Iain and I went to talk to students at the St Albans Girls school this week, and because they’re…ahm…girls, we thought it might be an idea if I let them have the inside track on what it’s like being a woman working in media.
These young women listened to our guff
I was a bit uncomfortable about that, if I’m honest. Who am I to speak for the experience of a whole gender? Sure, I’ve had a bit of a bumpy ride over the years, but I’m not sure how much of that’s related to being the proud owner of a cracking set of ovaries. Maybe I’m just a div*.
That said, it turns out I have been the recipient of a fair bit of bullshit over the years, stuff my male colleagues won’t have encountered. I’m not just talking about hiding in the stationery cupboard to avoid a particularly ‘enthusiastic’ co-worker – although I have been there, done that and sadly, there was no t-shirt for my trouble.
No, the bovine excretia to which I’m mostly referring came in the form of well-meaning ‘pearls of wisdom’ such as these…
“What you need to understand is, statistically**, women don’t like listening to other women.”
“The trouble is, Kath, clever women can sound a bit…stuck up.”
“It’s women’s voices, you see, they can so easily become shrill when pressing a point.”
And my personal favourite…
“What you need to remember is that the average listener has trouble distinguishing one woman’s voice from another.”
Of course this is all utter balls. But this was the stuff I was getting from various sources during the late 90s and well into the 00s from people (not just men) who thought they were doing a newbie a favour. And if my experience is anything like that of other women trying to make it in radio, where surely your voice and the contents of your head are more important than your genitalia, no wonder there’s been a big push to get more women on-air – they’ve been benevolently talked into support roles for years!
Actual picture sent to me by a listener who thought I needed to know my place.
Sad to say, I swallowed the guidance offered so breezily and spent far too long struggling to be acceptable despite the terribly off-putting matter of my womanhood until I got some really great advice from two broadcasters I really rate, and get this…they were (and still are) both men!***
They convinced me that the hang-up I’d been labouring under wasn’t mine, or even the listener’s. Your audience responds to authenticity, regardless of whether it comes in a package with a packet or a hoo-ha.
Which is why I now know that rather than nodding, smiling and trying to overcome a barrier that wasn’t there, I should have responded to the helpful hints offered back then with the following ten little words…
*Undeniable, I’m afraid
**I was never shown these statistics.
*** One was the fantastically free and creative Ronnie Barbour, the other was the bloke who owns this website…although I’ve totally forgotten his name. Ewan? Owen? Anyway THAT guy.
Well, it’s happening. My first speaking tour is actually going to take place. Nice, small and very friendly venues. I’m so lucky with all of the places I’ve been asked to play. Absolutely gorgeous, just right.
There aren’t too many dates at the moment (a few more coming) but I am very nervous. To be undertaking my first ever solo show, let alone an actual tour, at the age of 41, seems a bit of an exercise in self flagellation. Still, I know the show works, and I am very proud of it.
My friend Simon Roberts has helped put the thing together and will be joining me to help with the technicals. Also, schedule willing, Mackenzie Crook will be joining me via satellite link up (actually Skype. And also, he may not, so, you know, don’t hold me to it).
I’ll be hanging around after all the shows to have a chat and have pics and stuff, if you want. You may also smell me.
It’s about 85-90 minutes, plus an interval. Me chatting about radio and playing some brilliant bits of shows by other people, but really funny bits. James Whale, Anna Raeburn, Big George and others all pop up.
Anyway, here are the dates. A couple more are coming along and I will post them here when I get them. They’re small venues, so I suggest if you want to come, get them quick.
I am talking to a few other places including London and Manchester….
I used to do a bit of stand up when I was younger. Not much. It was always a means to an end. I didn’t have an outlet and doing stand up at least gave me 5 or 10 minutes a few times a month to stand on a stage and twat around. I wasn’t very good. As time went on I began to learn to trust myself and my instincts a bit better and I sometimes, only sometimes, had good nights where people laughed and I got away with it. I couldn’t write material – any I had was nicked or very flimsy to say the least – but I got a sense for winging it.
