Monday, 13 October 2008

Mr John Peel

My adolescent schooldays were misspent on the outskirts of London, and the class’s interest in all things rock’n roll reached puberty at the same time that the John Peel “Sunday, recorded on Thursday” Radio Show reached maturity.

A group of us conspired to deluge the BBC with requests for free tickets the corporation sent out for the event and thus we were always certain to have at least two free passes each week.

Our ritual of attendance included an over excited train journey up to town and a long wait in the queue outside the Paris studios on Lower Regent Street, a wait that came to an end when John left the pub on the corner in company of his guests and walk past the queue, open the doors and invite us in.

Later in life I would listen in dismay to the dwindling presence the BBC accorded the man, and though at times life and travel would interfere with regular listening my portable short wave radio and the world would often surprise me with the theme tune that signalled the intro to his show.

The news of his death saddened me, and not only because the slipping away of one more of my time’s iconic characters hastened my own.

Today in the Guardian Newspaper I came across a selection of some of his journalistic work, accessible through this link;

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/oct/12/john-peel-madonna-fall

Here is an extract.

Michael Jackson: 17 July 1988

The last time I saw Michael Jackson at Wembley, he was a diminutive fifth of the Jackson 5, cute and precocious. On Thursday he returned as superhero, larger and apparently stranger than life, with a show I do not expect to see equalled in my lifetime ...

Installed in Section 80 with the £5 tour programme and a packet of plain crisps, I settled back in anticipation of a feast of fun. All about me citizens were peering at the empty stage through cardboard opera glasses bearing the 'BAD' logo, while others attached 'BAD' balloons to their clothing. Below us, the huddled masses cheered each time the Michael Jackson Pepsi advertisement appeared on the screens at the side of the stage.

At six o'clock we cheered as technicians took their places. Five minutes later we enjoyed the first of a few Mexican waves. An hour later Radio 1's Gary Davies appeared to ask whether we were ready to boogie before urging a big Wembley welcome for Kim Wilde.

I felt a bit sorry for Kim. Very much the bread roll with which we toy absent-mindedly while awaiting the meal, she had yet, as the tabloids had emphasised with their usual quiet persistence, to meet Michael Jackson. But there she was, waving a red scarf and bending over a lot so that the cameras could catch the cleavage. 'It's great to be here,' she said. After a song or two a discussion developed in our row about the catering staff, who were dealing out the lager and cold dogs in what seemed to be Motherwell colours. We reached no important conclusions.

In the interval we amused ourselves by leaping up from time to time to gawp at celebrities arriving in the glass-fronted banqueting suite. We liked Frank Bruno best. But suddenly there was thunderous music from the stage, a battery of lights blazed out over the audience and there, scarcely believably, was Michael Jackson.

'How ya doin'?' he asked after a couple of hits. Well, I was as fine as anyone with sore feet standing in a cold, damp football stadium could be - but how was Michael? From close-ups on the twin screens, he did not look too good. The famous remodelled face glowed faintly inhuman beneath a surfeit of rouge - and his performance to date had been curiously uninvolving, despite our overfamiliarity with it from a host of videos.

But Michael Jackson clearly needs a few minutes to get into gear and as the costume changes came and went, and the stage and lighting effects grew more audacious, he took control with a performance of matchless virtuosity. Making much of stagecraft learnt, surely, from James Brown - especially a device whereby a song apparently finished, with the star seemingly in emotional crisis, frozen save for lips moving as though in prayer - Jackson led his dancers, singers and musicians, all fearsomely well drilled and rakishly handsome, through less a sequence of songs, more a series of scenes, the whole resembling some futuristic pantomime, with Jackson himself a distillation of all principal boys, singing some of the world's best-known songs and dancing with such authority, timing and energy that the odd action replay would not have come amiss.

My only wish is that my children could have been there to see this stupendous performance. It is something they would never have forgotten.

more on Michael Jackson

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