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My John Peel Story

Here's a second story from my unpublished collection, My Life Sentences. There'll be more to follow over the coming weeks.


Stan Engel cartoon for unpublished Wool City Rocker No.15
Stan Engel cartoon for unpublished Wool City Rocker No.15

During 1980, I had my own column, with a photo of me at the top, in the local weekly freesheet, Bradford Star. I was also producing my own monthly fanzine, The Wool City Rocker, which John Peel enthusiastically endorsed on his Radio One show. He’d also played the recent single by my band, Ulterior Motives, on his BBC World Service show.

One afternoon, the phone rang and a voice said: “Hi, this is John Peel.” Certain that this must just be some friend on a wind-up, I said: “Oh, f*** off! Who is it really?” Peel was a patient and understanding man. He must have been. He was still there after I’d told him to f*** off for the third time before recognising the voice.

I think he was more amused than offended. “I’m in Shipley,” he said. “Do you want to come out and see a band this evening and maybe go for a curry?” He was at his in-laws’ home, just three miles from where I lived.

That evening, with Gaynor (then my girlfriend, now my wife), I knocked on the door. A nervous but unmistakable figure peered suspiciously out at us for several seconds before releasing the safety chain and ushering us both in.

While his wife – whom he always referred to on radio as The Pig – drove us into Leeds, Peel talked about his shyness, West Yorkshire bands, music in general, fanzines, football matches, curries and such.

The band we saw that night didn’t impress me much, but Peel seemed keen. They were a heavy-ish glam-rock outfit managed by guitar legend and former Bebop Deluxe main-man, Bill Nelson. He was manoeuvring them out of the old and into the new. The crossover stuff that filled their two over-long sets struck me as unconvincing. Maybe I missed something. They’d just changed their name to Flock of Seagulls.

The Kebabeesh was and still is one of the top three curry houses in Bradford. It’s been in the same family since it first opened in Girlington, a predominantly Asian area of Bradford. Back in the 1940s, before marrying my mum, my dad had lived on White’s Terrace in Girlington. Bashir, the man who went on to set up the Kebabeesh, was a friend and neighbour. That’s why, when the restaurant opened in the early 1970s, my dad often took us there. In 1987, it moved to Greengates, which is where we moved in 1994, buying a house just behind it. We still live there. Every evening we can sit in our back garden and smell the curries being cooked. At least once a week that smell lures us round to eat there. Our daughter and then our son had part-time jobs serving there while they were still at school.

Back in 1980, post-gig, Peel asked me to recommend the best place for a Bradford curry. I’d had a great Kebabeesh meal about a week before, so we headed for Girlington, ending up there around midnight. There were, by then, eight of us – me and Gaynor, Peel and Pig, Bill Nelson and partner, and Andy Partridge (whose band, XTC, had played Bradford’s St George’s Hall that night) and his partner.

Towards the end of the meal, one of the waiters came over to our table and said to me: “You were in last week, weren’t you? I’ve been trying to work out where I knew you from… and I’ve just realised who you are. I know you from your photograph.”

Turning to face the rest of the table, he announced: “This man’s really famous. He writes for The Bradford Star!”

If this is how parochialism bigs up the small guy, then my payback came some six years later. I was doing a gig down south, and told the audience this story. Afterwards, a guy came up to me and said: “That story you told… the one about John Peel. It was true, wasn’t it?” I went: “Yeah, course it was.” Then he said: “No, I wasn’t doubting you. I know that it’s true cos I’ve heard it before. I’m a friend of Andy Partridge and he tells almost exactly the same story. The only difference is that in his version, he can’t remember who the f*** you were!”

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