Category Archives: Music

I Like That, Turn It Up!

As anyone who knows me well can testify, one of my favourite rants in the whole wide world is bemoaning the hopeless state of radio (specifically, music radio) in this country. 6 music aside, it tends to be awful. Local radio is even worse. Yes, there are decent shows on at odd times on various stations but (to these ears) there’s nothing in existence that you can switch on with the assurance you’re going to be entertained, amused and god forbid hear stuff that makes you think ‘Yes!’

I’m sure that the people in charge of running the likes of Key 103 or Galaxy or Smooth FM don’t set out to offend the casual listener, it’s just that in practice they do.  You know what I’m talking about: generic, formulaic mush served up by hospital radio-schooled morons churned out depressing hour after depressing hour. ‘Coming up we’ve got the new one from Cheryl Cole and after that you can text in to win a new kitchen…’

What makes the current state of play so depressing is that between 2005 and 2008, a tin pot little radio station broadcasting from the top of a hill in Oldham did something very different – they installed Clint Boon as head of music and he lay the foundations for something that quickly reigned supreme over the airwaves of Greater Manchester for 3 years. If you can excuse what may appear something of an outlandish claim – for an all too brief period, The Revolution 96.2 became the best local radio station in the world.

What made ‘The Rev’ unique was the music and the people playing it. Here was a place where at any point in the day you could hear stuff as diverse as Sufjan Stevens, Glen Campbell, The Pixies, Curtis Mayfield, Teenage Fanclub, Pharoahe Monch, The 13th Floor Elevators…it simply played an endless stream of great music. Playlists acknowledged Manchester’s musical heritage (The Smiths, New Order, James etc) but not in a hackneyed, ‘all our yesterdays’ sense – as much airtime was dedicated to breaking new, local acts with the likes of Cherry Ghost, Jim Noir and Twisted Wheel receiving great backing and heavy rotation.

Clint Boon jumped ship after a year or so to join the newly launched XFM, leaving Manchester club circuit veteran Phil Beckett at the reigns. By then there was a tremendous line-up of regular DJs in place. Mani and Mike Joyce hosted weekly shows, ex-Mock Turtle (and brother of Steve) Martin Coogan looked after the dayshift with Nev Cottee (ex-Proud Mary and South Nightclub DJ) covering the early evening slot. Former Paris Angel Scott Carey hosted the fantastic midweek ‘Transmission’ and soap actor bods Graeme Hawley and Jeff Hordley (better known as Corrie’s John Stape and Emmerdale’s Cain Dingle) chipped in on a Sunday afternoon. Add in a few specialist late night shows and you get the idea of what was on offer.

Via word of mouth, the station quickly developed a strong, cult following throughout the North-West. Being positioned in up in t’hills proved to be advantageous – the transmitting mast structured to serve Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside beamed out a decent signal throughout Greater Manchester and beyond. Although XFM (playing Snow Patrol, Stereophonics and Razorlight ad-nauseum) had come along in a blaze of publicity with a huge advertising budget, The Rev offered more diversity and became the infinitely cooler alternative. I had every radio in the house tuned to 96.2 and the CD player in the car was made redundant.

Aside from the quality tuneage on offer, what stood out was the people involved and their reasons for doing it – the station was clearly being run on a shoestring so the only motivation of those involved was to make the best of what they had by filling every hour on air with fantastic music. Like falling in love with your ideal woman, it was so good that there always something of a nagging suspicion or sense of foreboding that ‘this isn’t gonna last…something will happen to fuck this all up’. And something did. Quite spectacularly.

It had been coming for a while in truth. Despite the best efforts of management and presenters, the all-important RAJAR figures (produced quarterly to reveal listenership figures and of paramount importance to potential advertisers) made for miserable reading. This measure only counted listeners within the official target area of the station itself, the fact that in reality they were broadcasting to an audience of thousands beyond the Oldham district proved of no consequence whatsoever.

