FEATURE: Station to Station: Song One: Lauren Laverne (BBC Radio 6 Music)




Station to Station


IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne attending the forty-fifth annual Television and Radio Awards hosted by the Broadcasting Press Guild (she deservedly won the Radio Broadcaster of the Year prize on Friday, 15th March, 2019)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

Song One: Lauren Laverne (BBC Radio 6 Music)


IN this new feature...

PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Lee for The Guardian

I want to look at those in radio who inspire me and, in addition, countless others. I was trying to find a cool title for this feature and, for some reason, the much-overlooked David Bowie album of 1976 came to mind (TVC15 is a dope-ass song and needs to be played on the airwaves!). Next time out, I will feature Ken Bruce: someone who has been at BBC Radio 2 for years and has established himself as a bit of a legend – not least because PopMaster is a national institution! I wanted to start rolling the ball because, appropriately, I have just finished (as part of my research for a podcast series) listening to Lauren Laverne’s interview with Kate Bush back in 2011. It was when she (Bush) was promoting 50 Words for Snow and, to me, it is one of the best interviews I have heard! There is such a natural chemistry between the two and the questions are thoughtful and interesting. I cannot believe it has been over seven years since Bush’s last studio album and, bugger me, we do need another one along very soon! Anyway, I deflect and digress somewhat…

PHOTO CREDIT: Boden Diaries

Bush has provided a few interviews to BBC Radio 6 Music – Mark Radcliffe has done several of them, the lucky bugger! – and I know, when a new album arrives this/next year, it will be interesting to see who gets the call. I hope Laverne does because, as you can see from the YouTube comments on her 2011 interview, people responded hard…and it brought new sides from Bush (who knew the icon liked the film, Source Code, and was partial to the odd explosion!). It was refreshing to hear an interview with Kate Bush where the same questions were not being asked and, as a result, she was a lot more relaxed and revealing. One of my life-long dreams is to interview Kate Bush so, if Laverne does get the call, maybe I can be ‘security’ or ‘food carrier’ – or I can stowaway somewhere and covertly get in; vibrate like a gleeful moron and meet an idol. A boy can dream but, yeah, I think that chance has passed by.

I know, alas, I will need to craft my own way and put the miles in before being afforded a chance to come face-to-face with the mighty Bush. It might seem like a diversion and non-sequitur – it is forty years to the day Kate Bush opened her Tour of Life in Liverpool (I wrote about it yesterday); a groundbreaking and innovative concert series that revolutionised the feel and ambition of the live show – but one of the reasons a personality like Laverne connects and makes me stick with BBC Radio 6 Music of a morning is that common ground. Knowingly or otherwise, she has this innate ability to appear friend-like and paternal; like a cool mate in the schoolyard who is into the same sh*t as you; a radio version of multi-vitamins and rainbows – able to nourish every part of the body and soul and provide light and colour (that might sound wanky but, sue me, that’s how it feels). She has a great love of live music and new releases; a tireless curator and discoverer of brand-spanking music and the hottest fresh sounds around. I do love how Laverne embraces every aspect of music and every sonic corner. There are not many like her in the radio world!

Every listener will have their own connection to her but, as I say, it is that feeling like there is someone who thinks the same and has your taste in music. Not only do I imagine she’d chat about Beastie Boys (heroes of mine); the best Madonna albums (ditto: the obsession is more to do with her career evolution rather than fashion or anything like that – I just find her neat and unique); which album and song defines Steely Dan (as mega-fans we’d disagree but you know she’s put up a good fight). I find the Steely Dan thing interesting, actually, as I do not hear of many high-profile figures who have such admiration for the band/duo (one of the founders/members, Walter Becker, died of cancer in 2017). I have never met Lauren Laverne but I would probably start by asking about her love of Steely Dan and when they came into her life. I wonder whether her exposure is the same as mine!

