John Peel - Ten years later
The 25th of October marks 10 years since John Peel's untimely death in Peru, in 2004. So I'm using this opportunity to remember the man and also delve into my archive.
I was lucky enough to be commissioned by The Guardian in April 2004 to do a portrait of him in his home in Suffolk. He had done many interviews and photo shoots before and was regularly featured in the Guardian, so this was potentially him just going through the motions.
I had always been a fan since my university days when he was the godfather of obscure band tribalism. So this could all have gone very wrong, but luckily he was charming and chatty and willing to answer my endless stream of questions.
His home was also where he kept his amazing archive of record - stuff that was sent to him, Peel sessions from the BBC Radio 1, and many many rarities - all housed, or should I say stuffed, into room after room of overfull shelves and then spilled out to two sheds and a garage in the garden. It was and is a colossal archive and was often used by record companies for rereleases as it had the only reference copy to many important early band recordings. I also remember that there was at least one volunteer / intern who was painstakingly cataloguing the collection, and basking in the great mans proximity.
On the day of my visit he was baby-sitting his grandson Archie who was not quite walking yet and had to be held at all time. I was soon to be a parent myself (Noah was born in Sept 2004) but was in the anxious and happy period leading upto the birth and of course oblivious to what comes after.
I did several shots in various sheds listening to various stories with Archie in shot too. But ultimately I asked if I could do just a solo shot of him in the record shed, and (probably in a gambit to get rid of me) he agreed. I got out my Hasselblad medium format camera and shot a roll of film of him. He had a fantastic T-shirt on, no doubt some obscure band, that echoed his persona with his 'babies' in the background.
This was a transition time for me between shooting on film and shooting digitally and I was keen to carry the self importance and slow mechanical-ness of a Hasselblad portrait with me into fast flowing river of digital photography. Also I was ignoring a major part of John Peel, he was a family man and had been at the time nearly as famous for his "Home truths" radio 4 show as the radio 1 show.
I also took a similar shot in the same shed with Archie and ultimately it would become my favourite shot from this shoot.
This was shot on my ancient Nikon D100 digital camera, a new digital age.
He nurtured his grandson as he nurtured the many bands that he took under his wing, hoping to help them grow. A photo with his two 'babies'.
Six months after this shoot he died of a heart attack, and I had shot one of the last portrait ever taken of him. The photo went on to be published many times and the solo shot was bought by the National Portrait Gallery for their collection.
I feel privileged to have spent a happy hour in his company.