By Mary Chang on Wednesday, 29th May 2013 at 11:00 am
Didn’t catch the first part of my interview in Liverpool with 6music’s Chris Hawkins? No worries, you can read it here.
6music’s Chris Hawkins is quick to give thanks to the many people who listen to his 6music show online: “We have a strong and I’m very happy to say very loyal online audience. From Australia and the States too. That’s quite cool, it adds another dimension to the programme.” I explain that if there was a way I could get 6music on my car radio, I would, but for now, I’m limited to listening to the station on my computer, to which he laughs.
He understands this. “Oh, the messages we get all the time from American listeners, ‘thank god for 6music because we have nothing like that here, everything here is Clear Channel owned and samey’. I feel very lucky to work at 6music, sometimes I have to pinch myself and think, ‘I can’t believe I’m working at the radio station that I would choose to listen to’. You know, it’s a great privilege, and it’s as great to work there as you would hope or expect it to be, which I don’t think is always the case. But behind the scenes, it’s as good as it is with what you hear out of those speakers. And as I say, the online audience adds that weird dimension of a morning programme, because of course it’s often nighttime for some, or the middle of the night for people who can’t sleep, or it’s drivetime in Hong Kong, for example. That turns it (the show) absolutely on its head!”
A topic that came up during the radio plugging session was how 6music was successfully saved from the BBC’s axe not just by the presenters’ own intervention but the actions of their loyal listeners. I asked Chris from his perspective what it felt like when all of this was going down. “There’s sort of a point of mixed emotions, because the threat to the radio station was a threat to something that I and my colleagues that worked at 6music loved. Everyone that works at 6music is incredibly, ridiculously passionate about the radio station. So that first and foremost was the priority, to work with the listeners as much as possible to save this amazing radio station.
“But then of course it’s your livelihood as well, another important factor, with your family and living. It was an incredibly hard and dark time. But then this amazing listener reaction, revolt and rebellion, it’s like a fairy tale. And the ending, well, it has been a fairy-tale ending. Two years down the line, and audience figures are fantastic, I think the station sounds better than it ever has done, and it’s got great health for the future.”
Chris believes there is a huge consequence on bands specifically of having 6music’s operations no longer solely based around London: “Now that 40% of the station (programmes) is done outside of London, I think it’s a really positive message that the BBC is sending out, that there’s a world outside of London, there are gigs outside of London, that bands don’t need to move to London to get noticed or get heard. When you physically know that a radio station like 6music has a Manchester base, psychologically for anyone who isn’t trying to forge a music career in London, psychogically it’s great to know that there are producers and DJs based in the North West. I think it’s fantastic.”
I go back to his picks from the earlier session for the acts he believes will be the Next Big Thing. New York punks Parquet Courts, who had an astonishing hype build up around them from this year’s SXSW, are one of them. “Parquet Courts, they are just ridiculous, they do all the things that I said earlier (in the session) not to do. They don’t have a Twitter, you can’t find anything about them on Facebook.” I surmise that maybe it’s part and parcel of wanting to be mysterious, which works for some bands but not all of them. “But there’s a fine line between wanting to be mysterious…they (Parquet Courts) provide just enough information, cleverly on a very DIY Web site, on one page, everything you need to know.
“I absolutely adore Chasing Grace. They’re an amazing duo from London…Hertfordshire. They are an indie, almost rooted in folk band, but they also have this kind of dubstep link that’s getting them airplay on 1Xtra and will get on Radio1 as time goes on. They’ve got a record deal with Island now, they’re young guys, really young, really smart, and what they’re doing is painfully of the now. It’s what could be the next big thing. I think they’re fantastic… It’s brilliantly produced, and brilliantly polished, and the buildup has been just right for them, so they’re just starting to make their way. Very soon everyone will know about them.
“There is also a band signed to Mumford and Sons‘ label Communion, they’re called Bear’s Den.” I stop for a moment and smile, explaining to Chris that I’d met the band’s producer, Kris Harris, lead singer of Isle of Sheppey band Story Books, at this year’s SXSW. When I explain that Story Books were one of my highlights of SXSW and he should have a listen to them, he lights up with the mention of such a connection. “I will do (check them out), I love links like that! Communion seems such a tight-knit community. Bear’s Den, I love them, I look forward to hearing much more from them. I think there’s a lot more to come.” Another pick from Chris is Chelmsford’s Wild Combination, “who are electro, very different from that kind of (folk) sound…punchy, sharp, hard in places, but very, very catchy. I would search them out, if you’re vaguely into anything synth-y and electro-ey.”
And there you have it: a couple of bands recommended personally by the Hawk for you to check out. Really, there wouldn’t have been a better way to end this interview. In the radio plugging session earlier that day that Chris was a panelist on, there was much talk about how bands still can get airplay on radio stations like 6music if they submit demos – either as CDRs clearly labelled with the band and track names or emailed as downloadable links with all the information a presenter might need – and catch the eyes and ears of one of their presenters. It’s not just wishful thinking that happens inside the minds of bands. It does happen. Chris, along with a whole army of presenters across Britain, are dedicated to finding the best new music and making sure it will be heard. I for one will always be indebted to Chris and 6music for changing my life, and I hope his and their mission will continue for generations to come and benefit from.
