May 18

One Step To 2002 – Part One

Eight years. No small amount of time when you think about it. Eight years ago there was no such thing as the Iraq War, only the earliest of early adopters had even heard of this thing called an iPod and petrol was about 70p a litre.

Despite this I’m still curious to see how this turns out – looking back at a Top 40 chart from what seems like only yesterday, that of May 12th 2002. Has pop music really changed since then? What acts have evolved from the sounds of that era? More importantly will I be able to get my head around where dance music was at during this period, and just how many of the tracks will we find to playlist on streaming services?

These questions and many more will be answered over the next few days. Let’s roll the tape, a diligently preserved copy of the Radio One Top 40 show from that date – still presented at this time by Mark Goodier who by the middle of 2002 was just a few months from his eventual departure from the network. I think by this time the Sunday Top 40 show was practically the only regular show he had on Radio One, his position on the show still reasonably secure and with a generation of listeners having grown up hearing nobody else but him present the Sunday afternoon flagship programme.

40: Kosheen – Hungry

The dying embers of Bristolian trip-hop were briefly fanned to a smoulder at the start of the early 21st century thanks to Kosheen, a still active quartet from that city who were fronted by the silky vocals of lead singer Sian Evans. Their first album ‘Resist’ was home to some of their biggest hits – ‘Hide U’ going Top 10 in September 2001 contemporaneously with its release. ‘Hungry’ was their third single to reach the Top 40, hitting Number 13 in early May the following year. Eight years later it still sounds utterly gorgeous, Evans’ vocals riding a wave of acoustic guitars and blissed out beats and ensuring that this particular retrospective has been worth the trip even before it has started.

39: Marilyn Manson – Tainted Love

Far and away the biggest hit single of Marilyn Manson’s career, outstripping every other single he has released to date, ‘Tainted Love’ stands out as a marvellous oddity in his discography. The occasion was his contribution to the soundtrack of ‘Not Another Teen Movie’ which featured some original interpretations of 80s classics alongside some of the cheesier choices featured in the tongue in cheek parody film. Hence Manson’s version of ‘Tainted Love’ takes its cue from the most famous Soft Cell version, borrowing wholesale some of the electronic effects on the original production whilst applying his own unique style to take the song in an unexpected new direction. As I noted when originally reviewing the single, it is amazing how the most innocuous of songs can take on a totally different meaning when certain people perform then. Manson changed virtually nothing about ‘Tainted Love’ and yet by drawling “don’t touch me… please!” in his trademark groan he somehow elevates the 1960s song into an ode to sadomasochism. It remains today as it did then, a moment of joyful inspiration.

38: Shy FX and T-Power featuring Di – Shake UR Body

A rare mainstream hit for Drum N Bass producer Shy FX, his usual frantic style here tempered by a collaboration with fellow producer T-Power who was known for his more experimental temperament and a willingness to make tracks that had a lighter, party friendly vibe rather than the more aggressive style that his contemporaries favoured. ‘Shake Your Body’ is regarded to this day as a shining example of how well what you might term pop n’ bass could work. Singer Di’s languid vocals sit prettily atop a jazz piano tracing out a descending chord that at time sounds for all the world like a slowed down version of the Sex And The City Theme. About to exit the Top 40 here, the track had peaked at Number 7 in early April. Once more a terrific pop record that I genuinely can’t recall hearing again since.

37: Anastacia – One Day In Your Life

This was the second single lifted from Anastacia’s second album ‘Freak Of Nature’, a release that struggled to quite live up to the explosive success of her debut release ‘Not That Kind’ whose hits such as ‘I’m Outta Love’ and ‘Not That Kind’ shot her to Europe-wide stardom. Not that ‘One Day In Your Life’ was a bad record, far from it, just that for the most part it was more of the same from the small lady with the huge voice and without anything in the way of sensation she was for the most part playing to the gallery with her singles selling to a rapid fanbase pretty much by default. A Number 11 hit in April 2002, she would not hit such chart heights again until two years later after her breast cancer scare and a brief enforced career break. It remains one of pop’s more amusing oddities that the Chicago born singer commands a special place in the affections of music fans worldwide except in her own country where she remains a virtual unknown and resolutely hitless.

We appear to be fair sprinting through these songs so far, although this may have something to do with the fact that all four records were played back to back on the Top 40 show with no links between them. Our host finally breaks his silence to recap the four fallers that have gone before, teases the tracks yet to be played and directs us to the Radio One website where we can all participate in the core feature of what passed for online interaction in 2002 – the chatroom! My abiding memory of said chatroom was Easter Sunday 2002 and the Top 40 show which had the misfortune to be aired 24 hours after the demise of the Queen Mother. Not wishing to show disrespect, the producers of the show dropped all features and indeed half the songs on the chart just in case any of them were either too frivolous or mentioned death in any way. All Mark Goodier could do on the show was fill time by encouraging participation in the self same chat room – filled entirely with disgruntled listeners marking each skipped track with a cry of JUST PLAY THE BLOODY RECORDS.

36: P.O.D. – Youth Of The Nation

Just to prove that Xtian music isn’t all happy clappy and gleeful, presented here as the first new entry of the week is one of a handful of hits for American god-metal band P.O.D. – the initials cheerfully standing for Payable On Death. The group had made their UK chart breakthrough earlier in the year with the Number 19 hit ‘Alive’ and this was the only week of Top 40 glory for the follow-up single. As you might expect, ‘Youth Of The Nation’ had a message behind it, a wry commentary on school shootings such as the Columbine Massacre three years earlier. Both tracks were lifted from the album ‘Satellite’ and although the group continued to release singles here throughout the 2000s, their two hits of 2002 remain for now their only mainstream success.

35: Mad Donna – The Wheels On The Bus

Only in Britain could you get an oddity like this – a novelty record inspired entirely by an online viral video. ‘The Wheels On The Bus’ was the creation of American writer and director Richard Snee who hit on the idea of updating nursery rhymes and children’s songs by remaking them in the style of modern day pop records and parodying the artists who performed them. The project came to be known as Mother Goose Rocks and their website claims hundreds of thousands of CDs sold worldwide. Many of the tracks had flash videos made to accompany them, and it was the widespread circulation for the animated video for ‘Wheels On The Bus’ (as performed by a Madonna soundalike all to a backing sounding uncannily like ‘Ray Of Light’) which prompted one British label to sign the track up for single release. Launched into the world in early May 2002, the single shot into the Top 20 and promptly charged back out again, proving perhaps that it was a one shot joke that wasn’t necessarily an essential purchase. Nonetheless for a brief time the TV music channels were airing this track in heavy rotation, complete with the “click to play again” caption still intact at the end.

Needless to say this kind of novelty is absent from streaming services, but really it is a track that exists only for its video, so it seems only right to include it here.


34: Blue – Fly By II

Blue’s fourth single and the final one to be lifted from their acclaimed debut album ‘All Rise’. Simon, Lee, Duncan and Antony had a great deal to live up to here, having topped the charts with their two previous singles ‘Too Close’ and ‘Come Back’. As its title suggests, ‘Fly By II’ was a reworked version of a track that appeared in its original form on the album, the single version having been dramatically remixed with a few Herb Alpert samples sprinkled here and there. The track reached Number 6 upon release in April 2002, really all it deserved given that melodically it was a straightforward retread of their first hit ‘All Rise’ a year earlier and was little more than a final roll of the dice on their debut release. The continuing antics of some of their members and their at times ever more desperate attempts to remain famous are still to this day a source of some amusement, but Blue were always more than just another boy band, their ear for soul and some well produced records ensuring their career stretched until late 2004 with a 100% strike rate of Top 10 hits.

33: Enrique Iglesias – Hero

The single which arguably rescued Iglesias Jnr from the dumper at a time when it looked as if his 1999 hit ‘Bailamos’ would forever mark him as a one hit wonder – on these shores at least. ‘Hero’ was on the face of it a fairly straightforward love ballad but it took on a whole new meaning in the USA at the tail end of 2001 when it was paired with footage of 9/11 firefighters and other suitably “heroic” images, the metaphor extended still further by radio stations which remixed the track to include soundbites from people involved in the aftermath of the WTC attacks. Upon release in this country the song shot to Number One, turning Enrique Iglesias into a bone fide star and enabling him to emulate the chart success of his father just over 20 years earlier. As a pop record ‘Hero’ simply shouldn’t work, the lyrics filled with every cliche imaginable and with Enrique delivering each line as if he is about to burst into tears any moment. Somehow the production just manages to press the right buttons, lending the song a suitably epic feel and one which in an instant you just knew merited its sensational debut at Number One the moment it was released. ‘Hero’ remains one of those which can tug at even the most cynical of heartstrings and catch you out just when you are least expecting it.

