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Baker's Dozen

Off The Airwaves, On The Stereo: Mark Radcliffe's Favourite LPs
Jude Rogers , September 18th, 2019 08:26

Radio DJ hero and now musician Mark Radcliffe tells Jude Rogers tales of being seduced by David Bowie and the gift of a cheese pie from Kate Bush in this week's Baker's Dozen, also featuring the likes of Bob Marley, Joy Division and Stevie Wonder

Not many 61-year-old veteran radio DJs decide to release albums of electronica out of nowhere, having previously only dabbled in comedy songs and folk-rock bands. Mark Radcliffe's new endeavour is in addition to writing a confessional book in snatched moments over the last twelve months – when he felt well enough to, anyway, he adds.

But if you know what happened to Mark Radcliffe last year, perhaps you'll understand his new urgency to do different things. "Last year, I lost my dad, my dog and my show, turned sixty, then I found out I had mouth and neck cancer." His voice, perhaps a shade lower, is as dry and slyly arch as it has always been. "I mean, I had to do something with my time."

Now in remission (despite him having been "genuinely very unwell after chemotherapy) Mark Radcliffe is releasing an album this month as half of the band, UNE, formed with a local friend of his, Paul Langley. "We met at the Builders' Arms in Knutsford, my local. We both knew the same people from our Hacienda days." Canongate are also publishing Crossroads, a memoir inspired by an American holiday Radcliffe took shortly before his cancer diagnosis last year. It begins with him standing at the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where Robert Johnston was said to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar-shredding smarts. Months later, Radcliffe was told he would have only had months left to live had his cancer not been found as quickly as it was. Radcliffe then spent his "non-sleeping recovery time" writing feverishly about songs that he loved, and other people have loved, that have made impacts in the world.

From the boiling point of 2019, it's easy to forget the impact Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley had on the BBC's main radio station in the whirlwind of the mid-1990s. Looking back without the benefit of being a regular listener of their brilliant Radio 1 evening show, which ran from 1993 and 1997, their gutbusting, rough Northern humour could appear to be just another part of that era's post-Madchester, laddish cultural takeover. But Mark and The Boy Lard (as they were known) were genuine music-lovers, their parodies of pop stars like Prince and David Bowie as novelty duo The Shirehorses being lovingly put together (and full of genuinely funny, fan-geeky, Vic and Bob-aping surrealism). So were the choices of songs that they championed as DJs. I remember them pushing Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and The Delgados remorselessly, and the way they rallied behind White Town's brilliant one-hit wonder 'Your Woman', which got to no. 1 in January 1997. They were moved to Radio 1's Breakfast Show a month later, and for a magical moment, it felt that they were triumphing over Chris Evans. The unlikeliest lads had the power to make careers.

That went belly-up quickly of course, and since then, both men have been moved around the stations by controllers who don't always know what to do with ageing talent. Riley fits your old punkier uncle slot like a glove in the early evenings on 6 Music, while Radcliffe's trajectory has been more wayward. He's one of the main Glastonbury presenters (doing it brilliantly this summer with Lauren Laverne), hosts Radio 2's too-short, too-cosy folk show, and remains the duelling radio partner of twelve years of Stuart Maconie (a fit that has got easier over time: for years, the strong personalities of both men together never properly gelled).

Radcliffe was "pretty upset" when the pair got thrown off the popular 6 Music afternoon slot last summer, he admits, for the much reduced hours of the weekend breakfast slot. "I had thought, maybe we should leave it here. Me and Stuart have had a good innings. But we both decided, no, let's give this a go – we could do different things in our spare time. It was like renewing our marriage vows, basically." It's also been a blessing not to be in five days a week given what he's just gone through, he says. "Although I wouldn't choose to get up at 5.30 two days a week."

His musical tastes also remain curious and wide, although he gets why the reaction to a Mark Radcliffe electronica record might be met with wonky eyebrows and saggy jaws. "It's easy to think of people in boxes, and yes, radio's taken me in a folk direction, but that's never restricted what I enjoy listening to for a moment. And I couldn't sing much folk-rock any more, anyway – it's too much for his throat." His vocals on the UNE record are more plaintive and delicate, the one-word song titles inspired by words from different languages with no literal translations. These include 'Hiraeth', 'Boketto', 'Saudade' and 'Komorebi'. Paul from the pub worked on the beats, Mark worked on the melodies.

But it was only when they got the test pressings that Radcliffe really felt this new chapter in his life had begun. "I mean, I'm 61, I've hopefully got twenty years left, so what do I do with that? I do this. And doing new things remains really high on my list." Saying that, his Bakers' Dozen is full of albums from his youth in the 70s, he laughs, and he nearly did two versions, he laughs: the second featuring thirteen David Bowie records. "Ziggy Stardust, Hunky Dory, Station To Station, Young Americans, Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World, Blackstar, Aladdin Sane, Low, Diamond Dogs, Heroes, Lodger, The Next Day." He reels them off like a radio pro, then exhales. "Tin Machine didn't quite make it. But if I can have two Bakers' Dozens, that'd be very kind of you. I think I deserve them, after all".

UNE's debut album, Lost, is released on Middle Of Nowhere Recordings on 27 September. Crossroads is published by Canongate. Click the picture of Mark Radcliffe below to begin reading through his selection