Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Everything Everything release new EP

Multi-genre indie pioneers Everything Everything have released a brand new EP to coincide with their coming UK tour. The A Deeper Sea EP consists of new songs The Mariana and lead track Breadwinner, as well a Tom Vek remix of Ivory Tower from their fourth album, last year's A Fever Dream and a cover of Neil Young's Don't Let it Bring You Down, recorded for Radio 1's Annie Mac show. 
Frontman Jonathan Higgs said The Mariana was about 'male identity and suicide'. Talking about the upcoming tour, he said the concerts would be less 'theatrical' than their last stage show, adding that there would be more 'reality' involved. You can listen to the new EP here and watch the video for Breadwinner below. 

Here's what happened when I spoke to Jonathan in the run-up to A Fever Dream last year.

You’ve now been around for almost a decade and seen a host of high-profile bands come and go over the years. What do you think has been the key to your longevity?

A combination of factors; we didn't start with a Big Bang, each record has been better and better received as we went, so there's never been a big pining for 'the old stuff', people really want the latest thing the most. Also we try to have a progressive mindset, we keep pushing ourselves and I think that keeps fans interested rather than getting comfy and bored. 

Two years is widely regarded as a pretty swift turnaround between albums in the modern climate. When did you start writing the album? How long were you in the studio?

We wrote it during the touring of Get to Heaven, we never really downed tools to be honest. We were in the studio for about a month all in. 

What kind of lyrical themes can we expect on A Fever Dream? Get to Heaven dealt with various political issues, is that the case this time round? 

Yes and no, the current world is so seeped in 'political opinions' and there are reams written every minute about every global consequence of every new catastrophic development in the blah blah blah I didn't think it was worth adding one more bleating voice into it. I'd rather take a step back and look at the human to human state of us, how a normal person is feeling in amongst all this fire and brimstone and uncertainty. The big things are the backdrop now rather than the focus, nobody gives a crap what I think about Brexit and Trump - everyone has something to say on that stuff, I want to say something else. 

Do you still retain a great deal of control over your videos and artwork? 

Yep we all think about it way too much. We've worked with some other directors on videos this time around and it's felt good.


What have you been listening to since Get to Heaven? Which recent albums, if any, have had a substantial impact on you? 

I'm really excited by the Blackpool grime scene, BGMedia and all the related artists. Hard to describe without sounding like I'm joking but look it up!

What is your attitude towards streaming? Do you think it has helped or hindered you? 

It's meant simultaneously that we make very little money from sales but are exposed to vastly more people. Is that a win? Yes and no, we've seen bands with lots of streams have to split up because they can't actually afford to be in a band anymore. If you are good live then you're ok, if you aren't you're kinda screwed. It's no surprise you see so many old bands getting back together and doing nostalgia tours. 

How did you arrive at the album title? 

I wanted to encapsulate a feeling I've been having, that I think a lot of people have been having, that of uncertainty and a surreal, dark fear of the unknown that's settled over everything in the last couple of years. Not a nightmare, a very strange dream. 

Is A Fever Dream darker or lighter in tone than its predecessor? 

Somewhat lighter in that there is hope here and there. GTH was a kind of warning album, and to go there again would be too much - everyone knows what has happened, what we are staring down the barrel of, why make an album telling everyone that? We know it's shit! Let's make something that talks about me and you and what to do next. 

A Fever Dream
Has the songwriting process become any tougher over the years? Does your eclecticism and experimentalism mean new ideas are always flowing? Do ever suffer from creative blocks? 

Yeah sometimes I do, when you write alone you just don't do it if you don't feel like it, but writing with Alex means there are times when one of us is fizzing with ideas and the other is empty. That's how I wrote the chorus for Can't Do, literally started to sing about how I didn't know what to sing on the track.

What can expect from the forthcoming live shows? Are there any songs you’ve found particularly painful to retire or rest to make way for new ones?

No it's a pleasure to retire songs! Playing new stuff is always exciting, the old songs aren't going anywhere, they are maturing like a fine cheese, little minging half-eaten Babybels stuffed back into their wax. The new live shows are super intense, Ivory Tower is a highlight, it's red raw.

Thanks, Jonathan!

You can follow Everything Everything on Twitter here, on Facebook here and buy A Fever Dream here

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Steve Lamacq announces new one-man show dates

Recent Lichfield Interrogates interviewee and indie broadcasting legend Steve Lamacq has announced a new tour of his one-man show, Going Deaf For a Living. The dates follow his initial string of 2017 shows, which featured tales about his BBC Radio 1 Evening Session days plus stories about his time at the NME, the 4Real incident, Nirvana, Oasis, John Peel and running Deceptive Records along with more recent anecdotes from his time at the helm of the 6 Music drivetime show. 

You can catch Lammo at the Colchester Arts Centre (8th May), Oxford Jericho (9th May), Reading South Street Arts Centre (10th May), Leeds Brudenell Social Club (11th May), Leicester's The Cookie (12th May) and the legendary 100 Club in London (15th May). Secure your attendance via See Tickets, WeGotTickets and Stargreen. 

