A late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house

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Facing The Falling Sky album cover (image: Kathie Touin)

So, here we are, my first blog for nearly six months. Any excuse? Not really.

Not only that but my headline is stolen – it’s all in a good cause, though.

On 1 November Kathie Touin (that is Mrs Brown) released a new album of her wonderful songs, Facing The Falling Sky. And it is a super creative collection.

As the person who looks after Kathie’s publicity I am supposed to come up with snappy phrases to promote her work but I cannot beat this quote…

DJ Steve Conway says: “It’s truly brilliant. It’s like a late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house.” Thank you Steve.

Steve is a great supporter of Kathie’s music. He presents a show on Ireland’s 8Radio.com called the A-Z Of Great Tracks and, to date, six of Kathie’s songs have featured – most recently her single, Waiting For The Silence…

Previously Steve was a DJ on Radio Caroline and was one of the crew rescued by RAF helicopter in November 1991 when the station’s radio ship, Ross Revenge, drifted onto the Goodwin Sands. His book ShipRocked: Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline is highly recommended.

It is great for Kathie to get such positive feedback for the album after all the work she has put into it. She wrote the songs, played most of the instruments, did technical wizardry in her own Starling Recording Studio that goes way above my head, mixed and produced the album – oh, and created the artwork.

We held a launch for the album at Orkney Brewery which is situated, conveniently, just beyond the end of the track to our house. In fact, you can see the brewery from our dining room window.

No jokes please – we did manage to organise a launch in a brewery. We invited friends and Kathie, in her Eeyore mode, thought perhaps 10 people might come. In the event there were nearly 60 folk there and the warmth and support feeding back to Kathie meant so much to her.

I was the MC, introducing some tracks played from the CD and some songs played live by Kathie – as well as quizzing Kathie about the songs and the album. Kathie had a string trio join her for one song, Between Heaven And The Sky – thank you Linda Hamilton, cello, and Elizabeth Sullivan and Lesley Macleod, violins, it was beautiful.

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Publicity shot for Facing The Falling Sky (image: Kathie Touin)

Kathie was interviewed by BBC Radio Orkney for their daily breakfast news programme. You can hear this on Kathie’s SoundCloud feed…

She also featured in our weekly newspaper, The Orcadian, and the online Orkney News reported from the launch.

How would I describe the album? Well, herein lies a problem. These days, of course, music is distributed digitally for download and streaming as well as in physical form (CD in the case of this album). And the digital sites like to have the music put into categories.

Here, I admit, Kathie struggles and her publicity person (me) is not much help either. It is not folk, though I see on Google that is how Kathie is labelled. It is not progressive. It is not electronic. But it does have elements of all three, and more. The closest we have come is folktronic, or folktronica. Answers on a postcard please!

The digital world is a two-edged sword for artists. Potentially it gets the music to anyone, anywhere in the world thanks to Kathie’s website and to digital distribution (Apple Music, Spotify, Google Music, Amazon Music and so on).

But the downside is the income, or should I say lack of it, particularly for streams. A single stream on Spotify, to give two examples from Kathie’s previous albums, could pay you $0.00030394 or perhaps $0.00235781. I don’t know why the figures vary, both were songs written and performed by Kathie. Either way, she is not going to get rich that way.

Recently a track from Kathie’s piano music album Soliloquy Deluxe – Valses Poeticos by Granados – was streamed 133 times on Google Music Store resulting in a total payment of $0.68815381. Hey-ho.

Anyway, back to the new album, Facing The Falling Sky. It has received airplay on BBC Radio Scotland, Radio Caroline, Vectis Radio, Deal Radio, Biggles FM and Glastonbury FM and, who knows, elsewhere in the UK and beyond?

I had hoped for airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music but despite sending eight copies to various people we have not achieved that particular breakthrough. Who knows whether anyone there ever got to listen to the album from the hundreds they must receive each week?

Whatever, I think the album is fantastic and well worthy of UK-wide, indeed, worldwide, airplay. To repeat Steve Conway’s quote once more: “It’s truly brilliant. It’s like a late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house.”

Here is some more feedback Kathie has received…

“I’ve listened to it several times and each time find something else I like… Your vocals are great, a lovely sound, smooth and warm.”

“Really enjoying your CD. How catchy some of the tunes are – Waiting For The Silence is a real ear-worm!”

“Just the answer to the dreich winter weather bringing into your home a warmth and seasonal feel.”

“Such a good album packed full of great tracks.”

So there.

Poster for Kathie Touin’s new album (image: Kathie Touin)

You can buy the album from Kathie’s website – the CD comes with an attractive lyrics booklet – or from shops in Orkney including The Old Library and The Reel in Kirkwall, the Waterfront Gallery and JB Rosey in Stromness, and Castaway Crafts in Dounby.

If you are into downloads or streaming Facing The Falling Sky is on all the regular outlets including Apple Music, Google Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and CD Baby (Kathie’s digital distributor).

Go on, give it a listen. You could even email 6 Music and request a play!

Graham Brown

To find out more

Kathie’s website – http://www.kathietouin.com/

Kathie’s blog – https://kathietouin.wordpress.com/

Steve Conway on Twitter – https://twitter.com/steveconway

8Radio.com – http://8radio.com/

Radio Caroline – http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Orkney Brewery – https://www.orkneybrewery.co.uk/

The wonderful expanding universe of radio

We are 15 years into the 21st century and radio might seem old-fashioned in an age of smartphones, tablets and apps but fear not – radio is adapting and, in some ways, I believe, getting better.

I love listening to the radio, and I’ve written blogs on the subject three times before. In 2011 I complained about the programme content from Orkney’s Super Station (it has subsequently closed down); in 2012 I wrote about my childhood radio memories and some current favourites; and in 2014 I wrote about my changing listening habits in the age of the smartphone.

Kenny Everett (image: PA Photos)
Kenny Everett (image: PA Photos)

In the second of those blogs I quoted the late DJ Kenny Everett who once said: “Stay loose, keep cool, keep on trucking, and remember – telly may be too much, but wireless is wonderful.” Quite.

I am returning to the subject again because radio just keeps expanding and, in my opinion, becoming more wonderful. You have to dig around though – too many radio stations available today on FM radio in the UK, and the USA, are heavily formatted, playing the same few songs, and not allowing the presenters the freedom to be themselves.

There are some exceptions and, if you move into the internet and the world of smartphone apps, there are many good choices for your ears.

The station I most listen to is Radio Caroline. I continue to meet folk who think this one-time pirate radio, or offshore radio, station was long ago sunk. But broadcasts continue over the internet and smartphone apps thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers.

These days the station uses a land-based studio in Kent but on special occasions the last Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge, is still used.

As I wrote in my most recent blog (A Remarkable 24 Hours), the Ross Revenge is now moored on the River Blackwater and last month a day’s broadcasting came from the ship thanks to some very clever new technology.

To repeat what Radio Caroline said on their website: “Friday’s experimental live broadcast from the Ross Revenge was a great success. We were trialling a high tech means of getting the signal ashore and into our web streams – a 4G Wi-Fi router fitted with a small outdoor omni-directional aerial to ensure a constant mobile data signal as the ship moves through 180 degrees with the tide.” That’s pretty neat, I would say.

Radio Caroline's Ross Revenge on the River Blackwater (image: Steve Anthony)
Radio Caroline’s Ross Revenge on the River Blackwater (image: Steve Anthony)

The presenters – Kevin Turner, Barry James and Steve Anthony – were clearly having great fun and the sound quality on my internet radios was excellent. I hope they are able to do more of this in the future.

But this is not the only development from Radio Caroline. A new station, or stream to use the modern parlance, was launched earlier this year, Caroline Flashback.

As you might imagine from the name, the music on Caroline Flashback is geared more to the Sixties and Seventies. Gradually – remember this is all voluntary – the schedule is moving from non-stop music to one with regular programmes. These include Caroline favourite Roger Day and a chance to hear again the station’s specialist music programmes such as the brilliant Good Rocking Tonight, presented by Dell Richardson. A schedule appears at the bottom of this blog.

Alongside the main Radio Caroline service – which features largely album music, broadly in the rock category, with knowledgeable, engaged presenters – Caroline Flashback provides a useful alternative, depending on what mood I am in.

