John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, known in the music business as DJ John Peel, was deep into writing this book – about halfway through – when he died in 2004. It was finished by Sheila Ravenscroft, his wife, telling the life story of one of the most important DJs of all time. Peel had his own BBC radio show from 1968 on. He opened up listeners in the UK to reggae, punk, hip-hop; to the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Pink Floyed, the Clash, the Cure, Joy Division, Def Leppard, the Smiths, all of whom (along with others) have said that the exposure he gave them was a big help to their careers. Here we have a picture of the man himself, and his own story of a lot of these acts. He had a knack for seeing the potential in obscure new music.
An intimate look at one of the most influential DJs in history
The book follows Peel’s life through his tough relationship with his parents, his stint in the Army, his five years in the U.S. working in various un-musical things, his first (unpaid) radio job at WRR in Dallas, Texas, and his early DJ career in his own words. Peel was a prolific writer as well as a DJ and contributed a lot of material to music magazines and other periodicals. Sheila, in writing the second half of the book, goes more deeply than John himself into their lives together. (She’s surely an understanding women, as anyone who put up with being referred to on-air as “the pig” would have to be.) The change in authors isn’t disguised; the first half, written by Peel himself, and the second, written by Sheila, don’t try to conceal the fact that they’re written by different people and the second half posthumously. It works well. John would be happy with the result, I think. On the whole, John Peel: Margrave of the Marshes gives an intimate picture of the man who, maybe more than anyone else, shaped the history of popular music.