I’d like to thank Chris very much for his time in Liverpool so we could sort this interview. Cheers!
By Mary Chang on Tuesday, 28th May 2013 at 11:00 am
At this year’s conference portion of Liverpool Sound City 2013, there were loads of sessions I was interested in sitting in on, including one with the unusual title of ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’. A strange mouthful of words, but the panel consisted of some very important heavy hitters from the BBC, last.fm, and Xfm and they were going to discuss how bands could get their music proper radio airplay, something that I’ve always felt would be a beneficial real world extension to all the promotion we do of new bands at TGTF. Unfortunately, the timing of the session coincided with another one that both John and I said we probably should attend – one on how to start creative and digital businesses, should we one day decide to go entirely business legit full time with TGTF – and I recall questioning my Twitter following which they thought was better to attend. Who else should reply to my Tweet but BBC 6music’s own Chris Hawkins? Taken aback by a great of the radio station that has changed the way I’ve viewed music in the last 5 years, it was no contest which session I would attend.
I found the discussion itself very intriguing, on how presenters and producers of radio channels view the radio business these days and how despite illegal downloading affecting record label bottom lines and band profits, radio is surviving – and indeed thriving! – when listeners tune into their favourite programmes and put their faith in their beloved presenters. I was very pleased that before I left America, Mr. Hawkins helpfully agreed to a chat with me when we were in Liverpool. I had to wait a while as the masses went up to Chris to say what big fans they were of his, to give him demos in the hopes that he’d listen to them, to ask for advice on how to make it in the radio industry.
I felt somewhat awful, dragging him away from a well-deserved drinks with the others in his crew, but he was such an affable chap to speak with in the bar of the Hilton Liverpool, my worries vanished into thin air. 6music, as many of you know, is my audio lifeline to Britain during my working day, and it’s such an important part of my daily life, I really do not know how I would have coped these past couple of years without it. While I was on holiday in Britain for 3 weeks this May, I couldn’t listen to it at all in any sort of regular schedule because my laptop charger broke 4 days into the trip; to say that I felt lost without my beloved 6 is a huge understatement. I was very pleased to be able to speak with Chris about his work, especially considering that he has championed my friends Van Susans and the Crookes in recent times. This was the first time he attended Sound City and he says he’s been convinced, maybe in some small part by me but surely by the strength of the sessions and the industry people who do make it up to Liverpool, that it’s an event he will attend for sure in future years.
I always thought that being the first presenter in the morning must be a difficult task; I know in Washington, if I’m having a bad commute into work, my eyes are shooting poison arrows into the radio console on my dashboard, and not because I’m mad at whoever presenting, it’s just the situation. So I really wanted to know from Chris how he felt presenting so early in the day. “There is no greater relationship with your audience, with your listeners than first thing in the morning, because you’re all very much in it together. The relationship is like being part of the family with your audience. No-one likes getting up at half past 3 in the morning, which is what I have to do. But once I’m at work, in the studio, I’m as excited about doing the show at that time of the day as I would be doing it at any other time of day.
But I think you have to tailor what you do to what your audience is doing. You’re waking up with your audience. I think the iPlayer and Listen Again facilities are great, but I always think morning shows sound very out of context if you’re listening to them in broad daylight, whereas when I’m starting in the morning, it’s dark outside, and over the course of the 2-hour show, people are opening their curtains, getting in the shower, having their breakfast. And that routine doesn’t change much. So we try not to change the show too much, because we want the audience to know where they’re at any given time, as much as they have their routines. So we want to fit in with them, to have them work their mornings to ideally around the songs and junctions we have on the show.”
I also was curious how a Shropshire lad was fitting in up north, now that his show has moved from London to MediaCity in Manchester. “I lived in London for 15 years, having worked in Western House and then previously at Marylebone High Street, which is where GLR, Greater London Radio was, where I’d come down to London to work there, because it was a radio station with the likes of Danny Baker, Chris Evans, Chris Morris had all worked there, a great radio station that still has a very important piece of a lot of people’s hearts. And then, Western House for 10 years? And then MediaCity, which is an incredible BBC development in the North West.
“It’s unbelievable, the show has gone from strength to strength since we’ve moved. It was a great fresh start for me, and it’s great not least there’s a window in the studio, which is actually very unusual. We can actually see outside! It’s not a boxed room, which is very common in radio and you can actually see through a window what is going on in the real world outside your little booth. And it’s been a fantastic year to be based in the North West, you can become very London-centric and end up talking about tubes and things that outside of London have any concept about. The tube is unique to London, and the things you do in London are very different than the way people’s lives are outside of it.”
