of LA and San Francisco.
That same year, he moved to BBC Radio 1, broadcasting regularly from 1967 until his untimely 2004 death. Peel routinely introduced new artists to his eager audience and had such a reputation for breaking new acts that musicians would flood him with demos.
A long-running feature of his show was the Peel Sessions, where a band would come in and pre-record four tracks to be played on the show. These were recorded and mixed the same day, giving them their distinct rough sound. Over 4000 of these were recorded by 2000 artists, and many were released as records on Peel's Strange Fruit record label.
Picking up New Order’s session1 was my entry into the Peel universe. In addition to that record, I still have a copy of 1990’s “Best Of,” featuring various artists, including The Smiths, Wire, and Gang of Four. For a suburban kid on the West Coast, these records were revelatory.
The show also had The Festive Fifty- an annual tradition of the listener-voted best tracks. That tradition continues today on the internet station Dandelion Radio.
Peel may no longer be with us, but his legacy lives on in the music he helped share with the world.
Peel’s favorite song was The Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks,” with the DJ noting, "There's nothing you could add to it or subtract from it that would improve it."
Do you have any specific memories of Peel’s show? For readers here in the U.S., did you ever pick up any of the Peel Session releases? If so, which ones?
Thanks for being here,