Coronavirus: Week eight in self-isolation
Lockdown restrictions have been eased slightly by the UK government this week. It’s not made much of a difference to my personal situation though; I’m still self-isolating as a precaution and working from home.
At this point, all the weeks are becoming quite similar. I’m trying to take it one day at a time. I find that easier to think of than how long I might be at home for. My own situation will probably need to last until the end of June, at the earliest. Longer than I initially expected.
The hardest thing to come to terms with is, when I do eventually finish my period of self-isolation, things won’t be like they used to. When I return to my usual work base in Carlisle, I won’t be able to hug colleagues who I haven’t seen for months. Instead, we’ll stay two metres apart. There’ll be leaves on the trees on the road leading up to our house, which I haven’t yet seen. People will be wearing PPE on public transport. The list goes on.
For some people, the prospect of not leaving the house for more than two months must seem daunting. The reality is that it’s just become a way of life for me now and I’m used to it. The key thing is to try not to dwell on the negatives. There are some positives to quarantine, like reading more books, re-discovering music (really listening, not just having it on in the background) and having time to reflect about ourselves. Life usually comes at a fast pace and, if anything, slowing down means we’re able to take stock.
Over the past week or so I was nominated on Facebook to post the covers of 10 albums which greatly influenced my taste in music. A challenge right up my street! I thought I’d elaborate a little about my choices. Here we go then, in no particular order:
I love the ‘chillout’ genre. To me, Zero 7’s first album epitomises everything I love about that style of music. Simple Things features the wonderful Sia Furler on many tracks. The very first radio interview I did was with Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker for Fuse FM, ahead of a great gig at Manchester Academy in 2009.
The track Eple was what first introduced me to the electronica genre of music. I feel this was when I was truly developing my own taste, rather than being influenced by my Mum’s Easy Listening or Dad’s Prog Rock. This is a brilliant album from the Norwegian band which has downtempo and house influences.
Wonderwall was the first single I bought. Back in the days when you had to physically go into a record store to do something like that. (It seems a world away from these current times of downloads and streaming! Sad to think the occasion of doing that is now lost, but the modern day way is more convenient and instant, I suppose.) Wonderwall is included in this album, along with many other iconic tracks. Listening to Oasis makes me think of my proud Mancunian roots.
Long before Coldplay were a band headlining stadiums, this was their first studio album. I remember being blown away when I first heard the track Yellow and followed the band since then. Their sound has developed, over the years, but there’s something still very special about this debut album.
I could have chosen any of Jamiroquai’s studio albums to be included in this list. A Funk Odyssey was what I heard that made me want to discover more about the band though. I loved their fusion of acid jazz with the pop genre. When I was with Fuse FM, I presented an overnight special feature the back catalogue of Jamiroquai’s music. Great memories.
The distinctive sound of French House music, which the Daft Punk duo are the masters of. There’s so many fantastic tracks on this album. Digital Love was the first I encountered by watching a music video channel. This album makes a good use of sampling from other songs. This is what has often encouraged me to seek out how the original pieces sound too. A ‘Discovery’ indeed. (I actually wrote about the sampling of George Duke in Daft Punk’s Digital Love in this blog, seven years ago this month. Time flies!)
I received M People’s final studio album on cassette for Christmas in 1997. It features the inimitable voice of Heather Small. There’s something so joyous about the band’s sound that I love and there’s a great cover of Roxy Music’s Avalon on this album. The band have another Manchester connection for me. I saw them perform live years later at the city’s arena, which is one of my most memorable gigs. We literally went down Angel Street to get there as well.
Another from the House / Dance genre. This album was recommended for me to listen to and I’ve been a fan ever since. It got me through a long coach journey to France as a teenager, listening on repeat! The individual tracks are all good but the album as a whole tells a story with music. I was lucky enough to see this performed live at Manchester Academy in 2010. Great to just lose yourself in while listening.
Well, what can I say about this masterpiece that won’t have already been said over the years? The full Tubular Bells remains one of the best pieces of music I’ve ever heard; there’s so much variety to it. It’s difficult to hear the beginning an not think of the film The Exorcist though, but there’s so much more to it than that. A truly epic listen. Play it loud!
I had to make a nod to my passion for musicals somewhere in this list and Grease was probably the catalyst for me. So many hits from the film but what’s great about the soundtrack album is that it also includes the Sha Na Na tracks from the school dance scenes. I had this album on cassette and have a feeling it may have worn out from being played so much!
