John Peel: Demos & Donts

John Peel

Extract from the autobiography Margrave Of The Marshes by John Peel with members of his family…

“Disposing of the demos is just about the most depressing aspect of what we’ll laughingly call ‘my work.’ They come, in the main, to the BBC address and from all over the world. There was one from Peru in ysterday’s mail here at home. A few weeks ago, in the spirit of research, I counted how many demos had come in that day. There were 158. Now, assuming each one to be 15 minutes long, that’s 100 hours of listening out of a week containing 168 hours. Deducting from that the number of hours spent sleeping or trying to get to sleep (56), that leaves 12 hours a week for easting, drinking, going to the lavvy, watching TV, listening to records, typing running-orders, looking in wonder at our grandson Archie, and dancing naked in the copse next to our house. Common sense would tell you this means that not every demo gets heard.

Last night I was moodily carrying boxes of CDs – most heard, some unheard, all at least a year old – to the skip in the driveway. Amongst these are letters from and photographs of the bands. These letters make you want to listen to their music again, hoping against hope that you’d missed something the first time, that you’d be able to phone right away and ask them whether the band was still together and whether they’d mind if you played a track on the radio. Sometimes I get to do this, but not often. So, I’m sorry, Mip, Autolump, Amber Views, What’s That?, 84 Days, Bitten By A Monkey, Wake-Up Call, Pocket Gods and thousands of others. I hope – I really do hope that one of these days you’ll be able to visit me in the Stowmarket Home for the Bewildered and shout ‘Listen, you old twat. You were wrong about us.’

Finally, as a service to aspiring musicians, Louise Kattenhorn, currently my Radio 1 producer, and I are working on a list of things not to write in any press release you might be planning to include with your demos. For now, consider these: avoid the word ‘jazz’, don’t claim a lifelong admiration for the New York Dolls, the MC5 or the Stooges (this will mean you are almost certainly either Swedish or German, wear leathers and are in your late thirties) and, if possible, don’t have a saxophone player in your band. That should be enough to get you thinking, I imagine…”


You can read Simon Garfield’s thoughtful review of Margrave Of The Marshes in The Observer here and order the book in paperback from Waterstones here.

Margrave Of The Marshes - click to buy in paperback

Tom Robinson

London-based broadcaster & songwriter, born 1950. His best known songs are 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Glad To Be Gay and War Baby; he has also co-written songs with Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché. Read More...


  1. Nice share Tom! I am luckily enough, old enough to remember being able to tune into his shows and still have a few cherished live sets he hosted from Glastonbury 1996 alongside Blue Jam the weird Chris Morris radio story and musoc exploration.
    I suppose you can heavily relate to this article too!


  2. Lovely reading this again Tom. I may have to get the book out and give it another read. I can’t believe how long it’s been since the last time.

  3. Paul Bell

    Neil M sat here looking at my bookshelf thinking the same….my god I’m actually going to read a real book once more!!! Thanks Tom and thank you John Peel 😁

  4. Tim J

    Brilliant & funny! Very honoured to say I (just once) made it through his demo filter in the early 80’s. He played our single made a reassuringly derogatory comment about the sound of timbales in the fade out (!!) and my my moment in the sun was over….. Thanks for evoking the memories Tom

  5. Darren

    Love this quote. When put like this it’s frightening how many bands out have potentially been missed or simply not listened to on the strength of a bio or a photo or a logo.

    This is dated, obviously, with the passing of John a number of years ago and the mention of CDs, bios and press photos. I don’t know whether the much more faceless internet submission / ’email an MP3′ is a great leveller for all bands (solely relying on the music) or whether it’s made it harder and harder to stand out.

  6. Good excerpt Tom! I know for a fact that some of my demos would have gone that way. I sent John many cassettes! The key imho is, to “keep on keeping on”!

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