Flanders’ field

Sometimes, no matter how jaded I get, work and pleasure cross over to such a degree, it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins. I’m not claiming that filling in for Shaun Keaveny at Breakfast on 6 Music is the hardest job in the world, but it is a job. Yesterday, though, the “job” included talking to Harry Shearer for the best part of an hour and a quarter, interrupted only by records, news and music news. He was ostensibly in to promote his new album Can’t Take A Hint, his latest collection of satirical songs, which you can read about here. But Harry is a generous soul, and is more than happy to tangent off and talk about the other stuff from his long and illustrious career, which goes back to being a child actor in the 50s, and snakes from pioneering radio comedy music group The Credibility Gap through Saturday Night Live (which he hated), Spinal Tap and The Simpsons to the syndicated radio show that is still running after almost 30 years, Le Show (which is really worth seeking out in podcast form via iTunes or other means – you can also stream from Harry’s website).

He’s been a fan and supporter of 6 Music since the very start, and, it transpires, used to listen to my Teatime show in the early days as his breakfast show in LA. (I must admit, I’m glad I didn’t know this at the time. Harry Shearer? Listening to my show? I would have had the vapours.) Anyway, I heard about this long after my show had ended, via Shaun, when Harry came on as a guest. After that bombshell, I was dying to shake his hand, so when he last came into the building – again, to talk to Shaun – I frankly loitered. On that occasion, he was in to promote his documentary about the real causes of the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, The Big Uneasy (Harry lives in New Orleans and has a special connection to the place). This is our first meeting:

Our second meeting was yesterday. Because of the Olympics, all cabs are being booked early, so Harry was delivered to 6 Music about an hour before he was required to speak for his supper. An easygoing fellow, he didn’t seem to mind. But you can’t have Harry Shearer sitting on the wrong side of the glass in the green room while you are live on air. This is not a time to stand on Breakfast ceremony (guests go on-air at approximately 09.10 and must be dispatched before the 09.30 news) – so we had Harry in at 08.45 and he stayed until the end of the show at 10.00, more than happy to keep yakkin’, and to add that all-important third voice to Matt Everitt’s music news bulletin. (Matt is on the left in the big photo above.)

Talking of voices, as an illustrious member of the Simpsons voice cast, Harry must dread hearing the words, “Do Mr Burns.” I was trying to think of a subtle, postmodern, ironic way of getting him to do Mr Burns, but I didn’t have to. He dropped into the voice, without prompting, to wish a listener a happy 41st birthday. I think he did it because I didn’t say, “Do Mr Burns.” Anyway, you can listen again to the entire show, including the Harry Shearer Hour, on iPlayer until next Tuesday. The podcast, which includes the best of Harry, is also available for a week. (Cough. It’s no longer a “podcast”, it’s a “download”, let’s get the Stalinist BBC terminology right.)

Oh, and he did a private Ned Flanders for our producer Claire. It’s a memory she will forever cherish. Harry Shearer: one of the good guys. And more than a one-man Burns unit.

Happy birthday to us

So, just for the record, the official left-to-right of the great 6 Music presenters photo, taken before Christmas, and almost definitive in terms of the current squad. Many have asked about the identity of certain individuals after I posted it on Twitter, so here goes:

BACK ROW: D Letts, G Garvey, S Lamacq, T Ravenscroft, S Maconie, N Metaxas, S Keaveny, M Everitt, J Cocker, L Laverne, C Matthews, M Riley, H Morgan

FRONT ROW: M Radcliffe, J Holmes, A Collins, C Charles, G Coe, T Robinson, L Kershaw, C Hawkins, M Lachlan-Young

