Eurovision National Final: In Review

Foreword

For the second time, the BBC is giving the public a say in who will represent the UK in Kyiv this May.  The final six were unveiled on Monday and they all have some sort of link to The X Factor.  This will be interesting as they will all therefore be used to the dark arts used by that show to engineer the result they want.  It will be interesting, therefore, to watch to see if such sorcery can be used by their commercial-free cousins on BBC Two.

I think it’s a pretty weak field, overall.  What we have is six fairly similar sounding songs, and interestingly a number of Scandinavian songwriters have penned quite a few of the songs on offer.  Whilst some of these songs do have potential with the right production in Kyiv, on the basis of just the audio it’s definitely Six Shades of Beige.

The National Final is on BBC Two on Friday, at 7:30pm with the intensely annoying semi-finals commentator Mel Gediroyc.  Terry Wogan said not to drink before Song #9, but since there’s only six, sod it.  Do a shot for every stab at Bake Off, whenever she makes a Brexit joke or calls it “Eurovish.”  When I said I wanted a British Melfest, this isn’t what I had in mind.

SONG #1:  OLIVIA GARCIA – Freedom Hearts

This is very Sia-like and reminds me a little bit of Sound of Silence, the second-placed Australian entry by Dami Im at Stockholm 2016.  She’s only 16, and if she goes to Kyiv, she’ll be the second 16 year-old to compete for the UK following Lindsay Dracass at Copenhagen 2001.  The actual composition is extremely strong, and on the single version she’s got a great vocal.  Question is can she not only deliver it live, but also keep up with the hugely punishing schedule once she gets to Kyiv?  (7/10)

SONG #2: HOLLY BREWER – I Wish I Loved You More

Disclaimer: Holly is from Milton Keynes, whose local radio station I broadcast on.  So I’d have to get behind this song even if I hated it.  Fortunately for everyone, I love it!  In terms of composition and production it’s very similar to Song #1, but I think this is the stronger of the two songs.  Holly clearly can belt out a good vocal, and having listened to a number of acoustic sessions she’s done for MKFM I’m aware that she can cut it live.  With the right staging our most realistic chance of success in Kyiv. (9/10)

SONG #3: LUCIE JONES – Never Give Up On You

This song has the most famous pedigree.  Lucie competed on X Factor 2009, being knocked out by Jedward in a sing off.  Jedward represented Ireland at Dusseldorf 2011 and Baku 2012, beating the UK on both occasions.  It’s also been co-written by Emmelie DeForrest, who won for Denmark at Malmo 2013 with the song Only Teardrops.  But this more of a Cry Baby: It doesn’t really go anywhere and certainly isn’t particularly radio-friendly, infact it’s a bit Musical Theatre which may not surprise; Lucie’s currently playing Maureen in a tour of Rent, but sadly this feels more like 525,600 minutes than three minutes.  Wogan’s got nothing on me. (5/10)

SONG #4: DANYL JOHNSON – Light Up The World

This is the guy who Danni Minogue outed, another from the Class of 2009.  It reminds me a bit of Sweden’s entry into Stockholm 2016, Frans’ If I Were Sorry.  The whole “world peace” thing is a bit clichéd in my opinion as the hosts last year eloquently pointed out in the interval act.  It’s a bit dated quite frankly.  It’ll get the gay vote on Friday night, but if we had to go through the semis, this wouldn’t qualify.  Poor.  (4/10)

SONG #5: SALENA MASTROIANNI – I Don’t Wanna Fight

An Italian wanting to compete for the UK.  Which is far enough considering their last attempt at hosting for Rome 1991 was such an epic level of dogshit that people still don’t want Italy to ever win again.  Anyway, this is every Eurovision cliché going, with more cheese than a Steps vs. Scooch orgy in France.  And it repeats the cynical hook “We should put down our weapons, put down our weapons, put down our weapons” so often that after I’ve talked myself out of using one on myself, I genuinely wonder whether the writers got paid for writing the lyrics.  Only uptempo song in the field, but there’s not a good thing I can say about it other than that. (1/10)

SONG #6: NATE SIMPSON – What We Are Made Of

Another cynical world peace anthem.  That said, it got Russia a second place at Vienna 2015 despite that country being horrible to the gays.  It’s very soulful, and I could have imagined Seal doing this – but twenty years ago, which is how long it’s been since we last won this thing.  But could I imagine playing this to death on MKFM or Fosse 107?  The answer’s no.  Very bland and I can’t see it troubling the left hand side of the scoreboard in Kyiv if it wins. (3/10)

Closing Thoughts

The BBC have played a clever trick: placate the fans by making it appear like they have a say and giving us the National Final, but make sure the UK don’t accidentally win at the same time: I can’t see the BBC being up for hosting the show next year in the current climate.

But the sad thing is, that’s exactly what they should be doing.  At a time when the BBC is struggling to justify its’ existence in the 2010’s going into the 2020’s, and hot on the heels of Brexit, a British-produced Eurovision Song Contest would work wonders for the Corporation’s reputation.  Years ago, the BBC would try incredibly hard to win because they knew they could produce a better show the following year.

The BBC’s last production, Birmingham 1998, largely fired the cannon for the move from having a few cameras in a theatre with dinner-suited dignitaries politely clapping at the start and end of each song, into the big arena “party” format that we know and love today with people of all shapes and sizes in the audience (and the BBC deliberately parking all the gay men right at the front.  Seriously fair play.)  It’s still considered the strongest production of the 90’s.

Come on Auntie.  Win one and show the world you can still produce a better show than even Sweden.  Please.

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Eurovision & The Order of the Phoenix

As some of you may have seen on my Facebook tonight, I have decided to try and compose a song that could potentially represent the UK at Eurovision in Kyiv next May.  The first vocalist I asked, however, flatly refused.  Her response was that we cannot win due to “political bias.”  Other people at the conversation then said “we could send Adele and Ed Sheeran, duetting, and still come bottom.”

So I’ve decided, since the BBC have opened their submissions window today, to spell out in no uncertain terms what’s wrong with the UK’s approach to Eurovision, and how to fix it.

