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 . .
The new (2014) edition of Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline was launched in Dublin last night, with former Caroline and RTE 2FM broadcaster, and current-day drive time 4FM presenter Gareth O’Callaghan doing the honours.
The book is already in stock at most large retailers in Ireland, and will be on sale in the UK shortly.
Below are some pictures from the launch event, in which selected extracts from the text were presented alongside archive TV news footage and of-air audio to give a flavour of 1980s Caroline for the 100 strong crowd who turned out at The Odessa Club for the occasion.
Big thanks to Johnny Bambury for this excellent series of shots.
In addition to the new books I am working on, I have written and continue to write a number of short stories which are based around my own life experiences or things I find interesting.
This story was written in June 2012, and had its debut at the Last Wednesday Series writers open-mic in Dublin on the 27th of that month. I’m presenting it here for your enjoyment, and hope to include it in a collection of my shorter work later in the year.
I’m not sure if you would classify this story as biography or fantasy, but it’s certainly a real-life account of how my mind was working on two perfectly ordinary days . . .
by Steve Conway
It’s freezing cold, and it’ll be several long minutes before the car begins to heat up, and the window de-ices enough for me to move, but I don’t mind really. I am too busy watching the collapse of an empire.
As an introvert, I live a rich inner life, and as a writer, perhaps even more so. It could be that the introspective nature and the gra for writing are linked in some way, but whatever the reason, I find it amazingly easy to tune out of the everyday world around me and retreat into a rich and colourful inner fantasy life.
Or maybe I’m not retreating from the world at all, but just looking at it with other eyes.
The iced over car windscreen is, you see, not a windscreen, but an overview of a fantasy land somewhere beyond reach, it’s people ground down and subjugated in an icy totalitarian regime, frozen in its leaders cruel idology.
Like all such tyrannies its must be resisted and overthrown, but choice of how to do so carry consequences. Oh, I could send in the shock troops – the windscreen wipers or the plastic ice scraper – to hack away ineffectively at the frozen landscape, but think of the casualties of such brutal action. There is death and destruction in the rasp of wiper-blade over still-frozen window.
No, I prefer the revolution to happen from the grass roots, as the whispered idea of freedom issuing forth from my heater blower, slowly infiltrates and changes minds, causing the tyrant to lose his grip, one ice crystal at a time, as his empire crumbles.
At first there is no change, and then, gradually the dark stain of change creeps upwards from the bottom of the windscreen. The initial defences are down, the lands in the far south unfrozen, and soon whole chunks of ice start detaching from the mass and sliding down the screen accelerating their fall towards the heat, like defecting troops fleeing their routed armies.
And that tight knot of extra hard ice in the middle of the window? That is the seat of government and it is besieged and falling, and the ruler and his minions are fleeing north to that part of the top of the land still in the grip of winter, but there will be no escape, for my warm ideology will waft its way to there too, by and by.
And while all this is flashing through my head, I am far too busy and entranced in my own imaginings to mind the cold of the morning, or the delay to my journey, and by the time the last castle falls the car is warm and I’m ready to be on my way.
Another time, a different place.
It is baking hot, and I am walking down a dry dusty road, and straight into a 1950s movie. The dust road is arid, it runs through the desert alongside a railroad, and my destination is a forgotton, tumbleweed-infested station where no one ever gets on or off.
In my mind I have wandered into the world of the 1955 Western Noir classic A Bad Day At Black Rock, one of Spencer Tracey’s finest, in which, for the first time in twenty years, the train stops in the eponymous town, a stranger alights and trouble ensues. Maybe I’m the stranger, maybe I’m the secret he’s searching for, but I’m certainly in the middle of a dusty wilderness.
Actually, in real life, I am in South Dublin, walking alongside the Green LUAS line extension to Cherrywood, at a place where it runs for a mile or so through a semi-razed wilderness, a bulldozed land now returning to nature, a site of several hundred acres where a vast new town was planned, but which never got under way before the boom ended. The LUAS trams go whizzing by every few minutes, and I’m getting close to the ghost station of Laughanstown, where the trams stop, but no one ever gets on or off. There is nothing at Laughanstown but a tiny country lane and a single house, and the tram stop built in anticipation of the vast new development rarely gets any custom. There isn’t actually any tumbleweed blowing past, but it wouldn’t look out of place if it did.
