Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Stay With Me"

Many, many years ago, I got to live a dream. Through my brother, I met a guy that ran a pirate radio station - no, perhaps *the* pirate radio station - and he asked me to work as a DJ for this station.
Understand, this was in the mid to late 1980s, before the wholesale liberalisation of the airwaves, when pirates still contributed something to the agenda (perhaps they still could today).
Naturally, I jumped at the chance, and one Valentine's Day I found myself shivering on the deck of a tiny fishing boat as it ploughed its way offshore. I landed, seasick and disoriented, on a 200 foot ship parked in the middle of the English Channel, and three hours later, I was doing my first show.
At this distance of years, it is a fond, warm memory, a consolation even; and I classify as one of my more "rebellious" acts. As a non-Britisher, I risked being tossed out of the UK for good if the authorities came after me. So I lived those few months extra-hard. I drank in every moment, even when the weather chased me into the darkest bowels of the rusting, tired old ship. I watched St Elmo's Fire dance around the aerial masts, I learned to drink coffee and tea with salt as well as sugar, I even got to taste horseflesh.
And I spent hours, days, listening to music. A kid in his early 20s, a music nut, let loose among 15,000 or so records, with copious facilities to play, record, mix and enjoy.
I got to know real strangers, the motley assortment of characters who were drawn on board simply to play the music they loved for hundreds of thousands of people they'd never meet. Some of us were serial offenders, jumping from pirate station to pirate station, others were kids with the DJ bug who just had to get into "the business" and for all I know, still are in the business.
We'd watch for supply boats when the beer and cigarettes ran out, we'd wave at the ferries passing every day, we'd even flick a finger at the Air Force jets that once in a while would buzz the ship.
But most of all, we sat together and each of us chortled inside at cocking a snook at The Man, at our daring and naughtiness, reveling in the companionship that comes from a shared risk. And when my time was up, I left without a backward glance.
Last week, I went to see "The Boat That Rocked", Richard Curtis' film based on the pirate station that I once worked on. It wasn't the ship, the time, the atmosphere that I remembered - it was long before, in the station's heyday, but the ethos, the feeling was the same.
Yes, there was nostalgia, some sadness that the era has passed, but most of all, a warmth in remembering the oh-so simple act of rebellion that took me out to sea.
I still have about ten cassette mix tapes that I made on the boat, songs that I discovered for the first breathless, delicious time in the warm cabin that served as the record library. Many of them are SongsWithoutWhich and are chronicled here.
But this one isn't. It's actually a song from the film I saw last week, and so I can't claim it was a selection based on my impeccable taste, nor a song that resonates with personal meaning. It's just a wonderful song, whose chorus I recall dimply from some radio show many years ago and which, when it cropped up in the film, gave me one of those "ahhh" moments when a long-forgotten memory comes streaking to the front of your mind.
I won't ever associate this song with my time on the radio station, but I do now associate it with my act of remembrance of that time and so it is, tangentially on one level at least, a SongWithoutWhich.
It doesn't hurt that Lorraine Ellison has a voice that does both the caressing and the paint-stripping in equal measures, and that it is a simply fantastic song. 'nuff said.

1 comment:

Evil Minx said...

Listening to that is the aural version of wrapping yourself up in a velvet blanket, lying back on the world's most comfortable astral-energy-sapping sofa, and sipping a really good single malt. In other words, pure indulgence of the most delicious variety.

Thanks for that, L.