Radio Caroline has a fascinating, and still developing, history, much more detailed than I can explain properly here. But, briefly, Radio Caroline began in 1964 with broadcasts from a ship off the south-east coast of England. Shortly afterwards Radio Atlanta began broadcasting nearby but within two months the stations merged to form Radio Caroline North and Radio Caroline South.

This archive film of the briefly-lived Radio Atlanta is fascinating – look at the jackets and ties the “pirate” presenters are wearing:

As I said, Radio Caroline is available through its website, its own smartphone app and through other apps such as TuneIn.

TuneIn is well worth exploring – it streams, onto my phone, stations from all around the world. And, the pro version, which is not expensive, gives me the ability to record programmes.

So my online favourites – such as Steve Conway’s A To Z Of Great Tracks on 8Radio.com, or the archive 1970s Dutch top 20 on RNI – can if necessary be recorded and saved for a convenient time.

New discoveries available from TuneIn and/or my internet radios are made all the time. Recent ones include WGHT 1500 AM, an oldies station in New Jersey (it is fun hearing the adverts and the weather reports); Serenade Radio, an online easy listening station based in England; and KJZZ 91.5 FM, a public radio station in Arizona (where my in-laws now live).

There has also been a significant recent development from the BBC – its excellent BBC iPlayer Radio app now offers the ability to download programmes to my smartphone for listening (without the need for wi-fi, 3G or 4G) at a later date. The sound quality is really good.

It should be noted that most of the programmes are time-limited and, after a certain date, will delete themselves, though hopefully not in the style of the Mission Impossible tapes in the late 1960s US TV series.

But there is also a huge archive of older BBC Radio programmes, for example more than 1,500 editions of Desert Island Discs, which are not time limited.

Incidentally, the FM Radio on my smartphone – in itself an app – was upgraded recently and that now offers me the ability to record programmes.

All of which means that, finally, after more than 40 years, my use of cassette tapes for recording from the radio is diminishing quickly.

Well, I could go on but I must reach for the off switch. Before I go, a quick mention for some of the super programmes I have featured in previous blogs and still love – Alex Hawkins’ Homely Remedies on Frome FM, Alan Waring at breakfast on Biggles FM, and my old chum Graham Lovatt who presents the Eclectic Eel Radio Show via the Mixcloud platform (49 wonderful back episodes are available) and Radio Vera.

Yes, like the actual universe, the radio universe is expanding. What will be next?

Graham Brown

PS Currently listening to Ray Clark on Radio Caroline

My previous radio blogs

Where is the Super Station in Orkney? –

Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out –

Radio diamonds in a digital age – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/radio-diamonds/

To find out more

Radio Caroline website: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Wikipedia on Radio Atlanta: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Atlanta

Alan Beech’s website on MV Ross Revenge: http://www.rossrevenge.co.uk/

TuneIn: http://tunein.com/

WGHT 1500 AM: http://www.wghtradio.com/

Serenade Radio: http://www.serenade-radio.com/

KJZZ: http://kjzz.org/

Desert Island Discs archive: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnmr

Homely Remedies on Frome FM: http://frome.fm/programmes/music/homely-remedies/

Biggles FM: http://www.bigglesfm.com/

The Eclectic Eel Radio Show: https://www.mixcloud.com/GrahamLovatt/

Caroline Flashback schedule (as of 24 August 2015, UK times)

14.00-16.00 Ray Collins (repeat)
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-19.00 Steve Anthony (repeat)
22.00-23.00 Gary Ziepe: Mellow Show (repeat)

14.00-16.00 Tony Christian (repeat)
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-21.00 Stafford’s World
21.00-00.00 60s & 70s Request Show (simulcast with Radio Caroline)

16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-19.00 Steve Anthony (repeat)
19.00-21.00 Archive Roots Americana Show (repeat from Radio Caroline)

16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-19.00 Steve Scott
20.00-21.00 The Elvis Hour (repeat from Radio Caroline)
22.00-00.00 Barry James

16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-21.00 Good Rocking Tonight (repeat from Radio Caroline)

10.00-12.00 Tony Christian
12.00-13.00 Dave Foster: Retro Chart Show
13.00-14.00 Steve Anthony
14.00-16.00 Ray Collins
16.00-18.00 Graham L Hall
19.00-21.00 Barry James (repeat)

10.00-11.00 Gary Ziepe: Mellow Show
12.00-13.00 Dave Foster: Retro Chart Show (repeat)
13.00-14.00 Steve Anthony
14.00-16.00 Brian Cullen
16.00-18.00 Graham L Hall (repeat)

Thank you to the guys on the Radio Caroline Fan Mailing List on Yahoo! for the Caroline Flashback scheduling information: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/RadioCarolineMailinglist/info

Radio Caroline schedules are on the main station website: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

A remarkable 24 hours

John Otway at Stromness Town Hall (image: Graham Brown)
John Otway at Stromness Town Hall (image: Graham Brown)

My 24 hours from Thursday lunchtime to Friday lunchtime were memorable for events that were planned and unexpected, joyous and life-affirming, positive, satisfying, wondrous and downright lucky.

It all began on Thursday afternoon when, in my guise as a volunteer for the Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project, I had set up interviews with Donald Morrison, a journalist from BBC Alba (the BBC’s Gaelic TV service).

I went to the Kitchener Memorial car park, not far from my home in Orkney, where I met Donald and two of my fellow committee members from our project – chairman Neil Kermode and naval expert Andrew Hollinrake.

The Kitchener Memorial was unveiled in 1926 to mark the death of Earl Kitchener when HMS Hampshire sank just off Orkney. He was a great hero of British Empire and, at the time of his death in June 1916, the British Secretary of State for War and a member of the British Cabinet.

We are restoring the memorial to its original condition and building alongside an HMS Hampshire commemorative wall engraved with the names of all 737 men who died.

Andrew Hollinrake interviewed by Donald Morrison of BBC Alba (image: Graham Brown)
Andrew Hollinrake interviewed by Donald Morrison of BBC Alba (image: Graham Brown)

Donald recorded the TV interviews in the car park with the memorial on the hill in the background. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and the three of us from the committee felt good that the project is making progress.

The resulting report should be on BBC Alba this week – when I get confirmation I will add details in a comment on this blog.

Poster for John Otway's Orkney gigs (image: John Otway/Rebecca Marr)
Poster for John Otway’s Orkney gigs (image: John Otway/Rebecca Marr)

On Thursday evening Kathie Touin (Mrs Brown) and I went to Stromness Town Hall to see John Otway in concert – if you know him, you probably love him. If you have never seen him, well, I hardly know where to begin.

It was a great big fun evening from the man who styles himself Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure, energetic as ever despite his upcoming 63rd birthday.

There are videos of John on the internet but you need to see him live to really enjoy Body Talk, Headbutts, John’s call-and-response version of The House Of The Rising Sun and his unique versions of Crazy Horses and Blockbuster. Almost overlooked in the crazy antics is the beauty and detailed lyrics of some of his more serious songs – often about lost or unobtainable love.

The evening was made even better by the friendly crowd in the hall – I met Twitter friend @ORKitNEY (Pete Kitney) in person for the first time – and because I won a major prize in the raffle, six John Otway CDs.

Back at home on Friday morning I tuned in to Radio Caroline – yes, still broadcasting after all these years…

A quick resume for new readers, Radio Caroline began in 1964 as the first of the British offshore radio, or pirate radio, stations. More than 50 years and various shipwrecks later the station is run by volunteers, broadcasting from a studio in Kent, available on the internet and via apps such as TuneIn and Caroline’s own app.

But Friday was special because, according to internet rumour, broadcasts were being made from Radio Caroline’s last ship, the Ross Revenge, now preserved and moored on the River Blackwater in Essex, England. And, indeed, they were.

Radio Caroline's Ross Revenge on the River Blackwater (image: Radio Caroline)
Radio Caroline’s Ross Revenge on the River Blackwater (image: Radio Caroline)

The station’s website explained afterwards: “Friday’s experimental live broadcast from the Ross Revenge was a great success. We were trialling a high tech means of getting the signal ashore and into our web streams – a 4G Wi-Fi router fitted with a small outdoor omni-directional aerial to ensure a constant mobile data signal as the ship moves through 180 degrees with the tide.”

