Jason Karlson meets Alan Raw, the mainman behind the BBC's RAW TALENT and asks him all about the show.
In this day and age it's very easy to be cynical. If I wanted to be venomous and cynical I could start by slating radio and how generic and awful some stations have become, with the big names such as EMap swallowing up local stations and turning them into clones with the same worryingly small playlists. Stations that endlessly pump out the Top 40 and only tracks by bands lucky enough to have money thrown at them, making their songs ‘hits’ before they even hit the airwaves. Even the so called ‘alternative’ stations like Kerrang! seem more intent on selling the latest mobile ringtones then giving their listeners anything worth listening to. Easy to say, and true. It would also be easy to line up Alan Raw and his Raw Talent team as heroes of music, lavish them with clichés saying how their show is a breath of fresh air, giving radio a much needed kick up the arse, showcasing local bands and genuinely pushing the boundaries of music played on the airwaves. Easy to say, but also very true.
I've done student radio myself, sometimes you plan and plan and plan, but it usually ends up grabbing a handful of CDs and winging it. In the heart of the BBC it should be nice to see the professionals at work. You won't see any last minute shenanigans here. At least not until Alan arrives ten minutes before the start of the show, grabs a handful of discs from his suitcase and proceeds to wing it.
"It's a live show, we play it by the seat of our pants, it's an interactive show with people calling in and people walking around the studio while I'm presenting. We've got guests who could swear or do anything on air, anything could happen"
It turns out that the Raw Talent host has come straight from another job working with his media company, fitting up dozens of cameras on two barges to help produce a kid's version of a big brother style show, complete with night vision cameras and God knows what else. He hasn't slept in two days. He's almost thwarted by a dodgy CD player that chooses the exact same moment the Raw Talent host steps in the studio to go on strike, but after 48 hours of sleep deprivation you can't see him being put off by broken equipment.
Raw Talent for anyone who's been living on the dark side of the moon for the last 3 years is a radio show unlike any other. The focus is on local bands and artists, usually unsigned and wanting to reach a wider audience. Up to three live performances a night are the norm, as are hundreds of e-mails, texts, phone calls and live phone interviews from any number of different continents. If a large portion of the presenting and music goes unplanned the show is only the better for it. The off the cuff presenting gives the show a vibrant and unpredictable air, the same way the best bands do live where they could quite easily swing from being calm and collected, to ripping the place apart.
“I’m a bit of an unsigned band anorak. The BBC took a big risk giving me a show and I’m grateful for that,” admits Alan freely. “They were supporting a festival I was covering and thought it would be great to have a show that represented these bands and a more Northern audience. At the time I was best placed to do it as I know a lot of the bands”
It must be a lot of people’s dream not only to have a show, but also to have a show named after them? Right?
“The name wasn’t my idea honestly. It came about in a meeting and this American guy said” Alan pauses and then in a thick American accent “Your name’s Alan Raw? Oh my God! Raw Talent!”
We’ve all had our own anorak moments, when you find a relatively unknown band and keep your discovery under your belt until just the right moment when you can impress someone by mentioning them and look aghast when they simply shrug there shoulders ‘What, you mean you don’t’ know them?’
Alan thinks his moment has come tonight when he lines up the excellent Clauberg Opera’s “The Coming Of The Waters” thinking he’s alone in the discovery of this new Hull band - until five minutes into the show someone calls up and requests them. Ah, well. The surprised Mr Raw pretends to throw a rock and roll tantrum.
“I already had it lined up and then someone calls and asks for it!” Come on Alan, you’ll have to be a little more anorak-y than that.
In the last two years the show has grown and changed, building up a loyal fan base of listeners and musicians and has recently gone through the upheaval of hauling ass over to the new BBC building in Queen’s Gardens. Raw Talent has firmly rooted itself in the region’s local music scene in much the same way as the Hull Adelphi has, giving new bands the first step on the ladder to reach a larger audience as Alan is keen to point out.
“BBC radio has decentralised itself in the last few years and it shows with them supporting a new music show. We used to just broadcast to Hull but it became so popular that we were inundated from demos from people on the edge of our region and the other stations (Leeds, Sheffield etc). So now instead of simply playing Hull back to itself we’re playing to the other regions too.”
Such was the popularity of the show that as well as playing Hull music to other regions over the airwaves the bands have got a chance to jump on a van and play there music live to the masses.
“Hull bands have said to me they’ve got gigs in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester because of the show, and that can only be a good thing.”
