Mike Read – United DJ’s Launches
For a radio fan of many years’ listening, the chance to talk radio in depth with veteran turntable titan Mike Read was not going to be missed. He arrives on time at the suggested venue for a light lunch and chat about his new Internet Radio project, his answers are swift and lucid, his recall excellent whatever the topic, his responses shot through with subtle wit. But two things really come across from our conversation – his undying enthusiasm for the genre and his deep respect for his fellow broadcasters. I suspect the station and shows are going to appeal to a broad range of music followers, not least because the personalities involved each have their own tastes and characteristics…..
Supplied By PR
Mike, thanks for your time – I know you’re very busy. Before we talk about the radio plans and United DJ’s, I want to quickly ask you about the Charity Walk you have organised to benefit Kid Jensen please, in next few days
Yes, we start this on the 19th and it’s indeed a Charity Walk for Parkinson’s Disease and for Kid Jensen. Because we are starting our station United DJ’s we thought we’d show that spirit and help our pal Kid, he hasn’t been well for a while but he’s just announced it. So I thought well what can I do and in the past…well, a quick story on that perhaps – when Cliff went to Africa back in the late Sixties he said “ I’m going to give up showbiz, I’m going to come out here and help, my heart says I want to help these people”.
They asked “Can you administer medicine ? “ and Cliff said “I’m not qualified to do that “. “ Can you dig for water ? Are you an engineer ? “ so no to those. They then said “ Well, why don’t you go back and sing, then..and send us the money..” It was ‘do what you do best – and fund us to help everyone here’. And so I always think what can I do, in any given situation. A couple of times I’ve done long distance walks, I did a 500-mile Walk & Ride from Edinburgh to Frinton for Comic Relief, for example. Now our new radio station is around Windsor area – I’ll walk from the source of the River Thames to down to Windsor, 125 miles and try to get some people to walk some of it with me..
Yes, you have Jay Aston aboard?
Jay from Bucks Fizz is involved, Owen Paul is coming to walk, Carol Decker from T’Pau…I think Basil Brush will be there at the end..and we’ll pick up more people as we go..
That’s a sentence I won’t hear again in my life!
So..it should be fun. Starting off The High Sheriff Of Gloucestershire who’ll walk the first hour, because the Thames rises on their land and she wants to help. We’ll do it and raise money, we have a Just Giving page to head things up on that front..and we’re almost at the first thousand pounds already, which is good and hopefully more in time. All to help Kid and we’re talking about doing a track as well. Going in the studio and doing something but that will be a little bit later.
Well done on that. Now, the main thing you and I have in common is – apart from having done musical things all our lives and writing – a complete love of radio. It was my refuge when I was a kid. I got to love music without all the visuals and long before I could go to shows. What was the very first radio station that you recall listening to?
I listened to Radio Luxemburg. I heard radio of course, as my parents and my grandparents had the radio on a lot
It was the Light Programme in those days, for BBC
Yes, that’s right way back – but tell you what I loved so much, every programme had a theme, a theme tune, like Desert Island Discs, By The Sleepy Lagoon, Calling All Workers, In Town Tonight, so I later learned who all those people were, writing and recording all these themes..in terms of pop music, it was Radio Luxemburg, without a doubt. I would think ‘I like that ! And I really like that ! ” A little later I found out that many of these, Pete were Joe Meek productions.
Ah, those spacey sounds using the CopyCat…
And I heard a lot of music on there – some are just etched in my mind, from first hearing ! I remember Joe Barry’s ‘I’m A Fool To Care’ for instance. Lots of really obscure rock’n’roll stuff that you wouldn’t ever hear anywhere else.. when I went out to Luxembourg to work on that station in the late Seventies for a year I realised that they in turn were influenced by AFN – the American Forces Network. So the people on Luxemburg in the Fifties would listen in to AFN and then play the records on Luxemburg. We got it ‘second hand’ I suppose but for us here ‘first hand’, as it were. What I didn’t realise til later was that they picked their chart with a pin But it was The Bible to me!
Had you started singing and playing yourself at, that time? Or when did that come?
My grandfather bought me a guitar when I was about fourteen,.. now kids start earlier, of course! I loved it. Never wanted to be Eric Clapton or Hank Marvin or anyone glamorous. I wanted to play the guitar to be able to write songs, just to enable that.
Was Buddy Holly a big inspiration?
Not initially but later yes, an older cousin of mine, he had a big collection of Holly singles which we used to play. But first off, we used to have dancing classes in our house, from the age of four. Julie Andrews’ aunt, Auntie Joan and another auntie Barbara danced and played the piano. So I was in there, dancing singing learning songs and picking out notes on the piano from a really early age. It was how the notes fell, in songs like The Ash Grove, Sweet Polly Oliver…I thought ‘ Wow ! how do you put notes together to make me feel like that ?’ So I was very into songs and when I started buying records it was always the writer I looked for. It wasn’t the singer, it was ‘Ah, it’s them again !’
