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Newsletter 12th August 2007

What's been happening

Hey there, you there!! I'm back!! Did you miss me?;-)

It's been a long time since I updated anything on this site - February 2007 since the last diary review, July 2006 since the last lot of photos were uploaded and April 2006 since the last newsletter.

A lot has happened since then, not the least some considerable health difficulties. It all began in the summer of last year when I started to have pains in my right hand and wrist when I was carrying my camera. Pretty soon it spread to whenever I was using the computer and that kicked off a whole rollercoaster ride with RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). It got to the stage that after more than 10 minutes on the computer typing and clicking away, my hand and wrist were in absolute agony.

My GP has been next to useless, preferring to stand back and not taking any pre-emptive action. Occupational Health at work were equally disappointing - I was referred to some "consultants"/physiotherpists who were dire and did not seem to know anything about RSI. I was crying out for help, for suggestions about what to do and found that I had found more ideas simply by Googling "RSI" than these so-called experts. The physio did not work, nor did the cortisone injection that had been touted as a miracle solution. My calls to Occupational health for help fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, my doctor was seeing me sliding into depression and still did nothing.

By the time we were early into the new year, I was having difficulty functioning, barely holding it together in the week and struggling big time at the weekend, sometimes not getting dressed until well into the afternoon, if at all. Depression was kicking in and finally over-whelmed me during February. All told I was off work for about 3 months, much of that time I was virtually a prisoner in my house - depression is not a new experience for me and in my case, it takes on a paralysing form in that I'm numbed into inactivity much of the time. It takes a massive amount of effort to do anything and most of the time you do nothing much. Going out to soul nights was a bizarre experience - I can only liken it to looking through a window - there's a party going on on the other side of the glass but I feel totally cold, numb of any emotion. I know it's a good party and the music sounds good but I just don't feel the vibes. I coined the term "mogadon man" as a descriptor.

After badgering my doctor, I finally got him to refer me to a specialist. The sad thing is that I had to ask, I would have thought anyone with an ounce of commonsense would have seen the deterioration in my general state and mood and recommended a referral to a specialist. If I had more energy I would change my GP, but that's not easy as every surgery in my area has its books full. Anyway, I had a screening interview a few months ago and am due to see a consultant at Manchester Royal Infirmary at the end of August, well over a year since the problem first started.

Occupational health at work finally got their finger out and I've been having some counselling/therapy to cope with the pain (I'm still waiting for the therapy through my GP). The Government runs a scheme, "Access to work", to encourage the employment of disabled people or to make adjustments to enable disabled people to stay in work. I had an assessment a couple of weeks ago and for the first time, have come across someone who knows their stuff. During our meeting the consultant recommended a number of things that would improve my situation, including a special tracker ball that gets round the "clicking" problem that's a big issue when using a mouse and voice operated software which could enable me to carry out a lot of activities on a computer without typing or clicking. At long last, I can see some light at the end of the tunnel.

I've been back at work for about a couple of months, initially starting on reduced hours and gradually building up. It's been very tiring getting back into gear and I haven't got my stamina back fully , but that spark that is "me" has finally come back. Alan is back in the building!;-) It feels great!

I'm currently not doing my usual two soul nights every weekend as, at present, I'm simply not up to it. But it's nice to "feel" the music again. In closing this chapter, I want to thank the many many friends on the scene who have been distressed to see me going through a tough time and have been concerned for my welfare. To each and every one of you, thank you for your love and concern - I love you all to bits and thank you for your kindness and support.

I hope to recommence my regular event reviews in the near future and start making inroads into the picture gallery backlog, only 13 months at time of writing, but hey! no pressure, eh?;-) I know they've been missed and I'll certainly get a buzz getting back into the groove, in more ways than one.

It never rains...

I came back from the Whitby weekender to be hit with a bombshell when my son rang to tell me that his mother, my ex-wife Trude had discovered a lump in her breast. Within 10 days it was confirmed as breast cancer and she had a mastectomy and removal of the lymph nodes under her arm. Since then, it has been told she will have to undergo chemo, radio and hormone therapy as the cancer has been diagnosed as aggressive. She faces a tough battle ahead but is very positive and determined to beat the dreaded "C". Our son, Simon, and I are somewhat dazed by it all, especially the speed with which everything has happened, but we'll all get there, given the support from all our friends.