With the show helping to get the bands out of the city and playing further afield how does Alan think these host cities view the bands coming out of this geographical cul-de-sac?
“The Hull music scene is individual and had always had this atmosphere of being geographically isolated. The quality of music in Hull is fantastic, always has been. It’s got a strong musical background and new creative things are usually born in isolation.”
The show prides itself on trying to bring something different and challenging to its listeners in the past playing everything from the hilariously funny Sack Trick and their track “Blue Icecream” to crazy Japanese bands screaming over white nose with short random silences in-between. “Do I ever have doubts over what I play? Oh, only 4 or 5 times a night. I’m sometimes playing things that the general listener would turn off,” he tells us.
“It’s not always stuff that has that instant ten second appeal, you have to give it time to grow on you. Like the Clauberg Opera, I’m sure they’d be the first to admit it’s not radio-friendly but I’ll play it, it’s new, it doesn’t seem to follow any rules, it’s very creative, very original, very refreshing to hear. The show’s something that you have to concentrate on fully and listen to every piece of music as a concept piece. It’s the kind of show that will interfere with what you’re doing,” he muses proudly, then becoming slightly more serious, “I wont play anything racist, or sexist or abusive to a minority or indeed, offensive to me. I wont put on anything that puts anyone down, although that doesn’t mean to say I won’t play anything with a political message. At the end of the day you’ve got to be the filter of humanity and in the end it’s up to humans to decide if that music’s of any worth.”
How many drummers does it take to make an Emma Rugg album? Just Alan.
“That’s a little known fact, I played on three tracks and her new single as a session drummer. I’ve sessioned with loads of artists and I’ll probably play on more but I’m not a working session drummer anymore. It takes up a lot of time and I’ve got other things to concentrate on, I’ve got a son who’s 9 months old (Sonny Raw, Perhaps the most rock and roll name since, well, Alan Raw) and it’s time to think about teaching him how to play,” as well as playing local music, playing ON local music and running countless media projects with his companies he’s also found time in the past to partake in the most rock and roll activity of fire breathing!
“I did it for years but not anymore, the last time I ended up burning my chest, not badly, but I had a bit of a crispy nipple for a while”
Alan isn’t the only hard working person on the show no matter how much Alan jokes about it being unplanned. There is a hell of a lot of work that goes into Raw Talent, and it shows. Tonight the show features an acoustic set in the studio by an up and coming artist called Claire, who before tonight’s fantastic set of her own songs has never played to any audience other then family and friends, and a live set by Leeds band Johnson House, set up and looked over by John Anguish whose praises Alan is keen to sing.
“John Anguish is at the top of his game, if I ever need someone to do sound engineering then I’d request him. He’s such a talented man.”
When the band play, they set up in the open area of the BBC building’s reception. John uses his own equipment in studio 2 to take control over Alan’s desk in studio 1 and pipe the band’s music through and out into the ether. Alan twiddles with a few controls to let us hear exactly what’s being broadcast and John and the band’s work couldn’t be clearer even if they were playing in your own front room.
Throughout the show David Reeves who works with Alan on the show, races around at breakneck speed answering phone calls for requests, e-mails, announcing competition winners, constantly passing Alan paper with notices about bands and songs adding another layer of interesting information to the show rather then simply citing names of songs and artists. He also has to defend himself from a rather pushy pizza delivery man who can’t find his customer. “Every time! Every time does he try and sell me a pizza!”
It seems with all the live and interactive elements of the show that a lot more work goes into an evening on Raw Talent then most average radio shows.
“I think that’s up to our listeners to decide for themselves,” remarks Alan, ever diplomatic and keen to promote the work of others. “There’s a lot of research goes into the news for example, hours of work and we play it for five minutes every hour. Katy Noone does an amazing amount of work, she’s only paid for a few hours outside the show but still does all this work. It’s like she’s organising a gig a week, live sessions, interviews and correspondences between the bands. We get over 1000 e-mails a month and they all go through her. An amazing women.”
If the rest of the radio stations carry on playing the same old pap you can always rely on the Raw Talent team to bring you something new and challenging.
“I think the other stations are missing out big time on really good music,” Alan laughs, “That’s fine with me, I’ll play it.”
RAW TALENT is broadcast every Thursday night from 7 - 10pm from Radio Humberside but you can catch it on your local BBC FM frequency.
words: Jason Karlson
pics: Phillip Rhodes
September - October 2004