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Liverpool Sound City 2013 Interview: Chris Hawkins (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 29th May 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Didn’t catch the first part of my interview in Liverpool with 6music’s Chris Hawkins? No worries, you can read it here.

6music’s Chris Hawkins is quick to give thanks to the many people who listen to his 6music show online: “We have a strong and I’m very happy to say very loyal online audience. From Australia and the States too. That’s quite cool, it adds another dimension to the programme.” I explain that if there was a way I could get 6music on my car radio, I would, but for now, I’m limited to listening to the station on my computer, to which he laughs.

He understands this. “Oh, the messages we get all the time from American listeners, ‘thank god for 6music because we have nothing like that here, everything here is Clear Channel owned and samey’. I feel very lucky to work at 6music, sometimes I have to pinch myself and think, ‘I can’t believe I’m working at the radio station that I would choose to listen to’. You know, it’s a great privilege, and it’s as great to work there as you would hope or expect it to be, which I don’t think is always the case. But behind the scenes, it’s as good as it is with what you hear out of those speakers. And as I say, the online audience adds that weird dimension of a morning programme, because of course it’s often nighttime for some, or the middle of the night for people who can’t sleep, or it’s drivetime in Hong Kong, for example. That turns it (the show) absolutely on its head!”

A topic that came up during the radio plugging session was how 6music was successfully saved from the BBC’s axe not just by the presenters’ own intervention but the actions of their loyal listeners. I asked Chris from his perspective what it felt like when all of this was going down. “There’s sort of a point of mixed emotions, because the threat to the radio station was a threat to something that I and my colleagues that worked at 6music loved. Everyone that works at 6music is incredibly, ridiculously passionate about the radio station. So that first and foremost was the priority, to work with the listeners as much as possible to save this amazing radio station.

“But then of course it’s your livelihood as well, another important factor, with your family and living. It was an incredibly hard and dark time. But then this amazing listener reaction, revolt and rebellion, it’s like a fairy tale. And the ending, well, it has been a fairy-tale ending. Two years down the line, and audience figures are fantastic, I think the station sounds better than it ever has done, and it’s got great health for the future.”

Chris believes there is a huge consequence on bands specifically of having 6music’s operations no longer solely based around London: “Now that 40% of the station (programmes) is done outside of London, I think it’s a really positive message that the BBC is sending out, that there’s a world outside of London, there are gigs outside of London, that bands don’t need to move to London to get noticed or get heard. When you physically know that a radio station like 6music has a Manchester base, psychologically for anyone who isn’t trying to forge a music career in London, psychogically it’s great to know that there are producers and DJs based in the North West. I think it’s fantastic.”

I go back to his picks from the earlier session for the acts he believes will be the Next Big Thing. New York punks Parquet Courts, who had an astonishing hype build up around them from this year’s SXSW, are one of them. “Parquet Courts, they are just ridiculous, they do all the things that I said earlier (in the session) not to do. They don’t have a Twitter, you can’t find anything about them on Facebook.” I surmise that maybe it’s part and parcel of wanting to be mysterious, which works for some bands but not all of them. “But there’s a fine line between wanting to be mysterious…they (Parquet Courts) provide just enough information, cleverly on a very DIY Web site, on one page, everything you need to know.

“I absolutely adore Chasing Grace. They’re an amazing duo from London…Hertfordshire. They are an indie, almost rooted in folk band, but they also have this kind of dubstep link that’s getting them airplay on 1Xtra and will get on Radio1 as time goes on. They’ve got a record deal with Island now, they’re young guys, really young, really smart, and what they’re doing is painfully of the now. It’s what could be the next big thing. I think they’re fantastic… It’s brilliantly produced, and brilliantly polished, and the buildup has been just right for them, so they’re just starting to make their way. Very soon everyone will know about them.

“There is also a band signed to Mumford and Sons‘ label Communion, they’re called Bear’s Den.” I stop for a moment and smile, explaining to Chris that I’d met the band’s producer, Kris Harris, lead singer of Isle of Sheppey band Story Books, at this year’s SXSW. When I explain that Story Books were one of my highlights of SXSW and he should have a listen to them, he lights up with the mention of such a connection. “I will do (check them out), I love links like that! Communion seems such a tight-knit community. Bear’s Den, I love them, I look forward to hearing much more from them. I think there’s a lot more to come.” Another pick from Chris is Chelmsford’s Wild Combination, “who are electro, very different from that kind of (folk) sound…punchy, sharp, hard in places, but very, very catchy. I would search them out, if you’re vaguely into anything synth-y and electro-ey.”