32: Will Young – Anything Is Possible/Evergreen

Oh yes, the song that pretty much started it all. Everyone kind of knew that the first single released by the winner of Saturday night TV sensation Pop Idol was going to do well. After the original documentary format of “Popstars” created Hear’Say and propelled them to Number One in their first week, it was kind of a given that the follow-up series which introduced the innovation of having the public vote week by week for their favourite singer was going to connect with an even wider audience. What happened in the week after Will Young was crowned the series winner however surpassed all expectations. The double-sided ‘Anything Is Possible/Evergreen’ became only the second single in history to sell a million copies inside a week (1,108,269 to be exact), blasting the competition out of the water and setting a benchmark which will surely never come close to being equalled. We all knew that television was the most effective promotional tool the music industry had – Pop Idol simply took this to the most logical conclusion.

This CD single was arguably the final exclamation point on the singles boom of the late 90s and early 2000s, one final rush of glory before people got out of the habit of buying singles and left the industry frantically scrabbling for a new format. As for the track itself, the record was the first of what has now become the standard formula for coronation singles by TV show winners. Although the Cathy Dennis-penned ‘Anything Is Possible’ was theoretically the lead track it was really just a supporting act to ‘Evergreen’, a song from three Cheiron studios writers that had originally appeared as a Westlife album track but which was instead handed to the Pop Idol winner. The lyrics fitted perfectly after all, with lines about taking the moment and making it last forever. Think back to your memories of the record and the chances are they are synonymous with the moment in March 2002 when Will Young stood centre stage, surrounded by all the other eliminated competitors and sang the song with glitter raining down on him from above. There is more Pop Idol related music to come before we are done with 2002, but it seems only appropriate that our first encounter with a song from the series is the biggest one of all.

31: Lasgo – Something

So to finish this first quarter of the chart, the first of four hits in 2002 from Belgian trio Lasgo, whose singles are typically unremarkable Eurodance but which found their own modest degree of success at the time. Is this me flannelling for something constructive to say about the most inconsequential track we’ve heard on this chart so far? Damn right it is. ‘Something’ at the very least made a creditable Number 4 upon release in March 2002. Given that I have all the dotmusic articles from this time on file, it seems only appropriate to look this one up and see if I had anything particularly insightful to say about it back then:

On Positiva, so you suspect it is going to be good, comes this bubbling piece of Belgian euro-trance complete with the obligatory female vocal. Evi is the name of the lady on the track, better known back home than she is here and indeed a singer with a vocal style that is eerily reminiscent of Kim Wilde. The truth of the matter that Something is really just an Ian Van Dahl track with a little more energy but it sounds great on the radio and is more than worthy of its place in the Top 5. Which is all that matters really.

Hooray, I didn’t so much, and what a twatty thing to write really “better known back home than she is here” – of course she bloody wasn’t it was her first hit after all. Cut me some slack, I’d just written six paragraphs on the Will Young single which had hit Number One in the same week.

That’s 40-31 then, and the obligatory Spotify and We7 playlists are in place and growing nicely. Surprisingly pretty damn good isn’t it so far? I always argued that 2002 was a far better time for pop than it was often painted. See youy shortly for Part 2 – there’s a football song in there somewhere. I knew it couldn’t last.

May 12

“Gilo, You’re Ruining The Take”

It only took me 16 years of working in the radio industry, but on Monday night I finally got to sip from the same cup as the elite. The 2010 Sony Radio Awards ceremony was a night where I could truthfully say “I was there”, along with a great many other of my most valued colleagues.


I’ve blown hot and cold about the Sony Awards for a great many years. It is always the same story, people sulk about ceremonies when they are not involved but see them as the greatest thing in the world when they actually are. The judges apparent inability to see past both celebrity and the lure of the BBC has meant that it is all too easy to see Sony gongs as a bit of a joke. I remember back in 1999 my then colleagues and I painstakingly assembling a high quality Best Breakfast Show entry featuring the best bits of a show that was warm, funny, relevant to its audience and getting superb ratings on limited resources. Instead of being nominated, we just watched the Gold award go to Zoe Ball for presenting a show that was almost entirely scripted for her and for which she often slept in and failed to turn up for. What was the point of even trying?

This year to their credit, the organisers had taken steps to try to correct the inbuilt bias that normally dogs these nights. The judges were deliberately drawn from a far wider pool of brains than the usual industry suspects, and the entry criteria was changed to limit each tape to six items only, preventing the entries being dominated by the kind of slick 50 item packages that only the BBC have the resources to produce properly. I’m sure this resulted in the far more evenly spread set of nominations – and the fact that just for a change we set off for the night thinking we stood more than a fighting chance of being decorated.

I’ve been to a handful of awards ceremonies in the past, most recently a Sports Writers event a couple of months ago, but the sheer scale of this one was a different experience altogether. The number of celebrities involved made just entering the building quite intimidating. Arriving towards the end of the drinks reception, I somehow contrived to walk up the road to the Grosvenor House Hotel in Central London at the same time as the car carrying Richard Madeley arrived, with the direct result that I hurried up the stairs whilst the road outside was illuminated with a blizzard of flashlights from the assembled masses of photographers.

As an ordinary member of the public it wasn’t hard to feel just a little bit lost amongst the galaxy of names who were also milling around on the balcony, this feeling of intimidation not helped by the cheerful figure of manager and impresario Jonathan Shalit positioned tactically at the top of the stairs so he could greet every name that walked past with unabashed enthusiasm. Did I really belong here, a man in a hired tuxedo who was only in the building thanks to the altruism of his boss in dishing out the invites?

Fortunately once downstairs in the main dining room the balance of power shifted somewhat. The 150-odd tables were by and large packed with presenters, producers, writers and directors from radio stations and production companies the nation over. On my way down the stairs I heard my name called out by an old colleague Dave Lambert (now of Absolute Radio) who just happened to be making his way to the tables at the same time.

“I hear we are up for the same thing tonight.” he told me, “The Station Of The Year gong.”

“So we are,” I replied. “Sorry you didn’t win.”.

With opening toasts out of the way, host Chris Evans took to the stage for the first set of awards. The dining tables covered just about every inch of the vast ballroom, so the stage had been set up in the centre of the room with large screens relaying the proceedings to those of us stuck at the side who had to peer around pillars to see everything taking place. This did mean that for most of the night we were treated to a strange three-way view of whoever was speaking. Almost enough to put you off your seemingly never-ending bottles of wine.


It was during his opening monologue that Evans dropped what would turn out to be his second biggest clanger of the night, turning a brief gag about the presence of his old employers Absolute Radio and their ever-declining audience figures into a series of digs that swiftly crossed the line from humorous into unpleasant. Joking “have you brought your audience with you as well?” is fine, but to follow it up with a series of jabs about just how many million fewer listeners they have since he owned the station kind of left a nasty taste in the mouth. Still, he would go on to top it later in the night.

The first award to be presented before starters were served was the Rising Star gong, presented to a widely applauded Jarvis Cocker for his show on a doomed radio station. It was here that I started to worry that the night was going to descend into what I could only described as a 6Music wank-fest as he asked for the audience’s indulgence and then launched into a five minute tirade about how wonderful his employers were and how wrong it was that the BBC should even consider taking the axe to the service. Granted my boredom at this was mainly down to the fact that I disagree completely with the incessant whining about the proposed closures, the bigger picture of the BBC showing it can be leaner and provide better value for public money in harsh economic times a far more compelling argument in my view than the usual “the music they play is well wicked innnit” comments that have a habit of clogging up Twitter feeds. Nonetheless most people just sat and listened politely. Given that most of the people in the room worked for other radio stations and had spent much of the previous year looking at balance sheets nervously and wondering if their station would be the next to go out of business, the words of a millionaire musician rambling about the unfairness of his minimally listened to publicly subsidised service being under similar threat of closure rang more than a little hollow. Thankfully this bout of self indulgence was the only one of the night on that topic.

Starters duly consumed, the first batch of the awards were presented. For each a specially selected celebrity was invited onto the stage to listen to the nominations and announce the winners of each award. This first part of the evening turned out to be the most productive one for our station, as we picked up a silver award for Best Sports Programme and a much to be welcomed Gold award for “Best Promo” – giving the talkSPORT Creative team their moment of glory onstage.


These are the same people who wrote the now celebrated Porky Face trail (as seen a few postings below) which may well end up winning awards in its own right next year. This particular trophy was for the “Dear Stan” promo – the full version of which you can listen to below.


The trophy itself was passed around all three talkSPORT tables, including the one I was sat at alongside some of the other members of the production team. It meant we could all take turns to pose holding the perspex block. I took the view that it may be the closest I ever get to a Gold award – best to take the opportunity whilst it is there.


