That Big Dog/Dolphin Issue

Was the world holding its breath for the big Stone Roses reunion? Well if it was, feel free to exhale, as after literally days of speculation the band have today announced plans for at least two concerts next year and some newly recorded material as well, which given the 17 year gap since their last output makes the near legendary gestation period of their second album seem positively brisk.

It is news that has quite rightly got many people extremely excited. For music fans of a certain vintage, the Stone Roses were the quintessential band of their era, with their debut album in particular being hailed as one of the defining moments of the Madchester musical revolution of the early 1990s. As a chartwatcher their impact always fascinates me for whilst they never managed massive hit singles in a purely chart-topping sense, their individual tracks became acknowledged classics in their own right, and indeed as we shall see were floating their way onto the singles chart several years after they were first recorded. Most of the Stone Roses’ biggest hits were so long ago they predate even my own writing, but this seemed to take an appropriate moment to look back at just what Roses hits charted when – and most importantly why,

The chart fortunes of the Stone Roses were the very definition of a slow burn. It wasn’t until their fourth single release (and their second on Silvertone Records) that they caught the attention of chart chroniclers, the initial release of ‘Made Of Stone’ creeping its way to 1990 in March 1989. Still plying the cheerful jangling indie sound which characterised their early releases, they reached the Top 40 for the first time at the end of July 1989 (just in time for the annual “taking abroad on holiday” recording of the chart show as I recall) as the enthusiastic ‘She Bangs The Drums’ reached Number 36. At the time they were just another independent band, destined to place a handful of singles in the lower reaches of the chart like so many of their contemporaries at the time – or so we all thought.

The tale of the double a-side ‘What The World Is Waiting For/Fools Gold’ has now passed into legend. As the labelling of the single and its chart listing suggests, the now iconic ‘Fools Gold’ was originally intended as a quirky b-side to the more of the same vibe of ‘What The World…’ only for Silvertone’s Roddy McKenna to suggest that the track with its whispered vocals and James Brown sampled bassline was liable to make just as much an impact. The single was put out as a double a-side, but the label whispered to anyone who was prepared to listen that the flipside was the track to watch out for.

Featuring as it did a high profile track which did not appear on their self-titled debut album (which had been released to little fanfare back in May), the new single landed on the chart as a new entry at Number 13 in late November 1989, as chance would have it in the same week that the Happy Mondays entered at Number 30 with their similarly dance-inspired ‘Madchester Rave On’ EP. This led to the two groups appearing side by side on a near legendary edition of Top Of The Pops, seen by some as a watershed moment in musical history as an exciting and innovative new sound in popular music appeared front and centre on prime time television. ‘Fools Gold’ as anyone with a brain was calling the single, rose to Number 8 the following week to take the Roses into the Top 10 for the first time ever.

Then the band and their label realised they had a problem. They were now one of the hottest things in music but with a single that was almost entirely different in style and delivery to much of the music on their still viable debut album. More pressingly however, the need to cash in on this success was upon them, and to their horror the first evidence of this was a part of their past they would actually have preferred to forget.

In a manner which in a way echoed the sudden bursting into flower of The Beatles back in the 1960s, it was a former label which still owned the rights to a rather naff old recording which tried to cash in first. The band had recorded the happy go lucky but rather cheeky drugs anthem ‘Sally Cinnamon’ back in 1987 for tiny label FM Revolver records. Smelling a shot at making money, the label’s boss Paul Birch re-released the single albeit in what was clearly an inferior mix to the original and to help its promotion put out a rather cheaply made video. The Stone Roses famously expressed their displeasure at this by decorating Birch, his girlfriend, and their offices with paint, an action which landed them a conviction for criminal damage. They need not have worried, the re-released ‘Sally Cinnamon’ limped to Number 46 and was never spoken of again.

Meanwhile it was the turn of their current label to get in on the act. March 1990 was deemed Stone Roses month, with a rapid fire series of re-releases (one every fortnight) of older material designed to kick start sales of their album. Previously uncharted third single ‘Made Of Stone’ made Number 8, the moody ‘Elephant Stone’ followed at Number 20 and even an opportunistic re-issue of ‘She Bangs The Drums’ made Number 34, improving on its initial placing eight months earlier. Whilst the album ‘The Stone Roses’ didn’t exactly catch fire, it did make the Top 20 of the album chart for the first time ever and would be a constant seller until the end of the year.

Finally it was time for some brand new material in the shape of newly recorded single ‘One Love’ which to be perfectly honest had an air of trying a little too hard about it. A valiant attempt to capture the lightning in a bottle of ‘Fools Gold’, the track was essentially a re-tread of its predecessor with even Ian Brown admitting later it was a failed attempt at making an anthem. No matter, a brand new Roses track was the biggest deal going and upon release at the start of July 1990 it stormed into the Top 40 at Number 4 to give the band their biggest hit single to that point.

It was at this point that the band found themselves mired in a legal dispute with Silvertone, realising that their royalties clause was derisory and was certain to leave them short changed given the success that anything they did from this point on was destined to be massive. Their attempts to leave the label lead to a September 1990 injunction which led to them being prevented from recording for anyone else – a situation which would persist until the band won in court the following summer. They duly signed with Geffen records who handed them a fortune to go and record a brand new classic. Little did they know how long it would take.

In the meantime to recover from the trauma of losing the band, Silvertone records began to exploit the music they did own in as many ways as possible. First came a cheeky re-release of ‘Fools Gold’ in September 1990. The single had been withdrawn from sale earlier in the summer and with the track still unavailable on an album a decent sized demand had been built up for it. Citing “overwhelming public demand” the label re-released the single and were rewarded with its second Top 40 appearance inside a year, the single mounting the Number 22 position. It was followed in September 1991 by the album’s lead track ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, released you suspect as a neat “screw you” to the judge which had found in the band’s favour and freed them to jump ship to Geffen. Despite being lifted from a now two year old album, the single was still bought by enough completists to reach Number 20.

Encouraged by this, the label shoved out the melodic ‘Waterfall’, along with some Oakenfold and Osbourne remixes, leading to the single reaching Number 27 in January 1992.  To further wring every last drop from the, ahem, Stone next came the compilation album ‘Turns Into Stone’ in July 1992 which collected together essentially every Silvertone-owned Stone Roses track to date which was not on the ‘Stone Roses’ album. Finally ‘Fools Gold’ and ‘One Love’ were available on an album. It also featured a brand new single mix of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ which deleted the drum track from the original to replace it with a breakbeat. That made Number 33, and by the time yet another re-release of ‘Fools Gold’ had only made Number 73 in May 1992 (surely by then everyone who wanted one owned a copy) things were starting to get silly. It was almost a relief when 1993 came and went without any Stone Roses material being repackaged, re-jigged or re-released.

In the meantime the non-appearance of their second album and the prospect of the band having burned away the millions that Geffen records had given them to record it was becoming the stuff of legend. It wasn’t until late 1994 that the material was finally deemed ready for public consumption, and as the law of diminishing musical returns so often proves, anything which has been worked upon for that length of time and with that level of perfectionism involved was only ever going to be rubbish.

The new album ‘The Second Coming’ was derided as being overblown and overthought, and with the band having for one reason or another failed to strike whilst the iron was hot and their star was shining at its brightest at the start of the decade, they entered 1994 as being decidedly passé. Naturally a great deal of attention was paid to its release but rarely has such an eagerly anticipated album and a follow-up to a classic been deemed such a disappointment.

The record charts of course generally follow their own path and have no truck with critical opinion. The first truly new Stone Roses single since ‘One Love’ was only ever going to be a smash and so it proved with the epic (and in truth rather magnificent in its own way) ‘Love Spreads’ charging into the singles chart at Number 2 in December 1994. This now concides with the Masterton era, so this is what I wrote on rec.music.misc at the time:

No one phrase or sentence can convey properly to an outsider the sense of anticipation that surrounded this track. The debut album by the Stone Roses was released in 1989. Now seen as one of the last great albums of the 1980s, it launched the whole ‘Madchester’ scene into the stratosphere and dragged bands such as the Happy Mondays and the Inspiral Carpets in its wake. Virtually every initial single from the band and from the album made the charts at least twice which included a reissue programme in February/March 1990 which saw them chart a new hit every 2 weeks. The last new material recorded by the band was ‘One Love’ which became their biggest hit to that date when it made No.4 in July 1990 following which the band first of all successfully sued their record company to be released from their contract and then vanished into the studio for over 2 years. Finally then, the band re-emerge with what has to be one of the most delayed albums in recent times. Comments on the music itself are in the main, irrelevant. For most this will have been one of the highlights of the year and the biggest hit ever for the band was just about guaranteed.

INCISIVE, non?

History records what happened next, a series of rather more poorly received singles taken from ‘The Second Coming’, an acrimonious break-up and yet more re-releases of Fools sodding Gold. For posterity then, let us extract from the archives the notes on each. First, ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ from March 1995, a Number 11 hit:

Their ‘Second Coming’ album has generally been panned as a bit of a disappointment but that doesn’t seem to have harmed its sales too much. Following on from ‘Love Spreads’ which gave them their biggest hit ever when it made No.2 last December, the lads from Manchester release what is generally regarded as the best track on the album. The result is quite simply another smash, the seventh Top 20 hit of their career.

I got better when I started getting paid for this stuff you know. Next on their discography, a certain classic reaching Number 25 in a new version in April 1995:

Incredible. Simply incredible. ‘Fools Gold’ is without a doubt the definitive Stone Roses track. It was first released at the end of 1989 in a year which had seen the band become the sensations of the year, released their by now classic debut album and set themselves up as a force to be reckoned with. The moody piece of shoe-gazing reached No.8 and prompted a flood of re-releases of their earlier singles a few months later. In September 1990 the track was back again, released due to ‘public demand’ and it duly staggered to No.22. Then Silvertone records lost a celebrated court case against the band and saw them defect to Geffen records. Keen to capitalise on the one asset they still held, the album was repackaged and re-promoted with a number of singles which included – yes! – ‘Fools Gold’ in a "remix" which fooled nobody and reached No.73 in May 1992. Three years later on, and in the wake of their chart success with singles from their new Geffen album, their definitive recording is back once again in another alleged remix although you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. More, there is little that can be said apart from commenting that they must be the only alternative indie band to have ever been sampled by Run DMC.

The Run DMC track incidentally was ‘What’s It All About’ which just missed the Top 40 in late 1990.

We’re back mining ‘The Second Coming’ next with ‘Begging You’ which made Number 15 in November 1995, a full year after the album was released.

Strange to think that it is now a year since the music world held its breath for the new Stone Roses album before realising that it had been a waste of effort and that it was nothing special after all. The pattern of singles released from the ‘Second Coming’ album has been a strange one. The first single was ‘Love Spreads’ which made Number 2 in December last year, followed by ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ which reached Number 11 back in March. Since then there has been no promotion from the band at all, save for yet another remix and re-release of the ubiquitous ‘Fools Gold’ which made Number 25 in April. Finally here comes the third single from the album, making a fairly impressive debut inside the Top 20 but one which is likely to see it slip away as fast as it came. It is strange to think that in 1990 the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were being mentioned in the same breath as the saviours of British music. Five years on the Happy Mondays have become the critically and commercially acclaimed Black Grape whereas the Stone Roses just drift on with nobody paying them much attention at all.

That would be that, aside from what was until now the last ever appearance on the singles chart of the famous Stone Roses, and if you cannot work out just what that track was, you really have not been paying attention thus far. It made Number 25 in March 1999.

Just to show you can never keep a good track down. Fool’s Gold was arguably the track that kickstarted the whole Madchester scene in the early 1990s and the record that transformed the Stone Roses from just another late 80s indie band into a major but short-lived phenomenon. A Top 10 hit when first released in November 1989, the track returned to the chart a year later as part of a series of re-releases of virtually everything the band had recorded up to that point. This latest reappearance of the song is thanks to a new set of remixes, part of a new project at Jive records to breathe new life into past releases. The single is headed by an uptempo drum and bass reworking by Grooverider but of course not being a dance aficionado I can’t help but feel that the original mix was perfect enough
as it stood and that this tampering adds nothing to the song.

Truly I don’t think you had to be a “dance aficionado” to work out just how pointless that was. As I write ‘Fools Gold’ is at Number 190 on the iTunes chart. If an X Factor contestant covers it at any point, run away very very fast.

A Law Unto Himself

Everyone who has had any kind of training in the art of radio will have been taught the concept of Theatre Of The Mind. The idea that through artful spinning of words, a presenter can colour in the mental pictures he is painting and leave the listener with a vivid impression of just what has gone on during the show.

My favourite example of this was working with Mark Page in Bradford in the 90s, when a phone character of his was attempting a mind reading act. “Put your blindfold on,” he commanded, “ooh, red silk. Nice”. What the blindfold was made of was completely irrelevant to the gag being set up, but its introduction somehow made the whole skit more “real”.

Yet sometimes the best theatre isn’t one that has been painstakingly created beforehand. It can happen quite spontaneously thanks to a happy coming together of circumstances. Last weekend we experienced this very thing.

To explain, a highlight of the current talkSPORT weekend schedules is a two hour interview show called My Sporting Life. The premise is a simple yet brilliant one – persuade a notable sportsman into the studio in order to pay homage to his or her life and career by means of an extended interview with our talented host Danny Kelly, interspersed with contributions from friends and other interested parties on the telephone. The first series of this show went out during the summer early on Saturday evenings, and was so well received that it won a more or less permanent place in the weekend schedules, at present being broadcast on Sundays at 10pm.

Now whilst the civilised hour of broadcast for the summertime shows meant that the show could go out live, the logistical impossibilities of persuading impossibly famous people to be present on the South Bank of London at midnight at the end of the weekend means that the show is pre-recorded during the week, often at whatever time is most convenient to our chosen guest of the week.

Last week the subject of the show was a true legend of the game of football – Dennis Law, the diminutive Scotsman who had ended up a hero to both blue and red halves of Manchester. He has an impressively put together autobiography in the shops at the moment, and so was in the middle of a promotional tour to publicise the work, meaning he was an obvious choice of guest for the broadcast that week. Just one complication though – his tight schedule meant that he was only available to us for the better part of an hour and a half on Wednesday afternoon. This, as you might imagine presented a particular challenge given that we had to somehow record two hours of radio programme. Even taking commercial breaks and news bulletins into account, a complete broadcast hour runs to around 48 minutes. Without pausing even for breath, never mind a cup of tea, cramming in 96 minutes of conversation with a star and his agent constantly checking their watches was always going to be a struggle. All we could do was set the tape running and hope for the best.

Naturally these things never go to plan. Delays getting hold of guests on the phone, an unfortunate technical failure resulting in the opening minutes of one section becoming lost and requiring restart of the recording, plus a pause in proceedings whilst one particular fact was checked meant that time was running away from us  – and potentially so was the star guest.

Matters came to a head halfway through the second hour when Mr Law’s literary agent who was accompanying him on his promotional tour announced they had a train to catch at five to five and that they would have to leave the building within ten minutes – non-negotiable. Those of us producing the programme were faced with the prospect of this particular Sporting Life coming to a premature end – and more disastrously leaving us at least ten minutes short of programme material.

I suggested that as our show already had a beginning and a middle, what was most important to record was the end, especially as the last segment of the show had been reserved for a talk about Dennis’ work with cancer charities and the tragedies in his personal life which had inspired this work. We could worry later about how to fill any other gaps. So we hit “Record”, paid tribute to the philanthropy of the footballing legend and said goodbye to the audience, at which point we all shook hands and ushered our guests out the door into a waiting taxi. One cup of tea later, we plugged the final hole in the show at a more measured pace by recording an extended interview with famously football writer Brian Glanville, host Danny Kelly covering for the temporary lack of our guest on the show by explaining that he was stuck out in the office signing autographs for the many members of staff who wanted time in his presence. Theatre Of The Mind you see.

The show edited together fine, and to my relief ran perfectly to time without the need for further padding. I loaded it into the playout system over the weekend and thought little more of it.

Yet when we broadcast it, our hastily reassembled programme had a curious effect on the audience. During the second hour of the show, we had broached topics which Dennis was clearly reluctant to talk in detail about. In particular when Danny moved on to his days at Manchester City and in particular a famous backheeled goal which relegated his former Old Trafford team-mates, our guest told us he had nothing to say on the matter, leaving Danny reading passages out of the book to compensate. Then we called up fellow Manchester City legend Mike Summerbee who took his own exception to what he felt was a too flippant line of questioning towards his great friend and made it plain that more deference to his genius was required.

The cumulative effect of this was for the show to be quite compelling listening, possibly more so than normal. The unsuspecting listener was suddenly on the edge of their seat as it looked more and more as if the show was going off the rails as the subject became more and more uncommunicative. This impression was further compounded when we hit the penultimate segment shortly afterwards – the one where Dennis Law was “out in the office signing autographs”.

We knew that he was missing from that part of the show due to circumstances beyond our control, yet in the Theatre Of The Mind for the listener who knew only what we were choosing to tell them, it appeared that he was for the moment withdrawing his participation. You simply could not turn this off for fear of missing out on what would happen next. There was a small danger here that we were in danger of portraying our guest as a cantankerous old sod who threw a hissy fit during a show designed to celebrate his work. Naturally this could not have been further from the truth, as he was in fact charming, friendly and a delight to talk to throughout. It was then a relief that the show climaxed with him back in the studio and spoken of in glowing terms about his charitable actions. His reputation (and ours as producers) remained intact.

