The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Baker's Dozen

Spreading The Word: Annie Nightingale's Favourite Music
Diva Harris , February 10th, 2021 10:58

Broadcaster, writer and all-round music hero Annie Nightingale guides Diva Harris though her 13 favourite records, from Eminem to Bob Marley, Dave, Skrillex, Eric Satie and Primal Scream

'Why would a woman want to be a DJ?' writes Annie Nightingale in the opening pages of her book Hey Hi Hello, recalling the bureaucracy and bewilderment that met her determination to become the BBC's – and Britain's – first female radio DJ. 'Why worry your pretty little head with such technical matters, dear?’

'Answer: I want to be a DJ, because I figure it's the best job in the world!'

Though for many of her contemporaries in the late 60s and early 70s, the appeal of a radio career was the promise of celebrity ('Radio 1 was an extraordinary magnet for those driven by a deep need and craving, almost an addiction to fame and recognition. It was said that being signed to Radio 1 was like playing for England'), for Nightingale, it was, and still is, solely about unearthing something new, getting excited about it, and passing it on. "I'm just not interested in going that was; this is; coming up next," she reiterates to me, in a voice like midnight, when I ring her up, fifty-and-a-bit years after she first took to the airwaves. "It's always been about looking forward, looking around the corner… and finding out that somebody else likes what you like. That was my main reason to want to do radio in the first place. Other journalists were writing about it, but trying to describe music in words is really quite difficult, when actually what you want to do is to play it to someone and say: I've just heard this, I think it's amazing, but maybe it's just me and I'm mad – what do you think? I'm doing for people what they haven't got time, or the access to music, to do. I try to put together the best that I can find for them. That, to me, is the public service of radio." It is a public service that she has provided continuously for half a century; she still hosts a weekly night-time Radio 1 show, earning her the accolade of the station's longest-serving presenter, alongside both an MBE and a CBE for services to radio broadcasting.

Being at the vanguard of the new is a time-consuming undertaking; one that the album, as a format, is unsuited to. "I don't know why, 'the album' kind of comes and goes in and out [of fashion], doesn't it. But when I'm putting a show together every week for Radio 1, there's so much material to go through that an album is very demanding. You know that you're probably only gonna play one track, in any one show. I actually prefer to hear singles; I can't bear it when people send me their whole back-catalogue. I haven't got time! This is taking up so much space on my laptop! I can't listen to all of it." No prizes, then, for guessing why this Baker's Dozen – compiled in much the same way as she compiles her shows, Annie tells me – is chiefly made up of song selections, rather than albums.

Both reading her book and talking to her on the phone, there is an overarching sense that Annie Nightingale is someone utterly seduced by her medium. It's a love affair that started as a listener of the renegade Radio Caroline ('I wore the T-shirt', she writes in Hey Hi Hello, 'on one occasion it sailed right past my flat on the seafront at Brighton… I felt like jumping in the sea and swimming out to board there and then') and continues unwaveringly, despite radio's changing role in modern life. "I used to do the Sunday night request show, in the 80s and 90s, and it became very well known. One of the great fans of this show, a guy called Mark Stack, has put a Spotify playlist of 1700 tunes that I used to play during that twelve-year period. Of course, they're all tunes I absolutely adore, so I thought oh, I'll have a listen to it. But somehow, hearing them without a voice, without being on the radio, they're just very… cold… you know? One song, then that stops. And then another one starts, and you think, what is missing? And it's that kind of camaraderie of the listener and you, not being there. Spotify is a huge rival to radio, everyone knows that, but I couldn't, if I didn't have radio, just listen to Spotify, because that's all it's doing. It lacks warmth. You still want that human voice occasionally, to talk to you."

Annie Nightinglae's Hey Hi Hello is out now via White Rabbit books, for more information go here. Click the image of Annie below to begin reading her Baker's Dozen selections