📚 The notes 📚
I can probably divide my musical life into three main eras, which, for want of thinking of better names, I will call Before John, After John, and After Gilles.
I always liked music, spending many hours listening to my dad’s slightly random selection of vinyl (Saturday Night Fever, The Best of The Commodores and Hotel California being the records that have really stuck with me). I also definitely drove my stepfather mad on driving holidays, asking for Paul McCartney’s Give My Regards To Broad Street to be played repeatedly; how that particular tape didn’t just crumble into dust after a fortnight driving around Brittany, I’m really not sure.
But in terms of passions, up until my early teens the only band I really fell in love with were Curiosity Killed The Cat. Who are still, in my eyes, underrated from the 80s crop of blue-eyed soul boys who would flit across the top 40 like artfully styled may-flys. Then, as my parallel passion for Dungeons & Dragonsand comics saw me seek musical recommendations from the people I hung around with, I developed a brief interest in metal and was told the only place to listen to Napalm Death on the radio was a show from a guy called John Peel.
Luckily for me, the first night that I listened to him he also played a session track by a band called the Inspiral Carpets and my life changed in that instant. I was soon obsessed with the Carpets’ Madchester peers the Happy Mondays, tracking down their mid-80s releases on 12”, and spending many happy afternoons painting Warhammer characters in the bedroom of my childhood best friend, whilst we listened to The Stone Roses’ debut over and over (and over) again. A little later, Flowered Up’s Weekender told the story of the lives we kind of wished we’d lived.
Skip forward a few years, and thanks to moving to a sixth form where my friendship group widened, my influences and tastes had done the same – and not just because of the free raves we would spend our weekends trying to find – but also the fact we were old enough to get into gigs. To highlight how much John Peel had aided my musical development by then, my favourite gig would have been seeing Public Enemy at Reading Festival whilst my nights were spent taping happy hardcore from pirate radio stations. Then I went to university where a different tape – one I was loaned – changed everything again.
One of my fresher mates had a tape, recorded from Kiss FM, of a young DJ named Gilles Peterson. On that first show I listened to, in a smoky student bedroom in Coventry, I heard Josh Wink’s acid blow-out Higher State of Consciousness next to the Blue Note classic (and still my favourite piece of instrumental music), Sayonara Blues by Horace Silver; Gang Starr cheek by jowl with Brazil’s Joyce Moreno; Carl Craig’s Bug In The Bassbin (played at twice its normal pitch), straight after some classic Acid Jazz.
As cliches go it’s a doozy, but it truly blew my mind.
Pretty much every musical discovery I have made since that cold, dark evening, has been in some way connected to – or thanks to – Mr. Peterson.
He charted the rise of the UK’s first truly native genre (drum & bass), releasing its finest album, Roni Size & Reprazent’s New Forms, via his Talkin’ Loud label as well as enabling it to be blended with much more traditional sounds by releasing and promoting the classic 4hero remix of Nu Yorican Soul’s cover of Black Gold Of The Sun. He brought Terry Callier back to the world and enabled a new generation to bathe in his brilliance with life-changing shows at London’s Jazz Cafe. He released The Root’s first ever 12” outside the US and has continued to champion and support everyone from Jay Electronica & Dilla ever since. He captured the finest moment of UK garage, Gabriel by Ray Davis Jr, as well as a general sense of British club culture in the late 90s, on his Journeys By DJ mix.
And he has kept pushing right up to the present day, whether via his Brownswood imprint (the 1st release of which, So Good Today, makes this list), championing artists as diverse as The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, Michael Kiwanuka & Gregory Porter long before their names were well known outside of small little cliques, or as the unofficial godfather of the current British jazz explosion where he is helping artists like Oscar Jerome & Cleo Sol to crack the US.
Now I don’t mean to suggest that I haven’t listening to anything that wasn’t officially anointed by GP since the mid-90s, as the other obsession I developed in my first year at uni was for a young bunch of Manc-lads called Oasis. And though I still think their first album – and the b-sides they released between 1994 & 1996 – are some of the finest British rock songs of the last 40 years, their output after the coke stole their creativity has left me cold. But what they did do is put me on to someone much closer to my geographical home, Woking’s finest, Paul Weller.
Up until then I only knew a couple of Style Council tracks, and kind of liked The Jam, but Noel’s reverence for Weller (along with constant badgering from my housemate at the time) caused me to reassess him and I’ve since come to think of him as being one of, if not the, defining British artists of his generation. The fact that Gilles Peterson agrees with me only makes me love them both even more.
Here’s to both of them, and the eternal spirit of John Peel, for enabling a 40-something displaced Surrey indie kid to still feel like he has some connection to the music culture that is happening all around him, if not quite as directly as when he bought NME & Melody Maker every week, and had hundreds of tapes of radio shows in shoe boxes under his bed.
Stay safe, keep the faith, and turn up the bass. Peace. x