And there you have it: a couple of bands recommended personally by the Hawk for you to check out. Really, there wouldn’t have been a better way to end this interview. In the radio plugging session earlier that day that Chris was a panelist on, there was much talk about how bands still can get airplay on radio stations like 6music if they submit demos – either as CDRs clearly labelled with the band and track names or emailed as downloadable links with all the information a presenter might need – and catch the eyes and ears of one of their presenters. It’s not just wishful thinking that happens inside the minds of bands. It does happen. Chris, along with a whole army of presenters across Britain, are dedicated to finding the best new music and making sure it will be heard. I for one will always be indebted to Chris and 6music for changing my life, and I hope his and their mission will continue for generations to come and benefit from.

I’d like to thank Chris very much for his time in Liverpool so we could sort this interview. Cheers!

 

Liverpool Sound City 2013 Interview: Chris Hawkins (Part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 28th May 2013 at 11:00 am
 

At this year’s conference portion of Liverpool Sound City 2013, there were loads of sessions I was interested in sitting in on, including one with the unusual title of ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’. A strange mouthful of words, but the panel consisted of some very important heavy hitters from the BBC, last.fm, and Xfm and they were going to discuss how bands could get their music proper radio airplay, something that I’ve always felt would be a beneficial real world extension to all the promotion we do of new bands at TGTF. Unfortunately, the timing of the session coincided with another one that both John and I said we probably should attend – one on how to start creative and digital businesses, should we one day decide to go entirely business legit full time with TGTF – and I recall questioning my Twitter following which they thought was better to attend. Who else should reply to my Tweet but BBC 6music’s own Chris Hawkins? Taken aback by a great of the radio station that has changed the way I’ve viewed music in the last 5 years, it was no contest which session I would attend.

I found the discussion itself very intriguing, on how presenters and producers of radio channels view the radio business these days and how despite illegal downloading affecting record label bottom lines and band profits, radio is surviving – and indeed thriving! – when listeners tune into their favourite programmes and put their faith in their beloved presenters. I was very pleased that before I left America, Mr. Hawkins helpfully agreed to a chat with me when we were in Liverpool. I had to wait a while as the masses went up to Chris to say what big fans they were of his, to give him demos in the hopes that he’d listen to them, to ask for advice on how to make it in the radio industry.

Chris Hawkins interviewI felt somewhat awful, dragging him away from a well-deserved drinks with the others in his crew, but he was such an affable chap to speak with in the bar of the Hilton Liverpool, my worries vanished into thin air. 6music, as many of you know, is my audio lifeline to Britain during my working day, and it’s such an important part of my daily life, I really do not know how I would have coped these past couple of years without it. While I was on holiday in Britain for 3 weeks this May, I couldn’t listen to it at all in any sort of regular schedule because my laptop charger broke 4 days into the trip; to say that I felt lost without my beloved 6 is a huge understatement. I was very pleased to be able to speak with Chris about his work, especially considering that he has championed my friends Van Susans and the Crookes in recent times. This was the first time he attended Sound City and he says he’s been convinced, maybe in some small part by me but surely by the strength of the sessions and the industry people who do make it up to Liverpool, that it’s an event he will attend for sure in future years.

I always thought that being the first presenter in the morning must be a difficult task; I know in Washington, if I’m having a bad commute into work, my eyes are shooting poison arrows into the radio console on my dashboard, and not because I’m mad at whoever presenting, it’s just the situation. So I really wanted to know from Chris how he felt presenting so early in the day. “There is no greater relationship with your audience, with your listeners than first thing in the morning, because you’re all very much in it together. The relationship is like being part of the family with your audience. No-one likes getting up at half past 3 in the morning, which is what I have to do. But once I’m at work, in the studio, I’m as excited about doing the show at that time of the day as I would be doing it at any other time of day.

