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Radio-Activity V: In Praise Of Mary Anne Hobbs
Jude Rogers , February 24th, 2013 12:50

Jude Rogers tunes in to the new weekend breakfast show from Mary Anne Hobbs, and finds a wonderful antidote to the blokey shouting of weekday mornings

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Weekend breakfast radio is an interesting thing. It's not like weekday breakfast radio, primed to wake up the world in various brain-bashing ways. For years, that format's been about loud men shouting at each other, or one man shouting on his own – the atmosphere of boorish Friday-night drinking-hole first thing in the morning.

How apt. That isn't to say there aren't some men that do this stuff well, of course – Shaun Keaveny on 6 is a master of the form, because he's warm and funny with it, and Nick Grimshaw on Radio 1 is a gentler, dafter presence. Still, an excess of testosterone-fuelled explosions first thing can certainly leave, shall we say, a funny taste in the mouth.

But weekends bring us gentler tones, softer sounds, even women. Variety also seems to be allowed much more often on Saturdays and Sundays. This is creepy when you think about it. Before we head off to work, us tongue-waggling drones have to be force-fed the same hyped/plugged/focus-grouped tracks as everyone else, as if it's acknowledged that we have to become part of the machine (sadly on Radio 1 and 6Music, usually part of Florence's Machine). But at weekends, you're not productive, so anything goes, and as a result, creativity starts to rear up. That's creativity which used to help productivity, right? Call me old-fashioned.

And so we come to Mary Anne Hobbs' new breakfast show on 6, which I finally got a chance to listen to today. Now here's how to do it, ladies and gentlemen. I interviewed Mary Anne a few years ago for Word, and we were on the phone for bloody ages, and I didn't want to hang up. She bubbles over with enthusiasm, like a bottle of cheap but amazing booze, and not in a bland "THIS LANDFILL INDIE SINGLE IS OMG-AMAZING" Fearne Cotton kind of way. When Hobbs dreamily says her in her delicate Northern burr that interviewing someone's "an absolute pleasure", or a track that she's played affects her, it sounds keenly felt.

Hobbs has quite a history too. Brought up in rural Lancashire, her violent, alcoholic father banned music at home. She would secretly order 7" through her local toy shop, which took nine weeks to arrive; when her dad found them, he'd smash them up in front of her. She ran away at 17 and lived on a bus in a car park for a year with a rock band, started making fanzines, then started writing for Sounds at 19. Then, oh you know, she presented Radio 1's huge rock show, and became one of dubstep's biggest pioneers, and made a name for herself as a DJ internationally, before quitting the Beeb in 2010, and re-emerging to do XFM's evening show in 2011. (For more insight into her unconventional life, read Joe Muggs' brilliant, long interview with her here).

Given that CV, you wouldn't think Hobbs is a morning person either, but oh she is. She previously described wanting the show to be like a big, oak table, at which anyone could pull up their chair, and share breakfast with her – be they a musician, an actor, a philosopher, a listener. Her show's definitely interesting, mixing a rich, varied playlist with lovely cultural items. Take the three-minute epiphanies – a fantastic idea – where this week we heard Howard Goodall telling us where music came from. In previous weeks, we heard Matthew Herbert talking about the future of music, and The Kings' Speech director Tom Hooper telling us what it was like to win an Oscar. Short, sweet, informative, perfect.

This Sunday, we also heard the lulling, layered vocals of Julianna Barwick, followed by a quote which could be the show's manifesto: "if you don't have it together enough to be able to change in mid-stream… to switch songs or tunes or moods…you should be able to do that." After the news, we had the return-to-the-show sugar-rush of The Byrds' 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better'; later we had Monie Love's long-lost classic 'It's A Shame', Debussy's 'Au Clair De La Lune', Big Mama Thornton's 'Ball And Chain'. My morning mind was moved everywhere. It was heaven.

Even better, Hobbs never interferes with her show's content. She describes songs with simple, genuine relish. After the Beach Boys' sublime In 'My Room': " I don't know about you but I'm practically levitating after that couplet". Before a replay of Mogwai's 'Relative Hysteria', from their session on Marc Riley the previous Wednesday, she made a strong but venom-free point about what it was up against: "For many people listening, it was the perfect antidote to The Brits." You don't have to shout like you're in a rowdy bar, boys, to tell us what you think.

In interviews, Hobbs also rarely interrupts or chivvies, but gives her guests room to breathe, guiding them quietly into saying interesting things. Perhaps it's because she gets them to talk about different things. On the previous week's show which is still up on iPlayer, for example, Johnny Marr talks about fine art, and his need to nod off in the middle of Philip Larkin poetry. Not the bloody Smiths reunion, which we know the answer to anyway. Something new, something fresh, something that properly wakes a person up.

Here's to getting people to do what people want to do naturally. Oh, if every show lived in Mary Anne's world.

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Feb 24, 2013 6:43pm

Yep, all true. I used to listen to her back in her rock show guise and, of course, the electronic one more recently. In both you could tell she genuinely loved what she was doing.

When I heard she was heading to the weekend breakfast show on 6 I was unsure how the MAH I'd heard before would fit the time slot.

On current experience I'd have to say with quite some aplomb. The breadth of music is wonderful and it feels like she's able to breathe out, relax and just indulge herself & her listeners in anything that hits the mark. Still the underlying joy is that can hear how much she is loving it herself. Ok, to some she must sound like the "BRILLIANT!" character from the Fast Show but where music is concerned good luck to anybody who can keep that feeling intact after so many years.

This morning I was intending to get up early to do a few things. Come 10am I was still lying bed having enjoyed pretty much every choice she'd played. Isn't that what it's all about?

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Rory Gibb
Feb 25, 2013 12:52am

I should take a listen to this new show. I was a devoted listener to her late Radio 1 electronic show until that ended - was always wonderful to hear such wide-ranging and exploratory music presented with such subtle enthusiasm and respect. I also thought the way she became involved with dubstep was inspirational and a great model for how to approach music as a journalist/commentator: championing it, DJing it and throwing herself headlong into the sound after falling madly in love with it, but without ever trying to take ownership of it or use it as personal leverage, and all done in a non hype-driven way, supporting both longer-running producers and new talent equally. Got heaps of respect for that.

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Feb 25, 2013 7:46am

Miss Hobbs, will you run away with me? Terribly sorry for launching the lager over you at Ally Pally NYE 1998.

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Feb 25, 2013 9:51am

Another middle class female DJ who finds everything AMAZING!


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Feb 25, 2013 10:42am

In reply to Jeffrey:

What's worse - that she still finds old & new music something that she can be excited about or that you see that as a negative trait somehow? I know which I find most refreshing. While we're at it what does class have to do with love of music?

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Feb 25, 2013 10:44am

In reply to Rory Gibb:

She's quietly dropping in new stuff in that style into her Weekend show (yeah, like she's not going to find an excuse to still play Burial!) and it sounds great to get that in amongst older/known/classic stuff. Makes for a cracking mix of things.

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Abed Nadir
Feb 26, 2013 11:31am

In reply to Jeffrey:

Too bad you don't get her appeal. I suppose I just like liking things.

But yeah, go ahead and take down a knowledgable music enthusiast from the notoriously middle class north west.

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Feb 26, 2013 9:09pm

Her marriage to Miles Hunt always seems to get airbrushed out of any articles about her. It's not even on her Wikipedia page. Surely not that big a thing to be ashamed of... or is it?

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