Left to right

I was a memorable seven weeks in Nemone’s chair while she was away filming Who Wants To Be A Brazilianaire. Thanks to Jax and Jonny, the programme team, for making life so much easier. Let us remember those seven weeks by way of a cavalcade of photos taken – by Jonny – against the 6 Music branding. See how many of my guests you can name! (There are no prizes. It’s just for fun.) Then see how times I managed to conceal the double chin I have developed through all those pitta breads and rye crackers.

Note: still-to-be-eaten eclair supplied by the thoughtful Sarah Millican – she bought four, one for everybody in the studio. Sorry the Gary Delaney one is a bit blurry, it was smaller than the rest.


Save BBC Ageing Network

What an amazing, coincidental confluence of members of the public that just seemed to occur, naturally, outside Broadcasting House in Central London this lunchtime. Luckily, somebody had parked a van there, and the component parts of a small stage fell out of it and happened to interlock near a PA system left over from some previous event, perhaps to do with the church. Since hundreds of people found themselves in the same place at the same time in glorious weather, they chatted, got to know each other, and discovered that they all really liked 6 Music and BBC Asian Network, sufficient to have made some placards to that effect, and they carried on talking about that for about an hour and a half. Richard and I had just finished our show and were heading for the Tube station, as normal, and we too fell into enthusiastic conversation with the people, and Shaun Keaveny, and Jon Holmes, and Matt Everitt, and Ed Byrne. It’s nice to know that a small digital radio station can bring such coherence and consensus to such a random happening. Maybe we shouldn’t let it be shut down. That would be stupid, wouldn’t it?

More pics as they come in, but thanks to Megan, Tangentical and love6music for the borrow of these ones, and there’s a video of Richard and me shouting here. And there are some nice ones by Tracy Morter here. Whoever made the cup cake with my name on, step forward – I wish I’d seen it. And eaten it. (Full set by Tangentical here.)

Uncle Tom

Hey, Tom Robinson is celebrating his 60th birthday in style. You can buy tickets for his Glad To Be Grey gig here. I must say, of all the good folk I have met through my years at 6 Music, Tom is one I feel especially proud to have crossed paths with. I’d never met him until we both found ourselves trying out for shows on what was then Network Y in 2001. We travelled back on the Tube together after we’d had our photographs taken and I couldn’t help but think, hey, I’m on the train next to TOM ROBINSON! So let’s support his gig. He’s not just there for the over-60s! (Indeed, he is often pre-recording in the studio next to the live one at 6 Music, and he plays host to a seemingly endless succession of tiny young bands, about whom he is unerringly enthusiastic and supportive. I like to think of him as a benevolent Fagin with a whole army of little indie urchins that he’s taken under his experienced wing. I’m not saying they pick pockets or anything.) I can also boast that I have played drums with Tom, when the 6 Music band got him up to play 2468 Motorway. That was not something I ever foresaw happening in my life! He really is one of the good guys, and long may 6 Music give him – and all those unsigned bands – a platform. That’s all we ask, you know. For a platform.

Millions like us

While surfing round the analogue radio dial in the car on the way to the tip, I chanced across two perfect illustrations of why 6 Music should be preserved, and perhaps be given listed network status. Passing through XFM, I heard a presenter refer to Shakira and a new track that could be accessed via their website. “I know Shakira isn’t the sort of artist you’d usually associate with XFM …” she apologised, but of course Shakira has done a cover of an XX track, and that’s why she was fleetingly allowed inside the circle of indie trust. Then I switched to Radio 1 and heard Jo Whiley gamely interviewing some tykes due to play Radio 1’s Big Weekend, You Me At Six. As part of a formatted feature she asked them to pick a “guilty pleasure” and they chose Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, which was duly played.

