Edinburgh Fringe 2011
In 2002, John Osborne was an avid listener to the late John Peel’s seminal radio programme. He answered the broadcasters request for sound bites that summed up the programme’s appeal and won the prize of a box records from John Peel’s shed. This was duly delivered to him, and its contents played an instrumental role in changing his outlook on life. In this intimate and pleasurable expose, Osborne retraces the steps of this life altering event that leads to his own broadcasting and publishing experiences.
John Osborne is sitting on a sofa listening to Screaming Lord Such. When his audience are comfortable he leaps from his seat, a mass of nervous energy and begins to tell us about his teenage years. He was an inhibited youth with a limited knowledge of music – he confesses that he believed the Spice girls Album to be excellent! His memory of John Peel at this time is that he didn’t really like him and his programme was too loud. The point of no return appears when Peel selects a Smiths track, “How Soon is Now”, and Morrissey’s lyrics strike a chord with him. He then becomes an enthusiastic John Peel listener as the icon’s playlist starts to infiltrate and influence his musical taste.
He spontaneously answers Peel’s request to contribute a witty quip that described the programme, which Peel could use at the Sony Awards, and wins the highly desirable prize of around 150 albums from Peel’s shed. The arrival of these records and his growing love for radio ignite something in him that sends him on an inspirational journey. It begins with Osborne escaping from his mundane job by listening to radio through headphones all day, then collating information from friends and family about their radio habits. Through this he discovers the abstract world that community radio stations can be and realises that his whole demeanour has been subtly changing as the potential of his hobby enriches his life. He sets himself a challenge to listen to a different station every day and this gives birth to his first published book. This was all en route to his virgin broadcast of the unique playlist that evolved from Peels random prize, and the ultimate accolade which, for Osborne, was to reach out and connect to anyone who appreciated what he was doing.
John Osborne is not your usual fringe performer. He’s clearly not in his comfort zone being the centre of attention but he captivated the audience with his slightly bashful delivery. There was no doubt that he was excited about the possibilities of radio broadcasting and that the knowledge he wanted to share took precedent over any inhibitions. His dry outlook on his earlier life added to this interesting tale and there are laughs aplenty – for instance, when initially armed with his new found confidence that he doesn’t yet know how to handle, he plans to ask a girl out to a Belle and Sebastian gig and the aborted attempts are totally endearing. He’s a genuinely likeable bloke who happens to have fallen head over heels in love with radio, music and writing, and these elements are equally balanced in his passionate delivery. In between his narrative, he has a seat and just plays a record and shows some interesting facts about the artists on a screen. Fans of John Peel’s rhetoric will instantly recognise that Osborne does have a similar twang and this is punctuated by his musical choices. e.g Oizone – the punk band that covers Boyzone songs.
This is a really interesting hour. Osborne’s topics range from his opportunity to interview established DJ’s, his u-turn about Radio 1’s appeal to the masses, a tearful family bonding moment, to what’s right or wrong with radio today. The stage set of a student bedsit feels authentic, musical excerpts are not overbearing plus it avoids being boring or too geeky. The age range and full house at this event also showed that John Peel is sadly missed and that there is definitely a place for his style of communication. If you appreciate that warm and genuine broadcasting style that reaches out to you when you’re pottering about at home, you will love this.