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Stuart Maconie/East Village Arts Club

John D Hodgkinson enjoys a people's music journey with the British Bill Bryson

Written by . Published on July 26th 2013.

Stuart Maconie/East Village Arts Club

IT is my considered opinion that there must surely be more than one Stuart Maconie.

How else can his cultural ubiquity be explained? Radio and TV presenter, writer, raconteur, fell walker, panel show guest.  In fact, in his own words: “I do various things for fun and profit. I present radio shows. I make the occasional TV programme. I fight crime. Well, not really. But what I really do, my first love and ongoing passion, is writing.” He was once described by Tony Wilson as the “English Bill Bryson”.

A question on music royalties prompts
audience member Pete Wylie to relate
that he owes Spotify 'About £1,500'

Perhaps it is fair to say that he is also chiefly known for his BBC 6 Music shows, The Freak Zone and The Freakier Zone, where he explores the outer limits of the stranger elements of what is loosely termed pop and rock. He tells us that he has “Just come hotfoot from Salford where I co-present the 6 Music afternoon show with... erm..... No, it’s gone!”

It is to listen to him talk about the latest product of his passions that we are gathered in these airy, relaxed and intimate surroundings of the still-new East Village Arts Club.   

Subtitled The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records, The People’s Songs is a companion to his splendid radio series of the same name.

It’s a chronicle of Britain over the last 70 years from Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” to Dizzy Rascal’s  “Bonkers”. The People’s Songs takes a tour of our island’s pop music, and asks what it means to us.

As Maconie describes it, “This is not a rock critique about the 50 greatest tracks ever recorded. Rather, it is a celebration of songs that tell us something about how we have felt about things in our lives down the eras – work, war, class, leisure, race, family, drugs, sex, patriotism and more. In times of prosperity or poverty this is the music that inspired haircuts and dance crazes, but also protest and social change.”

“There is almost no Nick Drake in this book, but you will find Viva Y Espana.”

The latter is included to pinpoint a time when the post war economic boom meant that the nation could look beyond Blackpool, Bognor and Brighton and aspire to foreign holidays.  

The Specials’ “Ghost Town” which, in 1981, personified the disillusionment of young people with their gloomy prospects. The Specials themselves were one of the more positive facets of the zeitgeist, being a cross cultural band and pointing the way to a more harmonised existence.  The theme is also explored with the inclusion of Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha” , which underlined the growing influence of British Asians on pop music. Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga” is included to celebrate the medium of radio. (Despite the fact that Maconie refers to them as the “Matalan Led Zeppelin”!)

He also reads extracts from some of his other books, such as Pies and Prejudice, Adventures On The High Teas and especially Cider With Roadies. A must read for anyone with a similar passion for music. One friend, recommending it to me said “John..... It’s US!”

Maconie is an engaging speaker and the time seems to go all too rapidly. But there is still time for a brief Q and A that includes the story of Maconie interviewing The Bluebells, only to discover it was the support band he had been talking to! A question on music royalties prompts audience member Pete Wylie to relate that he owes Spotify “About £1,500”

The People’s Songs is out now and the radio series airs every Wednesday at 10.00pm. Don’t worry if you have missed any, each episode will be on the BBC I Player for a year.


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Paul PastorJuly 31st 2013.

Brilliant piece on Stuart Maconie. Made me wish I was there. I feel I missed out on a terrific event.

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