BBC Radio 6 Music’s New Evolution
IN THIS PHOTO: Former BBC Radio 6 Music breakfast show host Shaun Keaveny is now on from 1 P.M. during the week/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/BBC
announced their new line-up. It did not involve any new presenters taking slots; more the existing line-up being moved to new time periods. Shaun Keaveny’s reign as breakfast host ended after eleven years and he is now on at 1 P.M. Mary Anne Hobbs comes in from 10:30 in the morning and, in the new breakfast slot, Lauren Laverne now takes to the throne. It has not been a big shift but there are many who have been used to a certain sound and way of working had things to say. For most of us, this move has been an evolution and something that needed to happen. I have been checking Twitter for the past few days and both Laverne and Keaveny have been doing ‘dummy shows’. They did not air but, essentially, they were in the studio in Wogan House and doing a mock-up of the final product! To make sure they are fresh and confident today they have done a couple of test shows to get the feel and format down. I love the fact Chris Hawkins has an extra half an hour and we get to hear more of him in the morning. The loyalty and faith he has shown the station is incredible and he is always ready to step in and cover a show if needed – someone who never seems to stop working and is always ready for action. After ending his extended show (5:00 to 7:30 A.M.) with the Beastie Boys’ Shake Your Rump, it was over to the new breakfast show – after the news report, naturally.
The new show started with a fresh bed – a bit more active and peppy than Keaveny’s – and, after an alarm sound, we opened with Prince. Starfish and Coffee got things off to the races perfectly. The first song choice is always a difficult one: it announces a new era and sort of sets the tone. Anything too rousing and fast would probably be a bit too much; get it too slow and it is a rather damp start to the morning. Instead, we got a smooth, silky and uplifting Prince number that, whilst not in his top-ten provided a nice surprise and a great way to start things off. I can only imagine how much planning and thought went into that opening track. Laverne came to the microphone and, after a brief introduction, it was on to more music. Again, like the opening track, getting the next number spot-on was crucial. From a 1987 Prince classic it was to a bit of more-modern Thundercat with BADBADNOTGOOD and Flying Lotus – King of the Hill continued the smooth, seductive and physical opening that meant, just after 7:40 A.M., we were all awake, ready and eager! I was a little surprised by an all-male one-two regarding music but, knowing the balance and how Laverne usually sets out her stall, there would be female-led songs very soon. One would not notice the fact that this was her first breakfast show and she was in a fresh time slot.
IMAGE CREDIT: BBC
Asking the listener how long they have been with the show and welcoming in new followers, it was a warm and welcoming opening that was as slick and professional as you’d expect. Those expecting the same mix as Keaveny provided – the regular beds and his style of delivery – would have been disappointed but, after eleven years, it is great hearing a new voice in the breakfast slot. Next week sees Zoe Ball take to the BBC Radio 2 breakfast slot – it is a female-heavy charge at Wogan House in the breakfast slots! In many ways, 2019 already seems like an evolution and move towards equality regarding gender. Mark Goodier is doing the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show this week – Ball was joking in the press that she asked for several alarm clocks for Christmas to make sure she was up in time! Back to BBC Radio 6 Music and, in many ways, it was kind of like the normal Lauren Laverne show moved to breakfast. The same caramel and familiar tones led the show but there were some new features and touches in the show – more on that later. I think the music choices and the opening few tracks were the most surprising aspect of the opening hour. I loved the Prince opening and there was a definite tone to the opening segment. Very few big guitars or anything to suggest this would be an Indie-Rock breakfast show. One of the criticisms levied at BBC Radio 6 Music through the years is that they seem to be catering too heavily to guitar music – maybe that was the case to start with but they have become much broader and diverse through the years.
I was surprised by the male-heavy start and half-expected some classic Motown, Disco or 1980s Pop to make an appearance early. Looking back at it, it was not such a big thing. As the show wore on, as I shall state, there was plenty of female-fronted sounds and I actually like the fact we were given this quite calming yet playful musical opening. If it was guitar-heavy and we were jolted awake then it would have seemed jarring and a bit too similar to other shows on the station. This was, right from the off, a very different breakfast show: BBC Radio 6 Music evolving and encouraging a reinvention rather than a new presenter fronting the exact same show! It has been a pretty non-eventful and rough year (2018) for me – a rather fruitless and money-draining move to London has left me a bit worried how things will pan out and, indeed, whether it is possible to get a job in this city. Against all this financial cat-and-mouse and fear comes the safety and comforting hug of BBC Radio 6 Music. It has been with me through all the good and bad so, if there were any unwelcomed changes, it would seem odd and strange. Luckily, Laverne was in the new breakfast show to provide that familiar comfort and there was no need for worry. With Julia Holter taking providing a nice tonal shift and an extra ounce of morning energy, it was almost the end of the first half hour. Having kicked things off with a Prince stunner; the show was comfortably into the groove and any doubts as to whether Lauren Laverne could add her stamp to breakfast was gone – she sounded, even that early, like her whole broadcasting life has been leading to this.
