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 . .
It’s a depressingly familiar scenario.
A Musician/Record Producer/Radio DJ (delete as appropriate) makes/signs/plays lots of wonderful new music in his/her youth and early 30s. The world is aflame, it is brilliant, there is so much talent out there . .
Then he/she gets older, mourns the loss of all that wonderful creativity of their era, and decries todays music as “shit”.
See the Phantom 105.2 website for the story of Creation Records founder Alan McGee who laughs at the destruction of the Sony warehouse in London (which wiped out the stock of dozens of indie record labels, and artists as well as DVD stock) because, in his view, it was full of “shit” new music which “you couldn’t sell”.
Just like the people who decried his music as “rubbish” when he was busy signing the talent of the 90s, Alan has now fallen into the trap of viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses and the future through blinkers.
Never mind. There is a whole generation of new musicians waiting out there, and these days they don’t even need a record label or the approval of an Alan McGee to get heard.
And I welcome them all. I’m nearly 50, but I haven’t stopped being excited by new bands yet . . and hopefully I never will.
Check out my show on Radio Seagull every Saturday 6-8am and 6-8pm (7-9 CET) for at least 50% brand new music mixed in with recent and older classics.
Every Saturday I present on Radio Seagull, from 6-8am UK/Irish time, repeated later the same day 6-8pm. (or 7-9 European time)
If you enjoy indie and alternative music, you’ll get lots of it, with the occasional folk or country and the odd piece of classic rock. I aim each week to have a minimum of 50% of the show made up of brand new material – mostly tracks from forthcoming or just released albums, EPs and the odd single, along with demos and unsigned bands.
Below is my running order from yesterday, to give you a flavour of the kind and variety of music played.
You can pick up Radio Seagull on AM in The Netherlands and eastern UK (1602khz and currently testing for a limited period on 1395khz) and online everywhere else via www.radioseagull.com
|Von Shakes||Happy Song|
|Chris Rea||Never Tie Me Down|
|Arcade Fire||Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)|
|Juliana Hatfield||Sex and Drugs|
|The Retrospective Soundtrack Players||Send Me the Hell Back Home [20″ fade]|
|Grateful Dead||Touch Of Grey|
|Ida Maria||10,000 Lovers|
|CSS||Rhythm to the Rebels|
|Wolventrix||Wanderlust – Single|
|Joe Bonamassa||The Meaning of the Blues|
|Cheap Girls||Cored to Empty (Demo Version)|
|Dinosaur Pile Up||Birds & Planes|
|The Presidents Of The United States Of America||Truckstop Butterfly|
|The Waterboys||White Birds|
|Rocket from the Tombs||Romeo & Juliet|
|Big Audio Dynamite||E=Mc²|
|*** RS Jingle ***||xxsj-DRY-Seagull ID only ACP|
|Howling Bells||Gold Suns, White Guns|
|Lanterns On The Lake||A Kingdom|
|Samiam||Happy for You|
|Chris Rea||Dance With Me All Night Long|
|Michael Schenker Group||Armed And Ready|
It’s just after sunset on a weekday evening sometime in the late summer of 2001. I’m 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 pespiration, 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 (this was back in the pirate days when we were glouriously un-corporate and unbranded ourselves).
I was the breakfast DJ on Phantom FM back in those days, and had developed something of a reputation amongst newly formed bands for my 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 was always willing to give a new band their first 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 often showed promise and sometimes greatness, 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 Ham Sandwich in the package. Sadly I was away for a couple of days, 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 a demo from some new band, but an ex-girlfriend returning some belongings to me c/o the station a few weeks after we split up!
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 some ten years later. There were two epic tracks and one very passable 4 minute single-candidate on their, 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 defination 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.
I still seek out and play brand new music on my shows on Radios Seagull and Caroline to this day, alongside the better known material, and i still dig out and play, from time to time, the songs of the forgotten bands who came and went unknown despite their talent.
Join me, this Saturday (5th March 2011) for my regular weekly show on Radio Seagull, for two hours of music worth hearing, old, new, successful and unknown alike, including a track of that 2001 demo from a forgotten band called “Milk” (no apparent relation to the current Dublin band of the same name).
And I may even throw in some Ham Sandwich too, though without any noxious smells!
Saturday 6-8am (repeated 6-8pm) Irish time (or 7-9 CET)
or 1602Khz AM in the Northern Netherlands
Every Saturday from 0600 to 0800 and again at 1800-2000 GMT (or an hour later if you are in Central European Timezone) I present a two-hour rock and indie show on Radio Seagull, an English-language station based in Northern Holland, which can be heard locally on 1602 AM, or globally via the Seagull website.
