"Why do people always have a go at Belgium? This is the programme that quite likes Belgium." (24 August 1999)
"I'm the bloke who comes on your radio late at night and plays you records by lots of sulky Belgians." (04 February 1982 (TOTP))
Belgium (Dutch: België; French: Belgique; German: Belgien), officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a sovereign state in Western Europe. It is a small, densely populated country which covers an area of 30,528 square kilometres (11,787 sq mi) and has a population of about 11 million people. Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups: the Dutch-speaking, mostly Flemish community, which constitutes about 59% of the population, and the French-speaking, mostly Walloon population, which comprises 41% of all Belgians. Additionally, there is a small group of German-speakers who live in the East Cantons located around the High Fens area, and bordering Germany.
Links To Peel
Some of the most famous "French" pop stars were Belgian, among them Gallic rock'n'roller Johnny Hallyday and chansonnier Jacques Brel. Peel didn't pay much attention to them, although some artists he liked (David Bowie, Alex Harvey, Judy Collins) did cover versions of Brel's songs. The first Belgian record to make an impression on him was Plastic Bertrand's 1978 single "Ça plane pour moi", which was played on the shows of 07 April 1978 and 11 April 1978 and became an international hit. It made #5 in that year's Ripped and Torn Top 13, claimed to be "Britain's most accurate alternative chart" and played in its entirety on the show of 17 August 1978..
Peel was generally a fan of the Belgian alternative scene including artists such as Allez Allez (first Belgian act to do a Peel session) and Berntholer (first Belgian artist to enter the Festive Fifty), as well as the Disques Du Crépuscule label associated with Factory Records. He also featured tracks from an album of Belgian football songs, and on 02 January 1984 played an English-language track by the Portuguese-born Belgian pop singer and actress Lio, at the time a star in France and Belgium, who collaborated on her records with Sparks and John Cale, among others. Many other Belgian artists were played by Peel on his show including those from the Belgian New Wave scene. On his programmes, he would often be very protective of Belgium when critics made unfavourable comments about the country for being boring:
"What's wrong with Belgium? People always slag off Belgium. I like Belgium." (29 July 1999)
Perhaps further endearing the country to Peel, one of the DJ's all-time favourite LPs, "Live At The Counter-Eurovision" by Misty In Roots, was recorded in Belgium, at the Cirque Royal in Brussels in spring 1979.
At Heysel, 39 fans died at the stadium in Brussels, Belgium, when a wall collapsed after Liverpool fans breached a section of the ground containing Juventus supporters before the start of the European Cup final. Despite the disaster, the game was played to avoid further crowd trouble. Juventus won 1-0. John Peel was present at the stadium with his wife Sheila, having received tickets from Kenny Dalglish. They both left the ground before the start of the game. Peel did not go to another football match for several years.
At the Eurovision Song Contest in Brussels, Peel mentioned on his 11 May 1987 show how the city had nice bars and restaurants, however he mentioned also having his car towed away after parking there on Sunday at 1.30am and finding out at 7.30am that it disappeared. Peel then gone on to say that he had to pay nearly £200 to get it back because it was on a Sunday. Also at the event, Peel managed to speak to some members of Belgian's Royal Family, including Queen Fabiola who was talking to him about keyboards and California.
In an BBC Interview: On Liverpool FC, Heysel, Hillsborough, Peel spoke about visiting Heysel couple of years after the tragedy, while he was at the Eurovision Song Contest in Belgium:
"I was in Brussels for the Eurovision Song Contest of all things – which is one of my favourite events. But I went on a sort of afternoon off to the Heysel Stadium, which was near where the contest was taking place, and went to the ground. And there were no piles of bodies, there was nobody screaming, it was a sunny day, it was quiet. And I went to the glass door and kind of touched it, because it was that glass door that sort of loomed very large in these nightmares. So I suppose – it’s cheap psychology and I don’t know what I’m talking about – but I was able to replace the former image with a more recent one."
The following artists from Belgium recorded sessions for the John Peel Show:
- Agathocles: (1 session, 1997)
- Allez Allez: (1 session, 1981)
- Natacha Atlas: (1 session, 1995)
- Front 242: (1 session, 1986)
- Honeymoon Killers: (1 session, 1982)
- La Muerte: (1 session, 1986)
- Names: (1 session, 1982)
The following artists from Belgium had Festive Fifty entries for the John Peel Show