Halfway to a Hit by The Hollies
IN THIS PHOTO: Mary Anne Hobbs/PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis
There’s Something About Mary Anne Hobbs
I am kickstarting a series that investigates…
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis
and highlights women in radio. A few inalienable facts remain unflinching and stubborn in my mind: the lack of women who are hosting drive-time shows on national radio is among the most alarming (fact). If one looks at the BBC stations and the bigger players in the market...you will know most of the best and hardest-promoted shows have men at the helm. It seems a strange and outdated construct that is unwilling to listen to the voices decrying music’s sexism. The reason I have started on this subject is that Mary Anne Hobbs, an icon and stalwart of the music industry, seems like a perfect voice to guide the stressed and weary commuter home from a day’s labour. The former Queen of BBC Radio 1; Hobbs now hosts the weekend morning slot on BBC Radio 6 Music – bringing her inimitable style and passion to the people; curing aching hangovers and educating minds in need of stimulation. I will come to an interview, conducted back in 2009, that showed how far the D.J. had come and why radio was a natural fit for her. Through my series, I will introduce female radio figures who are making a big impact or have endured for many years. One can talk about the natural progression for D.J.s – Mary Anne Hobbs went from XFM (now Radio X) to BBC Radio 1 – and how they, inevitably wind up on BBC Radio 2 or a somewhere where the demographic is a little less energetic.
What strikes me about Mary Anne Hobbs is how ageless and broad her appeal is. She is, I hope, someone who will not feel the need to retreat and resign to a lesser radio station: her natural home seems to be BBC Radio 6 Music and the freedom she has there. Surrounded by a great team – including Helen Weatherhead – it brings me back to my original thesis regarding radio’s gender-imbalance: why are we not promoting great D.J.s like Mary Anne Hobbs and putting them a lot higher up the family tree?! She loves where she is but (her talent) proves how great female D.J.s are as potent and influential as their male peers. There are a few things – I shall come to interview and biography later – that makes Hobbs one of the best D.J.s in the country right now. Today, I tuned into her morning show and it was filled with treasures. There was a report about Paul McCartney playing back in Liverpool, for one! It seems The Beatles legend played a secret gig at the Philharmonic pub in front of a modest selection of fans – he performed a Beatles-career-spanning set that was free from promotion and pomp. With James Corden in tow (no idea what his role was: he always seems to rile me!), the Liverpudlian icon delighted those lucky enough to be in attendance.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
Hobbs’ show also celebrated two-hundred-and-fifty years of the Royal Academy and, as always, brought the listeners into the frame. Messages were read and she, like the best D.J.s around, made those listening feel involved with every movement and song. The passion and intrigue Hobbs has for music and its endless shape-shifting is what gets to me. Whether it is a tender and beguiling revelation from Nils Frahm – a favourite artist of hers – or a hard-cutting offering from Kendrick Lamar; there are no limits when it comes to her musical tastes. It seems rather insulting and stereotyping to say those who have been in the music industry for a certain time lose their edge and tend to focus on music that lacks bite. Hobbs would have the cool and quality-driven aspect were she not employed by BBC Radio 6 Music: the fact the station encourages those spectrum-pushing D.J.s who open minds mean she’ll be where she is for many more years. Every D.J. on the station provides incredible musical variety but Hobbs manages to unearth rare gems and opens the vinyl crate to fresh and initiated listeners alike. Because of her, I have stepped up my ambition to create a music T.V. show and put a lot of time into a new music website. One of my ambitions is to have a one-off show on BBC Radio 6 Music and, as impossible as it seems, I always conspire and think which artist would kick off a three-hour show (I think a selection from The White Stripes’ sophomore album, De Stijl, would be perfect!). I listen to Mary Anne Hobbs of a morning – and her 'Recommends' shows – and am staggered by her knowledge, love of music and how varied her tastes are...
She is like the ultra-cool aunt (that is not meant to be ageist or insulting: she is a young woman but is older than I...) and someone who takes pleasure in heightened the listeners’ senses and giving props to the finest new musicians around. One cannot escape another golden facet of Mary Anne Hobbs: that incredible voice. It is a mix of, maybe, Joanna Lumley and a film heroine from the 1940s. There is a richness and chocolate-rich sultriness that strikes the mind, heart and…well, you can fill in THAT blank. It is comforting and calming; incredible sensual and engaging – which means you are hooked and would stay with her…even if she were reading Piers Morgan’s diary entries! The ‘Mary Anne Hobbs Package’ is completed with a tight twine fastening and beautiful bow: that mix of studio-played music and how she seeks out artists away from the studio. I have seen social media posts where she has spent an evening catching Kendrick Lamar enthral a Manchester audience – she is based up there – or frequent a sweatier, bladder-kicking band that demands their fans move every bone and molecule of their body. I have mentioned Nils Frahm and, given the gulf between him and a Thrash/Metal band; that sort of wide-ranging taste is hugely impressive. Hobbs does not limit herself to the studio and only do her day-shift: music is her life and, alongside a love of culture and the arts, her mind and body can be found hunting down the tastiest and most vivid performance around.
PHOTO CREDIT: @maryannehobbs
I will wrap up my feature soon but, before I conclude, I mentioned I would source an interview - that authoritatively documents Hobbs' path into the music industry. In the interview, conducted by Joe Muggs, the early life of (the curious) Mary Anne Hobbs was alarming and stirring:
“…As a young kid, I was way into punk rock, but my dad, who was an extremely violent alcoholic, had completely banned all music from the house. So if you wanted to buy a record, you would have to go to Mears Toyshop and place an order, and then one seven inch single would take nine weeks to reach the shop. At 12, 13, I was really really into punk, it was massively appealing to me. I cannot tell you how thrilling it was to sit in a class at school and be told in very grave and serious tones about how the Sex Pistols were literally on the brink of destroying civilised society as we knew it”.
Mary Anne Hobbs has written for various music publications, including NME, and that dream of getting to London was always in her mind. A rural village-dwelling music nut growing up around a violent and Punk-hating father – the youngster would flick between radio stations and see her records smashed and destroyed by her father. John Peel, it seemed, provide sanctuary and revelation – a tastemaker whose passion for music inspired Hobbs to take charge and follow her dreams. When she was kicked out of her home as a teenager; she was part of a band and worked crappy jobs to make ends meet. Food supply was grim – a bag of chips a day for a long spell – and dwellings were modest and cramped. It was a rebellious and unsure existence that, whilst money-lite and unhealthy, provided independence and those all-important first steps.
IN THIS PHOTO: The late, great John Peel (who Mary Anne Hobbs saw as a 'second father')
For me, living in a much more comfortable and secure environment; there are, however, some similarities. I am starting my rebellion later in life but there is me, now, living in a rather narrow and close-minded part of the world (pretty dull, too) and that ambition to move to Manchester and become much more involved in music. I have a list of rather dour and pointless jobs on my C.V. and there is that thing that keeps me going: knowing that music is where I belong and what gives me meaning and pure contentment. Mary Anne Hobbs’ path saw her overcome hurdles and make a huge success of her life. Her life, ideally, would be suited to a big-screen adaptation. One can imagine a brilliant soundtrack and the tale of a young girl eager to escape her small-town life and go where the action is. The last segment I will source from the interview (fascinating and engrossing) relates to Hobbs’ time at BBC Radio 1 and its male-dominated ethos:
“…So, yeah, that's the story. Anyway, I'd come out of that culture, so I was very feisty when I first came to Radio 1, also because I'd come from this very male-dominated culture at the NME where everyone was so well-educated and I had left school at 16 and gone to work at an egg-packing factory with no A-levels or qualifications of any sort. This was the era of Stuart Maconie, David Quantick, Danny Kelly, James Brown, Andrew Collins, Steve Lamacque, the list goes on: a tough environment for women to operate in without a doubt. And it was that era where everything was just that much more confrontational – so when I came to Radio 1 that was the culture I'd come out of”.
The reason I performed some 'noise thievery' (to quote a quality banger from The Streets' debut album) regarding the interview above is to illuminate how vivid and fascinating Mary Anne Hobbs’ life has been. Now, if you were unaware, you’d think there was nothing out of the ordinary and she has had a conventional road into the business. Not only is she one of the toughest and most enduring D.J.s in the business; she is that evergreen and endless promoter of music from all around the sonic globe. She involves herself with Dubstep and Metal; she throws her arms around modern Experimental and Folk music and seems like this is her calling. There NEEDS to be a Mary Anne Hobbs film at some point (I know the ideal star...) – to show what a role model she is and that incredible modern-fiction, battle-against-the-odds fight! Fast-forward to 2018 and the ever-wonderful Hobbs continues to raise awareness of gender inequality and what changes need to happen in the industry. She is part of a studio with greater equality than most: there is that need, still, to put their female D.J.s – including Lauren Laverne – higher up the order and set an example to the rest of the industry. BBC Radio 6 Music is the best station out there because of what Hobbs was denied as a child: freedom to express and to traverse music; play great music loud and not be fearful of repercussions and judgement. She is the figurehead and fountain that continues to better lives and make us all feel better and more connected. The Lancashire-born icon has brought brilliant music into all of our lives – I found Nils Frahm through her – and every weekend is a sheer delight. The Muse and radio heroine, we all hope, has a few more decades in her radio career – who knows how much further she can go and the changes she can help make! Mary Anne Hobbs kicks off my women in radio feature for a number of reasons. I feel I have covered plenty of ground and given plenty of rational but, yeah…
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis
DID I mention that voice?!