Thursday, 21 February 2013

Tales From The Lids - Tribute to John Peel

Tales from The Lids

 A lot of you will already know about a new fanzine in town, Tales from the lids (TFTLs)…similar in style and content to a semi famous old dinosaur fanzine from the 80’s, the magazine covers things like Music, football and beer... “the very stuff of life”, as a wizened old man once said.

It's written and edited by a gifted wordsmith by the name of Lee Walker who unashamedly admits TFTLs is influenced by The End fanzine. Issue 1 featured a tribute to The End. Issue 2 featured a rare old interview with my good self and the upcoming issue 3 features an interview with my old friend and co writer / co editor  of old Liverpool Mod fanzine, Time for action, and current MP, most famous for his robust campaigning for the Hillsborough Justice campaign..a certain Steve Rotherham MP.…and all 3 editions feature TFTLs version of Ins & Outs …errrrrr    outs and ins  (I think that title deserves to go in my next Out column!).

 Lee has now also got a TFTL’s website up and running where you can find out how and where to buy it…how you can contribute to it (its one lacking feature is comments and features from a Bluenose contributor, so here the chance for a budding blue to air his or her view in a fanzine) the website features separate items and blogs not featured in the fanzine, as well as stuff featured in it…the article below is a heartfelt Tribute to the legendary JOHN PEEL and is featured on the website (minus the 2 End photos).

Visit the website here

The Last Breaths of
On The Edge of The
A Tribute to the Late, Great
John Peel.
'I'm the bloke who comes on late at night and plays records by sulky Belgians!'
(John Peel 'Top Of The Pops' circa 1982)
'I'm the bloke who comes on late at night and plays records by sulky Belgians!'

(John Peel – 'Top Of The Pops' circa 1982)
A chilly Sunday afternoon on the very last day of October. It  was fast approaching noon in the post, big night-out hush  that  descends  on  Liverpool  City  Centre  like  a weighty,  velvet  curtain,  the  kind  that  falls  with  grim finality at the end of an at once captivating but dimly- recollected             stage    show:   a              thickly-billowing accompaniment  to  the  nursing  of  collective  hangovers, regretful  musings  and  the  heart-sinking  realisation  that there's  a  very  real  possibility  lives  are  about  to  be irrevocably changed.

For the worse...

Always for the worse.

Christ,  even  the  shrieks  of  the  greedy,  butty snatching Mersey seagulls seemed half-hearted, muffled, the sound of a man with a woollen scarf wrapped tightly round his face, coughing fitfully into a gloved hand as a dense, impenetrable fog-bank drifts in from the invisible river.

It's an unarguably dead time.

And Liverpool resembles a ghost town.The sort that Terry Hall once sang so evocatively about back in the era of the riot-torn early 1980s. (At least until Craggy Island's 'Spin Meister' contrived to reduce that plaintive, soulful lament for the sad decline of England's inner  cities,       to  bursts of unconstrained hilarity...(* A Father Ted, reference - Ed).
I'm walking alone along an all but deserted Dale Street, with no one but a shark-eyed traffic warden, exhibiting all the warmth and sunny personality of Kim Il Sung afflicted with  a  terminal  case  of  the  trots,  and  a  hopelessly optimistic 'Big Issue' seller sat in the shuttered entrance of Tait’s Health Store,   looking every bit as forlorn as the solitary ‘Bird Lady’ in Mary Poppins (in fact, I could see what looked suspiciously like dried pigeon-shit stains splattering the shoulders of his crumpled navy-blue coat), as he mechanically croaked out his pleas to purchase the publication in a voice that couldn’t have been any flatter than if Jo Brand had sat on it after participating in an epic cake-eating contest.

I only had enough   on me for a couple of pints, and a whole mountain of sorrows to drown, so I guiltily averted my gaze as I walked past him, staring at the pavement as though there was something of immense interest there amongst the squashed pink chewies,  discarded  cigarette butts and crumpled remains of ‘Lucky Dip’ cards. I then turned left into Hackins Hey, a side jigger, in the most literal, Liverpudlian sense of the word, and entered ‘Ye Hole In Ye Wall’, the city's oldest alehouse. Built in the impossibly distant-seeming year  of 1726, and reputedly erected on a Quaker burial site, the former coaching house is rumoured to be haunted by at least two ghosts:   The spectre of a Spanish sailor who, according to legend, was stabbed to death for having the temerity to refuse to take the 'King’s shilling', and a black cowled figure that is apparently so solid-seeming it is often mistaken for a real flesh and blood regular (although quite how anyone would consider  a  man  dressed  in  a  hooded,  monkish  robe propping up the bar, or sat in the shadowy corners, on any occasion other than some local fancy dress fund-raiser, to be a perfectly ordinary customer, perhaps says something about the potency of the pub’s vast array of real ales – unless assorted priests frequently elect to pop in for a swift half during a break from taking confession, of course).

