My idea of fun is sitting about chatting and listening to music with friends. That’s why I founded Radio Free Radnorshire in 2015. My mate Gary Houghrain did some logos, and I started using a site called Spreaker to do some music shows – a few of them are still to be found here –
I really liked playing music on the virtual streaming air, but unless I only played music that I owned or part-owned the copyrights in, really I was being a pirate. I reached the end of what I could play, without stealing artists work or paying proper money.
The only stuff I could play for sure for free was stuff I’d written, or recorded. I joined Soundcloud and started collecting any and all recordings of bands that I had been in that I could find. I’ve put together a SoundCloud playlist called The Totality for Kids which is my selection of 60 songs that represent what to me at least, was a major part of my life. The songs, I’ve chosen, but I’m still working on the text. You can listen to it all the way through, or, equally validly, open each individual track, where I’m slowly writing an autobiography of my musical existence.
I’d love to see Radio Free Radnorshire as a community radio station, but I don’t have the skills to make it happen, or the energy to accquire them. I’m hoping that the Students Union at the Imaginary Free University of Radnorshire might step up.
But in the meanwhile, here’s as many links as I can find to the radio work I’ve done for the BBC. Links in blue, and working as of May 02023
Some of my happiest times have been sitting about in recording studios of various kinds. 40 years in 2018 since I first went into one. To celebrate, I sat about in the Producer’s Workshop at BBC Bristol, with Jolyon Jenkins, the first BBC producer to take me on. We were working on Archive on 4, the Bald Truth. We’ve done a fair few things together, but I can only find three still available ; ‘The Secret Power of Trees’, which features me on a treadmill, and the voice of Bob Rowberry. And this link to the psycho-geography show, ‘Walking with Attitude’, which features me at Bekonscott Model Village and the voices of Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Stewart Home.
The original, and greatest, Choo Choo Choobers, Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe heard this show, and decided to make a video about the madness that was Newhaven Marine station. This was the seed that grew into All The Stations, Geoff’s 250k+ subscribers, and a host of imitators. Geoff followed me because of Parallel Lines. I am the great-grandfather of contemporary railway enthusiasm.
Then I did a series of five programmes with the producer Peter Everett, called The Completists, which are not available. It was fun… so when he asked me if I wanted to drive across the US Mid-West in in search of the Devil’s Rope, that was very much a yes please.
With the producer Mark Smalley, I did a lovely archive hour on commuting, which is not available. But then, we did this show on the growth of self service, in which I build an IKEA chest of drawers.
Then I met the wonderful Mary Ward-Lowery. And we went off to map the North – South divide. This is the link to the first North/South divide show, North and South – Across the Great Divide, Cleethorpes to Coventry. It features me by a lock, and the voice of John Shuttleworth. This is the link to the second North/South divide show, North and South – Across the Great Divide, Warwick to the Severn. It features me in the Forest of Dean, and the voice of that great and good man David Morley.
Since then, Mary has been a huge supporter of what I do, and she has been taking me off on adventures for the recurring Radio Four series, ‘Open Country.’
In this one, we went off-grid in Mid-Wales ; there’s a picture of Bob’s van, because Bob (and Briar) are in the show.
Then I took Mary home to meet Newhaven, so that I could learn to look at the familiar.
Then we went to Lancaster, and found a way along the Dark Side of the Lune.
And in January 2018, Mary asked me to do my dream trip to Gigha., which, thank you, yes.
Sadly, this blew the budget for the whole year, so we came back to our house in search of dragons
Very early on in the One Fine Day project, in this show from May 02019, I went in search of the iron heart of Sussex.
When I was a lad, I was gifted ‘Bradshaws Guide to the Inland Waterways’, published in 1905, and reprinted in the sixties. I’d started as a canal nerd aged 12, when I went on a Thames boating holiday with my birth dad Alan and his new family, and then read LTC Rolt’s Narrow Boat which I found in Newhaven library. Bradshaw’s canal guide was written by one HR de Salis, and it’s pretty much just a list of canals, with mileages between various wharfs. I still love this book, which is really hard to get; a shame, then, that my ex-wife’s cat Bonny picked it to chew up and piss on. Her piss leached colour from the cover, so, although she is long dead (by my hands, as you’ll understand), her stain lives on. Looking for something close to (Mary’s) home, I remembered the Witham Navigable Drains, one of the least used parts of the inter-linked waterways of England. Mary agreed, booked tickets, and all was on.
The train journey from Leominster to Boston was interesting, because it took me on a couple of lines I’d not done before, from Crewe to Nottingham, and Nottingham to Boston. The stop before Boston is Heckington, it’s station next to a wonderful preserved flour mill. And fuck me, there on the platform was Michael Portillo with a film crew. I kid you not. They got on, came into the carriage, and Michael nestled into the set diagonally opposite me, on the other side of the carriage, his copy of Bradshaws railway guide on the table.
The producer/director approached me, and ask if I minded if he set up the camera next to me.
I said, ‘Not only do I not mind, I’m on my way to make a programme for Radio Four about Bradshaw’s Guide to the Inland Waterways’
I think I surprised them.
‘Wow,’ said the producer. ‘Would you like to talk to Michael about it?’
‘I’d like to, but my station is coming up.’
The producer introduced me to Michael and told him of the coincidence. We shook hands.
‘Have a good broadcast.’
‘I’m the great-grandfather of contemporary railway enthusiasm. You should read my book.’
And thus we parted.
And here’s the ensuing show, ‘Witham Navigable Drains’
In this one, I got to discuss the idea of landscape with a diverse group of people in the Chiterns. This was a sad time for our family, and on the journey to Aylesbury, I began to suspect that all was not well with me. I hope The Chilterns – a new National Landscape? is still interesting though.
This is another of the episodes I write about in ‘One Fine Day.’ Recorded just after Hilary and I got back from Namur, and in the light of my diagnosis, a week before lockdown, this is ‘The Music of the Surrey Hills.’
This one was recorded by Mary, and knitted together with consumate skill during lockdown, in June 02020. I was in Presteigne, Mary was at home in Lincolnshire, and the interviewees performed marvels with their phones. It’s about re-thinking and restoring landscapes in the Lake District.
This one fulfilled yet another long held ambition, as Mary and I go in search of the source of the River Ancolme. We recorded this in May 2021, just as COVID restrictions began to lift.
This was a huge pleasure to do; it’s one of the episodes I mention in One Fine Day, from August 2021. Thanks to producer Heather Simons. Due to COVID restrictions, parts of this were recorded over Zoom in my home studio.
I was booked to do this one by a new to me producer called Emma, and I drove down to stay in a Premier Inn just outside Okehampton so that we could start recording on the following morning. I’d no sooner arrived than Emma rang to say she wouldn’t be able to make it, but a freelance producer called Sarah Swadling would pick me up at 9am, as arranged. And lo, thus it was that I met mai grate chum, Sarah Swadling, in a storm, on Dartmoor.
And here’s me as a guest on ‘A Good Read’, basking in my middle-brow taste.