But I think you have to tailor what you do to what your audience is doing. You’re waking up with your audience. I think the iPlayer and Listen Again facilities are great, but I always think morning shows sound very out of context if you’re listening to them in broad daylight, whereas when I’m starting in the morning, it’s dark outside, and over the course of the 2-hour show, people are opening their curtains, getting in the shower, having their breakfast. And that routine doesn’t change much. So we try not to change the show too much, because we want the audience to know where they’re at any given time, as much as they have their routines. So we want to fit in with them, to have them work their mornings to ideally around the songs and junctions we have on the show.”

I also was curious how a Shropshire lad was fitting in up north, now that his show has moved from London to MediaCity in Manchester. “I lived in London for 15 years, having worked in Western House and then previously at Marylebone High Street, which is where GLR, Greater London Radio was, where I’d come down to London to work there, because it was a radio station with the likes of Danny Baker, Chris Evans, Chris Morris had all worked there, a great radio station that still has a very important piece of a lot of people’s hearts. And then, Western House for 10 years? And then MediaCity, which is an incredible BBC development in the North West.

“It’s unbelievable, the show has gone from strength to strength since we’ve moved. It was a great fresh start for me, and it’s great not least there’s a window in the studio, which is actually very unusual. We can actually see outside! It’s not a boxed room, which is very common in radio and you can actually see through a window what is going on in the real world outside your little booth. And it’s been a fantastic year to be based in the North West, you can become very London-centric and end up talking about tubes and things that outside of London have any concept about. The tube is unique to London, and the things you do in London are very different than the way people’s lives are outside of it.”

Check back here on TGTF for the exciting conclusion of my interview with Chris Hawkins, which posts tomorrow.

 

Liverpool Sound City 2013: Mary’s Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Wednesday, 15th May 2013 at 1:00 pm
 

Sound City 2013, day 2, began with me waking up to the strains of a Reverend and the Makers‘ YouTube playlist blaring out of John’s iPad. Mission accomplished from the previous night, I’d say. We headed into the convention portion of the festival and my first stop was a radio pluggers’ panel with heavyweights of the radio industry, including 6music’s Chris Hawkins, Radio2’s Janice Long, and 6music producer Julie Cullen. As a regular BBC Radio music listener, it was really interesting to hear the presenters and producers’ takes on why radio is still so strong in Britain.

Janice Long said, “people love the intimacy of radio…[the fact that] they’re being offered something”, and I agree. Getting to know your presenters, I find, is especially important on whether or not I trust or would listen to that person’s recommendations. While by no means do I enjoy every single band that Lammo has trotted out on his New Favourite Band weekly feature, or in the same respect Huw Stephens on his specialist show, there are so many bands I never would have of heard of if either hadn’t played them on their shows. It was also heartening to hear that the panelists all welcome hearing demos from bands, just asking that the CDRs be labelled clearly and properly with the band name and song title, or even better, be provided a Soundcloud downloadable link that can be shared and spread between colleagues, should the song take their fancy and they want to actually play it on radio. I also had a chat with Chris Hawkins and that feature on TGTF is forthcoming soon.

After having some food and drink at a very cool, nonalcoholic cafe called the Brink, it was time to split up again, and then I was off to see Vasco da Gama, named after the Portuguese explorer who circumnavigated around the tip of Africa, not to be confused with the strange typo on the programme of Vasco da Gamma, as if they had some Greek relations. They play a wonky, punky, art rock kind of style that is not all unlike their fellow DIY Liverpudlians Hot Club de Paris, who’ve gone quiet. Vasco benefitted from the delay of the start of Taiwanese band Echo, who were having trouble with their soundcheck just across the way at the Garage. Watch a bit of their performance below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6EiPIrDbfs[/youtube]

The singer of Taiwan’s Echo certainly wins, hands down, the longest note held during this year’s Sound City. Check out the video below. When you’re an unknown band to the city you’re in, you’ve got to really bring it, and Echo’s singer jumped onto the barrier and into the sparse crowd and just let loose this amazing scream. Even if you don’t understand Chinese, there is no denying that the band sound great instrumentally and have a good command of melody, as you will see in the video. Now if they could just record one song in English language…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATPXDaDGH4E[/youtube]

Funnily enough, next John and I ended up at the same place, with John not even knowing I was in the same room. In a true example of regional representation, a selection of Norwich bands appeared at Sound Food and Drink, a cafe that oddly did not vacate its tables and move them in time for the evening’s performances. Bad form. Or maybe they just wanted to discourage people from cramming themselves in there. The premise of Wooden Arms was promising: a band made of mostly classical string instrument-playing members, singing in multi-part harmony. Unfortunately, live they translated to something far more boring than I would have guessed.