It was certainly fun to listen to the presenters thoroughly enjoying themselves broadcasting from the ship again. The technology used was impressive and the resulting sound quality on my two internet radios was excellent. Here’s to more broadcasts from the Ross Revenge in the future [more about Radio Caroline in a future blog].

While I was listening to Radio Caroline there was further excitement when Kathie spotted a buzzard eating worms on next-door’s lawn and occasionally sitting on our fence posts. Normally we see starlings and sparrows on the lawn, and sometimes gulls, so to see this large bird of prey was impressive.

Buzzard on our garden fence post (image: Kathie Touin)
Buzzard on our garden fence post (image: Kathie Touin)

We spoke to experts who think this was a youngster, possibly struggling to find food (eg rabbits) in wet weather. The buzzard attracted interest from a hen harrier, which circled low a few times, and from three hooded crows which landed nearby and appeared to be trying to pull its tail feathers. The buzzard came back again over the next day or two – let’s hope it finds something more substantial to eat.

But back to my remarkable 24 hours. Next on Friday morning I went online to apply for a new smartphone for Kathie – our account happens to be in my name – and got an amazing result.

Apparently, though this seems to good to be true, because of a discount on my account (due to a previous error by our provider Virgin), and because the new monthly contract charge is lower, we will pay nothing each month. We also get a free tablet with the smartphone! I hope it isn’t too good to be true – the smartphone and tablet are on their way by courier.

Roscoe digging up beach at Bay of Skaill - watch out, Atlantic approaching! (image: Graham Brown)
Roscoe digging up beach at Bay of Skaill – watch out, Atlantic approaching! (image: Graham Brown)

Kathie and I rounded off our 24-hours by taking our Border collie Roscoe to the beach at Bay of Skaill, a short car ride from our house, where he loves to dig up the sand and take in the fresh air. As usual the beach, facing the Atlantic, was almost deserted. It is one of the outings that remind us what a special place Orkney is to live, and how lucky we are.

It was a remarkable 24-hours. And Saturday wasn’t bad either…

Before breakfast I took Roscoe on a long morning walk past our village shop and into the countryside with views, again, of the Atlantic. On the way back we met a friend exercising her three collies in the garden – chasing tennis balls – so Roscoe was able to join in. By the time we got home he was exhausted.

Then Kathie and I went to Kirkwall to collect Kathie’s £10 rocking chair from Restart Orkney (a shop in Kirkwall selling second-hand furniture and household goods). With a bit of fiddling about we managed to squeeze the chair into the back of Kathie’s Volvo estate. A bargain we can relax in – the chair, I mean, though you could say it of the Volvo.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon our lawn mower – back in use because our regular lawn-cutting man is away – packed up on only its third time of asking since we started using it again. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project blog – https://kitchenerhampshire.wordpress.com/

Donate to the Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project – https://www.justgiving.com/orkneyheritagesociety/

John Otway’s website – http://www.johnotway.com/

Wikipedia on John Otway – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Otway

Radio Caroline – http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

RSPB on buzzards – http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/b/buzzard/

Virgin Mobile – http://store.virginmedia.com/virgin-media-mobile.html

Wikipedia on Bay of Skaill – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_of_Skaill

Restart Orkney – http://www.orkneycommunities.co.uk/EMPLOYABILITY/index.asp?pageid=592047

Flashes of memory – and the latest from Orkney

Binscarth Woods, Orkney (image: Graham Brown)
Binscarth Woods, Orkney (image: Graham Brown)

Back in August 2012 I wrote a blog about memories, called “Sorry, I seem to have forgotten”, and I would like to return to the subject with some more recollections.

I wrote about how memories can, sometimes, be just a snippet – it is as if we have a few seconds of film, sometimes grainy, sometimes vivid, with everything before and after missing.

So I remember as a small child going to the Huntingdon Agricultural Show and one of the entertainments in the main ring was Red Indians (as we in England described Native Americans then) riding around on horses. One of them caught me with water from a water pistol. I think the event was quite scary for a small child – I was standing by the ring and men on horses were really big – which is why the flash of that moment has stuck in my mind. Incidentally, today such an event would not be held because the Red Indians must surely have been British folk masquerading – and wearing coloured make-up.

I also remember each summer staying with my grandparents for a holiday and how grandad would go out with a bucket and a spade, after the Co-operative milk float had gone by, to collect the horse droppings for his garden. Yes, I am that old, the Co-op milk float was pulled by a horse in Peterborough in those days.

And when I was a little older, I think, I remember my uncle on one of his visits home from South Africa, arguing with my father in a good-natured way about road directions as we drove through rural England, Northamptonshire or Leicestershire perhaps. It resulted in us going through a village we could have avoided and my father saying to my uncle: “Well, that was a piece of England you would have missed if we hadn’t done that.” The rest of that day is lost to my memory.

Just this morning, No Particular Place To Go by Chuck Berry popped up on Caroline Flashback – an excellent new service from Radio Caroline – and it took me back to the mid-Seventies when I started driving. I remember driving my father’s new Ford Cortina Ghia over what was then the only bridge in Peterborough across the River Nene as that song came on the radio. It’s as clear as yesterday, the song started just as we turned the corner onto the bridge. However, unlike the song, I was driving with my parents and not a glamorous young woman. By the way, a Ford Cortina Ghia was quite the car to own in those days.

But the memory also plays tricks. I am reading a book called Speed Six by Bruce Carter – bought second-hand because I loved it as a youngster. Set in the Fifties, it tells the story of three romantics who take a 25-year-old Bentley back to Le Mans to enter the 24-hour race.

One of the things I remembered about the book was how, at the beginning, a bread delivery van races away from traffic lights and it turns out to be driven by some sort of mechanical genius. Except, when I came to read Speed Six, that section wasn’t there. Further research reveals this passage is in another of Bruce Carter’s books, Four Wheel Drift, which I must also have read as a child. Since then my memory conflated the two books.

Well, what memories have we been making in Orkney in the merry month of May? First, may I say, the weather has been windier, cooler and wetter than it should have been which has slowed down our gardening – and presented real problems for the farmers.

Our new flower order (image: Graham Brown)
Our new flower border (image: Graham Brown)

But we have created a new flower border in front of our house with reclaimed stone. I was even able to follow in my grandad’s footsteps and collect droppings for the border after some horses walked down the track past our house.

We planted ten alder trees between our house and next-door, then had to put tree guards on to keep the rabbits from eating them, then had to add extra stakes in very rocky soil to try to keep the guards upright in the unseasonable winds.

We’ve also had fun with our bird-feeders. We stopped using expensive metal ones because the gulls would steal them. But the plastic ones were chewed through, in a systematic way, as if someone had clipped pieces out with strong scissors. Opinion varies as to whether it was the gulls, or one of our neighbourhood rats, or both. We have, however, seen the rat easily scale the narrow metal pole from which the bird-feeders hang. So now we only put out small amounts of food at a time, and the feeders are firmly tied in place.

We had a lovely early morning walk, six o’clock start – on a beautiful day, for once – in Binscarth Woods as part of Orkney Nature Festival, listening both to birdsong and to the expert explanations of Professor Peter Slater. As it said in the festival programme: “Professor Slater, former Professor of Natural History at St Andrews and current President of the Orkney Field Club, quite literally wrote the book on bird song!”

Orkney Folk Festival, from left: Kathie Touin, Frank Keenan, Hilary Allen, compere David Delday & Steve Miller (image: Graham Brown)
Orkney Folk Festival, from left: Kathie Touin, Frank Keenan, Hilary Allen, compere David Delday & Steve Miller (image: Graham Brown)

Orkney is famous for its festivals and so we go from nature to folk – Kathie Touin (my wife, if you are new to my blog) played at Orkney Folk Festival in Frank Keenan’s band at the Deerness, East Mainland, concert. Kathie was playing keyboards and singing harmonies. Frank plays guitar and sings his self-penned songs, also in the band were Hilary Allen on percussion and Steve Miller on clarinet and whistle. It was the first appearance for that particular line-up and they made an excellent showcase for Frank’s thoughtful songs.

Speaking of thoughtful songs, well, perhaps not, Kathie and I watched the Eurovision Song Contest – always an enjoyable, silly and camp evening. I thought the UK entry, by Electro Velvet, deserved to do better, they certainly gave a good performance. We have friends who are promising a Eurovision party next year so I might have to dress up myself.