We can sometimes overlook just how powerful the medium in which we operate is. A programme that we were concerned could not even be finished adequately somehow managed to become a thrilling rollercoaster of tension – and most importantly of all I guess helped to sell more than its fair share of copies of Dennis Law’s rather brilliant autobiography.

All the editions of My Sporting Life produced so far are available to download in podcast form in the usual places, and if you want to hear the full interview with Dennis Law, it is still on the talkSPORT website. I’d recommend it, even if I have kind of spoiled the suspense for you already.

A Day.io at nextrad.io

IDtagMy father was always going to speak at conferences, as I recall. Or at least attend them. Several times a year he would announce he would be away at some mysterious location for a night or two, leaving my sister and I to run our mother ragged until he returned home with what we always hoped was a present to compensate us for his absence from our lives.

I think the first radio conference I ever attended was a student radio one sometime in 1992, the highlight of which turned out to be a talk from a big burly man from the local BBC station who had a rather unfortunate Robin Williams fixation but who bellowed enough anecdotes to make me utterly convinced that his job was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and who left me dreaming of the day that I’d one day get to express that same enthusiasm to other bright eyed industry hopefuls.

Even as a grown adult though, most conferences are for the big guys – the bosses and management. For people whose lives appear to revolve around summoning people for meetings they are surely the equivalent of an ice-cream sundae. A huge auditorium sized meeting for people who like to have meetings.

So I’ve never actually been to one in any of the jobs I’d had. Until this week, when the best £99 I’d spent on the credit card all summer meant I was in the audience for nextrad.io. This, stated the organisers, was a conference for the people at the coalface. A chance for the ordinary people in radio to be treated to a series of talks by some of the most enthusiastic people in radio. Thursday morning saw myself and a 100 or so other nervous looking radio presenters/producers etc. from all over the country eyeing each other up diffidently over coffee before assembling in the intimate surroundings of the main theatre at the Magic Circle for the first of the day’s series of mini-lectures.

This being the 21st century and most of the attendees being geeks of one form or another, tapping away on laptops and tweeting the proceedings was more or less de-rigueur, leading at one stage to the hashtag #nextradio trending nationwide, presumably to the bafflement of most casual observers up and down the land. I took time out to be personally more amused by the fact that the theatre afforded no place from which to source power and speculated that most people would have run out of battery juice by lunchtime, which proved indeed to be the case. I have to confess I did spend the first half an hour trying to figure out the wireless password for the venue, tweeting my frustrations from my phone. This prompted host and organiser James Cridland to announce for my direct benefit that it was printed inside the programme which I clearly hadn’t read. Naturally I hadn’t, I was too busy staring at people diffidently over coffee as we arrived. Nonetheless this did mean that I not only now knew where to look for the crucial information but having had my name announced on stage was thus briefly the most important and high profile member of the audience. I’d call that a result.

The “less is more” policy of the organisers in timing the length of the talks given meant we zipped through a wide range of speakers, virtually all of whom had something interesting, relevant and thought-provoking to say, and it is worth dealing with some of the more notable ones.

The morning started with Matt Edmondson and his producer colleague from Radio One, waxing lyrical about the one hour show they put together on Wednesday evenings and how they take great care to expand the show beyond its broadcast horizons with as many multimedia elements as possible, such as comedy interviews with celebrities which populate the show’s website. I didn’t want to spend the entire day taking a cynical approach to everything but I did find myself questioning just how “new” a comedy show with every link carefully scripted in advance actually was and the way the pair boasted about how the show was an intimate club crammed with lots of running gags that you have to listen regularly to get made me wonder just how inclusive a listening experience it actually was. But I’m not their target market, so go figure.

They were followed by a short ten minute chat from Nik Goodman who played some creative ideas lifted from radio stations around the world to demonstrate there should be no boundaries to a good idea. The climax of his talk was the playing of Jacksonville, FL DJ Gregg Stepp apparently quitting live on air and walking out of his show on WFYV-FM after learning he was to be fired at the end of the week. The incident from October 2008 is now a famous radio moment, although I’m not sure most people in the room with me grasped that the whole thing was a stunt, dreamed up by the radio station itself in order to drum up publicity, the presenter in question having resigned several weeks earlier to take up another job elsewhere. Nonetheless the incident stands proud as a fine example of how to make an impact by making people wonder if they really were supposed to have heard what they did.

This is a SPOOF people. It wasn’t for real.

 

The legendary Trevor Dann gave a short presentation on the use of archive material, playing some famous radio moments from the past and bemoaning the way most radio is thrown away and forgotten the moment that it is broadcast. The BBC have their own archives but are apparently planning to open their doors to anyone who happens to have old broadcast tapes – causing me to think back once more to my cupboard full of Top 40 tapes and whether it will end up being worth anything to anyone one day. Maybe the answer is closer than I thought:

I also noted on Twitter that talkSPORT has an extensive archive which, although it has gaps, stretches back to the 1990s, although it is only since 2008 that we’ve had ready online access to previously broadcast material and I suspect I’m one of only a couple of people in the building who knows how to work the machine that retrieves the data from the boxes full of DAT tapes which comprise the older archive. Nonetheless it can be worthwhile, as I demonstrated once when doing research on David Beckham and turned up a tape of our present boss hosting the evening show in a previous life. Discretion prevented me from circulating it around the office.

A talk from the BBCs Brett Spicer attempted to turn us on to the way social media can help grow audiences and call attention to local radio. By this he means the circulation of important clips and moments via non-broadcast mediums, citing the recent example of “Angry Melvin”, an hilarious ranting caller from BBC Three Counties earlier in the year which briefly became a national sensation. Actually it is not just local radio which can use this trick to good effect. Check out the recent attention paid to “Jonathan in Swansea”, a caller to talkSPORT’s weekend overnight presenter Matt Forde which served only to further raise the profile of the most popular host that slot has ever had. All thanks to a random YouTube upload by an interested listener. The Nazis were all hippies, remember.

I took careful note of the presentation from Francesca Panetta from The Guardian on the subject of podcasts and the wide ranging ways on demand audio is used by audiences. As a speaker who actually did not work in radio at all and who was instead charged with creating audio content to enhance a newspaper brand, it was interesting to hear her take as an outsider on the way radio deals with podcasting. It often frustrates me that so many radio station podcasts are simply re-edited highlights of already broadcast material, something which strikes me as totally self-defeating. What motivation does a listener have to tune into your output when they know the notional “best bits” are going to be served up to them later. Podcasts should be treated as mini radio broadcasts in their own right, covering topics and discussions that possibly would never find a home on a radio schedule. Certainly that is the approach I take with my own podcast, one which has been a labour of love on and off for three and a half years now. It makes me no money and with downloads in the hundreds rather than the thousands is hardly helping me broadcast to the vast audiences I can achieve on a “real” radio station. Nonetheless, nobody is likely to invite me to broadcast a weekly show about chart news, but the podcast gives me the freedom to exercise the creativity the way I want to. If people are entertained by it and my reputation is enhanced as a result – that’s just a nice bonus.

Just after midday at nextrad.io came the moment I, and my two other colleagues in the audience, had been waiting for as our own boss took to the stage to reveal the secrets of how he added a million listeners in a year. Having been subject to these kind of inspirational talks by him at programming meetings for well over three years now it was fascinating to see the reaction of everyone else in the room as he talked up the success of our station and the reasons why we go from strength to strength. As a former actor, I always think he knows only too well the power of delivery and how to make the most of an oratory. That’s how he makes most of us want to give our all to him each day at work, and by the end you got the feeling half the room were prepared to as well.

The most interesting talk straight after the lunch buffet (during the course of which incidentally, the crudites and savoury dip remained untouched, revealing more than planned about the people in attendance I felt) was that given by Steve Ackerman. He is a brilliant, well regarded man who runs independent production house Somethin’ Else and whose building I’ve visited on a number of occasions as a contributor to documentaries they have been making. His talk wasn’t about broadcast radio at all but instead showing how his company had used radio drama techniques to create a series of audio-focused mobile games to benefit clients such as Wrigleys. It was during the course of this talk that I ended up in a heated twitter discussion with another member of the audience as I noted with some frustration that the innovative and fascinating applications being talked about were confined to the iPhone platform. I pointed out that as I didn’t own one and was unlikely ever to do so, I was never going to be exposed to the brands being thus assisted. Plenty of people in the industry (and indeed earlier on at the conference) bang on about how radio in the future is platform agnostic and how the listener should not have to care about the medium of delivery. If that is the case, why not this particular branded content too? My online correspondent wondered if ROI wasn’t the key, given that it is easier to make money from iPhone games than on other platforms. This did however raise the question as to what the purpose of creating the game was in the first place. We were told that it wasn’t there to necessarily make money (and indeed the game in question The Nightjar is a free download) but to make people aware of a brand of chewing gum. If it doesn’t work on my phone, it follows that the gum is never going to be bought. We left the issue to be chewed over, so to speak.