A lotta meatballs

It’s been a looooooong time coming, and it was originally logged in the wrong category, and for some reason it’s UK only, and the picture used to illustrate it is all out of perspective and makes me look like a ventriloquist’s dummy … but it’s nice to be back in podcast form, with Josie, and tucked inside the 6 Music portfolio. You may now subscribe via iTunes and listen to 50 minutes of the non-music bits from Saturday’s show on the very first Andrew Collins and Josie Long podcast. I guess in some ways it’s a luxury to have done five Saturday morning shows that weren’t made into podcasts; in any case, here we are, bedded in, getting used to each other, mucking about, starting with one thought and ending up on an entirely different one, and reliant, as ever, on your contributions in terms of jingles, texts, emails and Twitter contributions. It’s a fun show to do. Josie’s enthusiasm is quite extraordinary, and it’s hard to imagine anyone so grateful and delighted to be on the radio. It’s her show, really, and I’m happy to help. This week, with your assistance, we invented a band, Dublin Robot, who now have a detailed backstory, again thanks to your archaeological input, and whose first record we intend to play next Saturday.

As if often the way with new podcasts, thanks to the unique (ie. arcane) way in which iTunes calculates their “popularity”, we rose like a bubble to the top of the charts yesterday. Here is the evidence, which is important, as we’ve dropped out of the Top 10 already, as the world grows bored of something so old. But it was nice to be there for a bit.

We actually got as high as number 4 after I’d taken this grab. And we were number one in the Music podcasts, which is a bit mad, as it isn’t one. Now it’s been re-categorised as a Comedy podcast but isn’t in the Comedy podcast charts. Ah well. By the way, sorry it’s UK only; I suspect that’s to do with the licensing of the snatches of music that still find their way into the podcast via beds and intros/outros. It certainly seems to be the case with other podcasts from 6 Music. Hey, subscribe, artificially push us momentarily back up the charts for no discernible reason!

Or just tune in on Saturdays, 10am-1pm, for as long as it lasts. You never can tell.

In other podcast news, thanks to Graham Tugwell, we have two more Collins & Herring Pretend Podcasts from the 6 Music archives in the tank, ie. I’ve sent the files and blurbs over to the British Comedy Guide for processing. So listen out for those. These are the final Tugwell Tapes, Pts 5 and 6, and feature two “deps” Richard and I did in 2009. Check the BCG for updates. Maybe the next one will be a real one?

Over-sensitive

Hey, listen, I posted something yesterday when I was feeling a little over-sensitive about being the person who fills in for other people and the inevitable disappointment that understandably evokes in listeners or viewers to the person who is usually there. Hey, it’s my lot. I was having a bad day, but that’s nobody else’s fault. Also, it seems I misrepresented a blameless listener to 6 Music called Gillian. Forget my over-sensitive response to it. She’s written a blog about our silly spat, so I suggest you read that, although the matter is in danger of being blown out of proportion. Not by her, I might add. (I never named her, even by her Twitter name, either on the blog, or on air, as it was never meant as a personal attack.)

Gillian and I have exchanged friendlier emails since, but a) I don’t want to look as if I am seeking sympathy – I never was; I was merely writing honestly about my week on 6 Music, and you can hardly accuse someone whose blog you are reading of being solipsistic: it’s kind of what blogs are! – and b) it doesn’t really matter. There are films to review.

For full disclosure (she doesn’t like me on the radio – fair enough) her blog is here. My blog post has been re-filed under “Think before you post anything that makes you look silly.”

I think I may slink into the background for a bit. No 6 Music deps for a bit, just the Saturday show. And no replying to people I’ve never met on potentially contentious matters!

In our face

As you’ll all know, the belated, and long-awaited return to 6 Music of Adam and Joe was announced yesterday. The details are here. This is terrific news for fans of Adam and Joe, which includes me and Richard Herring. Although we applaud and welcome Joe’s success in filmmaking – the reason they took their sabbatical – it has been tough without their antics and chemistry and songmanship on Saturday mornings, one of the jewels in 6 Music’s crown, and one sorely missing during last year’s “troubles” (although Adam was a powerhouse of creative support).

The tickertape parades and hugging of strangers in the street is, however, tinged with sadness and unemployment. For the return of Adam and Joe spells the end of Collins and Herring. This radio station ain’t big enough for the four of us!