Normally on my lunchtime walks when I exit the high tech office building where I earn my bread I stick to the nearby roads, and wander through a local park, lush and green. But I spy an opening in the fence that has previously sealed off the dirt road through the abandoned wilderness and I am onto it like a shot, wanting to explore pastures new, and silent.
The sun is baking, the rubble-strewn track is rough beneath my feet,I am sweating copiously, but I’m in the bliss of absolute solitude. No one ever comes this way because there is nothing to come for, who in their right mind would walk through this rubble on a scorching day, heading alongside the LUAS line for a ghost station that no one uses? And as I walk I seal myself into the world of the western, the 1955 film keeping me mentally far away from the work-day reality I’ll have to return to in an hours time.
And then, shimmering in haze ahead of me on the dusty track, there is a flash of brilliant pink.
For a moment it is impossible to define any form or purpose, but eventually it solidifies into a feminine form, far in the distance, coming towards me as I am coming towards her. The heat haze makes her seem to float, and immediately I am in a different space in my head, the film gone, I’m now living in the lyrics of the Talking Heads song “And She Was” watching this mirage-like woman as she seems to glide this way and that over the ground without really touching it at all.
I wonder idly if there is a song playing in her head as she sees me moving inexorably towards her . Perhaps she hears an indie beat from The Automatic asking her what kind of monster is cresting the hill ahead of her.
More than likely, of course, she doesn’t notice me at all.
She is so vividly pink, the two of us alone in this desolate landscape are such utterly opposite magnetic poles as we come towards each other, that surely there must be some sort of explosion if we touch.
She is female, young, brightly clad and long of hair, blonde, I am male, older, dressed in black and grey, hair short and greying.
But we pass without any chemical reactions or explosions, and after a while she is swallowed up into the landscape behind me.
There is nowhere she can possibly be going. If she was heading to any destination the LUAS would have been quicker, and this track was not usually accessible. She was walking into that wilderness for the sheer joy of it, and as we passed I could see through her smiled greeting the same dreamy look in her eyes as I must have had, and I loved her for it.
I am not the only loner in the desert today. And that, somehow, just the seeing of her, and the realisation that she is there for the same reasons as me, reconnects me with humanity, and makes a difficult work day more bearable, and all this without a single word spoken.
A bad day at Black Rock.
But a good day at Laughanstown.
A collection of some of the milestones in my life, some important, some quirky!
First memory . . in a cot in my parents room, playing cars by driving my fingers around the blanket . . into transport and machinery even before I could walk!
First (earliest) memory that I can specifically date: the night before my third birthday, travelling down to Mitchelstown in our old Ford 100E sitting on my mother’s lap. The alternator/dynamo was failing and the car lights were dimming . . I remember being carried up the boreen to my great grandfathers farmhouse at midnight after we had broken down just short of our destination. Then I remember my third birthday itself, and my Great Uncle Billy telling me I was a “big boy” and giving me a toy tractor to play with.
First book read. . Can’t remember what was first, but I was an avid reader. I was really into Greek mythology as a child, and had read the Illiad and Odyssey by the age of 8.
First girlfriend . . When I was only about 6 I had a thing for Laura from down the road. Start as you mean to go on!
First time on TV . . There exists in the RTE Archives some footage of a nine-year-old me wandering through a field in Kerry picking blackberries, as part of a “Landmark” special on farmhouse holidays.
First record bought . . Jeff Wayne “Forever Autumn” from War of the Worlds, in 1978.
First Kiss . . Maggie from New Cross, where are you?
First dance . . some very kind Co. Clare woman took pity on me when I was all alone at the disco on our school trip to The Burren, and whisked me around the floor to the envy of my classmates. I can still remember the smell of her hair . .
First proper job . . (excluding working in the family business), my first actual job was a week as a door to door salesman in 1982. I must have have knocked on half the doors in Dublin, and made only £13 in commission before giving it up.
First car . . A lovely Fiat 500 passed down from my mother. If cars could talk, it would have a tale or two to tell!
First heartbreak . . Yes, it’s Maggie from New Cross again. If you want to know what went wrong, see pages 11/12 of Shiprocked, Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline. It’s true, I really was that innocent!
First record I played on the radio . . Joan Jett – “Bad Reputation” (on South East Sound, July 1985)
First record I played on Radio Caroline . . Percy Sledge – “When A Man Loves A Woman”
First time abroad . . England for the 1966 World Cup. (actually it was my Dad who went for the football, I was just a toddler).
