I've got no particular reason to write about John Peel at this time other than perhaps that his partial autobiography is in the shops at the moment and I am currently reading it.
Lots of words have been written about all the artists he helped make famous and also lots of interesting stuff about the millions of late night 'under the cover' teenage listeners to his programmes that span generations. All very good, but along with the touching, fawning tributes on radio 1, which have become tiresome, all of those stories are old hat.
What I want to say about him, which I don't think any of the tributes have really mentioned is that, what made John important, was all the artists he played that never made it.
That for me was the fun of the show. No band more fittingly sums this up than the Fall. I know they have been quite successful in their own niche market, but such a band were unlikely ever to become truly mainstream, and that is where Peel fitted in. Playing all the music that no other DJ would ever play. In this respect his unique power base was changing and Peel's show was beginning to become irrelevant, as digital stations and the internet increasingly replaced Peel's importance of being the lone true alternative voice within mainstream radio. However what these elements didn't replace was his humourous style of show and the sheer randomness in the order of and diversity of the music he played which had that BBC Reithian educational value of opening minds to new musical genres.
Thinking of the range of music Peel covered, the difference in musical style between Elvis's early more radical tracks and Stump (an eighties indie band), George Formby and David Gedge, was never really that great anyway. This is why in a way, even when he was playing Extreme Noise Terror, Kanda Bongo Man or Calvin Party, Peel was being consistent in his musical taste.
Another point I want to make about Peel is that his true genious is that, contrary to the mass of opinion, that he would actually have been fairly easy to replace as a DJ. There are millions of his fans out there, that could do his job. Because all you had to do, was play all the stuff no other DJ is touching. Ignore record labels and musical styles and search through demos to find stuff you genuinely think is original and you like the sound of, that was the simplicity of his formula.
Peel himself once said something like; 'all DJs are parasitic clowns living off the back of the music they play'. This is absolutely spot on, because when it comes down to it, Peel was fairly talentless. The only talent he had was his honesty and open mindedness and maybe his dry self deprecating humour. Maybe these are the qualities that make him difficult to replace, not the actual DJing itself.