Richard and I were asked to fill in for Adam and Joe in February last year, when Danny Wallace, who had been filling in throughout January, went to America. At the time, as I recall, we were booked for six weeks. This was a thrill. We had, let’s be honest, always felt we might be a good fit for their show, and we were honoured to replace them. We cooked up some ropey feature ideas, clearly based on theirs – the Nerd Army task, Text The Station, Diary Wars – which somehow managed to sustain us for far more than six weeks! (I think someone on the Guardian message boards berated us for the derivative nature of our features. Well done for spotting that.) These features were our way of paying tribute to Adam and Joe, whose shoes were hard to fill.

How we’d laugh when the computer automatically fanfared the show with the announcement, “Right now … Adam and Joe!”, or when, a full year into our tenure, it still said we were “sitting in” on the readout of a digital radio. We never fooled ourselves that we were Adam and Joe (we categorically aren’t), but it was fun evolving our podcast relationship in more restricted, family-friendly circumstances, and having the freedom to play a record, or two records, to allow listeners a break, and to give us a chance to recharge. It has also been gratifying having two weekly podcasts for around 56 weeks: one, one clean, one unclean; one BBC-authorised, one Orange Mark-authorised.

As Richard is now off on tour, Michael Legge will be with me for the next four Saturdays, so I hope you will tune in and continue to supply us with the reliable material we have come to expect from a particularly in-tune and creative fanbase. There would be no show without your anecdotes. I know I speak for both of us when I say that we will miss this Saturday morning routine, from downstairs at Caffe Nero to the sometimes Mike Leigh-esque repartee between Richard and Liz Kershaw.

So, in your face, 6 Music. It seems that Collins & Herring are off the air. For now? I mean, we haven’t finished our 100 Objects, have we?

And then we were sick.

18 months in an open-necked shirt

In two Saturdays’ time, I will be reunited with Stuart Maconie on the radio (6 Music, 10am-1pm). My thoughts inevitably turn to the modest glory days of Collins & Maconie, the first double act I was part of, between 1992 and 1997, briefly reunited as two-thirds the trio Collins, Maconie & Quantick with David Quantick in 2001 and 2002, but effectively disbanded after that as Stuart and I moved in different broadcasting directions, and I allowed scriptwriting to eat up more of my time. Our 18-month foray into television, albeit late-nite television, was Collins & Maconie’s Movie Club, a charmingly fleabitten movie review show with a siege mentality that went out on ITV before it was ITV1, every week, without a break, between 1996 and 1997. A chap called William Tennant drew my attention to three clips of the show on YouTube which I didn’t know existed, and can be viewed below. (I have every one of the 18-month run on what I believe are called videocassettes, but they’re in a box, and that box was, this very week, transferred from my house to my parents’ attic for storage.)

For those too young to remember it, or perhaps had a job in 1996 and weren’t going to stay up until 1.40am to see two men in suits and open-necked shirts talking in a cinema, the Movie Club was made by Watchmaker, Clive James’ production company, and was seen as a natural, medium-hopping progression from Collins & Maconie’s Hit Parade, our then-weekly Radio 1 singles review show. (It amazes me now that we were indulged enough to have our names above the title in both shows!) The same late-note slot across the whole week was put out to tender by ITV, and we somehow snared one of them. Neither of us could quite believe our luck. Thanks for the most part to the ingenuity and drive of producer/director Andy Rowe (now ubengruppenfuhrer of Saturday night light entertainment at the BBC), but not forgetting the resourcefulness and, frankly, patience, of the compact, on-site production team – which numbered six most weeks, including Andy – we shot two in a day each fortnight in the Riverside cinema, Hammersmith, with a fake projector set up using a single light and some dry ice as it was easier, and more effective, than involving the real projectionist.