Here's what happened when I caught up with Lammo in December 2017. 

Was the one-man show something you’ve been wanting to do for a while? Why did now seem the right time? 

I’d never really thought about doing something like this before, but me and my producer Tom were at Latitude a few years ago and I thought ‘that sounds like Stuart Maconie!'. It turned out it was him in the literary tent reading excerpts from his book from a tablet with a whole load of people laughing, and I wondered ‘do people do that?’. Tom said ‘you could do something like that’, and around a year later I thought, if we took the idea, maybe taking some stories and some of my batshit theories about pop music, maybe we could do something like ‘An Evening With...’. I got around to writing it on a week off, and it went from there really. 

How did T-Shirt Day go and what inspired it? Was it fuelled by seeing Made in Chelsea types wearing Ramones T-shirts and that kind of charade? 

I think it was some kind of terrible magazine that was left lying around like Heat! with some bright young thing in America next to someone else wearing a Nirvana T-shirt, and I thought ‘you’ve probably not even heard a note of their music, never mind having any understanding of what these bands stood for'. Then Top Shop started selling band T-shirts, and I started thinking ‘you do realise that the band T-shirt means a lot more to us than being some sort of fashion accessory?’. In that kind of irritated mood I sometimes find myself in, I just thought ‘let’s stand up for the rights of the T-shirt, let’s make sure people actually know what a band T-shirt really means to a music fan’. It was a moment of ire, stood outside the pub where I’m standing outside right now. I went back in and told my team about the idea. We had about 40 T-shirt photographs the first year, but then it just grew and grew and started resonating with more people. It’s nice to see and get the listeners involved, throwing out the playlist and playing the music that relates to the T-shirts people are wearing. It puts us, as a network, back in touch with our listeners. When 6 Music is good, its strength is understanding and being close to its audience. 

Lammo celebrates T-Shirt Day
I think 6 Music plays a lot of things commercial radio would never touch. When you look at the Radio X playlist, it’s laughable in the way that it playlists multiple songs by the same veteran bands rather than taking a risk with something new, which definitely highlights the value of what the BBC and 6 Music do. 

Obviously, commercial networks need to reach out to as many people as possible, but it’s important that we never underestimate just how inquisitive how some music fans are. 6 Music listeners are always interested in what else is out there, so it’s our job to give them a reasonable representation of things they might not always come across. 

You appear to be more active on social media recently. What are your opinions on social media in general? 

It think it’s alright if you’ve got the time. I do have a quick shufty, but I don’t always have the time. It offers another avenue for artists to send you music, which is good, but it’s another addition to the pile of stuff to listen to, so there’s a lot of things to listen to at the end of the week. You have to listen in bursts or your ears go tired. You either start to think that things that are half-good are really good, or you begin to think that things that are good are rubbish, so you have to do around two hours or so at a time. The only time I went to Peel Acres, John’s office consisted of a typewriter and a turntable, with a whole binful of demos. Obviously the bin was full of things that he was going to listen to rather than throw away, but right behind him were all the Fall albums. He said that, if he lost the idea of where the bar was set, he could put a Fall album on and remember where the barometer was, which determined what the right music was about, so you could listen to a record and decide whether it went higher or lower than that. 

What are your favourite memories of John Peel? 

Really just being able to knock around with him. We had two or three outside broadcasts, including a Radio 1 event in Brighton where we were staying in the same hotel. We’d do the gig and shows then have a late one in the bar before we got a bottle of wine and put it in front of John, not letting him go to bed until he’d told us a bunch of excellent stories. Those were excellent nights. We’d also bump into each other at Glastonbury and so on. When I was first told the Evening Session was going to be axed, we went into Needles wine bar round the corner from the studio and he gave us a bit of a pep talk, and I think that was one of the things that helped me clarify what to do and stopped me going slightly mad. You really appreciated his presence, and I think the thing that we’ll never get over is the fact that we don’t quite have the same moral compass or stamp of authority even with 6 Music that we all should aspire to, which John set merely just by being there. With him gone, I’m not sure what there is for some people to aspire to really, as much as he has left an amazing legacy.

With John Peel in 1995
Whilst we’re on the subject of unlikely Top of the Pops presenters, you fronted the show several times in the mid-nineties. Before you were recruited, was the idea something you’d even thought about? 

Ric Blaxill was a producer at Radio 1 before he moved to Top of the Pops, and he phoned up out of the blue to ask if me and Jo Whiley wanted to give it a go. It was a surreal time anyway, but I remember bumping into my former NME colleague, Fierce Panda boss Simon Williams, and he asked me ‘are you coming to the Bull and Gate on Wednesday?' and I said ‘oh no, I can’t, I’m presenting Top of the Pops’. And at that moment, it suddenly sank in, and I thought ‘I’M PRESENTING TOP OF THE POPS?!!! How’s that happened, this can’t be right?!!’. It was very odd, going into the dressing room and make-up, standing next to Jo, and thinking ‘I’m presenting Top of the Pops, here's the Spice Girls'. 

