A tweet from Death Is Not The End saying that the cassette version of London Pirate Radio Adverts 1984-1993 Vol. 2 is shipping out tomorrow reminded me I said I'd run the full chat with audio archivist Luke Owen here. So here it is:
How did you get
interested in pirate radio in general and in pirate radio adverts in
I began tuning in to pirate radio from my early teens in Bristol in the late 90s - there was a lot of action on the dial
back then and I was sucked in. It was a portal into the drum and bass/Full Cycle stuff happening in the city when I was too young for the clubs, and it
also nurtured my love of reggae, dub and Bollywood soundtracks at a relatively
young age. The ads were often infectious and endearingly DIY, and some were
memorable to the point of fever loops, I can still remember one or two
word for word.
I came upon the Pirate
Radio Archive website
a couple of years back, and there I found a trove of recordings from across the
80s and 90s through which I could transport myself back in time to some of
those broadcasts I had been brought up on. I had been running Death Is Not The
End since 2014 as a record label and NTS radio show focused mostly on
"deep digs" into early gospel/blues/folk, field recordings and
various archival finds. Coming across these recordings I was immediately stuck
by the desire to do something with them, and put together a mixtape for
Up The Workshop mixblog and subsequently released
it on DINTE as a cassette. It was a bit of a left-turn for the label perhaps,
but being both archival and field recordings I thought it fit. I'm interested
in "folk music" having a broader contemporary remit, and what it can
mean in context. To me, recordings like these pirate radio broadcasts can
represent archival folk music of sorts - they are raw, impromptu and communal
For me, the appeal of
them is multi-leveled – there’s nostalgia, there’s period charm, there’s the
amateur nature of them, some of the comedy ones are genuinely
funny… But I also think they provide a valuable and historically
important archive of subculture and British ‘lifeworlds’, especially minority
populations (e.g. you have the Greek salon ad on Vol 1 ).
Yes, a lot are hilarious and some to the
point of being genuinely a bit unhinged in places... A big part of the
uniqueness of pirate radio is in the ads I think - it reflects the alternative
culture through the lens of local business and events in a way that often
contrasts with the staleness of "commercial" radio as much as the music
itself. The whole thing often just seems to thrive on amping up the madness a
bit, because they can. The London Pirate Radio Adverts collection was also
intriguing from a local history perspective. I've always been interested in the
changing landscape of areas, the previous lives of buildings, music venues,
long gone record shops etc. By chance a lot of the adverts I collected for this
happen to be for clubs and bars in places in South East London and East London
that I've come to know quite well since moving here in the mid-noughties so
that's another facet of it for me. Also, Immigrant communities making use of
pirate radio as a means to supply an essential community service is an
inherent element to pirate radio as a whole I think.
I like also the range.
You have the slick-aspiring ads (with a tiny bit of Smashy + Nicey about the
patter, quite common with pirate deejays before ’92 when it got a lot
more ruffneck and hooligan in vibe - or they’ll hire that voiceover guy
that also appeared in cinema adverts, the one with the incredibly deep voice,
he pops up a few times on your tapes). And then the much more amateurish
Redd Pepper? I'm never quite sure whether
it's him or an imitator... He sure must have gotten a lot of work around this
time regardless. There's another guy who seems to have been the voiceover guy
for a large portion of reggae & dancehall/soundclash events in the past couple
is him @ 5.40 on Side A) and is still going strong. I'm going to do my best
to track him down, I think I might have a friend of a friend who hired him for
an ad once.
I think there's sometimes a conscious
effort to get someone with a posh accent (or affecting one) for some of the
dances that are billing themselves as classy & exclusive affairs. Then
you've got some hilariously
really bad Scouse impression that I have no idea what it's trying to
achieve! I think pirate radio in general is prone to jokes and reference points
that only the small group of listeners (or more likely mates of the station and
the DJs) are "in" on, and this can bleed through to the ads as much
as the chatter.
They often seem to like
putting FX on the voice.
