WHAT´S THAT COMING OVER THE HILL? IS IT A MONSTER?
An e mail from radio presenter, Aileen Hendry, received last week, pretty well summed up how the lockdown is affecting us all and reminded us of what role she can play, as a dj, in keeping us informed and our spirits up via the radio.
¨I do feel that Monster fm, and other broadcasting stations, too, are an important lifeline,´ AJ wrote, ´especially for those who are alone on the island. In addition to playing a variety of music we also provide a point of contact via text or facebook to a live presenter who can direct help their way should listeners require that. I deliver two shows a week Sunday at 3.00 pm and Monday at 5.00 pm. The first show (after all the health restrictions were imposed) felt different. There is always a sense of responsibility attached to every show, but now it feels even more overwhelming and certainly more important to get the balance right. Trying to ignore the elephant in the room and play happy clappy tunes for the entire show is tempting but is perhaps not the right thing to do. It is all about getting the balance right, in being upbeat but not patronizing; serious and informative without scaremongering and finally reassuring and encouraging. My colleagues presenting five shows a week have their work cut out for them. However, I know they understand the important role they are playing and will continue to help the most vulnerable and isolated people in the community to accept the situation and ride out the storm. For all of us, though, the situation at least affords us the opportunity to knuckle down to complete those books we never wrote and to realise dreams of publication, or to paint a masterpiece ready to show in a gallery when everything re-opens.´
You can tune in to Aileen on FM radio at Monster radio on 93.3 fm to hear cheerful common sense and good music every Sunday at 3.00 and Monday at 5.00. Let her take you on side on radio Sidetracks and Detours all across the airwaves because, to quote their facebook page, ¨for great radio, Lanzarote-style, you can´t do better than Monster ! The station was born with a desire to return to when radio was presented with fun, through the personalities of live presenters, interacting with their audience and building a rapport. Listeners can submit requests via e-mail or text message or through a Monster fm contact form or through their facebook page. They broadcast regular phone-in programmes relevant to the Lanzarote life-style and the music the station plays. Their programmes are based on local news and the island´s cultural events because the station management truly feel that being part of the arts vibrancy here on Lanzarote is important to the ethos of Monster fm. Nevertheless, they also deliver news from abroad, including the UK, on the hour, whilst continually playing your favourite golden oldies and brand new, contemporary ´foot-tappers´ of today.
Her ‘radio jock’ handle is AJ and she presents two shows a week on Monster Radio FM which, as she regularly reminds her listeners, broadcasts throughout Europe. Knowing her as I do, by her real name of Aileen Hendry, as a colleague of the former Lanzarote Creative Writing Group I am aware of her obvious ‘gift of the gab’ and when she invited me to be a guest on an edition of her Sunday afternoon programme I knew I would need to be on my toes if I decided to accept.
I did accept. I wasn’t on my toes.
And it showed. It had been almost a quarter of a century since I had presented my own show, Sidetracks on Radio Cavell, Sherwood Community Radio, six years since I had been even a guest on anyone’s broadcast and four years after I last co-presented an all across the arts show with Steve Bewick on Crescent Community Radio. Here I was, though, back drowning in the deep end.
To be fair, AJ was amazing. Seemingly an oldie compared to the young twin sisters I watched presenting the end of their vibrant chart show, I felt our pace might slacken alarmingly in comparison to them. However, AJ might have been kicking furiously below the surface but she glided smoothly into calmer waters,
As she said in her introduction we hadn’t really done any research into telling tales of my life spent ‘trudging’ (her word, not mine!) all across the arts through the UK. Instead we had decided on a handful of headings that would serve as landmarks she could guide me towards. The first of these signposts said Lendanear, which was and is the name of the folk group Colin Lever and I formed nearly fifty years ago. At the time Colin was in a studio on Jersey re-recording a few of the greatest hits we never had, as well as a couple of our compositions that until now we have always thought were ahead of their time! Leaning on this signpost I was able to tell a few tales of folk club nights. (those songs can now be found at www.lendanearmusic.com).
Bits of chat like this were interspersed by selections forming a sound-track compiled in a desert islands disc fashion, telling, inaccurately and incongruously maybe, my life story.
Two songs typical of those that influenced our Lendanear writing were Daydream Believer by my favourite song-writer, the late John Stewart and Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks. This is a song I would often employ when facilitating writing groups to epitomise the brevity that can be achieved in telling a story. This disposable pop song is a novel told in only three minutes !
There must have been some road works outside the Playa Honda studio because the next sign read Sidetracks And Detours. Actually, the sign represented the titles of two music magazines I published throughout the nineteen eighties. It is probably signalled in their titles that the music I reviewed was not of the main highway variety but rather of the dusty, country roads not always shown on a map.
When AJ had concluded this part of her interrogation I was parched and gasping for a drink of water, but she moved my glass out of reach, mercilessly. “Later’ she smiled, ‘when you’ve earned it.’
She did, however, play my request for Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young to sing Teach Your Children Well which, when I first heard it, began steering me towards schools and community groups to enthuse them about song and poetry and to reach out to them all across the arts.
A signpost pointed straight ahead towards Pass It On which was a press agency I put together to attract press releases towards the magazines and to support a local music promotions company in Bury called Stampede, which brought American artists like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark over to the UK. I recounted to AJ how I would look at their itinerary and arrange interviews at geo-specific BBC regional, independent commercial and community radio stations, local press etc.
