Station to Station
IN THIS PHOTO: Mary Anne Hobbs/PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis
Song Three: Mary Anne Hobbs (BBC Radio 6 Music)
EVERYONE has their own idea of what makes...
PHOTO CREDIT: BBC
for perfect radio but, for me, there needs to be this blend of warmth, humour and knowledge. If a D.J. is not connected with their audience and does not get into the heart then there is something lacking. I listen to BBC Radio 6 Music because everyone on the station is dedicated to what they do and you feel like nothing else matters to them. Every presenter has their own story and pathway but, essentially, the twin temples at London and Salford house some of the most passionate, acute and compelling lovers of music in the country. That may sound like a big statement to make but one can detect a very physical electricity and desire emanating from the speakers every day. I started this feature off by looking at Lauren Laverne and how she is, to me, one of the very best on the station. I love her breakfast show and think that, having taken the role over from Shaun Keaveny, she is doing a fantastic job! She has made the show her own and added a unique stamp to proceedings. It is a great way to start the morning off and then, at 10:30, she hands over to Mary Anne Hobbs. There is a clear and affectionate respect between the two and, having come from different directions before making their way to BBC Radio 6 Music, it is fascinating that these two passionate and inspiring women are on the same station – even if Laverne is in London and Hobbs is up in Salford.
I have a serious radio crush on Mary Anne Hobbs and, rather than it being anything salacious, it is the knowledge that here is a human who feels the same about music as I do – and that, in a frantic, confusing and divided world, is very powerful and reassuring. It is that comforting nature that means many tune into Hobbs’ broadcast and would not be anywhere else. Before I come to Hobbs’ show and how her move to weekday mornings, one must think about her past and why she has such a knowledge of the industry. I will quote an interview from The Independent that was conducted back in 2015. I am missing parts out but it shows you how Hobbs has moved through the years and shows how hard she has worked to get where she is right now. The interview is illuminating and frank; it will be a great reference and inspiration for those starting out in radio:
“The digital-first nature of Radio 6 and the Twitter dialogue she has with her two million listeners, means she feels she can truly engage with her audience. "It feels very much that they are part of what we do. They are a crucial component and they almost feel like family - I don't have my own family, but they've very much taken on that role in my life," she says.
After leaving Radio 1 five years ago, Hobbs worked for a year mentoring 700 students at Sheffield university. During that year she remembers attending her unof-ficial mentor John Peel's funeral and standing inside the cathedral "making a silent promise to myself” that she would share some of his encouragement and wisdom.
The university role gave her an opportunity to keep to the promise. The students produced 75 original radio programmes each week and worked on a digital TV channel. "It was really exciting, like being stripped to the bone every day by a school of starving piranhas," is how she remembers it”.
“Hobbs moved to Los Angeles with Sounds and lived in a shed in someone's back garden in West Hollywood. She had just $600 in her pocket when she arrived. "I had sold everything I owned - which wasn't very much - to get to America."
Three decades on from witnessing the birth of thrash, Hobbs is now watching the emergence of a new classical music scene. She's hugely impressed by Nils Frahm, whom she describes as a "Berlin scholar of Tchaikovsky" who brings a mix of electronic/ techno and classical music. She's also credited for discovering - and popularising - dubstep in the past decade and remains a great evangelist for the genre, pointing to artists like Burial, James Blake, Mala, Kode9 and Digital Mystikz.
The global tipping point for dubstep was at the Sonar Electronic, a festival in Barcelona in June 2007, when she DJ-ed in front of 8,500 people with Skream, Oris Jay and Kode9, which she describes as "one of the greatest nights of my life".
She also worked on the soundtrack for the club and bar scenes for Darren Aronofsky's Oscarwinning Black Swan.
When judging the iSessions finals, she says she will rely on her gut instinct built up over decades of experience sourcing new music. "It is entirely subjective," she admitted. "But it's not rocket science. It's very exciting as I might go into the room and the next new thing could literally walk in."
And as "a child of John Peel" she believes judging these student bands is carrying on his legacy”.
I have, as I said, omitted a lot of details but it is clear that Hobbs has had a varied and exciting past. Looking further back and, as a youngster, there was a sense of yearning that was not necessarily being met. Every one of us approaches music differently and we all had a different experience. For Hobbs, as this interview shows, things were not easy:
“…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”.
Your heart goes out to Hobbs and it is amazing to think that the girl who had such a hard start is now one of the biggest names on BBC Radio 6 Music. I look at the route Hobbs has taken regarding music journalism, working both sides of the Atlantic and now, as her career continues to grow, working in the morning slot on BBC Radio 6 Music. The industry has changed since Hobbs started out but there are those out there who want to be where she is right now and wonder if it will ever happen. Hobbs’ has worked hard but, against adversity and challenges, she has managed to succeed and shine. She has mentored others and is a D.J. that has brought joy to millions. This is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted and I thank her for providing me with a real sense of purpose and hope every day. It is rare we discover someone as hard-working, dedicated and passionate as Hobbs.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica van der Weert
When BBC Radio 6 Music announced their line-up change last year, I was a little wary. I was not sure whether the new combinations would work and how it would differ to what we knew and trusted. Within a matter of hours, you got this feeling that something good had happened. Hobbs, on weekend breakfast before, was allowed chance to expand and reach a new audience. I only got to catch her occasionally at the weekends but, now in this new slot, there are no excuses! I have read interviews Hobbs gave and she loves music as much now as she did when she started her career. There is something intoxicating about a presenter who has this much love for music and is always looking to unearth the best new artists around. I have received feedback from artists who have got gigs and new fans because of Mary Anne Hobbs. I do not think she knows the full effect her words and kudos has - and how important it can be to musicians that catch her eyes and ears.
