In one of the more surprising developments of recent months I suddenly found myself presenting a weekly night-time radio show. I’d been asked into Fab Radio International for an interview about the new Bedlam Six album and, whilst waiting to go into the studio, got chatting to the man who runs the station. Before I knew it Debt Records had its own slot on a Monday evening, a regular broadcast home for the label roster to do with as they pleased. The trouble was everyone at the label who has ever had any experience in producing and/or presenting live radio was away on tour. So there I was, in a big swivel chair facing an intimidating array of dials, monitors, sliders and gauges – a radio novice alone… profoundly adrift.
Over the years I have become comfortable in radio studios (indeed for a long time I was BBC Manchester’s go-to emergency contributor, on regular standby in case a guest dropped out – I only lived down the road from their old Manchester building and always had something to plug!) but I’d never once driven the console, never shepherded an entire show from start to finish. Chatting to a DJ for ten minutes about a new single is one thing, running a two hour program is quite another. It also doesn’t help that I’m not overly keen on the sound of my speaking voice (that’s why whenever there are any narrative sections on Bedlam Six records we always ask Richard Barry to do them) so the thought of providing witty banter between tracks filled me with a certain distaste. It was beginning to seem like the whole idea was a massive mistake.
So as I sat in the booth for the first time, not sure if I’d properly cued up my opening track, wondering if my input levels had been adjusted accordingly, counting down the seconds before the hourly news headlines finished and my slot began… I was far from at ease.
And yes the first few shows were a bit terrifying. My hands were shaking throughout and my tendency to gabble threatened to go into turbo drive. Needless to say I have a new-found admiration for radio presenters. Where the desk is concerned, anyone not born an octopus is at a disadvantage. There are a lot of buttons and faders to navigate, all of which have the power to plunge the listener into silence or ear-splitting feedback. But really it was the sheer absurdity of the situation that proved to be the hardest obstacle to overcome. Sitting alone in a dark room full of blinking lights and wires, speaking into the void – it’s how I imagine an astronaut would feel operating the distress signal in an escape pod jettisoned from some intergalactic mothership… Is anybody out there?
The strange thing is, after a few weeks of this nonsense, I noticed I was looking forward to the radio show more than anything else I was involved in. Spending a few hours on Monday morning putting together my playlist, rooting out half remembered oddities, researching dates and contributors to old swing songs or the unedited cuts of 70s TV themes brought with it a curious pleasure, an earnest triviality akin to traditional boyhood pastimes like stamp collecting. It felt self-indulgent, an evasion of more pressing duties, yet wholesome, innocent… fun. I realised (with no small amount of mingled horror and self-reproach) that at some point over the last few years I’d stopped listening to music in that immersive way I used to when I was a teenager (before I began dissecting songs to see what made them tick). I was once again hearing the whole piece, rather than the component parts, and through that was spotting new things in familiar places, taking pleasure in details without getting eaten up by the quicksands of over-analysis. I was being transported the way I used to be before music became my job. I was being moved.
I’d become a music fan again.
A far more rewarding occupation than music pundit.