I recently watched the one you presented when Simply Red were number one with Fairground on YouTube. 

Oh my, oh my. I remember one episode where I had to back-announce Menswe@r, and then introduce Cher, and I never thought that would happen to a kid from the sticks. 

A lot of people say that when Top of the Pops was at its best, it was just an insanely bizarre variety show. 

It absolutely was - you should have seen the bar! A lot of people used to hang about, the mix of musicians on any one show put in a room together was just very odd and surreal. It was great, but a very nerve-wracking thing to do. 

I may be a bit of an Oasis-sceptic myself, but it must have been very exciting to play them for the first time just a few weeks or months after you took over the Evening Session. They are obviously divisive and get slagged off a lot, but can you remind us why they were such a breath of fresh air at the time? 

It was an odd time for music. The UK was producing a lot of interesting bands, Ride were making a few interesting records but didn’t seem to know where they fitted in, there was the wave of shoegaze that didn’t seem to have much direction and we’d been in thrall to grunge for a while, with a lot of grunge-influenced bands from the UK coming along. I think one thing to put it into context is the fact that the first two Evening Session sessions in 1994 were Eugenius then Oasis, with Oasis being the new and the former being good but clearly not getting any further. Another thing about Oasis and other bands is that they had a lot more ambition than some of the previous wave of indie bands, and I think that form of boldness and swagger was really necessary to push us on. When I was talking to Noel the other day, I recalled the time when I had a pre-release cassette of the second album and I couldn’t stop listening to Don’t Look Back in Anger. Me and Jo were at the bar at the 1995 Mercury Music Prize and Noel came along, and I just bored him senseless for minutes about how it was such a brilliant song that was going to mean so much to so many people. He just looked at me as if to say ‘shut up, man!’. At the time, they were just very important. 

Even I must admit 1994-97 Oasis had their moments. I even like bits of Who Built the Moon?, especially Holy Mountain. 

Yeah, there’s some belters on this new record. There’s parts where you think ‘I understand how you’ve got to that because that’s the thing you would have expected from the first High Flying Birds record’, but there’s things like If Love is the Law, which is a really powerful and emotive sort of soul track. There’s a mixture of things which he’s attempted and managed to pull off, and I like the way he’s done something different and created an environment where he’s out of a safe, sit-at-home, knock-out-a-song-a-day means of working. 

Steve and Noel Gallagher
Did you always have broadcasting in mind even when you were a sports journalist? 

I had it in mind when I was 11! In the second week of high school, my arts teacher told us to draw what we wanted to be, and I drew a man with two record players and said I wanted to be a DJ, but she just shook her head and said ‘you’ll grow out of it!’. Obviously I did for a bit, thinking there was no way someone from a tiny Essex village was going to be a DJ, so I instead decided writing about music was the only way I was going to get into the industry. I started writing a fanzine when I was at school and carried on through college and into my time at the Harlow Gazette until I got my break at the NME. I really started thinking about radio again when I interviewed Sammy Jacob who ran the indie pirate station and soon afterwards asked me to do a show. I did three hours each Saturday on Q102, which eventually turned into XFM. 

Which I imagine was a very different XFM to the one that is now Radio X? 

Yeah, very different. We had to pay him £10 a week to go on air. The money went into a kitty because every six weeks Ragga FM would nick our aerial. 

Can you tell us about running Deceptive Records and signing Elastica and Idlewild? 

I did do that for a while, but eventually I had to pack it in after Idlewild because there was a bit of a conflict of interest with the Evening Session. With Elastica, I’d been hanging around with a lot of A&R people including people in publishing, and there was a really nice guy called Mike Smith who’d heard about them and agreed that they were really exciting. We went to see them at the Falcon in Camden, and they were already playing to massive crowds. They were then forced to perform out of town just so they could basically learn how to play live properly without loads of people turning up. One of the reasons it was so exciting was that we’d made the conscious decision to go vinyl-only to remind people how thrilling records like Teenage Kicks and (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais were. We thought we would make a record that sounded like Hammersmith Palais with a picture label that looked like Teenage Kicks. That’s how we sold it to Justine and the rest of the band and thankfully they said yes. 

I think Elastica are one of the Britpop bands that has aged the best. 

Yeah, I think the impact it had on girls as well as boys was very important. Within a year, you’d go to an Elastica gig and the entire crowd would look like Justine or Justin, and you just thought ‘the charity shops round here must have no stock left!’, being absolutely pillaged by people trying to find old granddad jackets and collarless shirts. The whole movement suddenly gained its own momentum, and I think the 1993 changes at Radio 1 helped, giving a lot more airtime to things that were trying to come through. 

Early Evening Session press shot with Jo Whiley
Speaking of live venues, you have done a lot of work to promote and save smaller venues over recent years. 

