I’ve been thinking about Peelie, and I remembered going to see him live, on the John Peel Roadshow. He used to do the rounds of Britain’s colleges and universities.
He came to Edinburgh, possibly every year that I was there, and me and my mates Steve and Johnny used to go along to Chambers Street Union (now vacated, I read at that link) for the occasion. It wasn’t quite like listening to his radio show, of course, because he didn’t talk that much, and probably didn’t play such a wide variety of records. But what you were sure of getting was a club night — or ‘disco’, as we used to call them — of absolutely top quality music; and this at a time when the normal club or disco played nothing but absolutely execrable chart rubbish, and had a dress code into the bargain. Some student nights were OK, but once a year there was a night you knew was going to soar.
“I’ll play ‘Release the Bats’ if you’ll dance,” I remember him saying. He did. We did
One year, when we were sitting in the bar before it started, we saw him sitting across the room, with some people from the union committee. We’d have loved to talk to him, but we were too shy to just approach him. So we came up with a plan. Steve and I were on the committee of the Edinburgh University Science Fiction Society. Why not invent a new class of member,
Honorary, to go with the existing
Life, and make Peelie one? So we did.
And still being too shy, Steve and I sent Johnny (who wasn’t a committee member, remember) over to make him the offer and give him the membership card.
Though unless Steve always happened to have a few spare membership cards on him (unlikely), we must have planned this out in advance, to some degree. Memory plays tricks. Anyway, Johnny reported that he had said he was happy to receive anything that was free, and took the card graciously. I like to imagine that it still lies somewhere in a drawer at Peel Acres.
The only other time any of us spoke to him was afterwards (and Steve wasn’t there, so it must have been a different year), when we were hanging around outside, and Peelie was loading boxes of records into his car.
Johnny asked him what his real name was (why, I don’t know, and I doubt that Johnny will remember after all these years).
“John Ravenscroft,” Peelie said.
“Oh, I thought it was something else,” Johnny said.
The real triumph, though (and this must have been a different year again, but I can tell you the exact date: 20th January 1985) was when we got a record played for Johnny’s 21st birthday.
The Roadshow fell on the actual day, and at some point, one of us (and it was probably Steve, as I don’t remember doing it (though he won’t either)) went up to the DJ booth with a request. As the night drew to a close we began to fear that he the great man hadn’t managed to get to our request. But then, with only around three minutes left, Peelie said, “I’ve got a request here that says, ‘Please play something by The Skids as it’s John’s 21st.’ Well, I doubt it’s really his 21st, and I don’t have any Skids with me, but John, this is for you.”
And we all danced. And Peelie went home.
We won’t see its like — or his like, of course — again.