The format was achingly simple: three new releases and some videos reviewed by the pair of us – we couldn’t afford Autocue so we’d learn all our links like actors – sitting in a cinema. We added a couple of comedy items: the Hollywood Hotline, in which I would pretend I was talking to a star on a mobile phone, whom you couldn’t hear, and Stuart would react to my inappropriate handling of the call; 101 Years Of The Cinema (I think it was called), where we played cineastes in black polo-necks smoking Gauloises – and we actually smoked in the cinema! – wrongly covering the history of the cinema by theme; Crikey! Movie News, which was fake news based upon funny old black and white film stills; and another one whose title escapes me where we’d reconstruct iconic movie scenes using toys. I know what you’re thinking, and no, we didn’t copy this off The Adam & Joe Show, even though that started in 1996, and the Movie Club didn’t start until 1997. I think the four of us have agreed that it was a coincidental double-conception – there’s no way we’d have been stupid enough to lift it, so either we hadn’t seen it, or they hadn’t started the toy parodies at the time we were preparing the format. In any case, Adam and Joe did it miles better and took it so much further, while we ditched ours after about six weeks as it was too time-consuming! (When I first met Adam, circa 1998, when our show had been taken off and theirs was flying, we declared ourselves fans of each others’ work.)

That’s pretty much it. We introduced a weekly visual joke for the end of each show, and we tried to be funny in all our links, and to involve the audience, in an early example of interactivity, by getting a viewer in to guest-review one of the films. Among the stars of tomorrow we had in were Ali Caterall, now a reviewer at the Guardian and Word, and none other than Sarah Millican, who I believe was in mid-career-change at the time. (In the days before email, viewers had to, like, write to us, and send us a cassette or videocassette of them reviewing a film, and send it through the post and everything.)

It was bags of fun. They would often be shooting TFI Friday in the big studio at the same time, so we’d usually bump into a band we’d interviewed in the canteen and they’d ask us what we were doing there, as very few people seemed to actually know the programme was on. (Having said that, I once watched it in a rented house in Dublin with Billy Bragg and Wilco, which was odd, and Joe Strummer claimed he was a fan and became quite irate when I met him and informed him that ITV had taken it off the air.) Our budget was small, but it stretched to four John Rocha shirts, which we rotated under our own jackets. (They had really long arms with massive cuffs for which we had no cufflinks, so we always used to announce their arrival “on set” with the phrase, “John Rocha pour le singe.” Such in-jokes kept us going.) When it ended, after an astonishing, uninterfered-with 18-month run – during the latter part of which it also went out on Paramount Comedy – it was like an eight-piece band band splitting up. Watching the clips again, especially the willfully cheap opening credits, takes me back to a time when we felt on the cusp of professional careers in radio and TV, and although TV has only been sporadic for me in the years since (Stuart’s been on a lot more), those 18 months stood me in good stead.

Stuart and I are looking forward to shamelessly nostalging about those golden years when we reunite on 6 Music. It’s allowed, right? In the meantime, if it pleases you, here are the YouTube clips, which includes the review of the 1997, when we awarded the first and only Barn D’Or award for Film Of The Year to Shane Meadows’ debut Small Time. This is something we remain proud of, and Shane never complains if we point it out. We made him. (Oh, and during the run, we were offered Woody Harrelson as a guest, but we turned him down, as we didn’t have guests. How cool, or uncool, was that?)



Breakfastballs

Bags o’ fun on 6 Music Breakfast this morning, two weeks into my two-and-a-half-week Christmas and New Year stint while Shaun Keaveny sits around being a new dad: Mat Ricardo, gentleman juggler, came in to do some live juggling on the radio. (It was my stupid idea.) We did some talking as well, of course, but through the magic of he and I still conversing while he balanced a tray on his face and removed a tablecloth from under a cup and saucer, it was, I believe, Sony Award-winning audio entertainment. Here are the pictures anyway, taken by producer Phil. It’s been a blast doing Shaun’s show these past couple of weeks. It’s amazing how quickly your body can adjust to getting up at 5am and going to bed at 9pm. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t want to do it every day, and I take my hat off to those who do. If you want to see Mat doing his signature trick – uniquely, putting the tablecloth back on the table without knocking anything off – you should go forthwith to this clip on YouTube of a Dutch TV show he did a couple of years ago. It may blow your mind; watch it to the end.

For details of Mat’s work, and his forthcoming gigs, go here.

Oh, and here is picture, taken by Mark, of me and the inner sleeve of Menswear’s 1995 album Nuisance. (Shaun, and Matt, will be back on Monday. I will be asleep.)