As the day wore on, some of the later presentations began to be a bit of a blur, perhaps an inevitable consequence of trying to cram so much in. Nonetheless my attention was grabbed once more by a talk by legendary programme director Dick Stone on the issue of show prep. As a knarled old veteran of on air work, I’d had most of what he said about internalising your content and not simply reading out loud things that are written down on more occasions that I care to count, but it was still worthwhile to be refreshed and reminded of the pitfalls of just reading out the weather forecast as it has been sent down from the met office. He also did note that offering presenters a critique of their work is vitally important and how it can actually be difficult to get through their defences. He understands why only too well, presenters having given so much of themselves on air that it is hard for them to accept criticism. If you’ve just done what you feel is the best job possible, it is a hammer blow to the ego to sit down with the boss and be told why it is rubbish, a feeling I remember only too well. If I took anything at all away from the conference, it was this lesson which I’ll remember if my career ever leads me to start running radio stations of my own.

The day wrapped up as it began with a talk from members of the Radio One interactive team. They told the story of radio’s attempts to use pictures as part of its output and climaxed with a demonstration of the exciting new Radio One website which is soon to be publicly unveiled, an exciting looking design which presents all selected content in a lightbox from the front page, removing the need for anyone ever to actually navigate from the landing page. Their talk reminded me of my own efforts to try to visualise some of the work I do, something I do with caution as it is all unofficial and my bosses sometimes frown on the drawing back of the backstage curtain that is the result. Nonetheless I’ve been known to stream our activities in the control room during major broadcasts as a Twitvid, something I’ve half a mind to do again during the Rugby World Cup.

5pm arrived and we all emerged, blinking, into the sunshine once more, thanking profoundly James Cridland and Matt Deegan for their organisational efforts before the hardier souls in the audience retired to the pub around the corner. I sloped off home, with the prospect of another early start for a Rugby broadcast looming although still with this odd feeling of euphoria. My mind wandered back to the Robin Williams impersonator from 1992 and his love for his job and his medium. There is nothing like being shoulder to shoulder with people who adore being on and working in radio, who know deep down they have the best job in the world and who armed with little more than a microphone and a voice have the ability to tap into people’s emotions and be a part of their lives like nobody else can.

That’s why if they do it all again I’ll be first in the queue for a ticket. Or maybe up on stage explaining just why I do nothing so brilliantly.

Oh yes, and I lasted the whole day online thanks to my netbook and carefully putting my phone in aeroplane mode to conserve the battery. Even the chap next to me with a Macbook only had 15 minutes of juice left by the end.

20 Minutes You’ll Never Get Back

Interest in this little site has never been higher, thanks to the constant flow of people arriving here from the link at the end of the final Yahoo! Music Chart Watch UK column which went online last week. If you are one of those still coming late to the party, hello and welcome, and I promise I’ll keep people updated on any new home that the weekly chart commentary finds for itself online. Discussions are on-going I assure you.

In the meantime if you have an urgent need to find out exactly what I think about the new hits of the week there is no better way to do it than the (mostly) weekly podcast which has been running since 2008 and which for now is the only way to find out my take on the week’s chart news. The podcast is available on iTunes, or via the direct feed link on the right hand side, but for those who find this too much effort, you can listen to this week’s offering below and find out just what the origin of that messy Leona Lewis track is.

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Busy Doing Nothing

I’ve finally worked what to answer when people ask me to summarise what it is that I do for a living. I do NOTHING. Best of all though, I like to think I do it extremely well.

Yes, this may require some explanation so indulge me.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I achieved clarity. It was at roughly 5.15pm on the day of the League One playoff final back in May, taking place that day at Old Trafford. We had approached the prospect of the end of the game with some small furrowing of brows. Adrian Durham, our able host, was effectively going to be on his own for the last 45 minutes of the show as his co-presenter and the assistant commentator on the match had to leave shortly after the game finished. Extra time and penalties were a desirable scenario here, taking the match right up until the end of the scheduled broadcast, but in the event it was not to be. Peterborough United demolished Huddersfield Town by the small matter of three goals to nil. The match had finished, the trophy was due to be presented and I effectively had to steer a man sat in the stands at Old Trafford through maybe an hour of solo broadcasting, on the assumption that no matter how dedicated the audience this particular match would be unlikely to generate much in the way of telephone response. It was a steaming hot Sunday on a bank holiday weekend after all.

I therefore did what any other producer of my calibre would have done. I looked at the advertising log, the list of scheduled commercials, and decided that the show could overrun. We would delay taking the scheduled break at the end of the match for as long as possible, necessitating some catching up over the course of the hour and potentially reducing the need to fill the gap with recycled interviews. So as Kev, our pitchside reporter ran around with a radio microphone and grabbed just about every member of the Peterborough United side, I watched the minutes tick by with no small measure of satisfaction. This was burning up my show nicely.

Then I saw a tweet from one of my colleagues, listening in on his car radio. As far as he was concerned this was one of the most compelling things he had heard in some time. All the emotion, all the drama of a team battling their way to promotion, and here we were bringing the innermost thoughts of some of these footballers live and in the moment. Raw, uninterrupted and unedited.

Just thing, if I’d been alert and meticulous, if I had been determined to make my show run to time and to make sure the commercial breaks went out at the allotted time, I would have been in the ears of the presenters, urging them to break, forcing them away from whatever they might have had going on below, just so I could feel I was doing my job correctly. Yet instead we were making brilliant and compelling radio. I realised there and then, the greatest skill of the live outside broadcast producer. Knowing when to do exactly nothing, and just let it all happen.

I say all this because right now I’m looking nervously at my personal calendar for the next month. My employers talkSPORT are the exclusive radio broadcaster for every match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, due to get underway less than 12 hours from now, and as one of the most experienced live sport producers in the building, I’ve got the slightly overwhelming honour of being in charge of most of them. For the next six weeks I’ll effectively be on New Zealand time, arriving at the office in the wee small hours of the morning to steer out team of presenters and commentators through some marathon stints of live broadcasting, often with nothing more than a microphone, a set of notes, and several thousand full voiced egg-chasing fans for company.

Throughout it all, the best moments, the best bits of the coverage and my most effective and potentially award-winning actions will be the ones when I do absolutely nothing and just let it all unfold.

I’ll try to write here some of the best moments as they occur, but for those keen to get the real time view, just follow my Twitter account @talkbackstuck or lock on to the hashtag #RWCtalksport for the thoughts and views of the entire talkSPORT Rugby crew. To tell you the truth, I cannot wait for it all to start.

As One Door Closes….?

One or two of the more astute readers had already figured it out. The news, announced a little over a week ago, that the Yahoo! Music site was to close down at the end of September clearly had implications for the weekly Chart Watch UK column I’d been writing for the site for the last few years. This was particularly pertinent given that Yahoo! were keen to direct traffic instead to their new celebrity-focused OMG! site which clearly had little room for the kind of forensic account of the week’s chart movements that I’d been supplying.

This week my contract to supply content for the internet giant expired, and so the Chart Watch UK column which is now live online is the last one which will appear on those pages. None of this came as a surprise, my editors have been totally upfront about the potential changes from the start, warning earlier in the year that there was a strong possibility this would happen and giving plenty of notice of the changes. Even notice periods have to come to an end though, and so here we are.

In a sense I’ve actually been extremely fortunate to have had such a long unbroken run online, especially given the way internet sites have come and gone over the years. After initially writing a weekly roundup of the UK charts on the old usenet group rec.music.misc in November 1992 (a very early example can be found here) I was hired by the publishers of Music Week in the summer of 1995 to start writing for the brand new website dotmusic.com which they were launching. The full summer of how that came about is one I’ve written about before. Dotmusic went through a variety of incarnations and several different editors and owners during the time in was in existence, becoming a fully fledged consumer facing site in the late 90s, complete with expensively produced TV commercials, before being bought around 2002 by BT who used it as the focus of a series of consumer websites they ran around that time. When BT and Yahoo! got into bed with one another in 2003 to launch a co-branded internet and content service, dotmusic was part of that deal and the brand was folded into their own Launch site, which would eventually evolve into Yahoo! Music.

Throughout all of these changes I just came along for the ride each time, picked up by each new owner and every new editorial team as a core part of the site’s content, even if sometimes they did have to find new ways to shoehorn me into the design. I took it as a huge compliment that the readership I attracted and the unique selling point my weekly ramblings gave the site made it continually worthwhile to have me on board.

