6 August 2008

"Today, live from the Paddock Boating Lake in Cleethorpes...!"

Mondo's mention of the Radio Rewind site on the thread below got me even more nostalgic. Go visit it - it's basically a potted history of Radio 1 - biographies, timelines, DJ details and some fabulous audio of jingle packages and show clips. I've been dipping in and out of it for years.

Although my working life has been in commercial radio, I barely heard any as a young listener because I was Radio 1 daft. Once I'd decided that my own ambitions were related to radio (something which made everybody laugh at school - students, teachers, even one of the dinner ladies) then I began to listen even more closely, as a connoisseur rather than just a consumer.

This, if you want to get on the radio yourself, is actually a mistake. Nobody wants a clone of someone who already exists, they want somebody new, different and true to themselves. There was no point in me going on Kingstown Radio and doing the gags that Gary King had done on the early show that very morning because the demo would be thrown straight in the bin by any professional station which heard it.

For all that, I did send a demo to Radio 1 as a naive 17 year old and got a nice reply from Jerry Foulkes, who was DLT's producer at the time. He was polite, without actually commenting on the tape's contents (thank God - can't remember what was on it and I'm glad I can't) and told me to keep gaining experience in hospital radio.

When I was 19, I left journalism college and got a week's trial at the Grimsby Evening Telegraph. They put me in a tiny but smart guest house close to the newspaper offices for the week and I enjoyed my time there - predominantly because my trial coincided with the Radio 1 Roadshow's annual visit to Cleethorpes.

I'd been the year before as a punter. Three of us went - my mate Chris and a French exchange student from Douai called Damian accompanied me. Phillip Schofield was the host and it was that rather famous occasion when he was Gotcha'd by Noel Edmonds. He took part in a warm-up "saw your head off" trick but the "magician" "lost" the keys to the guillotine and so Phil, ever the pro, had to do the whole roadshow on his knees with his head stuck in a hole. Noel pitched up shortly before the end of broadcast to huge cheers.

It was supremely entertaining from start to finish. Phil's swearing on the off-air mic was eye-opening too. The only thing that spoiled it was that everyone had seemingly brought their own Gordon the Gopher with them, thereby the whole experience was infested with grating squeaky noises all the way through.

So this time round I was anxious, despite being the placement student, to work at the roadshow. And the news editor, bless him, gave me one of the paper's press passes. He knew that I also had radio ambitions and was seemingly impressed that I had a part-time job at the time reading out non-league football results on BBC Radio Humberside, so I got in. Me and two reporters therefore spent the roadshow behind the scenes, chatting to the competition winners, staff and, most importantly of all, the stars.

Well, I say "stars". The two live acts onstage were the Smart E's and the Brand New Heavies. The former were clearly a novelty dance act with a name of minuscule-controversy; the latter were, erm, brand new jazz-funksters who'd later get much better and much more famous. When they were onstage, I remember watching the drummer being careful, as the performance was a mime, not to actually strike a single drum or cymbal with his sticks.

There was also Patrick Swayze there. Well, the crowd thought so, at least. He was introduced as such and got the most ludicrous scream, epic it was, from the female contingent gathered on the paddock. Leather jacket, shades and elaborate quiff all added to the act, but it was in fact a stunningly accurate lookalike and the truth was never revealed, on air at least. I'm not even sure his fakery was ever revealed to the crowd off air, come to think of it. If you were there and I've just ruined the moment you've clung on to for the last 16 years, sorry.

And who was hosting? Bruno Brookes. He wasn't my favourite at the time because he'd replaced Gary King, my idol, on the early show that year. But I interviewed him and then afterwards told him I was a fledgling jock who wanted to get where he was. He was extremely nice about it, really encouraging. Also there - here's a real blast from the early 90s - was Man Ezeke, who fitted the unfortunate "do we have to play this?" tokenism of 80s and early 90s Radio 1 and black music. Dixie Peach had previously done it, then the Ranking Miss P, prior to Ezeke's own one solitary hour per week on the air with his Sunshine Show. He was also encouraging, telling me - and I quote directly here - to "keep making those tapes, boy". What a nice chap.

And so I'd worked at a Radio 1 roadshow and I've still got my 1FM press pass in my box of keepsakes. Years later, doing roadshows for Viking FM and Imagine FM were enormous fun, and if you work for a local station that happens to be blessed with great heritage and a lack of competition, as Viking was, then you can attract huge crowds. My first ever roadshow as a full-time jock was at the Princes Quay Shopping Centre in Hull (opened by Gary Davies and a Radio 1 roadshow as part of Radio Goes To Town a few years earlier) in 1998, when all the presenters did a stint during an all-day event. It was Valentine's Day and Joel Ross, our resident heart-throb, was trying to break the record for partaking in the most kisses in a certain period of time. Joel, bless him, stood around all day while girls (and a good smattering of sporting lads with a degree of comfort about their heterosexuality) queued up to peck him on the cheek. He loved it, though needed regular applications of lip balm. When JK did his stint with the mic, his first act, under a little playful crowd duress, was to grab Joel and do tongues. For effect, obviously. It got a big laugh.

I did the last two hours and had great fun with it too, wandering around the balconies and concourses of this big shopping centre, persuading folk to join the queue and handing out random merchandise. It was an amazing buzz. And, as if to prove my theory that radio increases your sex appeal irrespective of what you're really like, I received a letter the following week from the student girl who'd been working that day for the event's sponsors, asking me out. Result!

Since going freelance in 2005, I've not done any type of roadshow. Before that, at Imagine FM we did a few, but it was harder to acquire them as the Manchester area has such an amazing array of radio stations, some regional, all powerful, whose clout financially was so much bigger. However, one thing we did get for three years in a row was the switching on of Stockport's Christmas lights and I was lucky enough to be the main presenter at each.

I committed some faux-pas during these events. I warmed the crowd up by running round the front of the cordons, asking random people what their names were and what they wanted for Christmas. One chap curtly told me "I don't celebrate Christmas, I'm a Muslim" - this is into a mic and out of large speakers, remember, so everyone hears it. I asked another lad his name and he excitedly said "Jay!" I then continued, in DJ mode, "so Jay, what do you want for Christmas?" but unfortunately this lad had an almighty stammer and was still telling me his name when I put the mic back in front of him, finally saying "Jay-Jay-Jay-Jay-Jay-Jason."


One year we got the Cheeky Girls on. This was only a fortnight or so after they'd done their infamous audition in front of Pete Waterman and co on that reality show, the name of which escapes me as I didn't and don't watch any of them. I had no idea who the Cheeky Girls were but was reassured that it would be fun. Onstage they came, to enormous cheering, and myself and the three other jocks on duty had been told, in no uncertain terms, that we would be dancing with them. That record of theirs came on and there's me, a 30 year old 6ft 2 bloke, in a radio station puffa jacket doing sub-normal choreography that Black Lace would have deemed too embarrassing.

When the "touch my bum" line came up, one of my colleagues decided he would do as he was told, quite substantially too. He claimed later he didn't realise he had touch his own buttocks...

The same year Michael Le Vell was there. We always got a Coronation Street guest (Sally Lindsay had come along the year before, and was an utter delight and incredibly sexy) and so getting a chap who for 20 years had been on our premier soap, which I've loved all my life, was a great coup. He knocked about jauntily on the stage with us but then, as the cheers rang out, he started to ask us, on the mic, where the lights button was, assuming he was turning them on. He wasn't. That was the job of a competition winner from a promotion we'd done with the shopping centre. He looked a little taken aback that he was the big star of the event (and he was) but wouldn't be doing the big star's task.

