Watch out - there's a maverick about

He's got the boys from Blur, he's got Extreme Noise terror, he's even got Fluff. Who else could assemble such a cast? By Anthony Clavane meets the man behind Meltdown.

A three-hour Japanese noise marathon, Punjabi hip-hop, Jamaican reggae, Scottish poet Ivor Cutler, English poet Nigel Blackwell, comedian Jeremy Hardy - "who ought to be running the country" - Laurel and Hardy film music, live screenings of World Cup games, off-beat indie collaborations and a Berlin band "who are completely unknown, even in Berlin". All this and Alan Freeman too.

It looks like John Peel's Christmases have come at once. Suddenly, there's a minor panic. Where's Fluff? The tattered New Musical Express being closely scrutinised on the pine kitchen table of his thatched Suffolk cottage (his main source of information about the event, despite being its curator) has unaccountably left the poptastic legend off the line-up for Meltdown 98. "Does that mean the Freeman B-movie season's not going ahead?" ponders Peel, stroking his greying beard. Of all the knock-backs he has received - Polly Harvey pulling out, Jarvis Cocker not returning his calls, Paul Whitehouse being unavailable, Arab Strap being unwilling - this would be the hardest to bear.

If the Freeman B-movie season seems an incongruous choice for an experimental arts-fest - well, that's the point. Approaching 60, although by his own admission "mentally still approaching puberty", Peel appears to have gone in for a bit of mischief-making, cocking a snook at the pretensions of high art, refashioning Meltdown in his own eclectic image.

It tickles him to think that earnest South Bank types might accidentally stumble upon a 23-piece Dutch ensemble's tribute to Hollywood's greatest comedy duo, or find themselves stranded at an "undanceable and unlistenable" indie-thrash gig. "I hope one or two of the arts set walk in by mistake," he chuckles. "To have some blue-haired lads from Ipswich jumping up and down and bellowing at them is good for them, don't you think? There's a therapy aspect to all this, you know."

One intriguing double-bill has the sublime Cutler, a devotee of the Noise Abatement Society, paired with blue-haired Ipswich combo Extreme Noise Terror. Of all the directors of this annual, off-the-wall festival, Elvis Costello and Laurie Anderson included, the Radio 1 veteran seems the most suited. Despite failing to bag Pulp and Polly, it's the closest he'll get to a Peelite Manifesto - a kind of "performance arts" version of the legendary Sessions.

"When the Peel Sessions started on Radio 1 I wanted them to be more experimental," he says. "I wanted Cream to come on and do four Shadows numbers. But British bands are more gang-like than American bands, they're much less flexible. I'm always faintly disappointed when people come in to do a session and just do four tracks from their new LP. I like them to come in and say: `I've worked out Tubular Bells for the ukulele', anything that's different from what they'd normally do. Some Spice Girls songs even. It was great, for instance, when Chumbawamba did `The Birdy Song'."

Just as ladies of a certain age were supposed to dream about the Queen coming round for tea, I have always fantasised about the man asking me to do a Peel Session. This flight of fancy almost took off last month when I discovered an exciting Post-It message stuck to my desk revealing "John Peel rang - twice". At last, the call! Despite lacking a demo tape, a band, or even an appropriate musical instrument, I was determined to grab this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. "Actually, I wanted to talk about Keith Skues," he apologises, when I zoom round to Peel Acres. "Did you hear him last night?"

Now, old "Cardboard Shoes" Skues is a legend in his own night-time radio slot, his East Anglian show enjoying a cult following among 80-something women with names like Doreen of Long Crendon and Joan of Wivenhoe. John of Stowmarket - who tunes in religiously for a nightly fix of Sedate Seventy Eights, Keyboard Cavalcade and Partridgesque chat - read an article I wrote on "the voice of Norwich". But when I confess to being only an occasional listener he mutters "that's a shocking admission," and suddenly the prospect of a Peel-approved recording contract recedes into the distance. His enthusiasm for mainstream misfits like Skues and Freeman is genuine. These characters have become alternatives to the "alternative scene", middle-of-the-road mavericks challenging the trendy orthodoxies of pop culture. "Just so unlike anything else that you can hear. It's a tremendous relief to get something completely different to the Chris Evans clones with their fourth- form, locker-room humour."

Although hardly qualifying as either avant-garde or cool, the Fluff season (a phone call to the Meltdown office confirms it's still on) will hopefully restore the reputation of one our most underrated film stars. Of course, the line between genuine affection and tongue-in-cheek parody is often blurred, which could also be said of Half Man Half Biscuit. "Nigel Blackwell, their songwriter, is a poet," is another Peel declaration which will confound the earnest South Bank types who fail to see the literary merit of songs about Trumpton, Subbuteo and Dickie Davies' Eyes. The Half-Biscuits (or should that be Half-Men?) may well be witty, wacky and wonderfully oblique but they are hardly angst-ridden chroniclers of the modern condition.

The group are supporting Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon from Blur, proving you don't have to be an obscure, off-the-wall act to qualify as a Peel Favourite. "I have come to love Blur. And the great thing about Damon and Graham is they have never hesitated when we've approached them".

Who would hesitate to perform at a festival directed by the single most important figure in popular music over the last 30 years?

"Yes, well," he mumbles, avoiding eye contact, as always never quite sure how to respond to praise. "One or two big names turned me down. It's the function of management at that kind of showbiz level to ensure their artists don't work. The arrogance of these people is breathtaking - their lack of manners and so forth. Whenever you've got to confront the kind of egomania that rampages through the music industry, you just think: `A plague on all your houses'. That's why I keep as far away from showbiz as I can."

Such diffidence does not wash with Downing Street, however, and last week Peel found himself the recipient of an OBE. "It's a bit strange being on the same honours list as Sir John Birt," he said, not without some bite in his tone of voice.

He had called his children to ask them whether he should accept it. "Why on earth wouldn't you want to accept it?" they told him. So he did. "It's not as if I'm going to be Lord Peel, some kind of political appointment," he says. "But I really accepted it for my mum and dad - who, if they were still alive, would be proud of me."

Meltdown 98 begins with Warp Records Showcase at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 20 June and ends with Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, The Silver Apples and Half Man Half Biscuit at the Royal Festival Hall on 5 July. (0171 921 0632)

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss