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Thriving arts centre is legacy of John Peel

PUBLISHED: 19:00 28 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:02 29 August 2019

Sheila Ravenscroft at the John Peel Centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Sheila Ravenscroft at the John Peel Centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

Broadcasting legend John Peel famously championed up and coming talent in his long career - and his legacy is thriving in the Suffolk town he made his home.

Sheila Ravenscroft at the John Peel Centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSheila Ravenscroft at the John Peel Centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The John Peel Centre in Stowmarket is a vibrant tribute to the life and work of the much-loved DJ, hosting live music, from established acts to emerging talent, along with poetry, film, theatre, and comedy.

His wife, Sheila Ravenscroft, is a trustee and director of the centre and said she was proud of how the centre was carrying on what John did on his long-running show on BBC Radio 1.

One of the original Radio 1 DJs when the station opened in 1967, he played new artists and with his live 'Peel Sessions' gave national debuts to bands that would later go on to become world famous, including Black Sabbath, David Bowie and Queen.

Speaking ahead of a gig there on Friday August 28 by The Undertones - the band whose 1978 classic 'Teenage Kicks' he famously championed - to mark what would have been his 80th birthday, Sheila said: "It's an amazing place for Stowmarket.

John and Sheila in 2003 Picture RICHARD SNASDELLJohn and Sheila in 2003 Picture RICHARD SNASDELL

"That a small town can have something so vibrant going on is, I think, is pretty special.

"I'm really proud that we put on good stuff and try to keep to the ethos of pushing unheard and local new bands so that they get a hearing, which is what John did with his radio show.

"Every two months we put on an 'Emerge' night, and that's solely for up and coming local bands."

John and Sheila lived at Great Finborough, near Stowmarket, and the centre opened after his death in 2004.

The Undertones Picture: M P PromotionsThe Undertones Picture: M P Promotions

It is housed in a former hall opposite St Peter & St Mary Church, but it is currently in talks with Mid Suffolk District Council to expand into the adjoining former NatWest bank offices, something Sheila is keen to see happen.

"It's a waiting game, there is a lot that has still to be sorted," she said.

"Although I don't know how long the lease will be for, we are going to be going in there at some stage.

"It's a massive project but it will be fabulous because we'll be able to do so much more and offer so much more.

John Peel amassed a collection of thousands of vinyl records Picture: CLIFFORD HICKSJohn Peel amassed a collection of thousands of vinyl records Picture: CLIFFORD HICKS

"There are so many possibilities within that building and it will be good for us to open on to the Market Square and be more in the centre of the town.

"It will just give us so many more options because we'll also be able to have different things going on at the same time."

The support act for The Undertones will be Colchester punk band Pet Needs, a choice The Undertones let the centre make.

"Them letting us do that was a tribute in itself to the centre," she said.

Sheila Ravenscroft at the John Peel Centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSheila Ravenscroft at the John Peel Centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"They've played here before and we knew they would fit well with The Undertones."

It was in the New Wave era of the late 1970s that he famously championed 'Teenage Kicks' by the-then little-known Northern Irish band The Undertones.

After his sudden death in 2004 from a heart attack while on holiday in Peru, the song was played played at his funeral service as his coffin was borne out of St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds.

The song's opening line 'A teenage dream, so hard to beat' is engraved on his headstone in the graveyard at Great Finborough church.

Although original frontman Feargal Sharkey will not be joining the band in Stowmarket, tickets for the gig sold out within hours of going on sale.

Sheila said the band playing in Stowmarket was a real coup for the town and the idea came during a routine planning meeting at the centre.

"We were just talking about what we could put on when it just came to me. I just spoke out loud 'Crikey, at the end of August John would have been 80!'," she said,

"It just developed from there. In my head the dream band to put on would have been The Undertones, so I was absolutely delighted when they said 'Yes'.

"It's not just the fact that it's The Undertones playing here, it's the fact they are playing on John's birthday - it's a lovely touch."

John's musical legacy lives on not just through the centre but also in the thousands of records he amassed in his lifetime.

Sheila said there around 27,000 vinyl albums in his collection and many more singles, and she wanted to see it put to good use.

"We have been negotiating for years with different institutions to find somewhere it would best be housed," she said.

"As a collection of global music it's unique. It's a fabulous collection and it should be used."

For more information about the John Peel Centre go to its website.

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