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Fifty Years Ago

I remember it well. In fact it is one of my earliest memories.

I was four.

I was playing some game, not sure if I was a cowboy or a spaceman but it involved jumping off the couch and landing on a wicker chair nearby. The wicker chair was too light, overbalanced and I ended up on the floor minus one of my front teeth.

As my mother comforted me and with a towel at my mouth to stem the blood I can clearly recall the images coming through from Dallas on our recently inherited black and white TV. It was of American cops spaced at about 20 yards crouching as a camera swept along the route that John F Kennedy had taken in an open topped car earlier that day.

A journey which was to have been his last.

A friend of mine, sadly no longer with us, wrote the following article on his blog in 2006 about the Kennedy assassination:

This photograph shows Jack Ruby (nee Rubinstein) attending the press conference held in the Dallas Police Station just hours after the Kennedy assassination – a press conference in which Lee Oswald was paraded as the assassin. Ruby was just a face in the crowd at that time. (He is the man with glasses on the rear right of this photograph).
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Less than 48 hours after this photograph was taken, Ruby returned to the police station and shot Oswald to death.

The picture is a still taken from a piece of moving film – when the film moves on a few frames then another face in the crowd, just a few feet from Ruby, can be seen to be a very young John Ravenscroft, then an unknown Englishman struggling to make ends meet as a labourer in the cotton industry, later to become John Peel, probably the most famous and certainly the most revered English disc jockey of all time.

Peel tells the story of how he came to be in the Dallas Police Station on 22 November 1963 in his autobiography, ‘Margrave of the Marshes’ published after his death in 2004.

But fascinatingly, he first tells of an occasion in 1961 when he actually met, shook hands and spoke with John F Kennedy, then Senator Kennedy, Presidential candidate. Kennedy noticed that Peel had a camera and invited him to take a picture – this is the picture Peel took (which I’ve lifted straight from the book).

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Peel was working in Dallas on 22 November 1963, quite near to where the assassination occurred. When the news came on the radio he went immediately to the scene and was actually present in the Dealey Plaza area while it was being crawled over by dozens of police and FBI agents in the immediate aftermath of the killing. He seemed to be allowed to wander about on the pretence that he was a reporter from the Liverpool Echo, his accent doing the trick.

Later in the evening he went to the Dallas police station, and again using the Liverpool Echo routine, was able to blag his way into the afore-mentioned press conference. When the police brought Oswald into the room, Peel’s impression was that Oswald was genuinely bewildered. “He was either a damn good actor or he was innocent”.

Thus John Peel was one of the very few persons (perhaps the only person) to have been within touching distance at one time or another of all 3 major players (Kennedy, Oswald, Ruby) in the crime of the century.

John Peel

I heard an article on the radio yesterday about John Peel’s record collection being put on line. His wife (who JP used to affectionately refer to as “the pig”) was very interesting as she recounted how some of John’s favourite listening would perhaps surprise his fans (Roy Orbison and Status Quo being two artists mentioned)

The site ishere and is a fun interactive way of accessing photos, clips and a treasure trove of radio sessions from Peel’s long career in broadcasting and journalism. To keep you interested only bands/artistes beginning with A from the record collection have been catalogued so far. If you pull one of the vinyl albums from the shelf and click on it, your browser will then proceed to that album on iTunes which is a neat trick and may explain at least in part how the project is being funded.

Another Rafferty Tribute

Last year I made this post about Gerry Rafferty, comparing him to John Martyn. It was with some amusement that I saw my posting duplicated almost word for word, by Martyn’s biographer in Sunday’s Sunday Herald.

Some people I think have been slightly bemused at the reaction to the singer songwriter’s passing. Some see him purely as the writer and performer of slick, sometimes cheesy pop songs but the tributes I think have at least made some revise that opinion.
The clip below is a Daily Record ‘podcast’ about Rafferty’s passing. Billy Sloan, like John Peel, was a Rafferty fan.

Dire Straits

Following on from the hilarious Alexei Sayle clip about Knopfler and Co. I thought I'd better redress the balance. I'll probably get howls of derision from Helpless Dancer and Tomahawk Kid here but here goes!

I had a job driving taxis in 1978 at the grand age of 18. The car in question was an 8 year old Morris Oxford, one of the last of its kind. The radio in this thing was I think a valve effort!


I got a hire from Helensburgh to the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport, Loch Long and was coming back via Ardpeaton when John Peel played a track from a new band he was raving about. The track in question was Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits. This was the first time I'd heard the record and despite the medium wave sound quality, it made an instant impact on me.









Peel played the track another twice that week and I went in to John Menzies in Helensburgh to be looked at blankly when I asked for firstly the single and then the album with no success. A trip to Glasgow where the staff at Listen (10 Cambridge Street Cheap and Nasty) and Bloggs in St. Vincent St. had at least heard of the record but didn't in fact have it in stock. Knowing I wasn't going to be back in the city any time soon I returned to Helensburgh and oredered the single from John Menzies. I think I can safely say I was the first person in town with this record. I got the album a few weeks later and every track was as good as the single.


Borrowing a little bit from Cale,Clapton and Dylan their eponymous first album remains one of the finest debuts in rock history IMHO.

For me they never matched that first album although their biggest commercial success was to come in 1986 with the multi gazzillion selling Brothers in Arms. By that time the critics, (and Alexei Sayle) had made up their minds about them. They were nice. They were played by housewives and trendy types in white Suzuki soft tops. Footballers would list them as favourites, a sure sign of critical nadir. Knopfler had also taken to looking like some guy out at Haloween dressed as a fashion victim.

And yet, despite some overblown production and trite lyrics, B.I.A. was an album which shone like a beacon amidst some very poor music which had come along in punk's slipstream.





I rarely skip a track when they appear on random play on my MP3. Dire Straits. Loved by musicians, hated by critics. I notice Alexei Sayle still placed a copy of Brothers in Arms under his jacket on the way out the shop mind you!



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