We used the name Electo Velvet for our team at the Quoyloo village quiz evening in the Old School and were rather more successful – we won. There were six of us and I cannot take much credit though from somewhere at the back of my mind I came up with three important answers: lollipop, Adolf Hitler and attempted assassination of Queen Victoria. I’ll leave you to imagine what the questions might have been.

Of course, the biggest news on our island this month has been our Orkney & Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, former Scottish Secretary in the Coalition Government. He was re-elected as an MP at the General Election on 7 May with a vastly reduced majority, only for his part in leaking a document damaging to Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Scottish National Party to be made public, leading to calls for him to stand down or to face a by-election.

It would take another blog to go into the details of this, and the various arguments for and against, and I am not going to do so here. Suffice to say, it has been the topic of much conversation and sometimes heated debate, and will be for some time yet.

Bee-eater in Quoyloo, Orkney (fuzzy image by Graham Brown)
Bee-eater in Quoyloo, Orkney (fuzzy image: Graham Brown)

Finally, just yesterday afternoon, we were driving along the track back to our house when Kathie spotted a bee-eater sitting on the fence. What an amazingly coloured, beautiful bird. They are only very occasionally seen in Orkney when they overshoot on their migration, so we were very lucky. We watched the bee-eater for a few minutes, before it flew off into the distance. And, that, metaphorically, is what I am going to do now.

Graham Brown

To find out more

My previous memories blog – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/sorry-i-seem-to-have-forgotten/

Radio Caroline, recommended listening – http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Orkney Nature Festival – http://orkneynaturefestival.org/

Orkney Folk Festival – http://www.orkneyfolkfestival.com/

Wikipedia on the European bee-eater – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_bee-eater

Radio diamonds in a digital age


A microphone? In fact, this is a radio (image: Graham Brown)
A microphone? In fact, this is a radio (image: Graham Brown)

Back in November 2012 I wrote a blog about my love of radio – “Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out”. The blog was loosely connected to the 90th anniversary of BBC Radio and my scary realisation that I had been listening for about half of those years. I made a reference to “apps available for those of you with smart phones”, a gadget which I didn’t have at the time. But now I do and I realise that as a result my listening habits are evolving. More of that shortly.

Yes, I still love my two internet radios which have opened up a world, literally, of possibilities of listening pleasure. And still my favourite station is Radio Caroline, this year celebrating its, I should say her, 50th birthday.

I still listen to FM radio, particularly for BBC Radio Orkney’s daily broadcast, and for BBC Radios 2, 3 and 4. Sometimes I listen to DAB digital radio and just occasionally good old AM. Remember AM? Or, as it was called years ago, medium wave? Medium wave. It sounds like an unenthusiastic greeting from a distance. “I saw Jim in the high street, can’t stand that man, I just gave him a medium wave.”

Truth be told, there’s not much on AM here in Orkney: we can receive BBC Radio 5 Live, just about, but not Talksport, otherwise there are a few Scandinavian stations and, at night in the winter, you would once have heard the mighty Radio Luxembourg on 208 metres. Remember that? If so, you are older than you are letting on. The last time I was able to check the transmitter is now hired out to China Radio International at night.

But now my smart phone is opening up an even bigger world of listening possibilities. Or perhaps a solar system of possibilities. Or perhaps I’m stretching this simile a little far. Snap, yes, there it goes.

Through my smart phone I’ve discovered the joys of TuneIn Radio, SoundCloud, MixCloud and a renewed interest in BBCiPlayer Radio. In fact, these clever little apps are also available on traditional computers.

TuneIn Radio allows me to listen, broadly, to the same radio stations as on my internet radio. But here is the really clever bit. Pay a small one-off fee – just £2.49 – and you get TuneIn Radio Pro which allows you to record programmes to listen at your convenience, or to keep for repeated listening.

Steve Conway at the microphone (image: Steve Conway)
Steve Conway at the microphone (image: Steve Conway)

One show I like to catch is Steve Conway on 8 Radio, an Irish radio station. He was one of the final DJs on the offshore Radio Caroline and had to leave the ship, Ross Revenge, in a frightening storm after she ran aground on the Goodwin Sands.

Steve is now working through a mammoth task. He presents The A-Z of Great Tracks each Wednesday at 8.00pm, and Saturday at 10.00am (all times UK). Last night he was eight weeks into songs beginning with B (they included Best Of My Love and Bette Davis Eyes), and Steve reckons he has another 13 or 14 weeks of B to go. He must have spent hours pulling this personal A-Z together. Wonderful.

Another show I recorded on TuneIn until recently was Radio Seagull’s Graham Lovatt but Graham has moved – and his show is available on-demand through something new to me, Mixcloud.

How do I explain Mixcloud? Their website proclaims: “Re-think Radio” and “Listen to the best DJs and radio presenters in the world”. It is a streaming service but instead of non-stop music it hosts shows presented by DJs.

Graham Lovatt, a shy guy (image: Graham Lovatt)
Graham Lovatt, a shy guy (image: Graham Lovatt)

Actually, that was fairly easy to explain but how about Graham’s show? Words are not enough, you need to hear it… It is called The Eclectic Eel Radio Show and I suppose you might say it is somewhat in the spirit of John Peel shows but more wide-ranging, and featuring old, sometimes very old, material along with the new.

Earlier in the year Graham described one of his shows with these words on Twitter: “”Hip-hop, Electronica, Musique Concrete, Rocksteady, Haitian jazz, R&B, Bossa Nova, Hindi Disco & Catherine Deneuve!” What more can I say? Fantastic.

Of course, once you start exploring these less well-known radio shows, who knows where you might end up? I think it was a recommendation of Graham to tune in to Alex Holmes who presents two programmes on Frome FM, in Somerset, England – Open Studio and Homely Remedies.

Alex Holmes (image: Alex Holmes)
Alex Holmes (image: Alex Holmes)

Alex’s shows are warm and relaxed, there is usually a live guest, the music is sometimes acoustic, sometimes electronic, very often there is nothing you have heard before. On a recent show I particularly enjoyed Blind River Scare and Keith Christmas, and will be purchasing their music as a result.

And, to declare an interest, Alex’s Frome FM programmes have featured two tracks by Mrs Brown, better known as Kathie Touin, Season Of The Raven and Adam’s Kiss.

But I also mentioned SoundCloud. Well, you could spend all day listening to this. For a start, it is where BBC Radio Orkney programmes are posted in case you miss them. And BBC Radio Shetland does the same – so I was able to listen to the RSPB’s Helen Moncrieff present the station’s latest request show at the end of Shetland Nature Festival.

Among the many contributors to SoundCloud are The Economist magazine, Motor Sport magazine, National Public Radio from the USA, Penguin books, Orcadian musician Fiona Driver, and RTE, the Irish broadcaster.

RTE Radio 1 Documentary On One logo
RTE Radio 1 Documentary On One logo

Earlier this year RTE posted a magical programme from their Documentary On One strand – Sister Brid Is Heading For High Places. It followed a 65-year-old nun, Sister Brid, who had lost her sight, taking part in a charity challenge to climb Mount Brandon in Kerry. As she walked and climbed, those around her described the scenery but it was Sister Brid’s insights into life that gave the programme its vision. Beautiful.


I could go on – as you may have noticed – it’s worth another plug for my friend Alan Waring, mentioned in my previous radio blog, who presents a splendid weekday community breakfast show on Biggles FM; a shout for Rory Auskerry, an Orcadian working for the BBC in Salford, who also hosts some pretty loud rock shows, such as Route 66, Sundays at 7.00pm on Pure 107.8FM; hello, from me in Orkney, to islands on the other side of the Earth, and to the Falkland Islands Radio Service; and we cannot forget the seemingly endless great programmes from the BBC available on BBC iPlayer.

These shows are diamonds, some polished, some engagingly raw, but truly diamonds shining in a mass of digital communications. Please go explore.

