Not too many minutes from the Rip It Up HQ is the sleepy town of Stowmarket, Suffolk. The mere mention of the place locally will often result in snorts of derision from the person you happen to be talking to, such is the rather backward, eccentric nature of the town. Whilst all around it, busy dual carriageways have sprung up, its neighbouring towns have added chi-chi boutiques and expensive Waitrose supermarkets, and the world in general has moved on, Stowmarket has stayed firmly in a bygone age. And that’s one of the reasons I love it.
You see, only three miles south of Stowmarket’s sleepy streets and down an almost impenetrably rural, winding lane is the home of the late John Peel. He and his family moved there many years ago from London, Peel himself having swapped the UFO club and the late 60s alternative scene for the peace and cornfields of rural Suffolk. And the magnificent farmhouse that his family still inhabits was variously used to host some of his later broadcasts, as well as to entertain numerous leading lights of alternative music and culture, and indeed to host ad-hoc performances from such luminaries as The White Stripes. Sometimes, Peel and his wife would travel to the Crown pub in the nearby village of Buxhall, until it changed from a lovely old village boozer into a gastropub and, as he once remarked on BBC Radio 4’s Home Truths, he ‘…got sick of hearing people ask for rocket salads‘. He and Sheila then decamped to the Chestnut Horse in their home village of Great Finborough, where the atmosphere has always been a little bit more real.
I still remember retreating to the back of the crowd during a show by Extreme Noise Terror at the Ipswich Caribbean Association. Must have been 1988 I guess. Between me and the stage was a whirling mass of punk rockers, their windmilling limbs clearly capable of inflicting both pain and a sense of regret on anybody foolish enough to stray nearby. And yet, as the madness continued, Peel and his wife stood incongruously at the back of the hall, a beaming smile covering his face as he nodded his head to the music. [in fact, click this link and view the show, towards the end of the film; yours truly appears in the crowd!!!]
When Peel met his untimely end in October 2004 whilst on holiday in Peru, you don’t need me to tell you how his loyal band of followers felt. It was a stunningly sad event, and the hole that Peel left has been felt for many years since. I’ll spare you the tearful eulogies, and simply say that if you remember listening to a tinny transistor radio in your bedroom with the lights out at 10 pm every evening, when the famous track ‘Pickin’ the Blues‘ would announce the laconic Peel’s arrival on the airwaves, then you’ll know the importance of what he did.
And now, after many years of organisation, Peel’s most significant legacy is being made into an interactive museum online. The Space, an arts website, has posted video explaining that the online museum will comprise an interactive tour of the great man’s massive collection of 25,000 LPs, 40,000 singles and many thousands of CDs, 100 records a week, from May to October 2012. Click here to view the tour, and browse the archives. This development has one negative, of course. How are any of us ever going to get any work done now?