It was 40 years ago today .. ermm, I mean Tuesday...

August 14th is a special date in my calendar. In 1967, it marked a piece of Government legislation coming into force - the "Marine Etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act" (MOA) that was designed to outlaw the offshore radio stations that had sprung up around Britain's coast since Easter 1964 when Radio Caroline first commenced its broadcasts anchored in International waters off the Frinton, Essex coast. Set up by a visionary Irishman, Ronan O'Rahilly, the station was set to rock the waves, not just the waters but the radio waves.

Over the following three years we were to see the best part of a dozen stations springing up, operated from ships or military forts off our coastline. The Government of the day didn't like what was happening, hence the Act and by Monday 14th August virtually all the stations closed down ahead of the midnight deadline.

Caroline continued defiantly after midnight on the 14th but as there was no paid-for advertising she struggled to survive - she finally closed on 3rd March 1968, when in a carefully planned operation, the Dutch shipping company Wijsmullers boarded both radio ships, the MV Caroline (Caroline North off Ramsey, Isle of Man) and MV Mi Amigo (Caroline South off Frinton) for non-payment of the bills for their tendering services and towed both Caroline ships into IJmuiden harbour in Amsterdam. It was an ignominious end to what had been nearly 4 years of offshore radio that revolutionised pop music and the radio industry.

Just why am I banging on about this? Well, if you weren't around to experience those days, you simply won't get it. There was a radio monopoly in this country, held by the BBC - there were only three radio channels, The Home Service, The Light Programme and the Third Network. If I recall correctly there was a total of 8 hours of pop music (records) broadcast a WEEK. We didn't have any local or community stations, let alone commercial radio. Other countries, such as USA, Canada and Australia, not only had their national networks but also a network of commercial stations providing competition and what's more there were stations, especially in North America, playing music round the clock. Not so here.

As the youth of the day, we were stymied by a broadcasting organisation that simply didn't care about providing a music service to the kids and two other organisations that stuck a big spanner in the works. The big barrier to the amount of time that could be set aside for playing records was the concept of "Needle time" - this was created in the UK by the Musicians' Union and Phonographic Performances Limited (PPL), to restrict the amount of recorded music that could be transmitted by the BBC. The Musicians' Union argued that if needle time restrictions were lifted their members would be out of work. PPL is the body that is responsible for royalty payments to record companies and performers - they argued that if records were played on the air then the public wouldn't want to buy those records. As I said earlier, this situation didn't occur in other countries so why did we have these restrictions?

Well, that situation changed in Easter 1964 when Radio Caroline started broadcasting 12 hours of music every day - outside the jurisdiction of the UK, being anchored in International waters and challenging the needle time agreement while providing the BBC with some badly needed competition. Actually the BBC already had competition of sorts for a number of years from Radio Luxembourg which broadcast record company sponsored shows to the UK in the evening. The problem was you didn't hear the full single as the record companies wanted to squeeze as many 45s as they could into their 15 or 30 minute programmes. In any case, the signal from "Luxy" on 208 was prone to fading so reception wasn't always brilliant. In July, Caroline merged with Radio Atlanta, which had come on air in May and the original Caroline sailed to take up position off the Isle of Man coast in Ramsey Bay as Caroline North.

You cannot begin to imagine the shockwaves caused by Caroline when she arrived. Remember, it was the swinging sixties. Carnaby Street was providing fashion to the youth of the day, with Mary Quant becoming an icon of the times. The Beatles and the Stones were spearheading a musical revolution and conquering the world. Now, with Caroline we had our own voice. It wasn't just that she was playing 12 hours of music a day. It was the music that was being played.

Under Head DJ, Tom Lodge, Caroline North played music that we weren't used to hearing in the UK - namely, large amount of American music, the tracks on the Billboard American Hot 100, including large amounts of R&B and soul. Caroline North DJs had a lot of freedom to play what they wanted on the "one in, one out" principle, meaning one track from the UK charts followed by anything outside the charts, an album, an American track, whatever. What's more, the DJs sounded human, unlike the scripted "droids" employed by the BBC - they ad-libbed, they were having FUN!!! And that's what I had! FUN in droves. Caroline changed my life from being a person who liked music to one who LOVED music, especially American music, especially R&B and soul.

