Friday, October 24, 2014

John Peel

On the tenth anniversary of his death, a look at legendary DJ John Peel's influence on Headstand.

A couple of years ago I listened to one of John Peel’s final shows and was cheered to find it included several obscure tracks I had independently discovered myself and played on Headstand. Anyone who has heard the show will know that Peel’s spirit looms large.

When I first heard Peel in my mid-teens I was impressed by the sheer variety and unpredictable mix of music in his shows but I also found it hard to digest. It was only after I had eased myself in via the Evening Session and other indie music shows that I became hooked.

I was fortunate enough to meet Peel on a couple of occasions. The first time was in Liverpool in 1999. I attended a gig he was hosting by Clinic, Hefner and The Flaming Lips at the L2 for Radio 1’s Sound City. As I turned the corner of the venue I saw him standing on the pavement by himself. Before I really knew what I was doing I stopped and said hello. “Hello,” he replied and I realised I hadn't given any thought to the rest of the conversation. One of Peel’s greatest gifts as a broadcaster was his ability to connect with listeners and make it feel like he was talking to you, and you alone. Now that he really was my mind took a moment to adjust. We shook hands and exchanged a few words about the gig. “I’m just hanging around, waiting to get down to the business of broadcasting and introducing bands,” he said in what could have been on-air banter with another DJ.

The second occasion came a few years later when I won tickets to attend a live session by Eon at Maida Vale. Like so many others I seized the opportunity of a meeting with Peel to give him a demo, not of my own but a friend of mine Aidan Smith, a musician worthy of his attention. 

When Peel arrived at Maida Vale with an entourage he led us deep into the building to a huge studio. I saw someone else with a bag of records heading to the booth where Peel was preparing for the show and took my chance. I thought I might be stopped me but before I knew it I was stood at the doorway and proffered the CD which Peel politely accepted. As I was leaving I heard him saying to his producer: “Has it got a contact address? Manchester! Well you can’t help that.”

Later Aidan signed to Twisted Nerve and was played by Peel and later on me on countless editions of Headstand.

In the Cambridge 105 studio August 2014 by J S Watts
I don't think I immediately realised that Peel was one of a few DJs who chose his own records rather than following a playlist influenced by commercial interests more than musical ones. Giving a DJ a playlist is like getting a dog and barking yourself. Why couldn’t all shows be presented by passionate individuals who knew and loved the music they chose to play? I did my best to follow that ideal during my seven years on community radio, sharing a taste in music which, thanks to him, is a lot more varied and adventurous.

In the decade since he died the growth of community stations and internet radio has given countless individuals the same platform. The BBC too, has granted my wish with the creation of 6 Music. I like about 90% of the music I hear on the station and I can appreciate the artistic merit of most of its output even if it doesn’t suit my personal tastes. Being able to turn on the radio at any time of day and be entertained, surprised or disorientated by what you hear is the ultimate tribute to Peel. All that’s missing is that voice, affable and slightly bumbling, talking across the airwaves to you, and you alone.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Gaze is Ghost - Revolvere / Murmuration

Irish-born and Cambridge-based singer-songwriter Laura McGarrigle, known as Gaze is Ghost returns with two new songs. McGarrigle's vocals enchant whether she is accompanied by a single instrument or elaborate arrangements of piano, strings and less common instruments. These songs demonstrate both styles.
The warm drone of the harmonium opens Revolvere. The song unfolds smoothly, powerfully with sounds carefully crafted and arranged like stars in a beautiful constellation.
Murmuration is simpler but equally powerful. Piano and vocals are the main ingredients with little embellishment. It's a recording in keeping with her compelling solo performances.
If you haven't seen her play before she has a few shows in Cambridge this month.

18.10.14 – Oxjam Takeover, Cambridge @ The Great Northern

20.10.14 – The Museum of Archaeology, Cambridge w/ Hollie McNish

25.10.14 – The Leper Chapel, Cambridge w/ Russell J Turner

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sylvie Simmons - You Are In My Arms

"A uke has a sad, fractured sweetness and a modesty. It doesn’t try to impress you, it almost apologizes for being there," says Sylvie Simmons of her instrument. The baby guitar provides a perfect, non-invasive backing to Simmons' tender vocals. 
Simmons has been at the hub of music culture since the seventies as a seminal rock writer. Now with some encouragement from Howe Gelb of Giant Sand she has released an album of songs she thought she'd never have the nerve to perform. It feels as one is listening in on a delicate intimate performance played maybe in a moonlit attic. Thanks for letting us eavesdrop.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Poem: Illusions of Grandeur

Here's a poem by long standing Headstand supporter Ralph Famularo. I met him whilst living in Osaka when he was running an internet radio station that was very much on the same vibe and featured works by myself and other creative artists in the city.

Illusions of Grandeur

He's so cool
When he takes his shoes off
They shuffle for him to walk among them again.

When he drops beans
They grow into dreams
And everyone snaps his
Fingers in his sleep

He's so cool
He makes asymmetrical objects
Form well-balanced
Leaning towers and vases
Quiver and shake when he is near
And become an audience of none
My friend Joey saw him once.
He knew him before he was known
He signed Joey's autograph backwards.
That's so Scriptural

Mohammed once asked him to open up for him the time he moved the mountains
And being so cool
He said, "No thanks.
I am not  a mere molehill. "

Joey once saw him jump from
A leaning tower
into a vase
Joey says I could never be as cool as He.
But I think maybe I could
If We could just get real.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Show: 9.01.08 with Alex Brooke and Patrick Sheil

In this show I was joined by Alex Brooke a musician, podcaster and teacher based in Japan. It also features Patrick Sheil once again performing his own work and collaborating with Alex with great spontaneity. 
No playlist for the show survives but it's a wild unpredictable set as always. Regular favourites include Tom Adams, Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip, Jerry Gordon and Aidan Smith on his own and accompanying one of my poems read by Graeme Cole.

First broadcast on 209radio, Cambridge.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The first ever show

Since the last show on Cambridge 105 I've dug out some early show recordings which haven't been available online since they were broadcast. I'll be sharing them over the next few months starting with this historic recording. It's a pilot show which is more or less the same as the first one broadcast in September 2007. The recording quality isn't excellent and my presenting and engineering is shaky to say the least but there's a terrific set of music and spoken word including some stories and poems recorded by Patrick Sheil, one of which I replayed on the last show.
I hope you enjoy my earliest attempt at broadcasting.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Show: The Final Headstand

After nearly 7 years on community radio in Cambridge I'm moving on to new things. I was joined for the last show by three guests offering a variety of touching and entertaining contributions. First JS Watts with an evocative set of poetry then Rychard Carrington plunging us into his bizarre yet intellectually stimulating world. Finally Maciek Pawlikowski from Cambridge 105 show Polish Waves turning the spotlight on me with a recording I did for the show whilst living in Poland. There wasn't enough time for everything I wanted to include in the final hour but I've added on a song by An Echo November recorded for the show while I was based in Poland.

Headstand may be ceasing regular broadcasting but I'm always coming across new and interesting music and poetry which I will share here from time to time or maybe via a new show or platform I may develop over time. Thank you for listening and reading over the years. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.