It’s no exaggeration to say that my lockdown(s) mental health has been saved from the abyss by volunteering on my local community radio station.
I worked as a freelancer on the wonderful Radio 210, the local commercial radio station for the Thames Valley, from 1979 until 1984.
This started with, literally, recycling gash recording tape (yes, tape!) from bins.
Let’s step back a bit.
I was a bit of a lonesome creature, growing up.
I had some great times at primary school in Bude. But winning a scholarship to a public school rather thwarted local friendships during the school holidays.
Fortunately, I made some great friendships at West Buckland School, particularly in my sixth form years, which were wonderful.
As an outlet, I got interested in listening to the radio.
Radio Luxembourg was a particular passion – especially under the bed covers in my school dormitory on Tuesday nights when they did the Peter Stuyvesant Top Thirty with dear old Bob Stewart.
Even Radio Two was of some amusement as I tended the till at my mother’s Canal Forge shop near the lock gates in Bude.
When you’re desperate for music, Norrie Paramour and the Midland Dance Orchestra can seem quite a relief.
Ed Stewart did the first Radio One Roadshow at Bude. I turned up hours early and watched them setting up. It was quite magical to me. As we watched the show, it started to rain. I shared my anorak with a pretty girl.At that age, however, I was too tongue-tied to say anything to her. I just returned her smile.
I managed to pick up Radio Caroline (post-Tony Benn) and Radio NordSee in Bude. I loved it.
I remember hearing Radio 2 in the mornings. Brian Matthew used to start with a clip from “Singing in the rain” at 5.30am. Yes, 5.30am – I used to wake up early to listen to what was going on. “We’ve danced the whole night through, good morning, good morning to you” – was the song clip.
What else? Ed Stewart’s Junior Choice. He was a great broadcaster. So natural.
Johnnie Walker. A fantastic deejay.
…The list of my radio heroes and heroines is endless.
When I moved to London I absolutely fell in love with Capital 194. Roger Scott – what a fantastic broadcaster he was! Michael Aspel. Graham Dene. Peter Young. Duncan Johnston. Kenny Everett (again). A particular favourite was Kerry Juby. Also Tony Myatt. I really loved that station. It had such a fantastic jingle collection. Perhaps the best radio station ever in the 70s and 80s.
When I went to university in Reading in 1978, my room mate had the most unbelievably gorgeous sound system, which I was able to use to listen ro Radio 210.
I heard all the presenters in fantastically resounding stereo on my room mate’s wonderful stereo system. He was called John Ross, by the way. Thank you John!
Then my university career came to a hand-brake turn after a year and I went to the university careers centre.
The lady looked into her card system (that dates it).
“We have a note here from David Addis, the news editor at Radio 210, saying he would be keen to talk to anyone interested in a career in radio”.
OK. I said. I’ll contact him.
David was the most marvellously enthusiastic and charming individual. (I was also referred to a personnel fellow at the BBC who I saw and was very nice and encouraging. HE said I should consider a career as a producer.)
Anyway, David Addis was very welcoming. A marvellous chap, in fact. Quite brilliant and remarkably affable. I am extremely grateful to him. He helped me through a hazardous period of my life in more ways than one.
Would you like to recycle some of this tape? – he said, pointing to a massive bin full of gash recording tapes.
“Yes” I replied. Trying not to betray my feelings that this was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to me!
To hear these fellows in the Radio 210 newsroom (see some above) talking normally to each other, after hearing them on the remarkably brilliant John Ross stereo system, was just magical.
I was floating on air as I went into an empty studio to recycle these bits of tape by sticking them together with editing tape….
TO BE CONTINUED.
Fast forward (for the moment) to Kennet Radio in 2020 and my Musical Circle from 7th November, which includes Kevin Ayers, John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett.
I have just re-listened to it, perhaps after 46-odd years, and realised what a gorgeous, joyful record it is. It is absolutely wonderful!
But, I have to say, it was a bit weird buying at the time. It was hardly played on Radio One and it seemed odd. Just unusual.
It was, I learn now, the first “dub” record to hit the charts. It made Number 9 in the UK charts in 1974.
Here’s a little bit of what it says about the record on The Register:
In late 1974, out of nowhere, the first dub hit anywhere in the world leapt into the UK Top Ten.
Upon its release that autumn, Rupie Edwards’ innovatory Ire Feelings had received virtually no airtime on London’s Capital Radio and even less on BBC Radio One – the country’s biggest stations – but the demand from kids in discos and clubs made the haunting, echoing reggae 45 into a massive hit.
