I had previously met Iain Hodgson on several occasions, usually though when there was live music being played and we struggled to hear ourselves speak, so today we chose the beer garden of the Red Deer in Sheffield city centre for our chat. It was a glorious sun shining day so we made the most of it and had a few cold drinks to keep our voices lubricated.
Iain is welcoming as always, but confesses to being a little nervous, amazingly, for a man who has been on local radio every week for several years. He soon settles into his normal rhythm of talking, which is about 50% faster than most people, and as usual, is bubbling with enthusiasm and has an infectious smile on his face throughout.
I started to work through the many ways Iain has been involved in music, Club DJ, over which he self deprecatingly corrects me “record player is perhaps about right now, though I used to be a DJ”, his ability to make light of his undoubted talents is immediately evident and surfaces many times during the interview. I persevere, host of Raw Talent on BBC Radio Sheffield and occasionally working on Soccer Saturday for the same company, plus he’s a musician, he was drummer in a band and has scratched the decks for another group, and on top of all this he has a day job! How does he fit it all in?
“It’s a balancing act” he admits “I feel a bit like a juggler.”
Iain had an early start to his radio career, beginning at 13 as a production assistant on religious programmes (on BBC Radio Sheffield), he really enjoyed it so carried on working on them regularly. He picks up the historical trail “then I started working with Jane Kitson on what I think was the Sunday Session back then, it was a version of Raw Talent but with more national and international music. She was an absolute legend and a fearsome character as well. Then Simon Clarke asked me to work on sport so I drove the desk there for a while.”
“I said I’d never do it again because I think we should have bottled that night and keep it as that, how could we follow that?”
Iain then left and went to University at Preston to study journalism and on his return to Sheffield got a job at Norwich Union, “like most of Sheffield it seemed” he jokes “the Reverend (Jon McClure) worked there as did James O’Hara (Threads/Bowery co-owner). I worked there for 4 or 5 years then thought it best to get back into radio so I rang them (Radio Sheffield) up and they said come and do bulletins for us. I listened to how others did it then developed my own style.
At this time Sham (Shamir Masri) was doing Raw Talent , so I started sending tracks to him, as I was in a band. Then I did a few interviews for Sham. When he left for Look North Denzil (Watson) took over for a while, but found it a bit much, with all his other commitments so when he called it a day I did a demo for it.” He grimaces “which looking back was atrocious, stilted and very scripted and I think I used the phrase ‘Raw Talent Land’ in there” at which he bursts in laughter “that was July 2008 I think, but since then its gone great” he lists the positives “we got back to a 3 hour long show and brought in the live sessions downstairs. We’ve linked in nationally (BBC Introducing), and we’ve just done our 4th Raw Talent live.” Iain adds proudly ” We’ve also done shows at Priory, Doncaster, Lucorum, Barnsley, plus the Red House, Threads at DQ and Club 60 in Sheffield.” Without pausing for breath Iain enthuses “the key thing I’ve followed is that it’s a show for all new music which gives us a big palette to pick from.”
We agree the South Yorkshire/Chesterfield music scene is very eclectic and Raw Talent is the one outlet for many unsigned bands and artists, the human dynamo continues “the last hour is where we go a bit experimental and wild.” I’m sure Shamir would be the first to agree that Iain has not only proved himself a worthy custodian of the show, he has taken it to another level !
How did Raw Talent actually come into being? Iain enlightens me “I believe Alan Raw at Hull was asked to do a band competition and off the back of that they needed a radio show to promote it, they put forward some names and Alan said ‘why not call it Raw Talent’. That was 7 or 8 years ago, when it was networked across Yorkshire and Humberside, then 6 years ago Jane picked it up and started a Sheffield version because there was so much going on here. Alan’s a great guy I’ve learned a lot from him and from Jane.”
The story continues “Then BBC Introducing came along, the idea behind it is to help up and coming bands, so you send a track to your local show, we play it, then you may get a Raw Talent/BBC Introducing gig and even a festival slot. We send tracks down to Huw Stephens and Tom Robinson in London and they do Maida Vale live sessions (for BBC national radio).”
Was taking Raw Talent on the road a new initiative? Iain confesses “Alan had done it once in the Casbah in Sheffield some years ago so I took a steer from him. Not doing it live was a key thing because if you put a band on live radio and tell them not to swear, there’s a good chance they’ll try and make a name for themselves.
