I always tune in to Martin Bridgeman’s shows. He is our special guest and he tells us about his experiences working with the medium for years. Radio has been an integral part of our society and a force that shaped generations and still continues to. What’s very interesting about this piece is that it is actually an insider’s look at the history of radio in Ireland.
Being a brief(ish) ramble through my radio career from Dublin to Kilkenny
Martin Bridgeman with Brian Cash of Dublin outfit, Halves at the festival hub at Left Bank.
Uploaded by KilkennyArtsFestival on Aug 14, 2010
Where to start? To sound like a cliché, I have simply loved music all of my life and heard a lot of it first on radio. I have an early memory of hearing the Beatles in their early prime when I was very young, so we’re talking early 60’s anyway. I would have grown up listening to pop records that my older cousins would have bought and played so many of the big pop and rock acts from then are implanted in my brain.
I entered my teens – where I believe your musical soul is forged - in the 1970’s, the era of Rock giants like Led Zeppelin, and the emerging glam stars like David Bowie and Marc Bolan, electronic pioneers like Tangerine Dream, Eno and Kraftwerk and the edgier folk players like John Martyn. I admired Paul McCartney’s early DIY phase, John Lennon’s searing honesty. Although Punk kind of passed me by (I didn’t share the anger) I can see how it shook up the prevailing trends and pared things back to the essentials of rock and roll. Through these artists I came to appreciate the roots of rock and roll, the early starters, the players, the singers, the legends that have now been appreciated for the trails that they blazed for the artists since to travel. I’m happy to say that our children have always been open to new music and have respect for what has passed before, which is all I can hope for in anyone starting out in music. Listen, then decide!
I found US bands like Talking Heads intriguing and love how they have all taken many musical journeys as artists and still keep us enthralled. Blondie straddled pop and new wave and Patti Smith followed her own artist’s path and instincts and continues to do so. Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush and Leonard Cohen were always in the background, never disappointing and proving how important an artistic manifesto is the key to making great, timeless music. All the time, Irish bands were making their presence felt, some more than others, to a point where we have an enormous wealth of talent relative to the size of our country (in my opinion).
Since then I hope I’ve been ever open to new music and my list of favourites continues to grow (as does the physical space in our home has to accommodate more and more music, books, magazines and mementoes). I’ve been blessed to have had many broadcasters, fellow musicians and a small number of true friends to lead me metaphorically by the hand, opening my horizons musically and continue to do so.
Until the later part of the 1970s Ireland had just one radio station. In a spirit of punk, and following from the popular movement 1960’s in England, pirate radio flourished across Ireland and, despite constant government harassment, made sufficient impact and held public appeal that it helped to create a new national music station playing music people wanted to hear. (Incidentally, it was an Irishman that helped set up Radio Caroline – Ronan O’Rahilly). That’s not to be overly critical though: the (single) national station had a public service, news, current affairs and broad arts remit so it was never going to be able to satisfy all tastes and was national in tone.
What the pirates did was to provide truly local broadcasting, offering new voices an opportunity to play their passions on the airwaves. Many bands had their first outings on legendary pirate radio stations such as Radio Dublin, ARD and Sunshine, the three main stations that took on the mainstream and won handsomely. Many rightfully esteemed national broadcasters in radio started out there…a thriving local radio network is still playing what people want locally.
Radio and Me – Part 1
My neighbour was the legendary DJ Pat James who started his broadcasting life on Radio Dublin. He gave me my first break on radio in 1978 and I still remember pushing in the heavy doors in Inchicore, Dublin every Friday to play my wilfully broad range of music, cycling back home late/early filled with all the energy I needed to get up for work the following morning and with a head full of ideas for next Friday. Thankfully Pat is back on the air in a unique slot on a Dublin-based Classic Rock Radio station called Nova (itself a name harking back to the golden age of pirate radio). His rocker soul is still very much intact
I was left the freedom to play what fired me and I never took notice of genres, regularly playing Steely Dan and the Bothy Band on the same night. I still do, now admittedly over two nights.
The Wilderness Years?
I spent most of the 1980’s playing music for fun (never for profit anyway), cover bands such as Calling Card, original bands such as Geoffrey’s First Affair , La Bata and the Sad Anoraks making me open to even more styles of music.