I wasn’t looking for phantoms, real or imagined, on this particular Sunday afternoon, however. Although I have to admit I was planning on raising a glass or two to the cherished memory of the recently departed. And the second that I stepped across the threshold, and smelled the familiar odours of traditional pub food, cask- conditioned beer and the wispy smoke from a roaring fire, I knew I’d come to the most appropriate venue imaginable in my attempt to soothe the heart of all sorrows. Or at the very least immerse that most fragile of bodily organs in sense-numbing alcohol.

This was a place where visions and images of the past shimmered in the move-less air with all the sepia-toned vividness of the numerous framed photographs of the City Centre, and its glorious yesteryear, that lined the oak- panelled walls.

And as for me…I was only recalling the events of a few days earlier, and the loss of someone who’d I’d regrettably never met, in the flesh so to speak, but who I nevertheless missed with all the desperate, aching sadness that trawls forlornly in the wake of a loved one’s absence.

I ordered a frothing pint of ‘Hobgoblin’ and a single malt whisky chaser before taking a seat in one of the two cosy, oak-wood panelled booths (the one nearest the real coal fire – that pervasive Autumnal chill was gradually seeping into my bones with all the grim and steely determination of a persistent gate-crasher at a house-warming party).

The bar was fairly busy, even at this relatively early hour, with the usual Sunday crowd of older people, all dressed up   in   their   weekend   finest:   the   men,   proud   and distinguished  in  immaculate  freshly-ironed  three-piece suits,  the  women  in  extravagant  hats and  party frocks. Most of them were gathered in the opposite snug, and as I watched, a couple of acoustic guitars, a banjo, and a ‘gob- iron’ or two magically appeared seemingly from out of nowhere and within seconds, and amidst much cheering, and ear-piercing ‘Wuh-yells!’ of encouragement, an impromptu ‘band’ began belting out highly passable renditions of ‘Your Cheating Heart,’ ‘I Walk The Line,’ and ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool.’

I watched transfixed as prior to me taking my first eager step along the road to beery, pseudo-consolation, my eyes were drawn to an elderly woman who was sat amongst the group. At  least  in  a  physical  sense.  One  glance at  the dreamy expression  playing  upon  her  perfectly-made  up features as she absent-mindedly twisted her plain gold wedding ring around and around her finger like a golden wheel   of   mis-fortune   was   enough   to   indicate   that spiritually, she was about a billion  light years removed from any of her companions.

That, and the fact that she was staring intently at a slant of late October  light that spilled  greyly through  the pub’s windows, and where dust motes danced in madly swirling eddies. It was obvious to me that her rheumy eyes were focused on some distant, cherished memory, momentarily brought to back life by the strains of a well-loved song, drifting on the lukewarm air like a symphony for the remorseless passing of time.

And that brought me back to the sole reason for my being here.


I was here to remember, too. It was October 31st 2004. Halloween.

A mere five days since news broke of the untimely death of one of the greatest musical (or indeed otherwise) influences on my life…..
John Peel with END Fanzine editors Peter Hooton & Phil Jones

The afternoon when I first heard John Peel had tragically passed away, (although it turned out he'd died the previous day, during a working vacation in Peru), I was sat at my office desk at the solicitor’s firm where I used to work, supposedly    poring     over      that   afternoon’s   stack   of paperwork and mindlessly dictating our criminal client’s details onto our computer database. In actual fact I was busily engaged in arguing the toss with one or two of my colleagues over the pros and cons of Liverpool fielding what amounted to a reserve side in that night’s League Cup tie at Millwall.

The increasingly heated conversation had suddenly been interrupted by the shrill, insistent ringing of the telephone. It was a friend calling to relay a slice of truly awful news. And immediately, everything else had ceased to matter.

As with the equally unexpected death of the late, great Joe Strummer, of The Clash, (and in company with an endless cast of taken-before-their-time  luminaries, including Ian Curtis,  Bob  Marley,  Malcolm Owen,  Kurt  Cobain,  Bill Shankly and John Lennon: a cluster of eternal stars that eternally 'lend light to the Vaults Of Heaven'), I was totally overcome by a powerful combination of both shock and bitter-sweet nostalgia. It’s one of life’s harshest lessons to find that, after all, the heroic, untouchable icons of our youth are, every bit as fallible and ultimately killable as the rest of us mere mortals.