As soon as I got on the telly, stand up went out the window. I didn’t enjoy it and it was just too hit and miss for me to stick with it.
A few years ago, I had another crack to see if I was missing anything. I wasn’t. Again, I got a few laughs and had a nice little routine end set piece where I would do a really bad pun about Gurkhas that would go down terribly, and very very slowly, I would put my coat on, strap my bag over my shoulder, put on my headphones and walk out of the venue. Generally in silence or maybe to some catcalls. This ending could last as long as 5 minutes. It was so uncomfortable. And I loved it.
I hosted my own evening, Set The Agenda. A monthly cabaret night I started with my friend James. After a while, he left and I took on the hosting duties all by myself. I loved it. Had very little material planned, a few things here and then. Again, I was learning to trust my instincts and just go with the flow man. Unfortunately for the evening, I found the stress of booking the acts, selling tickets and nearly getting the shit kicked out of me by a local coked up hard man just a little too much.
So, what the hell am I doing about to start work on my first ever solo tour? I mean proper solo tour. 80 minute shows, an interval, just me on the stage?
I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
First things first, THIS IS NOT STAND UP.
I can’t stress that enough. I am not a stand up and I will not be doing stand up comedy. No gags. No one liners. No snappy puns. I won’t be telling jokes about pushing into queues, getting on aeroplanes or how funny my kids are.
Iain Lee Vs. Radio is kind of a talk/lecture/relaxed/groovy/evening/slideshow/whatever/love in/experience.
There are some funny bits, trust me, some very funny bits, but it isn’t, you know, laugh out loud funny. It’s sort of…well…I don’t know how to describe it. I play some of my favourite buts of radio by other people (a few bits of me but not too many) and share why I like them, how radio works, how I got into it and why I don’t like Anna Raeburn. And that’s it really.
Here, let me show you an example. This clip is not in the show but this is the kind of clip that would be in the show. It’s John Inverdale
Isn’t that beautiful? And I have a whole collection of these bad boys. Mostly stuff that actually went out on the air.
I have a projector, a computer and maybe a live link up or two with some famous faces. If the show is running short, there will even be a Q&A, although in the back of my head that feels like a cop out.
Look, it’s my first tour. It may be my last. I’m playing about a dozen small venues across the south, south east and the midlands. The rooms hold between 50 and 120. I’d really like to see you there. I’ll even hang out afterwards so you can smell me and have a picture taken. I’m doing a sort of work in progress tester in Croydon on Saturday 14th. It’s sold out, so don’t come unless you have a ticket. Honestly? I think the show may run a bit short on Saturday but that’s all part of work in progress. There’s always the trusty Q&A if all else fails (do you think it’s a cop out? I genuinely don’t know)
Can’t tell you the dates and venues yet because they are still being finalised. I’ll post them up here as soon as I can.
I absolutely love The Monkees. My first records were a scratched copy of I’m A Believer and a beaten up old copy of the first album, sans cover. This must have been around 1976 when I was 3 years old. I loved them. I constantly tried to record the B Side to Believer, Stepping Stone, on my old Dansette by dangling a microphone inside and hitting record and play on my tape recorder. It never occurred to me to have the microphone outside the wooden box, you know, by THE SPEAKER!
Micky, Davy, Peter and Michael have always been my companions. They’ve been with me every step of the way (a joke there for fans of their mid 80’s career). I loved the TV show, had my mind blown by the movie Head and have spent pretty much all of my life banging on about just how good they were. The fact that they didn’t play their own instruments on their first or indeed last few records is no longer relevant. We all know the Beach Boys didn’t play on Pet Sounds now, so a lot of the musical snobbery has gone.
And these guys created some of the best pop ever. How could they not? It was written by Neil Diamond and Carole King, played on by Glen Campbell, Neil Young and the band retrospectively called ‘The Wrecking Crew’. Daydream is THE perfect pop song – lush, catchy, sentimental and just the right length. Pleasant Valley Sunday is a cynical psychedelic barrage of angst disguised in a sugar cube, and the aforementioned Stepping Stone is pure pro to-punk.