  1. Political Voting Is A Myth

“Political voting” is a myth made up by Terry Wogan in the late 90’s and early-mid 00’s to justify the successes Eastern Europe had at that time.  There is absolutely no political bias in Eurovision.  What there is, however, is a voting bias between countries that share music industries.  There is also a natural bias for countries to vote for nations where a lot of diaspora live.  For example, Ireland and the UK often exchange votes due to a common music industry.  Irish artists have found huge success in the UK; Boyzone, Westlife, U2, Damien Rice and the Corrs are just five off the top of my head.  Furthermore, Poland always does well in the UK televote.  You do not need me to tell you why this is.  This is why, therefore, so many former Soviet countries vote for one another.  Many of these countries were the same country at one point!  Greece and Cyprus share a language, and therefore a music industry.  The competing songs are being played on each other’s radio stations.  The artists are already stars in the countries voting for them.  Simples.

  1. Terry Wogan was an Idiot

When BBC stars die, they’re either considered a national treasure or suddenly have lots of people coming out the woodwork accusing them of being a serial sex offender with all sorts of bullshit excuses for waiting for the arrival of the Grim Reaper to report it.  Wogan is definitely in the former category (although we’re nearly at the 11 month mark) but the truth is he absolutely wrecked the reputation of Eurovision in this country.  How many people since he died have talked about how they “only watched his for his comedy commentary”?  Wogan’s commentary was extremely racist at times, yet he’s defended by the same people who have pitchforks out for Donald Trump’s anti-terrorism plans.  But because he repositioned the programme as a comedy show, no established artist will enter.  Anyone who saw the excellent Swedish production this year will have seen it’s as much a laugh for them as it is for us; but they laugh with the show, not at it.  That’s why they come Top 5 most years, and have only failed to qualify once: prompting a huge internal investigation at Swedish broadcaster SVT.  Take note, BBC.

  1. Our Songs are Crap

This year, we sent two rejects from The Voice – a programme the BBC has just lost to ITV – singing a song rejected by The Wanted.  Let me spell this out: The singers were not good enough for The Voice.  The song was not good enough for the Wanted.  How the hell, therefore, is it good enough for the world’s biggest music competition?  Electro Velvet were dogshit, and were rewarded with a suitably poor score.  Molly was too hippy, pretentious and inaccessible.  Bonnie Tyler was past it.  Engelbert has somehow survived 2016 with his life intact.  Stop affiliating the competition with Radio 2 (an old people’s radio station) and affiliate with Radio 1, the BBC’s national pop music station for young people.  You know, who buy records and stuff.

  1. It’s not a Popularity Contest

Don’t tell me “everyone hates us.”  Russia came third this year and topped the public vote.  They came second the previous year.  Sorry but that’s a bullshit excuse and just doesn’t stack up if you look at the scoreboard.

  1. People just don’t Understand the Contest

Brexit has nothing, absolutely nothing, whatsoever, to do with Eurovision.  Norway is not in the EU.  Switzerland is not in the EU.  Current champions Ukraine are not in the EU.  Azerbaijan are not in the EU.  Russia is not in the EU.  Australia is quite obviously not in the EU.  Neither is Israel.  Got it?

There is absolutely no reason we cannot win Eurovision if we submit the best song.  If we do badly in Kyiv, it’s not because of Brexit.  And I will personally shoot down (metaphorically) anyone who uses that as an excuse next May.  It was like 2003’s Nil Points being excused by the Iraq War.  Not that, you know, the song was distinctly average and sung out of tune.

We’ve won it five times, a record beaten only by Sweden (six) and Ireland (seven) although we’ve hosted it more times than anyone else as winners in the 60s and 70s often declined to host due to cost at the time.  We can do it again.  There’s no excuse.

Power To The People

After more turkeys than Christmas, the BBC have finally listened!

For the first time since 2010, the United Kingdom will take part in a National Final to determine which act and song we send to represent us at Eurovision, due to take place in Stockholm next May.

I appreciate this is a tough one for the BBC.  They’re tried a few things, and with two exceptions, there’s been some spectacular misfires.  Our best results in the last decade were in 2011, when Blue were internally selected.  Blue were, at the time, still a major name in pop music and, crucially, had a massive following on the continent with a string of hits behind them, many of which my audiences still dance to every weekend.  They came 11th.  Our best result was 5th place in 2009 of course with Your Country Needs You – this worked spectacularly in 2009 and failed spectacularly in 2010.  The difference of course was in 2009 we had a song written by one of the greatest composers in musical theatre history, and in 2010 we had a writer who had already shown eight years previously that he’d not moved on from his 80’s heyday.

I’ve got to admit that the Engelbert Humperdinck and Bonnie Tyler songs in the 2012/3 “old-timers” era were good songs.  The problem was they were good songs for the type of person who likes Radio 2 and Smooth Radio.  And that’s where the UK’s Eurovision problems start.

Eurovision, in this country, remains heavily aligned with Radio 2.  The current and previous commentators are Radio 2 personalities (OK, granted, the semis use a Radio 1 presenter but this is more due to ticking boxes to make them fit on BBC Three.) The radio broadcast of the competition is on Radio 2.  Scott Mills’ involvement in the semis gets a little bit of Radio 1 coverage, but nothing you’d call substantial.

The truth of the matter is, Eurovision is now a Radio 1 and Capital FM game.  It’s about young, credible pop songs.  Last year of course saw the guest participation of Australia (and no, I’m not going to explain that one yet again!) and SBS didn’t have a laugh with it – despite the channel taking the “comedy” BBC commentary until fairly recently.  They could have taken the piss with something like Scooch.  They didn’t.  Instead they came with every intention of winning with a guy (no pun intended) who had no less than four singles in the Australian Top 40 at the time this went out.

Now, tell me you couldn’t see Olly Murs singing that song.  That deserved better than the fifth it got (and not just because I had them each way and the bookies paid out on four places!)

The winner’s song last year was a textbook lesson in How To Win Eurovision In The 2010’s.  Yes, it was a bit of an Avicii rip-off, and when I say a bit I mean a lot.  But it was well-staged, well-written, well-sung, well-produced, well-choreographed and utterly of the moment.