Maybe it was the warm and pleasant atmosphere of the ceremony, or maybe we were just too drunk to notice but the habitual and inbuilt BBC bias of the Sony Awards either failed to materialise or passed by without anyone really noticing. Most of the awards went either to big names who clearly deserved them or to unsung heroes from smaller radio stations around the country who were getting their well received five minutes of fame.

Here and there we were permitted a few wry chuckles. Nobody mentioned it out loud on stage, but the sight of Absolute Radio and Christian O’Connell accepting the “Best Competition” award for a feature that was dreamed up by the people at his previous radio station was a source of some wry chuckles.

The much maligned Absolute Radio also pleasingly scored an award for “Best Live Event Coverage” for the live Blur concert they broadcast last summer. The man behind it all was producer Phil Critchlow who I always had a great deal of time for at Unique and who can always be relied upon to think out of the box and consider new ways of presenting things such as music concerts. I’m glad I had the chance to catch up with him afterwards and tell him this too. Better still was the fact that the tired old ‘Test Match Special’ failed to capitalise on its nomination – especially as our entry was some far superior and easily more progressive live Twenty20 commentary which sadly did not catch the ear of the judges.

There were very few long and self indulgent acceptance speeches on the night, most recipients taking heed of Evans’ warning at the start that we had 37 gongs to dish out and it would be nice to get out of there before the next election was called. The only seriously bad offender was a lady from the World Service who seemed to drone on for hours, paying tribute to everyone from her parents to the cleaners who emptied the studio bins. After every sentence there was a smattering of applause in the hope that she had finally shut up only for her list to gain second, third and fourth winds.

During lulls in the proceedings much entertainment could be had by scanning the seating plan handouts which helpfully listed every person in the room and where they were sitting. Clearly at times some creative licence had been taken with the exact names of some of the specially invited celebrity award presenters. From now on I am going to refer to the two members of one particular folk-rock group as follows:


Our next moment of excitement came just after the dinner interval with the “Speech Radio Personality Of The Year” award possibly out next crown of the night. Alas it was not to be, but there was still the satisfaction of not being bested by one of the other nominees, a notorious turd of a man whose greatest claim to fame at present appears to be an unshakeable belief that rules on taste and decency do not apply to him. Our table indulged in some sotto voce ironic booing at the mention of his name and we were slightly taken aback to notice that approximately half the room had exactly the same idea.

“Now now,” admonished Evans onstage, “he means well I’m sure.”

No he doesn’t.

The biggest gongs of the night prompted some of the more pleasing results of the evening. The Capital FM breakfast show often gets overlooked in the regular tit-for-tat battle of London ratings figures, squeezed out between the offerings on Magic and Heart. Johnny Vaughan actually does a far better job than anyone expected when he first took over, so it was a welcome sight to see both him and the ever alluring Lisa Snowdon be recognised in the “Best Entertainment Programme” category. Similarly Zane Lowe’s award for “Music Broadcast Of The Year” was warmly received and the sight of the normally effortlessly cool Radio 1 presenter struggling to keep his emotions in check on stage was a touching one.

The “Speech Broadcaster Of The Year” went to the unlikely figure of Sir David Attenborough, who must surely have felt as lost as I was amongst the sea of glamorous bright young things who populated the crowd. I’m not sure his standing ovation was really for his radio award rather than out of a sense of “wow, he is easily the most famous person we have seen tonight” but at the end of the day one does not get the chance to give Sir David Attenborough a standing ovation every day of the week so it seemed rude not to participate.

Then it was time for the big one – the “UK Station Of The Year” award and the one for which our bosses had so generously made sure so many representatives of the station were in attendance for. This was however the moment that awards host Chris Evans dropped one of his largest clangers for some time.

His only crime was to turn over two pages of his script. As the victorious Planet Rock team departed the stage after receiving their own “Digital Station Of The Year” trophy, he addressed the crowd and proudly read his next line:

“Congratulations then to Five Live”

I’m not sure most people grasped what had just happened immediately. We had all drunk a great deal by then after all. Evans however knew instantly what had gone wrong, and chewed the end of his microphone in shame as the jeers slowly rang out around the room. Had he really just blown the big reveal of the Sony Awards’ equivalent of the “Best Picture” gong?

“Look, this might be the biggest rib of all time…” he noted, attempting to rescue things. But there was no rescue, BBC Five Live were indeed the winners of “UK Station Of The Year” and all the organisers could do was to quickly mumble their citation and invite the winners onto the podium to celebrate.

The reaction of all around me was more than a little entertaining. Our MD was rightly quite furious. Never mind that we hadn’t actually won, the error had meant the ceremony had skipped even reading the list of nominations which would have flashed the name of the station and our achievement in just being there up on the big screens for everyone to appreciate. All around me at our table everyone sat with long faces, either struggling to take in what had happened or sucking up the disappointment at losing out to our bitter and far better resourced rivals.

Call me perverse, but I found the whole thing utterly hilarious. It was the kind of spectacular cock up that goes straight to the heart of my sense of humour, the kind of comedic error that you simply could not script and one that ensured even the moment of losing was an incident you could treasure in the memory for a long time to come. Yes indeed it was an unprofessional end to proceedings, yes it did indeed royally piss off the two big commercial stations who had come all the way to at least be mentioned in dispatches but for me it was a shining example of the way the best moments in life are not those that are scripted or planned or which run to a timetable. They are the spontaneous ones, the unpredictable flashes of fate that makes each day different from the last. I’ve always said that my favourite radio is the truly live stuff, the programmes where all but the last page of the script read “dunno what will happen here” and Evan’s announcing cockup was straight from that particular page of life. I raised a glass to it with pleasure.


Lest we think the evening ended on a total downer, there was just time for the usual surprise “Gold Award” which was handed to Trevor Nelson to the acclaim of all the room. He was serenaded to his prize by the raucous tones of a gospel choir, a performance so uplifting I had to switch the camera to video mode just to capture half of it. Thank goodness I don’t pretend to be professional at these things, otherwise I could have decked my drunken colleague Gilo who stumbled over halfway through the video to wonder just what was going on.

With that it really was the end of my first ever Sony Radio Awards ceremony. However much we criticise the criteria for selection, grumble about the merits of the winners and complain about the little guys that are either forever overlooked or included as a token gesture, I finally understood just why it is rightly always seen as the high point of the industry calendar. It may not feel like it sometimes, when we work at funny hours of the day or in an environment badly in need of some love or for what so often seems to be poor reward or very little immediate recognition, but we are all of us participating in the creation of an artform that reaches out beyond social and geographical boundaries and which has the power to touch and move and even motivate people to think and hear things in ways they never would have considered. Just about every person in the room that evening was someone who cared deeply about radio and for whom it was always more than just a job but actually a lifelong passion that drives them to be creative and to be part of the wonderful human art of communication.

My name in small print below that of the nomination for a far more famous broadcaster than I am might be the closest I get to holding such an award for real and for all I know I might be sacked tomorrow and never work in the industry again, so for this one night at least I believed in the Sony Radio Awards and was incredibly privileged to be there.


May 04

The Joke Was On “Tim from The Office”

The habit irritates me at times, but just once in a while my inability to spend a morning at home without randomly browsing items all over the net can occasionally turn up something joyful. Those great YouTube moments when you discover that some random stranger has uploaded something you only vaguely remember existing and haven’t actually had any visual proof of for years.

In a week when it seems very likely that Fyfe Dangerfield is about to land the solo hit single that had until now eluded him with a paint by numbers cover of an old song from a TV advert rather than one of his own more superior compositions, it seemed appropriate to think back to other occasions of rather serious minded acts unwittingly becoming famous thanks to nothing more than a throwaway novelty. It happened to Faith No More in the early 90s, yet the tale of how they dealt with it despite being one I’ve cited many times in writing in the past yet rare are the occasions when I’ve met someone who remembers the incident in question.

The song at issue is ‘Easy’, a tongue in cheek cover of the old Commodores song that the group recorded as a late addition to their ‘Angel Dust’ and then watched as it went on to become their biggest ever hit single in many major markets (including the UK where it went Top 3). A world away from the inventive, intoxicating alt-metal with which they had made their name, I always got the feeling it was a source of irritation to the band that wherever they went this was the song that most casual audiences associated with them the most.

Hence, I suspect, this moment of live TV petulance. It was at the end of what turned out to be the last ever edition of the Channel 4 TV series ‘The Word’ which Terry Christian’s autobiography ‘My Word’ documents as having been broadcast on March 3rd 1995. Having been guests on the show the band were invited to close it with a rendition of their most famous hit, but after playing the first few bars of the song they stop dead with an out of tune chord and launch instead into a world-weary rendering of the old Bee Gees song ‘I Started A Joke’.