Now, with all due respect to the tremendous Sean Rowley who turned the concept into a brand, I have a massive problem with the very notion of guilty pleasures, particularly with regards to music. Surely the definition of a guilty pleasure is child porn or stealing lead off the church roof, not liking a record which has been deemed by some unelected committee to be uncool. To the credit of the tykes on Radio 1, they had been inched down this inquisitorial cul-de-sac and tried to play down the guilt, to the point where Jo had to conceded, “Alright, let’s just say it’s a pleasure.” (After the record, she also read out emails from Radio 1 listeners who felt a similarly nonexistent sense of guilt and said how much they’d enjoyed hearing the song.) I’ve got a good idea: why don’t we, as a nation, dispense with the idea of guilty, and just call liking a record “pleasure.”

Now, XFM is a commercial station. Though it began life with the greatest of intentions, since being bought out by Capital, it’s had to pay its way, and that means delivering traffic to advertisers by identifying a demographic and serving them. This means that playing Shakira, even doing an accredited indie tune, is confusing and off-brief, and muddies the pact between network and its creditors. But doesn’t it prove, once again, as if it needed proving, that 6 Music does a job that can never hope to be replicated by commercial radio? I remember once hearing an XFM DJ boasting about playing Prince, as if this was totally subversive – which, in the straitjacketed circumstances, it probably was. The breadth and depth of music we are permitted to play, during the daytime, remains unprecedented. Meanwhile, over on Radio 1, which also had a strict demographic to serve, pleasure is still divided up into guilty and not guilty. The listeners, of course, know better, and are happy to hear some ancient piece of history like a Van Morrison record, but the bosses must stick to the gospel and play only up-to-date, chartbound sounds, ideally with a dance beat, in order to keep within its remit.

The remit of 6 Music is to provide for those not provided for by Radio 1 and Radio 2 (that’s not the exact wording, but it’s the gist), and with Radio 2 under heavy manners from the Trust to lean towards its older listeners, this compensation is more and more vital.

There is still some musical snobbery among 6 Music listeners – I had one or two predictably sneery or shocked reactions to playing Toxic by Britney Spears the other week, although these were outweighed by messages of support – but, even with the huge new influx of listeners, I still pick up a general sense of broadminded music appreciation and investigation across at least four decades, if not five, regardless of an individual’s age. (A 13-year-old called Asher requested some Kiss recently, and we delivered some, on the day.)

As my seven-week stint in Nemone’s chair comes to an end (my last early afternoon show is on Friday), I must state, again, for the record, that 6 Music is a unique service, and must be protected, not attacked, or threatened, or rebranded. I feel privileged to have become a part of it again, at what might be the most exciting and gripping time in its history. The brand is working. People still might not know what it’s actually called, but with our 1.02 million RAJAR and stratospheric online listening spike, plus those two Sonys, I think we’re really starting to pay our way. There are no artists you wouldn’t usually associate with 6 Music, and none of our pleasures are guilty. I have just been compiling a list of tunes I wish to play out this week, between 1pm and 4pm, and it includes Tom Waits, Betty Wright, Baby D, Fad Gadget and the Nightingales, and do you know what – who cares? It’s just another week on 6 Music.

I’d like to thank

Yeah, sorry, I don’t have any photos from last night’s Sony Radio Awards, so here’s one from 1995. Not so much has changed since then. Still held annually at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s actually-real Mayfair; still colloquially known as the “radio Oscars”; still sponsored by Sony (and have been since 1983, which is quite the media partnership); still based around a dinner; still a great opportunity to bump into old radio pals. There are more awards handed out, thanks to developments in digital technology – 37, I believe, is the current total – and Chris Evans has taken over from the seemingly irreplaceable Gambo and is doing a fine job of rattling the evening along, and shushing the increasingly restless mob while winners have their few moments in the spotlight with the roving mic. When Collins & Maconie’s Hit Parade won the Gold for Best Music Programme in 1995, and gratefully accepted it from Nick Heyward, the prizes were handed out on a stage to the side of the Great Room. Nowadays, it’s in the round, which mainly means that any ladies up on the podium in the regulation high shoes and unforgivingly tight dress have to live with the fact that their panty line is being inspected by at least half the room.

