Friday, 5 February 2016

05/02/16 - Evening Session

I have a difficult relationship with the radio these days. In my heart, I know I should be listening to BBC Radio 6 Music; indeed, I often do. But for a reason that is deeply ingrained within my subconscious, whenever I switch on the radio I always first tune to Radio 1. The DJs, on the whole, are OK; I know Nick Grimshaw is a polarising figure, but I like him and I think he does a good job with the Breakfast Show. Scott Mills also amuses me. But the thing that stops me listening pretty quickly is the music – the dozen-or-so shitty pop tunes that’ll be on shuffle all day. Obviously that’s the music that the audience wants to hear, but I just can’t listen to three Justin Bieber songs and follow it up with some appalling crap from Drake or Coldplay.
So what is this deeply ingrained reason that keeps me tuning in? Well, quite simply, it’s the Evening Session.

Now, before I try to convey the significance of just how pivotal the Radio 1 Evening Session used to be, it’s important to remember that the 1990s were quite different to today. Music wasn’t shared via Spotify or YouTube or iMessage or whatever because those weren’t things. You learned about new bands by word-of-mouth, or by reading about them in the NME (which wasn’t shit then) and the Melody Maker, or by going to gigs, or by hanging out at your local independent record shop… or, of course, by hearing them on the radio. And for an eager indie kid with a stack of blank C90s and a keenness to learn, the Evening Session was where it was at.

The show was first broadcast in 1991, but its glory years were the period 1993-97 when it was co-hosted by Jo Whiley and ex-NME journo Steve Lamacq. It was the place that brought indie and Britpop to a wide audience, along with grunge, alt-rock, lo-fi, ska punk, math rock, and all manner of evolving rock sub-genres; the Britpop wars wouldn’t have been as tabloid-fabulous were it not for the Evening Session tinderbox playing the latest cuts from Blur and Oasis back-to-back and inviting the public to phone in with their pointed views. Whiley and Lamacq wrapped us up in the burgeoning sonic spectrum of Pulp, Elastica, Mansun, Menswear, Pearl Jam, 60ft Dolls, Longpigs, Green Day, Marion, Nirvana, The Bluetones, Silver Sun, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, Reef, Ash, Supergrass, The Charlatans, Placebo, Suede, perfectly juxtaposing the energetic with the sensitive, the mainstream with the underground, the established with the raw. (Check out the JuicyPips guide to nineties indie here – all as showcased on the Evening Session.)
I used to sit there with a blank cassette permanently on record-pause, ready to steal the latest track from Geneva or Eels or Cast, to absorb at school the next day via the Walkman in my inside blazer pocket and the headphone wire that ran secretly down the inside of my sleeve.

That’s why my brain tells me to listen to Radio 1. In the mid-nineties, it’s where we found all the new stuff to chew over in the playground. There’s still an unbroken, if misleading, connection in there between that station and interesting music.

There were other great DJs operating in a similar sphere before and since, of course – most notably the late, great John Peel, and later the warped genius of Zane Lowe. But the Evening Session exists as a perfect snapshot in time, capturing the zeitgeist of a hugely exciting period in music. The nineties were ace, and Whiley and Lamacq enthusiastically gripped our hands and guided us through it.
All hope is not lost for Radio 1 - Daniel P. Carter’s Rock Show on Sunday nights is usually studded with gems (although he is, it has to be said, a bit of an annoying berk) - but the real haven for Evening Session nostalgia is, of course, 6 Music. Principally because Steve Lamacq’s on there, doing the same kind of show.

Sadly, however, I no longer own a cassette recorder. So it’s not quite the same. 


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