Lit Fest preview: Peel’s Shed

Stoke Newington Literary Festival. Image: Satguru

In 2002, John Osborne won a box of second-hand records. Many of the 150 LPs were totally obscure, utterly unlistenable and downright weird. Others were actually pretty good, satisfyingly surprising and worthy of more than one curious play.It took John a total of eight years to listen to each and every vinyl. But it was something he had to do, because the records once belonged to the late, great radio DJ: John Peel. On Saturday June 5th at the Stokie Literary Festival, you can hear them too.

“I think I was about 15 when I first came across John Peel, and I listened to his show one night and it just blew my mind. I thought it was incredible. I became a regular listener. He introduced me to so many different bands!”

The poet, author and radio enthusiast is currently on tour with a show in which he plays a selection of Peel’s records, talks about his fanatical love for the legendary broadcaster and muses on the cultural relevance of radio. He explains:

“It’s me talking about the records and playing the records, but also me talking about radio and my relationship with radio, and the reason why John Peel was important to me and many other people. It’s a story with records, kind of like a live radio show, but with all the hallmarks of a live literature or stand-up show.”

John, author of two books, The Newsagents Window and Radiohead, and a collection of poetry, What If Men Burst In Wearing Balaclavas, decided to take the records to the stage after he completed a series of radio shows on a community station based in Norwich during which he played his favourite cuts of vinyl from the collection and waxed lyrical in between tracks. He saw the move from airwaves to the stage as a logical one, and resulting reviews have likened his performance to a listening party in a scruffy teenager’s bedroom. John explains:

“I was worried that people might think that I’m trying to make a few quid out of something John Peel related, because it is quite easy to jump on the bandwagon, but I think people realise that it comes from a very affectionate place.”

His show, entitled John Peel’s Shed, is ceremonial in exactly the same way as the act of playing a record is. John gathers like minded people around him and proceeds to play tracks and chat about the things that he loves, as one might do during an average evening at home enjoying music for the sake of it. The resulting experience is a bit geeky, a little obsessive but, ultimately, very enjoyable.

For John, this show, which is his first time performing solo, is a labour of love:

“I know how special the records are and I’ve always really enjoyed listening to them. I think I’ve shown them the respect that they deserve.”

It’s also an ode to radio:

“I really hope people can remember how special radio can be and how important John Peel was. I hope people will go out and listen to the radio a bit more.”

In his book Radiohead, John explores the different frequencies of a medium he thinks is still very relevant. That belief comes out in John Peel’s Shed, too.

“TV is in decline, but radio is as important as ever. There are so many different stations now. Especially with things like podcasts, I think that radio is in a better state than it’s ever been.”

With the explosion of internet radio stations and podcast hosting websites, fanatics from all over the world can express themselves and connect with others. From bedroom DJs playing avant garde electronic music to amateur political commentators discussing the state of the nation, all human life is on air.

John is doing his best to bring together die hard Peel fans and those who feel affection for radio. It seems to be working, too:

“The nice thing about doing a show about John Peel is that it attracts friendly people. There will always be someone at the bar afterwards who wants to have a drink and talk about their record collection!”

John Osborne performs John Peel’s Shed at the Gallery, Stoke Newington Library, on Sunday June 5 at 3pm as part of Stoke Newington Literary Festival. Tickets cost £4 and are available now here.

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