Avast, Ye Landlubbers!
by Steve Leyland, September 2018
Things are very different for teenagers now. They have instant access to the music of their choice at the click of a button on pocket sized devices. Way back in 1977 when I was 17 years old we had to depend on radio to hear new music.
I was lucky enough to have a huge wooden Russian radiogram in my bedroom. It had a green “Magic Eye” which glowed brighter when you got the optimal tuning so I spent many late nights surfing the airwaves listening to the world's magical airwaves.
It was on one of those nights I discovered Radio Caroline.
I became fascinated with this radio station bobbing up and down on a small ship in the North Sea and fortunately by this time an album music format was in place, which formed my musical tastes as a young man which have stuck with me to this day!
So as soon as I got my first job a large percentage of my disposable income was spent in record shops on a lot of the music I had heard.
I built up a large collection of vinyl (something the youth of today probably won't understand either!)
One day to my surprise while tuning around I heard a local accent and a station I had never heard before playing a similar style of music. It was announced as Radio Jackie North and the presenter was asking for help. “Oh, I reckon I can do that with all these records” was my first thought so along I went to the RJN Rock Night advertised on the station at a nightclub, introduced myself, and left my phone number with the DJ.
This was an illegal Land Based Pirate radio station so didn't have the relative luxury of being safe from the authorities in international waters like Caroline as I was to discover when the phone rang a few weeks later and I was summoned to a field on the outskirts of Liverpool. My job was to help getting long wire aerials up at the top of trees, carry heavy car batteries and then to keep a lookout as the station was on the air. This was a real eye opener for me, I certainly wasn't expecting a radio station to be located in a field using a home made transmitter with glowing valves plugged into a portable cassette recorder but hey; it worked well and sounded good for the listener... ...until the DTI arrived of course.
Which they did almost every time. As the lookout I had to blow a whistle when I saw them coming (No mobile phones or walkie talkies back then) and grab as much equipment as I could especially the precious transmitter, then run like hell! More often than not we got away and only lost a battery or two as we were a lot younger and fitter than the fat old blokes chasing us.
One night at the Rock Night Eric put me on the decks and went off to smooch with a woman in a dark corner, but I guess I must've passed the audition as the next week I was finally given a slot on the air!
By this time we had discovered the joys of broadcasting from tower blocks. We could actually hide from the DTI by running feeds between various places – I won't go into details as some pirates today are still doing this, but it was a hell of a lot better than standing around in a cold rainy field for hours and although they turned up frequently they struggled to find us.
Sadly there was a heroin epidemic in Liverpool and the semi-derelict blocks were rife with dealers and junkies so sometimes we had to literally step over comatose lost souls with the equipment.
Scary times indeed.
Radio Caroline's ship had finally succumbed to years of neglect and the sea took its toll and the Mi Amigo sank. So we hatched a plan to use their vacated frequency with a more powerful transmitter and a better aerial.
See the two blocks on the far right of the picture below. I was on the roof of the right hand one and Eric was on the one to the left of that and we were putting a thin wire antenna up between both. Not an easy job at the best of times but it was a windy day and we were due on the air...
When it is windy at ground level it gets a whole lot windier 22 floors up in the sky as I discovered when Eric pulled in too much slack on the other roof so I had to lean out over the edge to avoid it snapping.
A sudden gust of wind lifted me off my feet and I thank my guardian angel that I landed on my arse literally half an inch from the edge and certain death. That was the day I decided that gravity was not my friend!
Anyway it worked, RJN on 317 metres boomed out and we got reception reports from all over Europe.
I had those nightmares from very almost falling for years afterwards though. You know the ones where you wake up just before you hit the ground?
The things we had to do back then just to play good music on the radio without a licence!
Sadly the station owner and my mentor in radio Eric Haydock tragically hanged himself in 2002, so I would like to dedicate this to him. RIP my old mate.
Anyway I hope you've enjoyed reading these memories and I hope to catch you soon on The Album Zone with more good music with no danger of a raid or a fall.
Arrrr, Shiver me Timbers!
The WOMAD Experience
WOMAD Festival, 26 - 29th July 2018, by James Barclay
There’s nothing like a true celebration of the desire to explore what it means to be human. This exploration can take many forms. It can be as complex as a PhD thesis dissecting every tiny avenue of the “Human Condition” or it can be as simple as being open to others, to their views, to their traditions and to them as fellow humans - fellow beings, yet often wonderfully different to oneself.
Of all the expressions of such a celebration, the WOMAD festival is one of the best. Why? Because it is the intent of the people attending, both the performers and the audience to share in the wonderful diversity and variety of which we Humans are capable and to enjoy that diversity, learning more about ourselves in the process.
This is the WOMAD experience.
The acronym “WOMAD” stands for World Of Music Arts and Dance and it is a coming together of un-like minded people, in that they are culturally very different, but like-minded, in that their intention is to celebrate and not condemn diversity. For some time I have been fortunate enough to be a part of this great festival as a presenter on Radio WOMAD, the official festival radio station. The idea behind Radio WOMAD came from Steve Satan (stage name), the station’s boss. Originally he felt that such a huge venue would benefit from it’s own on-site radio station which, he felt, could provide all the necessary information which someone attending the festival might need. Of particular value of course would be up to the minute reports on traffic into and out of the festival, first aid advice and all the myriad of other things which could make the whole experience better.
However, as Steve explained to me recently, the station grew and evolved rapidly to become what is now a full blown 24 hour a day service covering not only the festival site itself but also the surrounding villages on fm, and streamed world wide on the net. Radio WOMAD is much more than a radio version of a public address system however. It has all the facilities usually associated with full time community stations complete with it’s own purpose built studios, outside broadcasting facilities (where a group of professional freelance journalists collect material for features broadcast throughout the festival period) and even its own sound stage used by many of the artists appearing at the festival to perform live on air, especially for Radio WOMAD listeners. It is also extremely popular.
