John Peel Night, Radio 1

Celebrating a man who lived for teenage kicks until the end
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The Independent Culture

It is possible to overstate John Peel's achievements in music. Presenting Teenage Dreams, So Hard to Beat, the documentary that opened Radio 1's evening of tributes to the DJ who died in October, the singer Jarvis Cocker described Peel's as "one of the most influential lives anyone has lived in music. It is the story of music."

It is possible to overstate John Peel's achievements in music. Presenting Teenage Dreams, So Hard to Beat, the documentary that opened Radio 1's evening of tributes to the DJ who died in October, the singer Jarvis Cocker described Peel's as "one of the most influential lives anyone has lived in music. It is the story of music."

Up to a point, Lord Copper: it is the story of popular music without most of the popular music of the past 40-odd years that most people can hum: disco, Motown, Abba...

Peel himself was heard in an old interview bragging about the bands who had never, despite their pleading, been permitted to record sessions for his programme: these included U2, the Police and Bruce Springsteen.

If it is possible to exaggerate Peel's role in the evolution of popular music, it is not possible to exaggerate the love and admiration felt for him by listeners and musicians. The Smiths' guitarist, Johnny Marr, said that some of their most celebrated tracks ­ including "This Charming Man" ­ were written to fill up a Peel session ­ and he went on to say that the sessions taught him how to make records.

One of the very enjoyable aspects of the documentary was that it reminded you that Peel wasn't always a much-loved ­ or lovable ­ institution. In archival recordings of The Perfumed Garden, his short-lived show for the pirate station Radio London, the young Peel was heard telling his audience, in a breathy parody of hippie-speak: "It's very difficult to imagine that somebody who's never seen you and never met you, loves you. But I love you all very much indeed."

Any show about Peel is bound to include some predictable ingredients ­ The Undertones, the Fall, Liverpool FC, his adoration of his wife, Sheila. For her part, Sheila Peel described yesterday how she was "enormously touched" by the public's response. On the programme she dedicated the song "Does This Train Stop On Merseyside?" by the Liverpool band Amsterdam.

She said: "He always became really emotional when he played it. He wasn't capable of playing it without crying."

This tribute worked hard to remind you that Peel's great strength was unpredictability. Over three decades, Radio 1 remained cautious about Peel, unsure how to treat him, frequently pushing him into remote corners of the schedules. Here, they did right by him.

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