A deliberate inside joke by the producers? Or a genuine moment of TV spontaneity by a band who had a new album to promote but were instead being asked to deliver a ratings-friendly performance of a two year old cover version they intended as a b-side in the first place? Either way it was glorious to watch, not least for the nonplussed reaction of the crowd who didn’t really understand what it was they were watching.


A proper studio version of ‘I Started A Joke’ became a bonus track on their 1995 album ‘King For A Day… Fool For A Lifetime’ but it did not become a single until 1998 when their label issued it as a standalone to promote their farewell Greatest Hits release.

To accompany the UK release, a video was filmed that featured hardly any members of the group but instead cast a selection of well known (and soon to be well known) British actors in a mini kitchen sink drama. The single flopped, so the video went pretty much unseen by most people. God bless the YouTube uploader who has shared it however, giving us all a chance to see Martin Freeman in one of his earliest “regular bloke” roles.

Apr 29

Idol Winnersox

It is time to confess. I think I have a new obsession,

No, not those. I’ve always had that one.

What makes watching the seemingly endless parade of TV talent shows so worthwhile is the all to rare moment when you realise you are witnessing the birth of a star, someone who is stepping into the limelight for the first but who is clearly so outstandingly talented that he or she blows just about everyone else in the competition off the stage. On the current series of American Idol we are witnessing just that moment.

Idol results can be perverse however, and the nine year history of the show is littered with occasions when the most obviously talented performer has wound up in second place – although for the likes of Reuben Studdard and Adam Lambert this hasn’t been to their disadvantage. Hence it would be wrong to predict a guaranteed win for this particular lady, but if she isn’t there weeping tears of joy come the final announcement next month then something has gone very wrong indeed.

The singer in question is 24 year old Crystal Bowersox who hails from Ohio and who as a quick trawl of YouTube will demonstrate has a strong track record of performances in her local area. What makes her such an outstanding contestant on the show isn’t just her voice and her musical abilities but the little details that make her such an unconventional joy to watch every week. For a start she commits a litany of image sins, being a less than perfect shape, with two-tone unwashed hair and worst of all daring to appear on prime time American television without a perfect set of teeth. Yet for all this she lights up the screen each with with a deeply luminous beauty, a heartbreakingly attractive woman with a warm smile and a huge heart. A video package during the series noted that her fellow contestants all call her Mamasox, not just because of her young son who visits every week but for the way she insists on making sure everyone has someone they can talk to.

Normally I’d be very cynical about the insistence of the producers on filling time with endless behind the scenes interviews that give us the chance to “meet the real person” behind the singer – but here it all makes perfect sense. Not only are we watching someone with a very special singing and performing talent but under it all is an incredibly genuinely lovely person who you feel good about supporting and wanting her to achieve everything she dreams of.

Enough of my rambling though – what does Crystal Bowersox actually sound like? Well wonder no longer.

It was her first performance on the very first live show that really got the Crystal bandwagon rolling. Not that her rendition of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ was all that spectacular really, but it was comments afterwards from both the judges and the public that she seemed almost to be treating the contest as already won that made her turn it up a notch. Ever since then every single Bowersox performance has been a moment to treasure.

In week 2 theme for the night was Billboard Number One hits, and what better choice for a husky voiced southern gal than to take a Janis Joplin track and make it her own. This was surely the moment that Crystal stepped forward as a star as what could so easily have been the kind of tired karaoke renditions most wannabes trot out on these occasions instead became nothing less than a show-stopper. Warning: video contains unacceptable levels of Miley Cyrus.


Still, the one thing that dedicated Idol watchers will know is that the judges hate to see contestants rest on their laurels, and you can bet that the response to any great performance will be a challenge of “what else you got?” This time it was Kara Dioguardi’s turn to throw down the gauntlet: “I want to see you lose the guitar next time” she said. So Crystal did, delivering on her promise during the debrief to come back with a surpriuse – even if guest mentor of the week Usher managed to guess her gimmick in seconds.

You’ll note that the judges’ comments at the end of the video demonstrate the oft-cited truism that Simon Cowell knows nothing about music, complaining that the backing singers were old-fashioned and brought the performance down and thus demonstrating ignorance of the fact that ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ is as much about the story told by the backing singers as it is the lead vocal. Fool. He at least makes up for it at the end by practically begging her never to change who she is.

If you are still not yet convinced and still haven’t had your heart captured by Mamasox, then I offer you finally her rendition from the Top 7 a week ago. The theme was Inspirational Songs as it always is for the annual Idol Gives Back charity edition. The story of this take on ‘People Get Ready’ is not simply her picture perfect vocals but also the moment of unguarded unfettered emotion at the end as she dissolves into tears and which makes you realise even more just how much she opens up to the audience with every single song.


Yes, there are still several weeks of the contest to go and yes, as I said at the top the voters on American Idol seem to take a perverse pleasure in ditching the very best contestants right at the death. Nevertheless, presume for now that you have read it here first – American Idol 9 has another potential global superstar on its hands. Until the end of the series comes, I’m spending an important part of my week savouring the joy of her every new performance – and Twittering loudly and strongly just what a fan I have become.

Apr 25

Back To The Future (Of Pop)

Today I did something that might cause people to judge me. Certainly I run the risk of being “diminished in the eyes of right thinking people” as the libel laws might have it and it calls into question not only my own personal judgement but my ability to function as an active member of society. There you have it anyway, what is done is done and there is simply no going back.

I fired up my We7 account and listened to McFly’s Greatest Hits. Worse still, you might say, I rather enjoyed it.

Looking back at the story of the last decade, pop group McFly are nothing short of a fascinating riddle. Statistically speaking they were huge. During their imperial period between 2004 and 2007 the four piece group had an unbroken run of 13 Top 10 hits, 11 of which made the Top 3 and in total they had no less than seven Number One singles. Yet stop any random stranger in the street and ask them to sing one of these hits after being given the title and you may very well draw a blank. More to the point challenge people in a pub quiz to name more than three and virtually every table in the place will fail to score points. Somehow McFly are amongst the most successful chart acts ever, and yet very few people can name any of their songs.

There is actually a simple explanation for this. I once famously branded the group “the most useless pop group in chart history” due to the way their chart hits were such dramatic flashes in the pan. In and out within a matter of weeks before anyone had a chance to notice. The truth was that they and their label were masters of marketing, corralling their enthusiastic band of fans like eager pens of training bra wearing cattle. They knew the exact moment each of their singles was made available and perhaps even more importantly knew just where to buy the music in bundled deals, paying a discounted rate for as many as five different versions of the single, all of which counted as individual purposes for chart surveys.

This tight focus meant that virtually every McFly single opened with a bang, a strong and powerful sale that propelled them all to the very top end of the charts. What happened in week 2 almost didn’t matter, which was unfortunate as week 2 was traditionally where McFly singles struggled. By 2007 their fanbase was so well organised that the group were regularly breaking what were previously thought to be unmatchable records for chart collapses. Of their seven Number Ones, four of them fell from the top straight out of the Top 5. One in particular – ‘Baby’s Coming Back/Transylvania’ from 2007 is the only fully available single in chart history to plummet 1-20 in a single week, spending just four weeks in total on the Top 75 to equal the record as the shortest lived Number One in history.

That is why nobody recognises any of their songs or can conjure up the tune from their titles. They just weren’t around long enough to penetrate mainstream consciousness. That is in fact the biggest shame of all, because as my experience with their Greatest Hits album shows, McFly made some of the most fantastic pop songs of their era.

At the heart of the group were/are lead singer and chief songwriter Tom Fletcher. Originally recruited as one of the members of Busted, he was ousted from the group for numerical reasons but retained instead as a songwriter. When it became clear that his songs were the key to the success of the project, Fletcher was more or less given a free run at forming his own group for a run at chart success, fellow member Danny Jones actually being found after turning up for an audition for short lived boy band V.

Fletcher’s songs are universally magnificent – breezy three minute power pop anthems that enthusiastically and unashamedly evoke both mid-60s surf rock and late 60s bubblegum, all packaged up in a manner that made their teenage girl target audience swoon with delight. Best of all though you don’t have to be a 13 year old girl to appreciate just what fun they are. McFly’s 2004 debut single ‘5 Colours In Her Hair’ (notably their only single to spend more than a week at the top) is a mini masterpiece in itself, combining a Lennon-esque guitar line with a melody lifted straight from the finest moments of The Hollies. It is 1965 dressed up as 21st century pop and not sounding a beat out of place.