PHOTO CREDIT: Boden Diaries 

There are other niche aspects to my passion I feel she’d understand – such as Michel Gondry music videos (Lucas with the Lid Off is my favourite video ever) and the sounds of the 1990s (and how it was the last really joyful time for music; we need to revive some of the best Dance/House/Pop music today). She also lives fairly close to me – Alexandra Palace is a venue local to both of us; she is in Muswell Hill and I’m in Wood Green – and is of a similar age (she is a few years older) and, rather than being this distant and unreadable D.J., it feels like there is this very open and of-the-people person who easily and warmly embraces all of us. I know for a fact many others feel the same way and, because of that, I hope she remains on the air for many decades to come. Why is Lauren Laverne on the block and the first BBC Radio 6 Music D.J. I wanted to feature, you might ask? (I am also going to include Shaun Keaveny and Mary Ann Hobbs at a later date). I used to listen to Absolute Radio (a station dedicated to playing the same songs over and over; a bafflingly-popular option) but, in truth, it was her old mid-morning show that opened my mind! The reason I became attached to the written word was – stay with me here, okay… – was school memories; a time when literature was a big part of the primary/secondary-school syllabus.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

I used to love book fairs at schools; where we could all pick up second-hand books for 50p and such. We’d also have these yearly ‘reading days’ where, in each classroom or hut - my old school (f*ck me, Steely Dan just came back into my head!) had traditional classrooms but we used to have huts/portacabin-type builds where art and subjects like that were taken - a chapter from a different book was being read out to those who wanted to hear it. The children could move from classroom to classroom and, simply, hear a passage read out by one of the teachers. It was on those days – one in 1989, to the best of my recollection – where I fell in love with books such as A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (the collected stories) and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. The latter was my favourite book as a child (Winnie the Pooh is now, oddly) because of the way the teachers made it spring to life; a dear friend of mine gave me the book as a birthday present – we were both born on the exact same day –, and I was immersed in the power of the written word and imagination. When it came to radio, listening to Lauren Laverne’s mid-morning show broadened my horizons in a similar way. I was already a mega-passionate music fan and journalist but new realms were introduced; this giddy and exciting world that was shut to me previously – why did I waste time listening to any other stations before?!

I shall come to Lauren Laverne’s change from mid-morning to the breakfast slot, but I think the reason she has such passion and authority is because of her musical past. She previously sat in for BBC Radio 1’s Steve Lamacq (now her colleague at BBC Radio 6 Music) and joined XFM – now Radio X, I think – back in 2002 (I am going via Wikipedia here so apologies for any errors. Her birthday is one day after my mum’s…kind of cool!). She started hosting the XFM breakfast show from 2005 after Christian O’Connell moved to Virgin Radio so, in a short space, she had worked for various stations and already done a breakfast gig. She joined BBC Radio 6 Music in June of 2008 and, before long, became a favourite for many. Since then, Laverne has hosted on every BBC radio station – maybe BBC Radio 1Xtra alludes her but that is about it! She has that experience and range and, although she is only forty, she has more experience and confidence than many of her much older peers. Not only did Laverne’s style and show inspire my ears and confirm my love of BBC Radio 6 Music but it has made me a more proactive and motivated feminist (as have her peers such as Mary Ann Hobbs). Not only has she enjoyed plenty of eclecticism behind the microphone in the radio world but she is a former musician.

I was a follower of Kenickie back in the day and, aside from their cool Grease-referencing moniker – I am not a fan of musicals but anything with Hopelessly Devoted to You and Greased Lightin’ (a song I first heard at eight; pretty eye-opening considering John Travolta talks about chicks creaming, his car being a “pussy wagon” and him saying “sh*t” and “tit” without much hesitation) is pretty good by me -, the band were writing songs more immediate and fresh than a lot of what was being played on the radio! As part of the four-piece Kenickie (her brother was also in the band), they released their debut album, At the Club, back in 1997. I know I have skimmed this subject in other Laverne-related pieces but, for context, it is important I travel back to a time when I was fourteen and discovered this cool new band. At the Club arrived three days after my fourteenth birthday on 12th May, 1997 and scored a lot of critical love! This is a sample review; AllMusic definitely impressed with the band’s debut:

Like Ash before them, Kenickie have an adolescent exuberence that makes At the Club a joyous, infectious debut. Kenickie are self-styled adolescents, making a big deal of their age, not only in their surprisingly funny lyrics, but in the way their guitars and drums bounce off each other, creating a wonderful cacophony. And just as wonderful are the songs themselves, filled with hooks and melodies that ring in the head, especially since they're delivered with ragged, invigorating enthusiasm. "Punka," "Come out 2 Nite," "P.V.C.," and "In Your Car" all date from early singles, yet they've lost none of their power. More importantly, Kenickie have come up with another batch of originals that are just as strong, making At the Club a terrific punk-pop debut”.

