John Peel. A Life in Music.

By Michael Heatley

Printed: 2004

Publisher: Michael O'Mara Books. London

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 17 × 24 × 3 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 17 x 24 x 3

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In the original dustsheet. Red cloth binding with silver title on the spine.

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John Peel, the balding, self-deprecating Liverpudlian with the wilfully obscure taste in music, was an unlikely national institution. Yet with a pioneering radio career that spanned almost forty years, in which he championed left-field sounds from Captain Beefheart to Siouxsie and the Banshees, that is exactly what he became. When he died suddenly at the age of sixty-five in October 2004, millions mourned the loss of this quirky, influential figure. Now in this new biography, Michael Heatley traces Peel’s career from his early counter-culture days on pirate radio through his maverick career at Radio One, right up to his later years where he found a new audience on Radio Four’s popular Saturday morning show, Home Truths.

Review: A Life In Music is essentially a fans’ biography of the great man without direct interviews with the major players in his life. Consequently it’s mostly a cut-and-paste job which is fine though the 80s and 90s in particular are largely a list of great bands to whom Peel gave a break rather than any insight into the man himself. Clearly a fan, Heatley’s book is well researched from secondary sources and deserves the praise of all list-makers for including Peel’s Festive 50s from 1976 to 2003 as an appendix. This slimmish volume is well worth reading though any real fans will also want to read Peel’s eagerly awaited Margrave Of The Marshes autobiography as well.


John Robert Parker Ravenscroft OBE (30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004), known professionally as John Peel, was an English disc jockey (DJ) and radio presenter. He was the longest-serving of the original BBC Radio 1 DJs, broadcasting regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004.

Peel was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio. He is widely acknowledged for promoting artists of many genres, including pop, dub reggae, punk rock and post-punk, electronic music and dance music, indie rock, extreme metal and British hip hop. Fellow DJ Paul Gambaccini described Peel as “the most important single person in popular music from approximately 1967 through 1978. He broke more important artists than any individual.”

Peel’s Radio 1 shows were notable for the regular “Peel sessions”, which usually consisted of four songs recorded by an artist in the BBC’s studios, often providing the first major national coverage to bands that later achieved fame. Another feature was the annual Festive Fifty countdown of his listeners’ favourite records of the year.

Peel appeared on television occasionally as one of the presenters of Top of the Pops in the 1980s, and provided voice-over commentary for a number of BBC programmes. He became popular with the audience of BBC Radio 4 for his Home Truths programme, which ran from the 1990s, featuring unusual stories from listeners’ domestic lives.

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