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Janice Long - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 24 / 3 / 2013

Janice Long - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to influential DJ and presenter Janice Long about her lengthy career and new television series, 'The Janice Long Review Show'

“I had a long day yesterday. It was crazy. That was why I went back to sleep,” apologises Janice Long. “I left the house at ten yesterday morning, and didn’t get back until three last night. I was doing two programmes for Vintage TV, and then I was interviewing Thea Gilmore afterwards, and then I had to prepare for and do my show on Radio 2. Do forgive me if I sound sleepy!” It is three ‘o’ clock on a Wednesday afternoon, and Pennyblackmusic has just pulled Britain’s most eminent female DJ out of bed, where she has gone to catch up on some much needed sleep after a tough day the day before. Long has a career in radio and television broadcasting that extends back over thirty years. She began it in her native Liverpool by working for Radio Merseyside, before moving to Radio 1 in late 1982. Initially she had a Saturday afternoon show, but then switched to an evening slot in 1984 becoming the first woman DJ to have a daily show with ‘The Janice Long Show’ which ran from Mondays to Thursdays between 7.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. She also hosted at the same ‘Singled Out’, a review show that ran on Radio 1 on Friday tea times, and was the first regular woman presenter on ‘Top of the Pops’, which she presented between 1982 and 1988. After being shamefully fired from Radio 1 in 1987 for becoming pregnant and not being married, Long worked for a while for Greater London Radio and also set up back in Liverpool her own radio station, Crash FM. She returned to national radio in 1999, and has worked since then for both Radio 2 and 6Music. Her present show for Radio 2 runs between midnight and 2 a.m., and goes out five nights a week between Sundays and Thursdays. The programmes for Vintage TV which she mentions are called ‘The Janice Long Review Show’, and, transmitted on both Sky and more recently the Virgin satellite channel, are now in their third series. Filmed in the iconic tiny 150-capacity 12 Bar Club in “the British Tin Pan Alley”, London’s Denmark Street, they find Long discussing a selection of classic albums, two each half an hour programme, with three guests. Guests so far for the third series, which will run on Sunday nights until mid-May, have included Lene Lovich, ex-Slits guitarist Viv Albertine, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Beth Orton, Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden, the Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie, and music journalists David Hepworth, Terry Staunton and Mark Ellen. Some of the albums they have discussed have included Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’, the Ramones’ eponymous debut album, Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’, the B52s’ ‘Cosmic Thing’ , Free’s ‘Fire and Water’ and Ian Dury’s ‘New Boots and Panties’. Janice Long, quickly shaking off her sleepiness, proves to be exactly as she is on the radio and television – exuberant, spontaneous, informative, unpretentious and immensely enthusiastic. In conversation with Pennyblackmusic, she spoke about both ‘The Janice Long Review Show’ and her extraordinary career. PB: You seem to be always very busy, and don’t seem to get any less busy as you get older. How do manage to keep up such continuous energy and enthusiasm? JL: I think that I thrive on it. It is just what I love. If I was sat in a factory on a production line, I would be very pissed off by now. I always say that God knows who looked out for me. I didn’t quite know where I was going in life when I was young, but I ended up doing something that was my hobby and I have carried on doing it. I have been very, very lucky. PB: You started out by doing various jobs such as working as a shop assistant and in telesales. How did you go from that to getting your first job on Radio Merseyside? JL: I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school. I wanted to be an actress, but there was no way that was going to happen. Where I lived, you got no grants for that kind of thing and to go to places like RADA. There was this pair of adverts in ‘The Liverpool Echo’, both in the same paper, and one was to be a journalist for Radio Merseyside and the other was to be an air hostess. I thought, “I really fancy doing journalism, but I could also be an air hostess as I have got a couple of language O levels under my belt,” and so I applied for both. Radio Merseyside said I was academically fine but not very worldly, but they would keep in touch, so I got a job with Laker Airways to be a stewardess. I went off and did that for a few years before jacking it in to go off and hitch around Europe. I wound up in Amsterdam where I lived for almost a year in a tent and worked in a Wimpy Bar, and then eventually came back to Liverpool, where I did a variety of jobs before a letter caught up with me from Radio Merseyside asking what I was up to. I went to see them and it went from there. I started out on Radio Merseyside as a station assistant and went from there to being a broadcaster. PB: How long were you at Radio Merseyside before you ended up doing your first Saturday afternoon show on Radio 1? JL: I joined Radio Merseyside on April 1st 1979, and then Radio 1 on December 3rd 1982. I didn’t even listen to Radio 1 before then. It wasn’t my goal to move to London and end up working there. I was really, really happy at Radio Merseyside. I was having a great time. I just loved it and then this phone call came out of the blue inviting me to join Radio 1. I