BROADCASTER Mark Radcliffe has been filling the air waves with rock music and his irreverent wit for 30 years.
But if he had his way, he would never have set foot in a radio studio; he would have been on stage as the drummer of a monster rock and roll band.
“I’ve been playing drums since school, and now I’m pretty sure I’d like to die behind the drums in some pub when I’m 90,” he said. “I play the drums in the shed these days ... I’m too old to play them with brute force ... and, anyway, I can’t be bothered carrying them.
“Playing the drums has coloured my life. I went away to university in 1976, left Bolton as a prog rock fan in big flares and went back at Christmas as a punk in drainpipe trousers with my hair standing up with sugar and water.
“The greatest drummer of all time? Well that has to be Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. He had a frightening talent.”
Mark rolls in to Clitheroe on Wednesday, May 18th, presenting a rare mixture of acoustic songs and stories as he reads from his new book Reeling in the Years and debuts songs from his solo album What remains of the Day.
“I’ve been hearing some great things about The Grand. I’m really looking forward to it because it is getting a really good name for live music,” he added. “It will be knockabout, impromptu stuff, questions, and indeed drinks, from the audience will be most welcome.”
Mark admits he has spent his working life talking in between records on the radio to avoid working for a living and meeting his heroes.
“I used to keep a notebook next to my bed to scribble down names of the bands I would need to investigate,” he said. “It was in my attic room that I first heard Bob Marley, The Ramones and The Clash on the John Peel show.
“John had this knack of communicating enthusiasm without getting over-excited. He never thought he was more important than the tunes.”
He added: “You know, I’ve got to pinch myself sometimes, what’s happened in my life. I’ve got a message on my mobile from Kate Bush and I can email David Bowie. Sometimes, it’s like ‘wow’ what’s happening here? I first saw Bowie on Top Of The Pops in 1972 doing Starman. To an adolescent grammar school boy, he appeared to have arrived from another planet, and I never imagined that one day I’d actually get to meet him.
“I found him incredibly friendly, though heaven knows what he made of my behaviour (as 25,000 people waited in the rain for Bowie to appear at Old Trafford cricket ground).
“Marc (Riley) and I were much the worse for wear and hardly able to string a sentence together, and we rambled on for about 10 minutes, repeating plugs for the show’s sponsor, the Manchester Evening News, and pointing out that the paper sold for 10p every Friday.
“Fortunately, Bowie forgave us because later that year he asked us to introduce him at a London gig. He pulled a handwritten note from his pocket and said, ‘I was thinking of doing this tonight. What do you reckon?’
“Stunned, Marc and I cast our eyes down the list, which included Life on Mars, China Girl, Rebel Rebel and Heroes. Then Bowie started to ask us about the running order. It was one of the moments where life just seemed unreal. Of course we all fantasise about meeting our idols, but to be in the same room, and for him to be genuinely interested in my opinion, was too much to take in.”
Mark met Paul McCartney when he was making a TV programme about Rickenbacker guitars.
“After the interview he poured us a cup of tea, picked up a paper bag and said: ‘Oh, here’s some flapjacks my wife has made. Would you like one? It seemed amazing that in his position, when he could send any one of a number of lackeys out to buy whatever pastries his heart desired, that he would choose to carry around home baked flapjacks in a brown paper bag!”
Radcliffe presented the breakfast show with Riley, and that was followed up by the amazing success of the afternoon slot on Radio One. Even with a popular daytime radio show, Mark found time for solo broadcasting, writing and narrating documentaries. He now hosts an afternoon show on BBC 6 Music with Stuart Maconie, but says he laments the end of Top of the Pops.
“Top Of The Pops was rubbish, but it was good rubbish when it knew it was rubbish,” he said.
“But it was wiped out misguidedly in my view. If they had stuck to the original template of chart acts doing their hits with someone in a jumper telling you who they were, no one would have had any problem with it. We just wanted to hear the hits and see someone larking about a bit. But the insistence that everyone play live came unstuck when rave music became popular. For those acts, playing live constituted messing about with a couple of gramophones and a small panel of knobs bought at Argos, while wearing an anorak. Give me Noddy Holder’s mirrored top hat any day. At it’s best, Top Of The Pops was a flash of fun and colour that raised the spirits every Thursday: Status Quo with their manes of hair and Slade dressed entirely in items from a Christmas tree. Superb stuff.”
Mark Radcliffe and Chris Lee appear at Clitheroe’s The Grand on Wednesday, May 18th. Doors open at 7-15 p.m., stage 7-45 p.m. (Tickets cost £14-50 adv).