Yes, the use of delay on pirate radio
station voiceover and adverts seems to be a point of reference that's bled
in from sound system culture. I think it also helps the adverts "pop"
and the feedback has the handy effect of papering over cracks where they may
often sound too muddy and amateurish otherwise. I've also added tape delay here
and there to aid with the transitions from one track to the next - the idea was
initially for this to have the flow of a mixtape as much as possible.
Most of the ads on pirates were for
raves, clubs, records shops, occasionally a compilation or a 12 inch release …
But it’s interesting that quite a few of them are for non-music-related
businesses - there’s one I came across for a bakers, you’ll get ones for
hairdressers or a restaurant. Or on Vol. 1 the shop fittings ad for Trade
Equip and the one for Fidel’s Menswear.
In a way I find the non-music related ads
as some of the most intriguing and charming. It shows that the stations were
often genuinely part of a thriving localised economy, and not just for
soundheads. It seems a bit mad to think of a small high-street business advertising
on the radio these days, and I suppose with the advent of social media
marketing we're probably seeing the last of small businesses in print
advertising to a large degree - it's just not attractive as you don't get to
monitor the traffic it's generating and target your audience down to the
minutiae, but it leaves a document of that business that can be preserved from
a local history perspective (whereas when a business folds their online
presence will likely disappear with it).
Even on the music
history level alone, though, they are valuable – there’s a sort of
established history of rave where certain legendary clubs get mentioned
over and over (Rage, Labrynth, Innersense) and the same applies to the raves,
labels, record shops. But these ads capture just how many clubs, raves etc
there were, in all different parts of London or UK… many that have been
forgotten or only ran for a short while. And there are addresses, times, prices mentioned.
Yes, the provision of full addresses, and
often bus routes and the general specifics for the clubs and venues always
gives me a pang of nerdy excitement. The addition of local landmarks, "under
this flyover", "next
to Tescos" etc.
gives me extra info with which I can go sleuthing on Streetview and look at
the ghost of the club mentioned in the advert (and for
extra nerdery I can swipe backward in time on street view to
see it's former guises too).
The raver’s dateline
courtesy Chillin FM advert is very interesting and surprising!
Yes I was surprised to come across so
many ravers datelines! I wonder if this is something you had come across
before? Hooking up and meeting potential partners never struck me as a priority
to pilled-up ravers but I must be mistaken... It was relatively before my time,
and I suppose it's easy to be swayed by the dominant narrative of early rave being
a drug-fuelled oasis away from meat-market bars & clubs, but there was
clearly a market for it! I can't help being reminded of Father
Ted's priest chatback line whenever I hear it, also.
I think you mentioned in
that Crack interview how most people paused the tape when the ads came
on… so there’s a limited number of ad breaks that have
Yeah I guess it makes sense that the
music is what the majority of the listeners are there for, and the ads can do
one - or indeed be edited out later. The sources I had were pretty much all
online, so I suppose you could say that a portion of those who have
ripped/digitized their tapes didn't stop their recordings when the ads came on,
and rather they have cropped them out in the process. But in general it's the
same principle as to when you would record a TV show on VHS - a waste of
valuable magnetic tape space.
What number did you
accumulate before you started winnowing them down?
Maybe 100 total? It's been a bit of a
blur to be honest. At some point I think I was losing it a bit.
It’s good that you have ads that aren’t
just rave / hardcore / jungle, but others kind of music that were big then –
like mellow house and progressive house etc.
It's easy to imagine pirate radio as
exclusively a place for jungle, hardcore, reggae and dancehall etc. but yes
it's refreshing. I particularly am interested in the popularity of rare groove
and how that fits into the mix. The Under
18s Disco advert
strikes me for it's mix up of styles - 'ragga, house, rap & swing'.
What is your favorite ad
out of all the ones on the two cassettes? Or top 2 or 3.
I think probably the Videobox rental shop
is up there, it's the faux dialogue that just makes me smile. The Rolls Royce
& A Big House in 89 is just fantastic for the list of celebrities who have
"been invited", and that you simply need to go into your local
hairdresser for £1 tickets.