Follow-up ‘Obviously’ is an acoustic guitar and handclap rhythm mid-tempo ballad that is straight out of the Noel Gallagher school of retro rock anthem. No seriously, teen romance lyrics aside, the song would not sound out of place on any Oasis album made any time during the last decade, but whereas the Mancunians are lauded as high level artists and the greatest musicians of their era, McFly are a throwaway pop group who sad to say made records that only little girls cared about.



Later albums saw the group take advantage of a ready built audience that practically guaranteed chart success to push a few boundaries and create music that for a pure pop band is quite breathtaking in scope. Very often it was their most spectacularly unsuccessful chart hits which were the best records of all. Their 2005 Christmas single was a huge miscalculation, released in the week of the seasonal chart itself but only reaching Number 9 to wind up as their smallest hit of the era, yet ‘Ultraviolet’ was a deceptively sophisticated pop record, combining a psychedelically orchestrated verse with a singalong blues-rock chorus that once again you can imagine Liam Gallagher belting it out onstage with ease. Similarly one half of that celebrated 1-20 diving single ‘Transylvania’ is a four minute prog-rock narrative which sounds like a bleeding chunk torn from a rock opera such as ‘Tommy’ or ‘A Teenage Opera’. This is well crafted pop music created by a bunch of 20 somethings which reaches back to some of rock’s finest moments for inspiration.


Once again, these are all songs which were as far as the record books are concerned all monster chart hits yet they remain something of an enigma to all but the most dedicated chart follower. Part of the problem may well have been the era in which they were all released. Looking back, the middle part of the 2000s was the time when pop music fell into something of a cultural black hole. The CD single was dying a death, yet the digital download era was the domain still of the early adopters. Top Of The Pops broadcast its last edition in 2006 and with it went the last regular berth on television for pop music and effectively the only way for a wider casual audience to tune in to what the kids were buying and to formulate their own opinions accordingly. The problem was self evident and self-perpetuating. McFly’s music never stayed in the charts long enough for people to take the time to appreciate it properly, and without anyone other than their fans to appreciate it properly the singles stood no chance of having long chart runs.

The sole exception to this is the one song in their catalogue which was not only in a position to gain attention outside of the Top 40 show but which also sold more and for longer than any of their other singles. The track in question is ‘All About You’ which briefly benefitted from being the official anthem of Comic Relief day in 2005. History does record that even this single was rather swept aside by Peter Kay and his gatecrashing of the event with his patronage of Tony Christie and ‘(Is This The Way To) Amarillo’ but even this was not enough to stop the McFly track embarking on a quite uncharacteristic three and a half month chart run and a seven week Top 20 chart life. Another three minute classic that it is, ‘All About You’ is actually oddly atypical of many of their songs, featuring little in the way of 60s aping production, 40 piece orchestra aside.. Nonetheless it remains the one single for which they are best known and loved, so it is still worth including here for illustrative purposes. Warning: contains what some people may regard as unacceptable levels of both Graham Norton and Kate Thornton.


Before anyone rushes to correct me, the McFly story is far from over for now, with the group set this year to release the second album following their 2007 departure from Island records and their new life as a self-released independent act. The initial post-split swipe at their corporate control in ‘One For The Radio’ did kind of suggest that by the end their song writing ambitions were being hampered by the need for the label to promote them as a teen pop outfit. The mixed fortunes of new era album ‘radio:ACTIVE’ in 2008 despite the eyebrow raising newspaper giveaway of the entire CD actually suggest they have an uphill struggle to be accepted on their own merits, their chart placings taking on a more realistic outlook away from the world of marketing budgets and loss-leading singles bundles. Even so, I’m now waiting with interest to see just what they do next.

Maybe McFly are ripe one day for an un-ironic rediscovery. I never tire of pointing out that throughout the 80s even the mighty Abba were viewed as the epitome of cheesy 70s naffness, their rediscovery only kicking into life in 1992 thanks to a neatly timed set of Erasure covers. The McFly songbook is thankfully ignored by X Factor producers and hardly essential reading for new bands hoping to turn local gigs into music sales, but these are songs of such quality, fun, and for many people a still important enough part of their childhood memories to ensure that one day someone will take time out to look at this group who had more Number One singles than most but who many will confess to never really having heard much of.

Apr 19

Porky Face

To lighten the mood a little, I thought I’d take the opportunity to gratuitously share with you something which has achieved the near impossible. Our ever innovative creative department at work have managed to craft a programme trail that makes the entire office stop in its tracks every time it is aired. Not only that but almost uniquely every presenter on the station has stopped their show dead after hearing it and asked when the next chance to hear it again will be.

In my book that amounts to something pretty special. Presenting then, for anyone who hasn’t tuned into talkSPORT for the past week and heard this liberally scattered around the schedules, I present: Porky Face

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The trail was created by the talented people at talkSPORT Creative who can work similar magic for you if ever the mood takes you. Visit their site to give them a try.

Apr 18

Crashed My Car, Gone Insane

Looking back, it all seems kind of quaint. With the commercial radio industry now almost totally dominated by one large group (Global Radio) which appears to have a stranglehold on just about every market still capable of turning a profit and leaving an increasingly desperate bunch of small companies all fighting over the scraps that remain, it is easy to forget that in the 1990s there were a number of different players in the world of local radio, all eyeing each other up and waiting for the latest relaxation in the competition rules that would allow them to grow even further.

By accident or design I’ve spent much of my career working for the same small group of stations, joining one that was part of the Metro Radio Group before being spun off in a management buyout into The Radio Partnership which was then itself sold to the Wireless Group and which now forms UTV Radio, of which my spiritual home talkSPORT is the national flagship. Back in the mid-90s as a presenter you watched nervously the growth of The Borg – or the GWR Group as it was then known.

The nation-hugging behemoth that is Global Radio is in fact the final triumph of the aggressive radio company which through a series of acquisitions and takeovers had grown from its humble origins in the west of England to one which was in a position to (for good or ill) define the very shape and sound of local radio in this country. The reason we as presenters viewed it suspiciously was that GWR were notorious for taking a cookie-cutter approach to any station they ran. Back then daytime FM networking was rarely allowed and still technically challenging, and in the absence of this their management instead worked to a set formula for their stations, one they were determined to stick to it at all costs. Any new station that came under their control was swiftly turned into a “better music mix” with a carefully researched playlist imposed from above. Whilst the voices on the air may have varied from region to region, the music was the same minute by minute and listeners who could pick up two GWR-ised stations at once would wryly note that tuning over to avoid a hated song was pointless, as the station down the road was airing exactly the same track.

For presenters it was a double-edged sword. On the one hand the group represented a stable economic environment in a company that supported its staff and encouraged progression into management as a clearly defined career path. On the other hand, outside of breakfast it was tricky to express any kind of personality or personal style. The format called for the music to be foremost. Not even a single note was to be talked over and the jock was there to link the records, and most certainly not to get in the way. A clever radio industry parody of ‘The Sunscreen Song’ that circulated in mid 1999 summed up the dilemma nicely: “work for GWR at least once, but leave before it makes you soft”.

I was only ever briefly exposed to this regimented regime myself, attached in February 2000 to an RSL in Huddersfield which was being run by GWR as the testbed for their application for the new regional licence that would eventually become Real Radio. 106.6 The Edge was a rock station but our instructions as presenters were clear. We were to talk for no more than 30 seconds at a time, at six defined points in the hour. Every link had to start and end with the name of the station and we were also to continually encourage feedback to the email address set up for the purpose. It did not give one much room to breathe. I actually found it quite exciting and liberating for a short period. If I had something to communicate I had to concentrate on the most effective way of doing it. Random rambling was out. I opened the mic, delivered the line and got out of there as quickly as possible. Believe it or not this was for me an exciting, powerful new way of doing radio. I’m sure had it gone on any longer than a month I would have been beating the walls with frustration, but for a short period it was enormous fun. Good job I could indeed leave before it made me soft.

Music on the network was always a curiosity, particularly when it came to the choice of catalogue material that was played. The main problem was that the most senior managers were the forefront of the Australian invasion of UK radio. Hence the cookie cutter approach, the need to impose a strict format and the centralised control of everything from the jingles to the station logos. Their problem was that their knowledge of the British music scene only stretched back to 1992 when they had first landed in the country. Colleagues who came to us from The Borg were often surprised and delighted at being able to play tracks such as ‘Pure’ from The Lightning Seeds (1989 vintage) which were alien to their old managers. One famous anecdote centred around one boss hearing a track on the regular “Top 9 at 9” feature and bellowing “what the hell is this shit and what is it doing on my station?” only to be assured that ‘Golden Brown’ by The Stranglers was actually one of the most famous records of its era and whilst they did not have a clue what it was, on this occasion they had to trust that the audience most certainly did.

