A GUEST POSTING by STEVE McLEAN
In the world of podcasts, streaming TV or countless wiki articles on the most niche subjects, it’s hard to fathom just how hard it was to be exposed to culture in the British suburbs during the early 90s. For example ‘Allo ‘Allo and Birds of a Feather were still TV regulars, Mills and Boon could be found in most libraries under a section called Women’s Literature and Bryan Adams was at number one from the end of the Madchester scene until the start of Britpop.
So up stepped Radio One.
By 1992, the channel had become stale and lifeless. Radio One listeners were the same people who had listened to the station in the 1970s, it didn’t really cater for ‘’the kids’’ and while Smashy and Nicey were stereotypes, they were pretty close to the fucking bone.
Matthew Bannister, who was the new young fresh controller of radio one (half the age of some of the DJs) saw the problem and reckoned the solution was a good old spring clean. He started with the overnight schedules. I said above about how it’s hard it was to be exposed to culture, it’s equally hard to fathom just how good Bannister made late night Radio One. While the old hags hung on for a little while, the fresh faces started to creep in, from October 1993 the post-drivetime line up looked something like this –
6.30pm – 9pm: The Evening Session. This was one of the few survivors of the previous station management. However previously it had been a bone thrown to keep people quiet, under Bannister it became the bugle cry for new music.
9pm – 10pm – Either an hour-long documentary about music, films, art and culture or the hour was split into two halves with a specialist shows for dance, hip hop or a movie review followed by a half hour of comedy – Lee & Herring, Jeremy Hardy, Jo Brand, Simon Munnery and a stack of others all getting their own show…. and then from
10pm until midnight (Monday to Thursday)- THE MARK RADCLIFFE SHOW – AKA Mark & Lard AKA The Graveyard Shift.
To an 18 year old in 1993, this show was a revelation. Perhaps it’s best described as the internet on the radio. It sounds like hyperbole but it was a mishmash of everything in a pot. Broadcasting from BBC Manchester. I’d call it a magazine show but that’s a shit title, it was more like Pebble Mill for NME readers (which is an awesome name).
Mark Radcliffe was an established local BBC broadcaster (who may or may not have discovered Chris Evans depending on who you talk to) and his sidekick Marc ‘Lard’ Riley was, like most people from Manchester, a former member of The Fall. Together they delivered a show so on point that it helped steer the direction of upcoming music trends, as well as placing comedy, films and books from their own collections into the heads of the indie kids.
Through this show I discovered so much new music and new-to-me music. Radcliffe regularly played the full 8 minute, Vocoder poem that is O Superman, giving me a lifelong love of Laurie Anderson.
He’d follow it with something like Babybird’s Hong Kong Blues, a lo-fi Casio keyboard number that lamented the human rights of the citizens after the (then) upcoming handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese Republic ‘’Can’t sleep can’t snooze, soon the don’ts will kill the do’s’’ Babybird, of course, went on to have a good few hit singles, qnd Radcliffe was ahead of the curve on so much of the Britpop movement.
mp3: Laurie Anderson – O Superman
mp3: Baby Bird – Hong Kong Blues
When the show started, I’d just moved ‘home’ to a small town in Scotland. Moving to a new place when you’re 18 is harder than when you’re 8 (which is when I’d left Scotland). It’s hard to make friends or get involved in things, especially when the town is small and there’s nothing to get involved in.
At 18 you can’t just go up to someone and say ‘Oh you like Star Wars? let’s be friends’ Do that in the west of Scotland and you’ll get walloped (trust me on this). For my first year back in Scotland the Radcliffe show became my best friend. Working the late shift in Safeway, I’d rush home in time for 10pm, if I couldn’t make it my mother was under strict instructions to press play and record on my cassette deck. During this time Mark and Lard introduced me to John Hegley.
Hegley was a performance poet who regularly appeared on the show (see! Pebble Mill for NME readers). His poems were witty and funny and tackled subjects from the most offbeat angles. Up until then I thought that poetry was about wandering lonely as a cloud.
Hegley was also an occasional musical guest, he’d been in a band called The Popticians. His album Saint and Blurry includes the classic Eddie Don’t Like Furniture.
mp3: The Popticians – Eddie Don’t Like Furniture
In 1995, I moved to London in time for the arse-end of the good bits of Britpop, just before it became all Three Lions, TFI and Nuts mag. I’d made some pretty big moves from the age of 16, never really settling down, never really feeling at home, even when I was ‘back home’. I felt like a nomad, so it was easy, in London, to fit right in. I brought with me the Radcliffe show as an anchor to normality. By this time the show was pretty much a crystal ball for who will be cool AF next. Step forward Belle and Sebastian and their song The State That I Am In which was seemingly played every other night. Listener response to the track led to a session and then to a deal with Jeepster Records (I wonder what happened to them).
The show still had one eye on leftfield. For instance, they gave a session to The Adventures of Parsley who were a band that covered TV theme tunes and they were playing Little Star by Stina Nordenstam two years before it gained world wide fame on the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack. Thank you Mark for allowing me to be the ‘’You’re only just hearing this now? I’ve owned that for ages’’ type of bellend.