First words written to start writing the book (that became Shiprocked) . . “The call came at the worst possible time . .” (Later I realised that I needed more background about what had happened leading up to my joining Caroline, so that first line written is now many pages into the finished version).
First Draft (of Shiprocked) . . 225,000 words. Redrafted on my own account to 176,000 words to tighten up. But then cut down to 90,000 words for publication . . that was tough!
First (of many!) rejection letters . . 1993 from an agent in London. It would be another 15 years and many more rejections before I came across Seven Towers Agency, who have been utterly brilliant in supporting me, and in refusing to take no for an answer.
First interview as a published author . . The day Shiprocked was published, I was interviewed by Sinead Ni Mhordha on Phantom’s Access All Areas show. I was used to hearing Sinead interview great rock bands, and was just blown away that she was interviewing me. Forget TV3 forget The irish Times, it was sitting across the desk from Sinead that I really felt like I’d arrived!
First show on Phantom . . November 2000, the breakfast show. I started with a news bulletin, so my very first words on air were to inform the world that George W Bush had just been confirmed president following the final court hearing into vote counts. My first record was Greenday – “Minority” – as good a musicical start as any!
That’s it for now – let’s hope I have many more “firsts” still to come.
Looking back, I can’t recall another year in my life when I have lived as vividly as I did in 2010.
Despite 2010 being bleak economically and politically both home in Ireland and pretty much everywhere else in the west, despite long hours and stress in various workplaces, despite some non-threatening but quite inconveniencing medical blips, despite my car heater dying just in time for the coldest December since records began . . 2010 was a year in which I really lived, in which old emotions were reawakened, and new ones discovered, and my store of life experience grew more than it has done in a long time.
I had set myself a challenge at the end of 2009 to start doing things I had never done before, to open myself to new experiences beyond my comfort zone. And while I didn’t get to the arbitrary goal of “10 things” during the year, I reached 5, two of which were experiences that profoundly moved or enriched me, and a third which brought back childhood memories entwined in a futuristic setting.
Not all of the great things that happened to me during the year were as a result of this self-challenge, but perhaps the attitude it engendered in me of being more open filtered through to other things too.
So what made my year?
Well, some unique experiences came about as i sought to push myself into new things.
Taking part in the Bristol Balloon Fiesta was certainly a “high” point of the year, and my first ever hot-air balloon flight, as part of a mass ascent of more than 80 balloons within an hour at dawn, was a unique and moving experience, so much so that I felt to write about it in purely descriptive journalistic terms would be . . to miss some indefinable element of the experience.
Twisting it in my mind, it instead inspired me to write a short story “A Bristol Awakening” that is neither fact nor fiction, but also both. A very intimate story, it has been received well at a number of public readings, especially by women, and I am hoping to see it published in 2011.
Slightly more down to earth, though involving a different sort of (non) flying, as one of my challenges I put myself forward to the Dublin Airport Authority to be one of the special testers of the new Terminal 2 before it opened. Apart from fulfilling my curiosity about the new building, and allowing me a sneak peek at new transport infrastructure, which I’ve always been interested in, the experience reminded me of aspects of my past that I had long forgotten, and also gave me a chance to get my own back on customs, just for once. You can read the details in my post Mr. Beagle Goes To London (Not).
Something I have never wanted to do, and felt I would always avoid, enriched my life and gave me a wonderful experience when i tried it as part of the “going outside my comfort zone” element of my 10-things challenge. A visit to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, accompanied by a an impossibly glamourous companion, opened a whole new world of experience, sight, sound, and stimulation to me. I enjoyed it more than I could possibly have imagined, and do intend to write up the experience here at a later date.
Pushing myself outside my comfort zone, doing what I would not normally consider doing was one of the elements i wanted to achieve in drawing up my list of 10 things, and I am so very glad I did this.
As the year comes to an end, I’ve so far ticked off 5 things, and have more still in planning, with some space left on the list for spontenaity.
So 2011 should continue in similar vein, and to be honest, when I reach 10, why stop there?
Of course, there were other things which made 2010 an exceptional year for me, some planned, others unexpected.
A couple of things that really moved me were radio related, and did not come about as a result of my challenge list.