Once a year, usually in early summer, Seagull puts to sea in its lightship the Jenni Baynton, and the crew of broadcasters and engineers live and work together for a period of weeks, but for the rest of the year I prepare and present the shows from my own studio in Dublin, and link across to the Seagull transmitter through a fast broadband connection.
The joy of Seagull is that within the parameter of being broadly a rock station, it is entirely free format, so I have 100% free choice in what I choose to play, and how I structure the show each week. As long as I include a couple of scheduled adverts/promos, and time correctly to let the local studio in The Netherlands insert an ad-break at the top of the hour, the show is absolutely my own to do with as i please.
If I want to play an ultra-long prog-rock track, I can, if I want to put a softer pop tune inbetween some new rock releases I do, and no one will query my judgement. There is no need to “play safe” so I can goas far down the road of new releases from little-known bands as I like. Or I can theme the show on a whim if I want.
Seagull works on the principle of using presenters who are passionate about what they do, and trusts them totally. It’s a heady freedom, and I love it.
Working free-format is a breeze if you are doing a one-off, but can be more demanding if you are doing a show every week – avoiding the trap of going down the same routes too often, keeping it fresh, and knowing when and where you have played something before. Thankfully technology makes this so much easier these days, but even so, I probably spend about 5 hours – an entire evening each week – preparing the Saturday shows. It’s always worth it though.
A few people have asked about Seagull and what we play, and others about the mechanics of it, so i thought a quick walk-through of how I prepare a show, and the finished playlist would be fun to write and put up.
So here is my Seagull show for Saturday 19th February 2011, from blank page to finished playlist.
I use a wonderful piece of software called MegaSeg to manage my personal music library, put together playlists, and act as a ‘virtual studio” when I am presenting the shows. I purchased this rather than using one of the various shareware packages that are around because of its depth of features – you could run a complete radio station via MegaSeg if you needed to, and I find that it has paid for itself several times over in the ease of access it gives me to store and search my music, and the flexibility it allows me in building and presenting a show.
So, looking at the playlist window, we start of with a clean slate:
In the screenshot above, I’ve added in markers to indicate the two hours of the show, and the couple of promos that need to be played in each. At the bottom is shows me the total running time of the current playlist (2 mins 39 secs ).
The first thing I will do will be to select and put in all of the new music that I am going to feature in the show. I generally like to have about 50% of the content of the show being brand new or very recent material. Again, there is no specific rule for this on Seagull – I am free to use as much or as little new music as I like, the 50ish 5 is my own personal preference, based on the fact that I enjoy discovering and sharing new sounds, and that having a high content of new material is one way of keeping a free-format show sounding fresh month after month.
OK, so in the shot above, I have now added in my new music content, and the playlist comes to 1 hour 13 mins, so probably around 60% or so on this occasion. From the current timestamp (the number bottom left) compared to the previous shot, you will see that it has taken around an hour for me to settle on the blend of new tracks I’ll be playing today.
Most of these will be very new (just out, or possibly pre release), some will be from within the last 2-3 months, and a couple may possibly be older, but from a newly released album or compilation.
At this point, the tracks are not in a specific order, I have just placed them into the playlist roughly equally distributed between the two hours. I’ll know better what running order I want once I’ve added the other material. I do however know that I want the 16 minute Trail of Dead track, “Tao of the Dead Pt. 2” to come out of the ad break in the first hour, so I’ve put it in place there.
These tracks are a mixture of album and EP tracks, with the odd single. Usually each week there is one album or EP which I have just bought, and I will feature two tracks from, one per hour – this week it is The Fallen Drakes.
In the shot above we are looking at the Library window, which allows me to choose from the roughly 10,000 tracks I have available (including jingles, promos, adverts as well as music). MegaSeg has a very powerful search function which is instant as you type in the words to be searched for, or you can view the entire library listed by Artist, by Album, by Song Title, by duration, by Genre, or by Date Added (the latter being useful for isolating the newest material).
In this view above, we are looking at the library by duration – this is very useful when you need to complete a playlist to time exactly to the finish of an hour, and need, for example, a choice of all the tracks that are 5 mins 43 in duration, as seen here. I also use the view-by-duration as a good way of randomising the library when i am picking older tracks to play – whereas when viewing by album or artist your eye might be drawn to better known tracks, if you pick a randon time on the list and scroll up or down from it, you will quite often pick up a good collection of varied tracks that might not have lept out at you in the more ordered view.
