Of all the shows in last year's Edinburgh Fringe brochure, John Peel's Shed looked the most interesting. It concerned a man, John Osborne, who had won a box of records on the late Radio 1 DJ John Peel's show for coming up with a snappy reason why he and his fellow listeners loved the show. During one intimate hour, Osborne would play some of the records but, more importantly, relate them in some way to his life. Given the obvious crossover in audience between Peel and the Fringe, I wasn't the only person this appealed to - and, when I tried to book tickets, there were none left - for the entire run. And two additional shows. Wow.
This week, John took the show to Aberdeen and I finally got to see (and hear) what all the fuss was about.
The real surprise, of course, is that the records are a mere advert. Yes, Osborne tricks you into coming to listen to him recounting the last decade of his life by dangling well-thumbed record sleeves, - and once thumbed by Peel himself - in front of your faces! Although the vinyl does form a literal backdrop to the piece, it's actually a very personal, autobiographic look back through the past ten years of his life: one enhanced, possibly hindered by a thirst for loud music, and reading, and writing.
There is also real poignancy in the tale of when his Dad sat for six hours recording every minute of the first John Peel night onto C90 cassettes so he could send them to Vienna where John was living. This hopeless devotion to music echoes the recurring notion that each and every strange, ostensibly one-off vinyl John Peel ever received represented the hopes and dreams of people around the world - that Peel would listen to their record, play out it out on the national airwaves or even invite them in for a session.
As I sat listening, it began to put into perspective the music site I used to run, Culturedeluxe. The stacks of CDs I used to receive also represented musician's hopes and dreams (even if those hopes were tarted up in catchy buzz-phrases by PR agencies) and, try as I might, I barely managed to listen to any of them - let alone give any the repeated listens you need to properly formulate a fair review. There is no doubt a bad review would generate many site hits, often coupled with two-way slanging matches between a band's fans (read: friends) and the site's scribes, but really, who were we to judge another's art in this way? Neither I, nor some of the other curmudgeons I associated with had the right to criticise these records, whether positively or negatively. What do I know? I simply thirst for loud music, and reading, and writing.
Much like John Osborne.