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Radio Radio (Transcript)

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This is a transcript of the documentary Radio Radio, first broadcast in 1986, in which Peel looks back over his radio career. The show includes vintage clips ranging from his earliest days on US radio to the Perfumed Garden, Top Gear and John Peel Show.

Transcript

(All quotes are from Peel. Clips from shows are indented and in italics.)

I’m always rather puzzled by the fact that after all of these years, and this is going to sound terribly vain but it genuinely isn’t, that I usually win music paper polls, not only in Britain but in Germany and in other countries as well. And it does seem to be a sort of indictment anyway of other radio programmes. Now I’m not saying they should all be like my programme, but it does seem to me that after all this time and all these polls I have won, that somebody somewhere would say, “Well, this old twerp must be doing something that’s right."

(Top Gear, 1971)[1]
Well, I don’t know what’s happened there. We’re supposed to have a little jingle, you see, that comes charging in and says, “It’s Wednesday and it’s Sounds Of The Seventies and tonight it is Dancing Jack Peel. That’s what it’s supposed to say. I’ll tell you what, we’ll do it now.
(jingle)
A fine start, I think you’ll agree, to practically any programme. Musically, there is really only one way to start.

We used to listen to the radio during the war and I had no idea really what was going on, but at the same time the radio played a very important part in our lives. We had a blue radio in the air-raid shelter at the top of the garden – being middle-class people, we had our own air-raid shelter – and we used to cluster around that as the planes flew overhead. So I used to listen to the radio from a very, very early age, and was always interested in it. I mean, for all kinds of silly reasons, like all of those wonderful names that were engraved on the dials. You know, Schenectady, which is in New York – why that was on the radio I have never known. I didn’t become aware of listening to the radio deliberately, as it were, until I started listening to Radio Luxembourg and the American Forces Network when I was about ten or 11 years old.

And then I heard Elvis Presley on Two-Way Family Favourites – Heartbreak Hotel. And I’d read a little bit in the music press about Elvis Presley, but nothing had really prepared me for the reality of it. Just the starkness of it was one of those things which is literally transcendental – I mean, something which my children will never experience, because they have grown up gradually with all of popular music and I don’t think there is going to be one of those, I’m sure it’s called something like a quantum jump, that is going to be so radically different. So I heard Elvis, and then on AFN a week or so later, it may have been longer, I heard Little Richard, and that I always say hearing Little Richard on AFN was like Saul on the road to Damascus. I mean, nothing was – genuinely, nothing was ever the same again.

It was just naked aggression and sex and everything. I thought, “If this is what it is going to be like from now on, I want to be part of this, I want to be there.” The only way that I could see that I could convey my enthusiasm to other people was by being on the radio.

I think at some stage I wrote to the BBC. My father warned me against the BBC. He said unless I was a homosexual or a Roman Catholic, I’d never get a job on the station – and as I was neither, it seemed to me that I was rather wasting my time. But I wrote, to Pete Murray I think. He denies that he got the letter and if he had done he would have written back to me – this may be true. But I wrote to Pete Murray anyway and asked him, traditional, how do you get on the radio? And he didn’t write back. So I rather abandoned the idea of getting on the radio because it did seem to be quite impossible, because there were no regional stations of any sort and very few disc jockeys anyway – and probably they weren’t even described as disc jockeys in those days, although they may have been on AFN.

So when I had finished my National Service – and during National Service I at least had the opportunity for the first time to play records that I liked to at least a room full of other people. I mean, they all thought I was a complete twerp of course, and probably quite rightly so. But we used to have Little Richard recitals and things like this, and latterly more sophisticated stuff as I saw it like Lightnin’ Hopkins recitals, you know, in the billet. And I’d got the only record player in our battery, so people – almost because there was no other entertainment – used to come in and I used to play them these records. I’d actually forgotten about this until it came up now. But I used to play them, as I said, the Little Richard recitals I remember with some clarity now.

But when my father said to me at the end of National Service that he would send me to America, initially my reaction was to do sort of, “Well, you know, sent me, see if I care.” But it did occur to me I think at the time that there might be a possibility that because of my Englishness that I would be able to wangle my way onto a radio station over there were they might regard me as a bit of a novelty. I was also entranced by the radio there. There were two competing Top 40 stations in Dallas – KLIF and KBOX, “Tiger Radio”. You almost wanted to listen to them both at the same time. It was so exciting, because everything that you ever wanted was on there. Within half an hour, any record you wanted to hear would appear.