For now, at least, the ride is over. For the first time in over 16 years I don’t have a home for Chart Watch UK. However I don’t intend this to be the end for my almost lifelong passion just yet. I’m in discussions with a number of places for a new home for the column and I hope to be able to resurrect it sometime soon. In the meantime the weekly podcast will become the focus of the story each week, and you can access that by clicking on the links in the top right, whether by listening on the main feed or subscribing via iTunes. I’ve loved following the music charts ever since I was a teenager and have been privileged to share that love with a huge worldwide audience for two decades now. That’s not a passion which will die out overnight I promise you.

For now it seems appropriate to thank the long line of editors and curators who have stuck with me for the last decade and a half. They include my original Music Week editor Steve Redmond, Andy Stickland, Chris Sice, James Poletti, Ben “7 Digital” Drury, Gareth Bellamy, Ben “Fear Of Tigers” Berry and last but not least Paul Johnston, as well as all the other weekend staff I used to deal with as we passed copy back and forth over email before content management systems for websites were created.

Hope to see everyone in a new home soon, and in the meantime I’ll keep everyone posted as to what happens next. I might miss the Saturdays getting their first ever Number One dammit!

Massive Cock

Do we actually have “turntable hits” any more? Aside from the obsolescence of the terminology, the idea of a piece of pop music which gains considerable traction on the radio and widespread exposure to the listening audience without, it seems, ever selling much in the way of actual copies appears one confined to history. Maybe it is the lack of ability for radio presenters to indulge themselves in their own choice of music, or maybe it is the almost clinical efficiency of those in the business of promoting and programming music, but in the 21st century it generally follows that if radio plays a record it will be a hit of some kind, and only the variances of the market decide how big that should be.

Yet at the moment there is one tune which has reached my ears in a variety of different places – everywhere from Radio 2 to the in-store radio in my local Co-Op, one which is readily available to buy both as an album track and as a fully released single and yet which has resolutely refused to appear on any mainstream sales rankings anywhere.

The track in question is ‘Yellow’ by the extraordinarily monikered CocknBullKid, the programmer-worrying pseudonym of 26 year old Anita Blay. Hailing from Hackney, she was a contemporary of Plan B when a teenager, helping write some of his earliest raps before developing as a singer herself. After a handful of independently released EPs in 2008 and 2009 she was signed by Island Records imprint Moshi Moshi and released her debut album ‘Adulthood’ in May this year. In spite of her obvious talent and some high profile support slots with acts such as Marina & The Diamonds, none of the singles lifted from the album to date have made the charts or brought her even the slightest sniff of mainstream fame, which is actually something of a crying shame.

What makes the prospect of CocknBullKid finally becoming mainstream all the more intriguing is the way she utterly fails to comply with aesthetic norms. In a world where female pop stars are supposed to be fragile, glamorous things, prepared to pose provocatively and inspire hormonal stirrings in an army of eager fans, Anita Blay is large, curvy and it seems perfectly comfortable with it despite the directors of her videos often going out of their way to avoid shooting her in anything resembling a profile. Whilst you worry that this sets her up down the line for a few sneering profiles in the Daily Mail and a genuinely meant but still patronising article on the BBC website about whether she is a role model for the larger lady, the idea that a bubbly fat girl can become a fully fledged pop star is one that fascinates me and makes me want to see it happen all the more. I don’t think for a minute we are all so wrapped up in body fascism that there is no chance of the larger lady becoming famous, but Marsha Wash and Jocelyn Brown notwithstanding, all it takes is to wonder whither Michelle McManus to note that the deck might be stacked against her.

So here is hoping. ‘Yellow’ appears to have now been written off as yet another flop, and yet the label aren’t prepared to give up just yet with a re-release of the equally as appealing ‘Hold On To Your Misery’ set for a re-promotion as a single in the Autumn. For now ‘Yellow’ is a good old fashioned turntable hit, but if it ends up Top 5 sometime in February 2012, just remember who told you about it first.

Rhymes With “Ibbert”

I don’t like writing tributes to people I didn’t know. Call me cold and cynical, but but I always find knee-jerk online responses of “oh how terrible, my thoughts to his/her friends and family” posted online by people in response to celebrity deaths to be rather self-serving. There to make the poster feel good about themselves by jumping on a bandwagon of sympathy. It is always sad when someone passes away of course, but feeling the need to take time out of your life to mourn the passing of someone you never met? Not for me, and not a practice I indulge in.

Except I’m a hypocrite, because that is exactly what I feel compelled to do here.

His is a name which will have meant little to anyone but a particular generation of music fans, but for the generation I belong to Tom Hibbert, who passed away this week, was essentially the defining voice. Whilst writing for Smash Hits during the 1980s, possibly more so than anyone else he defined the unique style in which the magazine was written. ‘Ver Hits (to use the vernacular) had a language and internal narrative all of its own, inviting the reader into a strange cartoon-like world where pop stars were both lauded and satirised at the same time. It was pop writing for people who loved to listen to music but also loathed the pomposity of the “serious” music press which treated the practitioners like Gods. Lord Frederick Lucan Of Mercury, Dame David Bowie, Ben Vol-au-vent Pierrot from Curiosity Killed The Cat, “Belouis” “Some” and Mark UnpronounceablenameofBigCountry were all the people who soundtracked our childhood, Smash Hits providing the narrative and unbeknownst to most of the readers Tom Hibbert the man who conjured up these daft images. Stars interviewed by the magazine were not asked about weighty matters such as politics or how exactly they created that innovative bass sound in the studio, what mattered was the issues of their favourite cheese, the most unusual place they had been sick or how many pairs of pants they took out on tour.

Of course Tom Hibbert didn’t write the entire magazine, but his influence could be felt throughout, right the way down to the letters page edited by the mysterious Black Type and whose stream of consciousness ramblings in between the readers contributions were actually the main reason for reading it. When real life pop stars just weren’t interesting enough, Hibbert was credited with creating an artificial universe of fictional ones, leading to acts such as Reg “Reg” Snipton and his Useless Toadstools being continually credited with featuring in the next issue.

Yes, you read Smash Hits because it printed the song lyrics and reviewed the upcoming singles releases, but also because you were party to a massive joke, one which you weren’t entirely sure had been explained to the likes of Matt and Luke Goss. My own Smash Hits reading years were sadly at the tail end of this era, as we hit the 1990s and a new editorial team took over, turning the publication back into a slightly less knowing glossy PR pamphlet, but still we picked up up every two weeks just on the off chance the flashes of brilliance would return.

Tom Hibbert had in the meantime spun off to working on the first incarnation of Q magazine, a publication which swiftly developed an internal narrative all of its own. Grown up music was treated with all due deference, but within the news pages there was still a place for the sideways glances to develop. Hence groups were forever pondering that “difficult” second album and the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle were “Rock, and indeed, Roll” as a well as “hanky, and indeed, panky”. On the opening pages of each issue were the Hibbert-penned “Who The Hell…” profiles in which a major star of the moment was afforded every opportunity to damn themselves with their own words, thanks simply to a master interviewer asking just the right questions to make twats of themselves. Whether it was feigning palpitations at Jimmy Saville swearing and telling the world how much he hated children, or just nodding sagely and indulging Ringo Starr as he insisted he was the best rock and roll drummer in the world, the column knew the right tone to take.

Tom Hibbert’s writing career effectively came to a grinding halt in 1997 when a major health crisis forced him into what turned out to be more or less permanent retirement, with occasional enquiries into his whereabouts resulting in his friends and former colleagues insisting he was living quietly with his wife and happy to be remembered with fondness. News of his death at the tragically young age of 59 appears to have been greeted by his friends with a sense of resignation and quiet relief that they would have to watch him decline further.

One cannot pretend to feel too sad at the passing of someone you never knew and never met. I’m just glad his work helped be a part of my formative years as a music fan, and it seems only right to take the time to set that down in writing. Thanks Tom.

Bring 2003 To Life–Part Four

The final furlong! No context-setting ramblings from me really, other than to note that as the tape of the chart show wore on, I started to grow more and more into the way Wes approached the hosting of the chart show. In the opening few minutes when his initial script was full of throwaway one-liners as he recapped the events of the previous week, I started to wonder if this was the reason he lasted but two short years on the show. Then by the end he had settled down, this was his arena and he was in command. The “continuous countdown” aspect of the first half of the show, whereby with a quarter of it taken up with the album chart he was required to rattle through the lower half of the Top 40, skipping some singles at random and playing just 90 seconds of others kind of broke the flow a little, but the Top 20, featuring backstage chats with the stars and just the right amount of knowing cynicism about some of the singles made the whole thing an exciting and engaging show to listen to. Yet somehow he seemed so restricted by the format, you can understand why Radio One ultimately decided the experiment wasn’t working.

