The golden age of wireless

I have no idea if Thomas Dolby ever played a gift shop gig. Or if any other synth-pop pioneers have, for that matter. I doubt it. But given that the inspiring early days of radio were added to muchly by people in some very make-shift back rooms, I would like to suggest that I may have now lived the spirit of Mr D’s seminal album title rather more than he has.

It’s the one key bit of information they don’t put on the handy information sheet for guests of the BBC Introducing South Live Lounge. That BBC Radio Sussex is in fact in the back of a gift shop on the Queen’s Road. And so it was, that one Sunday evening in November, Momo played its first radio set in a big window on a high street in Brighton, just opposite the Tesco Express, surrounded by DVDs, Doctor Who cut-outs of Matt Smith and tee shirts of CBeebies. One of the few perks of being homeless in Brighton may be that you get a free big-screen music show every Sunday night; I hope the chaps enjoyed it.

Of course, being a Momo gig, it didn’t go entirely to plan. Tea time the previous night, I appeared to have a full quorum of horn-ists and thing-hitters lined up behind me. By half way to London By The Sea, my brass department was down to the one bloke we’d actually bundled physically into our own car.

To be fair, I felt for every chap giving his very last-minute heart-felt apologies. Things simply happen sometimes – and as we sped along the A27 in the autumn sunshine, it was Pat The Slide I felt most sorry for, wondering how to get us an alternative something in his sudden obvious absence. Why I didn’t panic, I don’t know. I just sort of thought we’d muddle through with Simon and Mark’s mix-filling percussive skills and push John towards the three empty brass mics, mouthing the words “just solo” at him or something. Plus I knew how tenacious Pat would be in his misery. Sure enough, as we bundled congas past the BBC cash register, two chaps called Damian and Nick pulled up casually and said: “Did somebody order sax and trombone?”

I love radio. It is the most creative and human of media. And perhaps the most underfunded and creatively stifled. Class discuss. But where IS Kenny Everett when you need him?

So getting invited by presenter Melita Dennett to play on the radio was a bit of a thrill. Maybe it was years of hanging around Radio Bedside as a kid while Mum and Dad played Gilbert & Sulivan on Sunday afternoons, but I feel at home in radio. However, delivering live music into it is quite a thing. Quite a particular challenge.

As John said, it’s like doing a studio session but without the important ability to stop to retake fluffs. And as I replied, it’s like doing a live show but without the important ability to help things along and cover over all manner of fluffs by pulling faces even harder down the front.

The end result was a sort of slightly tentative hybrid performance on my part, of instinctively focusing on my voice and only every now and then remembering that they’d brought cameras into the session and I was supposed to perform to them too. Odd. But educational, certainly. How Jools Holland’s producers create Later Live umpteen nights a week with countless bands I have NO idea.

Producer Dan was a legend, and it makes me think that a broadcast engineer might be the best to work with Momo regularly – on the recordings, those horns sound sweet as a bell, with the huge percussive enthusiasm of the beats boys somehow still serving the impeccably clear mix of my spoken word vocals. He was also a total gent in the middle of our landed chaos, as was his young son Ren who made coffees and shot much footage. It’s also true that Damian and Nick were incredible professionals, rocking up and playing tight as a drum on parts they played maybe once before broadcast. I am indebted to them for preferring the idea of an impromtu radio session over “watching the Discovery Channel”.

The whole production team at BBC Sussex was friendly and welcoming and, in the end, I think our performance was more for them than anyone. Proud to have made them smile so much that night – and proud of all the boys who smiled as much as they did, giving up a Sunday to make a spesh sesh of it for each other. To say nothing of the controlled professional sound they made around me. And I do wonder if Mark and I should have our own Radio 2 show, so that our relaxed banter about nothing can find a regular home, following Melita’s sudden invitation to bring someone else in with me to the interview.

I got to see Pat the next night at FNUK, and his whole family in fact. They’d been sitting down to tea by the time we’d come on air and were enjoying hearing their mates on the wireless. As I know so many good chums of mine were across the south – for which I am immensely grateful. As I will say often, and felt especially strongly that particular week, attending Hazel and Michelle’s first ever performance of their original two-man theatre piece Killer Heels at the Lighthouse the night before our show, watching Pat jam a talent storm at a jazz night the evening after it, and watching Sebastian’s London premier of his new feature film the night after that – when one of us makes a thing, we should all celebrate it. And then there was Ben’s production of the new video to Undo, revealed that night… Amazing. Doesn’t matter if you don’t know who these people are.

I have been proud of so many friends during the course of just a few days since last weekend, as much for their attitude of support as for their contributions to creativity. And I’m thinking of those we’ve simply hung out with in that time just as much – all of us involved in each other’s lives and endeavours. That’s the life.

So, though this may hardly have been a golden performance, or a golden ticket to anything, Momo’s first performance on the wireless was worth a few cheers, and thankfully got them.

Though, as suspected, the BBC doesn’t have WIFI.


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