So I was off again and to the east to the East Village Arts Club, where the bouncer inconveniently directed me to the wrong place for Manchester’s NO CEREMONY///. Like fellow Mancunians WU LYF, NO CEREMONY/// have tried to maintain a mysterious vibe about themselves, with overly dark, goth-y videos that show no hint of what the band actually look like. So I just assumed the band must be two blokes with oodles of synthesisers. Not exactly. The band live is fronted by a bass-toting woman and while there are two men with synths in front of them, one of them does play guitar. As I did suspect, there isn’t a

It was a bit of a hike from where I was to the Black-E, with 3 nights being curated by local Liverpool-centric football, music and culture Web site the Anfield Wrap and featuring only Merseyside-based bands. But being an Liverpool FC fan, I knew I just had to be there at some point in the weekend. I was not disappointed with the Thespians, with a lead singer that looks eerily like Carl Barat. The band even wear black leather jackets and sound at times very Libertines-esque, including abruptly ending some of their songs in that sort of punky, ‘up yours’ kind of way. They explained that their album had already been put out in Japan and all physical copies had been snapped by the record-buying public over there. If that is truly the case, then we should all probably get on this bandwagon now before it turns into a steamroller.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtJLXDVYwKA[/youtube]

Then it was back west and into the centre of the clubbing life for the Chapman Family at Leaf Cafe. I have a couple friends who are massive fans of theirs, so colour me curious, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. They can be depressing topic-wise, but the sheer power of their live performance, not to mention the incredible magnetism of their frontman Kingsley Chapman, make their live set a sight to behold. A hipster couple who quickly took their places right in front of the stage threw their band tote bags under the stage and proceeded to mosh (is that the right word?) to every Chapman Family song, arms and legs flailing in every which way. At some point I was sure one of them would slip and fall but it didn’t happen, they were just so excited to be there.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3gqTtzL4cg[/youtube]

And then it was back to Wolstenholme Square, where I thought I had arrived just in time for Marple’s Dutch Uncles. Cripes. I am very careful about making sure I don’t have clashes in schedule, so I am positive they must have moved up the Duncles’ set by an hour because when I arrived, Unknown Mortal Orchestra was setting up. To say I was upset by the turn of events, especially after loving the new album ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’, is putting it mildly. I was on the verge of tears. But, when in Liverpool, you carry on. I didn’t feel like running to another venue, so I just hung tight at the Arts Academy for the one major band I definitely wanted to see there, Dutch Uncles’ mates Everything Everything.

When you’re thousands of miles away from home, I don’t care who you are, it is an important and touching moment when a band you have supported and followed for a long time acknowledges your presence. Everything Everything’s bassist Jeremy Pritchard, who has always been extremely kind and nice to me every time I have had the pleasure to meet him, only waved to me down in the pit, but it truly meant the world to me. Prior to this, I had only seen them live once, and in an acoustic setting for a charity show 2 days after my birthday in 2011, so I was raring to go to see them play with their full setup. While I still think new album ‘Arc’ is not as strong as ‘Man Alive’, there were plenty of punters willing to disagree with me at the Arts Academy. I thought it was quite strange that they didn’t play ‘MY KZ, UR BF’, but perhaps they are trying to wean themselves away from their past? Possibly. With singles like ‘Kemosabe’ and ‘Cough Cough’, they can afford to do that.

The TGTF crew ended up, rather accidentally, together at Screenadelica at the end of the night, and you can read John’s descriptions of Arcane Roots and Future of the Left in his day 2 roundup. While we were waiting between sets, Duologue, who I recognised from seeing them in a beer garden at this year’s SXSW, bounded out from backstage at the Arts Academy and into Screendelica, the venue directly in the back of it. This Twitter exchange ensued. And yes, Tim, I will touch your face the next time I’m in your proximity!

 
 
 

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