What happened next was both grimly depressing and at times, tragically comic – management panicked and imposed a new music policy and daytime playlist with immediate effect, alienating both presenters and audience alike. Where there had once been Big Star, now there was Will Young. Stereolab? Forget it, try Elton John with ‘I’m Still Standing’…“and no, I’m not being ironic” intoned a demoralised-sounding Martin Coogan.

It was all over within days. Barring a couple of exceptions the entire team of DJs walked, and insult was then added to injury via an announcement that the station had been sold to a consortium fronted by Steve Penk, the ex-Piccadilly/Key 103 breakfast goon and presenter of countless, godawful TV shows. The self-appointed king of lame-assed radio banter and ‘hilarious’ prank calls had come back to save the day. The Revolution returned to Bland FM territory, playing mogadon-tinged MOR non-music just like every other local radio station in the world. Celine Dion and Maria Carey, anyone?

Facebook and internet messageboard campaigns were launched as dismayed former listeners voiced their collective disgust at the hi-jacking of their favourite station. The former presenters banded together under a newly adopted ‘Radio Republic’ moniker and via a myspace page, announced that moves were underway to re-launch online in the near future…but then all went quiet. It appeared that ‘The Rev’ as it was once known and loved had been consigned to history.

Then last month, as another quartet of much missed Mancs plotted up in a Soho hotel, announcing their long-awaited comeback to the assembled world’s press – there were rumblings on Twitter that 3 years on from Penk’s smash and grab raid, Radio Republic were about to stage their own resurrection.

The newly constructed www.radiorepublic.net confirmed the news to be true, and the station went live on the 11.11.11 at 11.11am. Early shows have been absolutely brilliant, and I can heartily recommend you get on this immediately and give these good people your support.

What’s in place now isn’t a radio station in the traditional sense, the music being consistently good and the presenters not being insufferable dickheads makes it different for a start. Shows are pre-recorded and uploaded daily onto the site, where they can then be accessed simply by clicking on the links provided. Webcasting it’s called – no software required, no need to register and simple to suss out even for the computer illiterate.

Spread the word. Spread the love. Viva La Republic!

Copyright Red News – November 2011

www.rednews.co.uk

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N-n-n-n-nineteen

One of the main signs that you’ve finally reached that fully grown, adult stage of your life comes when you’re absent-mindedly listening to Radio 1 or Key 103 or whatever radio station pumps out generic chart fodder these days, and realise you haven’t got the foggiest what you’re listening to.

When I was younger, this situation seemed impossible. Despite hating the vast majority of music in the charts, I’d await the weekly run-down and study them with the same intensity that I’d pore over league tables and football results with. The charts seemed important and served as a barometer as to what was going on. I’d regularly hear adults claim to be unaware as to who or what comprised the top 40 singles, I couldn’t believe their ignorance and never envisaged that would be me, years later.

As a kid in the mid-eighties I considered myself pretty tuned-in musically and quickly developed an ear for what I considered cool and what clearly wasn’t. Half an hour of TOTP on a Thursday presented all the evidence required. Culture Club, Thompson Twins, Wham!, Spandau Ballet – painful stuff. The Jam, Dexy’s, UB40, Madness on the other hand…now you’re talking.

Every now and again, an act would come along which I’d really take issue with – Frankie Goes To Hollywood being a prime example. As well as considering their music ‘shite’ and knowing they were (as the vernacular of the times had it) ‘benders’ – following one revelatory edition of Saturday Superstore, I discovered they were scousers as well. From that moment forward, I loathed Holly Johnson with a passion I’d normally reserve for Rush, Dalglish and Souness.

May 1985 saw Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’ top the charts for 5 weeks…and it did my head in. Hardcastle’s case wasn’t helped by the fact he looked like Leo Sayer Jnr and tended to wear his jackets with the sleeves rolled up. I mean, c’mon Paul – it’s Elstree Studios, not Miami Vice.

Nowadays I can appreciate ‘19’ for what it is – catchy, sample-laden, Kraftwerk inspired British electro with a powerful anti-war message – it’s aged surprisingly well. Yet to my musically receptive yet somewhat underdeveloped, Simple Minds-loving brain – I just wanted him to fuck off.

