# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - August 2009

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 28 / 7 / 2009

Miscellaneous - August 2009


In the latest 'Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll' column, Ben Howarth pays tribute to DJ Steve Lamacq whose influential 'Evening Session' has recently been axed by Radio One

This month, as it is wont to do every couple of years, BBC Radio One is having a clear out – chasing younger, trendier audiences and seeking to rediscover the cutting edge. It hardly seems any time at all since the last occasion they had such a re-jig, but the panic buttons have clearly been pressed again. The headline grabbing news is that headline presenter Jo Whiley has been shunted off the station. At 42 years old, she may simply have been seen as too old for the target audience. A few weeks later, Steve Lamacq (a whole year younger than Whiley, though a lifetime’s diet of cider and crisps means he doesn’t look it) was relieved of his Monday night Lamacq live slot. They must have been expecting the sack eventually. After all, in the early 1990s, Lamacq and Whiley had first come on air only as the result of a similar clearout of 'the oldies'. Together, they took on 'The Evening Session', and set about creating an indie-music platform that gave commercial clout to the green shoots of the Britpop scene, and thus provided the source material for the revival in Radio One’s fortunes and appeal in 1995 – Britpop, trip-hop and big-beat. Eventually, Whiley went off to daytime radio’s higher salaries, but continued to subtly champion the indie bands we knew she really liked, while Lamacq stayed behind and made 'The Evening Session' into the only radio show ever to come close to challenging the legendary John Peel’s status as the most eclectic and ambitious DJ. It’s a change I feel personally. 'The Evening Session' was the soundtrack to my teens, as I made token efforts to do my homework on weekday evenings. And that is despite the fact that Lamacq had been marginalised for many years, as in his final years at Radio One he had only been allocated one night a week anyway, and spent most of his time recreating the tone of his 'Evening Session' on digital station BBC 6 Music. But, he will still be missed. Lamacq is now very rarely given credit for it, but (more so than when he had been an 'NME' writer) he had his finger band slap on the pulse. As well as championing smaller names whose appeal remains just as strong today (thank you in particular, Steve, for Hefner, Radish and Dead Prez), his judgement about what could be popular was unusually sound. Steve Lamacq’s tips for the top have set the tone for the subsequent decade. It has been written out of history today, but at the start of the decade, the music industry was split between two bands everyone was sure would be the biggest names – JJ72 and Terris. Not Lamacq, though. He championed, in particular, a band that were seen as also-rans in the music press (Coldplay) and a band that most saw as second rate Radiohead rip-offs (Muse). A few years later, he was the first to pick out the Libertines. He took Green Day seriously when no one else seemed to, and now they routinely headline stadiums He didn’t just notice the future festival headliners either, and had a good eye for 'cultish' bands that might have more commercial appeal than people realised. For example, he was the only person to champion the Eels and the Fun Lovin' Criminals, and he got that right. He played Idlewild records before anyone else had noticed them, and he got that gloriously right. On top of those sound calls, he spotted the decline of Britpop, but never dismissed the bands from that era just for the sake of it. Why was he so much more successful at picking out the wheat from the chaff than his music journalist contemporaries? Good taste, for a start. 'The Evening Session' knew its audience and trusted them. Most of us wanted to hear the new guitar bands, and he understood that. He, however, had a good ear for the kind of dance and hip-hop records people who liked guitar records might just enjoy as well. Evening Session listeners wouldn’t care for the latest Ministry of Sound trance compilation, he realised, but might just like the Lo-Fidelity Allstars or the Arsonists. But on top of that, he was happy to defer to his audience. As I mentioned earlier, he was never convinced by JJ72 or Terris. But while his listeners wanted to hear the records, he still played them. Perhaps Radio One’s controllers are right, and teenage listeners don’t want to have forty-one year old DJs. I suspect, in fact, that they are simply hoping that media coverage of a shake-up will bring back a mass audience. But, it looks like they just don’t want people like me to tune in (which seems a bit harsh, given that I’m only 25). When Steve Lamacq joined Radio One, he did so in the hope of being ‘someone like John Peel’. Let’s hope whoever replaces him goes in with the ambition of being a lot like Steve Lamacq.

Also In Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll

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