John Peel

Were you there when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald?
What's your heaven?
Are you very domesticated?
What does the concept of family mean to you?
Why do you think your generation as parents are closer to their offspring than your parents generation?
The American dream…
The difference between then and now …
I'm interested in what you say about clothes…
What do you think is the value of diversity?
There's a generation that are growing…
What direction do you see the World going in?
What do you think of the underground culture
What do you think of the 60's
What do you think of the Sex Pistols reforming?
Why were you so upset about the Q interview
Is it your voice on the PepperaMi advert?
Is John Peel the public persona the same as you?
Do you believe in God?
What do you think of organised religion?
Is there anything that's ever taken your breath away?
What is your spirituality?
What does Music Mean to you?
So who's your favourite then? The Fall?
Are you disappointed when people go Mainstream?
(John Peel asks) What are you going to do with this?
Do you think you could be considered part of the underground culture of this country?
Do you read all your fan Mail?

Molara You were based in Dallas in 1963. I have heard that you were in the room when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald?
John Peel No, I wasn't but I was in a room about 3 days prior to that with them both. They had a late night press conference when they first arrested Lee Harvey Oswald. I was with my mate Bob and we were cruising round trying unsuccessfully to chat up women in drive in restaurants. We thought we'd round off the night by checking out the police headquarters - when we found out what was happening I told the policeman in charge that I was a reporter for The Liverpool Echo and Bob was my photographer and they just let us in. My so-called photographer didn't have a camera and I didn't have a piece of paper or a pen. Granada did a documentary in which they showed footage from that night to prove that Ruby had been at the press conference - they panned across the room and there was me and Bob.
I did call the Liverpool Echo at one stage and they did one of those classic local paper things - "Heswall Man in Dallas - John Ravenscroft, son of noted Liverpool cotton broker Robert "Bob" Ravenscroft. . ." nothing at all about what was happening in Dallas.

M So what's your heaven?

JP Climbing into bed with Sheila and doing what we call wrapping - she's only 5' and I kind of wrap round her and immediately I feel at peace.

M Are you very domesticated then?

JP Depends what you Mean by that. I love being at home and if I go away I get fantastically home sick, absurdly so - it sounds stupid when you're 56. When I was packed off to boarding school at the age of 7 I was never homesick at all, I was just as happy at school as at home - not very happy in either.
There was an inevitability to life - you didn't realise there were options, and in those days there weren't very many.
I'm quite envious of the fact that my children can make decisions about their own lives. But then I was famous as a child for not crying, but now I cry all the time.
I was listening to a play on the radio on the way home last night and I arrived home to a kitchen full of people sobbing

M What does the concept of family Mean to you?

JP It's central to My life.
What does it mean? I suppose not making the same mistakes you perceive your parents as having made - not in a bitter or resentful way. As I get older I feel
sorry for my parents because of what they Missed out on because of the social conditioning. They grew up in middle class Cheshire in a society where everything revolved around the golf club and the sailing club, where women and men's roles were so different, the women never worked and nannies looked after the children so the women were bored stiff.
With the war my father was away for 6 years so I never had a relationship with him at all, in fact one of My Most treasured photographs and is him sat on his
Motor bike in his uniform holding Me - a very small baby - and as far as I know that's the only tiMe we ever had any kind of physical contact.
I was a contented kid in a way - I didn't think I'M on My own all the tiMe or My parents didn't love Me, I suppose in their own funny way they did but weren't
able to show it. Although it was my loss to a degree I think it was More their loss. (Mr. Peel then goes on to talk of a recent night out in Manchester in which he
and his eldest son William went out clubbing together).

M Why do you think your generation as parents are far closer to their offspring than your parents generation were. Do you think the sixties had
anything to do with it!?

JP You'd have to be a sociologist to answer that adequately.
There was (in the past) a kind of inevitability to life. Most people who wanted work could find it, everybody wore the same clothes - the quality of your clothes indicated what level of society you were on, everybody wore dark jackets, grey trousers, black shoes and white shirts and you'd see people digging the road wearing those sort of clothes. If you'd wanted a red shirt you'd have to fly to Naples or somewhere to get one. There wasn't anything to do either - we didn't have television until I was 16 or 17.
People say "didn't you go to clubs" but there weren't any, there weren't any bands. I'd go to the Liverpool Empire and see Johnny Ray and Frankie Lane and I went to those with My Mum. Even then it was difficult to find people who liked the same things as me.

