‘It’s Not a Performance – I’M Just Playing Records’
By Mark Hughes
“Probably my prize possession,” is how Guy Garvey describes it. But, surprisingly, the lead singer of Elbow isn’t talking about the Mercury Prize his band picked up last month. It’s his BBC security pass he is referring to. Since April 2007, Garvey, while making music with his band, has also been a radio presenter. Every Sunday night between 10pm and midnight, the airwaves of BBC’s 6Music have been home to Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour.
“It’s me playing my favourite records, encouraging listeners to send me recommendations, telling stories and interviewing some of my favourite musicians. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s getting easier. It doesn’t feel like work, put it that way.”
That simple format has won Garvey a band of loyal followers. He pre-records the show, but says there are usually 150 emails waiting for him at the Manchester studio each week. “It’s international, too,” he explains. “We get people writing in from the US, Australia, you name it.”
Garvey had been complacent when he had his first taste of radio. “I was filling in for Marc Riley when he was on holiday and I thought it would be easy-peasy: just turn up with a box of records and crack on. But it was quite tricky and it ended up with me playing a load of records and saying ‘erm’ a lot,” he remembers.
“It gave me the bug, though, and I asked if I could have another go. This time I prepared for ages. Then a mate of mine who was a senior executive at Xfm asked if I’d like my own show, three or four times a week. I said I’d love it, but I was too busy with the band. He asked what would make me do it, and I said that in an ideal world I’d like a little Sunday evening show where I could play the records I wanted and interview who I wanted to. Amazingly, he said yes.”
Garvey was at Xfm for a year before defecting to the BBC. “It’s somewhere I’d always wanted to work,” he explains. “I grew up listening to people like Janice Long and John Peel. I also like Mark Radcliffe, Marc Riley and Stuart Maconie. These are the guys I’ve taken inspiration from. Marc Riley is the most amazing broadcaster, the closest thing we’ve had to John Peel, and now I work alongside him he’s become a mate, although he gets annoyed when I leave the desk untidy.”
During his year and a half with 6 Music, Garvey’s show has slowly taken on a formula that sees him find a weekly theme – such as the planets. He also plays five listeners’ requests and conducts a telephone interview with a musician.
“Because I’m a music geek, all of my personal music collection is in AIFF (audio interchange file format) which is a good thing because I’ve since found out that you are not allowed to play MP3s on the radio,” he says. “During the week, I think about what songs I want to play and then burn them all on to CDs. I turn up with about twice as much music as I need, so I can play what I want as the mood takes me.
He also has a drinks routine. “During the first hour I always have an energy drink next to me in case I get tired. After I’ve recorded the first hour, the technical guys send that down to London and I go outside for a fag. Half way through the second hour I’ll pour myself a large brandy and open a beer.”
While his alternative career as a radio DJ is flourishing, Garvey’s main role is that of Elbow front man. He insists that the two dovetail nicely.
“The reason people like the show is because I play decent music, but also because I can tell them things about the music industry. When a band plays in America the first thing they should do is duplicate their equipment because it’s cheaper to buy a whole new kit than have your existing stuff shipped over. It’s something a lot of music fans don’t know, so I can benefit the listeners in that way. But they help me, too. I get people recommending bands I’ve never heard of and it is influencing the music I write,” he says.
“It’s very different from getting on stage. Sometimes you have to play a gig when you don’t feel like it, but you still have to perform. With radio, there is no element of performance. It’s just me sitting down and playing some records. I still get the same nervous feeling sometimes, though.”
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