Anyway, I was a judge again this year, a gig that involves listening to an awful lot of radio and pays nothing except a Sony MP3 player to listen to it on, and a free ticket to the dinner. (I actually get quite a kick out of judging – you get to hear things you might not normally hear, and a lot of it is local.) I feared being sat on the judges’ table; not that there was anything wrong with my fellow adjudicators on the Best Feature category, I just really fancied being among my peers at 6 Music at this crucial stage in history, and with a number of nominations in our portfolio, there was more reason than normal to hope for a sprinkling of good fortune, and perhaps some hardware for the awards cabinet.

Anyway, thanks to Fenella at the Sonys, I found myself on one of the 6 Music/Radio 2 tables, very near the stage, which is usually a good sign. Jarvis Cocker and Adam Buxton were on the table, which was handy, as both won their category, Rising Star (I know, he’s 46, but he is a radio newcomer by definition) and Best Comedy Show. There’s a lot of table-banging at this type of awards show, especially – and understandably – from those who’ve travelled here from outside London and are ambassadors not just for their station but their region, a responsibility best marinated in cheap red wine. It’s a night for letting off local steam. (My guess is that the staff and presenters of Moray Firth Radio, who won Best Station with under 300,000 listeners, had the best night of all, especially the man in the kilt.)

We were so lucky that the Rising Star award, voted for by the public, went first, as it meant that Jarvis could eloquently defend 6 Music in front of the industry (if not the politicians and pen-pushers who are influencing its fate), without being encouraged offstage. The familiar disrespectful hum of conversation began towards the end of his self-defined “rant”, but by then his passion was well communicated. If it had been later in the evening, I fear Chris Evans might have had to hurry him. It was a cracking start to a long evening, lifted when Adam went up to collect the Gold he and Joe have long deserved, and again bigged up the network. Sadly, that was it for 6 Music, with Lauren Laverne and even more cruelly Steve Lamacq locked out of the love-in twice over. (What does Steve have to do to get a Sony, except kill Zane Lowe? My guess is that Zane would be impossible to kill, such is his sincere enthusiasm.)

Another big partisan “a-boo!” moment came when Richard Herring’s groundbreaking As It Occurs To Me failed to win even a Bronze in the Best Internet Programme, beaten by The Hackney Podcasts in a fatally mixed category. (Having already skulked for a while with Buxton, Observer radio critic Miranda Sawyer and Helen from Helen and Olly by the cloakrooms, I had sincerely wished Answer Me This well in the category, and they bagged a Silver, which is good for podcasting, I think. But not good for AIOTM on this occasion.) I had dressed for the night with Richard at 6 Music, post-pre-Sonys podcast, and walked down to the Grosvenor House with him on a bright spring evening, joining the rest of the gang for a monkey-suited pint, so keenly felt their defeat. (Of course, being in the top five is a serious achievement, but once you’re there, in the room, tanked and trussed up, and see your name go up on the screens, it’s utterly impossible not to pray for victory: as Bronze is read out, then Silver, and your name still hasn’t been, you’d have to be made of stone not to hope for the best in that split second.)

Anyway, Trevor Nelson’s Special Award was a worthy end to the prizegiving (he definitely didn’t know he was getting it), and it was cool to see Nihal get an award late on, giving Asian Network the same kind of crowd-pleasing boost we’d had earlier, and you can read the full results here. For my own part, I really enjoyed nipping outside for a fag with Steve Lamacq at half-time, where we reassured Chris Evans that he was doing a fine job, and I probably inhaled a cigarette’s worth of secondhand smoke. (Shallow as this may be, I enjoyed hanging out with the smokers – it felt slightly illicit.) I was also happy to run into the Down The Line gang, also robbed of a victory, including my old friend Simon Day. Good also to see Mark Radcliffe, and Mark Ellen, and fellow Naked City alumnus Johnny Vaughan (winner of Best Breakfast), and, in the urinal, Alex James.