Because our “competing” broadcaster is one of the few in the EBU that doesn’t rely on commercial income to survive and instead gets to spend yours and mine’s money like a sailor on shore-leave, dear old Auntie likes to tick boxes and meet targets and what-not.  In searching for Our Song For Stockholm they need to tick one huge box.

The song must be a song Radio 1 is prepared to play.  I’d even suggest they bought Ben Cooper, the station’s controller, onto the panel.  If there’s going to be judges in the National Final a la X Factor, then either Radio 1, Kiss or Capital FM need to be represented.  It’s then got to be a song that major Top 40 stations on the Continent, are going to be prepared to play.  (It’s interesting to note that Heroes was still getting regular airplay in Spain when I was out there in July.)

It’s all very well Radio 2 getting behind the song, but Radio 2 isn’t a contemporary, fresh, current station.  It’s a great station, don’t get me wrong.  But it wouldn’t play winning songs like Euphoria, Satellite or Heroes.

The United Kingdom has the greatest music industry in the world.  The.  Whole.  Wide.  World.  For once, let’s go to Stockholm and prove that on the world stage.

For any aspiring singers and songwriters out there, please submit an entry.  Don’t think about “the silly competition.”   Think about having your music heard by over 125 million viewers.  You never know, you might just win the damn thing and kick-start a wonderful career.

Hey, it didn’t do ABBA or Celine Dion any harm.

Still In Love With Eurovision

So, we now have all the entries for the 60th running of the world’s biggest music competition.  If you’ve got a quarter of an hour, here’s a quick flick through the hooks of them:

One thing that always happens at Eurovision is an attempt to copy the previous year’s winner on a fairly grand scale.  In some cases, you get an entrant blatantly plagiarising the prevous winner’s song.  Witness Cascada ripping off Sweden’s Euphoria.

But then it’s not the first time Cascada has blatantly ripped off a song.  What does this remind you of?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Arf4TNMUyJI

Bearded ladies notwithstanding, last year the competition was won by a Skyfall-esque ballad.  Let’s have a listen because it wasn’t a bad song to be fair.

So, as a result there’s a huge amounts of ballads in this year’s competition.  It’s a massive snoozefest.  And this is why I think this could play to the UK’s advantage.  Last year we also had lots of Emile De Forest ripoffs.  White floaty dresses, barefoot manic pixie dream girls doing lyrical dances.  They were bloody everywhere.  Now, had it not been for an Austrian wanting to take over the world for only the second time in a Century, the winner would have been this.

I don’t care what anyone says.  The Dutch were completely and utterly robbed.  This came second, in my opinion because it stood out, especially so in the first semi final which it won (Austria was in the second).  And if you stand out from a series of songs which are very similar in terms of music and/or staging, you get noticed.

So due to the large amount of slow ballads this year, I think the UK’s entry will stand out by a country mile.  Here’s Electro Velvet doing Still In Love With You at the recent 60th birthday celebration concert in London as the warm-up act.

Say what you like about this, but this is different and because of that it will make an impact.  It will also be remembered after two hours’ worth of songs.  My money’s still on Australia for the novelty factor, but I really wouldn’t rule out backing this at the current prices.

Oh, Vienna!

Doop 2015.  The Scissor Sisters doing The Jungle Book.  Scatman John.  Hello, Dolly! on an acid trip.

All these things have been said in the last 24 hours to describe this year’s British effort for the Diamond Jubilee of the Eurovision Song Contest, which will take place in Vienna following Conchita Wurst’s win with Rise like a Phoenix last year.

Meet Electro Velvet, and the song Still in Love with You:

Last year, it’s fair to say, was something of an embarrassing situation.  The BBC decided to use BBC Introducing as a springboard for the UK entry and we ended up with Leicester girl Molly singing Children of the Universe.  It was, in my opinion, a great song.  I didn’t expect it to win by the time we got to finals week as there was a fairly strong field, which you can read about in more detail on last year’s blogs.  But I felt a left-hand side finish on the scoreboard was not an unrealistic target.  I stand by what I said a year ago; the UK did the best it could and apart from what some people consider a weak performance on the night, I still haven’t worked out yet where it went wrong.  Put it this way; if Europe does want us to stay with them, they’re not putting forward a very strong case given by the time this year’s contest takes place the most unpredictable General Election in generations will have happened with an In/Out referendum pretty much on the cards unless Wallace gets in with a majority.

One suggestion has been that we tried too hard last year.  The other is that we were naive for thinking it was about the music when a bearded drag act won.  You can read what I had to say at the time further down the page, however with the benefit of hindsight I see why Austria won.  It wasn’t a bad song, if a little bit of a Skyfall ripoff.  But listen to the lyrics.

As some of you know, I spent a while in commercial radio, and I massively admired a guy called Simon Hirst who presented breakfast for Capital FM Yorkshire.  He was the only guy even remotely comparable in his generation to Chris Moyles in terms of sheer brilliance.  There was a huge story last year, shortly after he suddenly quit Capital, that he announced he was becoming a woman, and Stephanie Hirst was born.  Hirsty has written much on social media and talked in some very candid interviews on BBC Five Live about how she was “acting” the part of a man all these years, and was a woman trapped inside a man’s body.  She now talks about how great it is to be the “real” her.

So having followed Hirsty’s story, I can understand totally where the lyrics of Rise like a Phoenix come from.  It must have made significant waves with what I call the “red” areas of Eurovision where the LGBT community – and the ESC fanbase is hugely LGBT, that’s not in dispute – is still forced underground.

Indeed, commentators said Eastern Europe would not vote for a bearded drag act.  They also said they wouldn’t like the Dutch entry, a country song described as Lady Antebellum singing Every Breath You Take.  It came second.  Amazingly, both songs were rank outsiders at the bookies’ until the semis; I backed Wurst at 25/1, certain that the “novelty” factor would propel it to the top.  The Netherlands were 66/1.  I’m still kicking myself for not having that each way.

So, what of this year’s song?  Well, I wasn’t expecting much and I refused to get my hopes up following the huge disappointment of last year.