(KLIF: ‘Weird Beard’ Russ Knight jingle and clip)

And then there was - the really hip programme was this programme called Kat's Karavan, spelt with K’s of course, which was in introduced by two DJs. I can only remember the name of one of them, a chap called “Hoss” Carroll. This was on the station WRR. And what WRR during the rest of the day, I frankly have no idea at all, but from 10 o’clock until midnight – oddly enough, the hours that I broadcast on Radio One at the moment – they had this Kat’s Karavan, which was basically R&B stuff interspersed with humour, because it was at the time when comedy records dominated the American LP charts. And it always struck me as rather odd that the people that I knew at the time who listened to these programmes and who bought Jimmy Reed records and went to see Jimmy Reed playing in places like the High Hope Ballroom – if he had turned up on their doorstep, their parents probably would have set the dogs on him.

So I went down to WRR, because during my National Service I had been acquiring records from a place in Holland. And you could get import records through Holland without having to pay tax, and some of the records I got were on French RCA Victor records, 10-inch LPs, sleevenotes in French obviously, and they were covering the period in the blues when it was sort of people coming up from the south, one man and a guitar, and they were forming little bands. It was before they had electric bands, but they were forming little acoustic bands, and there were records by people like Washboard Sam, Big Bill Broonzy, Jazz Gillum, Maceo Merryweather – mainly stuff derived from RCA’s “race” label, which was Blue Bird Records. So I took these down to the radio station and to my amazement, because quite clearly the people who were listening to Jimmy Reed records, and even the people who were doing the programme, had no real idea of the history of the blues, you know. They didn’t realize that it had existed prior to Chicago and the electric groups and so on, so they were quite amazed to hear these records, because not only were they not available to an American audience at all, but no one had ever heard them.

So I took these records in and said, “Would you be interested in playing these?” And they said, “Very much so.” And I went to sit in the studio while they were playing them and they realized – I also had a Lightnin’ Hopkins LP called The Rooster Crowed in England, which was issued on Dobell’s Records[2] in a limited edition of like a couple of hundred, and Lightnin’ Hopkins was important enough that they were very excited about this sort of unavailable Lighnin’ Hopkins LP. So I went in and they were playing these records, and then Hoss Carroll said, “Let’s talk to the man who has loaned them to us” – so they put me on the radio. And I think part of the reason they put me on was because I must have sounded so bizarre, and this was after two years of National Service and a year or so in Dallas, when I thought I had lost a lot of my accent – but I sounded like a minor member of the royal family. I mean, really quite bizarre. Very, very nasal, very high-pitched, and talking the most appalling codswallop.

(Peel on Kat's Karavan)
There is a small record shop in London that caters for collectors of these sort of records and it is at 77 Charing Cross Road, which is the reason it has the name [77 Records]. And they just put out 99 copies of each record they make, because otherwise if they made it 100 it would make it a regular release and they would have to pay tax on it. Just 99 copies and it counts as a… A lot of them I got - I went very deeply into debt when I was in the army in fact to pay for a lot of these ones that came across from France, with sleevenotes in French. And they were released in France. They may be released in England by now, I don’t know. I think there is very little chance of them being released over here, because they isn’t a big enough market for them. In Europe, they take this sort of thing very seriously and they go into the sort of cultural and ethnic background of blues music, which they don’t do over here really.

As far as I can remember, after this they allowed me to have an hour on the radio every Monday evening. I did an hour of Kat's Karavan on Monday evening, unpaid, for a few months. I mean, it may have been three months, it may have been six, I don’t remember. After a while I asked them if they’d start paying me and at that point they told me to clear off, so I did.

Anyway, I was listening to KLIF, Russ Knight ‘The Weird Beard’, and he was talking about Liverpool, because the Beatles were just becoming vogue-ish, and he was talking incredible nonsense you know, and knew nothing about it. Well, I’d got the newsline number at KLIF and I phoned them up and said, “Look, really you’re talking a load of rubbish here.” He said, “Are you from Liverpool?” and I said, as far as Americans need know, “Yes”. Actually, from the other side of the river, but quite clearly they weren’t interested in those little accidents of geography. So they said, asked me one or two questions about Liverpool, and on the strength of having an approximation of a Liverpool accent, I used to get mobbed. I mean, I became a surrogate Beatle in Dallas.