I hopped it around 11.15 before the disco, having enjoyed a decent view (mainly of panty lines), soaked up some timely 6 Music glory and enjoyed a single bottle of beer to make up for the horrible red wine. To all of my friends who didn’t win: you was robbed. To all who did win: I knew you when you were nobody.

Who’s in here?

People always ask me, “What’s going to happen to 6 Music?”, as if perhaps, working there, I’m party to some insider information about the network’s fate. I’m afraid I have no such insight. We’re all just getting on with it.

We live in interesting times. For the best part of two years, I came off the 6 Music subs’ bench, and concentrated on trying to make a living from TV scriptwriting. It was during this time that Richard Herring and I started our podcast, in order to recreate the fun of my old Sunday radio show, which we both missed. In many ways, I’m grateful to have had that time away from 6 Music. Then, towards the end of last year, under new management, 6 Music started to offer me “deps” [pardon my jargon] for other presenters: George, Gideon, Steve, Jon Richardson, Cerys and, latterly Nemone. I was delighted to do so. And I found morale there at a much higher ebb than when I left in 2007. Lots of new blood, an inordinate amount of interns, but, reassuringly, plenty of production staff and second-tier management who’d been there the first time around, many promoted: it felt new and fresh, but familiar, too. I genuinely believed that the output had improved, both music and presentation, and I was happy to be back.

Ironic, then, that, having put in near-constant cover over Christmas and with a full New Year diary, I found myself suddently working for “the Doomed 6 Music”. The first leak in the Times pretty much chimed exactly with the start of me and Richard’s temporary, one-month-at-a-time takeover of the Adam & Joe show. Coincidence? Yes. Coincidence.

I don’t need to go over my feelings again about the BBC’s decision to shut the network down at a time when, literally, no other BBC station is catering for the broad church of listeners we’re catering for – suffice to say, it makes little sense to me, and little sense to the record industry, and, thanks to the flurry of protest and publicity, little sense to a broadening church of politicans and commentators and, yay, new listeners. You’ll have read that our online listening figures are up by 50% and that’s largely thanks – indirectly – to Mark Thompson and/or the next Prime Minister, whoever that may be, for the publicity drive. (If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might seriously entertain the “loss leader” theory. But I’m not, as you know. It’s just internal politics and paperwork.) As a presenter, I have to be careful what I say, but what I started this blog entry for was to simply state how much fun I’m currently having back on the radio: the sheer volume and sophistication and enthusiasm of the texts and emails is staggering.

I have been doing radio since the early 90s, when I made my first inroads with Stuart Maconie on the old Radio Five and then Radio 1. It was a heady time. And I’ve been learning on the job ever since. (I literally learned how to “drive the desk” when 6 Music piloted me, and it was Chris Hawkins who showed me the ropes!)  I’m still learning. But if there’s a better place to learn than 6 Music, I’d like to see it. I’d really like to see that.

It goes without saying, having a weekly national radio show with Richard Herring (Saturdays 10am-1pm) is the icing on the cake. For all your Collins & Herring/Collings & Herrin needs, please go to this website, or this one.

Burn notice

It is possible to become jaded when you have been in variations on the journalism caper for as long as I have (I conducted my first interview for the NME, with Rough Trade-signed indie poppers the Heartthrobs, in 1988, which means I have, without any formal training, been a chancer with a tape recorder or latterly a radio studio, for 23 years). However, today, on 6 Music, I meet Bill Drummond, and I am properly excited and nervous. He is coming in under the nominal guise of the promotion of his latest venture, the paperback version of $20,000 (previously published as How To Be An Artist in fancy clothbound hardback in art bookshops), the gripping and self-deprecating/aggrandising tale of his 2000-2003 project in which he attempted to sell a framed photographic print by Richard Long for $20,000 and then decided to cut it up into 20,000 pieces and sell those individually instead. He originally limited his promo rounds to 100 questions, allotting just four per publication/outlet. These 100 questions and answers are gripping in themselves, thanks to the wit and honesty of Drummond’s answers, and are available to read here. Because the 100 questions are used up, I am allowed to ask him anything. In just three chunks over half an hour – the curse/blessing of music radio – I will struggle to ask him everything I have always wanted to ask him, but it will be fun trying. Tune in from 3pm today. And I’ll extend this blog entry with an account of the adventure later on. Your thoughts on the life and works of Mr Drummond are invited.

