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 . .
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.
I was always on the rebel side.
It was Us versus Them, the forces of rock and roll and musical freedom struggling against the older generation, those in power, the corporate and musical estblishment whose music was of a bygone age. I was always on the side of “Us” and would never change. Or so I thought . .
Of course, my friend and onetime Caroline colleague Christopher England would tell me differently. Chris has many hobby horses, and one of them is a dislike of “oldie music” and a disdain for how quickly the new young thrusting generation become oldies themselves, despising newer music from a younger generation, and believing that theirs was the only true generation of revolution. Chris talks about this a lot, but it was not Chris who brought me to see the error of my ways, though funnily enough my moment of realisation did come when I was in his company, sitting beside him in a darkened theatre in central London, waiting for a tech launch.
Chris is my tech mentor in life you see. Even though I have been involved in IT for more than 30 years, and have worked either directly or on projects for the biggest names in the business – Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Compaq, HP – Chris has always been at least two steps ahead of me when it comes to living in the future.
My first ever mobile phone? Reccomended and procured for me by Chris (who had earlier got me into that great yuppie trend of the late 80s, the pager).
It was Chris who told me about the Orange network, which had this unique new geeky feature not available on any other network, the facility to send short SMS text messages. My first messages were to and from Chris.
When, at a technology exhibition in Earls Court in 1992 I tried out a very early video-phone on the BT stand, it was Chris who was the blocky, pixellated face at the other end, jerking around at a rate of about 2 or 3 frames per second (or that’s what it seemed like anyway). Skype was far, far in the future in those days.
It was Chris who first mentioned some weird tech start up called Twitter, long before it was anything other than a curiosity, and at least two years before it became mainstream.
Not all of his playthings went on to success however. I vividly remember a huge, multi-caller, interactive premium-rate phoneline called “The Villa” which he was an administrator of, into which you could dial if you wanted to meet and interact with people. By pressing commands on the phone you could go into different areas of the villa, meet different people in different rooms, play games, chat etc. It was woefully clunky and terribly expensive, but I can’t help thinking back to it when I see some of the interactions on Facebook.
And so it was that when Microsoft were launching their huge step forward that was Windows 95, it was Chris that I was sitting beside in a large theatre or other such place somewhere in central London. I can’t remember the exact date, but a look back at the launch schedule for Windows 95 tells me that this must have been sometime around, or just before, August 1995.
As we sat waiting for the show to begin, I was very pleased to hear a Rolling Stones track “Start Me Up” being played. (of course, prior to the launch we would not have known that this was a planned part of the whole Win95 theme, in reference to the “Start” menu).
I remember thinking that, after years of big corporate giants being very conservative and oldies focussed in their music for events like this, that it was great that finally they were moving forward, and recognising the value of “our” generation’s music, being young and rebellious, rather than middle aged. Maybe we were winning our battles after all!
And then it hit me, and that one single moment changed my whole worldview on music. This was not big business recognising the value of youthful rebellious music. This was my generation, and our music having been around for long enough that people of my age were now moving up into positions of corporate and government responsibility. This was my generation’s music, in effect, becoming the new “safe” choice, favoured by people drifting towards middle age. This was the moment that I realised that, without so much as a whisper of warning, time had played the cruellest trick of all, and now “we” were becoming “them”.
And sure enough, the signs were there. A new generation of music bubbling under that was not really listened to by my generation, the fact that our music was now increasingly playlisted on mainstream radio . .
From that day on, I could see the truth in Christopher England’s polemic about how closed people’s minds became to everything new over time, and I resolved to think and act differently myself. And this was a good time to do it, as around about the same time as Microsoft was launching Windows 95 another giant was rethinking its strategy, as the BBC started a revemp of Radio 1, to howls of protest from established presenters and audience, that would see a new generation of presenters coming on board, bringing with them the new wave of dance, rock and alternative sounds that had been there, but ignored for quite some time.
Later I was to end up at Phantom FM in Dublin, where for 11 years I was constantly fed a diet of new bands and live gigs. That really helped me to stay up to date, and I couldn’t help but smile when, on the station’s message board in the mid noughties, I saw listeners complaining about how the new music it was playing now was not the same as the new music it had been playing five years earlier.
“They are playing crap aimed at 16 year olds” these 21 year olds would complain, “not like when we were 16, the music was much better then”.
Having recently left Phantom to strike out on my own, I’m working harder than ever to keep up to date on new music, and try to feature a minimum of 50% new material on my shows each week on Radio Seagull. I don’t have the dislike of oldies that Chris has, but on the other hand I don’t have the dislike of modern music that so many of my contemporaries seem to have grown into.
And, though it is itself an “oldie” now in computing terms, that’s as good a reason to be thankful for Windows 95 as any.
Wishing you a very Happy Christmas & a peaceful New year.