On first play last night I believed it was the worst thing we’ve sent since Scooch, and I’ve been quite nasty about it on Social Media.  However, having listened to it a bit more I believe it will go one of two ways.  It will either win by the biggest margin in history, or it will get Nil Points.  But there won’t be a middle-ground.  It’s too Marmite.  The Eurovision diehards hate it.  Commentators on betting sites like Sofabet are suggesting that this is a good thing, as it will stand out in what’s a very ballad-heavy year.  We’re also not falling into the trap of trying to emulate the previous year’s winner, and that’s definitely a positive.

I also can’t deny that the catchy fiddle riff been stuck in my head all day.  It wouldn’t be the first time a slightly kitsch fiddle-folk song has won it.  The lyrics are also quite catchy whilst being rather quirky.  Again, it wouldn’t be the first time.  (Lena’s Satellite is still my favourite Eurovision song ever.)  I don’t remember scatting ever winning though.

In all honesty, they need to develop a Cotton Eye Joe/Macarena/Steps style Charleston-inspired dance to it.  That’s a sure-fire way to give it the “memory staying power” that BBC Executive Producer Guy Freeman says this song has.  Anyone who remembers the Blockbusters hand-jive will remember what I’m on about.  Everyone old enough to remember the show, remembers the hand-jive.  It’d also help it get disco/club play ahead of the show. and I could imagine myself playing this in my cheese set, in all honesty!  Everyone pretends to hate Black Lace, but whenever I play Agadoo, Conga or Music Man, everyone joins in.

It will also need bloody good staging – the video is great, if a little over-produced.  They can only have six people on stage – so I’m guessing the duo and four dancers.  Our theatre group choreographer Lisa who I’m currently working with on Guys & Dolls (come watch) is a great believer that you can’t “understate” something that’s already stylised to begin with and everything needs to be “big” and “larger than life” and I think that rings true here.  You have to be remembered amongst 25 other songs, and being part of the Big Five and getting that automatic bye to the Grand Final, audiences don’t have the luxury of a second listen in the Semi Finals like they do with most entries.

It’s currently around 40/1 if you fancy a shot, so even a few quid could make a decent return on an each-way bet (I know I’m contradicting myself there!)  Bet with caution.  It’s the UK.  If it wins, I’ll eat my pants.  Last year burned me way too much, so my tip remains on Australia.

Brunel FM: Eight Years On

EIGHT years ago today, a radio station launched. I was part of the launch team. Joining it would prove to be the biggest mistake of my life, yet ironically I had a very lucky escape.

Saturday, September 2006; 10am was the date. Lime Kiln Studios in (not yet Royal) Wotton Bassett, Swindon was the location. For many years the headquarters of the GWR Group – who, in layman’s terms, laid the foundations for the world of brands we have on our dials today. In short, if your radio station had Graham Torrington on it late at night a decade ago and it’s now Heart, these guys were in charge at the time. A year previously, they’d merged with the Capital Radio Group and formed Gcap. Consequently, operations were moved to Leicester Square, where they remain under Global Radio to this day, who bought them in 2008 and have been responsible for the massive Heart rebrand of most county-wide stations south of Nottingham.

So, basically, the site was vacant, and it was purpose built for a radio station and, consequently was of little use to most would-be tennants. The Local Radio Company (TLRC) had, in a surprise move, won the local license for a new radio station in Swindon, and immediately snapped up Lime Kiln studios as GWR FM moved out to a business park and head office for the GWR Group moved to Leicester Square.

At this time, I was in my third year at Coventry University, studying an incredibly Mickey-Mouse degree. Most of my time, quite frankly, was spent running the Campus radio station, Source FM, where I was basically Selector monkey. In my free time I was freelancing at Rugby FM, an incredibly successful local radio station ten miles down the M6.

Rugby FM was owned from its’ launch in 2002 until 2006 by the Milestone Group, with the CN Group (who themselves would go on to sell the majority of their radio assets to a company called Quidem, ironically run by former GWR big dog, Steve Orchard) having a minority, non-controlling stake. All this changed in February of this year. The CN Group bought the entire shebang outright.

The timing couldn’t be worse. At the time it was pretty obvious that my parents were heading for a divorce after my father, who I still don’t speak to, had a string of extra-marital affairs. That eventually happened three weeks before I moved myself lock, stock and two smoking barrels to Swindon, but I’ll come back to this later, but for reasons I’ll explain if you stay with me; there are certain people in the radio industry who need to know exactly what happened in the correct context in the world of James Martin in 2006 – because I’m basically sick of them still judging me for it.

At Coventry, I was Public Enemy No. 1 at Source Radio, as it had just been rebranded. I make no apologies, even now, for running the station with a commercial mind and the membership, who were basically a bunch of hedonistic left-wing hippies, didn’t appreciate that. However, the city’s CHR station, Kix 96.2, had been controversially folded by the aforementioned CN Group, who were flipping it to their new Adult Contemporary brand, Touch FM. (Yes, I know there’s an AC Touch FM and a Rock Touch FM now but stay with me.) Forget a weekend of Bohemian Rhapsody, at the time they played non-stop music for no less than a week. And then remember the idea of “brands” in radio was a new thing back then and it was several years before Heart and Capital became household names nationwide. Basically there was huge gap in the market, I wanted to attract it, and I was met with attempts to oust me at every corner.

And then the professional station I worked for was taken over by these guys. I still remember when Dale Collins told me the news on MSN Messenger in my digs, who had just left Rugby FM by that time to become breakfast presenter on the new Touch FM Banbury, now Banbury Sound after he took it over himself briefly but now also part of Quidem. There were rumours for months CN would buy us outright but I still shat a brick when I read that. Steve Hyden, PD at CN, had just touted for freelancers and although I got an interview never got any more communication from him until he ended up my new boss a few weeks later anyway.

So with the cocktail of a new regime at Rugby who probably wish they hadn’t inherited me, my Uni life being shit and my parents headed for meltdown, you can understand why I felt I needed to escape come Summer 2006 when I finished my final year.