I developed a passion for "fun" music radio that continues to this day. Unfortunately, August 14th 1967 became a watershed. After the offshore stations closed, the BBC reorganised its radio services into Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4. Radio 1 was supposed to be the pop music service but it was hindered by all the usual red-tape. Everything spoken still had to be scripted. I recall on the first day of Radio 1, Emperor Rosko tried to deliver his usual fast-paced soul-based show - this was interrupted on the half-hour by a news bulletin, read by a stuffy announcer who said "and here is the news in ENGLISH"!!! The BBC just didn't get it!! Apart from a few programmes, such as Mike Raven's R&B show, I rarely listened to Radio 1, preferring the Dutch offshore station Radio Veronica, after Caroline had ended. In fact, Radio 1 was lamentably poor at satisfying the need for soul music, whether it was the commercial soul of the day or the rarer soul. Radio 1 just didn't cut the mustard. The 1970s saw Radio Northsea International (RNI) bringing back great programming, firstly from off the Dutch coast, then a brief period off the UK, before retreating back to the Netherlands - the Dutch service, in particular, represented the commercial Philly based soul of the early to mid 70s, with excellent DJs such as Ferry Maat at the head of it all.

Going back to the 40 year anniversary of the Marine Offences Act coming into force, I just cannot believe where the years have gone. Forty years ago, I was waiting for my "A" level results. Actually 40 years ago today, on Saturday 12th August 1967, ahead of my official results by a couple or so days, I got my letter from Liverpool University confirming I had been successful in getting my place to study Electronic Engineering. One big adventure was about to commence but another one was about to come to a close. That morning, I set off with my reel-to-reel tape recorder to meet my best friend, Pete Barber. I had a stack of recordings I'd made of the various Offshore stations and their rapidly closing hours. We spent the day listening to hours of off-air recordings I'd made. Within two days, the final deadline was upon us.

There were millions of us listening over the country on that day, Monday 14th August 1967. I have a number of memories. Just before 3pm, Radio London (Big L), the most commercially successful of the Offshore stations, played its last record, the Beatles "A day in the life" from the newly released album "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". Bang on 3pm, Paul Kaye, who had been the first voice to be heard on Big L, way back in December 1964, was also the last when he announced "Big L time is three o'clock, and Radio London is now closing down." The station's theme tune, the "PAMS Sonowaltz", popularly called "Big Lil" was the last piece of music heard before the transmitter was turned off just after 3 PM. A piece of history had ended.

That continued throughout the day when, one by one, the remaining stations closed down in the countdown to midnight. I wasn't alone in shedding quite a few tears that day. The stations had served me in a number of ways, they had provided me with so much music, lots I had never heard before, especially black American music. Listening to them, I was entertained by the DJs having a ball. I'd had a very strict restrictive upbringing - my father wouldn't allow me to socialise outside school hours, so the stations became my friends. The DJs were talking to ME, not to a large crowd impersonally, but to ME! I wasn't alone! I wasn't the only one who felt this as they showed their ability to communicate, as human beings. And now it was all being threatened.

At midnight, on Caroline South, Johnnie Walker defiantly announced "Caroline continues" playing the Beatles "All you need is love" and Pete Seeger's "We shall overcome" . We all had lumps in our throats, this was a journey into the unknown, we didn't know if the Government would use force to silence Caroline, which had been such a thorn in their side. The Marine Offences Act (MOA) would make it illegal for British companies or people to advertise on or supply any offshore station and for British subjects to work on them - the penalty was a maximum fine of 400, a large amount of money in those days (over 4500 in today's terms), or two years in prison, or both! On the North ship, to some extent it was business as usual - the Isle of Man Government had refused to ratify the MOA but the law was forced through by the British Government and finally extended to the Isle of Man by an Order in Council at midnight on August 31st 1967.

Coming back to the 14th, although we didn't know what lay ahead, we knew life would be different. So many stations had been silenced in the final few months, Radio 390, Radio 355, Radio 270, Radio Scotland and, of course, Big L. Radio London had initially announced their intention to carry on broadcasting after the MOA came into effect - they were very smart financially and when they changed their mind, you began to wonder. Presumably, they'd done their sums and decided that advertising was going to be thin on the ground post MOA - in addition, their costs would escalate as they would have to service the ship from abroad, probably Holland. The tender journey would take 24 hours each way, compared to a few hours from Harwich. How would Radio Caroline fare in the new climate?