And so for about three or four nights in a row, the Weird Beard phoned me up for a bit of a loose chat about Liverpool and about the Beatles – of course, about whom I knew nothing at all, so I was having to invent a lot of it frankly. And people were phoning up and saying, “Hey, what colour are Paul McCartney’s eyes?”, you know, and crucial stuff like this – I had no idea at all. So as soon as the first Beatle books appeared, I had to whiz out and buy them and memorize the blighters. And of course they tended to be full of conflicting information anyway. It was all very, very confusing. I had to work very hard – people don’t realize how I suffered at this time of my life.

And after about a week or so of doing this, of being the Beatle man at the other end of the phone, they asked me if I would appear at a store in Dallas called Titche-Goettinger to give away some Beatles LPs. And we were actually met on the way from the radio station to the store by a terrified manager, because of the 100 or so girls that they had expected, they’d got about 3000. And at that time, I was looking like a minor member of the Kennedy clan. I was looking very collegiate, not at all Beatley. And I got up onto this small platform and Russ Knight said, “Here’s our man from Liverpool” – faint screams and so on – and then he asked me how long I’d been in America. Well, at the time I had been there three and a half years I think – three and a half? Four and a half years, it would have been – so as soon as I said “half” instead of “hey-uf”, they just became completely unstitched. I mean, it was a riot – I mean, girls being sick, girls fainting, girls screaming “Touch me,” which of course I was only too happy to do. And I mean Beatlemania, “Peelmania” – or “Ravenscroftmania” as it was at the time – rampant in Titche-Goettinger’s.

(Peel on KOMA)
Can you imagine your own letter or message personally delivered to Paul, Ringo, George or John? This is John Ravencroft, the newest member of the KOMA good guys, and I will be able to deliver your messages to the Beatles in Minneapolis on Saturday, when I attend their press conference and show. I will report directly to you from Minneapolis on KOMA. On Monday night I will be with Bobby Davis and K to tell you all about my recent month-long holiday in my hometown of Liverpool and play you many exclusive records from the English hit parade. If you have a message for the Beatles, please send it to me, John Ravenscroft, c/o KOMA, Box 1520, Oklahoma City, and stay tuned to hear the Beatles’ reactions to your letters. Cheerio until Monday.

I was then offered a job by KOMA. I’d be playing just the chart things, but with occasionally I could get – because of the English connection – I could occasionally get an import. I remember playing records by the Who, for example, who were completely unknown in the States and the Hollies – Look Through Any Window was a particular favourite. And it wasn’t, I don’t think, issued in the States at that time, and the import copy of it I played a lot on the radio in Oklahoma. But then the station KOMA, although it had a freak signal that could be heard on a good night they reckoned in 26 states – I mean, it was very well known over most of the eastern side of the United States – but locally it really didn’t do terribly well. It was never, in the whole time I was there, the Top 40 station in Oklahoma City. And I think in the market it came something like fourth. So they got into a panic and got rid of a lot of people, and because I had been the last to join I was the first to go, and also the English thing was beginning to lose its impact.

So I sent tapes to two stations in California, really without having any expectation of getting any jobs, and was offered work by both of them, one in San Diego, the other in San Bernadino. And really because I thought San Bernadino was a nicer name – I mean, that sounds like a ludicrous thing to say but that was the only reason I decided to go to San Bernadino. They offered me the same money.

So I went off to San Bernadino and went to work KMEN, and I went straight onto the morning programme there, 6-9, and I was out most nights – I used to go to Los Angeles to see bands play and people like Love and the Doors and Captain Beefheart and then a whole range of strange second- division bands. At the weekend, because they didn’t have extra DJs to cover the weekend, instead of doing a three-hour shift, seven days, you either did a six-hour shift on Saturday or a six-hour shift on Sunday. And because I was the top DJ in the market at the time, I was allowed a certain amount of flexibility with this, and I used to play LP tracks, which was unheard of, you know, at the time. I also used to present a rigged British chart, where all kinds of strange records like The Nazz Is Blue by the Yardbirds used to mysteriously appear in my English chart, which I used to say I had got off an unimpeachable source in Liverpool. Actually, it was a ludicrous story, which they were quite happy to accept.