M Values have changed.

JP Some are better, some worse.

M The American dream - you left school with an education, got a job, learnt a trade and what you aspired to was a wife, a house and a car then you would have children who'd do it all over again.
JP Then things went either right or wrong depending on whether you've emerged from the last 20 years as happy person or an unhappy one. That only really dawned on me in the last few years. I've always regretted the fact that I never went to university, and I should have done.
Someone said to me when I was 13 and first went to Shrewsbury "if you don't work hard you won't go to university", which would have been Oxford or Cambridge.
I imagined they would be extensions of public school which I'd already had enough of.
I used to get beaten all the time, which is why I liked going into the army - it really was a doddle, all you got was threatened by other soldiers, which I could cope with.
At school you got ritual humiliations and the extraordinarily high level of sex abuse, it might as well have been the 1850's. As I say I've always thought I would have liked university but then I quite like being me. Not smug I hope - I'd obviously like to be fitter and thinner with loads more hair, but you're as much the sum of your failures as you are your successes. I could have gone to university and be an accountant in Cheshire and thoroughly miserable. All I want for our children is to find something they really like doing and turn it into a kind of job.

M The difference between then and now is perhaps that we relate to each other better as people. The structure that allowed the sexual and physical abuse to go on has been More and more exposed.

JP You wouldn't get away with it now. It's extraordinary how no one ever questioned it - there are people at the school who've gone on to be not radical exactly but for example the people who started Private Eye, people like Michael Palin, actually Michael Heseltine too! People who regardless of their politics were actually quite independently minded and liable to stand up for themselves rather than just put up with it. Even when I was getting beaten by people who were smaller than I was it never occurred to me to say "I'M awfully sorry I've had enough of this - if you touch me I'M going to punch you". There were so many rules and regulations, literally thousands and senior boys could come up at any tiMe and say "What's the name of the school chaplain's wife and children". If you got the answer wrong you got beaten. Kids nowadays would just tell you to f**k off and find out yourself.

M I'm interested in what you say about clothes - everyone wearing the same. Nowadays it seems there's this huge pressure on children to buy this music, buy these clothes, wear these trainers, to be watching this video/computer game. . .

JP But I don't know whether those pressures are really there - I can obviously only speak for my kids and their mates. I think that's one advantage of growing up in the country. They pay lip service to it and are aware of it but make up their own minds and certainly aren't dictated to even with the music.
I suppose inevitably they've been affected by me - William's really into techno and The Fall, well brought up lad. Alexandra is a big fan of Pulp and was very influenced by Courtney Love - I quite admire Courtney Love but I fear for her, she's so in control in that she's so alarming and disconcerting that no one knows how to cope with her which I suppose is a kind of control. Thomas is into happy hardcore mainly and drum and bass and Flossie's into Oasis and Supergrass etc, but they're all receptive to other stuff.

M What do you think is the value of diversity?

JP I think it's the most valuable thing that you have, the more options you can keep open the better - a shameful number of people don't have any options at all whether through lack of Money or support, they are a privilege.

M There's a generation that are growing up in areas of high unemployment, outside of the system, totally disillusioned and with the potential to be a very destructive force.

JP You see it just as much in Stowmarket as you do in inner cities. Stowmarket on a Friday night is a frightening place - everything's concentrated in 100
yards and it's as good a place as anywhere to get your head kicked in. You wonder what you can do - an army of disenfranchised kids. . .

M We need something to stimulate their imaginations and allow them a creative outlet. . .

JP Denied any opportunities to be shown how to use their energies creatively, obviously they're going to be destructive. I remember a record I used to play in the punk days about vandalism being a creative instinct - if you wreck something you can go passed it the next day and say "I did that".

M What direction do you see the World going in - path to destruction or will something rescue us, do you have a positive outlook?

JP I did at one time. During the sixties people believed that human progress was on the up, things were going to get in some undefined way better. Everybody would be fed, clothed and sheltered, now I think that everyone assuMes the opposite - that things are just going to get steadily worse and it's difficult to see where they're wrong. Apart froM people arriving froM another planet, it's hard to see any cause for real optiMisM.

MWhat do you think of the underground culture - people who are opting out of the system and creating something based around craftsmanship, community. . .

