Sunday, 2 November 2008

How to really upset people

'There's a column we'd like you to write... oh yes and also there's a woman who wants to get in touch with you about something you wrote, which really upset her..."

The momentary pleasure at being asked to write another column for The Guardian is tempered with wondering what it is I've written that can possibly upset someone. After all, I'm adorable, right? Maybe it's someone who's taken umbrage at something I wrote in the A&R Disasters piece - possibly someone once involved with An Emotional Fish phoning up to tell me that they were actually very successful in Italy or something.

But no, it's nothing I've written for The Guardian, it's actually something on this blog that has done it. Back in June I wrote an entry about my A&R scouting days and the concept of going to see a band specifically so I could definitively pass on them - so I could close the book on the band or singer who was phoning me daily and making my life hell. So I could say, quite plainly: "I travelled to Stoke... The Bull & Gate... Stuttgart etc and saw your show and I can honestly say that it's not for me. Good luck in the future."

I told a story about how this concept was named - for it is a experience familiar to all A&R folk - and the artist whose name was adopted to name it. The person I offended turned out to be the sister of this artist; she was seething with rage because - as I had flippantly mentioned at the end of the column - the artist in question had died of cancer some years later.

Now, this was of course a small matter between two people, no big corporations were involved, and the readership of this column is minuscule compared to national radio BUT - and you can see where I'm going here, can't you? - I wonder whether Ross and Brand felt a similar guilt and remorse to mine.

I bet you're probably bored of hearing or reading about the Brandgate thing so if you are, skip down a few paragraphs to where I'll probably be talking about the death of the record business or something. But for the record, here are my thoughts on it: Firstly, if you haven't listened to the show, it's worth doing so because it seems to me that what is being debated is not so much if innocent members of the public or indeed actors should be able to come home without finding a whole bunch of tittering schoolboy abuse on their answerphones, but more that here were two huge celebrities killing time at the license payers' and Andrew Sach's expense. You could take the view - as the Daily Mail have - that they were sitting there, making it up as they went along and getting paid a fortune. As with the Brass Eye paedophilia episode, those who are complaining have probably got their information on the show secondhand.

Radio 2, as anyone who listens to it regularly will know, is a strange beast. It's not the sort of radio station that you can turn on - like say, pretty much every other commercial station - and know exactly what you'll get. Turn it on on a weekday evening after supper and you could happily think it was Radio 1 as Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie play a whole bunch of new releases - but if you leave it on after 10, you're suddenly thrown back into a parallel universe of The Organist Entertains or Big Band Special. If you're listening late at night you can find Steve Lamacq, Trevor Nelson and Mark Lamarr but if you find yourself tuning in on a Sunday then it's Alan Titchmarsh, Michael Ball and Elaine Page. Each, very much, to his or her own.

In fact when I think about it, Radio 2 is like flicking through the vinyl in a charity shop, it's the same feeling of excitement that you never know what you might find; fairly regularly it will be a Mantovani or a Jim Reeves but just as often you find a classic old Stephen Stills album or something by Lee Perry you never knew existed.

So Radio 2's listeners are inevitably going to be just as mixed. And crucially, they are going to be familiar with the schedules and when it is they like to hear their favorite shows. OK, so some of them are embracing the iPlayer and many are subscribing to the Podcasts but inevitably because of the older demographic they are a little behind Radio 1 in terms of adopting them. So when Russell Brand's programme went out on 18 October at nine o'clock in the evening it was probably not not Aled Jones fans or Elaine Page devotees who tuned in. And as we all know, out of the 400,000 listeners, two, that's 2, people were recorded as having complained - and they were upset about the swearing not about any invasion of privacy.

Now, many listeners who tune into the Organist Entertains or other more traditional Radio 2 fayre like Aled Jones and Elaine Page will no doubt also be Daily Mail readers who perhaps may not have even been aware that Russell Brand had a weekly show on their station on Saturday nights. So once the paper had done the job it does best and whipped them up into a self righteous frenzy, of course it was time to get on their computers and make their feelings known.

So what's my point? My point is that everyone has different tastes - and if you try and homogenise what you create so that it is acceptable to all you end up producing bland, boring radio - just try listening to Heart or Capital or frankly, even XFM. I'm not condoning entertainers making comedy at the expense of innocent parties or even the sort of broadcasting where smut and innuendo are substitutes for genuine wit - have you listened to Chris Moyles' show recently?

No, what I'm saying is - if you haven't already, listen to the whole of the Brand show and then tell me if it is not two incredibly talented performers involved in a high-wire improvisation act which, whilst occasionally sinking into Derek & Clive-style mutual abuse, is a tour de force of creative juices flowing. And forgive me, Andrew Sachs, but it is really funny.

Noel Gallagher, with his typical blunt genius, stated that all you need to do to appreciate how brilliant the BBC is, is to do a bit of travelling - go anyway in the world and you'll soon realise how spoilt we are, everyone else's media is sea of commercially-driven lowest common denominator fodder. It's easy to knock the BBC and there are always things that you can pull it apart over (Noel cited the removal of Top Of The Pops from the BBC schedule as being the reason we have a knife crime epidemic, er... right) but if the Daily Mail-supported campaign to do away with the licence fee is successful then I suspect that their constant fear of Broken Britain might stand more chance of becoming reality.

Blimey, bit serious this week. And you thought I didn't feel strongly about anything didn't you?

To return to my own story of upsetting the public, I took the offending post down the moment I read the sister's email. I realised how, having discovered that he had died of cancer after I'd written the blog, I really shouldn't have posted it up - or at the very least I shouldn't have mentioned his name. I have lived and learned.

That's it for this week. There's lots of stuff going on with me and my life in music at the moment which I promise to tell you about soon but for now I have to leave my desk and drive to a farm with my kids. I might even listen to Radio 2 on the way.

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