Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Thanks, John. My record collection no longer shames me

I saw with mixed feelings that John Peel's record collection is up for inspection by his adoring fans. The great DJ, whose Radio 1 show brought the most unearthly sounds to our ears, left a massive trove: 26,000 albums, 40,000 singles and tons of CDs.

The Arts Council is funding a pop-up website called The John Peel Project, which will allow you, every week from now to late autumn, to check out the first 100 file cards from each letter of the alphabet represented in the collection.

Early inspectors have been nodding their heads over recondite names such AC Temple, Action Pact and The Accused, mentally ticking off which Peel-owned musical masterpieces they proudly own, or used to own, themselves.

There's my problem. I just know my own record collection wouldn't withstand the scrutiny of my peers (let alone my children's generation) for five seconds.

What might be considered quirky, or unexpected, in Peel's collection - egregiously commercial albums by A-ha, for instance, or Abba - will be smiled upon because it displays the, you know, oceanic catholicity of his taste.

For the rest of us, they'd be embarrassing proof that one was once (or still is) a philistine, or a world-class birdbrain.

How can I explain my temporary attachment to so many twee singer-songwriters in 1970-72, when they seemed the only alternative to heavy metal?

I bought Bridget St John's Songs for the Gentle Man in 1971 precisely because Peel recommended it; now it's one of a dozen waxings by breathy tweefolk (step right up there, Donovan, Ralph McTell, Iain Matthews) that would fill any pooh-poohing rifler with joy.

Even harder to explain would be the records inherited from my parents after they retired to Ireland, leaving me the family vinyl.

All those battered discs of Jim Reeves, Matt Monro, Val Doonican and Bridie Gallagher, the tenor stylings of Father Sidney MacEwan (described in his sleevenotes as 'a gay, but simple man'), the soundtracks to South Pacific and Carousel, the novelty records of Peter Ustinov's after-dinner conversation, or of a Hogmanay knees-up (complete with drunken speeches) starring the Ulster songbird Ottilie Patterson.

Who'd bought this stuff? How could I explain to the casual passer-by that it wasn't (honest) me? There's a scene in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity in which the protagonist dines with his new girlfriend's pals at their house and later explains to her that he could never be friends with them because he found a Simple Minds album in their CD rack.

I asked workmates if they found this (as I did) a scarily truthful scene. All the women said, "How can you be so ridiculously small-minded about something as trivial as musical taste?" All the men said, "God, yeah. I mean: Simple Minds?"

Half the population is, apparently, stuck with a predisposition to sneer at people's records, as evidence the owner has no brain, no soul, or no moral compass.

Perhaps discovering the vast eclecticism of John Peel's taste (A-ha? I mean, c'mon) will make us grow up at last.

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