What to say if you liked it
A timely biography of Britain’s greatest broadcaster, in which the tale of his life was appositely told through his favourite music.
What to say if you didn’t like it
Eyes red and maddened by avarice, TV producers run wailing from the freshly laid grave of John Peel, holding aloft whatever fraction of his soul they imagine they’ve captured and quickly toss into a cauldron from which they brewed this tenuous biography cash-in.
What was good about it?
• The biggest portion of John Peel’s favourite 7” singles, which he kept in an endearingly shoddy box, was taken up by The White Stripes. And they were showcased by the scything caterwaul of Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground. It also served to illustrate just how poor their last single was, the Doorbell rubbish, which sounded like a Chas ’n’ Dave tribute, sung as if Chas was having his bollocks squeezed by a sadist with a spiked gauntlet.
• Peel’s brother Alan, who looks and sounds just like him except his accent is slightly posher.
• The school photograph which showed Peel, ever the individualist, in a slightly different shade of blazer to all his classmates.
• The interviews with members of bands who appeared in Peel’s singles box, such as Jack White, Don French and Feargal Sharkey, spoke with as much reverence as Peel evidently had for them.
• The black and white interviews with Peel in which he spoke with a peculiar cold, calculated tone utterly incongruous to the embracing quality of his voice so beloved on Home Truths.
• The contributions of Peel’s wife and son, whose insights characterised the personal mood of the whole tribute. Sheila, his wife, looked sad when describing how Peel was ejected from the lives of those musicians whom he had helped bring to a wider audience once they achieved a certain level of fame, such as Marc Bolan.
• Bill Oddie wincing at a recording of a track he made for Peel’s label.
• The uniquely bizarre O Superman by Laurie Anderson which sounded like Kraftwerk mixed with Donna Summer.
What was bad about it?
• Because Peel was so known through his music, the trawl through his most intimate records at times became almost like an autopsy; viewing his internal organs as they were removed one by one.
• Enlightened socialist Billy Bragg: “If you wanted to impress a bird…”
• Jack White persistently referring to “England”, as if Peel’s voice was prevented by a semantic barrier from penetrating Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
• Elton John slouching like Andy Pipkin in his chair, limply trying to hijack the programme when he was one of the behemoths of conservatism which inspired punk.
• Brix Smith trying to condense the appeal of her former band The Fall: “You either love or hate them.” When we think they’re quite good and don’t feel the need to fervently consume all the ramblings of Mark E Smith making do with This Nation’s Saving Grace, Code Selfish and I Am Kurious, Orang.
• The way the show leapt from 1978 and The Undertones to Peel’s funeral last year.