thought that someone was playing a joke and didn’t believe it at first. PB: How had they heard of you? JL: I had this idea for a programme called ‘Street Life’. As I was going to all these gigs at Eric’s and places like that, I thought there was nothing happening that was reflecting what was going on in Liverpool musically at the time, and so I was given this tiny budget to put together a programme on Sunday nights between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. I had all these local bands on such as Echo and The Bunnymen, China Crisis and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. We were also playing national music as well, but more what was underground or was deemed the underground. It became quite a cult thing, and the people at Radio 1 listened too it without me knowing it and then they got in touch. PB: As you have just said when you were on Radio Merseyside there was all these really great bands like the Bunnymen and China Crisis, and also the Icicle Works and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, all coming out of Liverpool at the same time. JL: And they are still going again. Isn’t that weird? PB: Did what was going on in Liverpool at that time it seem unique and special to you or did you feel that every city had an equally good live scene? JL: No, I felt that I was in a very special place. I was aware that stuff was going on everywhere, but I felt though that I was in a place where it was all going on. It was all very exciting, and then when I joined Radio I and started doing ‘Top of the Pops’ I ended up introducing a lot of these same bands. I would be introducing the Bunnymen. I would be introducing China Crisis, and the Smiths who came from just down the road in Manchester. It all felt very local to me. PB: You were the first woman presenter on ‘Top of the Pops’ and in fact the first woman DJ with a daily show in the 1980s. Was that something that you were very conscious of at the time? Did you feel a lot of pressure on you as a result to act a role model for other women? JL: I didn’t feel the pressure to be a role model, but I felt a lot of pressure that I was the first woman for a long time. There was Annie Nightingale - and Annie is still going which is amazing - but she just had a Sunday night slot. I remember talking to her at time about it, but she was happy with that and didn’t want anything else. For me the pressure was more to do with being the only woman. I remember being told by one person at Radio 1 that “There is a girl at Capital FM whom we really like, but she is fat, so you are lucky.” That was the kind of pressure I was under. I was often told that I didn’t dress like enough of a star or that I was too working class. What has any of that got to do with anything? And then eventually I was fired for being pregnant and for not being married. It was - that phrase we all hear so often - a “different time”, but none of it felt very comfortable. PB: It must have been a crushing disappointment for you when you were sacked. Your evening show was very popular. JL: Yes, it was. The Equal Opportunities Commission within the BBC actually called me and said, “We want to get this sorted. It has not been an equal playing field.” But they couldn’t because at the time the contract I was on at Radio 1 didn’t allow them to do anything about it. It has all been changed now though through the European courts. I think my case did make a difference. Maybe though I am still around and have my current job with Radio 2 because of the way it went. Years later I phoned up Radio 2 and - I will be honest – it was me who asked them if there was any chance of a job. When I got called in for an interview about working for them, there were loads of people who came forward then and said, “Actually, we have all been pushing for you to do it.” They had all been in lower positions at the time of the ship at Radio 1 and couldn’t do anything about it, but they had all climbed the ladder. A lot of them had ended up working for Radio 2, and they had said if they had been able to turn the tables back then they would have done. I think that probably helped me get the job. PB: Your current programme, ‘The Janice Long Review Show’, is filmed at The 12 Bar Club in London. Why did you decide to film it there? Was it simply because it is situated in Denmark Street and because of all that street’s musical connections? JL: Yes. When we started doing the programme, the producers said to me, “Where can we do this?” Can you think of anywhere? A studio or whatever?” and I suggested The 12 Bar Club. I thought that it was perfect. It lends itself to history really. You look at that place and it has been a venue for so long. I was looking at the history books and – I couldn’t believe it - but it was built in 1645. It was a forge originally, and there is still part of the forge on the stage. It is tiny. It is the dingiest venue I have ever seen in my life, and the size of your bedroom despite there being a balcony. It is lovely. I love Barnet who runs it. He is just so welcoming. He has obviously seen it all, but he is still excited about music. I felt that it had the right kind of vibe. PB: You have done all three series there now. Has the format changed much since the first series? JL: I suppose you get more relaxed about recording shows, but the format remains the same. There is usually a journalist, two musicians and me, and we record two programmes in a session. They all have to pick an album and then I have to pick an album, and so we have two albums for one show and then two for another. PB: There are all these golden pieces of information that come out of these programmes. You had Viv Albertine admitting on one programme that she was so upset after the Slits broke up that she didn’t listen to