A series of records owned by legendary DJ John Peel – once branded by NME as “the king of the live session” – will be sold at an auction in London next month.
Before his death in 2004, Peel amassed a weighty collection spanning over 26,000 LPs, 40,000 seven-inch singles and countless CDs. A selection of those, as well as various items of memorabilia, will be auctioned off at Bonhams’ Knightsbridge location on Tuesday June 14. It takes place a week before the 50th anniversary of Glastonbury, which has long honoured Peel with a stage named in his honour.
According to a press release, the records on offer were “carefully selected by the family, whist retaining the integrity of the John Peel Record Collection”.
Key pieces in the lot include an annotated mono pressing of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Two Virgins’ LP (which holds an estimated value of £15,000-20,000), a promotional album signed by The Rolling Stones (£6,000-8,000), a copy of the rare Marc Bolan album ‘Hard On Love’ (£5,000-6,000) and a copy of ‘Queen II’ that comes with a letter hand-written to Peel by Freddie Mercury (£1,000-1,500).
In the way of merchandise, Peel’s estate are offering up a handful of his ultra-rare posters – including one for Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’ valued at £3,000-4,000) – a five-page letter from David Bowie that features a series of original sketches (worth £3,000-4,000), and his ‘93 NME Award for Godlike Genius (£800-1,200).
In a statement shared with the announcement of the sale, the Ravenscroft family commented: “By virtue of the role he played in it, John/Dad was in a position to have access to many of the most celebrated people and events in the history of popular music. This is reflected in a wealth of souvenirs he collected throughout his life.
“He had not only a voracious appetite for vinyl, but a keen sense of what memorabilia, ephemera and correspondence might find an interested audience in decades to come (though it could be argued that this was achieved by a strategy of keeping almost everything that crossed his path).
“In going through the accumulation of 40 years of pop music moments, we decided that some of the most interesting items might find a home, with fans of his programme or of the artists whose music he played. Bonhams have assisted us to carefully select what is being offered for sale, and we hope these items find the attention and appreciation that we’re sure John/Dad would feel they warranted.
“We had no desire to split up his beloved record collection but have included in the sale a selection of particularly rare or unique records that do not take away from the integrity of his archive.”
Katherine Schofield – the director of Bonhams’ Popular Culture department – added that Peel “had an incredible impact on the new music landscape”, and declared that “without his passionate advocacy of emerging talent, generations of music lovers may never have heard the sounds of The Fall, The Undertones, The Sex Pistols, and countless others”.
She continued: “This collection, offered directly by the family, comprises some of Peel’s most collectible and rare records, spanning decades in music – many of which are accompanied by letters from the artists or their management. A number of the test-pressings in this collection were the source of the first airplay for landmark songs.”
In 2012, Peel’s record collection was made into an interactive online museum. It came part of The Space, an experimental service organised and funded by the Arts Council and the BBC.
In 2020, nearly 1,000 classic sets performed for the John Peel Sessions series – aired on BBC Radio 1 across his 37-year tenure at the station – were catalogued and made available online. Throughout the years, Peel had overseen more that 4,000 live sessions by over 2,000 artists.
One of the official releases of the sessions came in 2005. In a review of ‘The Complete John Peel Sessions’, NME wrote: “These Peel Sessions are a chronicle of their scorched-earth policy that spanned the five years of the late-’80s when rock was reborn in a placenta of white noise.”