I have now added enough older material to fill out the the remaining 47 minutes (and it’s taken me a bit more than two hours just to make those choices!). The total playlist length is now 2 hours, 2 mins and 21 seconds – slightly over-long, but that will get cut down shortly. It’s still not neccessarily in the final order though, but I’ve made sure to choose the start track in each hour carefully – I like to have something reasonably strong, and not too quiet to start off the hour.
You will notice that whereas some of the songs have just a duration, others have more info – for example “Wild Angels” by Magnum says :24/5:32/F. This means that the intro on the song is 24 seconds before vocals start, it is 5 mins 32 long, and ends with a gradual fade (the other options are “C” for a “Cold” or sudden ending, and “S” for “Sustain” when it ends on a drawn out note or flourish).
I will need to go through and set this on the other tracks in the playlist – once I have done this, the library will remember this information, so I’l never have to do it again for that track.
In the picture above I am editing the details for Heather Nova’s “Walk This World”.
Setting the intro length is handy, but setting the endpoint is essential. Almost all commercial CD releases of music include a couple of seconds of silence after the end of the track, sometimes as much as 4 or 5 seconds, and it is important to tell the system the exact point at which you wish it to cut to the next track if you are to avoid gaps. Similarly, it is occasionally neccessary to set a start point a second or two into the recording if it starts with silence – this is especially a problem with non-commercial and demo CDs from bands. You also have a drop-down menu for recording the ending type.
Going through and doing this for each track on the playlist will usually take another hour. As the system stores these settings, gradually more and more of my library will be already done, but I’ll always have to edit the details on the new arrivals.
Here is the playlist somewhat later – all track details now recorded, and endpoints set – note this has knocked a full 2 minutes of the duration of the playlist – that’s a lot of little silences!
I have also put in a couple of jingles (will drop in more when I’m actually presenting), plus there are some spots marked “BREAK: Wait for Segue“. This is where I have commanded the system to stop, and wait for me to manually restart it – this is for places where I want to speak for a bit longer, and won’t be using the song intro, and also for the end of the hour, where the studio in The Netherlands will insert an ad break at the top of the hour.
All of this, which has taken probably around 3 hours or more, can be done at any stage, several days in advance of the show if neccessary. All I need to do at this point is save the playlist (which I’ve been doing regularly as i built it of course) and it is ready to be called up when it is time to do the show.
Almost always i will make odd adjustments on the spot as I am going through the show, and the odd song will be changed as the whim, or the mood of the music inspires me to a new choice. And usually one or two tracks will end up being dropped in the end, as the speech bits in the BREAK segments take up some time.
In the end, I always re-save after finishing the show, so that I have a record of what was played, which can be useful to check back on.
Mega-Seg can also output the playlist as a PDF, so here is the final version of todays Seagull show, so you can see the entire list that we couldn’t fit in the screenshots.
So there we have one of my Seagull Saturday shows, from conception through to transmission.
If you enjoyed reading this, why not give it a listen some Saturday?
Radio Seagull – 1602khz in Northern Netherlands
Steve Conway – 6-8am and 6-8pm Saturdays (7-9 am and pm European time)
Today on Radio Seagull I’m devoting my show entirely to music released during the last year (or, to be more accurate, from albums released during 2010, plus a couple of 2010 EPs and singles/demos).
You’ll hear tracks from Warpaint, Cathy Davey, We Should Be Dead, Vampire Weekend, Von Shakes, 6 day Riot, Lloyd Cole, Iron Maiden, Frank Turner, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Joanne Shaw Taylor and much more.
They are all good, but I’d single out Cathey Davey‘s demented “Army of Tears” for special mention, while the Carolina Chocolate Drops “Knockin'” is a wonderful fusion of sounds and funky sassiness. Lloyd Cole gives a glimpse of the alpha/beta sexual dynamic with female mate choice in “Man Overboard” while Heart‘s “Red Velvet Car” is the lush title track from their best new album in 30 years.
I’ll edit this post to include a full track listing after broadcast.
EDIT: Here it is: 1101-sconway-NewYearsDay-playlist
These are some of the artists whose releases I’ve most enjoyed playing during 2010, I hope you enjoy hearing them.
From 6-8pm UK time (7-9 in Central Europe) on 1602Khz MW in the Northern Netherlands, and worldwide at RadioSeagull.com