Rugby FM was set up by a guy called Martin Mumford. I never actually worked for him, but he made Rugby FM one of ILR’s biggest success stories ever. Even back then, a lot of commentators said small-town stations shouldn’t be licensed, and the one up the A5 in my home town, Fosseway Radio (now Oak FM and also part of Quidem) had notoriously been through cutback after cutback in a struggle to stay afloat. Rugby FM not only made a profit, but it recorded a record 44% reach in RAJAR just after I arrived in Q2/2005. The last book had it at 23%. I’d need a very big blog to tell you why it’s lost half its’ audience, mind you.

Martin left Rugby FM in early 2005, just before I joined. He went to work with ex-Fosseway/Leicester Sound man Keri Jones for Radio Pembrokeshire for a while, but come early 2006 TLRC poached him to launch Brunel FM.

LINK: RadioToday coverage of Martin’s appointment.

Presenters were advertised for on Media UK. And I, at pretty much rock bottom and desperate for somewhere to go after I finished Uni, applied, regarding Martin as a trusted name after the incredible success he enjoyed at Rugby FM. If you wanted someone to kick arse against GWR in their own back yard, this was the guy.

I was interviewed by the then PC, a guy called Andy Beeley, who offered me the job two days after I’d been turned down to replace Nick Gurney on breakfast at Fosseway Radio. After a weekend of wrangling, I took Andy’s offer of 14k, which Rugby colleagues said was “bloody good money for Martin” (their words, not mine I need to add.)

LINK: RadioToday coverage of Andy’s appointment

I informed Steve Hyden, who by this point was my boss, the integration of Rugby FM into the Touch network being complete. I announced my impending departure on-air, Rugby FM being a fairly personality-led station at the time, or at least under the old regime. Steve, understandably, didn’t appreciate this and rang me a couple of days later whilst I was in Fosse Park buying a new TV for my Swindon digs, telling me I’d be “taken off-air with immediate effect.” I’d just spent the better part of a month sorting Rugby FM’s Myriad and Selector out so the music library was harmonised with that of its’ Touch FM brethren across the Midlands and to say I was pissed off was an understatement. Steve felt I was “a bit of a loose cannon” and I can understand why he took the decision he did with the benefit of hindsight, this happened a week after my old man finally walked out and yes, my performance on-air massively suffered. I still remember turning up to Spring Street the day after it all happened, still drunk from getting completely off my tits on whiskey upstairs whilst it all played out below me. The first song was scheduled as Gloria Gayor’s I Will Surive. I’ll never forget that. But I was off my game as a result and I can now appreciate why that decision was taken.

Then I was told that Andy had left – in circumstances I’m not sure of to this day – and that a guy called Pete Wilson was taking over. Although I was Andy’s signing, I was told my job was safe.

Late August 2006, emotionally battered even without the upheaval of leaving home, I set up camp in Wooton Bassett. Three days into learning the TSA and trying to find my way around ENCO, the worst playout system in the world but in those pre-Genesys days, very good at networking and therefore the system of choice at TLRC, I was told Pete Wilson was not arriving for health reasons. I never met Pete. Eventually, Tony Dibbin, now of Gold Breakfast fame, was recruited and inherited a team which, pretty much, he didn’t sign.

Tony and I have now made our peace thankfully, and I remain very sorry for what happened next. Genuinely, I do. I talk about it now because of the historical context the entire episode occurred in, and I’m feeling better for writing this all down. On just Tony’s second day, the station launched in a blaze of publicity.

LINK: RadioToday coverage of the launch team

The short version of events by this point is that I wasn’t cut out to present a 6-day-a-week radio show. At the time the station was mandated by OFCOM to be live 6am-10pm every day, the chart being the only exception. I was hired to present the evening show from 6pm-10pm, so I was the only person in the building, 6 days a week, in a new town where I knew nobody. My life back home had completely fallen apart, and I’d felt this was the “get-out-of-jail” card. At the time I was a lot more young, immature and, yes, a bit of a dick. It became obvious I didn’t fit into Tony’s plans, and four weeks after launch he took me off air temporarily and had me work 9-5 doing various coaching and station admin.

I went back on air on Monday, 9th October 2006. after the freelancer pulled in to replace me had a major family emergency herself. I realised, sat alone in Lime Kiln studios, that I couldn’t continue, despite the huge investment made in relocating to Swindon. My last song – scheduled, ironically – up to the junction to meet the network late show was Simply Red’s The Right Thing. I went home, got hideously drunk, talked to Anna Harding (former Rugby colleague and now doing really well for herself at Global/Communicorp) and close friend and also briefly colleague Chris Nash on MSN, and made my decision. I puked outside my window at about 2:30am and then boiled a kettle and poured that over the resulting guff. Christ knows what the neighbours thought.

I woke up the next day, probably still pissed, and at 12 noon, even though I wasn’t due to start my shift until 2pm, cycled into work (I didn’t drive at this point) and informed Tony and Martin of my decision to leave. Both men agreed, in a roundabout way, that it was for the best.

Sadly, the cocktail of the previous ten months broke me at that point. I moved back to the Midlands on Saturday afternoon. From the preceding Tuesday I spent pretty much the entire week off my head. This came to a head on the Thursday when I fired up my laptop after a very long all day session in a pub in Wooton Bassett, and there was a thread called “Is there life after radio?” on Media UK. Everybody knows what happened next, but I genuinely broke.

I forgot I’d done it until I woke up, naked in bed, on the Friday morning. Even when I worked in Spain I didn’t sleep in the buff. Naturally I had a pounding headache and after I’d vommed – again – I fired up Outlook. Chris Nash had emailed me basically calling me an idiot – he’s one of the few people who I’ll let tell me as it is even now! – and it was at that point I remembered what had happened. Paul Easton, still a moderator back then, thankfully removed the worse parts of the post but the rest of it remained online until Media UK moved to a new back-end five years later.

I pretty much killed off my radio career that night. Ian Ison at Fosseway Radio hired me for 18 months a few weeks after my return to Hinckley, and what happened there is a completely different story. I also spent a few months at the independent Banbury Sound but I couldn’t justify the travel costs just to be on the radio and I quit to pursue a couple of years away from the Midlands entirely, which was in hindsight the best thing I could have done at the time and I returned to my hometown in 2012 with a slightly new outlook. Quidem would of course go on to acquire both stations along with the other Midlands assets of CN Radio after my departure from both stations.