Check back here on TGTF for the exciting conclusion of my interview with Chris Hawkins, which posts tomorrow.
By Mary Chang on Friday, 3rd August 2012 at 4:00 pm
Earlier this week, Steve Lamacq played host to 2 very special Blur live sets at Maida Vale. One was filmed for and broadcast on 6music on Wednesday night; the other was broadcast live on a special Radio 2 broadcast Tuesday night. (You have until next Tuesday to Listen Again to it here.)
But for today’s gig video, we’ve got the live video of their The set of songs chosen included the first-ever live performance of ‘Caramel’ and the second-only airing of ‘Young and Lovely’. Watch the 6music performance below. (Note to anyone outside the UK: I realise this is UK only; I had hoped in waiting 2 days, someone would have figured out a way to rip it to YouTube so everyone could watch it. If and when something like that becomes available, it will be posted here. Not all is lost however; if you want to listen to the audio, it is available from 6music Listen Again here until next Wednesday.)
By Mary Chang on Tuesday, 13th March 2012 at 1:00 pm
Has it really been 10 years since the beginning of BBC 6music taking to the digital airwaves? The internet and DAB accessible radio station providing a globally free, alternative listening option to music fans around the world is celebrating a very important birthday, and who better to narrate the station’s history than Steve Lamacq himself (pictured above), accompanied by a humorous animated cartoon. Watch it below.
UK residents can download for free Lammo’s hour-long look back at the radio station’s first 10 years in broadcasting, Steve Lamacq’s Family Tree, by right clicking from this link. Everyone has 5 days to listen to the programme here.
I myself am very much in debt to 6music: while I’m at SXSW, I’ll be seeing and speaking with bands that I could have only have heard about on the station. It offers an unmatched – and free – service so that anyone with an open mind about music can trust them to bring exclusive live sessions not available anywhere else and to bring new and old favourites without the commercial pressure from labels that is all too present in most American radio stations (and I presume around the world as well). Two years ago us 6music fans mobilised to prevent its closure, and the reaction was so strong that it was obvious then and is still obvious now just how very important 6music is to the worldwide music community.
By Mary Chang on Friday, 23rd December 2011 at 1:00 pm
Missed the first part of my interview with Marc Riley? No worries, you can read it at this link.
Something special (or several somethings special) that sets Marc Riley’s evening programme on 6music apart from anyone else on the radio are his unusual features. For example, Marc will proffer a couple nonsensical clues on the identity of the person on the t-shirt he is wearing that night, and listeners are invited to email or text into the show to offer their guess on the mystery person’s (or band’s) identity. It’s a cool way to get your audience involved, and thanks to the internet, Marc can field guesses from all over the globe. I asked him how much freedom he’s given to create features like that. “100 percent. To be honest, I used to have a battle with someone who used to work for the station who isn’t there anymore, because I was supposed to be playing a few playlist tracks every half hour, a couple every half hour. It doesn’t seem like much, but as I mentioned before, the playlist is very small, and there are bands on there I just refuse to play. Like the Killers, or Razorlight, or whatever. So that made the playlist even smaller. Of the ones that I would play, it was a depleted a number and they’d keep coming round and round again! And even though I liked them, it would be like, ‘oh god, not this again! I did like it last week, but not now!’ Then the listeners were saying, ‘if you play that again, I’m gonna strangle ya!’ It’s not a bad record, and I had an argument with one of my bosses, and I ended up winning that argument. And so I pick all the music, sometimes the listeners pick the sessions, Peter (the man who puts Marc’s shows together) help pick the sessions. But if Peter was to choose a session by Razorlight, it wouldn’t end up on air.
“And they just let me get on with it. I think sometimes they get the impression that it’s a bit like ‘don’t quite understand what you’re doing, but we get a lot of listeners’ because the programme does really well. Sometimes I get the impression from some people in management that it’s a bit like ‘oh yeah, just get on with it, I’m not sure what it is you do, but it seems to be working’. But other people really do understand what I’m doing. My philosophy is that you must never, never patronise your audience. I think that’s the biggest crime in radio, I really do…patronising your audience. And I also think if the audience knows what’s coming next, then that’s bad. I like to put things in together because they don’t go together. Just because it’s in your comfort zone, and then you pick something because it sounds good on the back of that. There’s a possibility I’ll do that, but there’s a possibility I’ll put a really ridiculous song from 1955 in. Every now and then, I’ll play Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ because I like it! It’s a great record! I maintain that if the Shangri-Las had made ‘Toxic’, all the naysayers that have a go at me whenever I play it, (they) would think it was cool. ‘That Shangri-Las record from 1967 was great!’, not ‘Britney Spears? What are you doing playing Britney Spears, get it off, I’m going to another station!’ Byeeeee! By the same token, I get people – not many, not many at all – but some people will have a go at me for playing a 20-minute Can track. But obviously I get so many more emails saying, ‘wow, you’re right. Can. I’ve never heard this before, it’s amazing’.