That was indeed a context-setting ramble wasn’t it? Bugger. Top Ten Time!

10: Ashanti – Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)

As we spend all our time these days falling over ourselves to praise the superstar achievements of the likes of Rihanna and Beyonce, it is far too easy to overlook just how massive Ashanti was in the R&B world at the start of the last decade. Granted, most of her success came in America where at one point in 2002 she held down three of the Top 10 singles on the Hot 100, the first artist since The Beatles to achieve that kind of chart monopoly. On these shores she still managed a credible and consistent chart career, appearing on four Top 10 hits during 2002, including Number 4 smash hit ‘Foolish’ which was in such demand ahead of its release that it spent three weeks charting on import. ‘Rock Wit U’ was one of the first singles to be lifted from her second album and the rather charming and mellow ballad made a comfortable Number 7 upon release in June 2003, even if it was her only Top 10 single from that particular release. She topped the charts in 2004 as a guest singer on Ja Rule’s ‘Wonderful’ and scored her final Top 10 hit at the start of 2005 with ‘Only U’ only to see her career dive into the doldrums almost as rapidly as it soared. Much of her success had stemmed from her association with Irv Gotti and his label The Inc records, but the pair parted company in May 2009 after her 2008 album ‘The Declaration’ underperformed and the pair disagreed on her future musical direction. We’re promised a release this year for her own self-published album, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for any hits resulting.

9: Metallica – St Anger

The title track from what would be the 8th album from the speed metal specialists, landing here on the chart with what was still at the time Metallica’s customary efficiency and quite possibly to the utter bemusement of most casual observers. I’d be tempted to call ‘St Anger’ “typical Metallica”, except that the most notable thing about it was that it was not, representing a shift in their style and a genuine and well received attempt to fit in with the nu-metal sound which had torn up the rule book for rock music at the start of the 21st century. From a more entertaining political standpoint, this was the first Metallica release proper since they suffered a total sense of humour failure over the possibility of their work being spread on file sharing networks, the band’s self-appointed crusade over the issue of online piracy almost certainly contributing to the continual head in the sand approach to the industry over the thorny issue of digital music and which held them back for the best part of five years. An a truly ironic manner, the release of the album ‘St Anger’ was moved forward five days after the entire work appeared on file sharing networks.

8: XTM & DJ Chucky presents Annia – Fly On The Wings Of Love

The most enjoyable part of any extended wander through the hits and happenings of a particular week in years gone by is the excuse to immerse yourself in the music of that time, and along the way alight upon the one track that you know practically defines the way you felt at that time and which virtually commands repeated plays and renewed appreciation. This single is indeed such a record.

On the face of it, ‘Fly On The Wings Of Love’ seemed an unlikely basis for a Europe-wide summertime smash hit. The song had been the runaway winner of the 2000 Eurovision Song Contest as written and performed by the Olsen Brothers yet had only been a hit single in a selected few countries, coming nowhere near the singles chart on these shores. Over the next few years a handful of trace-inspired cover versions had been made of the song but it was the one by Spanish producers XTM which hit paydirt, topping the charts in Ireland and becoming a smash hit single which spent no less than two months diving in and out of the Top 10 – this here was its second of what would ultimately be three visits to its Number 8 peak.

Maybe it was the sheer contrast between the versions which made it work so well, the Olsen Brothers original a gently paced ballad performed by two middle aged musical veterans, the XTM version an uptempo club track centred around the cute mewing of the lyrics by singer Annia. Whatever it was, a song which was already uplifting and heart-warming was made to soar even higher and become a genuine feelgood anthem which endured way beyond its initial burst of clubland success. So many raved-up versions of pop hits do little more than rip the heart and soul out of a track for the sake of nailing some beats to someone else’s creativity. ‘Fly On The Wings Of Love’ avoided all these pitfalls to become something rather magical instead.

As for hearing it, well We7 have the track as linked to above, but the only version on Spotify is one ripped from the middle of a longer pre-mixed dance compilation. Best to revel in one of the other reasons the single was so successful, the astonishingly cute animated video made to accompany its chart success.

Touching the sky

 

7: Busta Rhymes and Mariah Carey – I Know What You Want

“Baby if you give it me, I’ll give it to you, as long as you want.”

You know it is funny, Mariah Carey’s wilderness years at the start of the 21st century – coinciding with her departure from Sony records and her expensively terminated deal with Virgin – was never really such an issue in this country, a territory where her music generally just did reasonably OK with the odd gigantic smash hit here and there. Hence 2001 single ‘Loverboy’, the track that convinced people in the States that she was finished, made a perfectly reasonable Number 12 and the Number 32 peak of follow-up ‘Never Too Far’ was most probably down to both label apathy and the fact that it was shoved out with little fanfare in Christmas week. Nonetheless she needed something to put her on the comeback trail, and it was ‘I Know What You Want’ that proved to be the perfect vehicle. In truth she was actually nothing more than the guest star on the single, one penned by Busta Rhymes for his eighth album ‘It Ain’t Safe No More’ which he’d released in 2002. Even an on her uppers Mariah Carey was still too huge a superstar name to pass up for marketing purposes however and when released as a single the track was a global smash hit, charging to Number 3 in Britain to become Ms Carey’s biggest hit single for three years and Busta Rhyme’s first Top 3 hit in five summers. The track is the perfect crossover of the styles of the two artists, showing all at once that Mariah Carey could do hip-hop with ease, whilst Busta Rhymes could tone down the aggression and do smooth soul seduction – all in the space of one five minute single.

6: Delta Goodrem – Lost Without You

By the start of the 21st century the concept of Australian soap actress wants to become a pop singer was such a well-worn cliche that nobody would even think of using it as a marketing tool any more. Hence it was nothing less than a pleasant surprise that the recording career of the teenager previously best known for being Nina Tucker in Neighbours was such a glittering revelation. The truth of the matter was that she was always more singer than actress, having been signed in her native Australia when she was just 15. After her first single stiffed, she was actively encouraged to take up the soap opera role to boost her public profile and to ensure that she had name value before they tried again. Her first UK single ‘Born To Try’ was released in March 2003 and was an instant Top 3 smash, followed swiftly by this second single which also encountered little opposition in racing to Number 4. Both were tender piano-led singles which showed off her near perfect voice to stunning effect, the icing on the cake being that the album from which they were taken was almost entirely self-penned (although ‘Lost Without You’ was a rare exception with no input from the singer herself). She was no manufactured teen starlet, but a genuine musical talent with a sophistication which belied her youthful years.

Frustratingly the momentum she built up was more or less instantly derailed just a week after this chart was published when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, resulting in both her withdrawal from Neighbours and the suspension of her recording career whilst she battled the disease. Whilst she successfully beat the cancer and returned to recording in 2005, much of her success since then has been confined to her home country, her only visibility to the British public being her seven year relationship with former Westlife star Bryan McFadden after she rescued him from the living hell of being married to Kerry Katona. I think.

5: Wayne Wonder – No Letting Go

Actually no, I was wrong. The defining sound of the summer of 2003 wasn’t one particular record at all, but a whole series of them – all based around the same handclap beat. The distinctive rhythm pattern, known as the Diwali Riddim was created by Jamaican producer Steven ‘Lenky’ Marsden in 2002 and during the course of the next 12 months ended up as the basis of so many different tracks that an entire album was eventually produced to collect them all together. Wayne Wonder’s track was actually the second Diwali Riddim-based hit to chart, the first having been Sean Paul’s ‘Get Busy’ which had dropped out of the Top 40 just before this chart came out. Both ‘Get Busy’ and ‘No Letting Go’ were produced by Marsden himself which goes some way to explaining why the tracks were constructed the way they were. Both were swiftly followed into the charts however by ‘Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)’, a third Diwali track which had no link to the original producer at all.

As for Wayne Wonder himself, he is something of a two hit wonder. ‘No Letting Go’ was this week spending its second week at Number 5, a position it would hold for a third before dropping two places and then charging up to its eventual Number 3 peak. He followed it later in the year with ‘Bounce Along’ which made Number 19 before fading into chart obscurity.

4: R Kelly – Ignition Remix

R Kelly is a genius, and in truth one of the few R&B stars who has, countless times, during his career made me want to stop and applaud the sheer brilliance of his work. At the same time he conducts himself in such a manner that you almost feel bad validating his lifestyle by appreciating his music – best known as the Gary Glitter dilemma. The summer of 2003 was a time when these conflicting emotions threatened to come to a head.