Early in 1967 – I was married at the time to an American girl. It was a fairly catastrophic marriage, so I decided to get out of the area to the extend of coming back to Britain. Went to live with my mother in Notting Hill. And obviously I had no work and no expectation of work. And a fellow who was living next to her at the time had dealings with Radio London, the pirate ship, and he said why didn’t I go along and see Alan Keen, who was running the station at the time from the offices in Curzon Street. So I went along. Fortunately they didn’t ask me to audition. I just said I’d been working on the radio in California and they were sufficiently impressed by this to give me a job. And I was very pleased to get it, because as I said, my marriage was in tatters already and the idea of being on a ship for two weeks out of three seemed to me to be terribly appealing, because it meant I was away from domestic strife.

So I went out there, and as junior member of the team, I had to do two programmes. I had to do a daytime programme, which was just the regular Radio London fare, you know. They used to play a lot of new records – more new records and more artfully chosen new records. I mean, they weren’t bought on, unlike Caroline. But I also had to do a late night programme, from 12 until 2. And initially I used to just do this as I had done the other programme. I mean, run all the commercials and do the weather and the news and all of the things that I was supposed to do.

Gradually it dawned on me that no one was actually listening to this programme – I mean, no one in the Radio London office, and certainly none of the people on the ship. So I started to improvise a little bit and gradually stopped running the ads and so on, and playing more of this music that I had brought back from America with me. And also adding a British dimension with people like the Incredible String Band and Hendrix and Pink Floyd, I suppose, Tyrannosaurus Rex, all these sort of people. I called the programme the Perfumed Garden.

And by the time I got round to calling it the Perfumed Garden, I’d entirely dispensed with the format and I was reading people’s poetry – extraordinarily badly – and people were writing poetry and sending it in to me. And it was the Summer Of Love, you know, and it became compulsive listening to anyone who was into that. And this was all over northern Europe. In fact, I still encounter people in Holland when I go over there, who go, “Ah yeah, we remember very well, we are remembering the Perfumed Garden, a big one!” You know, which is quite nice that they still recall all of that. And the first inkling I think that Alan Keen had that this was going on was when, or so legend has it, when Brian Epstein phoned him up to congratulate him on having had the foresight to have put such a programme out. And of course he listened to it and was horrified. But by this time Radio London only had a few months to run anyway, so they decided they may as well leave things as they were.

(Peel on Perfumed Garden)
Good evening and welcome to the Perfumed Garden, and than you again for the mail that I got today, something like 160, 165 letters. So obviously I can’t possibly answer them all, you know. It is a position I find myself – I have to apologise every night. You know, just letters to the programme and thoughts of people, and every one of them is as welcome as any of the others. Some very beautiful things people have said, and thanks for what you have said. And I am going to have a job for a few days anyway, up until Monday, and that may be the most joyful day of all actually, because then we will all be together, you see, in the Perfumed Garden.
Those are the Misunderstood of course and I Can Take You To The Sun. And as a matter of fact we are all going to go to the sun together very, very soon. A story which somebody sent me from one of the daily newspapers, although I have no idea which one – they are the same newspaper, aren’t they, if it comes right down to it? Some of them use longer words then the others, but that’s about it, and some of them brighten up the papers with pictures of girls and things, but when it comes down to it all the daily newspapers are the same. It is about “self-confessed beatnik”, whatever that means, Robert Baser, who became a tramp because he wanted nothing more to do with people. He gave all his affection to his one inseparable companion, a white mouse called Mickey. “He’s all I’ve got,” 29-year-old Baser often said. Last night he showed that he meant it. He gave his life trying to save the mouse. He was standing by the parapit of St Michaels Bridge here, combing out the mouse when it fell into the Seine. Robert dived in to save his pet, but he couldn’t swim, and both he and Mickey were drowned. And his father said, “That mouse was the only thing he cared for.” So there you are, you see. There’s someone, Mickey, Robert rather, could have been a lot happier – and Mickey too – if they had been able to find something like the Perfumed Garden, you know, because it is communication, and then he would have known that lots of other people actually care, even if they don’t know him, people who love him even if they don’t know him – so it’s sad that Robert had to give all his affection to a white mouse called Mickey. So perhaps Robert and Mickey are somewhere else now and I hope they are very happy wherever they are. Perhaps they are listening, who knows? It would be rather beautiful if they were. Here are Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band and Sure Nuff & Yes I Do.