“Our programme starts at 7 o’clock, which is traditionally a time on British radio when things start to get a little weirder. Like even on Radio1, me and Mark Radcliffe had to play terrible music, just the worst, but we used to mess about in between songs. And we know people used to listen in to us to hear us for a laugh and then turn the music down, or conversely, turn the music up and then when these two old men start talking, turn it down. We were all too aware that they had to get rid of us, and it was dead right that they did. But I want my show to be a 2-hour adventure and a bit of fun, not too much messing about to be tedious, I hope. I get on well with the bands because the bands know that they’re only in there because I want them to be there. I choose the bands. They know that if they’re in there, they know it’s for the right reasons, and they’re among friends. So that’s why with Field Music, I’ve had them in I imagine about 9 times in 7 years, and they’re mates of mine now. It’s a very healthy regime we’ve got on the whole of 6music music, and I know there is a lot of mutual respect there.
“We had Wild Billy Childish on last night, from London. And Billy wrote three new tunes for us, just for the session. So nobody apart from the band had heard them before last night. One of them was called ‘Radio Dregs’ and it was a song about John Peel and me. There was a lot of mischief in the song and really funny. And it was so brilliant that he had made the effort to do something so peculiar! Do you know the band Deerhunter? Bradford Cox, he’s done a couple of sessions for me now with Deerhunter, the first time he came, he did a cover of a Fall song that I’d cowritten the music for, called ‘Who Makes the Nazis?’ So they did a session, then went off and did a gig in Manchester, then they came back the following year and did a Magazine cover version of ‘The Light Pours Out of Me’, and then went off and did a gig in Manchester. I love the band, I really love them. Last time they were here, I said, ‘thanks for coming in again, you’ve got a big night, a big gig to go and do straight after the session’ and he said, ‘no, this is great. This is what we do now. We come to Manchester, we do a session for you, and then we do a gig’. The bands recognise that when they come here, everyone’s friendly, everyone’s dead helpful. There’s no attitude from anybody, and there’s rarely any attitude from the bands.
“In all the years (I’ve been doing this), it’s been 21 years, there’s only been a handful of people who have been a bit of a nightmare. Jonathan Richman was horrible. Jonathan Richman, you think he’s going to be so nice. All these Mister ‘Ice Cream Man’ and twee little pop songs. And he was the most surly git, just objectionable. Ray Davies was hard work…but honestly, I’m starting to run out of names now, because people generally speaking are really nice and not grateful, but they’re aware that (their appearance) is good for them and it’s good for us. Everyone benefits, even the listeners. And I’m also aware that there are a lot of people who can’t get to gigs, for one reason or another. Where they live, or maybe their predicament, or they’re too young. Quite often the first thing they’ll hear at the start of the programme is a live band. I think that’s really important.
“I was thinking the other day, since I started at 6music, which has been 7 years now, we’ve probably had over a thousand sessions. Now, that’s dwarfed by John Peel’s magnificent session archive, and John will never be beaten, in every respect in broadcasting for me personally. But the difference between John’s sessions and ours, the bands would go off to Maida Vale with a producer, on their own, and the tapes were delivered to John. He did some stuff at Peel Acres but not much. But of all of those thousand or so sessions, I think all but 10 were in a room with me or whoever who was sitting in for me. They were always live, in the same room, with the presenter. So it’s like a thousand mini little gigs I’ve witnessed. It is the best job I’ve ever had. We get a good listenership, I think we get 400,000 people listening, which is good if you consider it’s 7 o’clock at night and pretty off-kilter. Like I said, Mark and I used to get anywhere from 10 million and up and we had Bowie in session at Radio1, which is something I never thought would happen. Despite all that, this is the best job I’ve ever had, this is the job I love more than anything else. It will also be the job I will be most upset with when I lose. But I’m still here for the time being.”
Beyond the live sessions, Marc has also gently suggested bands he likes to his listeners by simply playing them on his show and in essence, promoting their records. I ask Marc which bands are the ones he’s proudest for breaking them to the British public. “There are three bands at the moment…god, this is difficult. Definitely Field Music. There’s a band called These New Puritans. Their last album…I had them in when they had their first EP out, so that must have been 4 years ago. Their first album ‘Beat Pyramid’ was just amazing, and the last one (‘Hidden’, released in 2010) was just awe-inspiring, really. They have a song on there called ‘We Want War’ and it was inspired by Benjamin Britten. To me, it’s the most important record of the last 10 years. So I am really proud to have championed them. Wild Beasts, again, I think I’ve been talking about them for 5 years now. The second session we did with them, the band said to us, ‘thanks for sticking with us. People don’t seem to be getting it just yet, the falsetto. They’re not getting it’. And now they’re Mercury nominated and everything now [and I point out, they’ve sold out Shepherds Bush Empire]. Same with Metronomy, I was also pretty relentless with Metronomy. I put ‘Holiday’ on, which was the first single from the ‘Lights Out’ album I’d heard, ‘oh, I don’t know if I like this, hmm…’ and then put it again and thought, ‘yeah, it’s a bit dancey for me’. Put it on again and thought, ‘this is a bit wonky. This is good!’ Put it on again and thought, ‘session!’ Funny thing with them, I had a band in called Your Twenties in, who’ve split up now. Great band. I talked to Gabriel (Stebbing), I said, ‘you know Metronomy, don’t you? I don’t really understand them yet, but do you think it’d be a good session?’ And he said yeah, it’d be a great session. So I booked it and they came in, and Gabriel was in Metronomy as well. I went, ‘you’re in the band!’ Devious! Them and Field Music at the moment, favourite bands, full stop.”