‘Ignition Remix’ was easily the biggest hit single thus far in what had already been a pretty stellar chart career. Returning him to the top of the charts for the first time since ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ in 1997, it stayed on top for four weeks and ultimately sold 478,000 copies to wind up as the third biggest seller of the year. The “remix” part of the title was actually slightly disingenuous as there was nothing remixed about the track at all. The single was actually the second of two tracks from his fourth album ‘Chocolate Factory’ which were based on the same underlying backing track. Although listed as separate tracks, the two parts of ‘Ignition’ flowed seamlessly into one another with the main track ‘Ignition’ being a slow and slick seduction track whilst ‘Remix’ was an uptempo let’s celebrate the weekend party track – their only link being the backing track and the “bounce bounce bounce” refrain which took on an entirely different meaning in the context of each song. That’s why R Kelly is a genius. He made two entirely different songs out of the same piece of music, almost without breaking sweat.

Yet even whilst ‘Ignition Remix’ was at Number One and crushing all the competition it was uncomfortable praising him too much. Hanging over his head at the time were the allegations of improper behaviour after a tape purporting to show him having sex with an underage girl circulated widely online. Yet despite the man on the video looking and sounding exactly like him and despite one of his former musical collaborators positively identifying the girl on the tape as her daughter, Kelly denied it all. It took a full five years for the case to come to trial, and somehow his lawyers managed to instil enough doubt in the minds of the jury that the man on the tape was Kelly that he was acquitted of all charges.

Still the stain of the allegations remain, and any appreciation of the genius of the man who sang moving ballads like ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ and ‘The World’s Greatest’ as well as party classics like ‘Ignition Remix’ whilst at the same time writing and performing the epic ‘Trapped In The Closet’ tale always has to be tempered by the nagging doubt that he is a deeply unpleasant, vile individual. The Gary Glitter dilemma indeed.

3: Blazin’ Squad – We Just Be Dreamin’

What must it be like, being part of a large (17-strong) rap collective, performing in what you hope is a very credible style and very successfully too, yet despite this being considered naff and lightweight by true fans of your genre. The truth is that Blazin’ Squad represented the pop-friendly Smash Hits face of British rap music, a world away from the harsh streetwise realities of those nasty people from the So Solid Crew. So in truth they were all pop stars making rap records rather than rap stars making hits, yet for a brief period the formula proved rather successful. After opening their account in 2002 with a Number One cover of ‘Crossroads’ (as made more famous across the Atlantic by Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony) this breezy summery single was their fourth chart hit and the biggest since their debut, the highest new entry of the week here at Number 3, even if its chart career was to be short lived as it plunged to Number 12 just a week later. There is very little actually wrong with any of Blazin’ Squad’s output, but they weren’t “urban” stars in any sense of the word.

2: Fast Food Rockers – Fast Food Song

Depending on your point of view, this record is either the moment when things really did truly start to go to shit, or possibly one of the most brilliant pop moments of the summer. The concept of the ‘Fast Food Song’ was hardly original. Its central refrain namechecking various fast food brands had been a standard part of campfire doggerel for at least 20 years, possibly even more. My baby sister used to come home from Brownies chanting “a pizza hut, a pizza hut, Kentucky fried chicken and a pizza hut”. I’d be shocked if any British (or even American as the song originated there) child grew up in the 80s or 90s without knowing how to sing the song. Yet oddly enough the idea of making it into a pop record originated on the continent, via a series of different novelty acts. It was from there that Mike Stock imported the idea back to the UK, recruiting three brightly dressed and squeaky clean performers to form the Fast Food Rockers and have a smash hit single with an idea that was maybe so obvious it was amazing nobody had thought of it before. Needless to say that some commentators grumpily suggested such product placement of such unhealthy food brands was the thin end of the wedge and that it amounted to corporate indoctrination of the younger generation. Which was utter balls at the end of the day.

Sadly so was the idea of the Fast Food Rockers. When the single became a hit, plans were advance for an entire album which did indeed hit the shops later in the autumn. Despite the best will in the world however, they were a one note joke and indeed one which streaming services have more taste than to feature in their catalogues. So you know what’s coming…

You’ll be singing it all day…

 

1: Evanescence  – Bring Me To Life

I got such pelters when this single first came out. The week ‘Bring Me To Life’ hit the charts, entering straight at Number One I wrote:

Having crept into the lower end of the chart on import a couple of weeks ago, the US Top 10 single charges all opposition out of the way to become the record that finally ends R Kelly’s four week run at the top of the singles chart. It is not insignificant that they are the first American rock act to top the charts since Limp Bizkit over two years ago. We are all witness this week to the chart success of what will be regarded in years to come as one of the all-time rock classics.

Was I really that far off? Eight years on, and the epic and intense production remains the biggest ever worldwide smash for Evanescence, a debut that they were always going to struggle to live up to and which did indeed prove to be the case, despite three more Top 10 hits in the three years after it made the charts. You’ll notice that I’m assuming that the Number One single of this week requires little in the way of introduction to a casual audience. The climactic duet between Amy Lee and guest singer Paul McCoy stands tall as one of the most arresting moments in rock music of the decade and it is a single which has its place as a true classic of its time. Indeed by a strange coincidence, at the time of writing this piece and for reasons I’ve yet to see explained, the eight year old Number One single is threatening to return to the Top 40 as a spontaneous download hit:

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If that doesn’t prove how much it endures, then I don’t know what does.

What to conclude then from June 29th 2003? It may well indeed have been the moment just before music sales crashed and everything went dim for a while, yet at the same time there was plenty here to appreciate and refreshingly little in the way of filler. Pop music will always have its worthwhile moments, even if you have to wait for proper historical context to appreciate them properly. That’s really why I still keep these things around:

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As for the playlists, they are both now totally up to date, although as ever with rather more missing tracks than sometimes I’d like. With Spotify we managed 32 out of 40 tracks, on We7 33 out of 40 (even if a couple are just previews). Click and enjoy either way.

Bring 2003 To Life–Part Three

As is traditional let us note the news stories making headlines in this week back in 2003. Hen-mania was in full swing but admittedly in its dying throes as Tim Henman marched into the Wimbledon quarter finals, but got no further. A seemingly innocuous two-way conversation on the Today programme in Radio 4 about the Iraq War dossier made Alastair Campbell see red and ended up with far-reaching consequences for all involved, all the mid-market newspapers got very excited about the prospect of a cut in interest rates to an historic low of… 3.5% and for those of us in the media world a rather fascinating court case came to an end, with unfortunate consequences for the plaintiff:

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Other than that frankly the newspapers were crammed with garbage. Please, whatever you do, don’t ever be tempted to spend time in a newspaper archive for the start of July 2003. There’s only so many references to long-forgotten Big Brother contestants you can stomach.

Hello new readers by the way, welcome to the third part of our wander through an archive Radio One Chart show, this for Sunday June 29th 2003, not the 30th which I insisted it was for some strange reason at first. I mean it’s not as if the date isn’t written on the tapes or anything…

20: DJ Sammy – Sunlight

Spain’s DJ Sammy had shot to fame back in 2002 thanks to what turned out to be a rather inspired cover of the Bryan Adams single ‘Heaven’. Trance and club versions of older pop hits had been done many times in the past, but somehow DJ Sammy hit just the right note with his reworking, preserving everything that was good about the rock ballad and transplanting its successfully to the dancefloor with a female vocal to boot. After that single topped the charts in December 2002 he followed it with another Top 3 cover version of ‘The Boys Of Summer’ before finally turning to some original material with this third single. You know what, just before hearing it again for the first time in eight years I fully expected to hate it, another drippy trance anthem full of the usual clichés – you know the kind of thing I mean. Yet I didn’t, because ‘Sunlight’ for one reason or another is so perfectly pitched and so magnificently produced that as the rain battered down on the rooflight window above, I found myself yearning for the warm Ibiza beachside sunrises that the single is designed to soundtrack. The absence of this single from any online services simply means that there is the perfect excuse to break out the hypnotic time-lapse video which accompanied it, all of which only helps to add to the magic.

By the presence of the morning sun..

 

19: Siobhan Donaghy – Overrated

Oh now this is interesting. This was the much-anticipated and enthusiastically hyped debut solo single from Siobhan Donaghy, aka the funny looking one from Sugababes Mk1 and who jumped ship after their first album and before they became really, massively successful. After battling the depression that had resulted from her falling out with her bandmates in such spectacular fashion, the talented singer was groomed and prepared for what was generally assumed to be her inevitable solo success. Cameron McVey (who had also helmed the one and only Sugababes album on which she appeared) produced this solo debut, as well as many of the tracks on her first album ‘Revolution In Me’, yet despite this pedigree, despite her status as a priority artist for the label, despite everything, the whole project bombed. ‘Overrated’ limped to Number 19 and then vanished whilst the album didn’t even reach the Top 100 when released that September. After London records ditched her she resurfaced in 2007 with a self-recorded new album ‘Ghosts’ which even produced a Top 30 single ‘Twist Of Fate’ but still major chart success eluded her. When the Sugababes finally rotated their entire line-up altogether, there was talk that the three original girls might get back together to bring the whole project full circle. In a way it would be nice if they did – rescuing Donaghy from her status as the most talented nearly woman of 21st century pop.