Presumably then Jackie de Shannon, Sonny Bono…
Yes! Buddy Holly, Norman Petty, Mann And Weil, Goffin and King
Lieber & Stoller?
Yes, very much so. I remember interviewing them a few years ago. We were talking about songcraft and they said “Mike, we don’t write songs, we write small plays..” they did see it as constructing a small play..
And that path also takes us to Spooner & Oldham – Dark End Of The Street is a sound movie screenplay
And a lot of them were dramatic. Luckily Gene Pitney did one of my songs and we talked about things and he spoke about recording Town Without Pity and they had spent a long time working on it in the studio, late at night and Gene asked “What am I doing wrong? ” the response being “Well Gene – we haven’t quite got it yet..” By two in the morning, Pitney is tired and desperate “ My pipes are shot, man !” and the response simply “ OK – sing it right now !” That was the sound they wanted ! Charlie Crane who sang with The Crying Shames, came down in the van overnight after a gig in Liverpool, Joe Meek wouldn’t let them into the house. They were by this time knackered, tired and hungry. Then the boy came down to say that Joe would see them now. Hey went inside, Joe said “ Come on, get on with it !” and poor Charlie was so tired he could hardly get the words out. But they recorded Please Stay and for me it’s the best version ever. So Some producers will go to any lengths to get that one special emotive take..
George Clinton was recording an instrumental – Maggot Brain – and did that to his guitarist Eddie Hazel, told him to start playing and imagine he had just heard his mother had died. Then to have heard it was not true and she was OK. It’s a spooky recording, aching with feel.
It’s a trick! I did this about three years ago, with Geno Washington.
I got there a bit late and he put a track down and said to me “ Yeah ! sounds great..not quite what you wanted, though ? “ I said – exactly what you said – “ Imagine it’s 1927, someone’s just killed your dog..your wife’s run off with a neighbour…your shack’s burned down..and someone’s taken all your Jim Beam…you’ve had couple more bottles to get over it all..Geno goes “ I gotcha ! I gotcha ! “ and then he sang it, like he was an alcoholic..he acted it as he sang. That’s what you gotta do. I worked with Peter Straker recently on a big song written by a famous writer, they wanted an English lyric, but a NEW lyric not just a translation. I said to Peter “ Act it ! “ Suddenly he got it and it was captured on the recording…the biggest thing in any song, for me is feel. So you have to go “Just listen to that !”
That’s why I like The Lovin’ Spoonful – every record they made had an individual atmosphere or vibe about it. Summer In The City, I’m there I feel the heat, hear the sounds of the traffic..Nashville Cats, man
(Enthused) Rain On The Roof ! Loads of atmosphere, hasn’t it?
Then Darling Be Home Soon – it aches
Six O’Clock – an empty shimmery kind of sound. For atmosphere, you just have to listen to Scott Walker..Montague Terrace, I could listen to it again and again
Leo Sayer, he can take you places. He doesn’t box himself into one style.
Again, he puts a lot into it. Leo covered one of my songs. You never quite know how they are going to work on it, in the studio. He hadn’t had time to do much on it beforehand, but it came out fine. Marc Almond in contrast had everything prepared and ready, knew what he wanted to put into it. Absolutely stunning. Cliff – just so professional, knows exactly what he’s doing. Every artist is different. Jon Anderson came in to do a track. Wasn’t sure of the key but we put that to bed…
If I’m working with someone and they’re lost on the key I just say “ Sing the chorus to me, unaccompanied “ and I then work out the key. Because you’re usually singing a tad harder on a chorus, get that comfortable and the verses will be easy to sing. It always works..
Yes. And titles do that as well. Robin Gibb used to look on the bookshelf – For Whom The Bell Tolls..Islands In The Stream ..you know exactly where it’s going, from the off ! You get a good title and you’re going somewhere – I did the other day
when I was looking in a shop at one of those cards that says ‘how much I love you’, y’know..And there’s one that says ‘I love you to the moon and back’ ..and I thought ‘ no-one’s done it’ but then you hit a cul-de-sac, what do you rhyme it with ? Sugar Shack, Zabadak..I hit on Pontiac..Cadillac..which doesn’t mean that much BUT it sounds good!
Which to me is what Bowie did on Let’s Dance..It’s nonsense ‘ Put on your red shoes and dance the blues ‘ – however with Nile Rodgers’ production and that stinging Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar..somehow it just gets you!
There’s the colours juxtaposition..quite clever and catchy..
Gary Brooker to this day doesn’t know what Whiter Shade Of Pale is about..
(Laughs) Nor does Keith Reid!
What made you decide on the name United DJ’s, for this internet radio project?