August 14th is rightly called "the day the music died" - for that reason it is still commemorated even 40 years down the line when we look back at the legacy left by the offshore stations. We would not have the present BBC national network, Radios 1 through to 5 Live, let alone the network of BBC local radio. Then there is the Commercial network. On top of that we have the community stations. And yet in 1964 the Government was sticking to the line that there wasn't room on the airwaves for these stations, let alone a need for them.

Although we have had all these developments over the last forty years, we've actually lost something over that period. Fun, innovation, excitement to name a few factors. We had a generation of people who were passionate about their music and not afraid to communicate that. We had great variety - as I mentioned earlier, Caroline North from 64 and the South ship from 66 had a policy of "one in, one out" playing a chart track followed by anything the DJ wanted, an oldie, an album track, an American hit. Commercial Radio nowadays is dire - I wouldn't know about the pop stations of the day but the oldies stations have a very narrow playlist. We have the same 500 tracks on computer on endless boring repetition. To give a couple of examples, the Beach Boys have had over 30 charting records in their career - when was the last time you heard anything other than "Good Vibrations", good though that may be. Or the Searchers, who had over a dozen hits, yet all you will hear is "Needles and Pins". Radio is run by the accountants, the boring guys in suits, not by people with passion in their veins. That's another reason we commemorate the offshore stations, the DJs were FUN amd LOVED the music!!

There have been a couple of events which have enabled me to turn the clock back 40 years. The first was run by the Radio Academy in London on Saturday 4th August entitled "A celebration of 60s offshore radio". I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss as the great and good from the days of watery wireless were going to be there. And they were! We were treated to an afternoon of behind the scenes anecdotes of what life was like in those days. I'd bought Johnnie Walker's autobiography the day before and read it on the train journey down - a really good read it was too. Johnnie was busy throughout the afternoon, signing copies of the book - I spent a few minutes with him, he's every bit the great guy we always thought. The highlight of the day was meeting my radio hero, Ronan O'Rahilly, the founder of Radio Caroline. Ronan's a pretty reclusive character, a bit paranoid about appearing in public, understandably when you consider he would have been tailed by Special Branch. Anyway, I was delighted to be able to talk with him and to convey my gratitude for what he had done. I'll be doing a write up shortly with lots of piccies of that event.

The second event is another commemoration, this time done by the local station BBC Radio Essex. At Easter 2004, they ran a special station "Pirate BBC Essex" for 6 days, trying to recreate the atmosphere of the offshore stations in homage to the start of offshore commercial radio 40 years earlier, with a number of DJs from those days, mainly Dave Cash (Radio London), Keith Skues (Radios Caroline South and London), MIke Ahern (Caroline North and South) and Roger Day (Swinging Radio England/Britain Radio, Caroline South, and in the 70s, Radio Northsea International (RNI)). In order to get that authentic feel of the old stations, they hired a Light Vessel, the LV18, the DJs stayed on board overnight just like they did in the old days with the shows were produced on board the ship, moored half a mile offshore in Harwich harbour! The programming was strictly limited to a playlist containing only records released before August 1967. The shows were streamed on the internet and achieved massive listening figures with people tuning in from all over the world. The experiment was also repeated at Easter 2005 for one day.

BBC Radio Essex really decided to go to town for the 40th anniversary of the MOA and from August 9th to 14th are doing it all over again, this time with a vast array of DJs from the Offshore days, some flying in from as far as USA, Canada and Australia to take part. The highlights have been the radio heavyweights - again Dave Cash, Keith Skues, Mike Ahern and Roger Day, joined this year by Johnnie Walker and Emperor Rosko. The latter two, in conjunction with the jocks on Caroline North are responsible for igniting my love of soul music. In true radio anorak form, I've been recording all the output of Pirate BBC Essex. The programmes from both Johnnie Walker and Rosko have been exceptional, Rosko's shows yesterday and today's (as I wrote this) have been just INCANDESCENT.