It’s obvious, from looking at those choices, that 2001 must have been a pivotal year for shaping my musical tastes. Other years have great influence too, many dating back before I was born, and not just limited to this list. I don’t get it when people say music “wasn’t from their era”. The great thing about discovering music is you can listen to anything and develop an appreciation for it. In the Internet age, it’s easier to do than ever before.
Last chance to listen: Eclectic 80s
It’s the decade of big hair, big shoulder pads and even bigger songs.
That’s why, over the Easter period, I wanted to present a specialist music programme dedicated to the music that defined a decade. It’s a popular radio format for a reason and these songs ‘test well’ with listeners.
If the BBC wants to attract younger audiences then I think music of this era is a great way to do it. It evokes memories for those who remember the decade for those who lived it and appeals to those who didn’t. I think it’s testimony to how good the sound of the time was because programmes – and indeed entire radio stations dedicated to the decade – prove so popular.
When I was starting out in my broadcasting career I learnt a lot from the likes of DJ Caz Matthews at North Manchester FM. A few years later, I appeared on BBC Radio Manchester’s 80s programme firstly with Manchester musician Clint Boon and latterly Stuart Ellis. I was delivering travel bulletins into the programme at the time and a great advantage was that I got to hear a lot of the output! I know 80s is a format well done by very knowledgable and experienced presenters, which is why I wanted to do something a little different an put my own spin on things: I pitched “Eclectic 80s”.
My programme on BBC Radio Lancashire celebrates the niche, the novelty and great songs you don’t often hear on the radio. Wham! was the most requested band in my running order but, instead of what you might expect, I played ‘Young Guns’, when was the last time you heard that?
80s computerised TV host Max Headroom makes an appearance with The Art of Noise for ‘Paranoimia’, in what arguably takes the title of most eclectic song played in the whole two hours – and proudly so!
Also, I channeled Brett Davison’s ‘Tricky TV theme teatime teaser’ by playing the full theme from the TV show ‘Moonlighting’, which starred Bruce Willis – back when he had hair. It was performed by the late, great Al Jarreau and producer by Nile Rodgers of Chic. I’ll post a full tracklist at end of this blog post.
I was so proud of this programme, especially with the amount of interaction that I got while on-air. I wasn’t expecting much as it was Good Friday evening, but people got in touch to say they were listening, to tell me what they were doing and share their memories of the 1980s.
It’s only available on BBC Sounds for a few more days so if you fancy a quirky couple of hours to re-live the new wave, new romantic and synth pop style that defined a decade, follow the link here and re-run the fun: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p075j96b
Stomp! – The Brothers Johnson
Sweet Surrender – Wet Wet Wet
Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry For Loverboy) – Scritti Politti
Here Comes The Rain Again – Eurythmics
Rain or Shine – Five Star
The King of Rock n Roll – Prefab Sprout
You’re the Best Thing – The Style Council
My Old Piano – Diana Ross
Moonlighting – Al Jarreau
Kissing with Confidence – Will Powers feat. Carly Simon
Dancing with Tears in my Eyes – Ultravox
Let’s Wait Awhile – Janet Jackson
Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need this Pressure On) – Spandau Ballet
Too Shy – Kajagoogoo
Sweet Love – Anita Baker
Young Guns (Go For It) – Wham!
Bridge to your Heart – Wax
This Woman’s Work – Kate Bush
Paranoimia – The Art of Noise feat. Max Headroom
Rosanna – Toto
Here we Are – Gloria Estefan
Don’t Look Down (The Sequel) – Go West
January, February – Barbara Dickson
Half a Minute – Matt Bianco feat. Basia
Thinking of You – The Colour Field
My One Temptation – Mica Paris
Down to Earth – Curiosity Killed The Cat
Waiting for a Train – Flash and the Pan
Christmas traditions can come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s a snowball cocktail on Christmas Eve or getting out the Boxing Day board games to play with the family. For me every year meant I’d dig out some festive favourite songs for a Chilled Christmas on special on the radio. The time has flown by like Santa on his sleigh and it’s been three years since I last presented a programme… until now!
I gave up that side of things to concentrate on newsreading instead. 2018 will mark my 10th year in radio and up until I qualified as a broadcast journalist I’d presented a ‘chillout’ programme of mellow music every week on different radio stations in the North West.
This year I’m delighted to say that I’ll be back on the airwaves presenting a new ‘Chilled Christmas’ programme on BBC Radio Lancashire on Christmas Day from 17:00.
My love of radio began at the University of Manchester’s student radio station, Fuse FM. After I graduated, I transferred the programme to North Manchester FM. I was also on weeknights on the Stockport radio station Pure 107.8FM too. One of the highlights when I was presenting Chilled Pure on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day morning and I was on Santa Watch. It was magical and I jingled all the way.