Brunel though suffered financially and ended up being acquired by Laser Broadcasting in 2008. Laser had a bit of a reputation for not paying their staff on time. Some of the stories were horrific and people lost houses, livelihoods, everything because of it. Sadly, any attempt to express sympathy on DigitalSpy got opposition from posters under pseudonyms, notably from a guy who called himself Baggage Man. Suffice to say that this guy was so thinly disguised it was embarrassing. They also had a bit of a habit for going bust and phoenixing “new” companies to write debt off. After finally being laid to rest in early 2010, the license re-emerged under a few different names before being bought by Celador Radio in 2012 and becoming a Jack FM. A station required to provide live and local shows from 6am to 10pm reduced to an automated jukebox after 9am just six years later.

Ironically, I had a lucky escape and, in time, that healed the scars. I write this though, on the eighth anniversary of Brunel’s launch, not for sympathy or pity, but partly so I can have a chance to talk about it, and also partly to explain why I went so off the handle back in 2006.

Slow Dating? Yes, it most certainly is…

I ACCEPT that I am possibly one of the least attractive people in the Midlands, if not the UK. If there was an antidote to the 90’s TV show Man-O-Man (Chris Tarrant, a young Nell McAndrew and a swimming pool for those too young, see YouTube) I would win it hands down. I don’t live in a gym, have a six pack, arm sleeve tattoos or that “shaved round the side and stuck up at the top” hairstyle that’s almost a uniform now. I even used to know someone who could just literally walk into a room and knickers would fall down – the guy was a stereotype of every The Only Way Is Chelsea Shore stereotype going, and sadly I conform to precisely none of them.

The problem is I turn 30 next month. All my friends – with literally one or two exceptions – are either in long term relationships or married. I’m always “The odd man” at social gatherings, and indeed it’s now very much the case that I don’t get invited to a lot of stuff due to the lack of a plus one to bring with me. It is not normal to be a single man at the age of 30.

I’ve tried all the traditional methods. Indeed, most people I know met through our local theatre but I can say, hand on heart, that I can count the amount of people who’d give me a second thought in that place on the hand of a convicted Arab shoplifter. And of course, I work for myself at the moment.

I’ve tried online dating but the short version of this is – it’s a huge scam. From POF to eHarmony, they’re all a complete waste of time, riddled with “fake” profiles and girls who have joined the site “just for a laugh.” Indeed I regularly come across people I know on POF, who openly admit a friend has created the profile as a bit of a windup.

The dating industry generally preys on incredibly unlucky people like myself who are, basically, Bridget Jones with a penis. Seriously. Go back and watch the original 2001 movie – take Hugh Grant and Colin Firth out the picture and I am, very much, the male version. I could go on Take Me Out a hundred times and the only two people who would benefit would be Celine Dion and Eric Carmen (he wrote it and had a hit with it first, pub quiz fans) in PRS cheques.

So, I’ve tried Speed Dating several times. Specifically I’ve done this with a company called SlowDating, who run events at bars in Leicester City Centre. I’ve been to about four or five of these, along with a couple of others run by other companies over in Leamington Spa, and all of them quite frankly have been an unmitigated disaster. Bascially, you spend 3-4 minutes talking to a girl, and this process repeats with 10-12 women. End of the night you go on a site, tick if you want to see someone again, if they return the tick, contact details are passed to each other.

Occasionally, even Shrek here has managed to get ticks. Only the women in question then don’t answer the phone, don’t answer your texts, sod all. In one case I rang the woman every day like a crazed PPI call centre operative, and eventually got her to admit she had a boyfriend all along.

In all cases, you’re advised to get there for a certain time which I always do – but you’re still kept waiting in the holding area for about 45 minutes. This would be fine if I wasn’t driving, but standing in a bar, looking awkward, knocking back the coca-cola, isn’t the best thing for the old nerves.

The last one I went to was absolutely dire. Dire beyond words. I went as a last-ditch attempt. Shit or bust. If this didn’t work I’d give up. I wish I’d not bothered as I would have only lost the booking fee, and not the petrol money and drinks on top. Only five girls turned up for 14 guys. Two girls were recruited by the organisers from the bar opposite us to bring the numbers up to 7. Which would be fine had three of the girls – the two last-minuters and one who’d actually paid £20 to do the damn thing – not done a runner at half time. Leaving just FOUR girls for 14 guys.

Needless to say I haven’t had any ticks off this one either. I told SlowDating exactly what I think and in their defence, they’ve been quite apologetic for the utter disaster that I had to suffer and they’ve offered me a free event – but what’s the point? I’ve done this 7 times in the last 18 months and all have been miserable failures. That’s before we get onto the hundreds, possibly thousands, I’ve spunked up the wall on dating site memberships in the last decade.

Like I say, the entire dating industry has been exposed to my eyes as a scam. A huge scam which profits out of unlucky-in-love people like myself. I might as well just haul myself down to Pepper’s and offer to buy girls drinks whilst getting prick-teased. It terms of cost-benefit it surely must score slightly higher on the scale than my current methods.

I certainly won’t use SlowDating or any Speed Dating company again, and encourage others not to. The only weddings I’ll be going to is Djing them I think!

I’m off to become a monk.  Where’s me hair clippers?

Is the Role of the Radio Presenter in Danger?

In recent years, there has been four significant trends emerging in British radio:

  • Legislation allowing licenses to “merge” their “local” programmes – effectively networking (i.e. Running the same programme) these across two or more stations.
  • Legislation allowing a significant increase in networking of programmes. Whereas this practice was originally kept to night time, stations are now obliged to run a mere seven hours a day of local programmes.
  • The emergence of heavy use of voicetracking. Again, this was originally a strictly night time affair. The only time you would automate in the afternoon was on Christmas Day. Nowadays though, stations will voicetrack everything outside of breakfast, including the drivetime show and the entirety of their weekend output.
  • The rise of the “Adult Hits” format. This takes the concept one step further and is effectively an automated jukebox except for the breakfast show.