And it wasn’t just a “new” artist they were hearing – Edwards, a Jamaican, had never been anywhere near the British charts before – but an entire new genre, perhaps the first that genuinely fused both modern culture and the latest technology.
“I’d actually booked the studio that day to record Shorty The President,” says Edwards now, “and Shorty was late and I had this song in my head to do. So I dropped it. ‘Feeling High’ – and trust me, I was – and Errol Thompson, the mixer from Studio One was then working for me. And we had this big copper pipe I’d dragged in off the street and I whacked it, recorded it, just for the sound. And Errol said ‘I like working with you, you’re always trying new things’.
“So we recorded the song and the next day we mixed it and at one point Errol said, ‘Hang on, it’s different, it’s changed, we should start again’. And I said ‘no, no’, ‘cos I knew that if we started mixing again we’d never get it back. So we finished it and Pat Kelly mastered it, then I left a copy with my partner in the shop I had on West Parade, downtown Kingston. And she rang me that same evening saying, ‘Every time I play it the street block up!’”
– That is a mischievous title, if ever there was one…
One of my favourite presenters was Ray Moore, who graced Radio 2, and also the “ENT-ER-TAIN-MENT tonight on BBC1” trailers, for many years.
He used to humourously refer to BBC TV “repeats” as “a second chance to see”.
This week’s Radio Times uses an even more skilful phrase to describe a repeat.
(I mention en passant that I haven’t read the Radio Times since it used to cost 36 pence. It now costs the princely sum of £3.50, so I am determined to wring every last penny of value out of this week’s edition by reading it from cover to cover.)
Anyway, on Wednesday, BBC2 are showing “Vienna Blood” at 9pm.
Radio Times majestically describes this repeat as follows:
Another chance to see the handsome period crime drama that passed many viewers by. In 1900s Vienna an unlikely duo investigate murders.
I like that: “that passed many viewers by”. Roughly translated as: “no one watched it”.
Anyway, I will watch it this time if only because I am curious to get an idea what 1900s Vienna might have looked like. This is because I am currently reading “Hitler’s Vienna” on the young life of the dictator.
This allows me to say things like “I am finding Young Hitler slow going” or “I am not getting on well with Young Hitler” – the sorts of things I have wanted to say for years.
As an aside, the major thing which comes out of the first 100 pages is how Hitler was utterly obsessed with buildings. In his last days in his bunker, when he should have been worrying about bringing the Second World War to an end without shedding more blood, he spent his days mesmerised by an intricately detailed model of urban regeneration plans for Linz in Austria. The model was so advanced that it even showed lighting at different times of the day and seasons. And he used to show in guests to have a view of it and spent hours staring at it. (Similarly he spent much of his younger days studying Viennese buildings so that he could even describe the surrounding pillars of back doors.)
I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long time, and the lockdown has finally provided the time. Perhaps we should call this “Lockdown blogging”?
Malcolm Jack wrote an excellent music article called “Payday for the kids choirs” in edition #1388 of Big Issue, which was the “Bumper Festive Edition” last December. You can read the full article here.
As the title suggests, the article was mainly about children’s choirs which have sung on Christmas hit singles. A fellow called Peter Rowan is a specialist in gaining lost royalties for those who performed on such records. He has had particular success with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the wall”, for which former pupils of Islington Green School in North London, now in their fifties, are receiving regular cheques for their lusty singing 40 years ago of such famous lines as “Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone”. – All because they happened to be at a school next to the studio where the engineer, Bob Ezrin, had been told by phone: “go get us some kids for this record” by the band, who were stuck in LA for tax reasons.
“I wish it could be Christmas everyday” by Wizzard has proven lucrative for former pupils of Birmingham’s Stockland Green School.
But there was a little comment from Peter Rowan at the end of the article which particularly caught my attention:
The best thing to be is the only session musician on a record. For example there’s a cello player I couldn’t track down who’s on a Beatles record. And I think he’s worth a fortune, because it was one of their big hits, but I don’t think he ever signed up.
This got me thinking. Which “big hit” by the Beatles is this referring to? “Eleanor Rigby” seemed to be the obvious one, as it has a superb cello piece throughout it, including a solo. But there are two, not one, cello players listed for it – Derek Simpson and Stephen Lansberry.
I have gone through the list of Beatles hits and I can’t find another one which has a prominent cello part. Perhaps you know better? Please leave a comment below if you do.
One of the blessings of social distancing is that I have been looking around for films to watch at home. I stumbled on “Lucky Jim“, a 1957 Boulting Brothers classic comedy starring Ian Carmichael.