Even though I’ve had almost a decade in the industry, I still have to pinch myself because I never imagined I could make a career out of it. I originally joined student radio as a way to bring out my confidence. People who work with me now will find it hard to believe, but I was actually quite shy!
After working with Fuse FM’s marketing team, I was persuaded to put a show proposal in and I thought I’d pitch a show of music that I knew well from my own collection and that’s how ‘The Chill Room’ was born.
Later down the line, I was advised by industry professionals that to specialise in a genre or a niché area of programming was a bad thing, if you want to become a radio presenter. I can understand why they said that because there are so few opportunities in that line of work nowadays. However, I just took a different route and broadcast journalism suits me. I think it has made me a more rounded broadcaster as a result. It serves as a reminder; there’s more than one way to achieve your ambitions.
It’s been great to put a ‘Chilled Christmas’ programme together again, this time to be broadcast on the BBC. It’s an hour of festive favourites and mellow versions of tracks you know, with some hidden gems there too. On the playlist there’s Lady Antebellum, Luther Vandross, Stacey Kent, The Stylistics and a new release from Kate Rusby’s latest Christmas album – to name but a few. Hopefully, it’ll be the perfect festive accompaniment, while all the rich food digests on Christmas Day!
What a pleasure it’s been to research the music again. The programme will also be sprinkled with some anecdotes from myself as well. And – you know me – they’ll be quirky! This year has been truly fantastic for me in every way, both professionally and personally. To have been given the chance to present a programme on BBC Radio Lancashire really has been the cherry on top of the cake… or should that be the brandy on top of the Christmas pudding??
I hope you can join me on BBC Radio Lancashire from 17:00 on Christmas Day for ‘Chilled Christmas’. It’ll be available on iPlayer for 30 days after too – in case you want to extend that festive cheer even further!
All that’s left to say is Merry Christmas to you! Thank you for reading my blog during 2017 and I wish you all the very best for the new year ahead.
Why pop music should be more Bowie
I will forever remember waking up last Monday morning (January 11th, 2016.) Like most people, I picked up my phone to see the news agenda of the day and there it was – an alert announcing 69-year-old David Bowie had died.
Disbelief; I hadn’t known he had cancer? Is this a nightmare? Surely this was a hoax?
Worldwide mourning followed with many radio stations opting, in the early part of the day at least, to play his songs back-to-back in tribute. Listening to this struck me at how unique this moment must be. To hear an artist’s back catalog and not become disinterested. (The radio industry term being that songs ‘burn’ out after being heard too much.)
From ‘Space Oddity’ to ‘Let’s Dance’, there’s something to suit every musical taste. Not to mention how familiar his dulcet tones or riffs seem, even after a while of not hearing them. I’m not old enough, to have been there in Bowie’s heyday, when Ziggy Stardust took to the stage and from then on. Yet his music sounded as fresh last Monday as some of the most recent chart hits.
It got me thinking, is there anyone in pop culture these days whose ‘Sound and Vision’ will stand the test of time like that? By the very nature of the pop genre it needs to be a one-size-fits all. The concept of the industry is to appeal to as many people as possible in order to maximise sales.
That’s why all of Adele’s songs sound the same, it’d be too much of a risk to deviate from what’s expected. All credit to Justin Bieber; (I never thought I’d write that!) he’s done well in reinventing himself from a rebellious adolescent to someone whose music you don’t have to hide away and listen to secretly in the car (surely, that’s not just me??) Now you can play ‘What Do You Mean?’ loud and proud from those speakers – pump that looping flute up to 11!!!
….BUT will Beiber’s songs have longevity? Will they become anthems in years to come in the way ‘Heroes’, ‘Rebel, Rebel’ or ‘Fame’ is? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t think so. However, maybe you need hindsight for these kind of things.
On top of Bowie’s music being as good as it was unconventional, for the time it was released anyway. It was his fearless approach to being different that cut through to other areas as well. Whether that be fashion or cultural influence to promote a shift of attitudes. I think it’s this that’s helped cement his status as a British pop icon. Bowie’s music can be related to something tangible that resonates beyond the songs you hear.
See this tweet by Preston’s Men Against Violence charity, as an example…
#DavidBowie helped changed attitudes towards gay & bisexual people and challenged narrow gender stereotypes. #RIP pic.twitter.com/LzVYQMHRVL
— Men Against Violence (@MAV_Preston) January 11, 2016
This is the antithesis of pop music; it needs to appeal to as many people as possible, remember. I wonder what we’d think if someone like an unknown Bowie released a song in today’s charts. It would probably do very well in the alternative arenas but would it cut through to mainstream?