Frustratingly only her second album seems to have survived licence hell and is available online to stream, so back to the video well we go.

18: The Darkness – Growing On Me

We’ve talked already about acts who burned both brightly and briefly, and was there an ever more apt description of the meteoric rise and fall of The Darkness. Justin Hawkins et al shot to fame in 2003 by simply doing everything that was assumed not to be cool any more. Big hair, big chords, guitar solos, falsetto choruses and even at the end of the year a Christmas single which was in strong contention to be the festive Number One. ‘Growing On Me’ was the track that kicked it all off, their second single and the first to reach the Top 40, hitting Number 11 in late June. Whilst they weren’t a comedy act, The Darkness were still a joke that you had to get enthusiastically, and when third single ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ hit Number 2 in October, you kind of got the feeling that a large number of people had enthusiastically jumped on board. Sadly their dedicated pursuit of rock cliches meant drugs and alcohol excess and a bloated and noisy second album in 2005 which wasn’t actually as good and led to Hawkins trying his hand at a variety of other acts. Early in 2011 however The Darkness announced they were back together with a new album being worked on. Now that should be interesting if it ever appears.

17: Moloko – Forever More

This pair were Roisin and Mark, two sweethearts from Sheffield who first started making records in the mid-1990s and who shot to chart fame in 1999 when the singles ‘Sing It Back’ and the rather glorious ‘The Time Is Now’ were massive Top 10 hits. By 2003 however the romantic partnership had ended and whilst the making of final album ‘Statues’ was amicable enough, the whole affair was more of an exercise in contractual obligation than anything else. ‘Forever More’ was the second and last chart hit from the pair, entering the charts here at Number 17 and progressing no further. Roisin Murphy went on to a moderate level of solo success afterwards, but she hasn’t been seen on the music charts since her 2007 solo album ‘Overpowered’.

16: Scooter – The Night

Let’s not beat about the bush. Scooter at their very best are utterly, phenomenally amazing. Their relentless and rarely evolving formula (thundering happy hardcore beats, HP Baxxter ranting at the crowd, samples that sit on the edge of familiarity) has rather meant they have dipped in and out of fashion at semi regular intervals over the years. 2002-3 was arguably the peak of their British appeal as out of nowhere in 2002 they shot to Number 2 with a cover version of ‘The Logical Song’ and proceeded to follow it up with tracks that were almost as identical and yet ever more exciting with each passing minute. ‘The Night’ was the final exclamation point of this 12 months of success, based around what was for a brief time their trademark of a speeded up sample from an older hit – in this case a track also called ‘The Night’ as recorded by Italian star Valerie Dore in 1984. Whilst the original was a moderately famous classic of its time on the continent it was unfamiliar to everyone on these shores and so for all we knew the warbled vocals could have been from anywhere. After ‘The Night’ peaked here at Number 16 the pendulum of popular taste swung back the other way and Scooter singles struggled to chart until they made a brief comeback with ‘Jumping All Over The World in 2008.

15: Christina Aguilera – Fighter

I think this follows the Janet Jackson rule that thy album shalt always have a rock chick track just for the sheer hell of it. One of the best tracks from her second album ‘Stripped’, this was Christina Aguilera’s second chart hit of 2003, hard on the heels of smash hit Number One ballad ‘Beautiful’. Every bit as classic as its predecessor, ‘Fighter’ was her chance to growl her way through some crunching rock guitars and give it the full on black leather treatment. One of her best singles ever.

14: Amy Studt – Misfit

A teenage prodigy, one of Amy Studt’s self produced demos found its way to no less a figure than Simon Fuller when she was just 15 years old, causing him to snap her up to turn her into a superstar. Her first single ‘Just A Little Girl’ came out in 2002 and was a notably odd affair, shifting gears from  a cutesy little girl sing song voice to a full on balls-out song full of attitude. Maybe the intention was to be arresting, but at the time I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to spoof singer Shona McGough from the first episode of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” (look it up). Although that debut single made a respectable enough Number 14 in July 2002, a rethink was clearly required and so Studt disappeared for a year, returning with this rather more improved sound. The intention behind ‘Misfit’ was to cast her as the British Avril Lavigne and the sparky and rather engaging pop record made a far more manageable Number 6 and appeared to be setting her well on the road to stardom proper. Even so, the album ‘False Smiles’ hardly set the world on fire and after being dumped by Polydor she wound up as yet another act relying on her management to release her records for her, as 2008 follow-up ‘My Paper Made Men’ came out on 19 Records and promptly sank without trace. Rumours of her re-emergence continue to circulate online. ‘Misfit’ proved she had the pipes and the songwriting talent to be the star she was always supposed to be. Maybe one day she will still pay off that potential.

13: Gary Numan vs Rico – Crazier

For so many years the butt of plane crashing jokes and known only to music fans as the chap who emerged with a new remix of ‘Cars’ every few years, the early years of the 21st century proved to be uncommonly kind to Gary Numan. First Basement Jaxx turned an old album track of his into ‘Where’s Your Head At’ for one of their biggest hits, then the Sugababes shot to Number One using ‘Are Friends Electric’ as a backing track and then a whole string of acts came forward citing him as one of their greatest influences. This prompted the creation of ‘Hybrid’, an album featuring some innovative new mixes of older tracks but also a handful of brand new pieces helmed by some of the biggest names in dance music. Hence this single ‘Crazier’ which shot to Number 13 and became his first Top 40 hit under his own steam (and which wasn’t a remix of ‘Cars’) since way back in 1986. Proper mainstream pop stardom was perhaps still never going to be the outcome here, but this single stands tall as testament to the brief moment nearly 25 years on from his debut that Gary Numan became properly cool again.

12: Tommi – Like What

Yeah, you may well ask “who?”. To explain all, I think it is best here to dig out the exact words I wrote on this single on dotmusic back in June 2003:

We should have had a competition really, giving people a chance to guess what kind of act Tommi are just from the name. Girl group with street attitude is the answer in case you are wondering, the five 18 year olds are being launched with high hopes that they can become the next big thing in female pop. Their sound is unashamedly urban but with deep commercial appeal built in. Their cachet comes from the writing credits of this new single which credits both T-Boz and Kandi as authors and the track is produced by Ms Dynamite’s producer Bloodshy. Want the truth? This is actually a very good single and nothing short of a breath of fresh air. A fair number of people will be quite disappointed that it could not do better than a Number 12 entry.

So there you go, they were a five piece urban girl group (although Wikipedia only lists four members – Lil Chill, Mi$ THing, Bambi and Peekaboo so maybe I was mistaken at the time) about whom we were all keeping an open mind when their debut single appeared. Yet in researching this I simply could not turn up anything else about them, no mentions on newspaper pop pages, no media references other than their names listed on the bill of just about every radio station sponsored summer party going that summer. After this one and only single they vanished utterly without trace. Save for this video:

Kill me now

 

11: Jennifer Ellison – Baby I Don’t Care

Yes that’s right. At one stage somebody actually thought this might possibly be a good idea. Jennifer Ellison had been a star of the TV soap Brookside since she was a teenager, so her departure from the show in 2003 seemed the perfect opportunity to show off what were theoretically her other talents. So she was signed as a pop star and handed this rather offensive and anaemic cover of the 1989 smash hit by Transvision Vamp for her debut chart single. I mean she wasn’t exactly a terrible singer, but for sheer pointlessness you would be hard to find any record on this Top 40 which comes even close to this one. Despite reaching Number 6 it was decided not to proceed with the project after this single, and so the blonde scouser retreated to a potentially lucrative career posing for a series of scantily clad but resolutely nipple-free lads magazine shoots. Strange to relate though that Ellison was back on the chart again a year later, this time after going mainstream as the winner of the first ever UK series of Hell’s Kitchen, prompting the idea of Jennifer the pop star to be resurrected with Number 13 hit ‘Bye Bye Boy’. Thankfully it proved to be her chart swansong. If I told you that ‘Baby I Don’t Care’ isn’t on any of the streaming services either, would you believe me? Of course you would. Here’s yet another video if you can stomach it.

She’s got a nice arse to be fair

There you go, I told you it was a weird chart section didn’t I? Just six tracks have stood the test of time and are still able to be listened to legitimately. All are now added to the We7 and Spotify playlists if you can take your eyes off Ellison’s bottom just for one moment. See you shortly for the final Top 10 push.