I've been having a ball this weekend. I recall, as a teenager, before I got my own radio, I would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to the living room to listen to my folks valve radio. I'd surrepticiously modified to silence the loudspeaker so as not to wake up my parents, I'd then plug in the headphones round the back and listen into the wee hours while my folks were asleep upstairs!! At midnight on Saturday nights, Rosko would come on with the greeting "It's midnight, mammio", he would roll the Little Mack and The Boss Sounds instrumental of "In the Midnight hour" and for the next three hours we'd have a high-energy soul party. When I finally saved up enough funds for a high powered communications receiver I could do without the skullduggery and listen in my bedroom with the headphones on - even then I took the panel bulbs out as my folks could see them light up the room due to a gap at the bottom of my bedroom door. I digress, but those were awesome times and Caroline was very much in step with what was happening in the clubs - forbidden territory to this young lad, but that didn't matter as I had the offshore stations

I've been turning the clock back 40 years and will be doing so for the next couple of days until the special ends on Tuesday. If you want to know more about the special broadcasts, full details are available at the Pirate BBC Essex website.To listen to the live webstream worldwide, you need Real Player (or a compatible player) - click here for the webstream.

The Soul/Music Scene

Well, after that lengthy diversion, I suppose I'd better cover some soul news, otherwise you'd be forgiven for thinking this is a radio column. As I said earlier, I've been struggling to get out on both Friday and Saturday nights, instead concentrating on a small number of venues, such as the Ritz at Brighouse and the Twisted Wheel. The Ritz looks like it's going to close at the end of the year, very much the end of an era - it has to be one of the most atmospheric venues around and will leave a big hole in the soul calendar. We'll just have to make sure we get the most out of it between now and then. As for the Wheel, well, although I love the music there as it's from my formative years, it was getting a bit samey - fortunately the promoters seem to have taken note and there has been a greater variety in recent months - music to my ears, pun unintended.

I have to admit that, currently I'm getting a bit bored with Wigan-oriented material, much preferring the Wheel based era and earlier. For that reason, the Hideaway continues to delight me with a wide range of material generally not played anywhere else. A few months back I went to the Bidds nighter at Stoke and found the music there pretty awesome, very much up my street.

I've been trying to seek out the venues that cater for the earlier stuff, a newish one being the Hare and Hounds on Shudehill in the centre of Manchester, held every 2 months on the second Saturday (the next one is on October 13th). I went to the place last night and really enjoyed myself - one of my fave "new name" DJs, Carole Fortey from Worcester was guesting - a write-up will appear over the next few days.

This last few months I've really been getting into Belgian Popcorn music in a big way - this is a strange generic term than can mean different things to different people. For me, it seems to be centred on music from the mid to late 50s through to the mid 60s. It's a mix of teen sound, girl sound, early soul, some beat ballad material and continental music, so it seems to mop up quite nicely certain types of music that hit the spot for me. Although I heard the term "Popcorn" a while ago, it was at the Hideaway in January that Linda aka Miss Nashee played some of this material - and now, I'm hooked! There are a few sites dedicated to this genre with radio shows available for download - although the programmes are presented in Dutch/Flemish that's no problem, it's the music that counts. I'll be writing more about this in the future.

Talking of writing, I've been approached by a magazine to do some writing for them, so that should be fun. I'll let you know more once we've clarified a few more details.

Site developments

Finally, I'm thinking of introducing some new features on the site, the first being a message board. The main reason for this is to get some discussion going and to give venue promoters a forum to advertise their place - I'm slightly nervous about this as I've seen some message boards infested with the idiots posting all manner of obscenities or just taking the p*ss. I really don't want to have to spend all my time moderating the board. I'd welcome comments.

Secondly, I was thinking of having a music section, catering for the less well known tracks. It would be a place where I could highlight the tracks that are doing it for me, at the moment. The plan is not for files to be of pristine CD quality - they would be in Real music format, with quality degraded to protect myself against accusations of copyright violation. Again, comments are invited.

I also want to resurrect the Events Calendar, I know this has been valued in the past and now I'm feeling stronger, I want to pick it up again, as it brings value to the site.

Anyway, it's been a marathon of a newsletter. That's it for now, see you around on the scene. If you see me at your venue, come over and say "Hi"! Keep on keepin' on!

Soulfully yours,

Al the Soulman aka The Pole with Soul


All images are copyright 2006, Alan Milewczyk (Al's Soul Shack)