I’m not saying I want someone to be a carbon copy of David Bowie; there will only ever be one of him, that’s the point. There needs to be someone daring enough to build upon and use their public profile to provoke social change. Who knows what might be able to be achieved.
It’s been a while since my last post and I was thinking of starting it up again. Before Bowie died my focus of the post was going to be Kate Bush. She has a similar unconventional allure that has made her too achieve legendary status. You only have to get past the heavy rotated hits like ‘Wuthering Heights’ (as wonderful an example that is) and listen to her albums. You realise just how beautifully outlandish her discography is too. Long may she release more! There may be many more artists in this vein too, but these are two striking examples, off the top of my head.
David Bowie – a hero for much more than just one day. He may no longer be with us, but his music is immortal. The Starman’s influence has helped drive social change. He has been one of the best ambassadors for British quintessential eccentricity we could ever have wished for.
Now let’s hope some of today’s pop stars use Bowie’s death and rise into social consciousness again to follow this lead. Be that extra bit different: “Turn and face the strange…”
Music never lets you down… or does it?
As the brains behind Chic and many disco hits (with his late musical partner Bernard Edwards) I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see Nile in person when he was in conversation with Dave Haslam at the Zion Arts Centre in Manchester the other week. Nile is such a humble, genuine and likeable person it didn’t take long to become engrossed in the fascinating tales of his childhood and career. I found myself nodding along during the night, and that wasn’t just when he played some of his most famous guitar riffs and basslines, I was also agreeing with what he had to say.
Something struck a chord with me and it was this notion of “DHM”. Don’t get too excited; it’s not some lads’ mag spin off, DHM stands for ‘Deep Hidden Meaning’ within songs. Get listening because there’s a DHM in all Chic’s songs as well as the long list of songs that Nile has produced for other distinguished artists too.
In his autobiography Le Freak, Nile says:
We wrote for the masses, but worked tirelessly to make sure that there was a deeper kernel that would appeal to the savvier listener. (2011, pg. 145)
I’m not going to tell you what David Bowie’s China Girl or Sister Sledge’s Thinking of You means, I’ll leave the fun of discovering that to you, but it got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if all songs were like that. Maybe I’m becoming cantankerously old if I were to say “They don’t make ‘em like they used to”, so I won’t. But with overly-saturated X Factor culture, cover albums and economies of scale impeding on the music industry it’s certainly a lot harder to find the good stuff nowadays. (Discovering brilliant hidden gems is all part of the experience though!)
Reviewing the latest chart releases has become a regular part of my week now for a feature that I do for Pure Radio and, more often than not, it’s a struggle to find something that I like. I often wonder why, but maybe – just maybe – it’s because of the lack of DHM? Think about it, was Rebecca Black thinking of a DHM when she unleashed Friday onto our ears? How about Cher Lloyd’s number 1 Swagger Jagger or any of Jedward’s latest offerings? They’re not exactly going to go down in the annals of music history are they… Well, not for the right reasons anyway.
Before the Rebecca Black fan club come to hunt me down, let me just say that of course this is all my subjective opinion. My childhood musical memories include the likes Aqua, The Cartoons and Vengaboys whose singles I bought with a big smile on my face at the time, so I am (hopefully) not a music snob. After all, we all love a bit of novelty. YMCA, anyone? But there just seems to be a bit too much novelty nowadays – that’s all.
Aside from this novelty, sampling has become very fashionable and Nile Rodgers knows that all too well. A great website that I like to procrastinate with is called http://www.whosampled.com/ If you type ‘Chic’ into the search box then you’ll see that they have sampled just one track [Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing) in 1977’s Everybody Dance, if you’re interested.] However, it’s astonishing to learn that Chic themselves have been sampled a whopping 145 times! It just goes to show that these modern day artists would only want to emulate that sound if it is good, which it certainly is.
Sampling is almost too easy to do; Nile, and countless other producers like him, have spent time and money arranging this music and recording it for it then to be ripped off by someone else. I’m sure it’s not too bad now though, especially when the royalties come rolling in. Of course, an advantage of sampling and covering songs is that it’s a fantastic way to introduce this music to a whole new audience who can then discover the DHM within the songs for themselves.
Does all this DHM stuff really matter? Maybe not initially when you’re dancing the night away, but DHM is what has given these songs longevity because you can listen again and again and hear different nuances within the songs every time. Something that any record producer could learn from, but that is why Nile Rodgers is one of the very best in his field.