I’m a supporter of live venues as much for the music as the fact they are a place where people who don’t really fit in anywhere else can go. It really is about community – I used to go to the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town about three times a week, not just for the music but to meet other people and talk about it and discuss other stuff. The Harlow Square, which was my local when I was at college and the local paper, was a place where I did a lot of my growing up and met so many people. It’s important to remember that I came from a tiny village in the north east of Essex which has a current population of 1,003, and I knew very little but learned so much hanging around these venues. 

As much as it was terrifically exciting watching bands, which I love, you could turn up on your tod and get chatting to someone about records, and you’d come home with lists and notes of albums and books people had suggested. It was an education to me, and I would hate it if the next generation didn’t have a place, now that we have lost a lot of record shops, to meet like-minded people. I know you can do it online, but there’s something different and more engaging about actually being in a room full of people who think like you do that you can have a decent conversation with. The idea that local councils don’t understand this and the fact there is ongoing gentrification in major cities, allowing these venues to close down, is very narrow-minded and it makes me quite angry, as you can probably tell!

You’ve been interviewing musical aristocracy for decades, but do you ever still find yourself starstruck? Is there anyone on your wish list? 

I think I’ve done everyone that I want to do. I have been offered John Lydon a couple of times but I didn’t want to ‘break the spell’ really as he can be quite awkward so I turned it down. It sounds incredibly arrogant to say it, but I was lucky in that I interviewed a lot of people on the way up like Nirvana at the NME. I think the only people that really make me starstruck are the players from Colchester United FC as they do something I can’t do, and there’s just something about them being out on a pitch. These are League Two players, but for some reason I absolutely clam up. If I see the goalkeeper Sam Walker, I think 'oh my God, what am I gonna say?!!'. I'm far more fanboy with them than I am if I bump into Jarvis Cocker in the street. 

Over the past decade, there’s been a lot of talk about the ‘death’ of indie-rock, and I suspect a lot of it is to do with guitar bands rarely denting or being within close reach of the Top 40. What is your response to this? 

Indie obviously doesn’t have the profile it used to have, but you can see that it is healthy just by all the bands that are out there. I think there is a weird North-South divide at the moment – if you were to go north of Watford, a lot of people would tell you that guitar music was thriving. It may not be in the charts – there is a lot of it around but it’s not hugely represented in the mainstream media down here in London, I don’t think. I think we are still getting bands coming along that are doing interesting things. There are a lot of parallels with the post-Britpop era, where bands like Mogwai and Belle and Sebastian were given more space to move, and it brought us Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, OK Computer and all those sort of records, with that style moving closer to the periphery, so in that way we’re still getting a lot of interesting stuff like Nadine Shah and IDLES for instance. They may not have a mass audience at the moment, but they really mean something to the people that listen to them. 

Guitar-led music can’t be doing too badly considering Liam’s first-week album success. 

Yeah, that album’s fine, isn’t it? He’s done well!

It’s better than I expected it to be! You’re obviously heavily-associated with guitars, but your tastes don’t end there – you even played Kerncraft 400 the other day. Do you have any favourite non-indie records? 

There’s an amazing disco record from 1978 called Shame by Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King – the greatest disco track ever made and the first single to make the UK Top 40 on twelve-inch sales alone. There’s all sorts of things – I really love the Glasgow reggae collective Mungo’s Hi-Fi at the moment because I adore old-school-sounding reggae. I was very lucky to attend that for the first time at the 6 Music Festival in Glasgow. It was just full of young people dancing to old records and new ones with an old-school feel. 

I was very intrigued to find out you remixed Ant and Dec back in 1997 – how did that come about? 

Ha ha ha! When Jo was on holiday, we used to do co-hosts, but we decided to carry on doing the odd one here and there after she left the Evening Session in 1997. At the time, I think they’d just changed from PJ and Duncan to Ant and Dec and had released their single Better Watch Out, which was a terrific pop record, and I do like a decent pop song. They seemed like fun lads and I’d heard they were quite into their alternative bands – in fact, one of the first things that first tied them together was their mutual love for the Inspiral Carpets. So, we got them onto co-host – they were heading off to do a PA in Bruges or somewhere but they had half an hour to kill, so we went to the pub afterwards and had a very enjoyable evening, and I jokingly said 'I’ll remix your next record for you, boys!'. I am still stunned when I think about when a man from their record label phoned me up and said 'apparently you’ve offered to remix Ant and Dec'. I didn’t think that would get any further!

What did the remix entail? Did you do any new instrumentation or was it just a simple EQ job? 

They gave us all the bits on a load of DATs and I went to a studio near Elephant and Castle where we took it apart and put a new drumbeat on it, making it a lot faster. It was essentially pop jungle, and great fun. 

There was a Sleeper remix too, I don’t know if there were any others? 

No, that’s it. That was my remixing career. Statuesque by Sleeper and Shout by Ant and Dec, that’s the entire catalogue.  