I was a bit sad she moved from the mid-morning slot because I love her regular features such as Biorhythms, Desert Island Disco and Memory Tapes. Her interviews and live sessions were always a staple and I was eager to see whether there would be any listener-focused threads or whether it would be a bit early for her usual punters to offer their musical choices. Before the 8 A.M. news it was back to more gentle and soothing territory – the sleepy and dreamy 3WW by alt-j (again, keeping the male voices high but, in fact, the opening half an hour was perfect in terms of balance and sonic textures). A great slice of M.I.A. – I won’t name-check EVERY song, don’t worry! – got the next half hour off to a great start and, again, you can tell how much effort and thought had gone into the music. Given the time of year and the fact it was a new show meant there was not a lot of brand new music in the early portions – it is January and it will take a while for artists to bring out some new tunes. One could have forgiven the show for putting together a collection of overly-familiar and crowd-pleasing songs to ensure everyone was satisfied but we got a more original, thoughtful and diverse set of songs. In many ways, the music of the new breakfast was similar to that of the old mid-morning show: business as usual for Laverne fans but a change of gear for those new to breakfast show.
PHOTO CREDIT: BBC/@laurenlaverne
Monday is a bit of a sh*t day for everyone and we were all looking for something/someone who could wake us up, give us that boost and, as it is the first day back at work for many after Christmas, that extra kick in the bottom! I was excited by the tease that Emily Eavis would be on the show after 9 – providing some Glastonbury tease and news (would we hear some pleasing new regarding a female headliner or a legend like Sir Paul McCartney making an appearance?!). After a burst of hot-off-of-the-press Lizzo – her new jam, Juice – I was familiar with the new breakfast show and, yeah, it is an instant success. I will continue this review, of course, but by 8:12 A.M. I was smiling and could tell that this new breakfast show was rock-solid and something that could last for another eleven years – if Laverne would be in it for that long I think we could all truly get behind that ambition! Any grumbles or drawbacks after the first hour of the show? Not this way! I was a bit ho-hum about the male-heavy balance of music but it was a masterstroke. As Marvin Gaye helped sail us towards the end of the first hour, I looked back and everything sort of clicked. I guess the absence of Shaun Keaveny clattering, getting insulted and thrashing against the world, in an odd way, was hard to take but a new dawn has broken – it was clear all the rehearsal, meetings and endless graft had paid off and we were hearing a very natural and pleasing breakfast show.
One of the big themes of the opening show was to welcome listeners in and ask how long they have been with the station. Rather than the usual Monday Motivators or Earworms, Laverne was keen to open her show like a new school year – setting out her stall and making sure the transition was as personable and interactive as possible. The music got better and better as we headed towards the news and another masterful tune was laid in: Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads. That song was a fond memory of my middle-school years (the song came out ten years before I started middle-school) and here was this blast of nostalgia and remembrance. As I grinned like a lunatic through Talking Heads and realised that the first hour of Lauren Laverne’s breakfast show had gone by REALLY quickly...I was already excited to see what the final couple of hours offered in terms of features, surprises and big tunes! I think the biggest challenge anyone would have when it comes to replacing a long-running breakfast host is ensuring you do not repeat things but making sure the new format does not alienate. I was delighted to hear that, indeed, there would be a segment dedicated to listener requests after 9 A.M. Cloudbusting is a new section that is designed to ask for songs that banish the clouds and bring some cheer. The fact that it is Kate Bush-themed ticked lots of boxes with me and it is a really simple and good idea – we will have to wait a little longer until we get there.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
Any suggestions of fatigue and slowly adapting to her early slot didn’t show – she is a mother-of-two so is used to human alarm clocks waking her every morning, I guess – and one could feel the change. Less conversational and format-based than Keaveny’s show – he had his beds and segments; very structured in form but open to mishap and fun -; Laverne was offering a looser show and was like a mate taking us for a coffee and a chat...perfect stuff. Looking at the tweets that were coming in for Lauren Laverne’s show early on, it seemed like people were loving her in the new role and definitely behind her music choices! A new feature, 6 Music Musings, talks to some well-known names and asks them for some words of wisdom; they pick a song and we get a nice slice of tuneage and some very sage words to boot! After some terrific Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, I checked back on Twitter and the love kept coming. Not only did the former breakfast show’s Shaun Keaveny and Matt Everitt offer their praise and hugs; people far and wide were giving an emphatic Paul McCartney double-thumbs-up - I could see no criticisms, grumbles or high-raised eyebrows anywhere on the Internet! Enjoying some spiky and beefy Smashing Pumpkins before the news, I was half-tempted to suggest Steely Dan’s My Old School for the inaugural Cloudbusting but I figured demand would be high and there may be some Dan in the show a bit later. Again, by the mid-way point we were seeing something fresh with its own personality – no jitters; pure gold and confidence right the way through. If anything, the post-9 A.M. run provided more content and a better look at what the new breakfast show would encompass – the introductions were over and, yes, congratulatory tweets were flooding in all over the shop!
