Below is an extract of part of a chapter of my next book “Outside In – Everything I Know About Radio I Learned By Screwing It Up”
This chapter relates to 2001/2002, when I did the breakfast show on the original, pirate-era, Phantom FM.
I’m posting it today because I happen to be playing the band in question, this morning, as part of episode 290 of An A-Z of Great Tracks on 8radio.com
This particular track, and this particular chapter, sum up so much of what I feel about music and radio, I just wanted to take the opportunity to share this chapter when the track came up in the A-Z.
24 – If A Band Falls In A Forest, Are They Worth It?
Flashback to 2001.
It is just after sunset on a weekday evening sometime in late summer. I am in the front room of a suburban house somewhere just off the Rock Road in Dublin, within a stones throw of the sea. I can’t remember exactly where, now, but I do remember the excitement of all involved, especially myself.
I was in a house I’d never been to before, facing four lads I didn’t know, who were about to give me a wonderful gift – their dreams, inspiration and perspiration, all wrapped up in that little package of hope that is called a demo CD. They gave it to me, freshly burned and unlabelled, and I was out the door promising them that yes, I would listen to it, and yes, I would give it a spin on the breakfast show on Phantom .
Phantom’s music controllers, John Caddell (International) and Paul Clarke (Irish) were always on the lookout for good new material, and Paul hosted a Wednesday night show devoted entirely to new Irish music, and was legendary on the scene for the unstinting support he gave to new bands.
Once I had settled into the breakfast show, I started to develop something of a reputation myself, not on the scale of Paul in terms of his quantity and quality, but as a breakfast DJ with willingness to put new material straight on the air, without letting my own opinions moderate, and without any vetting process other than making sure that the contents were not obscene. I really believed in what Phantom was doing, and was always willing to give a new band a play, and indeed later developed a feature or “hook” on my show whereby I would ask people to send me in their demos, and I would open the package, and put it straight on, live on air, giving a running commentary of what it looked like and anything else in the envelope. The music wasn’t always outstanding, but it sometimes showed promise, and best of all it made for wonderful live radio.
There were unintended comic interludes too, like the time that a then unknown band called Ham Sandwich left me a CD, and to pique my interest, they included a real ham sandwich in the package. Sadly I was away for a few days when it arrived, so when I did open the package on air, it was to a quite noxious smell . . .
Better still was my dumbfounded silence and quick switch to music one morning when the package I opened during a live link, expecting a musical treat, turned out not to be, as I had expected, a demo from some new band, but some photos and a rather explicit mail from Karen (see previous chapter).
But to go back to the lads in the house somewhere off the Rock Road, I did indeed play their music, and liked it so much that I still have the CD nearly twenty years later. There were two epic long tracks and one very passable 4 minute single-candidate on their demo, with a depth of lyrics that matched the passion I had seen on their faces during our brief encounter.
Nothing ever came of this band, indeed I never heard of them again, and as far as I can make out, they must have split up and gone their different ways many years ago without even the faintest glimmer of the success that I felt they deserved. I can find no trace of them now, and an internet search only reveals a new, and seemingly unrelated Dublin poprock band who have taken the same name – “Milk“.
Now, by any definition of those involved in mainstream radio, my demo tracks from the original 2001-era Milk band are unknown, unplayable, in effect worthless. But I ask myself – why?
Does it matter that these people had no rise to fame, no chart success, no record deal? If I like what I hear when I play the CD, does it matter that no one knows them? If a piece of music deserves to be heard for the passion put into it, why should it be discounted just because it is unknown?
For me, music, once committed from the soul of its creator to the medium of storage, is a valid choice forever, even if it is the tree falling in the forest that nobody is there to hear.
So many trees fall in the vast forest that is the music industry, and so few people are willing to venture far enough in from the edge of the forest to hear them . .
Here is the tracklisting for episode 5 of An A-Z of Great Tracks, broadcast January 29th on 8Radio.com and due for repeat on Saturday 1st February 2014 from 10-11am.