…they did record some utter shit.
Not much. Changes, the last album of the initial Monkees run, features just Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz and is a tired rag bag of songs that other artists wouldn’t touch. A lot of fans hate it. That’s a shame. I love it’s world weariness. Ferry Ride is just achingly beautiful and Oh My My is pure sexual filth. The 1987 album Pool It! may have the worst title of all time and a hideous cover, but listen to Dolenz belting out Midnight? Jesus, it’s just incredible. And Since You Went Away submitted by Tork is hilarious and triumphant in one fell swoop.
…they did record some utter shit.
So, here for your aural displeasure are the 5, count em, worst Monkees songs of all time.
5 – She’s Movin’ In With Rico
Kicking off with what some may consider, from the 1987 reunion album Pool It!, I give you the absolutely piss poor She’s Movin’ In With Rico. Pool It! SHOULD have been huge. The Monkees were riding high on the back of their 1986 reunion tour. It was one of the biggest grossing tours of all time and catapulted them back into superstardom after years in the wilderness. They’d already had a top 20 hit of sorts with That Was Then, This Is Now, not technically a Monkees song as Davy had a strop and refused to sing on it. And it was another hissy fit from The Manchester Cowboy that through this album of track, or at least one of the reasons.
Basically, the 3 guys (Nesmith was too busy to rejoin, he wasn’t being snobbish as some have said) were having a love affair with MTV (created in part by Nez trivia fans). The new music channel had helped kickstart the reunion by showing all the eps of the TV series back to back. Both sides won. Then The Monkees were booked to appear at some MTV do, Davy didn’t fancy it and buggered off. Without telling MTV. Boom. The boys were banned from the channel and any promotion they may have got was out the window.
That’s all well and good, but even MTV getting behind the album wouldn’t have helped this song. What is it? Is it a joke? The Monkees doing cod reggae? What the…? It is a mind numbingly bad choice of song for this group to cut and one can only wonder how strong the Frodis was in the 80’s if anyone thought this was a good idea.
4 – Writing Wrongs
Michael Nesmith. What a guy. I was lucky enough to interview him once. A genius. Seriously, His mum invented Tippex (OK, she was a genius) he invented MTV, the music video and country rock. Listen To the Band has got to be one of the best songs of all time. His voice, ah man, it is just so sweet. Rio! Papa Gene’s Blues. Yes please. Hell, I even paid $100 to meet him for 90 seconds and get him to sign my Head box set (just his name, mine would have cost an extra $40 – fact) and do you know what, I can’t hate him for any of those things.
I can hate him for Writing Wrongs. It’s from The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees – an interesting album that kind of signified the beginning of the end of The Monkees as a pure pop act. Sure it’s got Daydream Believer and Valleri on, but it also has some far out experimentation. A lot of which works. Auntie’s Municipal Court is a joy and Magnolia Simms (both from The Nez) is wonderful.
It clocks in at 5.08, not in itself a crime, but the majority of it is filled with a laborious keyboard solo that turgidly drags along and makes you want to eat your own fingers. I couldn’t give a stuff about Bill Chambers, or his mum, and the drawn out, painful vocals leave me wanting less. Awful.
3 – Laugh
This is from the second album, More Of The Monkees, a record the boys didn’t even know existed until they went into a record store and saw it in the racks. The cover is an embarrassment, a picture taken from an advertisement for what can only be described as fugly clothes. It’s a real mixture of songs from different writers and producers. There is no coherent sound, and while it sold over 5 million copies, it’s not one of my favourites. The obvious choice from that LP for this list would be The Day We Fall In Love. Yes, the spoken word ‘song’ may be a bit schmaltzy, but fuck it, Davy can do schmaltz. And if you have the stereo version, ditch the vocals and listen to the music, it’s actually quite charming.