The BBC when they established Radio One were compelled to take on DJs from the pirate stations. I mean, they had no choice really. And I applied, along with all of the others, and I think there must have been more than a little reluctance for them to give me work, but they were aware of the success of the Perfumed Garden, even if they didn’t like it. And this is one of the things the BBC was doing then and has done ever since really – one of the things that I find admirable is that even if the people who run the station don’t actually like what you do, I mean they can see there’s a justification for it, to the point where it actually becomes at times a safety valve. If people complain they can say, “Ah, but you can always listen to John Peel, you know.” But at least they let you get on with it. I mean, no one has ever interfered with the content of the programme at all.

But I was also extremely fortunate in that Bernie Andrews, who had been assigned to the job of producing this programme Top Gear, which was a three-hour programme at the weekend, wanted me to present the programme. And there were six of us competing for initially two places – Pete Drummond was one of them, Tommy Vance was another, a man named Mike Ahern and myself and a couple of others – I forget who the others were. But I had the inside track because Bernie wanted me to do it. And it was a strange thing. I’ve got photographs of Tommy and myself sitting in the studio presenting this programme, knowing of course that if you did well you might get the job at his expense. So it was a rather fraught kind of way of doing radio programmes.

(Peel and Tommy Vance on Top Gear)[3]
TV: Hi, good people, welcome once again to Top Gear, the programme that looks beyond the pop horizon. Over the next three hours, let your Sunday lunch settle while we assault your ears with what is happening in the world of music. Our studio guests today are Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera, the Family, the Herd, JJ Jackson, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Kinks. On record, we have the latest from the Small Faces, the Mamas & Papas, plus five tracks from the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. All this, and John Peel.
JP: Thank you. John Peel, international traveler and International Times. I shall be boring you stiff with stories of my visits to Sweden and Holland, (???).
TV: All right, and now we start off with the first record, by the Nice, called Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack.

The broadcasters that I admire most are people who seem to me to have been entirely natural broadcasters. And this would have heard people I would have heard on the radio during and after the war, people like Wynford Vaughan-Thomas and then later – I mean, I used to listen to cricket commentaries when John Arlott was doing them. I wasn’t interested in cricket but it was just such a joy to hear him improvising, you know. And Humphrey Lyttleton is another broadcaster whose work I have always liked a lot, mainly because you still feel – and I hope he will forgive me for saying this – the programmes that he introduces, the jazz record programmes, that he is so busy listening to the record and enjoying it and thinking what he might have been doing if he’d been playing on it, that when the record ends he is occasionally rather stuck for something to say and he tends to stumble slightly. And I find that entirely admirable, I like that a lot – the sort of natural school of broadcasting, if you like. So I was quite pleased just to be myself really, not to have to kind of do a top 40 voice or a slightly American voice or a slightly Liverpool voice, or whatever I had been required to do in the past – I was just myself, sort of naive and hopeless but just being … not projecting myself in any way at all really, just saying as I am speaking to you now, just talking in my ordinary voice. And of course at the time this was seen as a bit of a radical departure. I mean, to me it seems like the logical thing to do, you know. And it seemed to me also to be an easy thing to do.

(Night Ride clip, 06 March 1968)
Thank you very much indeed. This is the first of a new series of programmes in which you may hear just about anything. This morning we have the Incredible String Band and poet Adrian Mitchell. We’ll also play records by groups you may not have heard of that we consider worthy of exposure. And we get an awful lot of records in each week, you know, from groups just making their first record, and it is very sad to have to reject them sometimes, because you know that the hopes of hundreds of people – well, it’s almost hundreds of people – are pinned on each record. You know, mums and dads are sitting at home listening to see if Johnny’s record comes on the radio, and it is very sad when you know they are not going to. Anyway, one group that you're going to hear a great deal of in the next year because they're going to get so important, and people in this country and America and all over Europe who haven't heard them will be hearing them, and they're very good indeed. They're our guests this evening, the Incredible String Band, who hare are ridiculous LP that is going to be released in a few weeks’ time called the Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, which to my mind is the best LP I have heard since Sergeant Pepper. I say that about every LP. Anyway, the Incredible String Band now, and this is called You Get Brighter Every Day.

