Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Remembering John Peel: Mad Dog's Music

john peel
John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, OBE (aka John Peel):30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004. RIP.

Today is the anniversary of the passing of John Peel. I was profundly affected by his death two years ago: I'd been a devout listener from the time I first encountered him on Radio London in 1967/68 and then when he moved to the BBC after the demise of pirate radio. Not only did he influence my listening and record/CD collection but he became a sort of pillar of the establishement -a bit like the Beeb's shipping forecast or the saturday afternoon football results. He had a warm, comforting, reliable, voice and its absence came as a great shock and left a vacuum. So as a tribute, I've compiled a list of "JP-endorsed" bands that I saw in the golden era of 1967-1975 (my formative years as a student). I've trawled through YouTube for footage. I should point out that that (i) I had other favourites however couldn't find archived film clips (ii) I've omitted some great bands I've seen since that period e.g. Led Zeppelin, Queen, Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones even though they had received the JP stamp of approval but were mainstream, adult-oriented rock by the time I finally got to see them and (iii) I've left out some groups that, despite the JP endorsement I thought sucked like a truckload of Dysons (take note Third Ear Band, Hawkwind and Edgar Broughton -amazingly all still seem to be in existence). Anyway, here we go in alphabetical order:

A concert from my Cardiff days, c1972 at the Old Student’s Union. They were not particularly memorable except for the “Hold Your head Up” anthem which everyone loved.

Bond Organisation, The Graham
An amazing bunch of musicians. I’ve cheated a little with this clip as it’s pre-1967 but was all I could unearth. However it features Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, John McLaughlin and the late Dick Heckstall-Smith and is taken from a hilarious campy, sci-fi, flick, Gonks Go Beat). I think I saw Graham Bond first in the unlikely venue of Woking, c1969, and later as part of Ginger Baker’s Airforce at a festival in Sussex. His apparent suicide in 1974 was a great tragedy.

Sorry, this is a contemporary clip but it was all I could find. I first encountered Jon Hiseman’s mighty Colosseum at Guildford Tech around 1969 and then again at the Top Rank Ballroom, Cardiff about two or three years later when they had recruited the amazing Chris Farlowe on vocals. Jon Hiseman was the first drummer I’d seen with twin bass skins. I’ve seen him many times since with Barbara Thompson’s jazz band, Paraphernalia.

Curved Air
Cardiff, 1972. A genteel and intellectual lot. I chatted to all of them. Sonja Kristina was strikingly lovely and very polite: I was quite besotted.

Deep Purple
Timeless power rock practitioners. I first say them at Guildford Tech, c1968 in their pre-"Smoke on the water..." days.

Fairport Convention
I saw them several times, the first being at the 1968 Jazz and Blues festival at Sunbury Race Course. John Peel was compering in a tent of smaller acts which included Reg Dwight (now Elton John). Unfortunately I couldn’t find a clip which included the wonderful Sandy Denny in the lineup.

Fleetwood Mac
Now this was a super band. I think I saw them first at the Albert Hall in the summer of 1969 along with Pentangle and the late, great, Duster Bennett. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group so dominated and controlled (in a positive sense) by then lead guitarist and founder Peter Green.

No they are not Jethro Tull! This combo of flying Dutchmen pitched up at Cardiff University Student Union along with half the population of South Wales who, needless to say, didn’t have tickets. It was 1973 and the band were at the peak of their fame. As part of the “Events” committee my job was to maintain the door security which was an impossible task. My memory is of a running battle the entire evening with Focus’ music playing as a soundtrack.

Humble Pie
Stadium yob rock at its best or worst depending on your POV. I encountered this bunch of hooligans during Cardiff Rag Week, c1973. Indeed I was on the committee that booked them. They were loud, raucous, and sent members of their entourage out to ensnare young females to entertain messrs Marriott, Frampton et al. after the concert (there seemed to be no lack of willing volunteers). One of their roadies knocked me off stage while I was photographing the band: as I was the official photographer for the event my pride was severely dented although the camera remained intact.

Kinks, The
A tremendously enjoyable, professional, bunch that I saw at the Top Rank Ballroom, Cardiff, sometime in 1973. To this day they are one of my all time favourite bands from this era.

Kirk, Roland
I’m showing great restraint by inflicting only one jazz musician on you. My memories of Roland Kirk (or Rhaasan Roland Kirk as he became) emanate from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, around January 1970. RK was chaotic and charismatic: you’ve got to love a guy who can ply three saxophones at once, can do circular breathing (the first time I’d seen the technique) and wandered through the audience and out into the street while still playing. And he was simply the best jazz flute player I’ve seen, ever!

McTell, Ralph
I know “Streets of London” has become a bit clichéd but Ralph was/still is a great performer. I saw him in Cardiff on several occasions. Apologies for the contemporaneous clip but I couldn’t locate any classic old stuff.

Moody Blues
I think the first group I ever saw. Guildford Tech c1967. I’ve liked the use of flute in rock music (not to mention jazz) ever since.

Nice, The
One of the very first groups I saw -again at Guildford. Keith Emerson played with his organ in spectacular style. Unfortunately these antics degenerated into pretentious wankery with Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Perhaps one of the most complete and accomplished groups I’ve seen to this day. I saw them first in Guildford. They played together in the most complimentary manner. Jacqui McShee’s voice was angelic and the John Renbourne-Bert Jansch guitar partnership just magical. John Peel wrote the sleeve notes to the band’s first album (which I still have).

Not an intellectual or virtuoso band but they could work the crowd like nobody else. They were a student union favourite and I must have seen them on three or four occasions during my Cardiff years.

Steeleye Span
This lot were just great. Lively, engaging and super musicians. Maddy Prior’s voice was always pristine. I wish I could have found a clip with a more interesting song though..

Tull, Jethro
Ah yes, another enduring fave from my first ever rock concert at which John Peel was in attendance. I’ve remained a fan of Ian Anderson through thick and thin even though he sorely tested my loyalty with a lot of crappy offerings in the 1980s.

Who, The
A slight cheat here as I didn’t see The Who in the golden era. I did try though. In my first week as a freshman undergraduate in Cardiff (1970) I failed to obtain tickets to see them although subsequently met Keith Moon (absolutely plastered) when he was guest drummer with a visiting band, Sha-Na-Na. He shook my hand, gave me a stick of “Cardiff Rock” and implored me to “Rock on, man”. I didn’t wash my hand for a week afterwards! I eventually got to see The Who around 1980 but by that time Moon the Loon had sadly self-destructed through vomit inhalation.

1 comment:

Robin said...

Just stumbled across you, so to speak, when looking for Jon Hisemann and Cardiff to pinpoint when I saw them there. I was a zoology student at UC and remember some of these gigs. Was lucky enough to see The Who when they were down the road at a festival at Swansea football ground - shared the bill with Little Feat, Roger Chapman Streetwalkers and the great Sensational Alex Harvey. My favourite band was Gentle Giant - part reincarnated as Three Friends (seeing them again in a couple of weeks). Best wishes. Robin. Exeter