John Walker's Electronic House


by on Aug.02, 2009, under The Rest

Thanks to Stuart Campbell’s reminding me about 1993 tonight, I’ve come over all nostalgic for the time. Hence the following meandering, mostly aimless reminiscences.

People’s favourite era of music is usually more about the time of their own life than the relative merits of the music at that time. Of course, no one believes this to be the case, instead arguing that no, the music at that point was just a great deal better than it is now. Except in my case. The music in 93/94 really was a great deal better than it is now.

It isn’t, of course. 93 to 95 was responsible for the peak of Take That and East 17. They were the years of the boy bands. My sister, two years younger than me, celebrated these times with music so awful the wallpaper would bubble and peel off the walls. But for me they were the years where I changed from an idiot 15 year old with no taste in music whatsoever into an idiot 16 year old with a tiny sliver of taste in music. Which is entirely thanks to Mark Radcliffe.

His Radio 1 programme, The Graveyard Shift, was on Mondays to Thursdays from 10 to midnight. Now, I realise that thinking Radio 1 was at its peak in your own key years is as much of a joke as thinking music was better, but I think I can make a decent argument that Radio 1 was at least more interesting in the mid-90s. While I’m sure it’s brilliantly catering to the current audience’s desires, there’s no question that it offers far less variety, that responsibility falling on stations like 6 Music and other BBC stations. In fact, I can make the point with one example: Radio 1 doesn’t have an hour’s comedy at 9pm any more. (That hour contained some incredible stuff, like Lee & Herring’s Fist of Fun/Radio One Music Show, The Armando Iannucci Show, and most of all, the Chris Morris Music Programme.) Anyway, this isn’t the point. (And Chris Moyles wasn’t born yet.) The point is Mark & Lard.

Their show (Lard being Mark Riley, one time member of The Fall) was independent of the Radio 1 playlist, and not desperately trying to be cool like Jo Wiley and Steve Lamaq’s Evening Session. They played the music they liked, chatted nonsense with the guests they enjoyed, and made stupid rude sketches, and for some reason Radio 1 let them. It was brilliant. It taught me what music could be.

From Nick Cave to Nick Drake, Soul Coughing to Throwing Muses, Laurie Anderson to Tindersticks, Belly to Pizzicato 5, Teenage Fanclub to BMX Bandits, it was something different. I remember scribbling down the names of bands through the week, and then on Saturday visiting Guildford’s Ourprice to try to find any of them in their meagre singles section.

I don’t remember whether HMV hadn’t opened yet, or if I was still too afraid to shop in there. That might sound a little strange now, but HMV has changed. It was this terrifying underground dungeon, barely lit, staffed by the most unfriendly 20-somethings imaginable. And ferociously loud. Once I was 16 it was my obvious Saturday haunt, stocking as it did a vast array of singles and the long-sleeve t-shirts that were my permanent attire for the rest of my teenage years. (I found my Black Hole Sun t-shirt last week – it is more holes the clothing, but I still can’t bring myself to throw it away.) But at 15 it was Ourprice, and their paltry selection. This invariably meant my going to the counter and bugging a member of staff to get out the enormous book of forthcoming releases. It was a huge tome, filled with microscopic print, listing amongst its contents every song coming out in every week for the foreseeable future. They’d find whatever I’d heard that week, and inevitably tell me they wouldn’t be stocking it, but could order it for me. The following Saturday I’d collect my prize.

How old this makes me feel. Books of releases, not a computer database. Ordering singles from a shop and waiting a week, not downloading them from the internet.

I remember one week going into Ourprice to find details on when I could buy Solitary Party Groover by Drugstore, and But If You Go by MC 900 Ft. Jesus. They searched through the giant book, but neither even appeared. I wrote to Mark Radcliffe (using a pen on some paper, look at my long beard and stooped back) to ask for the record company details so I could order them directly. A few days later I received a package in the post with a Radcliffe photo inside, written on the back, “Alright ourkid – here’s the songs”, and a boxed promo CD for both singles. Imagine my delighted 15/16 year old face. (That MC 900 Ft. Jesus single took a strange, circuitous route, when years later when writing occasional bits and pieces for Kevin Greening, he asked if he could borrow it.)

