Considered one of a dwindling band of influential and highly respected radio presenters who embraced music of all genres, Peter Young, who has died aged 67, was described as a legend by Jazz FM after 27 years with the station.
PY, as he was known to friends and colleagues, was a genuine professional who championed quality soul, jazz, gospel, funk and rhythm and blues, during a musical career which embraced the BBC, Capital Radio and finally Jazz FM. Although he was deeply serious about the music he played and presented, friends and colleagues remember him as being both hilarious and self-effacing on air.
At Jazz FM’s 1990 launch,Young was one of its first DJs, with colleagues Gilles Peterson, Jez Nelson Helen Mayhew and Chris Phillips. But it was at Capital Radio that he created his definitive ‘Soul Cellar,’ which has run on various networks for 31 years.
Until retiring last year from his regular Jazz FM Saturday afternoon slot, his enthusiasm was unwavering. Apart from presenting the all-time greats across the decades, he was constantly on the lookout for new music. He said: “My taste is really broad. I choose what I play so I make my own decisions. There’s room for everything. But if you try to play to anoraks and your fans only you’ll end up with a very loyal but small audience. Most people like to hear a tune they know in among the rare grooves and new releases.”
He took his DJ role very seriously, and had no time for obsessiveness or flippant, obsequious chat that reduced musical airtime. When the term DJ was coined in 1935 by Walter Winchell, it reflected, or perhaps anticipated the need for well curated music, old and new. Well in line with this tradition, Peter Young kept an open mind. “Everyone is different and brings something unique to the table,” he said.
A modest personality, Peter Young was considered an important influence in UK radio circles, and among lovers of jazz, funk, Latin and soul.
Born and brought up in Middlesex, he was educated at boarding school in Taunton and bought his first record, Fingertips by Stevie Wonder in 1963. He recalled how his parents Nellie and Fred Young, whom he described as “decidedly old-school,”could just about tolerate the Beatles’ Yesterday. His first memory was Jack Jackson’s Record Roundabout on the former Light Programme, and this early attachment persisted as Jackson became one of his favourite broadcasters. Driven by the sounds of the 60s,Young joined Butlins in Skegness as a redcoat and DJ, then in 1973 worked for the United Biscuits Network, broadcasting to workers in factories. Two years later saw his move to Capital Radio, where he devised ‘Soul Cellar’ during the August Bank Holiday of 1979. It became his landmark: a highly influential show promoting R&B music of Black America, mainly from the late 50s through to the early 80s, featuring the golden era of the 60s and 70s, Motown, Stax, Atlantic, Chess, Philadelphia and some smaller labels from the Southern States.
Young joined Jazz FM in 1990 until 2001, when he worked for BBC London, returning to Jazz FM in 2003, after a call from the station ‘out of the blue’ inviting him to continue his show with its now legendary ‘Soul Cellar.’ It proved so popular that later that year he was asked to extend ‘Soul Cellar’ by an additional half an hour. It was through music that he met his beloved life partner Elaine Marks, a trained classical pianist, and they formed a close bond over 24 years together with their three German Shepherd dogs,Lucy, Rudolf and Bruno.
As a signal of his depth and knowledge of popular music, Peter shared his tastes with sound archivists and music historians, all people of a serious bent. His regret was that the mainstream often let listeners down.
“Most of my heroes are either dead or off the air,” he reflected. But he refused to be drawn on whether BBC radio programming avoided giving airtime to new music. “It’s down to who shouts the loudest,”he admitted. In May 2005, PY played his last ‘Soul Cellar’at Jazz FM, before moving to Smooth FM in June 2005, the same station run under a different banner. When the station changed ownership in 2007 he agreed to continue ‘Soul Cellar.’
Many admirers who paid tribute to him on social media refer to his massive influence on their music tastes, and careers, describing him as a mentor, hero and friend.
As a mark of respect, Jazz FM played a tribute audio package during its slot at the International Radio Festival in Malta shortly before his death. His partner Elaine, who survives him, played Miles Davis and soul music on the piano at his funeral.
Peter Young: born August 12, 1951. Died November 1, 2018,