One of the most impressive aspects of Radio WOMAD is that, for most of the year, it doesn’t actually exist in any physical form. There is no studio, no sound stage and only white noise on 87.7MHz, the FM frequency usually allocated to the station. One of the most incredible things about having our own sound stage of course is that Radio Womad actually gets unique performances from many of the big name artists quite separate from their festival set and quite often we get them before they do their big stage performance. It also means that we get to have on air chats both before and after they have performed for us so in a very real sense the festival comes to us!
The first time I was invited to be part of the team I went along early to help with some of the leg work and it was incredible to watch the station literally form before my eyes.
The Radio WOMAD Experience :
So what is it like to be a presenter on Radio WOMAD? Well I can tell you that it’s not like any radio work I’ve done before. The music is different! On “normal” stations one will probably know most of the tunes one plays, or all in the case of The Album Zone since we presenters pick ‘em.
At WOMAD the enormous number and range of artists meant that on my first visit I only had a scant knowledge of a very small number. Add to this the fact that this is World Music, ie music from around the world and I soon realised that I’d be lucky if I even knew how to pronounce some of the names properly or even if I was dealing with a band or solo performer. “If you don’t know, just say it loudly and with authority” was the advice originally given to me by a fellow presenter! Another terror which fortunately doesn’t happen much these days was the “impromptu” interview. I would be in the middle of a track and there would be a knock on the studio door. “James - you are interviewing these guys at the end of this track”. “Who are they?” I would ask. “They are .....” there would follow a name which I couldn’t quite make out and then “...... from .....” - a place I had never heard of. There would be no time to do a quick internet search! A couple of minutes later I’d be face to face in the studio with a group or a solo artist who for all I knew could be the top grossing act in their own country but more often than not I hadn’t a clue who they were.
I rapidly developed a strategy. I would put on a long track, sit them down and say something like “look, this interview is about YOU. It’s your space so lets use it to tell people the stuff they don’t already know about you. Of course introduce yourself” (that got round the worst problem) but you tell me what you want me to ask you. What do YOU want people to hear about?” - then I’d scribble down their questions. Usually this worked perfectly and quite often it meant that I’d get snippets of very recent events in their careers which I could not have found out about through the usual channels even if I’d had time to do the research!
These days it’s much easier, partly because I read the programme and check the WOMAD website beforehand (rather obvious but I didn’t do it back then) and partly because I’m more familiar with World Music anyway. One of the greatest delights about Radio WOMAD is the enthusiasm of the people. Not just those involved with the station and not just the artists who appear, but those who take the time to contact us.
At the end of the recent broadcast, reading back through the texts, emails, Facebook mentions and Tweets received during our broadcast, I was struck by how genuinely excited everyone was to be part of this. True it was a temporary community lasting only the length of the festival and true also that it was an unusual time for all of us.
When we drove out of the festival site, once again we would be engulfed in “real life” dealing with bills, jobs and “the grind”. However, for that brief time everyone came together and remembered that to be Human is to have infinite possibilities.
In our small way that too is the ethos of The Album Zone. No rules, no format, just a great experience.
Mr Barclay comes to town
Sure, Messrs Reece and Barclay have done a few joint shows in recent times, via Skype (one in Cornwall, the other near Nottingham) but as for actually being in a Studio together to put together a radio show ?
Well, that had been over 15 years ago.
Much excitement abound as Mr Barclay headed south, to be our first guest here at AZ Towers, Cornwall.
The studio had only just been fully completed, around two weeks previously.
Was it a case of going straight into recording ? Well, not really, this was a holiday after all !
First stop after JB's arrival, was Mevagissey. Just a few minutes drive away, to a few magical little harbours and white houses that seemed to cling to the hills and cliffs all around. A quick stroll in the sea air, and Mr Barclay had a pasty.
The first evening was one of those chill-out and chat and wine and whisky evenings. No surprises there.
Day 2, and Mr Reece and Mr Barclay are off on their travels again, exploring old churches and graveyards (Nanpean, and St Denys). Sat at the top of an extremely high hill, St Denys was particularly spectacular. Back later for sustinence, and the recordings began. Fuelled with the aforementioned beverages, naturally.
Day 3, and it was visits to Charlestown (I'm sure Poldark fans will know all about this place) and then on to a favourite, the little seaside town of Fowey (pronounced 'Foy'). Oh, and Mr Barclay had a pasty.
Directly over the water, was Polruan - which we'll catch next time. More recording in the evening, and the first 2 hours was in the can, which marks the 'August 2018' Reecey and Barclay soiree - already on Mixcloud, which you can listen to right here.
Day 4 - last full day !, so we had to make good use of this. Following an unfeasibly large breakfast, it was off to Padstow. Lovely place - although to be honest it's a very 'monied' resort, the word 'designer' springs to mind. Beautiful though, little winding streets, great shops, lovely harbour, and many secretive little coves nearby. The sun had the downright cheek to disappear, though.
Oh, and Mr Barclay had a pasty.
Off to a little restaurant near home this time, as Mr Barclay wanted to treat us - thanks mate !
Back homeward late evening, two very knackered Presenters managed more hours in the can, which will appear as the 'September 2018' soiree, available shortly.
Next time ? - well, we hope it'll all happen again soon, with trips to Falmouth, the Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan, and Mousehole. Well, that's the plan anyway.
Oh, and more Soirees. And ice cream.