This cultural clash would flow in the other direction too, the festive playlist often containing songs that were totally unfamiliar to British audiences but which were included as the managers knew them as seasonal favourites Down Under and presumed the Brits would grow to love them as well. Every so often however the Australians who ran UK radio would try to use their cultural connections as a force for good, bringing over antipodean hits which by sheer force of playlist they would try to turn into a success over here. In one famous example, it is actually something of a shame that they failed.

Bachelor Girl were a duo from Melbourne, consisting of good friends Tania Docko and James Roche. Formed in 1992, they made their breakthrough in their native country in early 1998 with the eminently hummable ‘Buses And Trains’, a song which would become their signature and a smash hit they never were to better. International promotion was hardly high on the agenda of the small label which had signed the pair, but their hand was forced early the following year when one of the GWR upper management brought the CD over to England and slotted the song into heavy rotation on their stations. I possibly would never have heard it myself but for the fact that by 1999 The Pulse was leasing programming from GWR, taking their Classic Gold network for their AM service and using the generically branded “The Mix” as an overnight sustaining service. As breakfast co-host and producer my first job in the morning was to deactivate the networking and put us back live on air, and so was one morning captivated to hear the insanely pretty song blaring out of the office speakers. Perhaps just like everyone else listening, I longed to know what it was and crucially whether I could buy it.

Had such an event happened today the track would have been made available to the UK within weeks. As it was, it took several months for the single to be licensed for UK release, RCA records arranging to distribute the track for the UK on behalf of Gotham records in Australia. Tragically by then the moment had passed, and with GWR having bored their audience into submission with the song six months earlier, airplay for the formal release of ‘Buses and Trains’ was minimal and the single sank without trace, charting at Number 84 here in July 1999 and thus sinking the UK career of Bachelor Girl before it had even begun.

People reading this from Australia will know the song as one of the biggest hits of 1998 and a justifiably famous pop classic and will be more than a little amused that I am here bemoaning it as an underrated lost classic. For indeed virtually everyone in the UK this song is an unknown and I maintain to this day that it is a crying shame. ‘Buses and Trains’ could still be a hit – maybe in the hands of a group such as The Saturdays if done respectfully enough. The managers of GWR may have gone on to ruin the UK radio industry, sowed the seeds for the fully networked Heart FM branded destruction of some famous radio names, contributed to a paucity of broadcasting talent by their refusal to let young presenters develop even the merest hint of a personality and dragged even the once mighty Capital FM in London down the toilet, but had they managed to make this one classic song into a hit, it is possible we might have forgiven them everything.

Apr 16

Cease and Desist

A little feedback can be a dangerous thing sometimes.

As you may well be aware, the blog format that Yahoo! Music currently uses to publish my weekly chart commentaries means that people have the opportunity to directly comment on what I have written each week. Much of the time this is very welcome, providing a platform for heated debate when I have said something particularly disagreeable and a most useful way for me to be alerted to any particularly glaring errors in the text. The desire for readers to prove they know more than I do can work to everyone’s advantage here. I always feel I should extend thanks to everyone who takes the time out to respond.

The exceptions are the tiny minority of what I am sure I can be forgiven for regarding as the slightly obsessive and unhinged individuals who tend to dominate the quiet weeks with lunatic conspiracy theories about records that aren’t where they should be. For that reason I rarely ever look at the pages beyond the first couple of hours. Once I know nobody has flagged up any factual errors, the quality of discussion tends to head off in the direction of Venus and there are more interesting ways to pass the time.

This week was different, after a couple of friends wrote to me with amusement about the outbreak of fuckwittery that was dominating the comment pages. Chief protagonist was one resident loon who had in the past been laughed out of town after complaining the singles chart looked nothing like the one in his fantasies (or something) but now was particularly aggrieved about something or other and was convinced I was at fault and “playing God” with the comments – ones you will note, I don’t actually read.

What required me to intervene and read the riot act was one particular piece of invective where he insisted that I had been “told off by the [Official Charts Company] once for publishing information they didn’t like”. Abuse and disagreement is fine by me and fair game, however potentially quite libellous suggestions that I was somehow behaving in an unprofessional way towards the publishers of my source material was another thing altogether. When challenged, the poster came over all indignant and posted the following:

Again I simply found that you had been sent a CEASE & DESIST LETTER from the OCC on the **** website. It’s still there you can check it out on that site all you have to do is type your surname in the SEARCH and you should find loads of people bad mouthing you. Therefore it is the public domain that you had a run in with the OCC, if it be false you had better tell them on that website it is!

I’d never visited the site in question before. but a quick search of their forum threw up the truth. The discussion in question was one dating from 2006 (four years ago you will note) in which the moderators of the site were suppressing the wholesale posting of copyrighted charts data, citing as a cautionary tale an occasion in 1995 (FIFTEEN YEARS AGO) when… well, we’ll come to that in a moment.

After instructing Mr Loonspud that his contributions were no longer welcome and that any further comments from him would be deleted on sight (using “God” powers that I have but rarely have the energy to use) it did strike me that the full tale of the summer of 1995 is actually one I haven’t told online for some time. It used to be a part of the original “live CV” incarnation of this site about ten years ago, but no longer. What better opportunity then than to recount it all here and put things in their correct context?

<<<<< wavy lines indicating trip back in time >>>>>>

I’d begun writing weekly commentaries on the goings on in the UK Top 40 in October 1992, posting them initially to on usenet, newsgroups being the primary means of publishing and distributing your work in those pre-browser days of the internet. By the start of the following year there was a mailing list as well, prompted by a request from one reader for a direct copy of the text following a network breakdown in the January which meant that one posting in particular took a full week to propagate its way around the world. Hard to believe now, but this was indeed an era when a message posted online would typically take several days to travel around the globe.

By late 1994 the thing was growing like Topsy. Internet connectivity had gone mainstream that year as the next big thing in personal communication and I was regularly being listed as one of the most interesting musical resources on the net. Over my little 28k dialup connection at home I was regularly sending copy out to over 1,000 different email addresses, as well as posting the copy up on usenet. By that time, again in response to reader requests, my semi-accurate words of wisdom were interspersed with the full Top 40 rundown to put each comment in its proper context.

Inevitably it was only a matter of time before someone in authority noted that I was merrily reproducing what was at the end of the day someone else’s copyrighted data. It wasn’t deliberate theft, just a fact of life that the net was all about the distribution of information across national boundaries. It was all done for the greater community good – but legally there really was no defence for it.

Hence it was no surprise that one day in late June 1995 I received a polite but sternly worded email from one of the two people who at that time ran the Chart Information Network, the publishers of the UK charts and the forerunner of today’s Official Charts Company. In it she noted that having just hooked up an internet connection it had been discovered I was reproducing the singles chart, and that given they owned the data would I be so kind to cease my activities immediately and to make sure it was all removed from view. After a day or so of soul searching I wrote back apologetically and assured them that no harm was meant and that I would be happy to do as they said. I also contacted the chap in Russia who was at the time hosting the latest column for me on some webspace he owned and asked him to take the page down. He was amused by the fuss, noting that where he lived people would stand on street corners with tables full of pirate software and music. International copyright wasn’t really something they bothered with and he was sure nobody would be able to do anything about his website. Nonetheless he complied and removed the page.

This then was the great “telling off” the lunatic commenter believed demonstrated the full extent of my personal misbehaviour. So relevant that there are singles being bought today by people who weren’t born when it all first happened.

Back to 1995 though, and the next stage was to tell my eager audience just why the flow of information had dried up so suddenly. I still have the original posting I made to the newsgroup a few days after the first email had arrived:

From: (James Masterton)
Subject: CHART: No more chart analyses?
Date: 25 Jun 1995 00:00:00 GMT
Message-ID: <>
distribution: world

You may have been puzzled by the lack of a Top 40 Analysis posting from me this week. Unfortunately I have to inform you that I am unable to write any further articles.

On Wednesday June 14th I received an email from Catharine Pusey
<xxxx@xxxxxxxxx.xx.xx> who is the Chart Director of CIN Limited, the
organisation in charge of compiling and distributing the UK charts. In it,
she informed me that she had just joined the internet and had come across my article. She also informed me that my usage of CIN charts as a basis for that posting, without the appropriate licence was a breach of copyright and that I should cease to do so immediately. I have to confess a feeling of great disappointment to receive a directive of this nature, but under the circumstances I appear to have no option but to comply, paticularly as I have no wish to abuse the copyright of an organisation whose work I admire and respect.