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis
I do wonder whether Hobbs’ career will ever make its way to the big screen as she has interviewed some huge artists, seen music movements come and go and had this amazing arc. It is awe-inspiring seeing this always-inspiring woman tackling new ventures and helping artists. She has helped countless musicians reach new audiences and, when you listen to her show, you realise that she will be at BBC Radio 6 Music for many more years. Another reason why I love her show is because of that voice. In order to connect with your listeners, there needs to be a certain tone and gravitas that hooks you in and keeps you invested. Hobbs’ legendary, silken tones are, perhaps, the most luxurious, powerful and sensuous around. Again, it is not me being a bit smitten but there is this warmth that keeps us all safe but one gets this real kick and smile from Hobbs. The choice of music she plays is also another reason to investigate her show. BBC Radio 6 Music is renowned for its great taste and eclectic spirit and I think Hobbs is the epitome of that. I love what Lauren Laverne and Shaun Keaveny do but listen to Hobbs and you get the full spectrum of brilliance. I was listening the other day and there was some Heavy Metal only a few moments after some Ambient sounds!
It is amazing how she can have these incredible shifts and make it all work. Hobbs is tireless about her work and is dedicated to what she does. Whether it is promoting the music of Manchester and Salford or getting involved with festivals at BBC Radio 6 Music, she is at the forefront and proud to do her bit. A champion of artists old and new, getting the gold standard from Hobbs is much-coveted. I have discovered so much terrific music through her show and use it as a genuine guide. I discovered Nils Frahm through her – his album, All Melody, is still one of my recent favourites – and IAMDDB. Every week, I discover new tracks from great artists I have not heard anywhere else. Hobbs’ knowledge of the underground and determination to shine a light on the best approaching artists about is hugely commendable. She balances this paternal attitude with an almost God-like understanding of music’s past; the variation she plays and the music she loves is insane. Every show brings solid gold and you come away feeling educated, uplifted and moved. In terms of the talent on BBC Radio 6 Music, Mary Anne Hobbs is one of the most precious and strong. I know that she has ambitions but I do hope she remains where she is because we need and trust her incredible voice and tastes. Hobbs’ connection to musicians and how important they are also touches me.
IN THIS PHOTO: IAMDDB (one of many great newer artists I have discovered via Mary Anne Hobbs)/PHOTO CREDIT: Haris Nukem
When Scott Walker died a month ago, Hobbs broke down and was moved. It was a huge shock to her and you get the feeling that Walker’s music was a huge part of her life. That sort of love and commitment to an artist is incredible and you really felt for her when Walker passed away. I remember when David Bowie died in 2016 and, again, Hobbs was shocked and affected. Music is such a huge part of her life and it has helped her in so many ways. We all listen to music to feel something but I feel, to Mary Anne Hobbs, it means more than anything. You’d like to think she switches off but I can picture her at home and still in that mindset – unable to turn that passion off and searching for the hottest new sounds around. When BBC Radio 6 Music announced their changes last year, Hobbs spoke to Music Week and discussed what it meant to her:
“They’re really exciting times. Moving forward into 2019, everybody’s got an opportunity to play to their strengths and shine in the new slots,” said Hobbs.
“I’m thrilled to bits to have the opportunity to bring the rich diversity and palette of music I really love and that I’ve championed for a lifetime into the heart of the schedule. It’s a dream job, really.”
“What 6 have done is looked at a presenter who’s been very productive in the more shady areas of the schedule,” she said. “A great number of the artists I’ve championed over the years, people like James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, Nils Frahm, Kamasi Washington and Julia Holter, have resonated in the lives of our listeners. This is a chance to broaden the musical palette of the network in the daytime.”
The former XFM and Radio 1 DJ said she believes 6 Music bosses “would like to take many of the elements of the DNA of the programmes I’ve created for 6 Music at the weekends and evenings into daytime”.
I hope I have done her justice but I wanted to explain why Mary Anne Hobbs is so important to me and countless other people out there. She has made me a more aware and devoted feminist: not just the fact she plays so many powerful women on her show but you know Hobbs craves parity and change in the industry. This has rubbed off on me and I am always looking to raise awareness and argue against sexism in music. Hobbs has made such a big difference in so many people’s lives. For me, battling against depression and anxiety, her show provides that balm and gives me aspirations. I would love to be where she is and, when I was in Salford last year, I was sat outside the building where she broadcasts and wondering how cool it would be to be there. I can imagine the sense of drive and excitement she gets, still, walking into work and playing incredible music to the nation. We are so glad she is on weekday mornings and I know for a fact there are people out there who want to be Mary Anne Hobbs. She is such a source of inspiration and wonder – here’s to many more years of this titan on the airwaves! I shall leave my drooling and starry-eyed praise there but I do not do it lightly. I meant every word of the piece I wrote about Lauren Laverne and the same thing goes for Mary Anne Hobbs. She is a real gift to radio and music and, for that reason, we all owe her…
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis
A debt of gratitude.