26 years on, and I can’t get that Hardcastle tune out of my head. It’s been there for months now, an annoying mental soundtrack I’m carrying in anticipation of the moment we finally overtake Liverpool in terms of league titles won.

‘N-n-n-n-nineteen, nineteen, n-n-n-n-nineteen’ – that refrain is always there, every time 19 is mentioned in conversation (ie constantly) or I read any reference to what we stand on the brink of.

Like many of us mid-thirties types, the FA cup successes of the mid-eighties were the crowning moments of my formative years watching United – the league title proving maddeningly elusive until we finally bagged one in 1993. Just to witness one championship was enough for me back then, though those expectations were quickly raised as it became apparent that Fergie hadn’t just built us a title winning team – he’d constructed the foundations of a dynasty that was going to challenge for years.

All of the titles we’ve amassed since 1993 have been rightly celebrated, but the next one will carry a special resonance for those of us who experienced the drought years – a golden period to watch the reds which contains many cherished memories – but one which brought about numerous false dawns title-wise, culminating in a devastating trio of defeats vs Forest, West Ham and Liverpool that comprised our spectacular implosion in April 1992.

Though that afternoon at Anfield still stings now, it was our visit in January 1994 for the 3-3 that saw them display their infamous ‘Au Revoir Cantona and Man United…Come Back When You’ve Won 18!’ banner. It was a defining moment where the possibility of one day usurping them came into focus. The scousers started this modern day obsession with numbers and statistics, as that was all they had left to cling to – and it was concrete evidence that we’d finally become the dominant force.

Fast-forward to 2011 and with just a handful of games to go this term, a 19th league title is now tantalisingly within reach. N-n-n-n-nineteen. The desire to reach this milestone is so great that even typing out these words feels wrong somehow – I’m writing with the awareness that committing this to print at this stage, might curse us yet. So if it goes tits-up, I can only apologise in advance.

This title run in feels naggingly reminiscent of 1993. I’m finding myself counting the days in-between games and struggling to fully focus on real-life, pressing engagements. As the games get ticked off and we edge closer to the finish line, it’s become all-consuming.

Despite us hovering titles up with gleeful abandon over the last 18 years, it remains a difficult thing to win. Ask Liverpool, or Newcastle, or even City now. Say if we were to repeat the heroics of 99 or 08 and collect another European cup next month – who’s to say that Ferguson wouldn’t then decide to call an abrupt end to his time in charge? Yes, given what’s been hinted at (another 2-3 years yet) it remains unlikely – though not beyond the realms of possibility. 3 European cups in the bag and Liverpool properly de-perched, what a way to bow out.

Where would that leave us? With a new man in charge, new backroom staff and facing the perennial question as to how we’re going to replace Giggs and Scholes when they ultimately call it a day. I know we’ve got this £100M+ cash reserves sat in the bank waiting for a rainy day – but I’m not expecting to see that splashed on replacements any time soon. No, the ‘value’ line is sure to be reeled out again – and any silverware won this season used as justification for United’s relative parsimony.

Given we’re top of the table and have reached the semis of the European cup again, it could be seen as churlish to be questioning the make-up of the squad at this point – but lets not kid ourselves. We all know our shortcomings, the lack of creative midfield options has been terrifyingly obvious for much of the season – yet we’ve somehow survived and managed to kick on. By the way, Michael Carrick – it’s good to have you back, where the fuck have you been?

So in spite of the period of upheaval that could be looming, the financial black-hole we inhabit and us looking anything but convincing all season, we find ourselves on the verge of footballing immortality…again. It’s testament to Sir Alex that the ability to confound, surprise and over-achieve is now firmly a part of this club’s DNA, it’s now almost expected of us. Have no doubt, these are great days – we’re watching history in the making.

So my wish for the coming weeks is to see Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’ make a surprise return to the charts, just as ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ re-emerged into popular consciousness post-Rotterdam. Expect the tune to get hammered in the montages and video clips produced to hail this seasons champions. No.19. N-n-n-n-nineteen.

This time around, it won’t make my teeth itch in the slightest.

Copyright Red News – April 2011

www.rednews.co.uk