In the first instance my disappointment stems from the fact that I am
clearly unable to continue to provide to both you and the net the service I have been trying to offer. I have been trying to promote to others is the
vibrancy and life that exists in the music scene in this country and to
enhance the reputation of British charts and British music in general. White I have been writing these articles I have been repeatedly and pleasantly surprised at the respect and admiration that exists worldwide for the music we have in this country, hence my disappointment that CIN should instruct me to discontinue this service.

The compilation and production of charts is a commercial enterprise but I had not thought there would be a problem using information which receives such wide publicity and in circumstances which do not involve money. I produce my articles at my own expense and have never required or received any remuneration for this.

I must also express disappointment at the way the net is clearly about to be deprived of one of its resources. I suspect I have been unfortunate in that I am probably the most prominent user of chart information on the net and so I am the first one they have noticed. Many others contribute information in a similar manner and I am certain that CIN face a long uphill struggle if they want to remove all unauthorised use of their material in every corner of the net, as appears to be their stated aim.

Sadly it appears there is little I can do. Over the many years I have tried
to share my enthusiasm for the British charts with you I have been pleased and flattered at the positive response I have received and I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to write to me with questions and comments, or even just those who have read with interest and I am sorry I have not had the time to reply to you all in as much detail as I would have liked. I hope this is not the last you will hear from me, I am keen to be able to continue the work I have been doing. I have asked CIN if it might be possible for me to legally continue the service but obtaining some form of authorisation. Whatever the outcome, I can promise that this will not be the last you will hear from me. I firmly believe that as the net is an interactive medium, in order to be a good citizen one must contribute as well as receive information and I shall be actively searching for my next opportunity to make that contribution.

James Masterton

Incidentally the blanking out of the email address did not exist in the original. Rather naughtily I chose to reveal the address of my admonisher (a lady who now, incidentally, is the General Manager of the National Trust) to the world at large, maybe in the back of my mind wondering how they would react when word spread of what some would regard as an outrageous act of censorship. You would not get away with it today naturally, but I worked on the basis that should they complain, I could have innocently explained that such things were commonplace online.

24 hours later after returning from work I fired up the modem and logged on to the net. Whereas typically I would have six or seven emails waiting for me to download, this time there were close to 300. Even more would arrive over the next few days. Each one said the same thing, expressing emotions ranging from disappointment to anger and even heartbreak. People were offering to donate legal advice, instigate letter-writing campaigns and to contact the authorities – anything to prevent me having to stop. It seems almost surreal looking back, but it was a level of response that was all at once extremely moving and incredibly humbling. As I suspected many people had indeed contacted the CIN email address directly and copied me in on the text. Amongst the more sensible ones there was a common theme – advising them that really they should be hiring me, not suppressing me.

Amongst that first batch of emails was a name that I recognised from in print. Steve Redmond, the then editor of Music Week saying he had become aware of my work, was impressed by it and wondered if I would give him a call. One quick conversation later, I had an appointment to visit him at their offices to discuss a new project they had coming up.

The magazine was at the time based in Ludgate House, affectionately referred to by Private Eye as “the grey Lubyaka” and perhaps better known as the Daily Express building. It sits on the bank of the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge in London, a building that is oddly enough just around the corner from where I work now.


The recent development of the station has changed the area nearby beyond recognition but before it happened I would often smile with nostalgia when I had cause to exit the station. I’d flash back to being 21 years old again, on my first ever trip to the big city. I’d walk past the sandwich shop on the corner, walk across the bridge and approach the towering grey block that to this day houses United Business Media, tracing the very footsteps I made on that hot July morning. On entering the building I was directed across the lobby and invited to use the special express lift that stopped exclusively at what at the time were the penthouse offices of Lord Hollick himself, and one floor below the offices of Music Week. After assuring the lift attendant that I wasn’t heading for his Lordship’s domain I stepped out into the busy offices of the music industry’s trade bible to be greeted by a smiling secretary who guided me to the editors office.

Steve Redmond and I had a long conversation where I waxed lyrical about the online world and how people viewed British music overseas. How people all over the world were fascinated by the UK charts and the unique way the market worked here. “Only in this country,” I explained, “could two actors from a TV series (Robson and Jerome) record a straightforward cover of a 40 year old song and wind up with one of the 10 biggest sellers of all time”. Trust me, back in 1995 that was a very big deal.

The offer Redmond made was simple. The next week they were launching a new website, bringing some official Music Week content to the online world for the first time. Crucially they were to be the first website to carry the official chart listings and he realised that my commentary would be the perfect complement to this. We agreed a fee (a professional rate for a professional job after all) and shook hands on it. In the space of one week I’d gone from internet pirate to freelance writer for one of the most well known trade magazines in the country. Before I left I was taken to say hello to the CIN team and so came face to face with the lady whose email had started the ball rolling. Very nice she was as well. The rest I guess is history.


So that is the story of my great “telling off” which is not only completely irrelevant as a piece of criticism of my present day work but which actually turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me in life and the makings of what I might laughably at times call a career.

Never mind, better ludicrous comments from the socially disturbed than no comments at all I guess. My next challenge is to work out what to make of this one that appeared at the bottom of the Yahoo! feed of the podcast last week:


I can’t wait to see how that one pans out.

Apr 06

I Have A Dream

Man Sleeping Of course I have dreams. We all do. There is however a curious phenomenon which I am sure is far from unique to this particular industry but which is something that virtually everyone who has been in a radio studio in a professional capacity has in common – perhaps without realising it.

As we never talk about it, there are many who probably don’t realise how common it is. I myself only discovered that I was one of just hundreds about three months or so into my first ever professional assignment as a radio presenter. Whilst in conversation late one night with the news editor, an experienced old radio hand himself, he asked me with a twinkle in his eye the important burning question:

“Have you had the dream yet?”

The Dream  – as it shall henceforth be referenced  – is clearly the subconscious mind’s way of preying on the worst fear of just about everyone who has been responsible for a professional broadcast. It can manifest itself in one of many different forms, in a huge variety of unusual situations and reflect circumstances that you would never expect to encounter in the real world, yet the way it plays out is more or less always the same. Put simply, The Dream is the nightmare radio show from hell.

In The Dream you are hard at work doing your radio show as usual. Except for some reason things are a little different. The studio is a different one to the one you are used to, much of the equipment has been changed or things just aren’t working the way they are supposed to. You start the show bright and confident but with each passing moment your grip on circumstances starts to slip away. Long on air silences ensue as commercial breaks end without warning, as the news fails to appear and as you discover to your horror that the record you were playing has finished and you have nothing else to follow it with. Each time you smile brightly, laugh off the problems and try to continue, but each time something new goes wrong and you find yourself flailing away in the middle of the biggest broadcasting disaster you have ever experienced.

For some strange reason the events of these dreams persist in your mind far longer than an ordinary nocturnal creation. I read once that as dreams are the product of your semi conscious mind, they fall out of your head the moment you wake up properly, as the events of the real world steam in to your mind to replace them. Unless you write them down all you have left after just a few hours is the faintest trace of the strong emotion a really powerful dream might have inspired. Not so The Dream. That sticks around. I can still remember some of the more vivid music radio ones, where I’m in a studio that appears to be in the middle of a hallway by some stairs. People are passing by all the time, making my humiliation as I fire the weather jingle and then fail for a minute to find the script I was supposed to be reading all the more public and personal.

When I stopped presenting radio shows on a regular basis, The Dream went away only to suddenly manifest itself in a brand new environment. Not long after I began producing speech radio and live football shows, I was transported one night to a room at the top of a tower block. On the desk in front of me were all the match reporters but for some reason other distractions kept getting in the way of me putting them to air. The presenters and I would find ourselves stranded in the wrong room, or forced to evacuate for some random reason. Each time we’d have to enter the studio, take a deep breath and try to pick up again from scratch and hope not many people noticed.

The reason I bring it all up was because it happened again on Friday night. There was no reason for this, the weekend ahead was just another ordinary one at work. Yet once I closed my eyes I was transported headlong into another radio nightmare as The Dream worked its magic once more. This time I wasn’t alone. I was back on a music radio station, possibly even one of the ones I’d worked on before. Yet while I was away they had changed everything for the worst. The music I was asked to play was random and obscure, by bands nobody had ever heard of and which no listener would recognise. I had nothing to say about any of them, and indeed the list of songs was merging into one in my head so at times it was hard to keep track of what I had played and what was coming up next. To make matters worse, the radio station had an incomprehensible filing system, requiring me each time to locate the CD either from shelves above my head, just outside the door or even elsewhere in the building. Although it started well, I wasn’t far into the show before the next disc just could not be found and the CD player was counting down the seconds to an unwanted spell of dead air.

