In memory of John Peel
inane: oerdom. instead of: in plaats van. obituary: necrologie. offbeat: onconventioneel. Anyone idly tuning in to BBC Radio One, Britain's biggest mainstream pop music station, in the middle of the day of Tuesday 27th of last month would have been justified in thinking the world has been turned upside down. Instead of the usual anodyne top-ten fare, they found themselves listening to track after track of weird sounds with startling lyrics, many of them beginning with the hiss of vinyl which betrays a certain vintage. But the world had not been turned upside down. It was just the DJs paying instant tribute to one of their colleagues, John Peel, the champion of alternative music, by playing music "which he would like". In the last few decades in Britain, few deaths of a public figure have resulted in such a genuine outpouring of shocked sadness as that which followed his sudden death. John Peel was the only remaining DJ on BBC Radio One who was there when the station came on the air in the late sixties. Such professional longevity might suggest that he was a leaf for every passing wind in pop trends, a man willing to go mindlessly along with whatever was in vogue. It might also suggest he was an expert pop prattler, a practised purveyor of the false bonhomie that characterises most radio DJ styles. Neither could be further from the truth. He never played mainstream pop on his programme and his conversation was minimal. His passion was hunting out new acts and giving them an airing which they most certainly would never get anywhere else. Tens of subsequently big-name acts from Jimi Hendrix onwards owed their 'discovery' to him. Hundreds of not-so-big ones do too. In the words of one obituary, his programme ran "an almost personalised matchmaking service between bands and their future audiences". For 40 years, these audiences consisted mainly, but not exclusively, of succeeding generations of British teenagers who, through his programme, were thrilled to discover there was more to modern music than inane lyrics and muzak tunes. Over the years, Peel survived several attempted coups at the BBC initiated by producers who could never believe that such an offbeat programme would attract listeners, especially young ones, as Peel, in his own words, became "a fat bald guy over 60 with a sore back". But it was the fact that he never pretended to be something he wasn't that made him so popular. Future generations of teenagers, without perhaps knowing it, will miss him badly.