Some of this I can understand. There are many commentators who believe that some of the smaller stations licensed in the mid-to-late 90s and through the New Labour boom years of the early-to-mid 00s should have never been licensed. Many struggled to make a profit in the boom years anyway, so one can only imagine what they must be like now.

I struggle to believe, however, that sections of what was Gcap’s One Network were not making money with just two local shows a day, especially as they could have easily co-located. Global boss Ashley Tabor famously said – twice – that networking is not about money; it’s because, in his opinion, there are simply not enough good presenters in the UK. That just isn’t true, especially when Global are currently going through a phase of recruiting television celebrities or pop stars.

With the smaller stations we’ve seen two things happen. One is the excessive use of voicetracking. Quidem and Lincs FM Group are two examples of this that spring to mind, simply because both companies have operated my hometown “small” station at some point. The model is thus: they all have a live breakfast show (with the 7am and 9am hours automated in some cases – meaning just two hours a day of live output!). They then will have a daytime show; Quidem’s generally consists of the weather, that was/this is, and interminable plugs for their suicidally dull evening playlist, Karma.  The drivetime show is generally pre-recorded by another site’s breakfast presenter, and travel is dealt with by a producer or INRIX.

A few operators – including Quidem – have taken this idea one step further. In the US they’re called “Adult Hits” stations. I call them automated jukeboxes. Most of them use the Jack FM moniker. Jack FM stations generally – and entirely as far as the UK market is concerned – run a live breakfast show 6-9am. After that, it’s just music. Even in drivetime, it is just music. They argue the personality of the station is delivered by short liners in the segues which I think are supposed to be funny. Maybe someone could let me know if they are.

Jack FM have taken over a number of radio stations in this country, including a regional license in Solent, and the Swindon license of which I was briefly part of the launch team but I won’t go into that, because everyone in the industry knows about it – because they still judge me on what happened there despite it being eight years ago.

There’s a BOB FM in Hertfordshire which does a similar thing, and as you’ve seen in previous articles, the concept has now infected my home town. There is an excellent breakfast show, but apart from that, again, it’s just music. The music’s very good, by the way, and you can’t get it anywhere else on the dial. The one difference is there’s a voicetracked drivetime show between 4 and 7. To be honest, I don’t know why they bother with this drive show, because it’s the worst, most obvious voicetracking I’ve ever heard. Any old gob on a stick can do that was/this is!

It’s been four and a half years since I said my last link on a British FM radio station. The fact that I probably never will work in radio again is heartbreaking – but the jobs are simply not there anymore. Go and look on Media UK jobs. Nearly all of the presenter jobs are unpaid. Doesn’t that say a lot about the value placed on the radio presenter now? The rise of the jukebox format is growing at an alarming rate, with Gold also notoriously going presenter-free for most of the day since its’ recent downsize to accommodate Smooth on AM and Digital across much of the UK.

The radio presenter is an endangered species. Non-stop music is not radio. It’s basically Spotify only you can’t choose the tunes. What’s the point?

 

It’s not over until the Bearded Lady sings…

I’ve not got so much as egg on my face as a full English breakfast today. I genuinely thought this was our year. I genuinely thought we were going to nail it and bring it back home for the first time since the 90’s. Everything just seemed to fall into place this year. At the last moment, it came unstuck.

No, I’m not talking about Liverpool FC. I’m talking about Eurovision, which saw the United Kingdom’s Molly Smitten-Downes suffer a dismal 17th out of 26th, with a mere 40 points for Children Of The Universe. Consequently, I’ve spent the better part of the last 24 hours working out what went wrong for the United Kingdom this year.

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The UK’s Molly sang last.  Ukraine went first in-case they stopped being a country by the end.

The usual suspects are saying “It’s all political” but I’ve been through this. Diaspora between different countries’ populations are going to mean close votes for neighbouring or friendly countries. Poland, for example, topped the UK televote. One only assumes the restaurants, hotels, taxi ranks, Gentlemen’s Clubs and brothels of our land were a bit quiet during the voting window. Given the wages they earn they must have been saving for those premium rate calls for months.

Likewise, we gave a few points to Spain – again, surely to be expected given the singer was a well-remembered former X Factor UK contestant? Delighted that Ruth has got a record deal though, she competed in a very tough year on that show and I still think her voice is phenomenal and she has the potential to be the Celine Dion of a new era, if not in Eurovision victory at least in voice.

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There’s still two great things about Spanish singer Ruth Lorenzo.

My argument, as you’ll see in the post I made back in March, is that the songs are usually crap. This wasn’t the case this year. We had a fresh, young credible singer who’d written her own song. The BBC had finally remembered they had BBC Introducing and after many years this resource was tapped. The staging was phenomenal and Molly gave the performance of her life. Even if Europeans did hate us, I expected a good showing from the Juries but this appears not to have been the case, with both public and juries giving us a middle-of-bottom-half ranking.

Meanwhile, there was a danger that the best song might actually win courtesy of the excellent number from The Netherlands which I talked to you about on Wednesday. Instead, we get some… thing with a beard singing for Austria cleaning up the scoreboard with something that you could imagine Rylan from X Factor pulling at the taxi queue in Brighton. I’m ashamed to admit thanks to Conchita Wurst’s victory I am £125 richer than I was 24 hours ago – but in the back of my mind, I knew what was going to happen and consequently placed a cheeky fiver insurance bet on him/her/it ahead of Thursday’s second semi final when he/she/it was still 25/1.

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Austrians… making an impact with amusing facial hair since 1939.

I’m not homophobic – I have some very dear friends who are homosexual. However, it’s not the gay thing I’ve got an issue with. It was a gimmick. A pure and simple gimmick, completely designed to shock and generate publicity. It was almost like a freak show. The sort of thing we saw at Eurovision in the late 1990’s and through the 2000’s when it got such a bad name. I’ll also point out we sent a outlandishly gay Cabin Crew in 2007 and came last. Austria send a cross-dresser and come first. Had that song been sung by a Shirley Bassey type female singer as opposed to a bird with a beard, it would not have won and the Dutch would have rightfully taken victory.

