It’s been another interesting week presenting the late show on BBC Radio Wales. Monday to Friday from 10pm to 1am. The ‘Graveyard Shift’ is often considered to be something more akin to a public service obligation rather than a show with a potentially big audience; but as with so many other things in life Chris Needs proved people wrong. By bringing together exotic and eccentric music and a space for people to ring in, to chat and share their stories he created something very special.
As the years past his audience grew until it became a phenomenon. Chris became the DJ who was also a pastor and part time therapist to his loyal ‘garden members’. They knew he would listen; he wouldn’t judge, he would understand, and he really would care for them all. When we lost Chris, we didn’t just lose a radio presenter, the Late Night show lost its guiding light.
Over the past few weeks my job has been to try to bridge the gap from what the show was with Chris at the helm and what it might become if I was in charge. There’s no point trying to be Chris because no one could be, but I’ve tried to take the very best of what he created and as Frank Sinatra would say, do it my way.
The first thing I wanted to maintain was the music. The show had a reputation for being able to mix Andy Williams with AC/DC and we have certainly kept that mix going. We have even introduced a party hour on Friday nights where we play a mix of Europop and Spanish disco. I mentioned it to the audience on Thursday evening asking them for their suggestions and the phone lines lit up. We already have enough requests to last us until the end of the month.
One of the reasons so many people tuned in to the show with Chris was his open phone line policy. You didn’t have to be a star to chat with Chris. The strange thing is that over the years his regular contributors have become the stars of the show. Take Sir George of Chester. Sir George? Chris would often bestow titles on Garden members to acknowledge their service to the show.
Sir George has a regular slot on Thursday evenings. It goes like this; we play some euro pop music and Sir George sings along… and so do I. We then have a chat about his week. He then says hello to all of his fans (one by one) before introducing a record as DJ George. That’s it! But over the years people have grown to love George and tune in to hear about his week.
For me the remarkable thing is how people feel this is a safe place to share their stories. It might be someone who’s had a rough day on the anniversary of losing a partner. It might be someone who has hit a rough spot during this lockdown. Now when people share like this I have to say it’s not always easy to know how to react. What I’ve realised is, I don’t think the callers want me to give them an answer or solution, they just want to talk, they just want someone to listen to them.
Of course, some callers still shock me with their tales but as long as they laugh I feel I can laugh too. Last week one caller told me that he’d been waiting so long for a hospital appointment for the fitting of a false leg that he had decided he couldn’t wait any longer so bought one off eBay! Another rang in to clarify a text that had been sent in congratulating him for winning a competition with congratulations from all sorts of weirdly named people. It turned out all of his family take part in choosing football results on Sky’s Super 6 competition and over the years he had won the 3 times. The nicknames referred to family members in the group and included his wife, known as ‘Wrinkles’ and his daughter in law known as ‘88’ because she liked cake and was ‘a bit wobbly’.
Whispering Bob Harris on the Mal Pope Show
This week I started to chat to people I’ve known for some time who have good stories to tell who might be considered to be names. On Tuesday my guest was Whispering Bob Harris. I’ve known Bob since 1973 when he was a new DJ on Radio 1 and I was recording my first sessions for the John Peel show. Via social media earlier in the day I was able to let the ‘Garden’ know Bob was a guest and they were able to get their questions put to Bob. Questions ranged from why it was called the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ to what it was like touring America with Queen in 1977.
You can hear the interview and answers to those questions by tuning into the show on the BBC Sounds App. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000mcgc
During the interview Bob played some new music he liked (a track by new country artist Kacey Musgraves) and I played a new release without telling him who it was. I played ‘Looking Over My Shoulder’ by Mary Hopkin. He guessed straight away. I wasn’t surprised he recognised the voice. Bob’s family came from Pontardawe and as kids he and Mary played together, in fact he thought they might be distant cousins.
The show took an odd turn when we got a call from singer songwriter Judie Tzuke. One of the running themes that night was spiders, how they seem to be getting bigger and invading our homes as we move into Autumn. Judie had gone to bed and seen a massive spider on the ceiling. She was having trouble turning off the light to go to sleep. I tried my best to bring some calm to the situation and suggested she sleep downstairs on the sofa. Then we played ‘Stay with me til dawn’ which probably wasn’t the best song as she was worried about the spider still being there in the morning.
On Thursday my special guest was the poet Patrick Jones. His most recent project is an album with James Dean Bradfield called ‘Even in Exile’, a tribute to the Chilean poet Victor Jara, who was murdered by the Pinochet regime. Patrick has always been passionate about exposing injustice and supporting those in need. We first met when I hosted an evening he had organised at the Blackwood Miners Institute in 1999 to raise funds and awareness for Kosovan refugees. We talked about the new album, what it was like being the older brother of Manic Street preachers bassist Nicky Wire and how poets were needed more than ever in these strange days. If you missed it you can listen again on the BBC Sounds app https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000mbw5
I’ve got some ideas for special guests next week, but one thing is for sure the phone lines will remain open for anyone who wants to call in and have a chat and while I present the show they always will.