The guys at Higher Rhythm (Doncaster) who we did it in partnership with, do all the logistical stuff, which I wouldn’t have a clue about, and it all went well. The first one was amazing, it sold out” Iain sounds like a dad boasting about his newborn “we had a great eclectic line up, Rosie Electro, an awesome talent who we’d been tracking for a while, Skullbone from Donny, a duo who sound like a 10 piece metal band, Playground Mafia ofcourse (the interviewers son’s band), Paddy (Orange) and True Gentlemen who sadly spilt up soon after, the Dead World Leaders with Jon McClure joining them on stage, then Skeletons who’d just headlined Leeds/ Reading Unsigned Stage.”
He sighs “I said I’d never do it again because I think we should have bottled that night and keep it as that, how could we follow that?” But they did, with one in Doncaster at Priory for which they brought over (from Sheffield) The Hosts and Lords of Flatbush and three good Donny bands. Iain explains “The thing about the show is, because I live, work and socialise in Sheffield I can become boxed in, but there’s so much talent out there, Doncaster has some terrific bands and Barnsley seems to have a real good scene with the BOM guys and Burn Down The Disco doing great things but they both have their own niche. Also they had a Love Music Hate Racism event with 19 fringe venues as well as the main stage with Neville Staples and Chipmunk.”
The DJ surfaces as he announces “We are also trying to help local DJ’s and producers so we’re looking at a night at SAWA at some point. Not planned my first folk night yet though” he says with a laugh but when I mention he’s had a few ‘folkies’ on RT “yes Neil McSweeney is something special, Little Lost David (now David J Roch) and Jody (Wildgoose) as well are great talents, as is Ian Britt.”
Iain even found time to have a heavy involvement in the inaugural Tramlines Festival last year, how did he feel that went? “I had a distinct lack of sleep during Tramlines 09, I took a week and a half off work and began preparing the Monday before, talking to bands in rehearsal rooms, previewing the event. The buzz on the Saturday and Sunday in the streets of Sheffield was awesome.”
Tramlines 2010 was more of the same but with nearly 50 venues participating, I suggest it was the best Sheffield festival we’ve ever had, just shading Music in the Sun, Iain hedges his bets “I loved Music In The Sun, it wasn’t just about one community, it had a great mix of West Indian sound systems and indie bands etc and I do miss that, as Tramlines develops I’m sure it will take in more, Alan Deadman already brings the eclectic tip of what’s out there. Tramlines was different though, it was touch and go for a while if it would happen last year but they pulled it off and it will definitely go from strength to strength.”
The most impressive thing about Tramlines was that it was free and accessible to all, Iain takes up this point “that’s it exactly, accessibility, people could wander round and check things out. That’s one of the main things about a festival, not just the main stage but checking out all the little stages and bands you’ve never heard of, that’s were you get your gems and nuggets. They actively tried this year to be more inclusive as well by having Oakey down at SAWA involved for more of the dance based things, Mark Hobson at Corp (Corporation ) is heavily involved at the harder edge of things, getting that balance right.
So what were his favourite moments from Tramlines? “Meeting Steve Lamacq last year was great , we were outside the Bowery and he must have been given 30 cd’s whilst we were there in 30 minutes. He talked about The Crookes, a band he was following, and also about his feeling towards Sheffield. He made a point about us having the right infrastructure for music in South Yorkshire with all the recording studios and rehearsal rooms. As well as that, because some bands have broken through like Arctic Monkeys and Reverend have done, people have learned how they went about doing it. Another benefit is that we aren’t under the spotlight anymore or at least not the intensity of focus there was just after the Monkeys when bands were getting snapped up left, right and centre just for that sound.”
We agree that it didn’t give a true reflection of the eclectic scene in Sheffield. Many bands were doing their own thing including the likes of Milburn who were on the scene before the Monkeys, and are still around playing great music albeit fragmented via Joe Carnall’s Book Club and Backhanded Compliments / Dead Sons. Iain takes up the thread “I remember seeing Milburn and Arctic Monkeys at Birdwell Social Club, I went with my best mate Matt, we really went to see the Monkeys but he was absolutely blown away by Milburn, and I still think to this day they were better on that night.”