As a straight man who loves music and wants to see his country do well at something other than boring old Olympics and the sodding tennis, I find the whole attitude that Eurovision is exclusively for gays highly offensive. I believe the competition is for anyone who loves music.  And when it comes to music, the United Kingdom could not have done any more this year. I wasn’t expecting the song to win after some excellent songs from the Netherlands, Spain, Ukraine, a rather Olly Murs type tune from Denmark and a brilliant Robin Thicke vs. Ricky Martin track from Belarus. However, I was expecting a top-half finish on the left side of the board.

I’m at a complete loss as to where the UK goes from here. I have resigned myself to the fact that yes, maybe Europe does hate us. They’ve told us where to stick it tonight. In many ways, it reminds me of times I’ve tried to break into a clique or group in my life, particularly when I was a teenager, and it doesn’t matter what you do those people are still going to look down their nose at you like some lesser person because you don’t fit in with their “brand values.” This is what’s happening here. Eventually you have to realise Europe is telling the UK to basically fuck off.

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The musical equivalent of giving Nigel Farage a can of petrol…

I see we’ve got two options now. One is go completely balls-out and send the biggest current name we can lay our hands on. Robbie Williams would be perfect – get him in a sequinned suit doing a Let Me Entertain You style number running all over the stage and working the crowd as only he can do if you’ve ever seen him live. And if that fails, we then move to the other option which is just pull out of the damn thing completely. There’s obviously a mutual feeling as demonstrated by the rise of UKIP’s popularity at the moment, and the promise of the Conservatives to hold a “In/Out” referendum on EU Membership should they win the General Election in a year’s time.

I would be very interested to see what the EBU would do without the huge amount of money the BBC contributes to it. Or maybe, just maybe, the entire Big Five (who have all had poor runs in the competition since the semi finals came in, save for Germany’s win in 2010) should tell the EBU to shove it and do their own breakaway show. It would certainly send some huge shockwaves out.

I’ve not wanted to say that in previous years because the whole idea of the competition was to bring a war-torn Europe together through the power of song. But last night proved, once and for all, that this is no longer a song contest. I genuinely thought we were making ground after the dark days of the 2000’s with the excellent winners from Germany, Sweden and Denmark. Conchita Wurst might call it a “victory” for liberalisation, but in reality he/she/it has just put the Eurovision Song Contest back an entire decade.

Going Dutch: Eurovision SF1 in Review

So, the Olympics of music finally got underway last night in Copenhagen.  First off, the Danes had a really tough act to follow production-wise after the incredible show the Swedes put on in Malmo last year, but so far they’ve done good.  The show was an enjoyable watch from start to finish – although we didn’t get to see any of the factoids and the VTs in the UK, which the BBC pre-empted for some home-grown interviews.  I’m sure we’ll see a few of these on Saturday.

Scott Mills and Laura Whitmore also shocked me in not being that bad, Mills in particular has settled nicely into the role since his car-crash debut in 2011, so credit when it’s due.  I do think it would work better to have Scott commentating on his own, however, and then have the co-presenter in the arena doing the interviews.  The semis will obviously have to move channel at some point in the near future, and it’ll be interesting to see if this brings any presentation changes.  Personally I don’t see why they can’t go on BBC Two or even BBC One.  However, speaking over the interval act and the English sections of the hosts is just unforgivable.  As I’ve said before, Graham Norton is brilliant at knowing when to keep quiet.

Onto the show then.  The most obvious thing, production-wise, was that once again there were multiple attempts to copy previous winners.  This year, it was in the form of endless bare-footed lyrical dancers who, really, didn’t need to be there.  Several of the actual singers also decided to copy last year’s winner Emellie DeForrest’s dislike of footwear.  One hopes that the LED stage floor is properly earthed.

Here’s Emellie at the show last year, who I’m still convinced looks like my friend Becca.  She doesn’t agree.

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Anyway, this year the style was clearly copied by Estonia (yes, she did do this)

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As well as Russia’s twins.  They qualified last night – as did Ukraine’s excellent song – getting booed in the process.  I found this wholly unnecessary, and really don’t feel these girls should take the flack for their Government.  Politics has no place at Eurovision.

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Anyway, several dancers also adopted similar styles to this lot and did daft lyrical dances in the background.  I’m not honestly sure though whether any of it was necessary, it certainly didn’t add anything to the actual music.

The big shock of the night was a major upset at the bookies.  An underwhelming performance from previous favourite Aram MP3, the Armenian singer (yes, that’s his name by the way) saw Armenia move into second favourite, with previous second favourite Sweden going in at the top with an excellent ballad, Sienna Nielsen’s Undo.

The major upset though was the United Kingdom’s Molly falling to fourth favourite down the bookies after the emergence of a dark horse.  After some very outlandish performances, a few token “twat-acts” and endless floaty-dressed, bare-footed lyrical dancers, everything calmed down with the most understated performance of the night from The Common Linnetts singing for The Netherlands…

Yes, it’s very Lady Antebellum meets Fleetwood Mac and because of that I wrote it off on hearing the 10s hook in my previous article, but bloody hell – a brilliant song, performed and staged brilliantly and, despite a huge cavernous stage, highly intimately.  Before the show, this was 66/1 down the bookies.  It’s now dislodged the UK’s Molly into Fourth Favourite, with the Dutch taking the third spot at odds of just 7/1.  A couple of bookies still had it at 14/1 late last night and I’ve no doubt I was one of many who promptly stuck a tenner on it.  It’s also doing very well on the iTunes charts across the continent.  Even if the Eastern European viewers don’t “get” it, this is going to pick up a HUGE amount of points from the juries.

There could still be a few shocks tomorrow night, and despite her illness, I still think Spain, sending UK X Factor alumnus Ruth Lorenzo, could be another dark horse.  I was convinced Armenia was flying on what’s known in the Eurovision community as “fanwank” and I feel I’m beginning to be proven right.  Sweden are also in with a good chance of taking the contest back over the bridge for 2015.  Ukraine also have a very good song, which will undeniably be coupled with a massive political sympathy vote after the outburst at Russia in the arena last night.

But in the back of my mind a two-horse race between the UK and The Netherlands could emerge on Saturday night – they are without a doubt the best two tracks in the competition.