We are in full agreement on the potential of Dutch Uncles, who Marc describes as “jaw-droppingly amazing”. It seems to go a bit surreal when I tell him I’ll also be at the Deaf Institute show tomorrow night and he responds, “then I’ll see you there!” I mean, how often do I get to go to shows where one of my favourite radio presenters will also be in attendance? [An aside: to prove to you just how small Manchester is, I was standing by the stage before the show started, and who should come through the backstage door but Marc Riley? Note to self: backstage before a gig, going to have to work on that…] “Pete and the Pirates, I really love them. And the Wave Pictures…not saying I broke them like the first four I was talking about, we were there before anyone else, I think, and have been relentless in our support…Pete and the Pirates, they are the new Buzzcocks, really. But yeah, there’ve been bands that we’ve support that come and go. Someone said to me and I wasn’t thinking about it until it was mentioned, it’s just as important that we give a break to the bands that decide to pack it in after a year, because then they’ve had that chance. For some bands, it just doesn’t really click, they make a good record or I think it’s a good record, or do a gig and become popular, but after too long, they pack it in. But at least they’ve had a taste and an opportunity to shine and show everyone what they’re doing. And if they decide for themselves it’s not for them, it’s a really important service that we offer. Rather than ‘we did Marc Riley and now we’re playing Shepherds Bush Empire’, which is amazing and great. There was a band the Hornblower Brothers, we used them to play a lot and their ‘The Android with a Heart’, a great pop song. Everyone loved it but being in a band is a struggle, in the end they ended up packing it in after 18 months. One of them wrote to me later and said one of the highlights of the 18 months was doing a session for us. So that means a lot to me as well.”
Conversely, I ask him which bands he expected to be bigger than they eventually became. Driver Drive Faster, they were here on Monday, they used to be in band called Polytechnic, who I thought was going to crack. They didn’t fall apart, most of their members are in Driver Drive Faster, but that didn’t come to fruition”. Marc bemoans his terrible memory. “I so wish I kept a diary. The Fall stories would have been amazing. One of my mates was in the Fall with me, and he asked, ‘do you remember when we went to a fairground with Nick Cave, where we rode on the Big Dipper with Nick Cave?’ No, I don’t, because I would have gotten so drunk that night, the next morning I wouldn’t remember my name, let alone Nick Cave. And throughout the years of broadcasting, you know, doing all this stuff with all the bands I love, and doing stuff with Bowie and McCartney…I wished I’d kept a diary, my memory is so terrible. I don’t think there’s a book in me, because I don’t have a diary…I could always lie!” I show my disapproval, saying he shouldn’t want to be like Morrissey and go off reinventing history, which draws an “ooher!” from Mr. Riley. “You know all the Morrissey and the Smiths stuff. Mike Joyce is one of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet in your life, a real gentleman. Regardless of whatever Morrissey says, he’s a real gent.”
To finish, I ask Marc what in his life has he not done yet that he would like to. You know, before the end. He has a quick answer for me. “Cage diving. With a great white shark. That’s the one thing that I’ve not done. Professionally, honestly…I’ve introduced David Bowie at the Hammersmith Odeon. I went into the Hammersmith dressing room, which is in the Ziggy film, with Mark Radcliffe, and he goes, ‘oh hello fellas, come in!’ And then he goes, ‘what do you think of this set list?’ I’m in the dressing room in the Hammersmith Odeon and David Bowie is asking me what I think of the set list. It just quite simply doesn’t get better than that.”
Shortly after our interview, Field Music turned up for their live appearance and Marc put on a different hat, one he became very familiar with in the early days of being with the Fall: roadie. It’s really something watching a legendary BBC presenter carrying guitar cases around for the talent. But that’s how down to earth Marc Riley is. He even invited me to hang out and watch the Brewis brothers as they soundchecked, peering at them in awe from the production room window. I’ve had some very special moments in my life as a blogger, and this is definitely high up on the list.
I would very much like to thank Marc and his producer Michelle for being so helpful in sorting this to fit my schedule in Manchester around theirs and allowing me to come into their space and watch all the magic happening. Cheers!