No, Laugh is terrible. Davy’s vocals, for me, tread a fine line between wonderfully powerful pop voice to annoying and nasally broadway. Ah man, I just pissed off a load of Davy fans. Sorry! I love him. I cried when he died, but he could be a bit grating sometimes.
Anyway, I think this song is meant to be a joke and a comment on the social scene in the sixties. ‘Laugh, when you go to a party, and you can’t tell the boys from the girls’. Right, OK mate. Yeah, that’s exactly what I’ll do.
Terrible singing, production, lyrics, tune. Bin.
2 – Star Collector
Oh, bloody hell. In for a penny, in for a pound.
This should be a great song. Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin at the height of their powers. A song about star fuckers. One of the first songs to ever feature the Moog (pronounced Mow-g) synthesiser. But…it doesn’t really work.
Again, another example of Davy trying to do Anthony Newley, instead of doing Davy Jones (honestly, I love him. Go and dig out the lost classic It’s Nice To Be With You. Delightful). And yes, Dolenz is playing the third ever Moog, but, let’s be honest, he aint got a clue what he’s doing! That cat is as high as a kite. And while his frazzled brain may be getting off on all the crazy sound effects, it just annoys the hell out of me.
I think I should maybe mention that the first time I heard this song was when I was 14. It was still pretty hard to get Monkees stuff then and I didn’t have Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd., the majestic album this track comes from. My friend Psycho Bob T had a weird compilation that had this song on. He lent it to me and because I was so excited to have a Monkees song I’d never heard before, I recorded it 12 times in a row to make it easier to listen to. I may have made myself hate this song.
1 – Your Auntie Grizelda
Oh fuck off.
This is terrible. Poor Peter. A wonderful musician, an earnest guy. He would keep turning up at Monkees sessions hoping to get a crack at a song. Boyce and Hart, the main songwriters and producers would let him have a go, and then get another Monkee to record the song once he’d gone. This, from the second LP, was Tork’s big break. A chance to sing lead vocals. And…well…neither the song or Tork were up to the job.
I read somewhere this commentary on a nasty aunt was meant to sound like 19th Nervous Breakdown by The Rolling Stones. It doesn’t. It sounds shit. And the amazing thing is, they keep playing this bloody song on tour. Every tour since 1986, they’ve wheeled this one out as Peter’s solo spot. Let me tell you something guys, no one likes it. This is the toilet or bar break tune. Let Peter do Lady’s Baby, Come On In…there aren’t many tunes he did but they are all better than this monstrosity.
OK. That’s my list. I’m expecting some hate and I’m sure I’ll get shunned by some of the fans (Monkees fans are ze craziest people) but please remember, I love The Monkees. It was as struggle to come up with this list. And boy, it was cathartic.
Katherine and I went to Coventry last week at the invitation of Mark Brown, a lecturer at the City College. He’d responded to a message I;d posted on Twitter offering our services to talk about working in radio. I don’t quite know why I did it, and I certainly hadn’t run it past Katherine to see if she was cool with it. It just popped into my head. So I posted it. Boom.
Mark got in touch, as did a couple of other people. He asked if it was a serious offer or was I taking the proverbial. It was, I wasn’t. He told me about his class – a group of media students between the ages of 16 and 20, some of whom wanted to work in radio, and who he thought would benefit having a chat with some ‘professionals’.
Anyway, we arranged a date and Katherine and I thought about what we could tell them. How would we fill 45 minutes? Well, quite easily it turned out. We outlined a little chat about how we got into the industry, what our day entails and the relationship between producer and presenter as we see it. Played a few clips and answered some questions. That was that.
It seemed to work. The students looked at us the whole time (no one took out a mobile phone or looked like they were falling asleep) and we enjoyed ourselves. So, not completely selfless. But, I guess the idea behind it is ‘giving something back’. That sounds a little pretentious, so I won’t dwell on it, but it’s true.
Anyway, we have another chat at a school in a couple of weeks. And we are keen to do more. If you want an award winning presenter and an award winning producer to come to your school or college to talk about working in radio, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see what we can sort out.