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Pete Lawrence - 25 Oct 2016
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I was very happy to read afterwards in his book 'Margrave Of The Marches' that his wife Sheila, who finished writing the book after his death, recorded that Big Chill experience

It's 12 years today since John Peel died.

It's ten years and two months and a bit since I invited him to play what turned out to be his last ever gig at The Big Chill (pictured in gallery).

I was very happy to read afterwards in his book 'Margrave Of The Marches' that his wife Sheila, who finished writing the book after his death, recorded that Big Chill experience as follows: “He enjoyed the two Big Chill festivals that he played, especially the one in 2004. We stayed at a little bed-and-breakfast in the nearby Malvern Hills, and as we made our way to the site, the reaction to John’s arrival was amazing. People were cheering and applauding him before he’d even got into the tent where he was playing. It was sweltering in there and crammed to bursting point. When John started DJing the crowd became hysterical. Before The Big Chill set was finished, a woman approached the stage and handed John her baby, which she asked him to kiss. he was quite overcome, but he obliged merrily, then handed back the infant and advised the mother to remove it from the tent for the sake of its little eardrums. It was a marvellous euphoric event. It was also the last gig John played.”

I first encountered Peel, fittingly, at my first festival – Reading, in the mid 70s.

There he was in the flesh on stage in front of this impressionable 17 year old, reading the football results from the main stage on Saturday afternoon – and getting one of the best reactions of the weekend in the process. I was fortunate enough, a decade later, to meet him twice over a meal, and found him as down to earth as his public person always indicated, preferring his favourite café round the corner for a sausage and egg sandwich over anything more extravagant. When I was involved in the launch of my Cooking Vinyl label in 1986, I mailed 50 newsletters to DJs and press. Three responded, and Peel was one of them, calling the office to find out what we were about. Four years later, he returned from a visit to Sierra Leone, distraught at the poverty there and determined to do something about it. He returned with music he had recorded and plans were afoot to release it with him – until Cooking Vinyl came close to suffering a near-death experience at the hands of Rough Trade, whose demise as a distributor at the end of the 80s played havoc with many around them. 

Peel and I renewed the acquaintance over a decade later when I invited him to play at The Big Chill two years running.

He accepted because he said he “fancied trying something different” and was surprised when he discovered that he’d been programmed on the Open Air stage, when he really wanted to be “in one of the small bars where people like Charlie Gillett are playing.” In 2004, I programmed him as a unannounced late addition in The Big Chill Cocktail Bar, knowing that the place would be mobbed. As expected, the place went bonkers, and Peel leaves us in the knowledge that he clocked up a cool 115 decibels to become the loudest act ever at The Big Chill, a record that he surely would have been proud of. That was also the last time he played in public.

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