That all the Stampede artists saw their audiences in the UK grow throughout their years of touring was due to their own fantastic shows, but I’d like to believe that when were able to Pass It On to anyone who might Lendanear, then that good word might have gone long way.
Because one of the artists Stampede promoted in the UK was the late Townes Van Zandt, a friend I still miss, I asked AJ to play his song Pancho And Lefty as recorded by Emmylou Harris. Her research assistant, who I think might have been her boss, called DK, had found the song on the station’s playlists after AJ, one of the relatively few people I´ve found who know this version, had been unable to locate it on the station´s playlist. AJ played it, listened and declared it ‘a song I’ve always loved!’, and in so doing, made an old man very happy.
Another signpost lay around the bend, pointing towards the (very) late education I felt privileged to receive. Having left school in 1969 with two O levels (language and literature in English) I left The University Of Leeds in 1999 with a degree in English Language And Literature. See? Only thirty years. I’m a quick learner! AJ couldn’t believe some of my uni-tales but, as we ended up agreeing, the term ‘mature student’ really is an oxymoron.
Nevertheless, she seemed to take a sadistic delight in playing Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall in recognition of how long it took me to become ‘educated.’
There was a sign for a sharp left turn then, towards Just Poets, which I formed with Pam McKee in 1999. For the next eight years we worked, as members of the government funded Artists in Schools, in hundreds of schools across the North West of England. We always went in to schools to complement the curriculum rather to undermine it. We believed in the power of the arts as catalyst and therapy and also in how art somehow widens our awareness and increases our understanding and tolerance of others. We would use some of our original poems to address aspects of other subjects being studied, or to address social issues identified by the schools.
My dad, who had recited it to me a million times before I was seven,…..well, yes, ok, I exaggerate,….I mean before I was eight,…. was always proud as punch to hear that we had performed The Lion And Albert to address behavioural issues.
AJ played Stanley Holloway’s performance of that monologue, written by Marriott Edgar, and also Tom Paxton’s The Marvellous Toy. Even though Tom says in the actual lyric that nobody ‘quite knew just what it was’ as soon as pupils in primary schools, (and their teachers too) heard about the marvellous toy they always wanted to discuss what kind of plaything it was.
We were nearing our destination now (of me getting out of that studio and home in time to watch the football, a game that used to be played around the world and was shown on telly) but the final signpost pointed to a vast panorama it suggested was called all across the arts.
That is the name of a business that has served me well since Robin Parker and I established it about ten years ago. It was first employed as the title of a page he and I wrote in The Rochdale Observer enthusing about the revenue funded arts organisations in Rochdale. The name was retained when the page was then syndicated to other Manchester Evening News Media Group publications. So, too, was the name adhered to when Steve Bewick and I presented an eponymous radio show on Crescent Radio and the name remains in place today as the pages in those newspapers are still published but with the roles of contributor and collator now reversed so that I contribute (some of) what Steve Cooke, who was and is my partner in aata, now collates.
The ubiquitous name now is also attached to the revenue funded side of the organisation as we deliver not only behalf of Link4Life, arts provider in Rochdale, but also deliver funded literary projects such as Stories We Could Tell into the community.
To celebrate all this AJ played For The Benefit Of Mr Kite by The Beatles (because the song was inspired by a line on a poster advertising a Victorian circus in Rochdale), thus linking it to the town in which I spent more than fifty years of my life and to the town’s revenue funded circus arts supplier, Skylight Circus Arts.
AJ also played Art For Arts Sake by 10CC, as if to suggest that line might be a metaphor of my life, but in fact it was its rhymed couplet of Money For God’s Sake that I have had to repeat, mantra-like throughout my ‘career.’
I left the studio, though, impressed by her speed across the dials, her diligence in meeting advertorial requirements, news deadlines and jingle-insertion demands. She whirled me through my life and times but we never really got lost and she always seemed to know where we heading even when I certainly did not.
She even found time to give a ‘shout out’ (see, I know all this radio jargon) for the Lanzarote Creative Writing Group of which she and I were members. She mentioned that we met in Dickens Bar in Costa Teguise every Friday morning and that the sessions were facilitated and kept in check by Sue Almond. She concluded that new members or visitors were very welcome to attend the sessions that have now come to an end following Sue´s return to spend her retirement in the UK.
AJ allowed me the space, too, for a mention of Lanzarote Information and the arts reviews Miguel kindly lets me drop into that space.
The show closed with a recording of Guy Clark singing his own composition, Boats To Build, which is a song about how we must always ensure we have a mission or a purpose in life. That should have been my cue to talk about this all across the arts blog, but at the time that was only a twinkle in my eye, and wouldn´t come to fruition until I later realised that the sidetracks and detours I have spoken of throughout this article would be a perfect title.
Show time flew past, and we were suddenly outside the building. I’ll have to go back and endure another grilling, I suppose.
Looking back on that programme through the bars of my house that is beginning to feel almost like a prison cell in these days of isolation, I try hard to remind myself to look up at the stars rather than down at the ground, and am constantly reminded by radio stations as diverse as Monster fm and Classic Radio fm what a good old friend the ´wireless´ can be.