MICHAEL HEATLEY John Peel: A Life In Music (Michael O’Mara)

One of a press of biographies of the legendary phonograph equestrian that transited swiftly from prominent display shelves to remaindered bins in the weeks following Peel’s untimely death in October 2004, Heatley’s dry, dull tome leaves even a non-acolyte such as myself regretting that nobody bothered to write about the man at such length during his lifetime. Shakin’ Stevens, Westlife, David Gray and Justin Timberlake biographer Heatley bulks out the familiar tale of lonely childhood, public school, National Service, American misadventure, piracy and Radio One with nearly 40 pages of tributes and Festive Fifties. With my pedant’s hat on (is it ever off?) I could also complain that “Never Mind The Bollocks” was officially released in November 1977, not April as Heatley sloppily claims, and that The Fall recorded 24 Peel sessions, not the “unprecedented seventeen” Michael would have us believe. And I would question whether somebody who thinks that “White Blood Cells” is The White Stripes’ debut album is the right person to be writing a book such as this. Still, given the speed he must’ve been typing at, a little slack fact-checking is perhaps understandable, if not excusable. His assertion that Hüsker Dü were dropped by Warners is a new one on me, too; as I’ve always heard it they were too busy breaking up following their manager’s suicide. Still, I did enjoy the anecdote about Peel playing Fripp & Eno’s “No Pussyfooting” album backwards in its entirety due to the tape reel being wound in the opposite direction to the BBC standard. The only listener to notice and call the BBC switchboard was one Brian Peter George St. John Le Baptiste De La Salle Eno.

MICHAEL HEATLEY (ed.) Rock & Pop: The Complete Story (Flame Tree)

This podgy paperback sets itself a near-impossible task with its title, and, like so many of its ilk, gives the impression of being fact-checked, if at all, by someone with little interest in the subject – Pink Floyd a supergroup? Frank Zappa a jam band innovator? One particularly egregious error is a reference to the “distinctive artwork” that “adorns “The Velvet Underground and Nico” album of 1967, emphasizing Pop Art roots and Andy Warhol connections” , which would be sweet and dandy were the accompanying illustration actually of “The Velvet Underground And Nico”, and not the later, bananaless compilation “Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground Featuring Nico”.

To its credit, though, this little book does attempt to cover a lot of ground. It’s divided into short essays on loosely defined genres and subjects, presented in roughly chronological order. It’s a rare book of this kind that devotes a whole page to a photograph of Manowar, for example, and its remit stretches from Frank Sinatra to Franz Ferdinand. The problem is that it seems to fall between several stools: too low on facts to be considered a reference tome, too jerky to make a coherent, cohesive read, too small a form factor to function as a glossy coffee table anchor. It’d do a pretty good job of weighing down a Christmas stocking, though.