Finally, a lot of people reading this might have lost touch with you since the Evening Session and Lamacq Live, or they might not have a digital radio or listen online. What can they expect from your 6 Music show? 

When they get there, they can expect all types of stuff. Loads of stuff I grew up with – it’s basically framed over forty years, although we go a bit further back with The Who and the Stones and that kind of thing sometimes. It’s mainly records which I think have stood the test of time and some oddities which I think will surprise some people. There’s nothing better than someone e-mailing you and telling you they’ve never heard a track you’ve just played on the radio or saying it’s been 20 years since they heard a song you've played – the other good thing is when you play a new band and somebody hears it and buys the record or goes to one of their gigs and thanks you for introducing to them. 

Recent press shot
I went to see IDLES the other week and four or five people came up to tap me on the shoulder and tell me they’d first heard them on your show – you still just think ‘that’s really what it’s all about’ - taking somebody that’s been overlooked elsewhere, giving them a platform and letting people decide. That’s exactly the same mentality as I had when I started my fanzine when I was 17. In terms of the music you hear on the show, it’s probably about 65% stuff you’re given and 35% free plays but it can vary from day-to-day. You get far more leeway than you would anywhere else. 

Cheers, Lammo!

You can hear Lammo on weekdays between 4-7pm on BBC Radio 6 Music. Visit his website, Going Deaf For a Living, by clicking here

Oh, and all images copyright of their respective owners.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Bob Fischer makes 6 Music debut

Cult BBC Tees presenter and former Lichfield Interrogates interviewee Bob Fischer has recently made his 6 Music debut, sitting in for Tom Robinson on the BBC Introducing Mixtape. Here's what happened when I caught up with Bob for an in-depth look at his career so far in 2016.

So, how did you find yourself on the BBC Tees airwaves?

I used to run a record shop in Yarm High Street, which I took over pretty much as soon as I left university in 1994. It was good fun – I never had any real intentions of being on the radio, in fact it never really crossed my mind, I was just tootling about in my shop being slightly grumpy to people looking for strange music. I was good friends with now-5 Live features reporter and Football Focus man Mark Clemmitt and sat next to him at Middlesbrough matches. Unlike me, Clem is incredibly driven and ambitious – he decided around that stage that he fancied a media career and tirelessly pursued it. 

Clem seemed to be under the impression that I was quite funny, so asked me to be involved in a demo for a potential radio programme. It ended up being called ‘Red Balls on Fire’, and I came in as a comedy sidekick, like Lard to his Mark. We recorded the demo in Clem’s front room in 1998 during the World Cup and sent it into what was then called BBC Radio Cleveland and, to my amazement, they replied, told us they really liked it and asked us to produce a pilot for a potential series. They initially wanted us for five weeks, but the show ended up lasting for three years. 

‘Red Balls on Fire’ was essentially me and Clem in the studio with various people from the world of football. Our guests included Keith O’Neill, Robbie Mustoe, Curtis Fleming, Dean Gordon and Andy Townsend, and we had sketches inspired by people like Kenny Everett, who’d always interspersed his shows with surreal skits packed with sound effects like explosions etc. My job became to write sketches, spoof news reports and work with off-the-wall characters, all with a tangible Boro feel – it was a great vehicle for me to make comedy for the radio as I’d been writing for Boro fanzine ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ for quite a while, so it was largely an extension of that. 

Somewhere along the line, the show metamorphosed into a sort of ‘606’-esque footie phone-in called ‘Talking Balls’. ‘Red Balls on Fire’ was a pre-recorded programme that went out on a Friday night and was repeated on a Saturday before the match, but we usually did ‘Talking Balls’ live from various grounds across the country after the final whistle. Not sure if we made to your hometown Huddersfield though as we were in different divisions at the time!

In around 2001, Clem got his gig as a reporter at 5 Live. We’d done a couple of programmes for 5 Live as ‘The Football World of Clem and Fischer’ around 1999-2000. We’d started a Saturday lunchtime programme called ‘Gobstopper’ just before Clem went to 5 Live, which wasn’t just about football but music and a lot of other stuff too, so when he went I inherited that and brought my ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ colleague, now-BBC Tees soccer commentator Mark Drury, in to work with me. 

‘Gobstopper’ ran for about five years before the then-boss suggested it could work better as an evening show. We initially started on a once-a-week basis before Mark Drury left and Shack (also from Fly Me to the Moon) came in (other Fly Me to the Moon Fischer contributors included editor Robert Nichols and Uncle Harry, a regular on my show). We then went five-nights-a-week between 2008 and 2012, offering a strange mish-mash of new music (especially local music), surreal ramblings and lots of non-musical guests, too. We'd find our childhood heroes, people like Vicki Michelle, John Craven and Wilf Lunn, and invite them to be guests. I’m now on between 8-10pm on Saturdays and weekday afternoons for the next few months at least. 

