JOHN PEEL AND ANDY KERSHAW : How We Met - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

JOHN PEEL AND ANDY KERSHAW : How We Met

John Peel, 55, was born in Heswell, near Liverpool. After finishing his military service in 1962, he began his career as a disc jockey in America. In 1967 he returned to Britain and joined Radio 1, where he has worked ever since. He lives in Suffolk with his wife Sheila and their four children. Andy Kershaw, 35, was born in Rochdale. After studying politics at Leeds University, he became a presenter for BBC2's Old Grey Whistle Test in 1984. A year later he joined Radio 1, on which he still hosts a weekly show. He lives in north London with his girlfriend Juliette.

JOHN PEEL: Andy has some memory of seeing me when I was doing a roadshow at Leeds University. I think it was one of about four gigs I did where I'd play lots of music that nobody liked very much. People would stand around looking glum and slightly puzzled. The first time I really remember him was up at another gig in Leeds some years later. He asked me if I wanted to stay at his flat. Usually I go to the nearest Novotel, but I thought: no, I'll be more sociable. So I went back to this block of flats which seemed to be full of mainly old people. It was about 1am and all I wanted to do was go to bed. Andy flung the door open and said: "Hi there, come on in. We're having a jamboree." I've never forgotten the word jamboree - it still makes my blood run cold. I walked in and there were about 20 people clutching banjos, guitars and concertinas. Because it was so late, I said: "What about the other people in the block?" He replied in a typical Andy way - sort of selfish but generous at the same time - "It'll dothem good to hear our music." And I thought, Jesus, 100 people strumming banjos at this time in the morning. After that, our paths began to cross regularly after he joined Radio 1 and shared an office with John Walters and I. It was very much Walters's office, and Andy and I were only just tolerated. I saw him as a kindred spirit, and immediately thought what he played was good. It sounds absurd, but when Andy came to Radio 1, he was almost the first person that I'd met here with a real interest in music. There were other people as well - Kid Jensen and Janice Long. But a lot of the DJs made a virtue of the fact that they had no interest in music at all. At the time, Andy was playing a lot of wonderful African music, but I think his original brief was to play more stuff like REM. I used to give him a lot of unsought advice. He was an impetuous fellow, and so I'd say to him: "Wait until you're a bit more secure here and then let go." Interestingly enough, he sort of reinvents my own past for me. A lot of the stuff he likes is from my programmes in the mid-Seventies. I like to think the programmes I was doing then had some influence. It's nice to see someone using that as a launch padto get into a lot of other stuff. When the new regime took over in 1993, they cited Kershaw's and my programmes as being the kind of models others should follow. Although that excited Andy, it worried me because I thought under those circumstances you can quickly become scapegoats. We still feel our programmes are different - but the beauty is that nobody has ever interfered with them. Now that our programmes don't run one after another, we see less of each other. Until last year, I used to stay at Andy's every Saturday and visit his girlfriend's restaurant in Crouch End. He seemed to have a limitless number of friends jetting in from all over the place. I've got very few friends, really. There aren't that many 55-year-old blokes living in a Suffolk village who have the same kind of musical tastes as I do. Our tastes are very different, although he has introduced me to a lot of good music in recent years. We have always been unreasonably enthusiastic about certain things. The stuff I like best he really hates - discordant guitar bands are not his idea of enjoyment. He's a great admirer of Bruce Spring- steen, which I can't see. Although our sense of humour is different, I make him laugh, which I like. Occasionally he'll read an article I've written for the Radio Times and shriek at something I don't thinkis terribly funny. I find that tremendously reassuring. He used to be fairly explosive. There have been times when he has been quite keen to have a row with somebody. Once, at a Radio 1 Christ- mas party, I virtually had to interpose my body bet- ween his and Simon Bates's. I was always a bit wary if I could see the conversation going the wrong way. But over the years I think he's mellowed. Andy's an extrovert and I'm not at all. He's like a kangaroo that bounces into the room. In some people it would be obnoxious, but in Andy's case it's not because he's such a good-natured lad. He'll burst into the office in his over-eager way and start talking about a new band or whatever. And then everything just evaporates in the face of the typhoon that is Andy Kershaw.

ANDY KERSHAW: I first saw John doing one of his roadshows at Leeds University. He wouldn't remember me because I was just another spotty student. My memory is of going into this virtually empty hall in the student union. There was this rather portly middle-aged chap with a beard standing on the stage, blinking under the spotlights, while the din of his records was booming around the room. It was an intimidating atmosphere with this one man saying nothing between record changes. I never saw the days of the John Peel roadshow, when he used to to play the whole side of a Pink Floyd album, but I'm told that was even more surreal. From the ageof 14 onwards, I would listen religiously to his programmes. I was entertainment secretary at the university, and used to book concerts on the basis of what he recommended. The first time we actually met was at the end of 1984, when I had to interview him for the Old Grey Whistle Test. I remember feeling concerned that he might be precious, hostile or even nervous. But I found out within about 10 seconds that what you see and hear with John is what you get. About a year later, I invited him to my flat in Leeds after he'd done another one of his gigs. There were a lot of musicians strumming away on banjos and guitars in the lounge. I think he has this nightmarish memory of "the night when Andy tried to entertain me". In July 1985, I started working for Radio 1, and shared this 8ft cell with Peel and John Walters, our producer. After 20 years together, I would have understood if they had felt hostile to this intrusion, but it wasn't like that. Walters described the relationship as like an elderly couple nearing the twilight of their years who against all medical probability have a child. It was overwhelming for me: being on the dole in Leeds a year earlier and then finding myself sharing this squalid little office with my all-time hero. I'm sure there was an element of thinking: "This new young chap might mean Peel goes out to grass." But within a few weeks it became obvious that although our tastes overlap in certain areas, like African music, we are very different. So it organically evolved - the separate but distinct territories that we occupy. Inevitably, I was influenced by him. Heis the greatest broadcaster on the BBC. Both of us have really ridden out the changes at Radio 1 by getting on with our own thing. We still carry on playing unpopular records. I think he's slightly embarrassed about the position he occupies. He's modest about it, which is partly a survival strategy. If you set yourself up as a certain thing, there comes a day when you can't live up to it. When I first listened to John's programme, I thought, "Here's a bloke who's honest, disarming and acknowledging his own deficiencies." He says he's less socially confident than me, but I don't think so. Before a typical BBC drinks occasion, he'll phone up and ask me if we can walk in together because he doesn't like those kind of dos. When we get there, I'm always the one shuffling around at the door, while merry laughter seems to rise from wherever Peel's standing. He's enthusiastic to the point of obsession. Sometimes he'll get things into his head for a while, but they'll evaporate soon after. The lengths we used to go to finding a rare kind of garlic pickle in London - he thought he couldn't eat without it. It was obsession with a challenge, which applies to many things in his life, including music. God knows what would have happened to us if we hadn't met two formidable women. Without Sheila, he would be hopelessly and inadequately prepared for modern life. She even gives John an allowance, because if his wages came straight to him, he'd just spendthem all on records. He's always really supportive about everything I become involved in. When I reported from Rwanda last year for Radio 4, it was a harrowing experience. I went back to work, and the first thing he said was: "Your reporting from Rwanda was outstanding." That was the one remark that made me feel all right. How can you not adore somebody whose entry for interests in Who's Who reads: "Staring out of the window"? !

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