Firstly, I'm honored to have been asked to do this first lecture in the name of John Peel. John and I were never close friends, and I know he was not always an unconditional Who fan, but through his long-time producer John Walters—who was a great friend to me and to Who drummer Keith Moon—I followed John Peel's career with the sense of a family insider. I don't want to kick off this series of annual lectures with any po-faced intellectualism. Nor do I want to talk about pop music as art—hard for me because music as art is my favorite subject. Neither do I wish to try to make this lecture amusing, or light-hearted or even ironic in the tradition of the sixties and post sixties pop era Peely and I shared. I don't want to try to celebrate John Peel, nor make this into any kind of memorial. That's all been done. So what do I want to do?
I have limited time. Looking at what John Peel did with his show on radio for many years is worth looking at. But I must assume that most listeners will know what he did. Annie Nightingale once told me that John was one of the few deejays at Radio 1 who would take home everything left in the in-tray cubbyholes at the end of each week. More than that, he listened to it all. Sometimes he played some records that no one else would ever have played, and that would never be played on radio again. But he listened, and he played a selection of records in the course of each week that his listeners knew—partly because the selection was sometimes so insane—proved he was genuinely engaged in his work as an almost unconditional conduit between creative musicians to the radio audience.
So he listened. And he took chances with what he played.
And he is gone.
Why was John Peel's system important? Why is listening important? Why is being ready to give space to less polished music important? Will John Peelism survive the internet? Or is John Peelism thriving on the internet without many of us realizing it?
So we have John Peel. The BBC. And—for the purposes of this lecture—iTunes. All enormous icons in music.
Let me introduce you briefly to my inner artist, then I will put him back in his box.