Of course I could go on and on and on and on about John Peel. In fact, I think I will. I started listening to his shows in 1978 and tuned in regularly right up to the untimely end in 2004, with the only breaks coming when Radio One defied common sense and put him on at seriously anti-social hours. My first session of bootlegging off the radio was the Top Ten of the 1978 Festive Fifty. I still know it off by heart. 10 Teenage Kicks. 9 Public Image. 8 What Do I Get? 7 White Man In Hammersmith Palais. 6 Pretty Vacant. 5 Shot By Both Sides. 4 Suspect Device. 3 God Save The Queen. 2 Complete Control. 1 Anarchy In The UK. Apart from a handful of tribute shows which followed Peely's death, I have not listened to that station since.
I still miss the shows. Six Music comes close at times, but never quite hits the spot. I suppose a song like Irk The Purists sums it up. You never really knew what was coming next. Melt Banana followed by Family, perhaps. At the risk of getting over-sentimental, I can even still remember where I was when I heard that he had died. Driving home from work through Featherstone, when Jane Garvey announced it very briefly at the end a reading of the Five Live news headlines. There he was. Gone. I had to pull over to make sure that I heard it right.
I would guess that about ninety per cent of my music collection is by acts that I first heard on those programmes. Bogshed, Herman Dune, The Wedding Present, The Fall, Serious Drinking et al. And Half Man Half Biscuit, of course. So here we were, nine years on at The John Peel Centre For Creative Arts. I was pleased to see they have booked The Nightingales to play there. Could be worth another visit, although I'm not sure I would stop at the out of town Travelodge with the associated hike.
A variety of trains had got me to Stowmarket, with changes at Peterborough, Ely and Cambridge. It was all fairly straightforward, although I was distracted at Cambridge by a dead ringer for Michael Gove. Was it? Wasn't it? I circled him a couple of times for a better look. But I decided that the cool shoes meant that it couldn't possibly be him. If you're reading this, mate, you need to make a few changes. Grow a beard or something. And it appears that Ely is no longer basking in the glow on Jeux Sans Frontieres glory. Although I didn't get a proper look from the station.
The lady on the desk at the Travelodge assured me and Tony that it was a "half-hour walk" into town. Yeah, right. Depends how fast you walk, of course, but neither of us are Olympic standard. Eventually we staggered into Norman's Chip Shop on Bury Street. They are open six days a week. Fortunately one of those days is a Wednesday. And even better than that, they had a sit-down section, so we were able to rest our weary limbs while we topped up with carbs.
It was on to the Centre from there. We were just about the first there, and gravitated to the front. We caught up with Nigel/Charles who had been checking out Peel Acres and John's grave. Later on Howie, Gomez and Daz turned up, although they left to tick off another pub in town. That may have meant missing most of the set by JD Meatyard, the latest band featuring John, formerly of Calvin Party. I think this was as good as I've seen him. I'm sure to have got the titles wrong, but Sad Song Of A Singer Songwriter, Ten Miles Low, Never Seen A Kid Born Bad, St Peter Won't Let Me In were all fine stuff. His CD "Northern Songs" is on the top of my To Listen To list, having picked up a copy at Geoff's stall.
After that, HMHB were priveleged to receive a proper introduction, and walked on to a Johnny And The Hurricanes number. Nigel said the band had called at Woolpit Bygones Museum, and advised us to "take a flask". They had got lost on the way to Stowmarket, as Nigel had brought an A to Z of Peterhead. Joy In Leeuwarden is about the situation where burglary victims get to meet up with the perpetrators for a coffee, "but the coffee is shit." Bottleneck At Capel Curig is a traffic report from the A5. On introducing CORGI Registered Friends, Nigel pointed in Neil's direction. Nice whistling by Neil during the Alpine bit in that song. Bob Wilson Anchorman is about mistakenly reversing into a space at a car boot sale, and subsequently selling your engine by mistake. Nigel said that the band was going to call in at Great Wilbraham on their way to the Cambridge gig, just to see what was so Great about it. Nigel was sure that there is a scientific term for Restless Leg Syndrome, and he was expecting to suffer more from it as the weather gets warmer. Fix It So She Thinks Of Me is about forcing yourself to like walnuts because you've read that they are good for your heart. While telling us that Tending The Wrong Grave is a true story, Nigel pointed at Ken. During the Meadow Of Consolation part, Nigel remarked "I didn't expect to hear a pod of dolphins." Nigel said he had been to see a sarcastic psychiatrist. "I told him I feel like a worm. He told me I have delusions of grandeur." He also shared an observation about seeing an increasing number of parked cars with people in them. The people in Paintball's Coming Home want to see Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. And they bought mountain bikes with full Sky gear. "They'll be on EBay next year." I must read up on my gardening hardware. The line about "God bless the Ransome lawnmower" was beyond me. Irk The Purists was "for po-faced music obsessives." During Carl's drum solo in that song, Nigel started to look at his watch. Thanks to Tony for the info about the snippet that preceded Time Flies By. It was I'd Be A Legend In My Time, written and recorded by Don Gibson, and covered by Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. Tony informs me that HMHB recorded this for Peel's birthday. Must have missed that one. When the band returned for the encore, Nigel lifted up his caravan guitar and declared "Without John Peel, I wouldn't have been able to buy this." And there was another seventies classic in the encore. Abba this time.The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
And the encore wasFuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus
Afterwards Tony and I had a chat with Sheila. Nice to meet her, and we wished her and everyone good luck with the project at the Centre. And on the way out we were able to cadge a lift from Graham back to the Travelodge. I don't think we were up to walking back. As usual, this was a great show, but the band themselves seemed to be struggling with sound. Hardened professionals, you see. They just kept battling on.