It was thirty years ago when NME writer Kevin McManus, now curator of Liverpool’s British Music Experience, first interviewed Roger Hill about long-running radio shows that championed independent music. Roger’s own show, PMS on BBC Radio Merseyside, has recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary of broadcasting. Forty years. It’s a lifetime… except that it’s not. Roger Hill and his #LiverpoolLessOrdinary journey are a long way from being finished yet. Watch this space. By Alan O’Hare.
“When I came to Liverpool at the end of the seventies the city was full of spaces – many of them were left over from the war. Whole swathes of the area south of the city centre were grassed wasteland as far as Paradise Street and there were gaps between houses and shops.” Roger Hill, the presenter and producer of BBC Radio Merseyside’s ‘Popular Music Show (PMS), is talking about ch-ch-ch-changes. “It’s nearly forty years later and you would be forgiven for thinking that a revolution has taken place,” he says. It has. But buildings have nothing to do with it.
PMS has just celebrated its fortieth anniversary and is now the longest-running alternative music show on UK radio. The broadcast, which has an international following and is renowned for the depth and diversity of its musical programming and its support for local music, features folk, ambient, post-rock, rare retro-classics, reggae, electronica, so-called world music and the unconventional. “We’re up to about 1700 individual programmes now, almost all of them wondrous mixes of the best and most unusual and distinctive music around…. and not one of them deficient,” he declares. “All have taken care and hard work to produce and it’s provided me with a musical education of stupendous diversity which is a great delight.”
But what about those changes? #LiverpoolLessOrdinary exists, as we’ve said before, because of people like Roger Hill. A primary source pioneer, the Renaissance man has seen it all during his decades in the thick of it in this city. “For anyone who has tracked things for forty years, the narrative we’re given that the bad old days of wasteland and the city as a gap-toothed mouth are over, doesn’t ring true,” says Hill, who was the innovator behind 2015’s inspirational ‘Music For Empty Spaces’. What is it about this place that still gets under his skin? With that fortieth anniversary, and recent PMS events at Sound City, Writing On The Wall, Light Night and Bluecoat still fresh in the mind, I thought we’d try to find out…
Forty years of PMS. What does that mean to you?
Thirty five of them have been me and various teams of brilliant support people. We’ve kept our ears alive to the best sounds, wherever they come from, especially local music, and diversity is an attractive prospect in fast-moving times.
Even for your employer?
We’ve maintained a good relationship with our radio station and they are rightly proud of our achievements over the years. Overall, the BBC has sustained what we do. Nowadays they are more concerned with social media and news – but we are still there hanging in on the edge of things. It’s generally a very friendly station.
That’s nice to hear…
It hasn’t meant much money, though! We do it for the love.
I was born in the Midlands, but I need to live near water and the Mersey is majestic and melancholy at the same time.
What else keeps you here?
Habit, mainly… when you’ve developed a whole network of friends, colleagues, neighbours and support, it’s hard to imagine being anywhere else. But Liverpool is a volatile place and there are times when I need to get away for my health and sanity. Apart from all that, I’m here for the river.
What does Liverpool do different to anywhere else?
It’s a community – even if it’s not always very co-operative and can be a bit survivalist sometimes. In the past, I’ve written that I’m no advocate of ‘Scouseness’, but there are places in the world which are thought to be in some kind of psychic network – Weimar is one – places where, if we were getting poetic, we could say there is a particular ripple in the psychic universe. It may be that Liverpool is one of them.
Back to the emotional geography of that river?
Maybe it has something to do with the city being a port, where the land meets the sea, fluid meets solid, flux and fixity. And everything that happens here, and everybody who really immerses themselves in the place, whether they’re immigrants or natives, partakes of that peculiarity.
I’ll buy that! Talk to me about music; you’re better placed than most taste-makers to tell it like it is…
Chris Wood’s new album, ‘So Much To Defend’, is essential; I’d recommend listening to our recent birthday concert at the Phil with Jonathan Raisin and Philip Jeck and I’ve been listening to the new Kasai Allstars. I don’t keep much around for long before something else new and fascinating comes along…
No old favourites, then?
The ‘Lover Boys’ track Jack Roberts recorded for our ’40 For 40′ series, Bang On A Can’s acoustic version of Brian Eno’s ‘Music For Airports’, ‘No Room’ by Athletico Spizz 80 and ‘It’s All Over Now’ by The Rolling Stones.
Nice. We’re on a roll; let’s try a big one: what’s the best gig you’ve ever been to?
Who knows?! Probably Oumou Sangare at The Irish Centre back in the nineties. probably.
The Irish Centre brings us back to buildings and spaces…
The revolution will not be dramatised – but Liverpool’s creative community can draw upon all that psychic energy we talked about earlier – that kink in the ether – and that’s not true of everywhere. I’m talking about when the city is good, of course, which it hasn’t always been.
What do you think are our weak spots?
It’s a sloppy place with too many compromises, too much kowtowing – despite all its bluster – to other people’s agendas and too much buried guilt. But, when it taps into the whatever…
Is instinct Liverpool’s greatest strength, then?
Liverpool is best when it looks outwards as a World City with its unique location and distinctive mentality. Liverpool wants to be loved to compensate for when it was once a dominant force in history and it will compromise in some shameful ways to get this. Its music is at best edgy and hugely diverse, but no longer world-dominating; its theatre average-to-good; its art collections magnificent; its dance brilliantly inclusive; its writers under-rated; and its screen-work powerful. Culturally, the city can’t survive on tourism and ‘bread and circuses’ – there is work to be done.
You work a lot with young people – are they as interesting and as interested as ever?
Yes, to both, but they are more distracted. I worry more for them generally – and my own close family have shown me how the pressures can produce problems of mental health and survival – as youth is now about being more sophisticated and opinionated, sometimes more knowledgeable, but also more lost… a very good reason for the kind of creative work I have done with young people over the years to continue and to be promoted.
Where do we go now?
Real respect, rather than being loved, should be our aspiration.
Pic courtesy PMS