Supermodel (left)

Advice: never stand next a supermodel and have your photograph taken with her. Actually, I’ll have to check – is Karen Elson a supermodel? She’s certainly a super model. And she’s made a credible leap sideways into music, which is why she was in the 6 Music Kitchenette (it used to be called the Hub but is going through the change), playing some songs from her impressive debut album The Ghost Who Walks, produced by her husband Jack White. Clearly, being a famous model, and married to Jack White, helps you get noticed. But the songs are good, and the record’s worth a listen, if you like Americana by way of Oldham.

I was a bit nervous, not about meeting her, or about having to tap my foot in front of her while she played her songs, or about trying not to make the interview about Jack White by mistake, but because I thought she might be a bit of a diva. She wasn’t. She was really nice. I wondered if perhaps she might forbid us from taking photos of her, or demand photo approval, but instead she let us get on with it, and even agreed to stand next to me in front of the 6 Music sign – mind you, there’s no better way of looking good than standing next to, or looming over, a tired man in a t-shirt.

We were instructed beforehand that she would not talk about her family, but to be honest, I’m not that interested in her family. (I remember Chris Martin’s people sending this same advance warning years ago at 6 Music. I wasn’t that interested in his family either.)

I neither know anything nor care a jot about the fashion industry. But I have looked Karen up and find that she was discovered as a teen in Manchester and that a man called Steven Meisel shot her for Italian Vogue on her 18th birthday. Woo. It’s just names, but she has worked with smudges and dressmakers like Weber, Testino, Von Unwerth, Jacobs, Gaultier, Dolce, Gabbana, Chanel, Versace. So she must be OK. (Hey, I wrote some funny words for Gabanna to say at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2001, so fuck you. He, or she, didn’t say them, if I remember correctly.) And being on the cover of Vogue and Elle and that is how you measure a model’s superness, I know that. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t care about any of that, but that “the face of YSL Opium perfume” has put her arm around me.  She is very tall, by the way (unlike the more common small, dumpy supermodel), and had ridiculous shoes on, but I also shrank in her presence, in case you’re thinking: tiny Andrew Collins.

Of all the supermodels in the world, Karen Elson is the only one I would allow to have her photograph taken with me. If supermodels want to look good, they can find their own tired men in t-shirts to loom photogenically over before taking the ferry to Belgium. I bet Kate Moss doesn’t take the ferry to Belgium.

We salute you

It was with enormous personal pleasure, and not a little emotion, that I welcomed Edwyn Collins to 6 Music this morning, in my second week of filling in for Lauren Laverne (who, incidentally, gave birth to a baby which she has called Mack at close to 2am this morning, so big congrats). Edwyn was in to play a selection of tracks from his brand new album Losing Sleep, which can be listened to via the 6 Music website, if not today, then soon. The album is dressed, handsomely, in a wallpaper effect of Edwyn’s drawings of birds, which are exquisite enough, but all the more poignant as they have been – and continue to be – a major part of his rehabilitation.

It is well known that, in February 2005, Edwyn suffered two strokes, and subsequently a bout of MRSA in hospital, after which he was left paralysed and unable to speak. It was a horrible thing to happen to anyone, and the outpouring of support from his fans must have provided at least a wave of comfort, especially for Grace, Edwyn’s partner and manager, and their son William, who kept a hand on the internet rudder, and I think continues to run or oversee his father’s web operations. The whole thing was especially weird for me, as Edwyn had been a guest on my 6 Music show just two days before his collapse. He was a guest on Roundtable, and, despite complaining of nausea and vertigo – which he attributed to food poisoning – he was his usual, voluble, witty, eloquent self. Who knew that the next time I’d speak to him, five years later, he would still be recovering from that unusually cruel double blow. But, still alive. And not just still alive (the surgery he underwent was apparently pretty tricky), writing and performing. I’m sure there are other examples of this happening in terms of occupational and speech therapy, but it’s still astounding to think that while Edwyn has a lot of trouble speaking, he can sing like an angel – unchanged, in fact, from before the aneurysms. He walks with a stick, and his right hand is semi-frozen into a fist, but he music animates him and it’s a sight to behold. As well as a sound to behold.