Graham Brown

To find out more

My previous blog about radio, “Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out”: https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/radio_90/

TuneIn: http://tunein.com/

Mixcloud: http://www.mixcloud.com/

SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/

BBC iPlayer Radio: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/

Radio Caroline: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

8 Radio: http://8radio.com/

Steve Conway on Twitter: https://twitter.com/steveconway

Graham Lovatt’s The Eclectic Eel Radio Show: http://www.mixcloud.com/GrahamLovatt/

Graham Lovatt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheGrahamLovatt

Frome FM: http://frome.fm/

Alex Hawkins’ Homely Remedies: http://www.homelyremedies.com/

BBC Radio Orkney on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/radio-orkney

BBC Radio Shetland on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/bbcradioshetland

Biggles FM: http://www.bigglesfm.com/

Rory Auskerry: http://www.roryauskerry.com/

Fiona Driver: http://www.fionadriver.com/

Falkland Islands Radio Service on TuneIn: http://tunein.com/radio/Falkland-Islands-Radio-Service-883-s111551/

RTE documentary Sister Brid Is Heading For High Places: https://soundcloud.com/doc-on-one/sr-brid-is-heading-for-high

Look and Learn: magazines I remember

This week will be the end of an era in the Brown household. I’m about to stop being a regular reader of the Radio Times.

As a child I would look forward keenly each week to the arrival of the Radio Times and the TV Times, which were delivered with the family newspaper. In particular, I seem to recall, I would look through the radio listings to see what was coming up in the next week.

I should explain for younger readers that, in those days, copyright restrictions meant that the week’s BBC TV and Radio programmes only appeared in the Radio Times, and the week’s ITV programmes only appeared in the TV Times. This was before Channel 4 existed, or any other TV channels beyond BBC One, BBC Two and ITV. But to get your full week’s listings you had to buy both the magazines. Amazing, isn’t it? How quaint we were in those days.

Newspapers at the time were allowed to publish that day’s TV and radio listings but no more. This changed – along with many other aspects of British life, for good and ill – during Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister.

An archive Radio Times cover, showing Jon Pertwee as the Doctor (image: copyright BBC)
An archive Radio Times cover, showing Jon Pertwee as the Doctor (image: copyright BBC)

My interest in broadcasting, radio in particular, obviously started at a young age and continues today – my two internet radios are my favourite gadgets (see my previous blog: Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out).

But back to the Radio Times. The reason I have stuck with it for so long is that, unlike other listings magazines, it has a decent radio guide and, if I’m honest, because of its links with the BBC.

In fact, when I worked for the BBC I would get a free Radio Times as part of the membership fee I paid to belong to the BBC [staff] Club.

But recently I’ve found the magazine’s articles less interesting – they’re often concerned with films, for instance – and the price has crept up to £1-60. The magazine’s links with the BBC are diminished as well as it is no longer owned by BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial arm.

So I’ve taken the plunge and ordered, from our splendid local shop, Isbister’s in Quoyloo, a magazine called Total TV Guide, price £1-10, which has reasonable radio coverage. I will be collecting my first copy today, we’ll see how we get on together.

But this change of habit put me in mind of other magazines I have enjoyed over the years…

Most men, I think, claim to have read comics such as The Dandy and The Beano as children, filled with the exploits of Desperate Dan, Minnie the Minx, Lord Snooty and all their pals. I recall reading these comics at school when the weather was too bad for us to play outside at lunchtime.

But as a child, as well as reading the Radio Times and TV Times, I had a magazine called Look and Learn delivered. This was presumably encouraged by my parents. The title tells it all. My memory of this publication is a bit hazy but I recall it was something like a print version of the Blue Peter TV programme, fun but with the emphasis on learning and education. I’m not complaining, I enjoyed it very much.

Later, as a young teenager, or should I say young fogey, I remember sometimes buying The Illustrated London News, a venerable publication then reaching the end of its days. Actually, I should have kept my copies, they would now be worth something significant on eBay, I imagine.

I would also read the weekly music newspapers, which no longer exist in that form. I read, though surely I could not afford the time or money for all of them every week, Sounds, Melody Maker, New Musical Express (NME) and Record Mirror. Of these, I think only NME exists today but in a very different form.

I must have read many other magazines but the next one to stick in my mind is The Face, a music-based style magazine from the 1980s. This was an odd choice for me, as I’ve never been what you would call stylish.

Later I migrated to the music magazine Q, and then its sister publication Mojo, which was more to my taste, but eventually I stopped buying this as well. How many articles can you read about how great the past was?

When I first lived in London, in the late Eighties, and for some time afterwards, I would buy Time Out each week. For those who haven’t lived in the UK capital, it is a listings magazine. I would pore over it each week looking for the best gigs, films and events to attend. I left London early in 2010 but I understand that, now, the magazine is now given away free at Tube stations.

Today I read our local monthly magazine, Living Orkney; The Scots Magazine, excellent value at £2-30; a home-made effort about Radio Caroline called Horizon magazine (published every two months); the quarterly RSPB members’ publication Birds; plus, occasional freebies and odd purchases.

Do you recall any particular magazines that were your favourites as a child, or when you were younger, or perhaps now? I’d love to hear your memories and thoughts.

Find out more







Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out

Great mug for coffee and radio listening
Great mug for coffee and radio listening

The BBC’s recent celebration of 90 years of radio broadcasting has got me thinking – I reckon I’ve been a listener for around half of those years, which is a bit scary.

I’m not sure exactly when I started listening to the radio. I would love to say I can remember the so-called pirate stations of the Sixties – such as Radio Caroline or Radio London – which broadcast from ships, or disused military forts, outside UK territorial waters.

Frustratingly my late mother once told me that she was a Radio Caroline listener in the Sixties and, therefore, so was I. Since you’re asking, I was born in December 1957. But I don’t remember this.

I do know that I have a huge jukebox of Sixties hits in my head, records that I can recall inside out, and I can’t have got all that into my brain from the weekly TV show Top Of The Pops so, probably, I was listening to Caroline with mother but just thought of it as music coming out of the radio.

I can also vaguely recall being excited about a news item, in 1967, that the BBC was launching its own pop service, Radio 1, and I can recall my father being less than excited.

But my first clear recollections of listening to pop radio are from about 1970. As I started to get out and explore beyond my own home I met a couple of likely lads who told me how you could hear pop music all evening, every evening, on Radio Luxembourg.

It is hard to imagine now but in those days Radio 1 closed down at 7pm, just as Radio Luxembourg – known affectionately as Luxy – was starting its English broadcasts beamed from the Grand Duchy.

I can even recall the Luxy DJ line-up when I first started listening: Bob Stewart, Kid (later David) Jensen, Tony Prince (“Your Royal Ruler”), Dave Christian and Paul Burnett, shortly afterwards joined by Mark Wesley.

Someone who is even more of an anorak than me will now write to tell me that this line-up is incorrect! That’s fine – bring on the comments, criticisms and omissions.

I was also listening to Radio 1 around this time, although my recollection of exact dates is hazy. But I remember the breakfast show with Tony Blackburn; Top Gear – yes, it was called that – which was a progressive music show presented by John Peel; the brilliant Kenny Everett – until he was sacked; Junior Choice with Ed Stewart; and the Tuesday lunchtime chart rundown with Johnnie Walker.

And at some point – perhaps around 1973 – I loved the Saturday line-up of Stuart Henry, who for some reason started at the odd time of 9.55am, with his exciting theme tune of The Bar-Kays’ Soul Finger and his wonderful Scottish delivery: “It’s Stu-art Henry ma friends”. He was followed at noon by the American DJ Emperor Rosko who was unlike anything else on UK radio. If you’ve seen the film The Boat That Rocked (called Pirate Radio in North America), the character The Count is loosely based on Rosko.

Anyone who listened to Radio 1 in the early days as the 7pm closedown approached cannot forget, on a dark evening, that it was almost impossible to hear the music because the station’s AM frequency – or medium wavelength as we said in those days – was also used by Radio Tirana from Albania. They broadcast a recording of a short trumpet solo repeated over and over though, presumably, they eventually got around to some programmes. I can still hear it in my head: “Da, da, da-da, da, da, daa.”

Then at 10pm on weeknights – goodness, this was exciting – Radio 1 was allowed to use the Radio 2 FM frequencies for two hours! I should say FM was known as VHF in those days. The late night broadcasts were Sounds Of The Seventies, introduced by the groovy Theme One music written by George Martin. The music was progressive, the presenters included John Peel, Alan Black, Pete Drummond and Bob Harris.

I might not recall listening to music from the Sixties radio ships but the Seventies were very different. Soon after discovering Radio Luxembourg I came across – I think by playing around with my parents’ Grundig radio – RNI, which was broadcast from a ship anchored off Holland.