I replaced the receiver and excused myself on the pretext that I needed some fresh air.

And was that really so far from the truth?

I’m not so sure it was. I'd suddenly found it difficult to catch my breath in the   overbearingly stuffy confines of the office, and I'd stumbled, gasping and misty-eyed, into the firm’s car park, ignoring the concerned glances of my workmates and their half-formed enquiries as to whether I was feeling okay. My head was too busy reeling with the implications of irreplaceable loss and the recollections of the very first time I’d heard John Peel’s iconic programme two and a half decades earlier…..

I'd been a few months shy of my fifteenth birthday, and about to enter my final year at a genuine contender for the title  of  the  worst  school  on  Merseyside,  on  just  about every  conceivable       level.   Inter-school  discipline? Inspiration  to realise  your  even  a  tiny portion  of  your potential? Awareness of your any prospective career opportunities? These were all about as alien a series of concepts to our so-called teachers and governing heads as educational excellence was to Pol Pot and his Cambodian Year Zero Campaign.

There were the odd occasional glimmers of life-affirming optimism to be found amidst the grey, soul-destroying drudgery of my school-days, however.

For instance during our one hour dinner break, my friend’s and I would gather under the corrugated iron roof of the bike sheds, on even the brightest and warmest of days, and there, out of sight of the teachers and their arse-kissing prefects, we’d act out the rituals of stereotypical teenagers; smoke  a  surreptitious  ciggie  or  two,  play  cards  for  a massive big stake of 10 pence a hand, make increasingly outlandish boasts about our alleged sexual conquests, and listen to music on the cheap radio-cassette player provided by the resident ‘sweat’ in our gang, its unbearably tinny speakers blaring out an endless procession of heavy metal rock songs.

I can’t say I cared much for that particular genre. Those 15-minute guitar solos and the cheesy lyrics about getting it on with Satan’s Horny Sex Slaves,’ just didn’t do it for me. But we put up with it, just the same, and at some point those dirty, sleazy power chords and shrieking, over-top- vocals faded to a hardly noticeable background noise, like the lazy drone of an aeroplane passing high and invisibly overhead.

And then one day, 'El Sweato' announced he had to go down  to London with his parents to attend his auntie’s funeral, but he would very kindly leave the tape recorder for us in his locker. This news was greeted with a silent chorus of euphoric cheering, because it meant we could now play whatever music we liked and a big mad scramble for  tapes  ensued.  I  don’t  know  whether  you’d  call  it chance, fate or blind luck, but one of the few bona fide Punks in our class, a tall, gangly boy with jet-black spiky hair who we christened, (with a quite deplorable lack of imagination) ‘Sid’, got his tape in there first. I’d disappointedly thrust my ‘Top Forty recorded-off-the-radio ‘Memorex’   cassette   back   in   my  trouser   pocket   and prepared to relegate the anticipated tuneless dirge to an infinitely more tolerable ‘background hum.’ And thirty-odd  minutes  later  I found my life had been magically transformed.

The  tape  proved  to  be  a  compilation  of  wonderfully exciting bands, some vaguely-familiar:  (The  Clash,  The Damned  and  The  Teardrop  Explodes),  others  I’d  never heard of before (The Notsensibles, Peter & The Test Tube Babies,  The  Fatal Microbes), and  by the time the  bell sounded for the dreaded resumption of lessons, my entire body was tingling with a fully-blown adrenaline rush. Not wanting to appear un-cool in front of the rest of the gang,  I  took  ‘Sid’ to  one  side  and  whispered  quietly;That’s one smart tape that, kidder. What did yer record it off ?’
He  looked  me  up  and  down  and  smirked  disdainfully;‘Friggin hell, lad, haven’t you ever heard of John Peel?’ 'Nah, I haven't, yer know,' I mumbled, feeling a little like the way I did when one of the math tutors asked me a tricky question about Algebra or  one of those fiddly-fuck equations. And then I was struck with what I thought at the time was a sudden spark of brilliant inspiration: 'Oh, hang on, isn't he the fella who invented the bizzies?'...
'That's Robert Peel, ya bell-end,' 'Sid' replied, and from the look in his eyes, he plainly thought he was dealing with someone who considered the likes of Brotherhood Of Man and Boney M to be the epitome of   'teen-dream hipster' music, back in the sun-kissed days of early Summer, 1978. I was about to put him in his place by telling him I was the proud  owner  of  a  Darts  cassette,  so he needn't  bother launching into a lecture about cutting edge, modern-day rock and roll, when, mercifully, he placed his right hand on my shoulder and leaned close to me in the manner of someone about to pass on a piece of worldly advice:'Honestly, lad,’ he said, ‘do yerself a favour, grab hold of a radio  tonight,  and  fill  yer  lug-holes  with  a  dollop  of Peelie's prog. I’m telling yer, you won't regret it. He plays some of the bossest tunes, ever!’

