Maida Vale was something of a musical zoo. One could wander from the near deserted, and indeed dry, bar (the beer ran out just as DiS arrived. Mmm…), into Studios 3 & 4, gaping in wonderment at a myriad of musical beasts. These included the pale, fey, Scottish creature known as Belle & Sebastian & the screeching hynea-esque Steveless, who apparently deposited a 200 song demo onto Peel’s desk, leaving the legendary DJ musing “This is clearly the work of a madman.” Quite.
DiS, along with Peel favourites The Dawn Parade, strode deep into the studio’s bowels, a trip down memory lane for frontman Greg McDonald which also took in the toilets. It was here where McDonald, warming up his vocal chords before recording a live session, serenaded a bemused Peel with ‘Teenage Kicks’ as the great man relived himself. We also discovered Studio 2, genuflecting before a brass plaque commerating The Beatles BBC sessions which were recorded in a room no bigger than an average lounge.
In Studio 3, PJ Harvey played a three song acoustic set to a packed audience. Peel was an early champion and friend of Harvey and would have loved Peej’s lo-fi slightly shambolic approach. What he would have made of her dress, a retina scorching red and black, diagonally striped number is anyone’s guess.
Belle & Sebastian were in fine fettle too. DiS just managed to squeeze into Studio 4 (capacity: 40), tagging along with the Peel family to hear Stuart Murdoch and chums play three new songs including the Gram Parsons-esque ‘I Took A Long Hard Look’. Later, the same studio is rammed with people, including Zane Lowe, eager to subject themselves to Trencher’s terminal grindcore. One ‘song’ lasts a mere 10 seconds. DiS cowers behind a closed door in frightened wonder.
We also fear for Damon Albarn who we mistake at first for a befuddled roadie. He looks bored and distracted, mumbling his way through an unidentified first song. Never before has someone looked so daft ringing a handbell. He redeems himself – just – with ‘Strange News From Another Star’, taken from Blur’s eponymous 1997 album. Estranged band mate Graham Coxon also made an appeatance, and also sang a track from ‘Blur’, namely ‘You’re So Great & I Love You’. He also played a new song 'Just A State Of Mind'. Compared to Albarn, Coxon is self assured, oozing confidence while Albarn looks on from the crowd scratching his head.
Also causing confusion are Melys, winners of this evening’s “Who are they?” award. Melys topped the Festive 50 in 2001, and Peel opened their studio. They’re a disparate bunch who plays bittersweet, guitar pop with a nod to The Sundays and a wink to The Super Furry Animals. Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell looks on, nodding approvingly. Hefner too cause confusion for a different reason: they’re actually quite good. Yet, this is a reunion performance so Hefner will remain a cult band. An overexcited fan pogos alone. Mmm telling...
Rounding off the evening in fine and noisy style are The Wedding Present. Frontman David Gedge still looks like a miserable bastard and the shaggy black hair remains. Gedge & co. play ‘Brassneck’, ‘What Is It Now’ and dedicate ‘Queen Of Outer Space’ to Peel’s widow Sheila. Grown men of a certain age weep openly. Gedge throttles his guitar and hurls himself around the stage just like it’s 1987. Bless him.
Peel would no doubt be faintly embarrassed by this evening’s antics, and would want to know where the hell where The Fall (good question). Yet, Peel Night, like the Peel show itself, drew together a strand of unconnected musical genres into a rousing tribute. That it didn’t quite gel also reflects Peel’s charm, and shows the wealth of musical talent Peel championed during an illustrious career.