Although I heard the news yesterday via text message, it is only beginning to sink in. I arrived back late last night after 2 days away from home and missed all the news coverage. I came downstairs this morning to find an old handwritten note beside the radio which said "do not switch off, taping Peel til 1am". Sadly I'm not going to need that again.
I have been listening to John Peel regularly since 1983 when, like many people, I listened in the dark on crappy headphones because his show went out past my bedtime. At Christmas time that year I kept putting the light on to write down the entries in the Festive 50 as he announced them. It was a particularly good year and I never missed another one for 20 years.
Today I caught up with the news coverage and the tributes on the message boards as the news of his death sinks in. It is almost a year to the day since I lost my father and this feels like the loss of another role model. From 1983 John's programmes helped form my musical tastes and made me want to work in the radio. My second radio job in 1998 took me to the BBC World Service and I met John Peel on my first week there. In fact, I actually met him in the original home of the Peel sessions, Maida Vale, and he was as funny and as charming as you would expect. In nearly five years of living in London I didn't see much of him again, he didn't go to as many gigs as he used to, but I remember seeing him at shows by Dick Dale, the Fall and the Delgados.
About 18 months ago I started purging my own archives, ploughing through many Peel show cassettes I had made during the early 90s when Peel was on at the weekends and I was out having fun. I recorded the good stuff into the computer as mp3s, intending to throw away the cassettes. I haven't thrown them out yet and now I don't want to. I have two shows on tape that I haven't listened to yet, one features the Magic Band live at Peel Acres, the other is the most recent (and final) session by The Fall. I taped the repeat of it because I heard him say that it was his favourite session by them. I will savour it.
In recent years I preferred to dip in and out of his shows, partly because they kept moving his time slot, partly because I was no longer at the age where I needed to hear fresh music everyday. Where do the people who need that turn to now? I wonder. I had just installed a program called Audio Hijack on my Mac and I was looking forward to recording the streams of Peel programmes that I missed. I honestly have no idea what to record with it now.
For me John Peel was everything that I love about music radio. He was ridiculously eclectic without being pretentious, he never followed trends and he was always genuinely enthusiastic about new music he found. He was irreplaceable and I hope and pray that Radio 1 don't even try to fill his shoes. It really is the end of an era.
BBC Talking Point tributes
Liverpool Daily Post condolences
Liverpool FC tribute
Many music boards and blogs have tributes as well. Our thoughts are with John's wife Sheila and their four children.