Going in March to Ramsgate to do a reading from Shiprocked for the benefit of the RNLI, brought me face to face with the men who came to my rescue on one of the darkest days of my life, 19 years earlier.
Meeting the crew of the lifeboat who battled through a Force 10 NE to come to our aid when the Caroline ship was aground on the Goodwin Sands was a profoundly humbling experience, all the more so because of the warmth of the welcome I received, and the support they showed for Caroline despite having been put through hell that morning and nearly losing their own lives on account of our stubborn decision to stay on board the apparently doomed vessel.
I won’t forget the men of the Ramsgate Lifeboat, and will be making another fundraising trip to see them in November 2011, on the 20th anniversary of the grounding.
The same weekend I revisited the Ross Revenge for the first time in many years, and was invited to join the current-day lineup of Caroline on satellite, which, despite the many years of my absence, felt like a real homecoming.
(I can be heard on Caroline every Monday 2-4pm, Sky Digital Ch.0199 and via RadioCaroline.co.uk )
Another emotional moment came about in May, after I had been invited to join the crew of the Dutch station Radio Seagull, which was celebrating a month long offshore broadcast, 8 miles of the coast of Friesland.
There were many memories stirred by being offshore for the first time since 1991, though the most intense of these was to come on me unexpectedly.
The week I spent at sea with Radio Seagull was bliss, with old memories awoken, and new friends and new memories made at every moment of each day. (See the posts OFFSHORE AGAIN and Seagull Day 1 and More Seagull Pictures and Clear White Light and A Ferry Large Tender as well as Seagull Offshore – The Pictures for the week as I blogged it at the time)
But the most vivid experience of that week came for me, unexpectedly, in the middle of the night and alone, and had nothing to do with the radio side of the visit. Being given the job of staying up on watch overnight for one of the nights, while usually regarded a something of a chore, for me brought both fear and redemption, as I was finally able to lay to rest the ghosts of what had happened on the Caroline ship, many years earlier, when we drifted, unheeding, onto the deadly Goodwin Sands.
For all that the storm in 1991 had been so fierce, and our ship so run down and unable to navigate that we could not have resisted being swept onto the Goodwin Sands even if we had realised earlier that our anchor chain had broken, I had carried with me these many years a nagging sliver guilt that I should have known, should have been more alert, should have done better.
Now, here I was again, and for the first time since that fateful night, entrusted to watch over a ship at anchor at sea, and in the grips of bad weather too. I was both siezed with fear that it would all go terribly wrong on my watch, and grateful for the chance to prove myself dilligent and keep the most careful of watches. I checked our position regularly, I did a full round of the ship and checked the anchoring cables every hour, I saw us safely through to dawn, and I slayed a dragon that had slumbered in a corner of my mind for many years.
The week was over too soon, but I was delighted to be asked to join the staff of Radio Seagull and to contribute a weekly show from my own studio in Dublin, with my own choice of music – a mix of new and alternative music as well as classic rock, with a bit of blues and soul mixed in. Presenting these shows on Seagull have been an immensely satisfying experience for me.
(I can be heard 7-9 am and pm each Saturday, on 1602Khz MW in The Netherlands, and worldwide at RadioSeagull.com )
Phantom 105.2 in Dublin also continued to be a source of great enjoyment for me, and though I had to move away from regular weekend shows towards the end of the year due to domestic commitments, the station and its staff still feels like an extended family for me, and keeps me informed on new music trends.
There were lots of mini high points in 2010 – from an unexpectedly beautiful sunrise encountered one morning on my way to work, to, finally after all my years on this earth, a proper White Christmas.
There was also another experience, quite unexpected, which made me feel like a teenager again, one unremarkable Saturday afternoon at a railway station in an unremarkable British city . . but I won’t go into that one here!
Suffice to say that, for me at least, 2010 has been a year in which i started living and growing anew, despite being at an age where comfort and stagnation would be more usual.
May 2011 have more of the same . . and new . . for me . . and you.
Happy New Year
Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline had the first of its two launches, in London, on Wednesday 8th April, at The Hammersmith Ram, King Street, Hammersmith, in an event attended by a number of former Caroline associates as well as media and a good turnout from the pre-Caroline pirate station, South East Sound.
The Dublin launch takes place on Wednesday 15th April, at 6.30pm in Cassidys, Westmorland Street – all welcome! For details visit www.seventowers.ie