Week 5 of the show, and I continue to rediscover gems, great and small, that I had all but forgotten.
This week’s surprise for me in my own library was “Adult Education” from Hall & Oates, a track much played on Caroline back in the mid-80s, but which I would swear I have never heard on the radio since. I’ve never been able to quite decide if the lyrics of this little piece represent wordplay of the best kind, or simple frat boy humour: “teachers don’t know how to deal with the student body” but either way, this is a slice of pure 80s, a throwback to a more innocent age, and a gem at that.
JJ Cale “After Midnight” another little piece of audio bliss for me too.
Next week, we come to a word that takes us into rich musical territory.
Here is the tracklisting for episode 4 of An A-Z of Great Tracks, live broadcast January 15th on 8Radio.com and due for repeat on Saturday 18th January 2014 from 10-11am.
Four weeks in, we’re now crossing over from the tracks beginning with the simple word “A” by itself, and into full words beginning with A – and Abacab has the honour of being the first proper A-word track to be played.
Between the two there is a little oddity in the form of A-Punk from Vampire Weekend. I wondered whether I should have moved this up and treated it as if there was a space rather than a hyphen, but in the end a bit of research showed me that the hyphenated version of the title seems to be pretty universal.
That’s one thing about compiling this show – it’s helping me do a top to bottom tidy of my music library, correcting any titles that are misplaced, mis-spaced or otherwise out of sync with reality. An example would be “A Whiter Shade of Pale” which closed off last weeks show – I wondered why I couldn’t find it in the As as I knew I had it, before finding that it had been mistitled as simply “Whiter Shade of Pale” when I copied it from my physical library a number of years ago.
And so, the As proper begin – and continue until around the end of April, by my calculations!
Here is the playlist for the second episode of An A-Z of Great Tracks, and there are a couple of entries here that I thought long and hard about before settling on the final list.
The show aired on Jan 8th 2014 on 8Radio.com, in its regular weekly slot – 8-9pm Wednesday evenings.
So, the second show of the series, and we are still wending our way through the very beginning of the letter A, those tracks who titles start with the word “A” – we’re not yet even up to actual words beginning with the letter a, which is a week or two away.
I’ve pretty much settled the running order for all my A tracks – 16 weeks worth – but as always with live radio, I will sometimes make changes at the last minute based on mood or feel, or, in this case, balance (As the programme was airing I added in the Foo Fighters track to provide a bit more contemporary rock, as otherwise this hour would have been very heavily retro – it’s usually more balanced, but the luck of the draw means that you will tend to get clumps of older or newer tracks together from time to time. And as a result of this, a track that would have finished the show got pushed into next week).
A couple of tracks in particular gave me pause for thought when I was compiling the list, and in both cases, I eventually went with my heart over my head.
The first was “A New England” – a track originally written by Billy Bragg, but made famous by Kirsty McColl.
Now, I adore Kirsty McColl, and her work will feature a number of times in this marathon trawl from A-Z.
And I loved her version of this track, which is, to all intents and purposes, the “standard” version as far as most people are concerned.
But the Billy Bragg performance is so powerful, and the lyrics written by Bragg seem – to my male mind anyway – to resonate more powerfully when sung as a male lamenting an uninterested girlfriend, than in the reverse. And the copy I have of Bragg doing this track is acoustic, and really, really punchy. So the lesser-known Billy Bragg recording won out in this instance over the more normal “hit” version.
There are going to be many more such decisions to be made as I go through the A-Z and come across tracks recorded multiple times by different artists – which version to choose? The musically significant or the hit version? original or cover? I think my decision will be made in the same way each time – referring to my heart and listening to how each version makes me feel. because that, for me, is what elevates a track from “Good” to “Great”.
The other hard decision was whether or not to include the 23-minute long prog-rock classic “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” in a one hour radio slot.