RNI was Radio North Sea International, broadcasting in English and Dutch. At first I was puzzled why it was not RNSI until I discovered that in Dutch the station was Radio Noordzee International.

RNI had a checkered history – see the links at the foot of this blog – but the importance for me was this was the first time I had directly experienced the excitement of offshore broadcasting, hearing about the storms, never being sure if the broadcast would be there tomorrow, wondering what had happened if there was dead air, hearing a break in the news because the newsreader’s chair had slid across the studio… it all added to the bond between presenters and listeners, and to the spirit and energy of the station.

Soon after discovering RNI I also found Radio Veronica, a Dutch station which unbeknown to me had been broadcasting since 1960.

Radio Caroline mug, itself about 35 years old
Radio Caroline mug, itself about 35 years old

Then in 1972 came my first remembered experience of Radio Caroline when the station returned to the airwaves after a four-year break. The ship, Mi Amigo, was in poor condition but one way or another the station continued, sometimes intermittently, until the boat sank to the bottom of the Thames Estuary in 1980. I loved Radio Caroline, particularly with its Seventies format of album tracks and more grown-up music.

In 1983 Radio Caroline returned – this time broadcasting from the rather more sturdy Ross Revenge, a former North Sea trawler which had featured in the 1970s Cod Wars with Iceland.

Once again, I loved the station, and the airwaves became even more exciting when Caroline was joined in 1984 by another ship anchored nearby, the MV Communicator, home of the radio station Laser 558. For those who know the smart besuited US Republican pundit Charlie Wolf through his appearances on UK news programmes – well, he was a DJ on Laser 558. Another of my favourites was Tommy “What A Guy” Rivers.

I mustn’t go on and on, you can read the history on the Caroline website (see below). Or go and buy Steve Conway’s excellent book Shiprocked: Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline to see what it was really like to be there.

Eventually, after adventures, raids and shipwrecks, the days of broadcasting from the high seas came to an end. But Radio Caroline continues today: the volunteer team of presenters play a great selection of music and it is easy to hear them. They broadcast online and there are even apps available for those of you with smart phones.

Over the years there have been numerous Caroline presenters but just some of the names I remember from the Seventies and Eighties include Johnny Reece, Steve Masters, Randall Lee Rose, Dave Asher, Caroline Martin, Dave Richards, Peter Philips, Johnny Lewis, Tom Anderson, Graham Gill, Tony Allan, Johnny Jason, Andy Archer, Peter Chicago and Jay Jackson.

And today’s Caroline line-up includes Peter Antony (who played tracks from my wife Kathie Touin’s album Dark Moons & Nightingales one memorable Saturday morning), Pat Edison, Steve Conway (author of Shiprocked), Nick Jackson, Johnny Lewis, Bob Lawrence, Del Richardson (presenter of Tuesday rock ‘n’ roll show Good Rockin’ Tonight), Barry James – well, I could go on, do give them a listen…


Tuned into Radio Caroline via an internet radio
Tuned into Radio Caroline via an internet radio

But back to my childhood, I wasn’t just listening to music radio and pirate stations. I can remember at breakfast the family listened to a regional magazine programme on BBC Radio 4 – no local stations in those days – called Roundabout East Anglia.

I can remember at lunchtime the family listening to BBC comedies such as The Clitheroe Kid and The Navy Lark. I remember The World At One with William Hardcastle.

And I remember Two-Way Family Favourites, broadcast every Sunday lunchtime for years on first the BBC Light Programme and then BBC Radio 2. Even now its theme music With A Song in My Heart makes me think of Mum’s roast lunches. The programme consisted of requests for members of the UK forces overseas, and there were presenters overseas as well as a London-based host. In those days international link-ups with foreign places was a big deal.

Later I would listen to BBC Radio programmes of my own choosing. I was a regular listener to Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, with its original presenter Roy Plomley, and I started to listen to plays and documentaries.

I enjoyed current affairs presenter Jack de Manio, Letter From America with Alistair Cooke, and as an adult the original The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which still works best on the radio.

I also recall a Radio 2 show, perhaps in the early Seventies, which had a presenter, possibly called Don, I’m a bit hazy on this, playing instrumental music tracks. Listeners on the phone would try to name the piece of music while it played on in the background. Entertainment was simple and cheap in those days.

And I recall falling asleep one Saturday night listening to Radio 4 on FM. In those days there were no programmes overnight and, being FM, there was little interference so the radio was quiet. But when programmes re-started on a Sunday morning with a broadcast of church bells I woke up in confusion, wondering where I was and what was happening.

This is just a small selection of many great programmes and broadcasters on BBC Radio over the years, and I’ve not even mentioned Radio 3 (sorry 3 fans).

For a flavour of some of the BBC’s broadcasts over the years I’d recommend the excellent 90 By 90 collection put together by BBC Radio 4 Extra, which features a highlight from each year:


The 1977 extract is a clip of the opening broadcast of BBC Radio Orkney, now my local radio station. To be strictly accurate it is an opt-out of BBC Radio Scotland but it is great. The current Senior Producer, or Head Honcho, is Dave Gray and you can hear him comment on the 1977 clip and tell a marvellous story about a stuffed kangaroo – check it out.

Today I do most of my radio listening via my two internet radios. Not heard of internet radios? They look a bit like a conventional transistor radio, but with a modern design, and you can listen to pretty much any station you want from anywhere in the world. I’m not one for gadgets but an internet radio is a must – you can buy one for about £80.

The internet radios allow me to listen to Radio Caroline, to my in-laws’ favoured local station, KCLU in Thousand Oaks, California, or to my friend Alan Waring who presents his breakfast show on Biggles FM in Bedfordshire – and to so much more.

But I still listen to what you might call conventional radio and enjoy much of what is on offer from the BBC – especially Radio Orkney – although Radio 1 is, for me personally, off the dial, as it should be at my age.

So, there we are, some of my radio memories and habits.

There is so much more I have not included – internet radio favourites of today such as Radio Seagull, CatClassica, KAAM 770 AM Legends and, back again, Radio Northsea International. The early days of independent commercial radio in the UK, when stations – such as my local Hereward Radio in Peterborough – were not all soundalike jukeboxes like today. What about great radio sport commentaries, a whole area for exploration in itself?

There are many great DJs I have not mentioned, some no longer with us: Alan Freeman, fabulous on Pick Of The Pops, but whose Saturday rock show was also wonderful and had a fantastic rock and classical music intro (an example here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hyvby25HWh0); the lovely Rob Leighton, who championed the music of my wife Kathie Touin and others on 21st century Radio Caroline before his untimely death; and Roger Scott, a dignified man who continued to present great music on Radio 1 through his illness until shortly before his death.

And there are many great DJs still with us: we’ve mentioned Rosko, Bob Harris, Tony Blackburn, Johnnie Walker and others, but don’t forget the elegant Brian Matthew, presenter of Radio 2’s Sound Of The Sixties; and former pirates Keith Skues and Roger Day, still plugging away out there.

I’d like to thank everyone who has presented, or contributed behind the scenes, to the many hours of radio I have listened to over these 45 years. Radio is a great source of music, information, inspiration, companionship and, frankly, sanity in a sometimes crazy world.

And as Kenny Everett once said: “Stay loose, keep cool, keep on trucking, and remember – telly may be too much, but wireless is wonderful.”

Graham Brown

To find out more

Radio Caroline: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Radio Caroline history: http://radiocaroline.co.uk/#history.html

More Radio Caroline history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Caroline

RNI: http://www.rni.vze.com/

RNI history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_North_Sea_International

Radio Veronica history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Veronica

The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame: http://www.offshoreradio.co.uk/

The BBC Celebrating 90 Years: http://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/

KCLU: http://www.kclu.org/

Biggles FM: http://www.bigglesfm.com/

Letter From America programmes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00f6hbp

Roger Day’s new venture: http://rogerday.co.uk/

To discover the fate of Laser 558’s MV Communicator, see my previous blog, Where is the Super Station in Orkney?: https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/super-station/

Sorry, I seem to have forgotten

“Memories, may be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
So it’s the laughter
We will remember…”

You probably recognise this as part of the lyric from The Way We Were, as sung by Barbra Streisand in the movie of the same name. Or you might remember the Gladys Knight version. The song (by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman) contains a reassuring, sentimental idea with some element of truth.

