This was the first year I worked at Glastonbury. The previous years festival had been the wettest so far and seen Britains first case of Trench Foot since the war. Amber, the lone Podiatrist in the medical tent, was so busy that she was asked to put a team together for future festivals. I applied as soon as I saw the ad in our professional magazine.
The phone interview with Amber was along the lines of: “Do you know what the Glastonbury Festival is like? Some of the patients can be a bit dirty there are some tricky situations to deal with….” “Well, I’ve been to 6 previous festivals, worked with Londons homeless for 9 years and with Leprosy patients on a street clinic in Calcutta…..” – I’m very proud to say I became part of the team.
Working the festival has its pros and cons. Obvious pros were free entry and in those days, you could take a guest for free. The major Con is that you have to work and so miss 2 half days of the festival and (obviously) be sober and fit for work, which is not usually on your mind when you’re there as a punter!
It probably wouldn’t happen now, but at that time it was really difficult to get someone to come along. The usual suspects in Leeds and Manchester were all working and couldn’t make it…..until I asked my friend Helen, who said she couldn’t, but her husband Jim could. Jim’s a writer (novelist, Radio 4 plays, script editor on the 3rd series of Shameless…etc.) and in their pre-twins days had a much more flexible life than most.
On the drive down, as we got closer to Glastonbury, Jim noticed all these towns names that were characters in a classic radio series The strange world of Gurney Slade (on the drive back it took us 6 hours to leave the site! “Well, I suppose you’ve got to be in the longest traffic jam of your life at some point!”).
We got to camp in the medical campsite, a secure part of the site that you needed your pass to get into. We found out we could also use our passes to go to the backstage areas. One of the Podiatrists had wangled himself onstage during Fatboy Slims set the night before……so after a few beers for dutch courage, we tentatively tried to get backstage at the pyramid and were let through no problem. As we wandered to the beer tent, who did we see coming up the path ahead of us? John Peel.
Like many others, my early musical tastes were greatly shaped by John Peel. The old cliches of listening to him under the bed covers late at night, so your folks wouldnt know, certainly apply to me. Midweek, 10pm til midnight was way past my bedtime!
I first wrote to him in 1983 when I was a Chiropody student in my late teens. When you’re doing feet its a good thing to chat to your patients and you can end up talking about allsorts. I got chatting to one patient about music “My sons the drummer in a band” he says “Who?” I ask “Oh you won’t have heard of them, they’re called The Fall” “THE FALL!!!”. So I sent John a letter along the lines of “I know you love the Fall so here’s some memorabilia I bet you dont have……the drummers dads toenail clippings”. I signed myself ‘Bob the Chiropodist’ – he read it out and that’s been my moniker since.
Over the next 20 years I used to write to him fairly regularly – not in a stalker type way, more “what was that track you played” or a postcard from holidays abroad, and became known as one of his ‘Regular correspondents’. I once enquired about a band I’d heard in session (Onward International) lamenting that I couldn’t find any of their stuff and he sent me this…
A few weeks later a 12″ package arrived from the BBC hed sent me his copy of their single with a note “A present from a nice old man”.
As so often happened – the record wasn’t a patch on the session they’d done!
In 1995 I got a job in Leeds and initially lived with my Brother Dave in York. This meant a lot of driving between York, Otley, Wetherby, Wakefield……and as I find daytime radio unlistenable – I used to tape Peelie and Mark+Lard at night and listen to them during whilst driving.
In 1996, Radio 1 came to Leeds and I was rather stunned to come home one day and find a message on my answering machine “Hello Bob the chiropodist, music loving John Peel here. I’m in the Queens Hotel, give me a ring and we’ll have a drink” – and we did, after his interview with David Gedge at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
They say you should never meet your heroes, but he didn’t disappoint! Ironically we didn’t talk about music at all, just how Sheila was from nearby Shipley and how his kids were doing and the virtues of German cars and his fear of flying…etc…etc. In the couple of hours I spent with him, about a dozen people came up to him with demo discs/tapes and a line about “If it wasnt for you…..”. He was very gracious and self deprecating: “John! Meeting you is the highlight of my life!” “Well you should get out more”.
So when Jim and I saw him heading our way at Glastonbury, I made a beeline for him: “Hi John, I’m Bob the Chiropodist” I announced shaking him by the hand. “I was just thinking about you! My foots killing me!”. Unfortunately, having been enjoying myself, I was in no fit state to look at his foot and suggested he see one of the team in the Medical tent. All I could think about afterwards was “I’m in his consciousness Wow!”. I was most excited when he wrote about the meeting in the Radio Times (see below).
I bumped into him and his producer Harmeet at the 2004 festival too. Harmeet now produces ‘Slash Music’ a programme by Johns son Tom Ravenscroft (a chip off the old block!). Its on ‘4Radio’ and available as a Podcast. My friend Mel took this shot of Peelie having a snooze backstage at that festival and that’s what I like to think, not that he’s gone for good but that he’s still backstage somewhere, just having 40 winks