Before you started DJ-ing on radio wales you played in a couple of bands. Did you give up the bands as a result of the DJ job or were you in the musical wilderness before that?
I did my first radio show in June 1991. It was a run of seven half-hour shows on BBC Radio Clwyd called Burst that I was offered after telling local [to Mold] BBC Radio Clwyd celeb-D.J. Alan Daulby that Radio Clwyd was “fucking shit” because they didn’t play any of the music from the burgeoning local ‘scene’ [Daisychain, Akimbo, She Said, Goodnight Said Florence etc.] I didn’t do another Radio show until October 1994 because everything in my life was focused on the band [by then The Immediate], and ‘making it’. Unfortunately we didn’t have the talent, the wherewithall, the vision, or the ambition to achieve anything – it just took us seven years to realise it. It was a hell of a fucking dream, though, and a good dream to chase. One day the story will be told, even if I am the only one who’ll ever want to read it.
You come across on your show as self demeaning and quite often put yourself and the show down in a comical way. You are noted for suggesting you have no listeners at all. Do you get listening figures for the show?
Radio presenting was never an ambition. I think that almost all DJ’s are tossers. John Peel, Andy Kershaw and Annie Nightingale are honourable exceptions. I like Huw Stephens a lot too, but that’s mainly because of the interesting, little creatures that live in his Den Hegarty-like beard. And Bethan, she’s great – but, then she got married and ruined everything. When I started presenting properly in 1994 the ‘cult of personality’ was everywhere, and there were already far too many clueless, airheaded, pundit pigs feeding at a crowded trough. The self deprecation is an in-built reflex mechanism that I hope protects me from all of that ‘I love me, aren’t I great, please give me some more cocaine’ twattishness that pervades much of the media. BBC Radio Wales are, of course, exempt from this. If I could present without talking, I would – but that’s akin to shearing a sheep without grabbing it roughly from behind.
Every quarter we get RAJAR figures that are put together by extremely clever statisticians who take cross sections of Welsh society and give them diaries to fill in with their listening habits over the course of a week, fortnight, whatever. Listenership figures are then estimated from those diaries. Since I started the Sunday night show, those RAJAR figures for my programme have fluctuated rather wildly between 5 and 20 thousand. I think that it’s impossible to tell, with any degree of accuracy, with a relatively specialised show like mine. It’s only recently that I’ve started trying to work with, rather than against [so punk rock and anti-authoritarian!] my colleagues at the BBC – I want as many people as possible to hear the show for the sake of the, generally, excellent bands we get in session etc. I want to see a rising improvement in those figures over the next twelve months – if I’m given the luxury of another twelve month’s broadcasting… which is, as with anyone who presents, never a foregone conclusion.
What was the most disastrous thing to happen to you during a broadcast?
I can’t think of anything disastrous, in all honesty. Dead air has never frightened me, and I’m rarely at a loss for words. Maybe the closest to disastrous is putting all of your energies into events like the recent outside broadcasts we had in Porth and the MS1 Club, only to realise that naivety, a lack of marketing nouse and inexperience, mean that you’re not getting large amounts of people through the door. For example, at the Pop Factory, we picked a venue that was, to all intents and purposes, completely inaccessible on a Sunday night [no public transport] to anyone unless they had a car. The MS1 club, which is a brilliant venue, was an enforced, last minute change because the Barfly Club [our initial choice] didn’t have disabled access, which means that the BBC can’t host an event there. Unfortunately, most of the listings magazines and national newspapers had to run with the old listing, and we fucked up. But, we never make the same mistakes twice, and we’ll definitely get it right next time. [although, the bands, the shows and the venues have been peerless in every other respect on all of those occasions!]
Apart from some ropey heavy metal tunes & bad hip-hop, you play a pretty damn good broad mix of material. Are you ‘working’ all week in that you’re on the look out for new & old music to play & do you have a set prepared or do you just bring a pile of CDs in and play them randomly?
I love music, it’s as simple as that. I have an increasingly voracious appetite for ‘new’ tunes – by that I mean something I haven’t owned before, not necessarily something contemporary. I think it’s interesting to hear the likes of Panel, Wendykurk, the Soft-Hearted Scientists etc. next to the likes of Can, Beyonce, Jimmy Cliff and Black Sabbath. A lot of the eclecticism on the Sunday night is driven by my Friday night DJ’ing at Telfords Warehouse in Chester where the punters have always had a very broad-ranging taste in music. Many of the CD’s I buy are inspired by e-mails from listeners. One of the most satisfying aspects of presenting a show with a free music policy is hearing about the records that have inspired other people. A genuine response to a single, or an album, like that, is worth a million reviews in NME or Mojo [both of which I respect, read avidly and get angered / inspired by in equal measure].
