Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Class Conscious: Grocers, Once Seen as Maggie Thatcher's People, Are Now Darlings of the Left

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Class Conscious: Grocers, Once Seen as Maggie Thatcher's People, Are Now Darlings of the Left

Article excerpt

On the day of the great DJ's death, I was in a charity shop in Notting Hill when a stranger came up to me and said: "Have you heard about John Peel?" I've been wondering, in retrospect, why the stranger should have spoken to me: it was hardly a day like 9/11, when strangers everywhere spoke to each other. The likely explanation is that the man was of an age with me, and took it for granted that I had been a Peel disciple in the late Seventies and early Eighties.

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My persistent thought about Peel was that it was a very good job he played hard-core urban music, because otherwise he'd have looked suspiciously like a conservative country gentleman, with his four acres, his four children, his love of cars, his mill-owning father, his name truncated a la Tony Benn. The NME touchingly explained: "He was an 'old Salopian', which means he went to a posho [sic] private school in Shrewsbury."

There is no music underground today, but at the time of punk, The John Peel Show ghettoised me and my mates, making young iconoclasts out of people who would go on to be tax inspectors, chartered surveyors or, in the case of a person I will call Billy, a greengrocer.

Billy listened to the Peel show every night and wrote down chunks of the running order. He didn't look like a punk--in fact, he always wore smart casual clothes--but he didn't need to. His street credibility came from his love of the music. Whereas I always preferred American new wave, which John Peel seemed to find too arty and middle class (I remember him playing a Talking Heads track and sneering afterwards: "That hip enough for you?"), Billy liked true British punk, which was not so much music as a gauntlet thrown down.

The fascinating thing about Billy, to me, was that he was the son of a shopkeeper, and it was well known that he would be inheriting the family business. …

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