By Mary Chang on Thursday, 22nd December 2011 at 3:00 pm
Packing up and sorting through the music collection you’ve scuttled away for years are daunting chores for anyone preparing to change locales. BBC 6music presenter Marc Riley knows this all too well: when he and his staff were getting ready for the big move from the BBC Manchester studios on Oxford Road to their shiny new digs at MediaCityUK at Salford Quays, they were faced with a dilemma. “We had thousands of CDs because we had lots of cupboards. Then we were told when we moved here, we didn’t have lots of cupboards. So that was a problem, because I pick the music for the programme, whereas lots of other programmes get the music given to them, because it’s on a computer, you know? I normally put the shows together, look at the shelves and say, ‘play that, play that’ and take stuff out of the cupboards. So what had to do, we had to take all the CDs out of the cases and put them in little plastic slips and put them in little cellophane albums. That took forever!”
I got to speak to the great man on the 1st of December in the Dock House green room, a place that few beyond the people that actually work here have seen yet, simply because the place is so new. Beyond the physical CDs that I think we all would have predicted them having, Marc also had some very interesting things that I suggested should be put in a future 6music museum: “It’s strange, it’s kind of indicative of where we are (technologically). But when I started the job, I bought lots of research books and things. Of course, I haven’t looked at them for the last 10 years because of the internet. Encyclopedia of Rock…and reggae…and all kinds of things, redundant! And whilst you don’t need them, they’re just sat on the shelf, you ignore them, and the shelf gets fuller and fuller as the years go by. And then when you’re told to leave, it’s like…this is going to take some doing. It was a big effort to move out of there, 21 years of clutter.” Sadly though instead of keeping them for posterity, some lucky charity shops in Manchester have most of Marc’s old books. Just saying, if you live round that way and you’re interested…
When I ask him how he feels in the new place at Salford Quays, he’s honest. “I was quite prepared to be miserable and moan about this place for the next 2 years, but I love it. It’s great. The studio is slightly bigger than our old studio, and the bands sound great. The gear is new to me but it’s real easy to use. So I’ve been looking for something to moan about, but I’m struggling at the moment. It’s good, I like it.” I wondered if the location – moving from near the university over to the “west”, in Salford, posed a problem. “Yeah, I just went to a friend’s leaving do, just by the BBC (on Oxford Street), funnily enough. Went out there, waited for a quarter of an hour for a cab here, took a quarter of an hour to get there, we’re only talking about a half-hour. But the bands, when they come in here, when they go straight from here to do a gig in Manchester, it’s just not as convenient. There’s no point about thinking about it, because this is where we are. And they’ll have to deal with it like we do.”
We go back to the start of Marc’s musical upbringing. “My uncle was a drummer in a band. They played village halls and things like that. He used to play music all the time, particularly like the Beatles and the usual ‘60s and the Bee Gees, and that kind of stuff. What happened was I used to watch him play along to records and I just got into what he liked. That was my first introduction (to music), through my Uncle Chris. It was the first thing I saw on tv that I thought for me was T. Rex doing ‘Ride a White Swan’ on Top of the Pops. I liked that, I knew it was something a little different, a little special. Actually, it was about a year later on David Bowie on a show called Lift Off with Ayshea, he was doing ‘Starman’ on it and I was bamboozled and blown away by him. I didn’t understand completely what I’d seen, because at that point in time, I would have been 11 years old and I didn’t know what hit me! The following week David Bowie went on Top of the Pops, when the whole Davie Bowie thing went ballistic: that’s when everyone saw him, that appearance was really what set him off. But I’d seen him the previous and I was already in, and when I saw him again, I thought, ‘I know this fella!’ Never in a million years had I ever seen anything like David Bowie. That was the thing that made me think music is very important to me, it shook me. Bowie doing that made me think, ‘this is mine, this is amazing. My parents don’t like it, and I absolutely adore it. But that’s where it all kicked off.
“Then from there, it was really seeing things on tv, because I was too young to go to gigs at that point. I saw Genesis doing ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ on The Old Grey Whistle Test, and then Genesis became a big part of what I was listening to. I started going to gigs in 1974. The first band I ever saw was Queen, supporting Mott the Hoople. The second band was T. Rex, the third was Lou Reed, and then Mick Ronson…and that’s how I went through a really, really healthy time. A lot of people view the mid-Seventies as really terrible, everyone cites it being the reason why punk happened. Genesis and Camel, you know, some of the prog stuff. But I used to love all of that. Any show that came to town. If I couldn’t afford a ticket, I’d sneak in. I’d go to see bands I didn’t even have any awareness of, really. Backstreet Crawler with Paul Kossoff in it, and Robin Trower. I didn’t have a clue who they were but it was a gig, so I went. And then it was the second of the two legendary Sex Pistols gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester that I went to. Buzzcocks’ first ever gig, Buzzcocks were promoting it. The middle band on the bill was Slaughter and the Dogs, who I used to see play little clubs and the Sex Pistols were headlining. Though I didn’t really understand what was going on with the Sex Pistols, maybe a couple months later the punk thing getting momentum. So I was really into the punk thing at that time. I saw the Fall, became the Fall’s roadie, and then in a few months, I was playing bass for them. That’s the journey. None of everything I’ve ever done has been planned. Everything has been a lucky series of accidents. Lucky for me but not necessarily lucky for everyone else.”