Here again it was heart against head. My gut instinct is that this is a brilliantly devised and performed masterpiece of rock from an era where tracks which occupied an entire side of an LP (as this did) were, if not the norm, at least a regular feature of the music scene. Van Der Graaf Generator are a hugely regarded band, still recording and performing today, and this track in its entirety forms an important part of their stage show.
For the music head in me, the track is a definite yes.
However, with my radio hat on, I worry about the wisdom of including a track whose running time takes up more than a third of my entire slot. It’s only the second show in the series, do I want to scare potential listeners away with a very long, complex and obscure piece of music? It would be different if the show was well established, but on the second week . .
But that last point is a fallacy. it shouldn’t matter where in the run of episodes it crops up – the question is, does the track merit playing?
Mainstream radio would never play it in a thousand years (outside, perhaps of a specialist slot). And that itself is an argument for me to include it – I’ve been on the outside, breaking down the walls of mainstream, and transgressing its limits for the whole of my radio career.
Ultimately, it is back to my emotional, gut reaction – this is a truly epic track, a “great” piece of music if ever there was one.
And so into the A-Z of Great tracks it went.
One of the greatest things about producing this series, by the way, is the fact that all of the above discussions take place entirely inside my own head, and I don’t have to seek approval, or run any of this past anyone else.
8radio.com have faith in me to do it my way.
My show, my playlist, and 100% my own decisions . . which is really “great” also!
You can catch An A-Z of Great Tracks every Wednesday evening 8-9pm on 8Radio.com.
January 1st 2014 marked the start of a major new project for me in association with 8Radio.com,
The A-Z of Great Tracks, a trawl through the music I have played and collected over my nearly 30 years on radio, will be deeper and broader than a simple quick flick through greatest hits, and includes album tracks and unreleased material from artists as diverse in style and time as Leadbelly and Greenday, as well as unreleased or unsigned music I’ve played on the radio in the past.
Neither is it a simple alphabetical regurgitation of everything in my library – I’m selecting on average about one in six of the tracks I possess, based on how good I feel they are, their musical and emotional impact, notability, and their contribution to the overall feel of each episode and the series as a whole.
Above is the tracklist for the first episode, which broadcast on 1st January 2014 – it represents, in my mind, a nice mix of styles, decades, and levels of recognition.
The A-Z of Great Tracks is on 8Radio.com every Wednesday evening from 8-9pm. I will usually be presenting live in studio, with occasional pre-records when I have conflicting commitments.
And speaking of commitments, this is a big one. So far I have selected all the “A” tracks due to be played, and it will take 16 hours (thus 16 weeks) to get through the first letter of the alphabet alone. My rough estimate for the series duration is 5 years – and a lot can happen in that time!
New artists / albums are featured as well as old, so the size of the library I am selecting from will continue to grow as the months pass by.
Join me next Wednesday for episode 2.
Suppose I told you I had found a radio station that I had listened to for over a decade, and that in all that time it had never repeated a track? Or that this station had inspired me to many new artists and album purchases, and helped me discover tracks from well known artists so long buried and forgotten that I barely remembered them. Would you believe me?
Of course, there is no radio station that good . . . even the best repeat their tracks over the weeks, while the worst have a handful of tunes on 2 hour rotation.
But there is a place, on the streets, rather than the dial, where I have had this experience . . a backstreet barber – one of those small little havens of masculinity in an increasingly feminised retail zone that is the modern city centre.. There are many of these, often noted for their haircutting or conversational skills, but seldom for their musical depth, but Jack’s is different.
Hidden down a back alley running between Camden and Harcourt Streets, I first discovered Jack’s Barbers way back in 2001, when I was working in Phantom FM, then still a pirate station, based above Wheelans of Wexford Street. Needing a haircut one day, I spotted the barber’s pole down a little sidestreet almost opposite our studio, went in on a whim, and have been a regular ever since.