I’d like to pretend I think carefully about everything I say and how I say it in between records. I’ll occasionally make a note to myself, like two or three words, to remind me what it is I am going to say, so I don’t open the mic and then think, “What was I going to say about this?” Although occasionally I do that. I say, “I was going to say something really interesting there and I’ve forgotten what it was, so here’s the next record.” So on the radio, I mean, brevity is of the essence really. So I try and say as little as possible. And one of the things that is quite good is if I do hit on an idea which I keep running through two or three programmes, memory is genuinely so awful that by the time the next week’s programmes start I will have forgotten it, so you don’t get those things, as I’m afraid some of my colleagues do, were they seem to be doing essentially the same programme but with different records that they were doing two or three years ago, in some cases even longer.

So there is a kind of in-built freshness as a consequence of this. I mean, you have to think of little devices and little ideas, but they usually arise spontaneously out of a letter or - I mean, the letters people write in to the programme are crucially important. And it’s impossible to answer all of them, but at least they all get read. They are not kind of, “Dear John, We think you’re fab, please send a pic” kind of letters, because that would be easy to cope with. I mean, they tend to be letters, fairly thoughtful letters, fairly amusing letters in some cases, from people who picked up on something which you said or done or picked up on some record and want to know more or want an explanation and will occasionally recommend stuff to you. The thing I like best is that when people go away on their holidays, they send me postcards, you know. They sit down and write postcards to their mates at home, to their mum and dad, and then they’ll send me one. So it’s that kind of relationship, which sounds terribly Bob Hope-ish. You know what I mean, that kind of “my audience are my friends” kind of thing, which you know that if any of the audience tried to speak to them they’d get knocked back by huge blokes with guns stuck down their trousers, you know what I mean. But I mean, it is actually like that. I regard myself as like the fans’ man on the inside really, so my job is to find interesting stuff, stick it out on the radio with the minimum of fuss.

(Top Gear clip)
We do have 20 seconds to fill in and this morning I found an ancient and rather damaged hurdy-gurdy down Westbourne Grove and the Pig will now play it for you.
(Sheila plays hurdy-gurdy)
OK, stop! She’s gone mad. First time we find a hurdy-gurdy and… That was Abide With me, in case you didn’t recognize it.

I think my role is an editorial one rather than a presenting one, because the bulk of my energies goes into finding material to put on the programme, either finding bands that we can get in to record sessions, which again was initially seen as a disadvantage because of the needletime problems that we had, but obviously turned into an advantage because you can get bands in who have not yet recorded or you can get combinations of musicians in who may never record, or get bands to come in if they are big bands and record a kind of work in progress session, which I think is excellent. And I am quite often presented in the papers as being a kind of tastemaker and a molder of public appetites and so on, but I really don’t believe that at all. I mean, I think if people are any good they are going to become public property eventually anyway, so all you can do is sort of either accelerate or retard the process. So there have been people like, uh, well, we kept Bowie alive for a couple of years. He went through a bad patch of not getting very much work and people not paying a great deal of attention to him. He did a lot of sessions during that time, and Tyrannosaurus Rex, I suppose. It’s one of those things where you become aware of the destructive nature of notoriety and fame, and it is one of those areas that occasionally bother me about what I do. You know, when you are taking quite innocent, enthusiastic people out of their natural milieu, and you can easily be creating monsters. And in fact there have been people in bands that I have enthusiastically endorsed from the start who have subsequently died as a result of, you know, the rock and roll lifestyle, and there are times when you feel quite guilty about that. But I mean, I think if you stop and examine what you do in that much detail, that way lies madness frankly, because you are asking yourself questions that only you can answer, you know.

(Top Gear clip, 1970?)[4]
Chart-bound sound! That’s Tyrannosaurus Rex and Ride A White Swan, and actually Marc came round to Peel’s Piggery this morning and mentioned that there was a quote attributed to him in a newspaper which was entirely imaginary. If you see the quote, you’ll know the one I mean. So there you are, that’s Ride A White Swan. Not a bad idea, I think.