How would you describe your broadcasting style? Can you tell us about other unforgettable interviewees? 

There’s kind of two sides to my broadcasting. Firstly, there’s the often-esoteric new music side, but then there’s also my glitzy, camp love of showbiz. My more recent radio years have definitely showcased a strong balance of the two. Dudley Sutton was a fantastic recent interviewee – most people will know him as Tinker from Lovejoy. He’s had an extraordinary career. In the sixties, he was in anti-capital punishment film The Boys and he played a gay biker in The Leather Boys. He was a firebrand of an actor and took these parts as they chimed with his political opinions at the time, hoping to play a part in social change. He was also a notorious hellraiser during this era and has been extremely open about all of this. He featured in Ken Russell’s notorious The Devils, which was famously cited as blasphemous, later saying he hugely admired Russell because he wasn’t scared of anyone at all.

'The Leather Boys' trailer, 1964

One of my most unforgettable experiences was when we headed to Jack Charlton’s house during the old football shows. Clem certainly had no fear when it came to approaching potential interviewees. To our amazement, he agreed, though I did spill a cup of tea all over his fireplace. His memorabilia was scattered haphazardly everywhere. He was truly inspirational, as was Bruce Rioch – another childhood icon. We’ve also inevitably had tonnes of people from Doctor Who and even Graham Coxon. We met him in Gateshead and found him in his dressing room. He was shy but fantastic – at the end of it, I asked for a picture and he then suggested we turn it into a face-pulling competition. After I thanked him, he turned round and said (adopts Southern accent), “You’re a Scorpio, aren’t you? I always get on with Scorpios”. And I am!

How do the interviews come about?

Sometimes we approach them, sometimes they approach us. I’m very pro-active at seeking them out. I keep a close watch on local listings but we’re also on the mailing lists of various PR, management and press people. 

Imagine how high-profile you could go if you went national? 

Well, I’ve never…do you know, if someone came knocking from a national radio station, you know, undoubtedly I would, but I’ve never actively pursued it because I’m famously not particularly driven or ambitious! There’s never been a career plan – I always say I’ll be living in a log cabin in the woods somewhere in five years’ time. I’ve never approached national radio stations – I have done 5 Live shows with Clem and a science-fiction night for Radio 4 Extra a couple of years ago, after they asked me. 

I genuinely love local radio – I’ve never really lived away from Teesside aside from Lancaster Uni. I was actually homesick at Uni but now I love Lancaster and visit regularly.  

Sitting in on After Midnight on Radio 2 sounds like the ideal slot for a cult broadcaster? 

I’ve been described as worse!

There’ve been many public service broadcasting cuts recently – how would you defend BBC local radio and what purpose do you think it serves in 2016? Can you tell us about the role BBC Introducing plays too?

I think local radio is hugely important. Of course, there’s two things I do for BBC Tees currently – the Saturday night BBC Introducing new music show and sitting in on weekday afternoons. For those that don’t know, BBC Introducing is a scheme where acts can upload their music with the hope of it being broadcast by their local station, and the cream of the crop are broadcast nationally. 

I’ve been doing Friday afternoons on BBC Tees recently and have sat in for John Foster a lot. Both of my shows are firmly entrenched in the local community for different reasons. The local music is a big part of what gives any area its identity – you can often see the flavour and culture of an area by the music coming out of it. BBC Introducing is a valuable structured scheme designed to give local artists the chance of being heard nationally and hugely important to the local community. 

Ten Foot Tom and the Leprosy Crooks in the studio, Feb 2016

The afternoon show is rooted in a very different part of the local community – I often speak to the callers myself off-air, and we have built up a number of long-lasting relationships with local listeners. Local radio stations are a big part of peoples’ lives – I’m sure there are various people listening to BBC Tees for most of the day – most content is rooted in the local area. I’ve covered a lot of strange topics recently, including things like odd animal habits and a host of other off-the-wall topics but with a local flavour. 

I think the fact that I’m from and have always lived in Teesside gives me a valuable connection to the listeners – if they reference a local place like Acklam Hall, I’m obviously going to know where it is. I think you need to have a rapport with your listeners – I love (if I can stop being self-effacing for a second here) the fact that I can build up a dialogue with listeners, even without features and “content”. You start off with a talking point and it flows from there. 

How does social media contribute to the show? 

It has more of an influence on the BBC Introducing show, as you’re working with musicians who will have a social media presence anyway. It’s not as prominent on the afternoon show as it’s more based around texts and phone calls with perhaps an older, less social media-heavy audience. I absolutely adore working with both audiences, and there is certainly a bit of a crossover. 

Have you had to adapt your approach for the daytime show? 

I don’t think I’ve really needed to – though there’s definitely something in Sara Cox’s quote about being on Radio 2 during her final Radio 1 days (“it’s being yourself but with the in-laws listening in”). I don’t think any afternoon listener would think I sound like a totally different presenter on the Saturday show and vice versa. It’s still a fortysomething man chuntering on about the odd things that cross his mind. I don’t think there’s anything to tone down really!