Radio and Me – Part 2
Time passed as it does, like a thief, stealing the years and finding me relocated from Dublin to Kilkenny, where love and family have kept me since 1993. I found myself hankering back to my Radio Dublin days as a new local station came into being in Carlow and Kilkenny, KCLR96FM. I approached the management and they seemed to think (a) I wasn’t completely delusional and (b) I was worth a try. Circumstances and luck combine in life and my particular combination in 2007 led me to the music shows I present there at present. Together, they speak to my interpretation of the word ‘eclectic’ I hope anyway.
The Eclectic Light Programme
The Eclectic Light Programme is a place where you can’t anticipate what styles of music will appear. That is deliberate and often left to chance. I feature a lot of what is new in Irish and International music without looking over my shoulder to see what other people think.
I have met some many talented people it gives me great hope for the future. There is a serious amount of talented young people in Carlow and Kilkenny and I’m happy to offer them a place to come in and share their passion about the music they make.
And in case you’re wondering about the title…It has multiple layers of pun-infested meaning.
“The”: I believe that many great bands have that as the first part of their namers, who am I to judge?
“Eclectic”: No style turned away.
“Light Programme”: Back when I was growing up, my radio hummed into life and displayed these exotic locations, including the BBC Light Programme.
So there it is, my Saturday night dip into the waters of what is good non-mainstream music. With puns in.
Essentially you could argue that the name means a taste of Irish, but in truth our folk traditions are so closely interlinked that you will regularly hear Scottish, English and Breton music too.
Being from Ireland you can take so many things about our traditional music and song for granted but I would have listened to the legendary Seán Ó’Riada and the Chieftains in the 60’s while listening to Irish rock bands such as Thin Lizzy and Horslips and great artists like Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher whose own take on the blues and R&B was washed through with sometimes subtle Celtic melody and phrasing. As for rock bands, I would have been brought back to the traditional players that had passed by largely unknown by comparison with the popularity enjoyed by today’s players; fiddlers like Michael Coleman, pipers like Séamus Ennis and singers like Joe Heaney and Margaret Barry were all revealed to me by the musicians of the 60’s and 70s, the Dubliners, Planxty and most by the group most important to me, the Bothy Band.
The explosion of recording in Ireland in the 70’s provided some of the most timeless Irish music, artists such as Mick Hanly, Andy Irvine and Paul Brady creating classic albums, as did the Chieftains as they moved out of Ireland, paving the way for a new generation of players and singers. What appealed to me as a listener and gig goer initially was the openness of the new generation of traditional players, breathing new life while respecting its roots. Each week brings me yet more evidence of how a living and breathing tradition is safe in the hands of those who play Irish music.
I also believe that your own experience must shine through and inform, your music which is why I would hold that the Pogues are as representative of their upbringing as the children of emigrants as are those who emigrated from Ireland. Theirs was a fiery brew of passion and sadness, (lazily caricatured as drink-fuelled) but passionate through and through. Dublin native Damien Dempsey is a young man filled with passion and shot through with the balladeer’s soul, while may fine musicians mine the rich heart of Irish music to create something new, respectful and heartfelt, Mícheál Ó’Súilleabhán and Iarla Ó’Lionáird being just two.
My musical travels take me to England, Scotland, Wales and Brittany as well as over and back to the United States where Irish music moulded itself in to folk and bluegrass. We share common stories, hopes fears and history, but joined together by the people’s music in all its forms. Englishman Chris Wood and Scotswoman Karine Polwart are two examples of singers with a fine sense of the political tradition and a willingness to move it on and are regularly played on the show. Every year the Kilkenny Arts Festival brings more musicians to us, bring a new perspective, country or tradition.
If there’s a defined shape to the programme, the first hour is largely instrumental music and lively, the second more reflective and quiet.
Again, I’m heartened by the amount of talented traditional musicians and singers, fiddler Rebecca McCarthy-Kent being one, Kilkenny pipers Mick Foley and John Tuohy keeping the flame burning and recent resident Nell Ní Chróinín bringing her wealth of traditional sean-nós singing to us.
So here I am , Saturday night on “The Eclectic Light Programme” and Sunday night on “Blas Glas”. Not so much a job as a joy…