Before 6 Music, Edwyn and I had met on many an occasion over the years, and got on very well. The first time I met him was in 1991, when he turned up at a Roddy Frame/Aztec Camera gig in Hamburg I had been sent to cover for the NME (in fact, it was Stuart’s feature, but he’d had to pull out at the last minute). Grace told me today, when I whipped out a print of this photograph, that Edwyn had been sent out to keep an eye on his pal Roddy, who was going through a “rock and roll” phase! Anyway, the pair of them formed an unofficial comedy double act, and kept me entertained long into the German night. I wish I still had the cassette.

Out of shot, because he was behaving like a misery that day, is Mick Jones of the Clash, who also guested with Roddy onstage (their song Good Morning Britain was a hit), but decided he didn’t want anything to do with the boy from the NME, and kept his distance. This only made me appreciate Edwyn and Roddy’s semi-paternal company even more. It was Tony Barratt who took this pic, by the way; I’ve had the print he kindly made me in my private collection ever since. (Will took the 6 Music shot.) It was great to be able to hand it to Edwyn, to stir up some memories, although I expect they are all the more powerful for him, as they are from his life pre-stroke. (I read in one article Edwyn’s illness described coyly as “a forced sabbatical”; I used this phrase while chatting to him on air today, and he butted in, bluntly: “I had a stroke.” He’s pragmatic about it, and I guess you have to be if you’re to claw your way back to working order and put it behind you.)

As expected, love poured in via Twitter and email and text for Edwyn, and the songs, personal of course albeit upbeat and rocking, hit the mark. I saw him play last year at the Edinburgh Festival, at the Assembly Hall, and it was moving and entertaining in equal measure – the sort of thing you never thought you’d see again during the darkest years. But something about Edwyn’s soul got him through. And those birds.

He’s off on tour. If you can, go and see him. What presence!

He kind of puts things into perspective. And I’m worried about a bit of dental work.

Now can we all stop listening to it?*

#6musicsaved! – to use the Twernacular of Twitter, from whence much of 6 Music’s support flowered. The BBC Trust – whom we hate when they do something stupid, but love when they do something clever – has rejected the BBC’s plans to close the digital radio station 6 Music. In his initial response to the BBC strategy review, BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons said that the case for the closure of 6 Music had not been made. Yay for middle-aged, middle-class white men in suits! Lyons – and I’ve always liked his cakes – said that the Trust, which represents the interests of licence fee payers, would consider closing 6 Music only as part of a wider strategy on the future of digital radio. That’s a stay of execution we can all live with. Sadly, and it is sad, the Trust accepted plans to close the Asian Network, which if anything was a victim of support lag, as more fuss was made of 6 Music, and even though we combined for those well-attended Broadcasting House protests, it didn’t have a sufficiently prevailing wind behind it. Bad news, too, for those working for BBC online who will be out of a job after the 25% budget cut.

Still, 6 Music is the station I work for, and was involved in launching in 2002, and the one I would listen to, by choice, even if I didn’t and hadn’t been. So hooray for us, but mainly hooray for all those who kept the noise of support at fever pitch for months on end, and, like a vuvuzela chorus of common sense, never left the ears of those in power. They came, they consulted, we conquered.

I happened to be in the studio with Lauren Laverne when the embargoed press release came through, and helped distract her by rattling on about what’s coming up on the telly for the best part of half an hour while we waited for the green light to read it out, which she did at approximately 11.03am, followed by AC/DC’s Back In Black. (It befell her to pass on the grim news in March, so there was something poetic about it all. Perhaps the Trust timed their announcement with her show?) Though I was done talking, and Lauren was in charge, I felt proud and honoured to have been in the studio at that happy junction. According to BBC News, she expressed her delight on her Twitter feed: “6Music has been saved. Hooooorrrayyyyy!”

And so say we all. The Zulu Theme will sound particularly epic at 4pm today when I sit in for Steve Lamacq.

*The headline, by the way, comes, possibly ironically, from Twitterer @RupertBurr: “Awesome, 6 Music has been saved, now can we all stop listening to it?”