Despite being a Carmichael fan, I hadn’t previously watched this one. It is a real treat. As usual John Boulting directs it beautifully, the writing of Kingsley Amis (who wrote the novel on which the film is based), with screenplay and dialogue by Patrick Campbell and Jeffrey Dell is superb. The music by John Addison is very lively and includes the leitmotif of “O Lucky Jim” sung by Al Fernhead, from the song “Ah, lucky Jim” by Bowers–Horwitz song which inspired the title of the book and therefore the film.
But the highlight of the film is Ian Carmichael, as James Dixon, giving a lecture on “Merrie England” while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Carmichael made a career of this sort of stuff, but this is the finest example of Carmichael’s wild scenes. A real treat. This is definitely a contender for the best performance by Ian Carmichael and best film by the Boulting Brothers – who churned out quite a few in the fifties and sixties.
You can still see the film until 7th April 2020 on BBC iPlayer and here is a glimpse of that “Merrie England” scene:
The rhythmic lullaby of `North Utsire, South Utsire’ has been lulling the nation’s insomniacs to sleep for over 90 years. It has inspired songs, poetry and imaginations across the globe – as well as providing a very real service for the nation’s seafarers who might fall prey to storms and gales. In 1995, a plan to move the late-night broadcast by just 12 minutes caused a national outcry and was ultimately scrapped.
Published with Radio 4 and the Met Office, The Shipping Forecast is the official miscellany for seafarers and armchair travellers alike.
From the places themselves – how they got their names, what’s happened there through the ages – to the poems and parodies that it’s inspired, this is a beautifully evocative tribute to one of Britain’s – and Radio 4’s – best-loved broadcasts.
It is a great book, enlivened by the comments of and about Radio 4 announcers.
Veteran Radio 4 announcer and newsreader, Eugene Fraser pops up quite a lot. He was a wonderful announcer with a fantastic voice. Interestingly, despite the posh Oxford accent, he is Polynesian and was born in Fiji. His son is the playwright Toa Fraser.
Anyway, it appears that old Eugene, described as “the ultimate Shipping Forecast legend” had some party tricks. Number one is described by announcer Andrew Crawford 1988-99:
(He alternated) line of shipping forecast (fader open) with stages of a shaggy dog story (fader closed). It used to generate quite an audience hoping he’d muck it up. Legend has it that he never did.
Eugene Fraser also used to set light to Shipping Forecast scripts while someone else was reading them. One of his victims was Peter Donaldson who, apparently, managed to read the whole forecast without missing a beat, despite it disappearing into flames while he read it.
But my favourite is this one of Eugene’s glorious party tricks as described by Catriona Chase, Radio 4 announcer 1988-93:
(He) had a tendency to regard gale warnings as convenient “fill” material. I once saw him back-announce a programme, look at the clock and then realise there was still half a minute to go before the pips. Without batting an eyelid, he launched into an entirely fictitious “warning of gales” complete with invented wind strength and speed, finishing with a portentous “expected soon”. He didn’t specify a sea area, and I imagined ships all over the world frantically scanning their horizons and wondering if the storm was headed their way.
I found this passage in a book called “Old Newbury” in the Newburyport Library (which is quite magnificent). It says: “From the very beginning, Newbury was Reverend Parker’s town, named for the community in England where he had last preached, and it was his family and neighbors who would form the core of the new settlement along the banks of the Quascacunquen River.” (now also called “Parker River”).
The destination board of Boston North railway station has familiar names for residents of Berkshire and Dorset in England.
The sign at Newburyport railway station. Newburyport, Massachusetts is a big maritime town with lots of 19th century buidlings. It is very neat and pretty – obviously wealthy. It has a museum and library, both of which bear witness to the migration of settlers from Wiltshire and Berkshire in the 17th century.
The main street in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Newburyport marina fronting onto the Parker River.
Newbury, Massachusetts is a short walk away and, by contrast with Newburyport, is a small, quiet village. It has this fine Lutheran church. The sign says that the church has gathered regularly since 1635.
The “First Parish Burying Ground” is opposite the Lutheran church and contains graves with names familiar to residents of Wiltshire and Berkshire in England such as “Knight”, “Little” and “Freeman”.
The Old Newbury Fire Museum in Newbury, Massachusetts
The Old Newbury Museum in Newburyport
Sign for the Old Newbury Museum.
This finely decorated child’s cot is in the Old Newbury Museum and is said to have come across on one of the ships which brought the settlers across from England. I think it was the “Mary and Jane” ship but I cannot recall the name for certain.
Newbury Street in Boston, Massachusetts, is a very wealthy street with many up-market restaurants and fine clothes shops. It was so named to celebrate the Roundheads winning the 1643 Battle of Newbury. The Puritans who inhabited Boston were delighted with this victory.