Yes, we recall laughter and fun times, though often by looking back through rose-tinted glasses. And, while I don’t believe we can choose to forget what is painful, our minds have a way of allowing it to fade into the background with time.

I find that much of what I remember is in the form of snippets, very definitely not a recollection of a whole day or even a whole event.

Kate Bush’s song Moments Of Pleasure is closer to the mark for me.

“Some moments that I’ve had
Some moments of pleasure…”

The song features a selection of brief memories, some happy, some poignant, some reflecting the passage of time, some comforting, apparently remembered in a random way – random in the old sense of the word, that is, without pattern or conscious choice…

“Just being alive
It can really hurt
And these moments given
Are a gift from time…”

Of course, to craft such a beautiful song Kate Bush has picked the most attractive memories and given them structure.

But I find that much of what I remember is neither particularly happy nor sad, and not even remarkable. Some of these brief memories can be awkward, embarrassing, but others are just everyday and, frankly, tedious. And they pop into the mind, apparently out of nowhere, on a regular basis, the same few memories, the same few glimpses of the past, over and over.

Here are some real examples: as a child, using the word “blimey” – how quaint does this sound? – and my friend’s mother telling me off because it was short for “God blind me”; as a teenager, the friend we shut in a cupboard at school, and how stupid I felt when a teacher quizzed us as to why; and, as an adult, while sitting in traffic in London on a hot evening with car windows open, long before I lived there, a woman driver heading the opposite way asking me if that loud noise was coming from her car.

But, like Kate Bush – how many times will I be able to write that in a sentence? – I do have more precious memories. Once again, though, it does seem to be the same selection which regularly revolves around in my mind.

Here are just a few of them…

First of all, from childhood: jumping on earwigs that were attracted to my grandad’s chrysanthemums; my friend and I in front of the TV, playing at commentating on a football match; later, the same friend moving to Australia and sending me a boomerang; and coming home to find a temporary gate and a puppy in our garden.

As a teenager: our first colour TV arriving, and how much better it looked later that day after my uncle called by and turned the colour up; writing at my desk – nothing much has changed then – on a hot summer’s day listening to Radio Caroline play Wings (Let ‘Em In, I think); and on an insufferable night in the heatwave summer of 1976, deciding to sleep in the open air in the garden in a sleeping bag – the specific memory is the dog’s wet nose waking me in the morning; and, on a family outing to a city park, seeing my father and his brother ride by on the miniature train intended for children.

Then, beyond these memories, are flashes of little more than a brief second, a barely-recalled moment in the back of my mind like a fading dream, just out of reach, the kind of memory that can sometimes be sparked in a deja vu moment.

But there are a very few days from which I can recall more than snippets – my wedding day to Kathie would be one happy example, even though we do not have a video recording to refresh our minds (that is another story).

If a publisher ever asks me to write my life story – admittedly, unlikely – I will have to try much harder than this.

I enjoy reading autobiographies, I am currently reading Lee Evans’, but I often think – “how do this author remember all this stuff?” Does the publishing company bring in a hypnotist so the subject can regress and prize out gems of memory from the depths of his or her brain?

Kate Bush hit on another truth in Moments Of Pleasure – mother’s sayings. She quotes her mother as saying: “Every old sock meets a new shoe.”

My late mother also had some great expressions. If you were trying to work out a route she might say: “Of course, you don’t really want to start from here at all.”

And to describe a warm stuffy room – I believe this came from her mother, my nanny – she would say: “It’s hot as hen-muck in there.”

What is your experience of memory? Do I have a particularly bad memory or is everyone’s mind organised in this way?

To find out more

Kate Bush – http://www.katebush.com/

Use of the word random – http://www.theawl.com/2011/03/our-obsession-with-the-word-random-fear-of-a-millennial-planet

My earlier blog, Who Am I?, may also cast some light on this issue – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/who-am-i-2/

California breezes

An idiot in California: specifically at Conejo Valley Botanic Garden

I’ve recently returned from Southern California – my wife Kathie Touin and I were visiting her family – and I’d like to share some reflections on our trip.

Do not worry! This is not going to be a blow-by-blow account of our trip, like those slide shows your neighbours would show you long ago of every detail of their holiday.

“Here’s Mavis with an ice cream outside our favourite taverna, oh, here’s another, you can see the owner better in this one. He was so funny. And this one, oh, it’s upside down…”

No, this will be a few thoughts on some topics that struck a chord. For the record, we stayed in Simi Valley which you will almost certainly not have heard of if you are British. It is a large city, or suburban area, in Ventura County with a population of around 125,000.

Eleven hours in an uncomfortable cinema

To get from our home in Orkney to the relatives in California involved three flights: Kirkwall to Glasgow, then on to Heathrow, and then to Los Angeles, or LAX as it is known. We stayed with a friend in London overnight so we took a morning flight from Heathrow, arriving 11 hours later in LA’s late afternoon.

I am familiar with overnight flights where the cabin crew dim the lights and passengers draw the shutters over their windows. But this was the first time I had experienced this on a daytime flight.

Soon after we left we were served a meal, then the lights were dimmed. Most passengers seemed content to shutter their window and watch either the tiny screen on the back of the seat in front or look at their laptop. Bizarre.

We were sitting in the middle of the plane but on the odd occasion when we managed to fight our way to a window – at the rear of the plane or in the crew station – we could see wondrous sights such as great sheets of ice across Hudson’s Bay. Why do people ignore these precious views?

As we started our approach to LA the pilot announced that we were about to fly over Las Vegas and those with window seats would get a great view. Totally ignored. No-one I could see opened a shutter.

As Kathie rightly said, it was like spending 11 hours in an uncomfortable cinema.

Are we now so wed to computers – yes, I know my blog is published on a computer – that we are immune to the outside world?

Quiet Americans

I think it is fair to say that Americans – by which, I mean in this blog, US citizens – do not have a great reputation amongst many British people. Not everyone by all means, but many British people regard US citizens as loud, a bit ignorant and prone to electing extreme, not-very-bright politicians.

Now, of course, there is some truth to this. There are ignorant Americans, just as there are ignorant people in every nation. We certainly have our share in the UK.

Some Brits also say, “Ah, but the Americans never travel outside the States.” No, but if you only had two-weeks leave like most working Americans, and faced the large financial cost of leaving a huge country like the USA, you might not go abroad either.

The Americans we met were quiet, thoughtful, courteous and helpful, and many were as bemused as the British by the extreme line-up of Republican candidates for the Presidential election.

Wild California

During our holiday Kathie and I made an overnight trip to Ventura. While there we spent a blissful afternoon on a whale-spotting boat trip around the Channel Islands (no, not those islands near France, the Californian ones).

Sea-lions head out from the Channel Islands towards our boat

We did not see any whales but we still had a great time. We spent more than three hours standing near the bow of the boat in beautiful sunshine and fresh air. We saw large numbers of comical, curious sea-lions, splashing into the sea from a beach to see who we were. And we sailed through a huge pod of dolphins which swam and jumped all around us, and surfed on the bow-wave of our boat.

Dolphins swimming along with our boat

On another day we spent a relaxing afternoon in the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden. I think this is what the travel writers call a hidden gem, as many locals did not seem to know it.

The blooms were beautiful, the curious trees were fascinating, the lizards were fun to see and the humming birds were, of course, beautiful, the green sheen of one in particular was spectacular in the sunlight.

Humming birds seem common there, we could also see them close to Kathie’s parents’ home – ie just outside the front door – along with other treats, such as red-tailed hawks circling on thermals and, one night, a great-horned owl watching us as we walked home.

Sometimes it’s good to be stupid

One afternoon we went to the cinema, with Kathie’s sister and her husband. They chose to see Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. It was the most stupid load of tosh I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, it was so stupid we all enjoyed it.

Michael Caine stars in this film, presumably adding to his pension fund, though he hardly needs to, along with Dwayne Johnson, a wrestler who is known, I am reliably informed, as The Rock. Actually, to be fair, Johnson demonstrated an engaging comic touch in the film as we bumped along an increasingly unlikely storyline.

Transport of delight

Now, this is a hidden gem. An undiscovered treasure. Off the tourist track. And all those travel cliches. The Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar. And what’s more entry is free, though to see the whole museum you need to book onto a guided tour.

The museum contains more than 250 historic cars, nearly all of them beautifully restored. The varied and bright colours of the vehicles was striking, I think we are used to seeing old cars in black-and-white photographs and films.