There’s a little bit of irrelevant cheek in both shows, but nothing too explosive. I’ve never really approached either show differently to the other. I think if I tried something like (one of my favourite radio acts of all-time) Mark and Lard’s Fat Harry White on BBC Tees someone might hammer the door down quite quickly. I’m not quite sure how they got away with that – at any time of day, on any station!

How do you come up with features and topics, particularly when you’re called in at short notice? 

The topics are largely just things that enter my head. It’s not really a question of “how do I think of them?”, it’s more a case of “how do I stop thinking of them?”. When you’ve been doing this for so long you get into a mindset of almost effortlessly identifying great topics whether you’re online, out and about, daydreaming or reading the paper. My phone is just full of drafts of radio topics. Listeners and my own stream-of-consciousness help me drive the topics and allow them to drift organically from there. 

You once said the music that comes out when you’re around 11 years old helps to form your tastes for the rest of your life, would you stick with that? What was around when you were that age? 

I do think there’s a peak era that forges your tastes around the ages of 8-13. I think it’s the same with most cultural forms, including books, TV, films and music – this is the stuff that builds your tastes for the rest of your life. With music, Frankie Goes to Hollywood were an obvious milestone. Even around 11, I knew they had statements to make, were a bold band and the music was fabulous. Beyond that, I started to look beyond the mainstream at around 12-13. It’s important to remember that it was hard to find alternative music around then, though I did listen to John Peel later. I also discovered country music, notably people like Johnny Cash and Lyle Lovett, as I got something different from it, and I wanted to be different from my peers. I loved the lyrics and authenticity. 

   Johnny Cash, 'I Walk the Line'

I discovered The Beatles Sgt Pepper album around the age of fourteen, around the time of its 20th anniversary. It was a revelation – I’d only really heard the really famous songs before and was taken aback by songs like A Day in the Life. Its big discordant, orchestral climax was possibly one of my first exposures to genuinely experimental music with an avant-garde feel. The Beatles were an all-consuming passion and a great band to use as a starting point. They led me onto Arthur Alexander, Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, The Velvet Underground and various others – I loved the way your favourite bands send you onto what then became other favourite bands because of who they’d worked with, cited as influences and influenced themselves. By the late eighties, I was listening to tonnes of esoteric archive stuff, never thinking about what was cool and what wasn’t. 

 The Beatles, 'A Day in the Life'

By around 1990, I’d discovered the local music scene, going to various gigs at venues in Stockton and Middlesbrough with sixth-form friends – this was when I first met Robert Nichols. The first band I ever saw live was Hartlepool’s Candy Ranch, then I also saw acts like Hope Springs Eternal, who’d take us to places like York and London, with us running the door, taking fifty-pence pieces in margarine tubs. 

Tell us about your new side-career as a gig promoter. 

I’ve been putting on gigs at Eaglescliffe’s The Waiting Room – a restaurant with an excellent backroom. I’d been going to see bands there for years but took the gigs over from Luke, the owner, after he went to university. This started at the end of 2014. It’s been a steep learning curve, especially as I’d never really put gigs on before - though I had worked for Teesside gig promoters Ten Feet Tall doing press and publicity. My money is on the line, and I have to guarantee the artist their payment whatever happens, but it has been amazing fun. I’ve tried to put on as much unique stuff as possible – including Saturday morning kids’ TV comedy geniuses Trevor and Simon, who I’ve built up a fantastic relationship with over the last few years. They were brilliant – I’ve never seen so much sentimental love for two people in a room. 

   Trevor and Simon with Kylie Minogue on Going Live!, 1988

I really miss adult-friendly kids’ TV. 

Me too! My main formative memories include watching things like Swap Shop in my grandma’s front room. The whole family would join me – I don’t think you really get that kind of thing anymore. Swap Shop, Tiswas, Going Live – there was stuff in there for everybody, really. Everything’s far more compartmentalised now. I’m not sure if there’s the budget anymore for that kind of thing, sadly. 

How’s the Last of the Summer Wine binge? 

Great! For those that don’t know this strange story, for the last few years, me and a friend of mine, Andrew T. Smith, have been watching Last of the Summer Wine from the start in chronological order and blogging it as we go. We’d both grown up with the programme. We’re different ages, so we started watching in different eras. When the final episode was broadcast, we watched it together and stuck the first episode on immediately before it coalesced into the blog. We started about five years ago, so we’re going at roughly twice the speed of the series. We jot down thoughts as we go about the episodes and the wider social context. 