When  I  got  home  that  evening,  I  hastily  scanned  the programme guide in 'The Daily Mirror,' and there it was. Stark and simple, and totally bereft of any clues as to the nature of the programme's contents.

Radio One. 10pm. John Peel
I only owned a crappy, portable transistor back then, the kind  of  hopelessly screechy plastic affair  that rendered even the very heaviest of reggae dub bass tracks tinnier than a Mikey Dredd gig being held inside a giant-size tin of Golden Virginia, but it just about did the job.

I remember it was a Thursday night. There was school the next  day,  and  my  mum  and  dad  had  imposed  a  strict 'Lights Out, Music Off By Ten' policy, during the week, so an hour before the 'curfew,' I'd gotten into bed, placed the radio on my pillow, leaned my ear against the speaker and switched on a couple of minutes before the show was due to start.

I thought at first I must have tuned to the wrong frequency when I was eventually greeted by an innocuous-sounding, old-time rhythm and blues intro. I was just reaching for the dial when the tune suddenly faded and the DJ began speaking in a laid-back, faintly Scouse twang laced with a ready wit and a self-deprecating sense of humour. I knew immediately, even at that relatively tender age, that here was someone who was the complete antithesis of every phoney radio presenter I’d heard before or indeed since. And when at last he’d fallen silent, there followed a welter of unbelievably eclectic music, a heady mix of punk, new wave,  reggae,  ska,  and  totally unclassifiable  alternative music that held me enraptured for the next two hours.

Oh, and to cap it all, he made it abundantly clear during the show that he was, like myself, a massive fan of Liverpool FC. He’d given both of his (then) children, William and Alexandra the additional names Anfield, (he gave  the  kids  had  a  little  later  in  life,  Thomas  and Florence,  the names  Dalglish  and  Shankly)  and almost refused, on one memorable occasion, in 1980, to play A Forest by The Cure, for no other reason than the song’s title bore a resemblance to the name of Liverpool's greatest rivals at the time (Lordy, how times do change).

I mean, honestly, could it get any better.

I also quickly learned to love the fact that the usual array of cheesy jingles and horribly inane advertisement breaks were noticeable only by their absence, that he sometimes played records at the wrong speed, and upon realising his mistake, simply lifted the needle (sometimes with that ear- piercing,        stylus-scratching schweewchhwwupp    sound pouring  from  the  speakers),  and  started  them  all  over again, with the accompaniment of an embarrassed chuckle. It was more than apparent that he held a great and genuine affection  for  the  music  he  was  playing,  despite  his apparent tongue-in-cheek irreverence (at one point he re- christened, for reasons best known to himself, Ian McCulloch’s  iconic  Liverpool  band  as  ‘Echo  &  The Knights Of The Bun’) and he actively encouraged his listeners to write to him so he could provide them with details of how to obtain a particularly obscure record released  on  some  defiantly independent  label,  a  billion light years distant from the familiar majors: Le Disque du Crepescule,  Factory  or  Creeping Bent, say. These were tunes John loved so much he wanted you yourself to personally own a copy.

He was once asked by some faceless interviewer from one of the music paper weeklies; ‘What is your greatest talent? John replied, with typical display of drier than a Death- Valley-puddle wit, ‘Well, I can make a noise like a dolphin and I’m really good at parallel parking.

'I keep hoping I can find some way to combine these two talents for commercial gain’. It’s true, too, that like the legendary Joe Strummer, lead singer with the aforementioned Clash,  that whenever John Peel spoke it felt like he was talking to you personally, his eternally benign tones drifting from the radio’s speaker in a quiet and gentle torrent.

It’s little wonder then that the likes of the XFM presenter, and former singer with the band Kenickie, Lauren Laverne, called him a ‘surrogate father ’, and bands like Stiff Little Fingers,   The   Cockney   Rejects   and   The   Undertones, referred to him warmly as 'Uncle John'.