I think being in a position to recommend bands, let’s put it that way, for sessions, and see them subsequently go on to become notorious, or to disappear without trace – it doesn’t really matter – in a way it is almost a classic, like an 18th century or 17th century role that you can be a patron of the arts, with the unique and gratifying difference that you don’t have to invest any of your own money in it. But this is something that the BBC has traditionally done. So I feel in a way that the thinking behind the programme, if there is any thinking, is more in the Reithian tradition than a lot of stuff that goes on throughout the rest of the BBC. So I am in a position to be as I say a patron of the arts, to a certain extent. But the role of the producer – I mean, John Walters, with a couple of intervals, has been my producer now for 14 or 15 years. And ours has always been a unique relationship in that initially of course I was hired just to be the presenter of the programme and the producer was supposed to choose all of the material that went into it, and these guidelines had been eroded over the years to the point where they barely exist. And Walters and my role was – I’m not quite sure what it is. We always have difficulty defining it when people ask us to do so. But he is a concepts man, he likes the idea of things, you know. I mean, he liked the idea of punk when it came along, and he likes the idea of the kind of the more mutinous bands that I want to put on the radio now – but he doesn’t want to have to listen to them. I mean. He would never go home and listen to a Bogshed record or a Fall record or any of these things, where obviously I do and look forward to doing so. So he is the apologist for the programme. He can argue it much more skillfully than I can in debate. So he always refers to himself – I’m sure he doesn’t believe it for a minute, because he’s a vain man – but he always refers to himself as my earthly representative, which sort of sums up our relationship as neatly as anything does, I suppose.

(John Peel Show clip)[5]
Well, here I am again, bronzed and fat, and happier than I can say to have an extra hour with you every night of the week on Radio One…
And that is the Old Swan Band from their Free Reed LP called No Reels, and the tunes there were Bonny Breast Knots – my goodness me! – Getting Upstairs, The Blue-Eyed Stranger, and The New Kilarney Polka. And when I was a young chap, there used to be a trad band called the Saints – these are not they.

Walters again once said, and it’s an unkind thing but I know exactly what he means and it has some accuracy to it – he said that the programme would be in real trouble if I ever reached puberty. And I do know what he means. Because obviously my enthusiasms would seems to be on the surface anyway the enthusiasms of a 13, 14 year old, in that you are always looking for something new and never entirely satisfied with what you have got. But on the other hand, it is only in the area of popular music or popular culture that this is seen as the way things should be, and in other area of artistic appreciation, the idea that your appreciation diminishes with age is just not on. In fact, it is seen to be enhanced with the passage of time until you become senile. And my interests have always been really – and I relate things to football, because I always find that football provides a very useful metaphor for most things in life – that in the way that I am more concerned about what Liverpool do next Saturday or next season than with what they did last Saturday or in their long and glorious history, you know. So it is the same with the music. I am more interested in the records that I have not yet heard that I have got in the back of the car to listen to at the weekend than I am in the ones that I have played in this week’s programmes. And when the time comes when I lose my enthusiasm for it or there is some major development that I feel, “I don’t feel involved in this, this is nothing to do with me,” then that is where I would have to – I mean, I couldn’t fake it after all these years – that is when I would have to shut up shop and say, “Well, from now on my period is 1948 to whatever it happens to be,” you know. “From now on I am going to have to be a museum, and hope that as a museum I can continue to find some function. Because I like doing radio programmes. I have no ambitions beyond that, which is one of the reasons I quite like doing television, because it genuinely doesn’t matter if they say to me, “You’re never going to do television again.” That wouldn’t bother me. So when I do television I don’t see this as a springboard to a career as a TV quizmaster or something like this, because I don’t want to do that, you know, it’s just incidental. What I want to do is radio programmes, with a bit of writing – I like writing. But the radio is what I do and what I want to do.

(montage of clips played over Grinderswitch)

References

  1. The single Stay With Me was released in early December 1971[1], so the clip seems likely to date from around that time. No tracklistings (or recordings) for the period are currently available. Top Gear was only on Wednesdays (as part of the Sound Of The Seventies evening strip) from 10 June 1971 until 29 December 1971.
  2. The actual label appears to have been 77 Records, from the address of the record ship on Charing Cross where it originated. A full online discography, including the Lightnin' Hopkins album is available here.
  3. The sessions suggest this is the show of 25 November 1967. The reference to visiting Holland also fits in with him going to "A Flight to Lowlands Paradise" in Margriethal, Utrecht, on 24/25 Nov (see Gigography 1967 for further details). Please add any details of his trip to Sweden if known in the Talk section at the top of this page.
  4. The single entered [UK charts] on 24 October 1970 and was also played by Peel the same day. Before this date, the single was played on Top Gear on 05 September 1970 and 10 October 1970. It subsequently appeared on 31 October 1970 and a session version was aired on 07 November 1970. The final play that year came on 26 December 1970. The clip here is presumably from one of the earlier dates.
  5. Likely to be start of 04 April 1977 show, the first after Peel’s return from holiday in St Lucia to an expanded show schedule.

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