Because it ran for so long, it was a mainstay throughout British social history, and I think this is reflected in the programme. When you watch the first episodes, they are surprisingly bleak. It’s like Ken Loach’s vision of Yorkshire – it’s essentially about three slightly-disaffected, rather bored men whose lives are effectively over. They’re old single men, with their working days behind them, reliving their childhood years in a landscape that has changed completely from their childhood years. The countryside is desolate, full of once-thriving abandoned factories, with buildings covered in soot. We’re looking at a post-industrial era, with social changes becoming visible as the series progresses. Brian Wilde is a consummate comedy actor, as are the rest of the cast – Kathy Staff, Bill Owen, Jane Freeman and Kathy Staff. Joe Gladwin who played Nora Batty’s husband is an extraordinary comedy actor – he came out of music hall and it was fantastic to see him using the tricks he’d learned in that era in the 1980s. 

Last of the Summer Wine, Series 5 Episode 1, 'Full Steam Behind', 1979

We went to the café itself in Holmfirth to make a film – it’s now a working café and looks exactly as it did in the series. Laura Booth, the owner, was brilliant and more than happy to co-operate. We approached Jonathan Linsley who played Crusher in the eighties for an interview. He’s now been in things like Pirates of the Caribbean and agreed, to our delight, to come to Holmfirth to do ‘An Evening With…’-type event as an excellent culmination of all of our work. 

Are you still performing music yourself?

Yes – as part of Old Muggins, Teesside’s premier light entertainment synth-pop rockabilly trio. No other light entertainment synth-pop rockabilly trio can touch us on Teesside! It’s just a fun thing to do, really. 

Weren’t you on a top ten single once?

Was I? Oh yes! John Otway’s Bunsen Burner in 2002. John Otway is one of the music world’s great entertainers. He reached the chart in 1977 with his long-term collaborator Wild Willy Barrett, Really Free, and fourteen years ago, for his fiftieth birthday, he and his fanbase decided it was time for another hit. He wanted a choir of his fans on it and is famous for his performances of House of the Rising Sun, which feature excellent audience participation.  We all went to Abbey Road to record a new version of Rising Sun for the b-side, with hundreds of us chanting as we would at his gigs. We all got a credit on the sleeve – in tiny writing! All of us later rushed out to buy several copies. He’s an underrated genius – I’ve had him on the radio and he’s an utter gentleman, an excellent singer-songwriter and one of the most self-deprecating people I’ve ever met. 

                                                        John Otway, 'Bunsen Burner', Top of the Pops, 2002

Can you tell us more about your book, Wiffle Lever to Full: Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy-Eyed Nostalgia?

That came out of my love for science-fiction as well as the TV I grew up with, especially Blake’s 7, Star Wars and Doctor Who. I went to a Doctor Who convention in Stockton, which was the most surreal weekend, and included a Cyberman and a Time Lord casually reading the Evening Gazette sitting either side of me as I looked down on the High Street. As a result, I decided I needed to attend further conventions and realised there could be a book in it. I spent the next year going to scores of conventions and events around the UK, wrote a few chapters and sent them off to a few literary agents before it was picked up by Hodder and Stoughton. I think it’s been turned into an e-book – though I’m a proper book man myself, I spend far too much time staring at screens as it is. 

 Third Doctor regenerates, John Pertwee to Tom Baker, 1974

I’ve also written a novel recently, which is completely differently to Wiffle Lever to Full – although this hasn’t been published as yet. It was inspired by the likes of Alan Garner, who wrote books like The Owl Service. He combines the real world with the fantastical, setting his books around Cheshire and blending folk myth and fantasy with the local landscape, and I wanted to write something that took a bit of that spirit. I’ve even written 10,000 words of another one!

I heard you were a fan of long-distance walking – you’re in a great part of the world for that. Are there any particular routes you like to take? 

I feel really in touch with the landscape around me. I’m utterly at home with the North Yorkshire Moors – if I need to leave the world behind me and be completely at peace I take the dog up with me to the moors. The stretch of coastline from Saltburn through Whitby through to Scarborough is absolutely magical. In around 2010, I decided to do something really ambitious and walked the Cleveland Way with my friend and star of Wiffle Lever to Full, Wez. That expands for around 100 miles in a kind of horseshoe shape – starting at Helmsley and winding around the inland region and coastline before finishing at Filey Brigg. That took around five days and I made a radio programme out of it. We did the Teesdale Way around a year after that. As Wes sagely pointed out, the great thing about following the course of a river from source to shore is that it’s all downhill! 

What are your favourite TV shows of all time? 

Doctor Who is a major part of my life. I love the fact that each generation has a different Doctor – for me growing up, it was Tom Baker and Peter Davison, the first one I got to follow throughout their tenure. Star Wars was a huge influence on me and my generation, then further on I loved Robin of Sherwood – which incorporated folk myth and elements of the magical into the Robin Hood story. I have a massive interest in British sitcoms and recently enjoyed Flowers with Olivia Coleman and Julian Barratt, which I thought was wonderfully distinctive and odd.

 Flowers trailer, Channel 4, 2016

You can catch Bob on BBC Tees on 12pm-4pm Monday to Friday and Saturday nights at 8-10pm. Listen again on iPlayer here.

Catch Bob deputising for Tom Robinson here.

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