Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Home Truths

I’m in the habit of reading a great deal at the moment which is a fine habit to have methinks. I’m halfway through The Olivetti Chronicles, the recently published collection of John Peel’s varied writings, and finding it a smashing and interesting read. Peel penned features and articles for a range of publications over the years; the earlier pieces (early to mid 1970s) appeared in the now defunct Disc and Sounds magazines while the later stuff, with a broader range of subject matter, is selected from, inter alia, Radio Times, Independent on Sunday, Guardian and Observer. I suppose the common thread within these pages is ‘popular culture’ and there are plenty of arresting album, gig, festival and TV reviews, all conveying Peel’s wit and warmth tremendously. I’ve especially enjoyed the concert write-ups depicting sweaty, claustrophobic Extreme Noise Terror events, almost spiritual Misty in Roots reggae recitals and big ‘n’ commercial stadium ‘appenings like Michael Jackson at Wembley (which, incidentally, Peel thoroughly loved). Peel’s family, who chose these pieces and compiled the book, has cleverly arranged the writings in alphabetical order so the reader jumps about merrily over the course of three and half decades. I like this idea. One is able to compare and contrast the author’s style more easily as his more pithy and well-structured later work sits unselfconsciously next to the hippyish, vaguely incoherent earlier jottings. This alphabetical approach means that one is never quite sure what is coming next and this punter appreciates the surprises that await on each turn of the page. For example, a really evocative and tender piece about Captain Beefheart is followed by fascinating articles about Chicago House Music, Children’s TV and Kenny Dalglish and, somehow, it works beautifully. We all miss John Peel, don’t we? However, this book and the charming (auto)biography that came out a while back both serve as fairly essential epitaphs to the great man. I note that the next two chapters are entitled Napalm Death and New Age Music. I can’t wait.

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