Marc’s history with the Fall, if you believe Wikipedia, was acrimonious, so I had to press him for more information on what it was like being employed by Mark E. Smith. “The drummer in the band, Karl Burns, is quite a character. He had the first ever Fall shirt. I had the second; I made a stencil and made my own t-shirt. I think the first gig I ever saw them do, they opened for Penetration or Wayne County. Me and my mate Craig were blown away by them and then they became my favourite band in the world. Because I was obviously into the band, I had a t-shirt and everything, Mark E. Smith approached n a club called Rafters, which was the first place I had seen them, and he asked me and asked if I wanted to be their roadie. It involved no money, but it meant I could see them whenever they played, so that was good enough for me. I was still in school at the time, I was have been just 16 at the time. So I used to go roadie for them and I was there for every gig.
“They fell out with the bass player, they’d lost one bass player, and then by that time they’d lost a second bass player, and they asked me to join. I’m not a very good player, I still can’t play anything properly now. But it wasn’t that complicated music, and so yeah, I wasn’t 17 yet, and I was playing bass in my favourite band in the world. I was in there for 5 years, most of it was great. Mark just became more and more erratic. I mean, Mark is an erratic character, I know that he is, and he’s gotten more and more erratic, but even at that point in time, he was around 21, he already was getting a strange side to his character which made him quite hard to deal with. And he was running it as a dictatorship already at that point, and he was quite happy to have me and my mates as his backing band because he thought we would put up with whatever he did. Increasingly, I didn’t, so we fell out and we had a fight one night and stuff like that. Then we had a fight in Australia and it became quite obvious I’d not last much longer in the band. And then about 4 months later, I got my marching orders. And then, the rest of it…I formed my own band, I had a my own label, was a record plugger. And none of it was ever planned.” While he says all of this, he has this look on his face, half surprise and half thankfulness.
I am starting to think there is something inherently mystical and magical about Manchester, that nothing ever is planned in this town, but everything is fated. Why? Because who should walk in during our interview, preparing to leave the office for the day, but Stuart Maconie? Not going to lie, I was already overwhelmed sitting in the middle of the 6music Manchester green room chatting to Marc Riley, and then my favourite living author turns up, asking about drinks later at the Ritz. Apparently Marc thinks I have no idea who Stuart is…er, I do actually. Like, a lot. Embarrassingly. I’m kind of a Maconie geek. I know about the Wainwrights in Cumbria only because Stuart has climbed them all, but I don’t let on. I breathe a sigh of astonishment mixed with relief that he knows who I am. I know I look slightly petrified but I’m smiling, at least on the outside. Inside I’m dying, thinking, “oh my god, Stuart Maconie knows who I am!”
After this brief interruption, we go back to the matter at hand, the interview. We chat a bit about the live band Marc has on tonight’s show (the 1st of December), Field Music, and then asked after the Fall, how he got into radio. “I had a band called the Creepers, and I had a record label. I got to know a local guy called Tony Michaelides. He was on Piccadilly Radio, and he was also a record plugger. One day I went into his office to see if he could get me some tickets to one of his bands, which was Happy Mondays. Turns out that very day someone had just left his office, so he asked me if I wanted to be a record plugger for him. And despite the fact that I had a band and a record label, I still didn’t really know what a record plugger did. So I said, yeah, sure. And for about 3 years I worked for Tony, he looked after for bands like Massive Attack, World of Twist, the Pixies. We had the Factory label and 4 AD. So we worked with bands I really loved, like Massive Attack and World of Twist, and then some terrible…well, not terrible, bands I didn’t like, like Hue and Cry. So a bit of a mixed bag. So I had to persuade people to play records even I didn’t like, which is a difficult place to be. So I ended up starting to going to a new station that has just opened called 5 Live, then called Radio 5.
“At that point in time, they were just starting to put together a series of programmes, 5 nights a week from different parts of the country. The one that was going to come from the North of England was from Manchester, and the producer asked me if I wanted to present it, because he knew of the bands I had and liked them. I told him, I’m not a presenter: all I’d ever done on radio was interview Iggy Pop once because Tony Michaelides couldn’t do it, because he also had a radio programme. So I suggested Mark Radcliffe, who at that point was producing but used to be on Piccadilly Radio before Tony Michaelides was on there…it’s all a bit convoluted! And so Mark got the job presenting this programme, named ironically ‘Hit the North!’ after the Fall song. And then Mark, who had a lady who came in every other week just to talk about Manchester and the music scene, they didn’t really work, they didn’t gel. So they asked me to do it, and I did, we got on, and we had a laugh. It was every other week, and then it was every week, and then we got offered a nighttime show, 4 nights a week. So I did 3 of them, and I was the researcher, and I was a producer, but I was still on air. Eventually, Mark and I got a reputation as a double act and Mark and Lard, we broadcast together for 14 years and had a massive audience on Radio1. Yeah, it was ginormous. We’re talking, 8, 9 million a week. Then we did the breakfast show: some people liked it, some didn’t, we hated it. Then eventually, we were too old for Radio1 so they did a deal with Lesley Douglas, who runs 6music and Radio2. Mark Radcliffe went to Radio2 and I went to 6music. So we went our separate ways, though these days Mark Radcliffe is on 6music with Stuart Maconie. So again, as I said before, it was a happy accident, it’s just the way things went.”