There’s music on in the house during the daytime, all the time. Most of it has now been transferred to the computer, so I just fire up Winamp, or Media Jukebox, and get it to shuffle randomly through the 35,000 tracks that are currently archived on the hard disk. What you’re in danger of losing then, though, is a sense of the album as a complete entity – so, I make an effort to listen to any new albums that drop through the letterbox in their entirety at least once.
I never have a set prepared prior to broadcast. I will have some tunes that have been key tunes that week; unexpected shit regurgitated by Winamp, or a track off an advert, or the radio, that has fired me. Generally it’s the older stuff I play that is inspired like that. As for the newer stuff, I have a single red, plastic, stack-a-box that I keep all of my contemporary shit in. That box sits in front of me in the studio, and I play stuff from it as the inspiration guides me. I don’t like being repetitious as far as the hyperbole is concerned – but, when you get something amazing, you can’t help yourself.
As virtually every band, single and album is your favourite of all time or of the year so far; what exactly really are your favourite band, single and album of all time & of the year so far?
It’s a bother that one – especially with the sessions. I think I’ve fallen into the trap of having no dependable critical faculties whatsoever! It’s not on purpose… I say it how I feel it as I play it. Believe me, there’s plenty I’m not playing that I think is a rancid rat’s bladder full of donkey chong – I just have the freedom not to have to play it.
Favourite album of all time is Jimmy Cliff‘s OST for The Harder They Come [even though I’ve never seen the film], and favourite single of all time is Ike and Tina‘s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Favourite album this year is Messy Century – the forthcoming debut from The Mountaineers; favourite single is Bodlon by Kentucky AFC which is more proof, if we ever needed any more, that the fine line just to the left of genius has nothing to do with madness, but everything to do with being an obstreperous twat, and that line happens to be a joined-up handwriting one that spells out JohnnyR.
If you were offered John Peel’s show after the maestro retires, would you take up the job & would you change what you play?
I’m flattered to be mentioned on the same website as John Peel, let alone by association in the same question. I admire his dedication, knowledge and integrity. If I get anywhere close in whatever passions I have in life, I’ll be a success whether Radio 1 offer me a job, or not. That’s not to duck the rest of your question… of course I’d take the job – just as I would have loved to have presented the Session in Wales [whatever else I might have said at the time] – and I’d have to change what I played because I would have a different remit [i.e. geographically more expansive than Wales and a different station with a different demographic]. It’s a wonderfully hypothetical game to play, but I would be disappointed if Radio 1 ended up offering the job to someone like me. The next incumbent, the only possible one, would have to be significantly younger than me, with a more photogenic face – which rules you, Neil, out on both counts
Would you ever do voice overs for adverts and where would you draw the line? IE, if Canesten Oral asked you, would you accept?
I hate independent radio with a vehemence that would have Johhny Rotten unable to hold my hate-filled gaze, but advertising, in general, I think is a remarkably creative industry. I wouldn’t mind a slice of that pie. I wouldn’t advertise any old shite, though. I’d burn a McDonalds down rather than plug that hormone-addled, frustrated patty flipper’s spunk-splattered shite.
I wouldn’t do Canestan, either. My wife and I have an interesting, and perhaps slightly illegal, thrush-exorcising ritual that involves natural yoghurt, dental floss, a large cauliflower and a sterilised plunger.
Who do you think are North & South Wales’ brightest prospects in the music world at present?
North – Wendykurk / the Mountaineers [I can’t split them], South – The Caves.
Did your whole perspective on life change the moment you became a father?
It took a weight off my shoulder, that I put there myself, to achieve ‘something’ – because, once you’ve had a baby, and you’re not really that concerned with the financial imperative of feeding a hungry mouth, you’ve just blown any song you might pen, or novel you might write well out of the water – so, I suppose the answer is ‘yes, it made me a lot less self-centred’.
And finally; what features would you like to see change, added or removed from the link2wales website?
A page where your visitors could find out what was coming up on my show, Huw and Bethan’s show, that show on Total Music Wales I haven’t heard, etc.
The whole bloody caboodle could do with being database-driven so that it was more easily searchable etc. I will do this for you soon, Neil… well, as soon as it takes me to finish my book [it’s not about me, don’t worry] and figure out how to easily implement cross-referencing… believe me, it’s a shitter.