And Toyah was there. I've adored Toyah all my life; she's one of those women who's got so much sexier as she's got older. She was in panto at the Plaza in Stockport and so turned up, with her Widow Twankee in tow, to do a chat with us onstage. She was fab, a great pro. I loved her even more. The only problem was that she and Twanks started to chuck sweets into the crowd, which should be fine, of course, but the jocks had been strictly warned beforehand not to do this because of, yes, Health and bleedin' Safety. Our roadshow co-ordinator gave me daggers from the side of the stage, and I gently stopped them chucking these toffees (they could have a child's eye out, y'know...) into the heaving throng of vulnerable, unprotected victims-in-waiting. Cuh.

Also because of Health and Safety, the actual switch-on was cocked up one year. We did the countdown from ten down to one, and the button was pressed and - hey presto! - the lights came on. Hurray! But the fireworks and crackers and general loud things were not set off simultaneously, as planned, because someone was standing too close to one of them (about five yards) and so they weren't ignited. Given that explosives 20 times the size of these things go off at stadia when a trophy is presented on a pitch and there are many human beings stood next to them, I thought this a little too cautious. It ruined the moment, really.

My favourite roadshow was in 2000, when Viking FM did its Party On The Pier at Cleethorpes (the seaside equivalent to anyone else's Party In The Park). Top of the bill were 5ive, and Billie Piper was our opening act. I did a segment on the air and stage and got the greatest crowd reaction I've ever had in my career when I said to them: "I reckon we could do this all night, what do you think?" (thieving from Brian May, that one) and the "yeeeeeeeeeeeeees!" in response from these thousands and thousands of people was just explosive. I had a lot of hair at the time, and it all stood up.

I peaked at that stage, as I then went on to introduce Scooch, and then afterwards Sid Owen and the Bomfunk MCs. Showbiz. The other highlights included the chorus of Angels which all the jocks together got everyone to sing before saying goodnight, and the member of Fierce (girlish trio who you won't remember) who responded to a request from below the pier by a group of Lincolnshire lads to, erm, reveal a dual part of her anatomy to them for their entertainment. And she did, just as I was walking past. I bet none of the Three Degrees ever did that.

So my favourite roadshow happened to be in the same town as the one which began my fascination for them, back in the days when I was a teenage wannabe, working as a hack and wearing terrible ties. They really are great fun.


Louis Barfe said...

Best post ever, Matt. Loved every word.

Mondo said...

What a great piece - I've only ever been to two roadshows. Radio One at Eastbourne in 76 - with Diddy David Hamilton and Radio Luxembourg in Southend.

Have you read Simon Garfield's book 'The Nation's Favourite' - written as an oral bio, during Radio One's mid 90s meltdown - some great interviews with Peel, Bates, John Walters and new names of the time Zoe Ball, Chris Evans. You should be able to pick it up for next to nothing on Amazon.

Bright Ambassador said...

I once watched a DJ from Lincs FM do a roadshow type thing in Newark (even though Newark's in Notts, Lincs FM's rather clunky tagline is 'No.1 in Lincolnshire and Newark') when M&S reopened after a refurb, I was amazed at how he could manage to keep talking with very limited material to go on .It's obviously not as easy as it looks.

Matthew Rudd said...

On the radio, you're always told not to talk if you have nothing to say; on a roadshow, it's a case of making sure you keep talking despite having bugger all to say.

Rad said...

I was at the Cleethorpes roadshow you mention with the Brand New Heavies and Man Ezeke. It was one of three or four consecutive roadshows I went to, none of which has a stellar cast. The Brand New Heavies were the best of a bad bunch. Still, the sun shone a lot more back then.

Anonymous said...

Ah,but Matthew,did you meet Smiley Miley?

I did! :-)

Matthew Rudd said...

I did, yes. Being the 19 year old dimwit who knew nothing but thought he knew it all (remove 19 and replace with 35 for today) I had a long chat with him about why the station was now called 1FM and not ever referred to as Radio 1. He looked suitably miffed that he couldn't get away from me, and I can't say I'm surprised.