JP I like all of that which is why I particularly like Glastonbury, although that's only really a look through the door. People have either got the intelligence or the means to see that there is an option and to take it, but I think again it's an option denied to a lot of people.
You can admire that, but there are still too many areas in which there's too much dependence on the state, for finance as much as anything else. Glastonbury makes Me feel good as an old hippy - some of the things we thought might happen are, then again a lot of it is still commerce, a more benign capitalism, people selling stuff to one another whether it's clothes food or dope.

MWhat Zion Train do is definitely capitalist but our business ethics are very different.

JP That's something that I like to think of myself. When I die I'd like to be able to think it would be very difficult to find someone who'd say "well actually he shafted us". I wish I did feel more optimistic. I always used to say in the days when everybody assumed the World was going to end with nuclear war it was much more likely to end, or for society to collapse as a result of very highly motivated fanatical groups of people with absurd quantities of weapons and resources fighting and the vast majority of people caught in the crossfire, and there seems to be a lot of that about.

M Either that or we'll change the world environmentally so that it kills us - it'll carry on but we'll all be dead like the dinosaurs.

JP Mmm, not Much cause for optimism there….

M What do you think of the 60's - when you look at footage of Woodstock with everyone on peace, love, community and respect then look at those people now and they're some of the Most unethical capitalists. . .

JP Hold on a second it's the latest scores (the telly is on in the background featuring the final premier league games of the season) Newcastle 1 Tottenham 0 oh f**k, Manchester United have won the Premiership. (We pause to reflect the disastrous implications). We'll just have to stop them getting the double. The sixties were for example terrifically exploitative of women, even Germaine Greer having her photo taken in the nude for Oz magazine, it was still tits and bums at the end of the day.
That's why I liked the punk scene better because it was much of the hippy thing but mixed with reality.
Dropping out showed precious little concern for those who hadn't had the chance to drop into society and I found that disconcerting although I was far too timid to voice it.

MWhat do you think of the Sex Pistols getting back together?

JP Sad really, I don't blame them if they need the money and other people are daft enough to pay them. I won't be going along. You can go along with the "it's all ironic and exploitative" but there comes a point at which you run out of justification.

M Why were you so upset about the Q interview (Who the Hell Does John Peel
Think He Is? in Q magazine March 96)?

JP I don't read Q because the stuff they like tends to be stuff I know nothing about, all the records I like either don't get reviewed or get slagged off. The BBC press office were very insistent so they came to our house and we made a fuss of them and waved them off thinking what nice people. When we read it, it just seemed to be an abuse of hospitality and trust. I shall be very wary next time BBC publicity phones up.

M Is it your voice on the Pepperami advert?

JP No! It's one of the blokes out of The Young Ones - I get so much stick for that, being a vegetarian.

MWhy are you a vegetarian?

JP Just don't like the idea of eating animals - they show no signs of wanting to eat me.

M Is John Peel the public persona the same as you?

JP The public me is more confident.

MThe music industry is so orientated around image. . .

JP But I have virtually nothing to do with it - I haven't been in a record company office for about 20 years, I know a couple of pluggers but as mates, if anything they're less likely to get their records played because of it. So I can stay a sort of fan really. I don't even know many people in bands. I've only met Mark E. Smith a couple of times.

M Do you believe in God?

JP No not really. I'd like to because I'd like to believe in an afterlife - obviously the older you get the more you think about these things - not because I want to spend all eternity singing hymns but I'd like to sort things out with My dad, apologise for being a crap son and find out whether he really wanted my brother Frank to have the Welsh dresser.

MWhat do you think of organised religion?

JP Not a lot really.
I can see why so Many reasonably well educated Middle class English people have gone catholic in their dying years - old fashioned catholicism, I like the idea of something grim with a vengeful and capricious god who zaps you most unreasonably for doing simple things like wanking.
It produced some great art and with the latin mass you could go anywhere in the world and do something that you did at hoMe. I love going to churches and cathedrals - you get such a sense of the belief of the people who built it, you can tap into something almost medieval, it's the nearest you can get to tiMe travel.
Where I fall down is the bit about believing it.

M Do you think it's escapism?

