Sunday, 27 May 2007

Interview with Paul Gambaccini

23RD MAY 2007
I met Paul in the lobby of his apartment block, and from there we went to "Le Pain Quotidien" where the following informal interview took place over lunch.
Paul asked me whom I had interviewed so far, and I gave him a few names and also said I would be interviewing Liz Kershaw this Friday. Paul replied that he had seen Liz Kershaw at a party recently, and had known her for a long time.
I asked Paul if he chose his own music for his radio shows. He said yes. He has a producer who does the formalities and the technicalities, such as timing the songs. The producer also does the negotiations with radio 2. For tracks played a list of writers and publishers is needed, along with disc numbers for legal reasons, and the producer takes care of all of this. This leaves Paul plenty of time to be creative.
I told Paul I had some experience of local radio stations. Paul said he now prefers national radio as it maximizes audiences. However he came up through local radio in the States. One station he worked on in his youth was run by students and had a 25 mile radius. He was the top rated DJ in the area. He got to know the area intimately: - roads, beauty spots etc. and it was a complete experience which he cherishes. This lasted for 4 years.
I then asked if it was good to go onto national radio. Paul said people are not always in charge of what they can do. You have to go where the employment is, he said. Some start in local radio, some just like it there, but sometimes you have to move from city to city, depending where the work is.
Paul was lucky. He was a student at Oxford University and was offered a weekly appearance on radio 1. So he didn't have the trauma of going from station to station.
He explained that to be successful you needed 3 things:
Sufficient talent – not necessarily genius.
Hard work. This is the most important thing as it gets you into shape professionally and increases your contacts.
Favourable circumstances. Sometimes these are outside your control. There are some eras when it is not easy to get on national radio. It also depends on style and what is popular at a given time.
I mentioned I worked very hard and told him about the Degree Show and invited him to it. Paul again emphasized the importance of hard work. He said so many people think they can do anything because they want it and he said this is a mistake. There are only so many shows on national radio to be on. Paul said he had some lucky breaks but was also an extremely hard worker.
Paul mentioned John Walters who had been John Peel's Producer. John heard Paul on radio 1 and invited him to do some work on radio 4. It shows how once you are in the system, things grow.
I asked when he was next doing "Friday Night is music Night" and he told me next week at the Mermaid Theatre and it is being pre- recorded on Wednesday.
I asked how old he was and he said 58 years and thought he was born at the right time, as in the 1950's America was booming and led the world, since it had not suffered much economically in the Second World War.
He explained he lives in England most of the time but goes to America once a season. He has a personal assistant who deals with the shopping, tends the balcony and helps him with his work.
I told him I did charity work and was involved with the Caron Keating Foundation. Paul said he was involved with 2 charities, The Terence Higgins Trust and Amnesty International. He thought people were not really alive unless they engaged with the important issues of their time. Paul thought aids was the scourge of the modern world and people needed information on how not to get it. He said he was involved in a government health campaign. He had been asked to write the text for one of the adverts about health awareness. He said however, that he does not watch television himself.
I asked him to describe a typical "Friday Night is Music Night" day. He replied the day itself was easy; the hard work came before hand, writing the script. He gets the running order 10 days in advance, along with biographical details. He also has music notes on each section to be performed. He likes to have a few fascinating facts and little anecdotes to interest the audience.
I asked if there were any unknown people on the show. He said there were a couple of light classical singers who could perform light classics and Broadway material and that they were not widely known due to the adverse times. Lesley Garrett had made it, but she was unusual.
The weekend before "Friday Night" Paul writes the scripts which he will read on the show. They are organized and programmed. This is a different procedure from his American programme. In the latter he does not have a script set in stone, but just uses it as a guide to read round.
"Friday Night" is a lot more formal. A queue is needed for events. The producer needs to know what is happening. Paul loves doing the show because it is broadcasting. He rehearses the opening of the show, mainly so that the engineers can check the sound. Then he goes for a light dinner and is back by 7.05 pm. He talks to the guests until 7.15 pm. At 7.28 pm he goes on stage and talks to the audience, introduces the conductor and the show begins.
Paul works from home a lot and does not go into the radio station very often. He has an editor called Wendy Beck. Sometimes he goes to a party. Among the guests at one he went to on Tuesday were Tom Robinson, Liz Kershaw, Alex Lester, Ken Bruce, Clive Anderson, David Badiel, Andy Parfitt and Russell Davies.
I asked him whom he most admired and he said John Peel. John was his original mentor and he shared his producer and his office and used to see him several times a week. John Peel's beliefs rubbed off on Paul.
Paul said another important skill to have was a good telephone manner and also to be experienced on the internet.
I asked him if he could do "Coventry Conversations" and he said it would depend on his schedule.
I then asked him if he knew Elton John and he said he did and that he was an enthusiastic performer, often doing a 2 hour session. He has been to many of Elton's Birthday parties. His favourite Elton John song is "Your Song" as he thinks it is emblematic of Elton's career – a break from the norm. I t was also his career breakthrough song.
Paul said he was an Abba fan and loved the musical "Mama Mia".
At this point Paul had to attend another engagement so the interview ended.

Ed Lowe

41 Robin Hood Road,
West Midlands,

Telephone: 02476 305385
Fax: 02476 131578
Mobile: 07786 448056

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