It was an entertaining interview, covering the father-son bonding power of AC/DC, that $20,000, the 100 questions, the Brits ’92, the Wild Swans, Select, the elements, and how he’s kind of forgotten what he wrote in his book. You can hear it at about 1.08 on iPlayer, – until next Tuesday – and here’s a nice photo. Yes, he is tall.

Re-introducing the band

VCSband

Having debuted last December as Totalshambles, the Official 6 Music Band re-formed this year for our difficult second gig. This time, we were called VCS Soundsystem, which is a 6 Music in-joke that’s too dull to explain. From last year’s lineup, we retained Jim Simmons on keyboards and vocals, Mike Hanson on guitar, Jude Adam and Nemone on vocals, and myself on drums. Our new bassist was Ian Painter, who’s also in Candidate, and we were proud to induct Shaun Keaveney on vocals and guitar, and Zoe Fletcher on vocals. Mr Gideon Coe guested on Garageland, and Tom Robinson guested on his own War Baby, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Gimme Some Loving, along with Tim Sanders, saxophonist extraordinaire (he’s in the Kick Horns – blessed, we were!). We started with Addicted To Love and moved through a variety of covers old and new, cool and uncool: I Predict A Riot, Golden Skans, Kids In America, Video Killed The Radio Star, Lassoo, Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Keaveny’s finest hour, with false moustache), My Sharona, Honky Tonk Women, Golden Skans and Waterloo to finish. When I say “difficult second gig”, it wasn’t really. It was the 6 Music Christmas party at the Loom basement club in Central London. Considering we’d had three rehearsals this year, only one of which had all band members at it, I think we coped admirably. Mike threw Keith Richards shapes, Jim set his keyboard to 80s on more than one occasion, Tom was so good it’s almost as if he’s a professional singer and has been doing this for 30 years, and “the girls” were on fine form throughout. I made a few basic errors, including ending War Baby a bar too early, and losing a stick, but nobody noticed. You don’t play the drums to get noticed. Or captured in many photographs – which is actually a blessing, as I don’t look too good when I’m behind a kit. If I can post a bootleg up here, I will. You can see the whole set of photos – if you’re a member – on Flickr. (Don’t worry if you’re not – the best ones are reproduced here.)

VCSgirls
VCSMike
VCSShaun
VCSGid
VCSMike_Ian
VCSMike
VCSgirls2

And a big hand for Jim, without whose enthusiasm, organisational skills and keyboard wizardry, neither Totalshambles nor VCS Soundsystem would ever have got off the drawing board. Next year, we really must play Jump by Van Halen, rather than just threaten to. (Hey, I’m not really qualified to be in the 6 Music Band this year – who knows whether they’ll let me back next year!)

VCSJim

I actually had the time of my life.

VCSme

Downtime

I’m getting a bit tired of the little spurts of abuse I’m currently attracting, so I’m giving myself a few days off the blog. I’m on the radio all week anyway (10pm-1am, 6 Music, Mon-Fri; Rockumentary Rollercoaster one-off documentary, Radio 4, Tuesday Nov 13, 11.30am and on Listen Again thereafter for seven days), so feel free to get in touch. It’s amazing how quickly the fun goes out of all this when you are constantly niggled. When I’m feeling a bit less fragile, I’ll be back with more drivel. Your patience is appreciated.