Pop Playground
Why The Evening Session Must Die

for the last ten years angsty teenagers in bad jeans have had two hours a night, four nights a week, devoted to their misanthropic listening pleasure in the shape of BBC Radio 1’s Evening Session, the corporation’s flagship show for “new music”. Initially presented by chart-rundown-monkey Marc Goodier, the Session, as we best know it, ran as a tag-team affair between shoeless-crumpled-albino-woman Jo Whiley (now ‘promoted’ to the lunchtime slot) and stick-insect-look-alike Steve ‘Lurpak’ Lamacq, with Lamacq running the show solo for the last 5 or six years. Started with the remit of giving alternative music a push towards the Top 40, the Evening Session ‘broke’ such artists as Blur, Oasis, The Verve, Doves, Idlewild and Scarfo, and is thusly held in great esteem by spotty, bedroom-bound music geeks across the UK.


But the future doesn’t look bright for the Evening Session. Shunted back until 8pm-10pm from its more accessible 6.30-8.30 slot a couple of years ago in favour of ‘Dangerous’ Dave Pierce (presumably so as not to upset the drive-time audience), the Evening Session is now living under a death sentence. From December onwards, Radio 1 is giving its alternative music show the axe.


[It’s important to understand that the BBC is a government-sanctioned Public Service Broadcaster (PSB), with a mandate to educate as well as to entertain. It is funded by a licence fee that everyone with a television must pay, rather than by advertising, and thus does not have to produce programmes designed, first and foremost, to appeal to mass-audiences in order to attract large sponsorship and lucrative advertising revenue. However, the bugbear for the BBC has always been the ratings war with commercial broadcasters regarding its two ‘mainstream’ stations – BBC1 on television and Radio 1 on radio. Commercial broadcasters and commercial broadcasting sympathisers always demand that the BBC justifies its licence fee and privileged status via its ratings on these two stations, their argument being that if the BBC is a public service then the public ought to be paying attention.]


Radio 1 has been constantly under fire over its ratings compared to those of the commercial stations for several years, and has even slipped behind the more ‘mature’ stylings of its sister station, Radio 2, in the popularity stakes. What does Radio 2 play? Country. Classic Rock. AOR. MOR. Travis. Music for people who drive Mondeos. Given the ever growing crossover area between alternative music and what you might term ‘modern classic rock’ in this country (Travis, Coldplay, Starsailor, Embrace, Oasis, Richard Ashcroft, Paul Weller, etcetera) and the rising audience figures for the Evening Session (+100,000 at the last count), what have Radio 1 decided to do to increase its audience share and stave off the wolves from the door? Revamp the many ‘dance’ shows that infest the station like a pox every weekend and at drive-time? Go for increased crossover with the ever-growing Radio 2 demographic? Lose some of the play-listed samey R’N’B nonsense? Boycott identikit TV-show pseudo-popstars? Cut out the paedo-pop After all, the people who buy singles by these artists (Darius, Gareth Gates, S Club Juniors, etcetera) don’t listen to the radio during the day when these records are played because they’re AT SCHOOL)? Fuck no. They decided to axe the Evening Session. Cue uproar.


NME has instigated a petition on their website, and their message boards are saturated with woeful teenagers unsure whether to rage against the dying of the light or to mourn the death of their favourite radio programme, their Mecca, the one shining diamond of alternative music in a sea of blandly crap and formulaic club-monkey-dance-hokum. They’re not happy. The links between NME and the Evening Session have always been close – Lamacq used to write for the NME back in the day, and the audience crossover between the magazine and the radio show is unsurprisingly considerable, even though NME’s circulation has been in decline for half a decade while the Session continues to recruit more listeners.


But really, it’s a load of fuss over nothing, because the Evening Session is shite and deserves to die. Why? Because the stuff that gets played on the Evening Session is almost without exception fucking awful. Tune into Radio 1 between 8.30 and 10.30 on weekday evenings and you are likely to be confronted with one of two things, both of them sphincter-tighteningly dreadful. Firstly, and most likely, some no-mark, unambitious, tuneless punk pop, crispy and foul like chips fried for far too long. Steve Lamacq, who is about 40 years old, loves this shit with a passion. God knows why, because it all sounds the same. Secondly, and only marginally less likely to make you wish you had gonorrhoea, is the awful, tacky, gimmicky ‘dance’ music Lamacq occasionally gets hold of. You know the type of thing – a breakbeat that a child could play on one of those hammer-the-shape-into-the-hole toys, a big, ugly hook that’s probably played on a trumpet and stolen from some ‘70’s novelty hit that should’ve been forgotten years ago when the guy who wrote it died. The only thing that either of these things are alternative to is ‘good’. Last night I managed to listen to Lamacq for about 20 minutes before John Peel came on and waved some two-note krautrock farting at me, and in that 20 minutes Lamacq played three records by different bands that all sounded like The Stooges but without the danger or fun. One of them may have been by The Strokes, but really, I can’t tell The Hives from The Strokes from The Wanks anymore than I can tell one Strokes song from another. Lamacq could be playing the kids something great and wonderful that would open their eyes to new horizons, he could be playing them Explosions In The Sky or Lambchop or Akufen, but instead he’s playing them Feeder and a thousand-and-one other identikit crunchy guitar bands who’ll only ever get near a tune by covering something off Ziggy Stardust. (Incidentally, Feeder covered “Can’t Stand Losing You” by The Police a while back, a song about wanting to commit suicide because your girlfriend won’t move to Wales with you, and shortly afterwards the drummer killed himself because his Brazilian girlfriend wouldn’t move to Wales with him – does that qualify as irony?)


The real tragedy about the death of the Evening Session is that people are so blinkered that they consider it a tragedy at all. The Evening Session is an affliction, it’s safe, it’s dull, it’s predictable. The music played on it is not alternative or innovative or dangerous or cutting edge, it has no aesthetic merit, it deals with simple, platitudinous emotions. People have been strapping on guitars and chugging out three chords with nary a hook in sight since time immemorial, and it’s about time that the youth of Britain woke up and realised that it’s not brave or cool or alternative in any way to listen to this crap, it’s just easy. The concept of alternative music on mainstream radio, be it commercial or PSB, is a joke and pretty much always has been. If it’s alternative it wont BE on the radio. The failure of XFM to maintain independence and to establish a national service is testament to that. As for the successes... Well, firstly, for every Ash or Strokes or whoever, who actually does manage to find a sizeable audience, there are a thousand Scarfos and Astrals who don’t, regardless of whether they’re any good or not, and the success of bands like Ash is much more down to them writing classic pop tunes that find daytime radio coverage, and, as it always has been, touring their asses off. As for the major artists, Blur, Oasis, The Verve, Stereophonics, etcetera, the ones who really ‘shift units’, none of these artists (when they took the step into crossover) were really ‘alternative’ or independent, they just made very accessible pop/rock records and had serious commercial/media backing. If anyone seriously thinks that the Evening Session (or NME for that matter) is at the heart of the success of Oasis or Blur then they need their head read. The Evening Session is not the Holy Grail of alternative music in this country and the sooner people realise that and get over it the better.


By: Nick Southall
Published on: 2002-09-23
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