11 February 2009
Sunday nights on Radio 1 in the early 1990s underwent a major revamp when John Peel, who utterly hated the slot, was given his weekdays back and Gary Davies was handed three extra hours of weekend airtime.
Davies had come off his decade-defining Bit In The Middle (later reincarnated as Let's Do Lunch with little discernible difference in the content) before Johnny Beerling agreed to his request to become the main man of the Radio 1 weekend so he could do other stuff during the week.
To this end, he was given the weekend breakfast shows from 7-10am ("let me hear you say it - wo-oh wo-oh!") which were refreshingly appealing. Not needing to adapt the slightly jumpy persona of the lunchtime programme, in these days before webcams you could almost see him relax, and the music was largely extremely good. But having been on both early shifts, the most unusual part of this repositioning of one of Radio 1's staple acts was the second Sunday slot afforded to him.
For one jock to be on twice in the same day as a matter of routine was unheard of. Bruno Brookes was the predecessor on weekend breakfast (lots of mock-arguing with Liz Kershaw and trying to sell her to lorry drivers) but for the most part this didn't coincide with his spell on the chart show later on Sundays. Later Mark Goodier would be - technically - on twice a day, albeit there was only a news-sized half hour gap between the appalling Mega Hits and the dependable Evening Session. So to see the name of Gary Davies on the schedule twice - from 7am and from 10pm - was pretty much a first.
The other innovation was that Davies wasn't given a producer. All Radio 1 shows had individual producers, as they do now, who chose the music, liaised with the presenter as far as ideas and spots were concerned and generally motivated the jock to stay on their toes and deliver the best performance they could each time they faded up the mic. Not here. Beerling gave Davies carte blanche as far as the three hours was concerned to play what he liked. The remit, essentially, was to play stuff that was good, familiar and varied, with a few current songs chucked in. In the Radio Times, it said in bold 10pm: Gary Davies on the Sunday evening Radio 1 schedule, then Producer: Gary Davies in tiny lettering underneath.
So at 10pm, after what was usually a slightly forced handover with Annie Nightingale on the request show, the programme would begin. The main theme, used only at the very beginning and the very end of broadcast, was a gentle string-based instrumental on which some sex-line girl was heard to say "Okay, let's do it..." in a sensual manner. Davies would then get 20 seconds or so to spiel about how it was "the end of the weekend and for the next three hours, it's all about the music". The theme would be donutted, as a second "Okay, let's do it..." brought it to an end (I really hope it was on Sonifex cart, this theme) and then ... the first record.
Usually the first three songs were back to back (and while that was a given on commercial radio it was completely unheard of on Radio 1) and they'd be of a similar style and era - for example, some late 60s Englishness via guitar courtesy of Honky Tonk Women, Bad Moon Rising and Til The End Of The Day or some gleeful 80s synthpop courtesy of Mad World, Quiet Life and Reap The Wild Wind. One link later, and a high-value A-list song would then be played, followed by something older which was either by the same artist (again a new thing for Radio 1, unless it was within some form of Two Of A Kind feature) or something blatantly connected to the artist or the title of the song. As good as the music was, such programming traits meant you spent some of the listening time trying to predict what was coming next.
Anyway, the other main feature of the first hour was Lots Of Love, which was carried over from lunchtimes and was the renamed but barely changed successor to the original Sloppy Bit. With the Sunday night version, Davies would read out listener letters (and he used to get loads - and I doubt he ever had to make any up, and yes, I once had one read out by him but I'm telling you nothing else, though I don't think she lives in Tavistock any more...) over a looped version of the love theme from Dances With Wolves which was, on reflection, absolutely ideal for this feature. Davies' own mildly Americanised tone (though he had become more grown-up sounding on this slot by now) seemed to complement both the material he was reading and the music over which he was reading it and it worked so damned well. The music didn't fade out, it had a definite ending and therefore he had to shuffle the letters and time his reading so the last one, the one which contained the request he had picked out, was completed as the last note of the theme sounded. Then it was into Chocolate Girl, or After The Love Has Gone or Vision Of Love. Through 1991 a lot of people asked for Bryan Adams as he continued to strangle the charts, but Davies only played it once during the 16-week period of death, and went for the six-minute version with the drawn out instrumental fade. Invariably there would be two love songs prior to the 10.30 news, probably with Brian Deacon, and then back to the music.
The show continued in this manner through the 11pm hour too, but between midnight and 1am two different musical interludes would come in. As if to not alienate those people listening alone and unloved (which sounds like a Jo Brand gag about evil late-night continuity announcers), Davies introduced I'm Not In Love, an alternative feature to Lots Of Love which basically allowed correspondence from the unattached listener. A long instrumental version of the music which made his specialised jingles was used as background - no effort to loop the 18-note piano interlude of the 10cc song was made - prior to a record with an unrequited or loner's theme. I'm sure he probably played 10cc after one such round of letters, but I can't remember.
Then to the end of the programme he went with his Bedtime Sequence. I absolutely loved this. Three, or maybe four, songs all with an artist in common. I remember him playing Cry, I'm Mandy Fly Me and Bridge To Your Heart - he had the nerve to end the show with Wax! Others in similar vain would include, for example, Little Bird, Lily Was Here and Love Is A Stranger, or Sussudio, Word Of Mouth and Tonight Tonight Tonight. You get the idea. Alternatively, the three songs would have an identical word in their titles, so you'd get Golden Years, Golden Brown and Silence Is Golden, for example. A closing theme and a handover to Claire Sturgess later, and it was over.
This was a total rebrand of the Davies shtick. He concentrated on the music and proved, via his role as producer as well as host, that he knew his stuff and wasn't one of those irksome 80s DJs for whom the music was only there for when he needed to go outside for a fag, even though that's how he often came across when doing his over-filled lunchtime show. When he was Bannisterised at the end of 1993, he took the programme to Virgin Radio, where the medium wave band and the commercials meant some of the star quality had been irretrievably removed, never to return. He didn't last long there.
As a teenager who was beginning to learn about producing and presenting radio programmes, this Sunday night show did more for my regressive knowledge of music than any other, an enthusiasm which remains to this day. Davies used to - often correctly - get a lot of brickbats hurled his way when he was on the daily schedule, but when he switched to weekends he noticeably grew up and the day he left Radio 1 was much sadder than maybe it had once threatened to be.