Radio 1 legend talks about life on the airwaves

Andy Peebles at Smooth RadioJPEN Andy Peebles

Andy Peebles at Smooth RadioJPEN Andy Peebles

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Radio 1 DJ and BBC sports commentator, Andy Peebles, gives Simon Robb the inside story of his Radio 1 days, conducting the last interview with John Lennon, his friendship with Yoko Ono, and his secret meeting with Sir Paul McCartney.

“When I did the John Lennon interview, the thing for which I’m probably best known for in 1980, for years afterwards and I mean a lot of years, I simply didn’t want to talk about it.

“I was too emotional about the whole thing.”

The interview of which Andy Peebles speaks of is the very last that John Lennon gave with his wife Yoko Ono, just two days before he was shot dead outside his New York home.

It had taken Andy a lot of negotiations with Yoko before the couple agreed to the, now world famous, interview for BBC radio.

But Andy was totally unaware that as he was meeting one of his idols for the first time at the Hit Factory recording studio, John’s murderer-to-be Mark Chapman was loitering outside the Dakota where the celebrity couple resided with their son, Sean.

“It got to a stage where I was being begged by Beatles societies to go and talk at their events and I just kept saying no, no, no!

“Two years ago I got an invite to go to Liverpool and I said to my wife Ann ‘what do you think?’ She said yeah I should do it. So I went and these people had come to a hotel in Liverpool from quite literally all over the world, and they brought with them the book ‘The Lennon Tapes’ and I’d never seen it in so many other languages.”

Andy and I sit in the reception of The Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham, where he shares his relief over recently uncovering his collection of photographs, containing all the music and sport personalities he has met over the years.

“People now look at these photographs and think, ‘wow I know who that is with Andy’.”

Spanning his career from presenting the Saturday morning show for BBC Radio Manchester in 1973, to starting at BBC Radio 1 in 1978, the snap shots are an inkling into the many fascinating stories that Andy has kept locked away in his memory for many decades.

Although elected to the Radio Academy of Fame along side the likes of Kenny Everett, David Jacobs and Nicholas Parsons, Andy, who now DJs for Smooth Radio, is clearly a modest man and says he has only made a ‘small contribution’ to radio.

“I was never ever, in the lineage of disc jockeys in this country, going to be one of the big stars. The big stars have been Tony Blackburn, Chris Tarrant, Noel Edmunds and Simon Bates. I was what I’d call a music DJ and I still am.”

The 64-year-old explains that the third floor of Radio 1’s Egton House was where all the people who ‘really loved music’ hung out, and the fourth floor was for all the people who ‘really liked opening supermarkets’.

“And in the case of Tony Blackburn, closing the same ones he opened 20 years on.”

On the fourth floor, Andy says he would see the DJ’s pigeon holes overflowing with record pluggers’ new releases.

“I will say this, I remember shouting at Simon Bates one day and I said ‘why don’t you get up stairs and clear your box out, it’s about five foot tall’. He said to me, ‘look Andy I’m not interested, I’m not really into music’.

“I thought to myself this is absolutely shameful and you’re doing the morning show on Radio 1?”

Although I was not around to hear the wisdom of John Peel, the humour of Tony Blackburn or the dulcet tones of Andy Peebles over Radio 1 airwaves, my parents had referenced them many times over the years, and I could clearly see the DJs’ shows had nurtured their music tastes.

I tell Andy that in a high school situation I would place him at the ‘cool table’. I then ask who out of the Radio 1 DJs would he be sat with?

He laughs and leans across the table, using his fingers to count. “At that table, I would have been privileged to sit with David Jensen, Peter Powell (who discovered Duran Duran), John Peel, Pete Drummond – all the guys that really loved music.”

Surrounded by enormous talent, having the freedom to play his own discoveries, and leaning into other DJ’s offices to hear their amazing finds, Andy says it was an exciting time for radio and music.

This passion and excitement would eventually lead the Andy to the John Lennon interview, but it was a year on from John’s death that Andy reestablished ties with Yoko and persuaded her (after two weeks of negotiations) to do another interview with him.

Over the next three years, Andy forged a close friendship with Yoko and her son Sean, but he says it was not to last.

“I think after about three years I’d served my purpose, and I was very sad when I suddenly didn’t hear from her anymore.

“I can understand that she had bigger and better things to do, and much more important people to spend time with, but in my heart of hearts I was a bit sad by it.

“I mean, I think she found me and the significance of what had happened with John and the timing a bit hard to take.

“I love the time I had with Sean and I’d love to see him again, if only to show him those photographs and say ‘do you remember this?’”

Andy is currently on tour with ‘Music Majors’ (launched by Julia Parsons), where he has been sharing his extraordinary stories throughout his career, from interviewing Elton John to kicking back with footballer George Best.

On stage, at his dress rehearsal in Shoreham, Andy reveals to the audience, for the first time, his secret meeting with Sir Paul McCartney.

Shortly after John’s death, Andy received a call from George Martin asking him to pop by the studio. Without hesitation he agreed.

Upon arrival, he was greeted by two empty chairs – one for him and the other for Paul.

Andy said that because he was the last person to interview John, Paul wanted to know if the fellow ex-Beatle had said, at any point during his time with Andy, that he still loved him.

In an emotional conversation, Andy reassured Paul that John did love him despite their differences in the past.

To this day, I can see that Andy is still haunted by the horrific events that followed John’s interview, but his open and honest discourse with me and the audience that night seemed to be therapeutic for him, and for us in a way.

An insightful, funny and unforgettable experience – if you would like to catch Andy Peebles’ full show, visit www.musicmajors.co.uk for more details.