As a listener, 6music has always felt to me like a really big, happy family, a group of people that not just know each other but also really likes working with one another. So I ask Marc if he feels this way too. He’s quick to give props to his fellow presenters, with the exception of someone who has departed: “No, absolutely. It is. No name, but there was someone here at the station not that long ago who stuck out like a sore thumb and nobody liked, but I don’t think he liked anyone anyway, so it was mutual. So since he’s gone, yeah, they’re a great bunch. I know Shaun Keaveny pretty well, he’s a brilliant fella. I’ve only met Lauren (Laverne) a couple of times. I don’t run into her very often. Ironically, I was telling the bosses for a long time that Lauren Laverne was so right for 6music and she had to be here, and eventually she ended on the station, and she’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve known Steve Lamacq for a long time through Radio1, obviously Mark and Stuart, the first time I ever met Mark Radcliffe was when he produced a Creepers session for John Peel. And Gideon Coe is a good mate. And then you have the people on the weekend, Guy Garvey is one of my best mates, Jarvis (Cocker) is great, I don’t know them all…Craig Charles…it sounds like I’m saying everyone is great, but they are.
“Last week we all went down to London, and everyone was there. And there wasn’t anyone there I didn’t want to talk to. So yeah, it is a happy family, and everybody’s enjoying what they do. There is much more freedom than anywhere else. The playlist, to my mind, I find the playlist to be a bit small. I don’t have to adhere to it anyway, but the 6music playlist is, by a country mile, better than any other playlist in the country that I’m aware of. And yeah, it’s a brilliant organisation. And it’s only been probably over the last 2 years that it understands what it’s supposed to be. It started off as an experiment, I think it was called Network Y? It was digital broadcasting, what is it? Put on a couple stations. Let’s put whatever we want on there and field it and see how it goes. I think 6music started as a free for all, I think everyone could play anything they wanted really, with no real structure, but great people like Phill Jupitus, Gideon Coe, Tom Robinson. Then over the years, it meandered a little bit, trying to find its feet.
“Then what really focused it was when the BBC tried to shut it down. So that really focused a lot of people’s minds. It does…the threat of redundancy focuses the mind a little bit. That really brought everybody together. Apparently a pivotal part of keeping 6music alive was, I organised a meeting for myself, Guy Garvey, Jarvis Cocker and Gideon Coe to go and see the BBC Trust and a guy, David Liddiment. We had an hour to state the case of 6music not getting shut down. And the guy from the Trust, a really amazing man named David Liddiment, he used to run Granada TV a few blocks away from here. And he was putting all the arguments on shutting the station, and none of them held up. We just completely obliterated them. At the end of it he did said, that has been most helpful, thanks very much. And we’ve since heard it played a large part on keeping the station alive. As did the listeners and all the other people at the station who did their bit.
“A lot of what went on that people don’t know about…a lot of it was very cloak and dagger, it’s a strange thing the BBC, they’re trying to shut you down and kill you, but you’re not allowed to defend yourself. So really, ostensibly, on the surface, we had to say, ‘okay, you keep on with this’, but we didn’t. The four of us went to talk to the Trust, and the listeners went mad, and the people at 6music did an awful lot to make sure what needed to be done, what could be done, was done. So that really brought everyone together. You know the cliché, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger‘? Well, it did. They said we had 700,000 listeners and it’s not enough, and then when they gave us all the publicity for free, we ended up getting over 1 million, 200 thousand. So that really took the wind out of the sails of the Director General and his team that wanted to get rid of us. So here we are, still 1 million, 200 thousand listeners and maybe there are more people who want to hear us and know about us. Maybe there isn’t, maybe there are only 1 million, 200 thousand people in Britain who want to hear us. That’s fine by me, that’s a lot of people. I know when Cerys (Matthews) was depping about a year ago, she’d play a 10-minute Noi track, you’re not going to get that anywhere else! If there are only 1 million, 200 thousand in Britain that can stand hearing krautrock at 2 in the afternoon, great! Because I’m in that 1 million, 200 thousand. And if by any chance we could get another 400,000 listeners by playing Razorlight or the Killers, no thanks. Not really interested in that. That’s me, that’s my personal view.”
Stay tuned for the riveting conclusion of my interview with Marc Riley, which posts tomorrow.