"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Music For Pleasure

It’s very strange, now that I have this blog I feel the need to keep writing for it. There was nothing stopping me writing before I had a blog, or if I wanted to expose my meandering thoughts to a potential world wide audience I could have started a blog sooner. I don’t understand this need entirely but as I have it, here’s today’s thought.

It’s a given that music is a wonderful thing that enriches our lives. That ability of a performer or performers to move both the body and affect the emotions of another at the same time; to be able to express emotions, feelings, moods, tell of events both momentous and mundane, to describe the extraordinary and the everyday, to communicate idle thoughts and lofty ideas, all to a melody that can that effect you so deeply at a personal level that you can carry that song with you in your head for the rest of your life. Well, what’s not to like? Of course, music can also be so incredibly dull and devoid of any real emotion and lacking in true talent that it has no effect on you at all. However, for me, music like that does bring strong emotions out in me, mostly frustration and anger that such mindless, soulless drivel get’s repeated exposure on the radio.

Here I have to declare an interest as until last year I worked on radio. I say worked, over a ten year period I was never actually paid anything but very modest expenses (not in an MP way, I wish!) to do my show, but that’s a blog for another time maybe. My broadcasting buddy Richard and I produced and presented a new “alternative music” show. I got to hear a lot of new music, some of it wasn’t all that good, but a majority of it was astounding and it was a pleasure and a privilege to hear it and in some cases give it an airing on radio. Many of my most favourite bands and tracks now are things I discovered during my time on radio (I was going to list some here but it would take ages and I’d feel guilty if I left some out in favour of others, so no list). But all this great music just gets overlooked during “daytime” radio in favour of tracks we’ve all heard ten thousand times before as well as the latest reality TV zombie who no one will remember a year from now.

All this music is chosen for the airwaves by clueless individuals who care nothing for music and know nothing about radio, or at least the potential of what radio could be. With the exception of the occasional show like the one I used to do, pretty much all daytime radio spews out the exact same music over and over again, often with no regard for the music itself and certainly underestimating their audience as a matter of course. And don’t be so naive as to believe it’s the DJs who pick the music, that doesn’t happen on daytime, they’re not allowed. Oh, the stories I could tell you, but I’ll just give you this one example.

While I was at a station called Star in Bristol, the 19 year old music programmer (yes, 19, don’t ask how he got the job) gave me a pile of CDs he couldn’t use for daytime including the latest Jimi Hendrix compilation. “Brilliant, thanks” I said, “Hendrix, fantastic.” “Who’s that then?” says the person in charge of selecting music for the radio station. “Who’s Hendrix?” I say incredulously, “You don’t know who Jimi Hendrix is?” OK, he was 19, but I knew who Jimi Hendrix was when I was 19 and remember, this person is in charge of choosing all the music for a radio station. We never got to play any Hendrix on Star during the day but Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” came up regularly. Clueless. It didn’t get much better at the BBC.

Anyway, that’s all sour grapes under the bridge. The legacy of my years on radio is a house full of CDs. At the time of doing the show I didn’t often get to hear much music just for pleasure, as I always had a huge pile of new stuff to go through. If I did find something I really liked I might get to hear it a couple of times before I played it on the show, and maybe again afterwards when I did some live DJing, but other than that, that was usually it, as I had to move on to the next thing. It was relentless but that was the job. I held on to a lot of CDs just in case I needed them for the show again in the future. Now of course, I have plenty of time and no new stuff coming in but I still don’t hear much just for the pleasure of it at the moment as I’m going right through the collection deciding what to keep and what to discard. It is a mammoth job but worth doing as I’m reclaiming a lot of space in the house again, and when it’s done I’ll have loads of great music to listen to. And maybe one day I’ll get a chance to do another radio show playing all the great tracks that should have got more air time when they first came out but didn’t. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get paid for doing it.

Suggested listening: “Whenever You’re Ready” by Swell

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