It  might  sound  like  a  sentimental  cliché,  the  kind  the hordes of heartless cynics, the smug, crisp white, open- necked shirt wearing zealots writing in middle-age- pandering publications, and the faceless nobody's who prowl the grim backwaters of the Internet's forums, would sneeringly dismiss as being a “typical example of Merseyside mawkishness,” but  deep within the innermost core of my heart, the place where all truth lies constant and immutable,  I felt like I actually knew John Peel, be he Father or Uncle, or just plain close friend.

And that blessed familiarity was instrumental in bringing me closer  to all these  wonderful new bands, the do-it- yourself-mentality   and,   ultimately,   the   inspiration   to write...

And I only wish  I'd had the opportunity to tell him in person.

And thank him...

That, and the fact that I completely disagreed  with his assertion that Teenage Kicks, classic though it is, is the greatest, most impossible-to-improve-upon song ever....

I've  got  an  old  Darts  cassette  that  says  'Daddy  Cool,' knocks spots of that greasy-haired, snorkel-wearing, warbler, any day…
In the days and weeks that followed that hugely rewarding experience, listening to 'Peelies' show became more than just a habit. It became a kind of nightly ritual.

Here was a DJ, whose voice was so rich, oddly-soothing and laced with a surreal sense of humour, I actively sought to  keep  his  introductions  to  any  given  track  on  tape, though Mr Peel himself made no secret of the fact that he hated the way other radio presenters talked over any part of the song.  On the rare occasions that he mistakenly did so, he’d quickly mumble apologetically: ‘Sorry, that’s me talking over  the end of the track ruining it  for  anyone recording!'

But, the strange fact was, nothing could have been further from the truth. I remember my friends and I would walk around town, with a tape recorder, (a real ‘ghetto blaster ’, long  before  I  was  aware  the term  had  been  invented), belonging to a friend by the name of Jason Barnes, playing back the previous night’s show in its entirety, and later re-recording all the songs we especially liked, complete with John’s frequently amusing intro’s, onto compilation tapes, just like our mate, ‘Sid.’

Peelie was also responsible for  initiating a love of live music and for our gang taking the logical step of attending gigs   at   the   likes   of   Brady’s   (formerly   Eric’s)   on Liverpool’s famous ley-line riddled, Mathew Street, to see bands I would likely never even have heard of otherwise, and for my picking up the latest vinyl releases (ask yer granddad’s, kids!) from Probe Records, (see the article in issue one of Tales From The Lids), then situated on the corner of Whitechapel, on Button Street, by artists so wilfully obscure they’d often disband the moment they’d achieved their sole ambition of having their track played on national radio.

The  show was also responsible for unleashing within me a whole  host  of  musical  inspirations,  foremost  amongst them, a love of dub reggae music and left field electronica, as well as Punk, Indie and New Wave, and giving me the incentive to become lead vocalist in an mildly successful local band (Last Night At The Fair and The Lids, for all you completists out there), and eventually, to take up DJ- ing virtually every weekend, playing the usual array of weddings, birthday parties, anniversary’s, retirement do’s, Witch dunkings and the like, but with more than a handful of old and new ‘alternative anthems’ thrown in, ‘striking a blow for the good guys,’ as I like to call it in my more hubristic moments.

It is to my eternal regret that I had seldom listened to Uncle John’s programme in the four years or so prior to his death, not I hope,  because I’d grown  inured to the auditory magic or begun to take it for granted, but rather with the advent of MTV 2 and the rise of the internet, the sources    of   hearing      vital   new   music   had   grown exponentially, and listening to the radio late at night was no longer the nocturnal delight it once was.

But  still,  as  the highly  respected  music  writer  Charles Shaar Murray noted at the time; ‘it was a comfort to know that both he and the magical hours between ten and midnight, were still there.’

And now that sense of comfort had well and truly gone.

I was finding it difficult to imagine how anyone could ever hope to replace John Peel.

Perhaps, I thought, sat in the snug surroundings of Ye Hole in Ye Wall, as the last few hours of autumn were swept away on  a chill wind that carried with it the steel-cold promise of impending November, and the true birth of the year ’s dying season, no one should even try.

I guess I can only speak for myself, but those ‘magical hours between 10pm and midnight…?’

They’d just become as devoid of meaning as the tuneless nonsense that fills the waves between stations.

Lee Walker Liverpool 8 January, 2013
JP treating The End with the respect it deserves

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