Peel and Prog


It was suggested on Twitter than the revival of progressive rock over the past decade and a bit was a consequence of the death of John Peel.

I’m not buying it.

It’s true that Peel, who famously dismissed Emerson Lake and Palmer as “A waste of talent and electricity” wasn’t a big friend of progressive rock. Any progressive band he did champion in the early days he dropped like a stone as soon as punk came along. And it’s also undeniably true that he had an enormous and possibly unhealthily excessive influence as a gatekeeper across several decades.

But the timing simply doesn’t support the hypothesis. Peel died in 2004, and the progressive rock revival began in the late 1990s with the emergence of bands from Porcupine Tree to Mostly Autumn. Surely the revival of a grassroots progressive scene has more to do with the rise of the internet allowing music fans and artists to bypass gatekeepers altogether? And possibly the 90s peak of Britpop was a factor too; that was a revival of precisely the sort of one-dimensional guitar pop that the original generation of progressive rock was a response to.

Anyway. I’m sure Peel would be playing bands like The Fierce and The Dead and Knifeworld if he was still alive.

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12 Responses to Peel and Prog

  1. Chuk says:

    “Surely the revival of a grassroots progressive scene has more to do with the rise of the internet allowing music fans and artists to bypass gatekeepers altogether?”

    I suspect you are right about that.

  2. PaulE says:

    Although the lionizing of Peel does grate a bit, the truth is that we needed more people doing similar things but for other genres. Many options instead of one “Alternative” scene.

  3. Tim Hall says:

    Don’t forget Tommy Vance. He was really “our” John Peel.

  4. PaulE says:

    Good point.
    Maybe it isn’t just having one person to champion a genre, but if they influence others in the media to join in? Of course, the internet has blown all of that apart, as you said.

  5. Tom B says:

    My first reaction to this was disbelief that it’s really been 12 years. You’re spot on as usual though about the internet being the main driver of the prog revival. And Tommy Vance is sorely missed. But didn’t they can his Friday rock show long before he died?

  6. Tim Hall says:

    The cancelled The Friday Rock Show around the same time as they shifted Peel to the graveyard shift from midnight to 2am. Some blamed that for Peel’s early death.

    Tommy Vance’s last recording was that “Shepherd’s Pie” Oxo commercial featuring a vocal from Uriah Heep’s Bernie Shaw and a Ronnie James Dio lookalike. You can find it on YouTube.

  7. John Hunt says:

    The internet also be why Queen are taken more seriously now than they where in the ’90′s, in the years immediately after Freddie’s death. People can now listen to what they want on Spotify, without fear of being judged, by people like the NME, who famously hated Queen.
    I found Tim’s Comment on a Guardian article about Queen.I thought it was a classic.
    “The best thing about Queen is the way their very existence offends the delicate sensibility of tedious middle-aged punk bores…”

    However, John Peel may have had a bearing on the previous devaluing of the quality of Marc Bolan’s later music, even if he had a crucial influence on his early career. It’s only slowly recovering now, coming up to the 40th anniversary of his death, next year. I’m actually grateful to John Peel for his part in Marc’s initial rise to fame, but it was a shame that he turned his back on him when he had a massive hit with’ Get it On.’ It’s a complicated story. Google ‘John Peel Marc Bolan’ and it should explain it.

    Apologies for going off topic a bit.

  8. I didn’t know about Peel and Bolan, but I’m not surprised. He was a serial “turning his back” offender. Other victims of his “you were good when only I knew about you but now you’re popular you’re rubbish” approach were Deep Purple and Keith Emerson.

    Peel was undeniably an important figure in music, but he was also a very capricious and biased one.

  9. Synthetase says:

    This has been a fascinating discussion for an outsider. Punk as a ‘movement’ was more a UK thing and doesn’t seem to have coloured retrospectives here in the same way.

    I know Porcupine Tree always credited their success with word-of-mouth. People heard about their music from other fans (that’s how I found them). However, I remember one of them saying in an interview it seemed like they were playing to the same hundred or so people at every gig for years before In Absentia broke and they started gathering some momentum.

    I think if you want to look at the rise of ‘alternative’ sub genres in the 90s, you should consider the emergence of more independent labels as well. Being able to actually hear and buy music over the net didn’t happen for years, so you still needed some of the more traditional industry hierarchy to make it happen – even if fans from across the world could now talk to each other.

  10. Tim Hall says:

    Punk had the same “year zero” effect in Britain as Grunge did a generation later in the US when it killed off Sunset Strip hair metal.

    Punk also coincided with the coming of age of those born at the peak of the British baby boom, which was a decade later than in the US. So British punks are like American boomers, believing that the world revolves around their tastes and their coming of age was the pivotal moment in musical history.

  11. PaulE says:

    The “year zero” thing was just nonsense. There have been arguments for years on the origin of Punk but in reality it looks like one of many parallel developments from Rock’n'Roll – which itself was derived from other things. Genre labels and starting points are applied retrospectively to make a story. It is as much a case of “standing on the shoulders of giants” as any other human endeavour.

  12. Tim Hall says:

    Yes, the Year Zero thing was always a revisionist myth that never reflected the music actual people were listening to, especially anywhere that wasn’t London, Liverpool or Manchester. Disco was far bigger than punk in the late 70s.

    But it had become the orthodoxy amongst music critics for a generation, until repeats of late 70s Top of the Pops started to undermine it.