Laverne and Marie du Santiago penned most of the tracks and, with gems like Punka (one of the playground favourites when I was at high-school – a track co-written with her brother, Johnny X (real name Pete Gofton. Gofton is Laverne’s maiden name…gets confusing!) – it was small wonder At the Club resounded and was a definite favourite in my C.D. collection. My friends and I used to wax lyrical about bands like Kenickie. The group released a second album, Get In, in 1998 and, aside from the writing dynamic shifting slightly – the siblings co-wrote the bulk of the songs and were much more harmonious and less bitchy than Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis! –, the quality was right up there. This Pop-Punk band was a breath of fresh air at a time when Britpop still lingered in the wind and big bands like Blur were starting to take guidance from U.S. guitar acts such as Pavement. Groups like Radiohead, The Prodigy; Sleater-Kinney and Blur were defining 1997: Massive Attack, Beastie Boys; Hole and Garbage a year later…

Kenickie were able to ride the waves and create their own style: commercially popular and fresh enough to sway those who were following what was owning the charts or scoring big on music T.V. Laverne’s music career did not end when the band split and, in addition to giving a memorable backing vocal for The Divine Comedy’s Come Home Billy Bird in 2004 (she sang few words but made an impact in the chorus – sort of like Kate Bush’s duet with Peter Gabriel on Games Without Frontiers), she worked with Mint Royale and other artists. All of her experience in the industry during its absolute peak goes into her radio work. I am not suggesting those who have enjoyed a career making music translate into D.J.s more readily…but it is clear Lauren Laverne has a deep knowledge of the industry, having been in the spotlight for a time. Being part of a popular band, she can definitely relate to musicians today and what they have to go through. The landscape has altered since the 1990s but a lot of the same highs and lows remain in place.

IN THIS PHOTO: Emmy-Kate Montrose, Lauren Laverne and Marie du Santiago of Kenickie/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

To play and find popularity in the 1990s must have been immense, but that is not to say Lauren Laverne is rigid when it comes to playlists – her selections are, in fact, broader than most on BBC Radio 6 Music. This all takes us to now and why I feel she is one of the best on the airwaves. She took over Shaun Keaveny’s breakfast show back in January – they really need to take off the sting/jingle that opens her show saying that it is ‘new’ – and settled into the role very naturally. The woman deserves a week or two off to recharge her batteries as one feels weeks and weeks of early starts and having two young children must have her clamming for some calm and chill! I know Laverne’s work ethic is endless and she never sounds like she is flagging. I am not sure where she gets all that energy from but one can, vicariously, feel uplifted and driven listening to her every morning!

There are many reasons why broadcasters like Lauren Laverne mean a lot to me. Apart from her devotion to Steely Dan (Pretzel Logic is their finest album and Deacon Blues their greatest song, by the by!), if I had to put my finger on it, it is like she is in your head. It is also like no other area of the world bar Wogan House down on Great Portland Street, London means as much to her. I am sure the bus/Tube ride to work and back is not exactly a bed of roses each day but you just know she arrives to work with a smile and would not be anywhere else! This infectiousness rubs off on all of us as we struggle to lift our heads out of our cereal and negotiate every Tom, Dick and Twatbag (would that last forename be hyphenated?!) on the daily commute. It is that boost and hug that we all need and, damn it, I would be a weaker man without it, that is for certain! I think we all owe a debt of thanks to Lauren Laverne and her wonderful team.


PHOTO CREDIT: Boden Diaries

I was sceptical whether the move from mid to early-morning would work and whether it would mean we’d lose the best features and aspects from her regular show. Even though Biorhythms has gone, there are new features: The Maths of Life (with Dr. Hannah Fry) is great and Monday’s Cloudbusting (ten Kate Bush points there, team!) is ace; Social Recall (named after the film, Total Recall, I would imagine, minus Arnie Schwartznegger and the three-breasted mutant) allows listeners to put together a playlist of songs that represent a memorable and meaningful time of their life. It is the way Laverne interacts with the listeners and it has this mix of mother-like and matey that makes her so popular and accessible. Maybe it is just me but I do think some D.J.s are either too lacking in warmth or they can seem very anodyne and forced. Laverne has years’ experience but she is always growing as a D.J. and I think she is influencing and speaking to a generation of promising new talent who want to follow her example.