JP People need it. I find modern Christianity awful, the Cliff Richards view of God as a guy in a white polo neck who lets you beat him at table tennis. When you try and talk to people who are religious like that it's like trying to talk to junkies.
To Me it's the uncertainties of life that make it attractive, I like not knowing. The idea of something that provides you with an instant answer to every
question, it seems to me you may as well be dead.

MIs there anything that's ever taken your breath away?

JP Victoria Falls, it's unbelievable - makes Niagra Falls look like a drainage system. It's so vast. Me and Sheila hired bikes and rode down the Zimbabwean side and went to the Zambian border controls - we asked to go over the border to see their side of the Falls, then I asked if there was a record shop and we ended up discussing music and singing the chorus of his favourite band's no.1 tune together, they stamped my card and in I went. I thought "that's the way to cross international boundaries". What different treatment he would have got if he'd turned up at Heathrow.

MThere you speak of the natural world and music in terms of universal communication or maybe spirituality - what is your spirituality?

JP I'm almost fearful to try and pin it down.
In general small things, certain moments.
When I take the dogs for a crap late at night up the hill in the open countryside and I just sit with the dogs yapping round me. When William goes off to university and we hug, moments in music and painting. I once flew to Paris to see 8 Paul Klee paintings that had never been exhibited before - that was before I got scared of flying.
I'm trying to avoid sounding like an old hippy but I like looking at things no one else has looked at. I can just walk into the woods at the back of my house and study a flower thinking nobody else will see this in this way and how did it get to be like that? That's about as deep as I get.
A friend of ours years ago said to me that I was a prime candidate for a religious experience and I've lived in fear of it ever since.

M What does music mean to you? It's never been a job has it?

JP No. I once heard some university professor analysing poetry on the radio like a doctor would talk about a ward of patients, I'd hate to be like that.
I like it when bits of Music or painting come out at you and I'M sure that what I get from them is totally different to what the person who created it thought
they were doing. There is a creative process in interpreting something. Some people say listening to music is passive but to me it's active - you've got to put something in yourself.

MWhen you're making music people tend to come to you for the definitive meaning. . .

JP The only Beatle I knew was John Lennon - there was one time when he'd sent someone out to get the music weeklies to see the reviews of an LP just out and I asked him why he bothered and he said "I like to find out what my songs are about".
At times it can be quite dangerous when you've got the likes of Charles Manson interpreting your stuff.
Pink Floyd were doing a radio one session once and made a tune up in the studio which we had to find a title for so we looked through the Evening Standard headlines and there was one about a woman who'd been fitted with a solar pace maker that said "Atom Heart Mother" so they called it that, but you know someone out there is going to have based a religion around it.

MSo who's your favourite then? The Fall?

JP I suppose if they made a bad record I wouldn't care, wouldn't know probably! All I have to do is hear Mark shouting and that's it. . .

M Instant erection?

JP Yes. So many people over the years The Faces, Misty in Roots, Gene Vincent, Roy Orbison, The Undertones all at different stages.

M Are you disappointed when people like Feargal Sharkey go mainstream?

JP Not really, in a way I'd rather people did that than banging out the same stuff. I thought it was brave of Paul Weller to split up The Jam and pursue other things.

JP What are you going to do with all this stuff?

M Type it up and put it on the Internet.

JP I think Maybe I'd like the internet but I'm a complete technophobe and hate to be taught anything, I never have needed to know the specific gravity of lead.

M If anything can save the planet the internet might - global community; freedom of information and communication.

JP Global child pornography too. . .

M It's not perfect. . .

JP Like life itself. At least it doesn't kill you.

M In this country people say "freedom of speech but up to a point", if the paedophiles and the fascists have their say then you know exactly what they're thinking and can present these ludicrous views to other people for what they are.

JP Know your enemy. People say to me they never read the tabloids, but they've done more to transform life in this country than anything else. The attitudes they hold have passed into general currency. The Guardian and Independent etc represent some kind of fantasy world, the real world is The Sun and that's where most people live.

M Do you think you could be considered part of the underground culture of this country?

JP I don't think I'm part of anything, I'm just there like the electricity if you want to switch on. I don't think about it - it would be asking questions only you can answer and there lies Madness.

M Do you read all your fan mail?

JP Yes but I don't get time to reply to it all sadly. I keep being sent terrible heavy metal records from places like Kazhakstan. Heavy metal is an international language.

M Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, you are an inspiration

JP Thankyou, it was a pleasure.