Margrave Of The Marshes (John Peel’s Autobiography)

If you haven’t already heard, parts of John Peel’s record collection will soon become a virtual museum of sorts from now till the end of October 2012. John kept his collection meticulously catalogued and filed with cards he hand-typed on his old Olivetti typewriter, and each week for 26 weeks, users will get access to whatever music was on the first 100 filecards of a given letter of the alphabet, with 1 album highlighted for special attention. (Unfortunately, since access is through Spotify those of us in Singapore can’t actually be part of the fun.)

Alexis Petridis got a first peek into the collection, and wrote a charming article for The Guardian about what awaits us:

In one instance, the sheer obscurity of the music seems to have overwhelmed even Peel. There is a card that features no track listing at all, merely the dark summary “16 songs in Hungarian”.

In light of this, now seems a good time to share some favourite excerpts (I haven’t done that for so long!) from John’s autobiography Margrave Of The Marshes, which was half-written during his lifetime and finished posthumously by his wife Sheila. Funnily enough, I actually prefer the writing in Sheila’s half – the half written by John suggests he never met a comma he didn’t like. Nonetheless, the book is a wonderful read not just for music geeks but anyone who ever enjoyed John’s inimitable personality and radio presence – in my household, for example, Alec (who never listened to The John Peel Show but loved Home Truths) and I (who never listened to Home Truths but loved The John Peel Show) enjoyed it equally. 

The book opens with a quote from John, writing in Disc and Music Echo, 1969:

It is obvious that disc-jockeys, as a class, are essentially parasitic. We are, with lamentably few exceptions, neither creative nor productive. We have, however, manipulated the creations of others (records) to provide ourselves with reputations as arbiters of public taste. There is no more reason (nor no less) why I should be writing this column than you – however I am in this unmerited position and you’re not. I believe very much in radio as a medium of tragically unrealised possibilities and also in the music I play. Therefore accepting the falseness of my own precarious position I will do what I can, wherever I can, to publicise these good things I hear around me. These musicians have made you aware of, and appreciative of, their music – not J. Peel.

Read on for more excerpts from Margrave of the Marshes

My Pathetic Tribute To John Peel

I’m too wimpy to host mp3s myself here (bandwidth fears, plus that inconvenient future profession of mine), but I thought I’d mention some bands who I heard about through John Peel, and who (unlike the Shite Stripes) aren’t anywhere near famous enough yet.

  • The Crimea: Baby Boom is the song that got me hooked. Wonderful soaring guitar lines, thoroughly appealing melody, and the slightly hoarse wheedling tone of the lead singer endears me instead of irritating me the way Ben Gibbard’s does. Altogether it is rather like skinny-dipping in a lake of shooting stars on the happiest day of your childhood. You can listen to snippets of a couple of other songs here – try Bombay Sapphire Coma and Out Of Africa.
  • Knifehandchop: Mixes drum’n’bass with every sound known to man and then some. Completely manic, deliciously unpredictable, and generally as addictive as cocaine, complete with the tendency for nosebleeds. Already fairly well-known among people who keep up with the scene, but still not famous enough for me, so go check out his Peel Session, kindly made available for download at boomselection.
  • Murcof: I heard some tracks on the John Peel show, which then influenced me to buy a Leaf Label sampler, which in turn introduced me to Asa-Chang & Junray and some very strange dreams. Murcof isn’t for everyone, I’ll admit. I’d understand if people found him too cold and cerebral, but there’s something I rather like about the atmosphere he creates, like a room of shifting sands in an abandoned avant-garde funhouse. Try Memoria, off his excellent Martes album.
  • Magoo: I didn’t actually hear Magoo on the John Peel show, but the fact that he was a fan was the reason I decided to check out their gig at the Arts Cafe. I was completely floored, and have gone on to acquire all of their albums since then. No mp3 link here, I’m afraid, because there isn’t much about Magoo online and they’re almost impossible to locate on file-sharing networks because you tend to get a lot of Timbaland stuff instead. But if you pick up an album I’d recommend The Soateramic Sounds Of Magoo or Realist Week. Better still, see them live because they’re incredibly tight. Tour dates can be found at their official site.

Silence The Pianos And With Muffled Drum

John Peel has died suddenly of a massive heart attack. I didn’t listen to him as regularly as I did the Breezeblock, which I am now profoundly regretting. I wasn’t expecting him to die at 65. I was expecting him to be showcasing the latest developments in chainsaw folk techno well into his 90s.

The thing is, I don’t have to have listened to him 3 times a week to feel as if I’ve lost a hero. Perhaps I’m just generally in an overemotional frame of mind (see previous post), but for the first time in my life I’m listening to Teenage Kicks with tears in my eyes.