I know Laverne does talks and has spoken about radio and her career to audiences. I think, as we are hearing about music being taken from schools and (it’s) seen more as a ‘hobby’ and less of an essential thing, the experience and talent Lauren Laverne has can not only help guide young minds but make a big impression on those in the government who are depriving future generations. We cannot rely on music schools and universities to mould and discover the next breed of D.J.s and broadcasters. I think music/radio needs to be taught at school age and we cannot really allow it to slip from the public consciousness. This is just me going down another garden path, but one feels that Laverne’s words and guidance could help bring about change when it comes to the important of music in our schools.

She is still a very young woman but many colleagues of her age either try to be too cool or a little, let’s face it, boring! Lauren Laverne has that natural blend that we all love. Always funny and knowledgeable, she is like the very cool aunt you never had (expect my favourite aunt played loads of Steely Dan so I DID have a cool aunt once upon a time), but someone who is very much able to be serious and sympathetic. I remember listening to her show – in her old slot – when the news of David Bowie and Prince’s deaths were announced back in 2016. She provided us news of Scott Walker’s passing last week and, at all times, she keeps her composure and opens her show to include music from that artist. Some may say that is mere professionalism but it is an understanding of her listeners and a natural compassion that means we all stick with her and feel part of the family; comforted and less alone. Laverne has also made me more curious about vinyl; introduced me to great new artists and led me to become more attached to radio as a medium. In fact, aside from my life-long dream of interviewing Kate Bush (it might happen is she lives a few more decades!), having a once-a-week show on BBC Radio 6 Music is right up there! Because of Laverne’s eclectic music, her sheer energy and warmth…these are all reasons to aim high and be ambitious. Never give up, eh?!

A lot of my radio experience from the 1980s and 1990s revolved around the charts and seeing which new albums I needed to rush out and buy. I think purchasing Now That's What I Call Music! 24 in 1993 is right up there, sadly or not! (Actually, that compilation is f*cking boss so nuts to the sniggering!). The more options we have, the harder it can be to focus and find that sense of excitement. I listen to BBC Radio 4 when I can but, for my daily fix, it just has to be BBC Radio 6 Music. My first memory of life emanated from a radio: Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World wafting into a brown-and-beige house in, I’d say, 1986. That is such a special and evocative memory; I always get shivers when I hear the first few notes/seconds of Everybody Wants to Rule the World. Now, many of the happiest moments I have are because of Lauren Laverne’s show and her colleagues on BBC Radio 6 Music. For that alone, I am inspired to get into radio and, as is my dream, have my own show on the world’s best radio station.

I hope Loz gets a week or two off soon because she has been a busy human! She was justly named Radio Broadcaster of the Year at the forty-fifth Television and Radio Awards and, with that on her shelf/bedroom table/dashboard in her car, one thinks she’s owed a break and a pay rise (I dread to think whether D.J.s like Lauren Laverne and Mary Ann Hobbs get the same money as peers like Steve Lamacq and Gideon Coe). Maybe that is getting too political but, I dunno, it is something that needs to be discussed at some point. Laverne also hosts, now and then, Late Night Woman’s Hour and also, whilst Kirsty Young is ill, Desert Island Discs. She is brilliant on BBC Radio 4’s most-popular series and I hope she gets her own show (if she has time) on the station in the future. I am jealous of the way her career has grown and evolved through the years and how happy she sounds right now. It is motivating for me and so many people who love radio and have made it a big part of their daily lives.



My fondest wish is that more opportunities are given and doors opened for her. Like some of her peers/friends such as Caitlin Moran, I can see Laverne moving into screenwriting and literature (her 2010 novel, Candy and the Broken Biscuits (Candypop, Book 1) is available here). With awards and greater airtime, she is definitely proving why she is ahead of her peers. I do wonder whether she will get her own documentary or permanent show on BBC Radio 4; if there will be a small move into T.V. or new musical endeavours (owning a label or keeping up with backing vocals). Right now, she is adapting to a sort-of-new slot on a great station and providing companionship and fun to her listeners. I am curious whether there might be new features or, in time, live performances will be part of her morning routine. As it is, the show is pretty damned brilliant…but I know Laverne is a curious person always looking ahead at what could be.

IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne and St. Vincent looking pretty happy and relaxed/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music

I can envisage Laverne being on BBC Radio 6 for many more years but I think she will be on radio for as long as Annie Nightingale – the first woman to broadcast on BBC Radio 1 and a bit of an all-round legend who is still going strong! I wanted to tip my hat (again) to her because of her continued rise and the fact she has provided so much inspiration to me. I do think D.J.s and radio figures are not given the same space and love as T.V. and film performers and this is wrong. The work that people like Lauren Laverne and her peers do on a daily basis is hugely important. There is a lot of talk in the media - I argue and write about it a lot - regarding gender inequality in music and an evident pay gap. I hope women like Lauren Laverne help raise awareness (in the work they do and how popular it is) and bring about change in the industry. It is tough times and there are some controversial debates but I do feel like the best female broadcasters warrant the same pay as the men - this is something that bugs me and I do hope it gets sorted very soon.

View this post on Instagram

Right, then....

A post shared by Lauren Laverne (@laurenlaverne) on

I am so impressed she can easily switch from her weekday duties on BBC Radio 6 Music to her Desert Island Discs role on BBC Radio 4. The past year or so has been very challenging as I have tried to find a footing in London and make my way. Aside from seemingly contracting a cold every week – is it even possible to stay healthy in London when you take the Tube every day?! –, I have experienced some personal loss and bad fortune. It is nothing tragic but, as one knows, there are setbacks and problems along the way and it would have been easy to crumble or let them get on top of me. Music and radio has been my sanctuary so, in that respect, people like Lauren Laverne are invaluable and very precious to me indeed. I cannot complain too much but, having to adjust to a big city and a new way of life, it has been quite daunting and challenging.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne and actor Martin Freeman on Desert Island Discs/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBCRadio4

Laverne herself had some bad moments last year (including the sad death of her beloved father) but I think, in more ways than one, she is able to soothe and provide guidance without knowing me/many others. All great D.J.s and broadcasters should be able to speak to each and every listener without trying too hard and knowing who they are. The BBC Radio 6 Music listening demographic is pretty broad and the average fan has a pretty eclectic vinyl collection! The Sunderland-born D.J., broadcaster and writer does not betray her roots and, instead, it is almost like we are sitting in her family home of a morning, listening to Laverne play some cool tunes, having a chat with us and fixing us up a brew. I could prattle on a bit – I think I have done that enough – but many people ignore the radio or tend to find that it all sounds the same. The D.J.s I am going to include in this seven-part series each have their own personality and lure but they are all bonded by a common trait: the ability to hook you in and make your life better. If you are feeling a bit crap or need a good laugh; if you need to release some anger or are on the look-out for some solid musical recommendations, a great D.J. can satisfy these demands with a sort of telekinesis.

I will bring Ken Bruce to you in a week or so (not many sharp/great-quality photos of him online, alas!) but I wanted to start with Lauren Laverne. Make sure you check out her BBC Radio 6 Music page. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram. I will end with part of a message Laverne posted to her Instagram account after she won the Radio Broadcaster of the Year gong at the Television and Radio Awards:

“…I am so grateful for is that it has taught me to do things juuuust before I think I can (ie to make the leap when I’m almost ready but don’t quite feel it yet). Sometimes I fell on my face but mostly it worked out and even more often I ended up having the most interesting, hilarious, worthwhile professional experiences precisely because I tried things before I waited until I was overqualified/over prepared/10lb lighter/the kind of woman who looks casually amazing and has an upscale yoga lifestyle. My life is full, surprising, immensely rewarding and I’m never *quite* ready for any of it - maybe that’s part of the fun? Thank you most of all to my sensational family for their love & support”.

As a teen Pop-Punk artist or just starting out on radio, could she ever have imagined she’d be where she is now?! Laverne might have said that she is never quite ready for all the challenges and busy life…but her family extends to those who wake up with her every morning. She might not realise the impact her words have on us out there – as she cannot see us and it can all be a bit abstract – but there are countless stories in countless settings where our lives, short or long-term, have been improved by broadcasters like her. She is still a young woman and I do wonder just how far Laverne can go in the next few decades – that thought might scare the crap out of her (sooooorrrrrry…)! Every award and listener figure boost she gets shows how many people rely on her so, if you have not heard Lauren Laverne checking in like a champ every morning, then you really owe it to yourself to go…  


PHOTO CREDIT: Marks and Spencer

CHECK her out.