Then disaster struck, as the studio was also populated by many of my present colleagues, one of whom accidentally pulled out a plug which plunged the whole operation into darkness. Realising her mistake, she tried to put it back in only for the surge of power to cause sparks to fly. All I could do was open the door to the studio and shout for an engineer, making use of the break to walk to another office to find the next record to play, commenting to the secretaries on typewriters who were mysteriously in the room that I was glad this particular mistake was nothing of my doing. When I got back to the studio the power had been restored and my current boss was berating the person who had pulled out the plug for her lack of care and attention to detail. The fact that I was on air presiding over the disaster appeared not to have been noticed.

At times it seemed I was forgetting my co-host who was sat alongside me, sometimes forlornly waiting for the chance to speak herself. It was Samantha, the genius member of technical staff who sits alongside me on Saturday afternoons and helps make the football show the work of art that it is.

During the show at the weekend, we were gossiping and chatting during a lull in the proceedings. Never backward in coming forward, I mentioned that I was a little freaked out – as she happened to be present in a strange nightmare I’d had the previous night.

“Oh dreams are terrible,” she responded. “You know, whenever I’ve had a period of time away from work, I keep dreaming that I’m doing the show and everything is going wrong – I’ve no idea why….”

Mar 25

The Man With Two Blue Eyes

There is a famous French farce film called “The Man With One Read Shoe” – remade badly by Hollywood in the 80s but which remains a true classic in its original form. The core of the plot is based on a single French literary premise – that even the most ordinary of men become extraordinary if you scrutinise them closely enough.

Apparently at the present time we are all being encouraged to scrutinise each other to an unprecedented degree. There is a high profile government advertising campaign running at the moment across several mediums (and most notably of all on the radio station that I work for) which implores everyone to be vigilant in the fight against terrorism and encourages people to report on suspicious activities. Said activities include (and I’m not making this up here) living on a bus route or near to public transport routes, keeping curtains closed all the time and paying cash for everything. The campaign has quite rightly attracted a huge amount of derision worldwide, with many going out of their way to note that if you live somewhere with busses going past you will generally keep your curtains closed to prevent innocent travellers being terrorised by the view of you stepping out of the shower.

Perhaps we should be reassured that the public has declined to be terrorised by the adverts but has sniggered loudly and indicated that they refuse to be browbeaten into a state of utter fear.

Nonetheless there is no escaping the notion that the Britain of 2010 is a society where even the most innocent of activities can have a negative spin put upon them. There have been countless high profile stories of police and other authority figures reacting in a wholly disproportionate and often hysterical way to members of the public committing what we are now to understand is the hideous crime of gratuitously taking photographs in a built up area. It appears that in an age where photographs of the most famous landmarks are accessible via a simple online search and where most of the views from public highways in the country are lovingly documented on Google Street View, the act of whipping out a digital camera to capture a particular moment in life or a notable street scene is at best “suspicious” and a good barometer of a desire to commit an act of personal destruction at some indeterminate time in the future. It sounds ludicrous even to write down, but when police officers are having to be issued guidance and clarification on the law and told that in fact they are not empowered to force people to delete photographs they have just taken nor is the act of photography necessarily an offence against the public, you do have to take a moment to wonder just what planet these people live on.

One doesn’t have to look too far to experience it at first hand. I spend a fair amount of my leisure time between jobs at Canary Wharf, a place which on the one hand welcomes shoppers and tourists with open arms but at the same time is home to the most jumpy uniform wearers this side of North Korea. Again, the management of Canary Wharf have been at pains to point out that there are no restrictions on photography of any publicly visible buildings on the estate, but that message still fails to get through at times. The most notorious plastic policemen are the security guards who mind the doors of the building on Bank Street which until recently was home to the UK branch of Lehman Brothers. Standing in front of the building affords a nice angle of the Canada Square tower as a backdrop to a group shot, but more than once I’ve seen bemused tourists bawled out by security guards and informed that photography near their building (even while the cameras are pointing in the OTHER DIRECTION) is banned and that the police would be called if they persisted. One afternoon I will hang around the building and photograph him shouting at people taking photographs just to see if I can make his head explode.

Sadly such instances of petty officiousness aren’t always as wryly amusing. Last month when returning to the country from a trip abroad, I was queuing at passport control at Gatwick airport when the UK Border Agency guard at the desk broke off from taking my document from me to shout at a nine year old boy in the queue behind me. His crime? To snap his bedraggled family in one last pose as they waited to finish their journey. In full view of the hundred or so people all waiting in line, he ordered the child up to his desk and demanded the deletion of the photograph just taken, snapping that “no pictures of the immigration desk are allowed to be taken.”

It is a matter of deep regret to me that this took place at 10am on a Sunday morning when I had just emerged from a three hour flight back from Eastern Europe, having risen at 5am to do so and with my wife waiting beyond the desk after having proceeded through passport control before me. Under those circumstances I couldn’t be bothered to react or question what I was witnessing, I just wanted to get home. As a responsible member of society I should actually have stopped to take this twerp to task, asked him to explain why there were no signs up directly prohibiting photography, even of ones friends and family and indeed if it was the case that officers from the UK Border Agency are authorised to enforce the deletion of any such pictures taken. Had I had more wits about me and the time to waste, I would quite cheerfully have whipped out my own camera to take a picture of the scene and invited them to do something about it. Given that we don’t (yet) live under a totalitarian regime, I’m not completely convinced that they had the power to do anything.

The whole issue of “you must delete that picture” is an entertaining legal minefield. After all the taking of a picture is not of itself illegal, unless explicitly stated otherwise. Nonetheless if you have taken a picture in a way that breaches a criminal or civil code, then it naturally follows that the photograph is evidence of the offence being committed. Destroying the picture thus destroys the evidence – and isn’t that of itself an offence? Small point to remember then – if someone ever tells you to delete a picture you have taken, don’t. Nobody has the power to force you to do anything of the kind, not even guards at passport control apparently.

There is incidentally a useful guide to photographers rights compiled by Urban75 which is well worth a read.

I’m sad to report however that despite the expensively mounted government campaign and despite awareness of the pitfalls above, earlier this week I found myself behaving in a way that I was sure was arousing a great deal of suspicion. You see I was waiting around in a tube station.

Once more, entering a station and waiting for a train is not itself an illegal act nor one which theoretically should provoke suspicion, although the experiences in 2005 of David Mery do imply otherwise. However late on Tuesday night after finishing work I had arranged to meet Mila at London Bridge tube station, rendezvousing with her underground as I returned from work on the Jubilee Line and she in turn returned from an evening visiting friends via the Northern Line. As mobile phones do not work underground, we had agreed on a place where one of us would stand to await the arrival of the other and so thinking through the layout of the station I told her I would wait at the top of the steps that lead up from the Jubilee Line platforms towards the older half of the station where the Northern Line entrance sits.

I arrived shortly after 10.45pm and was clearly going to have a short wait as she was journeying from South Wimbledon, a rather longer distance to travel. Standing on the small metal landing of the staircase, I did what I could to pass the time, reading the adverts, noting which elements on the LCD clock were not working properly, and people watching as every so often trains would disgorge groups of people who would all hurry past to make their own connections. Then I realised something. The whirring noises caused by the rotating security cameras had stopped. Maybe it was paranoia or maybe it was just my imagination but I was convinced that every single one of them was now pointing directly at me.

Under those circumstances it is hard not to doubt yourself, and I was suddenly aware that I had indeed spent the last five minutes stood in the middle of what even at that time of night was a busy station, not appearing to have any desire to travel anywhere and wearing a large black rucksack. Yes, it contained my laptop and other work documents, but the eyes on the other end of the security cameras had no way of knowing this. They had declared a full terrorist alert and arrested David Mery for being underground for 60 seconds waiting for a train wearing a rucksack. Was the same about to happen to me?

I spent the next ten minutes willing my beloved vision in red coat to walk along the corridor whilst simultaneously acting as nonchalantly as I could whilst stood on the staircase. I glanced at my watch a few times (although could I have been counting down to detonation?), rolled my eyes a few times as yet another train passed without any sign of the wife (or was I praying?) and contemplated taking my phone out to play with it – before realising that this too could be construed as an attempt to detonate my explosive payload.

Remember “The Man With One Red Shoe”? The most ordinary of individuals becomes extraordinary if you scrutinise them closely enough. Maybe I wasn’t being watched in that way, maybe I was just another tired worker waiting for his other half to appear so we could journey home together. Sadly after months of being exposed to radio propaganda, petty official paranoia and the unpleasant behaviour of a passport control officer, I was left holding up a mirror to my own actions and experiencing a genuine fear that my innocent activities could be interpreted as quite the reverse.