Norwich team behind John Peel Archive find Freddie Mercury’s begging letter to the DJ
19:51 11 October 2012
A letter from Queen frontman Freddie Mercury begging John Peel to play their songs was among those kept by the legendary DJ, according to the team making his huge record collection accessible.
City-based duo James Leeds and Charlie Gauvain used the opening day of Norwich Sound and Vision to share their experiences behind creating the John Peel Archive.
A hundred bands representing each letter of the alphabet have been picked out of Mr Peel’s collection for a website dedicated to the bands he loved.
The site includes a photo of Mr Peel’s home studio, left in the same state after he died aged 65 in 2004, and offers people a chance to learn about and listen to groups of all genres, styles and sounds.
And Mr Leeds, who is responsible for the overall design and coding of the archive, said they had only been able to scratch the surface of what is hidden inside it, despite many hours of work.
He said today: “I remember when we pulled out the Queen II record and there was a begging letter from Freddie Mercury saying ‘I hope you really like this’. We don’t know what else is in there. We’ve just done the first hundred of every letter. There’s still a treasure trove of stuff we’ve not scratched yet.”
Mr Leeds said it was possible to find nearly every major music shift in Mr Peel’s collection, with the DJ responsible for helping establish these new sounds. The long-term hope is for the collection to be available from the British Library in London, allowing people to listen to the original vinyls.
Mr Leeds said: “Spotify and iTunes have all the low-hanging fruit that will make them money and all the rest is hidden away and the thing with John is, he kept just the stuff he liked. You can pull anything off the shelf and it sounds amazing and you think ‘what happened to these guys from 1973?’.
“I think the collection is of massive cultural importance and it’s fascinating and brilliant and there’s a lot of hidden gems in there. I would love the archive to become not just a permanent thing but a lot more than it is now.
“At the moment you can flick through the records but you can’t search for anything. We would like this to be something you can explore, enjoy the records and get into new music.
“I think a fitting legacy would be something that allows you to hear stuff you’ve not heard before.”
Mr Leeds and Mr Gauvain were also joined by Stephen James Yeoman, a BBC Space mentor, with The Space being a joint BBC and Arts Council project, and Tom Barker, director of the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts in Stowmarket.
And Mr Gauvain, of Eye Film and TV, said people did not expect the archive to include mainstream records.
But he said: “You can approach it really daunted that there will be lots of stuff that you will hate. But what you forget is John Peel was there from the start when rock-and-roll happened. He played the first Pink Floyd album, so the Pink Floyd album in his archive is the one first played on UK radio.
“When you pick up a record and think ‘this record is responsible for Mike Oldfield or The Cure’ you think it’s more than a bit of vinyl. History is embedded in these records. It’s absolutely humbling.”
The first-ever John Peel Festival of New Music has been included in this year’s NSV programme, with more than 100 bands playing in 12 venues across the city, including the Norwich Arts Centre and The Waterfront.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Errors are among those on tonight’s bill.
More than 60 speakers are lined-up to talk during the three-day event, which runs until Saturday.
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