heard on the wire

The clean streets, acknowledged in the Lords

I make the rules so I can break the rules. A song-from-each-year-of-my-life for 2004 is going to be two songs, after the competition ended in a dead heat.

I couldn’t compile a musical anthology such as this without including my all-time favourite bands of all-time and thus far many have appeared: Joy Division, New Order, The Jam, The Clash, The Smiths, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Cinerama to name but seven.

But, you ask, what about the mighty Fall and the almighty Half Man Half Biscuit? A question whose answer brings us, sadly, to 2004 and the untimely death of John Peel.

It’s safe to say that without Peel, neither band would have reached much of an audience. The Fall were his favourite band while he insisted that HMHB were a national treasure¹. More importantly, he played their records on National Radio One FM when no-one else would touch them with a barge-pole-sized stylus.

In 2004 HMHB recorded their last Peel session, but before it could be broadcast he died of a heart attack while on holiday in the Peruvian Andes. So the four tracks stand as an unlikely monument to everything he did for singers, songwriters and musicians whose unique talent was never going to find favour at a chart-hunting major label.

And it is that session that, coincidentally perhaps, provides the band’s finest moment. The song appeared on the following year’s Achtung Bono LP, but this is the better version. A lament for lost love, a pæan to small-town England, for what is Chatteris?

Peel passed away in October, so that year’s festive fifty is still very much his own, unlike the moribund Dandelion Radio efforts of recent years. And so it couldn’t have been more fitting, with the top two places taken by longtime “Peel” bands. Bearsuit were at number two but the top spot could only have gone to one band, with a single that, as Peel himself said, is as as good as anything they’ve ever recorded.

Half Man Half Biscuit :: For What is Chatteris?

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The Fall :: Theme From Sparta FC #2

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¹ Their new LP, 90 Bisodol (Crimond) provides ample evidence that they still are.

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