Another remarkably strange thing about The Graveyard Shift was when you phoned in. Fortunately I somehow knew not to be a crazed stalker-fan, and only called in once or twice, when I had something worthwhile to contribute. But here was the thing: when you called the number they gave out, it was Mark Riley who answered. This was daunting. It was a weird sense of access that wouldn’t be possible at all today. I remember contributing something to one show, and I have no recollection at all of what it was, but it was something that made them both laugh, and then something they raised again later in the show. I couldn’t have been more proud. Then handing over to either Clare Burgess or Lynn Parsons (I forget who) they mentioned whatever it was I said again. I could have died happy.

What’s my point here? 1993 to 1995 had the best music? Yes.

8 Comments for this entry

  • Pace

    Ah nostalgia! Entertaining read. Actually I was an idiot 16-year old then too, though I’m sorry to say I don’t recognize much of the music you mentioned. For me at the time music was largely dominated by MTV. If it didn’t have a video, I probably hadn’t heard it. (Of course I was a few thousands miles West of you, but surely there was an MTV UK?) 1993 was the era when Metallica and Guns N’ Roses ruled the music world. Well, for me and most of the respectable people I knew at least. I even had the wannabe long hair and career as a guitar player in some truly horrible garage bands. Some people may point and laugh now, but at least it beats what I was listening to as an idiot 12 year old: Paula Abdul and Def Leppard. (actually I take that back, I still like Def Leppard.)

    (Didn’t you post a recording of that radio appearance at some point? For some reason I think I’ve heard it. Or something similar.)

  • Jazmeister

    There’s tons of cool shit on Radio 1 during the small hours, though, except friday night, when it’s JUDGE JULES INNIT GRAAHHHHHH (reverb effects). Rob de Bank is pretty cool, he’s a very eclectic soul (I think he actually covered Peel’s slot when he’d just died).

    It’s interesting, because at 4am on a weekday the “early breakfast” starts and they’re right back to playing the BBCR1 playlist again, so there’s this little handover where the two guys from the BBC Asian Network chat with Greg James and they both try to compliment each other’s music without losing face with their own fiercely territorial listeners.

    When I was a child, I lived in a bubble in the countryside, and I listened to music my parents liked, like Nine Inch Nails and Morrissey and Steve Reich. I’ve never lived less than a couple miles from a shop, school, pub, church, police station, etc.

  • MrsTrellis

    Were you too young for Out on Blue Six? I remember scribbling down the names of bands and songs from that on my GCSE maths book.

    I remember also that for the final show, all my housemates and I were gathered around the radio, WW2 style, half not believing that this was the end.

  • Aaron

    I used to stay up late listening to The Graveyard Shift too, none of my friends at the time did so it felt like an exclusive radio show that I’d discovered. I remember walking past BBC Manchester during a college trip to Granada Studios and being more awestruck about the building that contained Mark and Lard rather than The Rovers Return.

    I was delighted when Mark and Lard took over the Breakfast Show for a brief period and continued their sketches and disdain for the playlist. Unfortunately the mainstream audience hated them and they were moved to the afternoon slot where it was never quite the same.

    I still listen to The Shire Horses CDs for a nostalgia hit.

  • Kieron Gillen

    What a lot of John Walker music.


  • Kath

    This makes me nostalgic for those youth group times when you would play me amazing music and I would have to buy it. When will you play me amazing music again? When? I have a section of my music collection very much supplied by you. I like it.

  • Peter

    I’m a bit too young to be nostalgic about 93/94 – well music anyway. However thanks to the BBC6s wonderful listen again service I’ve really got into some of Radio 1’s old comedy stuff.

  • vasagi

    i reckon a spotify playlist is on the cards!

    hop to it walker!