I was initially going to write purely about John Peel, and in particular his immense influence and his legacy, centred around a fantastic boxset compilation of records he played and bands’ sessions on his BBC show.
But, on listening to the final track (of 74). I thought that this in itself merited a mention, largely because of a line about the Hillsborough criminal act of 1989 in which 96 innocent football fans.
Peel, who hailed from Liverpool, would become somewhat emotional when he played Does This Train Stop On Merseyside? by the little-known Liverpool band, Amsterdam, and apparently had to play another record straight after.
Which is understandable – it’s a beautiful, uplifting ditty that tears at the heartstrings and would make any man emotional.
The song originally appeared on the 2002 studio album The Curse, and three years later as a single and on the part compilation, part new album, The Journey. Fittingly, Peel was honoured with a train bearing his name, more than three years after he died … in Merseyside.
The basis for the song is an unusual monument in Liverpool, but the story behind it delves deep into the city’s history, beginning with a shadowy figure on a cobbled road late at night. The full, fascinating tale is unravelled in detail at Prowse’s wonderful explanation on the band’s website: http://amsterdam-music.com/discography/does-this-train-stop-on-merseyside.
The song also mentions the Hillsborough criminal act, carried out by South Yorkshire Police against innocent Liverpool football fans. It is only now that the full truth of the level of collusion and deception by the Tory government, the police and a tabloid newspaper has fully come to light.
The 1989 disaster killed 96 Liverpool football fans. Police failed to divert fans to empty pens and refused to help them escape the crush. Then the cops covered up their role in the deaths.
“Yorkshire policemen standed with folded arms while people try to save their fellow fans,” almost brought me to tears as it evoked memories of watching that fateful day on television.
It’s one of a few random thoughts that Prowse throws in but he could have revolved a whole song around the subject.
Amsterdam were one of many acts Peel chanced upon or who badgered him or his producer until they took notice, and most of these acts would never have received airplay without their open-mindeness. The posthumous compilation, Kat’s Karavan (Universal) is four CDs of random tracks – recorded or from an in-house session – that featured on his show, and most of the material has been forgotten in the mists of time.
It is, as all compilations are, a very mixed bag, with the fourth disk, covering 2000-2005, being largely forgettable with odd mixes of country, drum ‘n’ bass, all-out-rock (Datsuns, The Hellacopters) and cold indie.
The beginning of the first CD, of the 60s and early 1970s is equally humdrum, as the industry went through a stangatory period following the electricity of the era of love, peace and harmony. There’s Thin Lizzy, folk drone Sandy Denny and the dire Free. But once reggae band Aswad kicks in, safety is reached. There’s a fantastic track by dub-poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and a contribution by Steel Pulse, but the real delights are the new wave and punk classics delivered by the likes of The Slits and The Cure, while the curator has unearthed long forgotten acts such as Nick Haeffner, the Funboy Five (yes five!), …. And The Native Hipsters, and The Bodies. Surprisingly, but pleasingly, there is no Teenage Kicks by The Undertones, Peel’s favourite ever single and on every other Peel-related compilation.
Few of this is familiar other than to collectors, but it’s all worthwhile, especially a Pulp session track from 1981 when Jarvis Cocker and co were still at school. It sounds nothing like what they would do for the next ten years.
The third disk, the 1990s, is more varied than the previous disks, with The Orb and Thievery Corporation nestling with Brit hip-hoppers Marxman, and typical indie acts like The Delgados and Tiger. But I am stumped by the omission of any African tracks in the boxset, given Peel was instrumental in bringing music from thrughout the continent into the consciousness of the nation. Nor is there anything that resembles ‘world’ music, alas.
The final disk, as already said, is the weakest, but that’s not to say it isn’t without it’s pleasures. And finally I reach the last track, Does This Train Stop on Merseyside?, a very fitting end to finish a paen to music that was all about heart and soul.