The haircuts and general barbering is well up to standard, and the staff are fine, but it’s the music which keeps bringing me back. There is musical memorabilia all over the walls, but that can be found anywhere. No, it’s the music they play that makes each visit a new adventure.
Most barbers or hairdressers will play generic pop or the safest commercial stations, but Jack’s plays its own selection of music, and it is never, ever, the same. If you visited once, you might think this was a shop where a eclectic brand of lesser known reggae was the thing, but a second visit would give you fresh indie rock, soulful jazz, R&B, bluegrass, classical or perhaps vintage pop, or mixtures ranging across all of those and more. I literally never know what I am going to hear when I walk in the door, and once heard, I have never, ever heard the same selection or tracks again, no matter how many years worth of visits I clock up.
And it’s not some vast library lumped onto an iPod and left to shuffle – far from it. On any given visit the music has obviously been crafted not as a series of tracks, but as an musical arc of mood, theme, style, genre, or aspect. Time and thought has been put into the selection every time.
I have made many purchases in iTunes which were the result of my enjoying something so much in Jack’s that I have committed a few lyrics to memory, so I could Google them later, discover the artist, and buy either the track or more often a whole album. I rarely come home from Jack’s without some kind of musical reward in my head.
Quite often they are new to me, but sometimes, as with my visit yesterday, they are old, old pieces of music, so long unheard by me that they had passed entirely out of my consciousness. (yesterday’s gem was Madame Butterfly by Malcolm Maclaren).
And they do a damn fine haircut too.
Jack’s Barbers is at Montague Street, Dublin 2.
(note: I have no commercial or personal relationship with them other than as a customer, and they are unaware that I am writing this piece, or even that I write at all)
Delighted to return to the Irish Airwaves – Steve Conway “thrilled” to be joining “interesting and passionate team at 8Radio.com“
Steve Conway is to join the team at 8Radio.com, Ireland’s brand new online radio station, which will also operate on FM in Dublin, Cork and Limerick for 15 weekends starting this Saturday.
8Radio.com is the brainchild of Simon Maher who was previously a founder presenter and General Manager of Phantom 105.2 from its early days as a pirate station through to its days as a fully licenced operation.
Following his departure from Phantom in early 2011, Simon has been working on putting together a group of like-minded individuals with a love of music and radio. “I’ve been asking people what they listen to for a year now and so many people have deserted traditional radio altogether which is a great shame” Simon comments.
“People still love music though so they have replaced their terrestrial radio listening with online radio/spotify/deezer and their own playlists which are by their nature a bit less structured than traditional radio. So, when we started putting the music for 8Radio together, we have gone for a much more random selection. Think Tom Waits followed by Dutch Uncles followed by The Blades at lunchtime!”
From studios in Dublin, 8Radio.com will broadcast live online through its website http://8radio.com, as well as stylish apps for Android and iPhone.
From March 30th though to July 7th 2013 8Radio.com can also be heard on FM every weekend in Dublin (94.3), Cork (106.7) and Limerick (105.5).
Steve, who will be be heard every Saturday night / Sunday morning from 11pm to 2am says:
“I am really thrilled to be joining this exciting project, and to be working with such a passionate and dedicated team to bring this new station to life. In particular it is great to be working with Simon Maher again, a man for whom I have huge respect. I worked for him at Phantom for 11 years, and his drive and enthusiasm never failed to inspire me“
Steve continues “Over the years I have worked for some wonderful radio stations, including Caroline and Phantom, and not forgetting South East Sound the rock pirate in South London where I started my career 28 years ago. I’ve always been very picky about the places I choose to broadcast, as I feel that I do my best work in environments where I feel really enthused and inspired by the team around me. So I’ve leapt at the the chance to work for 8Radio.com, because here is a station that is born out of genuine enthusiasm for music and radio, with a brilliant team made up of a mixture of all ages and backgrounds, but all believers in how great radio can be if it is made with passion“
For more information on the station visit 8Radio.com.
Steve will be on air every Saturday from 11pm through to 2am Sunday morning.