There is a simple brilliance regarding Cloudbusting. I might be bias when it comes to the title – ANYTHING that nods to Kate Bush is alright by me! – and what it does. It is listeners suggesting their favourite songs and, on the worst day of the week, twenty minutes of fried gold is just the kind of tonic to make the Gods of Misery scratch their beards with a perplexed gaze. I think the mark of any great and natural breakfast show is one where you adopt it to heart right away. You are not nervous regarding what comes next and you do not anxiously sweat and wondering how long it will take to get that same joy you had before. I loved Keaveny’s show but found myself chilled and completely seduced by Lauren Laverne by 9 A.M. How would the first Cloudbusting work out? Well, with Stevie Wonder covering The Beatles’ We Can Work It Out...a pretty emphatic and memorable one! Having started the show with some stone-cold Prince bliss; a dose of underrated Stevie Wonder provided a lovely treat. Cloudbusting lived up to its names and brought more sunshine with some Lady Marmalade/Labelle swagger – get those hips moving, people! After a few other choice cuts, including Florence + the Machine’s Dog Days Are Over, I had to take a breath and drink it all in – it is clear this new breakfast incarnation is designed to provide as much soul, energy and warmth as possible.
PHOTO CREDIT: Boden Diaries
I love how the show’s sonic tones changed between the hours. The opening hour was very much a similar path to Lauren Laverne’s usual morning show but other genres came to play soon enough. Just before 9:30 A.M. it was almost like Craig Charles was spinning the platters – lots of Funk, Soul and heavenly tunes that kicked a rather grey Monday into the heavens. That kind of gear-shift might catch some off of their guard but it was another natural evolution and, like every aspect of the show, carefully planned and beautifully considered. I was almost sad when I realised the final hour of the first show was upon us. The first show is a biggie and a litmus test: the second show, in many ways, is the biggest test. Can the momentum remain and will we get a sense of the new audience figures and reaction? Playing Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run into the 9:30 A.M. news almost seemed like a the answer to that question: this show was running on gas and had found its feet on its debut outing (how many shows sound that solid and complete right from the very start?!). I think the biggest change to the breakfast show was the lack of change. I heard – through interviews Laverne gave – they were toying with features (including one called House Music; details a little sketchy on its pitch) but the reason the first Lauren Laverne breakfast show got off to a flyer was because it was about the music.
PHOTO CREDIT: BookTrust/Getty Images
If there were gimmicks, phone-ins and too many new features then it would seem too crowded, experimental and busy. As it was, we were getting what we hoped for: a brilliant and much-loved D.J. playing brilliant tunes, welcoming in her new flock and making sure BBC Radio 6 Music 2.0 was a smooth and assured one. If the first few songs of the new breakfast show were male-heavy; it was very much about the women as we entered the final hour. Solange’s Losing You was followed by Róisín Murphy and The Rumble (a new cut from her). I was thinking back on the records played so far and I had no heard a downbeat or slow song. The first Lauren Laverne breakfast show was very much about getting people up and making sure the serotonin levels were at full chat! Laverne’s chat with Emily Eavis was great and, although it was a pre-recorded telephone chat, the sound quality was good (a lot of phone interviews can be crackly and inaudible) and some juicy deets was revealed. I have never been to Glastonbury – always wanted to – and it was great hearing Eavis announce new areas, stages and bits for this year’s festival. Janelle Monáe was revealed as a headliner for the West Holts stage. We already have Stormzy confirmed as a headliner on the Pyramid Stage and Kylie Minogue will perform in the legends slot.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
It is good to hear there are going to be some big female names taking to Glastonbury this year and I hope that is mirrored on the Pyramid Stage. Although brief, the chat with Emily Eavis definitely provided some good news and temptations for those wondering whether how Glastonbury would return after a fallow year. Personal music tastes often find their way into broadcasts – especially new shows and debuts – and I did wonder whether we’d hear some Beastie Boys or Steely Dan before the end. So far, it seems like Laverne’s personal collection was being left for later shows (we did hear some Beastie Boys earlier so can’t complain on that front I guess). As the final half an hour came onto the horizon I asked, truly, whether anything could be improved and what one would hope for shows going forward. I think a lack of features (bar the excellent Cloudbusting) gave the first show a music-heavy feel and I am interested to see whether there will be equivalents of Desert Island Disco and Biorhythms down the line. One of Laverne’s skills is her rapport with her listeners and it is always good hearing a listener’s selection. Again, that might be all to come so the first show, in many ways, was about providing an accessible and uncluttered show that would please the core fanbase and bring in some new followers. Although Golden Globes reactions was dominating Twitter’s trends and most-discussed; I was seeing a lot of love and support for Lauren Laverne in this new time.
IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne with Alan Carr on Desert Island Discs/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC
I guess it is not a radical shift in terms of time but the breakfast show is the biggest on radio and carries with it a lot of expectation, pressure and reputation. As I ponder before the final half hour, I wonder how the new earlier start will impact Laverne’s role as Desert Island Discs host. I am not sure when Kirsty Young is back but I hope she (Laverne) can balance both roles because, right now, there is no more powerful woman in British radio (I think) than Lauren Laverne. A bit of funky Steve Mason took us into the news at 10 (a little after, to be fair) and I was sort of sad to realise there wasn’t long left in the first show. I think so many people have been building it up and wondering whether the new line-up/evolution at BBC Radio 6 Music would be a good one. Although I could not stick around for Mary Anne Hobbs’ first weekday morning show – have to get out of the house for a couple of hours at least! – I was readying my mind to review Shaun Keaveny’s new afternoon show; delighted by Lauren Laverne’s new breakfast show and almost sad to think that, when I get a job, I might miss out on her...unless I can find a way to covertly listen whilst at work!
PHOTO CREDIT: Boden Diaries
The final half hour ensured the energy was kept high and listeners were primed to make their way through a hard morning back at work! Tuff City Kids’ (ft. Joe Goddard) Reach Out Your Hands (Erol Alkan Rework) gave us a great boost and one of the most body-moving tracks of the morning. One can be pedantic and picky when it comes to music but I did not feel like there was a misstep or missed opportunity at any stage. Every piece of the jigsaw fit and it coalesced to provide a familiar yet new show. For those who are used to Lauren Laverne’s regular show and missed that would have been relieved to hear her make few radical changes for her breakfast move. I guess time will tell whether there will be big plans, changes and additions. I have been fascinated by the handover from Shaun Keaveny to Lauren Laverne but I love the connection between Laverne and Mary Anne Hobbs. Hobbs was on the line to have a brief chat before her 10:30 show and talked about a new feature, All Queens – a mix of female artists that would be a fixture of every Monday show. It is a shame I have to miss it but will make sure I get onto the BBC Sounds page and listen back to the show this evening! We were into the final ten minutes by the time DJ Shadow, Q-Tip and Lateef the Truth Speaker had given us Enuff.
The last ten minutes gave me time to reflect, give some impressions and have a think about Lauren Laverne’s first breakfast show. I genuinely can’t think of any negatives and constructive criticisms – it is hardly my place to do that! – and I think it was as varied, personal and terrific as we all hoped. I think many look for new features right off the bat but we had a couple in the first show. The mix of music was great and it wasn’t just classics: there were a couple of fresher cuts and a great balance in terms of genre and tempo. It is hard to get the Monday mix right but that is what we got. The show woke us up, made us smile and, most importantly, demonstrated that there is nothing to worry about: this New Year’s evolution on BBC Radio 6 Music is a good thing and all your favourite D.J.s are still here, in a different slot. As she bade farewell after her maiden voyage on the breakfast waves, the praise was still coming in without abatement. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s show and whether we will get any new bits and revelations. The doubters can rest easy and the loyal faithful can sit calm and satisfied. Many people say that all change is a bad thing but, as proved in the first show of BBC Radio 6 Music’s new line-up; it is very clear that the new breakfast show is...
IN THIS PHOTO: Shaun Keaveny, Steve Lamacq; Mary Anne Hobbs and Lauren Laverne are spearheading BBC Radio 6 Music’s new line-up/changes/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC
IN very good hands!