Part of the Nethercutt Collection: pretty impressive, eh?

They were several examples of Duesenberg cars, each of which I’m guessing could be worth a million dollars, and in total the collection must run into several million dollars. The founders of the museum clearly left a substantial legacy to keep it running.

Outside you can see a 1937 Canadian steam locomotive and, inside, a fantastic collection of mechanical musical instruments including an enormous Wurlitzer cinema organ, many of which are demonstrated to the visitors.

It was a great day out. My only slight disappointment – there was no shop to buy souvenirs, though perhaps that was just as well, it could have become expensive. Oh, if you go, there’s no cafe so you might want a packed lunch to eat in the car park like we did.

The media

Well, of course, we missed the BBC while we were away – and I missed Radio Caroline as well.

Don’t let anyone tell you that PBS – the Public Broadcasting Service – is “America’s version of the BBC”. It is a very pale shadow which, on my limited viewing, seemed to consist of re-runs, often of ITV dramas, and re-broadcasts of other network’s news programmes. Still, at least it was a chance for us to watch BBC News. (Note: My wife tells me I am being unfair on PBS and that it is not their fault but a lack of funding).

And as for the BBC America channel, forget it. It’s just another US TV channel with little to distinguish it unless you like Top Gear. Some nights it was showing Hollywood films. What is the point?

I found the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams to be an informative news programme with, despite pre-conceptions the Brits might have, a decent count of overseas news stories.

When we travelled to Ventura for our overnight trip we listened to KLOS, the radio station Kathie listened to back in the Eighties. Kathie reports it is just the same – same music (lots of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin) and, amazingly, 30 years on, many of the same presenters.

It is good to know some things are unchanging in a changing world. I would imagine that every minute of the day, someone, somewhere is playing Fleetwood Mac on the radio. I wish I’d written those Fleetwood Mac songs, I could have retired. Oh, I did. Retire, I mean.

Credit where credit is due

Thank you to Kathie Touin for all the photographs. She promises to publish more on Flickr soon!

To find out more

California: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California

Simi Valley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simi_Valley,_California and http://www.ci.simi-valley.ca.us/

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden: http://www.conejogarden.org/

That stupid film: http://www.themysteriousisland.com/

The Nethercutt Collection: http://www.nethercuttcollection.org/

PBS: http://www.pbs.org/

BBC America: http://www.bbcamerica.com/

NBC Nightly News: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/

KLOS: http://www.955klos.com/

The Swinging Sixties – really?

Groovy! (image courtsey of freeimages.co.uk)

It’s a familiar theme on British TV documentaries, so often portrayed and referred to that we assume it must be correct in all details: the Swinging Sixties.

This was the time when all the music pouring out of Radio Caroline and other pirate radio stations was hip, revolutionary and exciting, there was free love, the girls were beautiful, though the men wore dodgy outfits, everyone had flowers in their hair, people took mind-liberating drugs, joined protests against the Vietnam War and generally rejected authority.

But was it really like that in the UK? I suspect the truth is that a minority lived the kind of life portrayed in these documentaries, while some folk enjoyed some aspects of this lifestyle – mostly listening to the music – and for some people these revolutionary times just did not happen.

Here’s a question. Which act had two UK number one hit singles in 1967, staying at the top of the charts for a total of 11 weeks. Well, must have been The Beatles?

In fact it was Engelbert Humperdinck, not the classical composer of that name, but a ballad singer who you might think would have been more at home in the early Fifties, or at least in Las Vegas cabaret. If you are too young to remember here he is on YouTube…

His big songs that year were Release Me and The Last Waltz, the first of these keeping The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane off the top slot.

Of course, if you are too young to remember Engelbert you will get a chance to see him in all his glory as the unexpected choice to sing the UK entry into this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan. Isn’t life strange?

Engelbert wasn’t alone in flying the flag for middle-of-the-road music in 1967. Other UK number one singles that year included Petula Clark’s This Is My Song, Nancy and Frank Sinatra singing Somethin’ Stupid and Long John Baldry’s Let The Heartaches Begin.

Of course just hearing the latest fab, groovy and hip music on the radio might not have been so easy if you lived outside the south-east of England. The signals of the pirate radio stations would not have reached Wales or the north of Scotland, possibly not even some inland areas of England.

But back to 1967 – the year often highlighted in TV documentaries about the Sixties. I’d like to tell you about a fascinating second-hand book I bought recently for £2.

Published in 1967, the so-called year of flower power, it is called Celebrity Cooking. It contains favourite recipes of the famous, along with potted biographies. You might think such a book would feature, say, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix and the like. Well, no. Val Doonican, Max Bygraves and Liberace, yes.

The book has some great recipes and the biographies are fascinating. But it is also notable in two respects which tell you something about life in the Swinging Sixties.

Firstly, in the acknowledgements the book’s compiler says: “A big ‘thank you’ to the many wives who patiently wrote out their husband’s favourite recipe.”

So, not of all these grand men were cooking their favourite recipes? There’s a surprise. I suspect very few of them were doing so. The book is, in fact, a book of favourite dishes.

Secondly, the potted biographies alongside each contributor are very polite and deferential. How about this one, for The Earl of Avon?

“Formerly Sir Anthony Eden – Distinguished former Prime Minister of Great Britain 1955-1957 noted for his handling of international affairs and impeccable elegance in dress. As Prime Minister his term of office was cut short by ill health. With Lady Avon, a niece of Sir Winston Churchill, he winters at his home in Barbados in the British West Indies.”

What a wonderful Prime Minister he must have been and how sad his term was ended by ill health.

But wait a minute. Isn’t this the Prime Minister who took Britain into an ill-advised military invasion of Egypt after the Suez Canal was nationalised? A war that was organised while the British public were being misled?

No, not that war, you’re thinking of Tony Blair and Iraq but I admit there are similarities. The names of Blair and Eden will forever be associated with disastrous intervention in the Middle East, whatever else they did during their careers.

The flamboyant pianist Liberace is also featured in Celebrity Cooking. His biography says: “America’s piano-playing idol. Mothers all over America swoon when Liberace, in his sequined outfit, appears playing soulfully, Chopin or Gershwin, on his candelabra-bearing piano.” Even in 1967 that description must have been a bit of a stretch.

Their recipes? For the record, Lord Avon chose chicken liver mould – that would be a gift to today’s comedy writers – and Liberace’s choice was stuffed squab or baby pigeons.

There is only one person featured in the book who could be considered, as we might say now, “cool” and that is Dusty Springfield.

But this book is about the famous, the rich, the powerful. What was life like for ordinary people in 1967 in the UK? I suspect it was not as it appears in the Sixties documentaries.

Free love and the pill for all? Yes, the pill became available on the National Health Service in the Sixties and abortion was legalised in 1967. But I suspect many young women would not easily talk to a GP about that sort of thing back then and clinics may not have been available outside big cities. For many women sex was probably scary, with uncertain consequences. What if you became pregnant? That was likely to bring shame on your family, and may lead to your baby being taken away for adoption.

How was it in 1967 if you were black? I expect you faced routine racial discrimination. I was at secondary school from 1969 to 1976 and, like my classmates, had passed the Eleven Plus, an exam which singled us out for the grammar school stream. But amongst this supposedly bright and educated group our attitudes to black people were shamefully archaic.

And how about being gay, say in 1967? As it happens it was the year that the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised private homosexual acts between men over the age of 21. It was a big step forward but growing up as a homosexual was not easy for most people in the Sixties, and for many decades to come.

Yes, the Sixties were a big influence on our lives today and started many movements – black consciousness, equality, improved contraception, gay rights – that have blossomed over the following decades.

But I expect many young people – particularly in small towns or remote areas – lived ordinary lives of sexual fumbling, perhaps scared to be gay, perhaps prejudiced against black and gay people, perhaps facing bigots as a matter of course.

Hopefully, they were at least able to enjoy some of the great music from the Sixties.

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

P.S. My next blog will be about my recent to Southern California. Watch this space.

To find out more

Radio Caroline still broadcasts today via satellite and the internet. You can even get an app for your iPhone. They play a great variety of music. I’ll return to this in a future blog but meanwhile give them a listen: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

The image at the top of this blog is courtesy of freeimages.co.uk: http://www.freeimages.co.uk/