Growing up between Anfield and Goodison Park meant
you couldn’t help having an interest in football. And I did, either playing or watching it on Saturday afternoons. Then something happened that completely changed that ; I heard John Peel’s ‘Top Gear’ one Saturday. I don’t remember how or why I happened to be listening but I’m glad I did. Football didn’t
stand a chance after that.
I mean nothing could compete with hearing Soft Machine’s specially recorded version of ‘Moon In June’. It seemed to go on forever and I was mesmerised by it. I’d never heard any band play ‘as long and as loud as the jazz groups and the orchestras on Radio 3’. Robert Wyatt even recommended Top Gear ‘despite its extraordinary name’. Then the Keith Tippett Group performed ‘Green And Orange Park Night’ and the effect was the same. Where was this beautiful music coming from? Why did no one else seem to be playing it ?
Peel’s ‘Top Gear’ exposed me to the monstrous attack of King Crimson’s ‘Schizoid Man’, threatening to blow apart my little transistor, while he also aired Fairport Convention’s ‘Unhalfbricking’ just as men were taking their first steps on the moon.
He also introduced the unwary, i.e. me, to Principal Edwards’ Magic Theatre, Forest, Sam Gopal, Ivor Cutler and the Edgar Broughton Band as well as stirring my nascent interests in improvisation via the drones and meanderings of Third Ear Band. He even had Pink Floyd on the programme when they couldn’t even get arrested, Nick Mason grumbling about no one buying their single, no doubt seeing his dreams of owning classic cars receding.
Gradually Saturday afternoons moved to Sundays and elsewhere and he continued to play music that I couldn’t hear anywhere else on the radio. He instilled a passion for music over almost everything else, then and now, and I can even forgive him for his part in foisting Tyrannosaurus Rex on the world, with their tedious bongos and those excruciating vocal whinnies from ‘the bopping elf’.
Without wishing to resort to cliché, he literally changed my life. Football never regained any hold on me, though ironically he remained a fervent supporter himself. While crowds chanted across the park I was immersed in Caravan, the old Fleetwood Mac, Wild Man Fischer and Zappa. A much better option, I think. Thanks John.
© 2004 Paul Donnelly