It came about because a hundred years ago Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks formed United Artists. The same premise as us, really – let’s us control the studios, we have the talent, we can do it..so we thought, ‘United Artists – United DJ’s’. And very different to Smooth, Absolute, Magic, Heart – the slick one-word names.
I look at this list of people involved, because of my interest in and having done radio I see a bunch of people who really know what they’re doing. Someone else might say – just being Devil’s Advocate! it’s overwhelmingly white middle-class male as a set of people. What would you say to that?
I would say, why would you ask that question – I always say ‘Pick the right people for the job ‘ – if they are male pick them, if they’re female pick them, if they’re Eskimos pick them..to try and balance it out and I hear other radio stations, naming no names who go ‘ Oh we’ve got to have a certain number of females ‘ and sometimes they are just not very good. Here, we’ve got – in terms of demographic, because of what we are doing, yes they are all slightly older presenters. And most of them are definitely NOT middle-class. That’s for sure. They are right across the spectrum. We have Pearly Gates and Eddy Grant..we have two female DJ’s.
Yes – Kim Wilde does a radio show, of course
You seem to like the term DJ perhaps more than presenter
Oh, I don’t mind either. Pete
Presenter’s a bit QVC isn’t it?
Yeah..maybe more of a TV term..that or host.
Let’s pull a couple of names out of this – Emperor Rosko! I first heard The BarKays, James Brown, probably Curtis Mayfield because of him!
He was the Wolfman Jack of our airwaves, really. You wonder how he didn’t hurt his voice, such as his approach ! When I first did The Breakfast Show, Mr Chinnery said to me “ Mike – you’re playing evening music..” Really saying he wanted more easy listening things – hey but we could play Teardrop Explodes, OMD, Adam & The Ants
His point was it was not really daytime listening but I said they were just good or great songs ! After six months or so, we won through
Tony Prince knows SO much about music and his tastes don’t duplicate yours in any way…
He’s worked for a long time in the sphere of dance mixes and club sounds. I think the good thing about the station is that we’re all coming from different areas..look I’ve got a very wide spread of music that I like.. I love ALL kinds of music. Some people don’t. They just like Soul, or they want to do a Motown show. We are all long enough in the tooth to know what’s good and what works. There are songs from The Fifties that are great and there are songs from The Fifties that are NOT great, haven’t travelled well.
Someone like Graham Dene, he strikes me as a chap who could play a sequence of records that made sense…even if you or I wouldn’t pick those same songs
Graham is passionate about his music – he’s grumbled about every station he has been on about not being allowed to play this or that..he is a great fan of harmony music. The Beach Boys..
Yeah, a brilliant group ! As I do, it is fun to play those records. And I’m a big big fan of DooWop as well
That’s where Lou Reed came from, originally..and to an extent Frank Zappa with the Reuben & The Jets album ….
Everyone’s – including artists, here – a bit of a fan of someone half a generation earlier. If you put Paul McCartney in a room with Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent and Little Richard, say – Oh wow ! and McCartney becomes a schoolboy again and not a Beatle ! It’s funny how people can have a period where they create so much in the way of songs… take Donovan, who I love and know well and I revere his songs..
A lot of those arrangements as on Museum are by a young John Paul Jones
And John Cameron
The best jazzers and muso’s around
And he hasn’t written a hit since 1970. That’s amazing, when you think about it..the legacy comes from a five-year period. The Beatles, a seven-year period
Yes, The Bootleg Beatles have done many more gigs than The Beatles ever did. With United DJ’s, what periods of music are you aiming to cover, Mike?
I think some people will go in different directions, because that’s natural ..daytime it’ll be more across the board on what’s played. I would anticipate playing some 80s classics, some 70s classics, 60s gems that have stood the test of time, maybe a rock’n’roll section occasionally, a bit of blues, something that would work at that time of day for our listeners…and new artists, why not if it’s good?
I always think there might be a new Go West out there and I’d want to hear them
Those two girls in Stockholm – First Aid Kit. They are genuinely good, sound fresh
..we should be playing The Excepts from Scotland, The Blossoms..we can’t play cutting edge dance stuff because to me that belongs on the dancefloor..we’ll try to steer away from things that are production, more than anything else
Is it not a shame that Alan Freeman’s not around to be part of this?
(Warmly) He’d have loved it! Fluff would have loved it, yeah…
He had one of the great signature tunes..
Sign Of The Swing Cymbal…..
(Thanks to Mike and Sacha)
Photos supplied By PR
United DJ’s Radio launches at 7.00 am (UK Time) on Monday 2nd April 2018.
For more information visit the radio station’s Twitter page here: https://twitter.com/uniteddjsradio
You can also find Mike Read on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/MikeReadUK
In addition, Mike Read will be on the Back To The 80s Cruise which takes place from the 6th-13th May 2018 and will depart from Southampton, United Kingdom. For more information and to purchase tickets go here: http://bit.ly/2HT674d