I’m on-air at my usual times, with some extra hours over Christmas:
Christmas Eve on Radio Seagull: Instead of the normal show on Radio Seagull from 7-9am CET (6-8GMT) repeated in the evening, I will be presenting two individual shows at thos times, so twice the music:
24th Dec Radio Seagull www.radioseagull.com 0600-0800 GMT (0700-0900 CET)
24th Dec Radio Seagull www.radioseagull.com 1800-2000 GMT (1900-2100 CET)
Then on Boxing Day / St Stephens Day my show on Caroline has an extra hour:
26th Dec Radio Caroline www.radiocaroline.co.uk 1300-1600 GMT
On New Years Eve my Seagull show is a special featuring the best of the new music I’ve played throughout 2011
31st Dec Radio Seagull www.radioseagull.com 0600-0800 GMT repeated 1800-2000 (0700-0900 CET repeated 1900-2100)
Then normal show on Bank Holiday Monday Jan 2nd on Caroline:
2nd Jan 2012 Radio Caroline www.radiocaroline.co.uk 1400-1600
I hope you get the chance to join me at some stage over Christmas, if not, may I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year now.
I’ll be back in the New Year with details of my forthcoming book . .
The recent test-transmissions on 1395Khz by Radio Seagull have driven quite a few Google search requests to this blog, so I’ve decided to give a quick run-down on the station for any new visitors, as well as for those who follow me for my other content and might be curious.
Please note my disclaimer: I am a Radio Seagull presenter myself (Saturdays 7-9am and pm CET, 6-8am and pm UK/Irish time) so you are reading an insider rather than an outsiders point of view. Having said that, I also have to point out that all views are my own, and not neccessarily endorsed by the station.
So, what is Radio Seagull?
Radio Seagull is a full-time, permanent, licenced terrestrial, English-language radio station based in The Netherlands, specifically the town of Harlingen, in the northern coastal area. As well as AM coverage emenating from Harlingen, the station can be heard worldwide via its online stream, accessible from the station website – www.radioseagull.com
How can I hear Radio Seagull?
In The Netherlands the station shares its AM frequency (1602Khz) with Radio Waddenzee, a regional station servicing the north of The Netherlands in the Dutch language. Waddenzee is heard from 7am-7pm and Seagull from 7pm to 7am on mediumwave, however Seagull is available 24 hours a day online.
(Radio Waddenzee takes its name from The Wadden Zee, a large area of sea on the fringe of the North Sea, but partly protected by a chain of islands 20km or so from the coast.)
As well as terrestrial and online outlets, Radio Seagull is sometimes carried as a sustaining service on other stations around the world. Currently the station is being relayed as the content of a series of test transmissions on 1395Khz on AM, which are being made from the Radio Seagull ship, the Jenni Baynton. These are scheduled to continue until mid-November (but Seagull will continue to be available on its permanent frequency of 1602Khz, at all times).
What type of programmes does Radio Seagull have?
Radio Seagull features both modern alternative and classic rock, as well as a wide variety of specialist music shows. Some presenters specialise in new and alternative music, others present more general shows. Details can be found at the website www.radioseagull.com.
In order to cater for international listeners in different time-zones, the schedule is organised into groups of programmes in 12-hour blocks, repeated once the same day – so that, for example, a show aired at 3-5pm will also be aired at 3-5am, giving people in different parts of the world the chance to hear each show in their “daytime”.
How is Radio Seagull different from other stations I can hear on the internet, or local stations on FM?
Radio Seagull’s programming philosophy is to gather together experienced and professional presenters from around the world, people who are passionate about the music they play, or very knowledgeable in their specialist area, and to give them complete creative freedom to produce the best shows that they can. Unlike larger commercial radio stations, there is no restriction on playlist size, and as a result the music you hear on air is incredibly diverse and wide-ranging.
Presenters come from all across Europe and further afield to work on Seagull, and many are people who have been involved in radio for a long time.
So what’s all this about a ship?
Radio Seagull (and its sister station Radio Waddenzee) are housed on board a former British Lightship (LV8), the Jenni Baynton, which is normally berthed in the harbour at Harlingen. The ship itself is an attraction, bursting full of history, and much restored since its acquisition by Seagull in the early 2000s, and it makes a wonderful base for the radio station – lots of room for studios, engineering facilities, radio mast, and cabins where crew and visiting DJs can be accomodated during special offshore broadcasts. The station also has landbased transmission facilities.
But the ship is more than just a static base.
Once a year, for the last several years, the station has put to sea for periods of about a month each summer, with crew and DJs living on board, a great opportunity for friendships to be rekindled and knowledge to be swapped, as well as recreating some of the excitement of the old offshore radio days (a number of the Seagull presenters, myself included, are veterans of the former offshore pirate stations such as Radio Caroline).
Who is behind Radio Seagull?
Seagull is the brainchild of Sietse Brouwer, a Dutch businessman and radio presenter who also spent some time working with Radio Caroline in the 1990s. Sietse has a passion for good radio, and a great love of ships, and putting the two together in his home town of Harlingen has occupied a great part of his time for the last 10 years.
Where can I get more info / how can I listen?
The best place to start for both is the website – www.radioseagull.com
You can also see more of my pictures from Radio Seagull’s offshore adventures at the following pages:
If you are a new visitor, I hope this has answered your questions, and made you curious enough to listen.
I can be heard every Saturday 7-9am and pm CET, (6-8am and pm UK/Irish time).
But don’t just listen to me – the rest of the presenters are superb!