I mentioned earlier about it being a cultural hub. As well as poetry, the show featured regular slots for Katie Puckrick who spoke on art or America or feminism or whoever was cool in her scene. Mark Kermode’s reputation as THE film buff was enhanced with his reviews and chats. He wrote and printed a Bladerunner fact sheet for anyone who sent in an SAE. They ran out of copies in weeks. Imagine that, sending off for a photocopy of a piece of paper for info on a film! Years later things like this would be rendered obsolete by dial-up internet connections which were almost as fast as waiting for a letter to arrive from the BBC. I sent off for mine and it never did turn up, A fact I shout at the TV whenever Kermode is on. Don’t trust a man who sounds like a bedpan, that’s what I say.
Kim Newman would host a regular TV section. Usually cult TV. The show was steeped in TV pop culture, the Dangerman Theme was the intro and outro music, while during the show there’d be regular jokes at the expense of On The Buses or John Inman or the entertainment industry in general.
Their disdain is also evident in the skits about former Oasis drummer Tony McCarroll, or the ‘Great Moments In Pop’ that lampooned Radio One’s own rather naff Simon Batesian output. Their own sketches and songs were a match for a lot of comedy of the day. There was even two compilations of their ‘material’ – The Worst….. Album In The World, Ever (based on a popular compilation series at the time) and Our Kid, Eh? punning Radiohead. My favourite of these is probably a wonderful take-off of Nick Cave about the spiralling fortunes of the current Manchester City football team. Not a lot of people can pull that off.
mp3 : Dick Cave & The Bad Cheese feat. Alan Bawl (No relation) – The Ballad of Franny Lee
Like a lot of late night radio shows, they featured live sessions. A lot of BBC radio sessions would be pre-recorded but Radcliffe’s tended to be live, so it often featured a chat with the acts before hand. That was the pull of the show, it was able to get bands into a live studio between 10pm and midnight and keep them sober enough to play. All the ‘big boys of Britpop’ were featured at some point (Oasis did their first ever session on a previous Radcliffe show called Hit The North in 1992).
The indie ‘Old Guard’ were also keen to be own the show, James delivered a wonderful version of Come Home, so good in fact they released it as a b-side to their Tomorrow single. They provided the middle ground between The Evening Session and Peel with live stints from The Orb, Townes Van Zandt and John Cale. You could make a claim that Helen Love owe their career to Radcliffe’s continual support and sessions. Anecdotal as it is, almost everyone I know first heard them on the Graveyard Shift.
mp3 : Helen Love – Summer Pop Radio
Reflecting on what I’ve written, I don’t feel my words are doing them justice. There’s so much more like John Shuttleworth, Caitlin Moran, Guitarist with long hair, Get To Bed, Frank Sidebottom, Classical Gas, Will Self, Shit Agent or just general Mark and Lard interactions, they spoke like they were a couple Mancunian lads in a pub together and they’d invited you along –
Mark: ‘There’s a free single by Dawn of the Replicants called Cocaine on the Catwalk all you need to do is send the price of postage’
Lard: ‘it’s not free then is it’
Mark: ‘if you call round you’ll get one for nowt’
Lard: ‘Ahhh right you are, our kid’
The later shows became a little more Britpop centric, it seemed that they were riding that crest. From 1994 until 1996 Radcliffe got his own Channel Four show, The White Room. It was a cracking bit of Friday Night TV but it came with a truckload of foreshadowing. As did the song Your Woman by White Town. In late 1996, Mark & Lard had championed the song for it to then break through to the mainstream and became number 1.
mp3 : White Town – Your Woman
So it was a minor tragedy for music fans when they both moved to the Breakfast Show in early 1997. The tragedy being that they more or less had to obey the Radio One playlist. One of the main things about their appeal was that you’d get Eric Matthews’ Fanfare played next something like Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Fanfare For The Common Man (Mark ‘’We don’t play a lot of ELP, do we?’’ Lard ‘’Most of it’s shite’’).
After several months as the Breakfast show presenters. they eventually found themselves on the afternoon slot. The show tried to recapture the same feel the Graveyard shift had. It was good, certainly better than anything that had been on that slot previously (I’m looking at you Steve Wright and The Afternoon Public School Posse of Fucknuggets) but it wasn’t the same.
I stopped being a radio fan and became a casual listener when the late-night show ended. The Graveyard Shift will forever be for me, THE best radio show in the best time slot at the best time for new music in my lifetime. But then I was 18 and everyone thinks like that at 18.
Radio One is rubbish again now… but that’s the point, a point that Bruno Brookes or Dave Lee Travis could never get. It’s not meant for me. I’m supposed to think it’s rubbish, if I’m enjoying Radio One, then they’ve massively dropped the ball again.
On a side note to that – Kids if your parents can come to a gig with you then your music tastes fucking suck. Your parents aren’t supposed to like what you like. No wonder the country has gone to shit. Up your fucking game.