music for four years, and on another Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden saying that it was Free’s ’Fire and Water’ that gave him the push into deciding to becoming a professional musician. Is that for you the prime joy of doing these programmes, just to see what your guests will bring into the conversation next? JL: That is what I like about it. Essentially you are there to talk about whatever album, and then out comes a story. There is no autocue. There are no cue cards. It just evolves. PB: It is putting a lot of faith and trust in your guests to totally abandon autocue and cue cards. JL: I can’t believe that people do interviews with cue cards. It pisses me off when I see somebody on telly with a pile of those big bloody postcards and they just look down, read a question and go on to the next one. You are not listening if you do that. If you know your shit, you don’t need them. You shouldn’t sit there there with a bloody list. If I am watching somebody, I much prefer it when they simply have a conversation. I just can’t bear people who sit there with their cards and are like, “How were you when you dad died?” and then - second question -“And how is your new album?” They have not even heard the first question. PB: You record the show over three hours every other Tuesday. Each album by the time you have finished talking about it is edited down to about eleven or twelve minutes including a couple of videos. Is that something which is a cause of frustration for you that more of these obviously remarkable conversations are not shown? JL: Yes. I wish that you could hear it all. In a perfect world it would be an hour. I get there at 11.30 in the morning and we start recording about 12.30 and we finish about 3 p.m. The conversation even when you are having your lunch or getting a bit of make-up on is amazing. I absolutely love it. PB: Who else is going to be appearing during the rest of the series? JL: I did the last one yesterday, and we had Steve Harley from Cockney Rebel and he chose Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. It was like a master class on that. He could tell you what Bob Dylan had had for breakfast, and he said that if he was on ‘Mastermind’ his subject would be Bob Dylan. That is what he would love to talk about forever. We had Nell Bryden who picked Aretha Franklin and ‘I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You’, and Michael Booker, who is the Deputy Editor of ‘The Daily Express’, talking about Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Bandwagonesque’, and I picked Billy Bragg ‘Life’s a Riot With Spy Vs Spy’. PB: You have talked to a lot of incredible people over the years - Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Elvis Costello, Morrissey, Paul Weller to name but a few. You always seem completely unfazed by it all, and often they offer themselves to you for an interview. Do you ever get nervous before an interview? JL: Oh yes. Of course I do because I am a fan. If you are a fan, you are always going to be quaking and shaking in your boots. I can’t believe it sometimes when I get a phone call and a producer saying, “I would like you to interview...” It is like, “Oh my God! I don’t believe this.” Even now all these years on I still get wound up and nervous about doing interviews. PB: You are currently doing this late show between 12 and 2 in the morning. What kind of audience are you attracting? JL: It is a real mix of people. It is the student who is doing the dissertation. It is somebody who is up breast feeding. It is the person who works during the night, doing graphic design or whatever. What is interesting about doing a show at that kind of time of the morning is that you actually get to find out more about the people who are listening. During the day the radio is simply there in the background for a lot of people. The people who listen at that time of night are really listening. They are very discerning, and when you play music and introduce a couple of new tracks you get a much better response from them. Case in point: There was a thing I attended the other day at Abbey Road that Tony Visconti was doing for a new project of his, and whilst I was there I as chatting to Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17 who was doing the vocals for one of the tracks. We were talking about the Associates and Billy Mackenzie and he said, “Have you ever heard the track I did in tribute for Billy MacKenzie?” and I went, “No,” and he said, “Oh, I have done ‘Party Fears Two’. I will send it you.” I played it on Sunday night, and it is absolutely spine tingling, and things went ballistic with people emailing in and getting in touch through Twitter and Facebook. We played it again the night after that and again last night and it went mad again. I have spoken to Glenn and it is going to be on the next British Electric Foundation album that he is working on and which will be out in a few months, but people are already trying to find out where they can get it from. I love that side of things. They respond much more quickly in the late slot. They are really into finding out what it is you are playing and where they can get it from. You get a much more intense audience than you do during the day time. They haven’t got the distractions, have they? PB: Final question. Will there be a fourth series of ‘The Janice Long Review Show’? JL: I really hope so. Please tell me that there will be (Laughs).I just look forward to it so much. The only problem with it is that I don’t have enough tops to wear, but other than that I absolutely love it. I would be really upset if it never came back. PB: Thank you.

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Janice Long - Interview

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