“Tuesdays is one of the toughest days, I’m up at 6.30 for work and back in Sheffield at 5.30, into Radio Sheffield, first band is in at 7 to record then next band at 9 and sometimes we don’t finish til 1 am.”
Iain via Raw Talent also has a link to Leeds Festival too “Yes I compered the (BBC) Introducing Stage (2009) on the Sunday” he takes a breath in deep thought and admits “I’ve been in boardrooms, dealt with directors and MD’s of big companies but nothing compares to dealing with a Leeds crowd who’ve had three days drinking, on a Sunday afternoon when they are tired, grumpy and smelly. We had our Assistant Director General backstage too, and of course they said you have to get the BBC branding in and I said ‘look I’ll be on that stage for 30 seconds and as soon as the bottles start flying I’m off’ but it was really good. I saw a band called Everything, Everything, from Newcastle who you may not have heard of yet but you will. Its nice to be able to do that, its an absolute privilege to do Raw Talent but it tends to be that most of the music I listen to is local, so I don’t get much chance to sit back and listen to my kind of music any more.”
We discussed the amount of good bands playing nearly ever night in Sheffield in particular Iain immediately jumps in “One of my concerns has been, last year especially, that we’d reach saturation and people would get fed up of it and it would wane. I always tell bands who ask my advice to limit themselves, hold it back, if you play five gigs in five nights people are going to stop coming but the likes of Mabel Love are being managed very well in terms of their exposure, you can count on one hand how many gigs they have done in Sheffield in the last year, its measured and very effective. They are playing regularly but in other cities, I think they are trying to find the sound they want” he goes on “It was interesting interviewing Orange 38 recently, they were Paddy Orange Project then became a full band and have now stripped back to a three piece, they were talking about finding their sound. Same with Hiem, I was talking to Boz (David Boswell) and he said it took 6 or 7 years to find their sound. It’s the X Factor generation where they think fame is instant but it is definitely the realisation that you have to work for it. Then even if you work really hard it can be a case of being in the right place at the right time.”
We then turn to the change in format at his radio programme Raw Talent, when he took over live recordings of bands had to be done at Hull or Leeds, how did Iain manage to set up the change to record live bands in Sheffield? He grins “On a wing and a prayer basically, I think the first was Dead World Leaders, then the Tivoli came down and did acoustic sets in the broadcasting studio, which isn’t set up for a full band, but can get a good acoustic sound. We have a great space downstairs, a lecture room during the day and nothing at night, it has a stage and a mixing desk so we thought we’d start using it. At first we had no monitors, when The Hosts did it we had poor Tom virtually gaffer taped to the booth with earphones on so he could hear himself sing. It kind of built up from there, Dan Worrall, gave me some pointers on mixing so I learnt from there. Its still not Maida Vale (BBC Live Recording Studio in London) but there has been some really good stuff done here, if you include Tramlines Festival last year it must be near enough 150 live performance we’ve recorded for the show.”
It must be very time consuming for Iain with a full time day job? He admits “Tuesdays is one of the toughest days, I’m up at 6.30 for work and back in Sheffield at 5.30, into Radio Sheffield, first band is in at 7 to record then next band at 9 and sometimes we don’t finish til 1 am, but once that is done its great. We are booked 2-3 months in advance. It helps show people who can’t or won’t come to gigs what’s going on. It’s a live session so I don’t want it to sound like the demo, so if there’s some feedback that’s the live vibe.”
So maybe an impossible question, which ones stand out? I suggest that when Barnsley’s Exit Calm came in and Rob Marshall played guitar and Nicky Smith played rhythm and sang it was… again Ian jumps “that was spine tinglingly good, they came in and had an amp stack about the size of a block of flats and two guitars and they built this epic sound. Sometimes bands come down and surprise you or sound a bit different “he’s on a roll “The Hosts doing The City Never Sleeps’ a Nancy Sinatra cover, absolutely blew me away and I shout out for it at every gig they do now. Its hard to fix on just one.”
Iain is also a musician, he enlightens me “I was banned from having a drum kit when I was a kid until I was old enough at 16, to be able afford one, thanks to the BBC’s wages. My Dad had to go with me to buy one and smuggle it in whilst my Mum was out.” Obviously it wouldn’t have stayed secret for long. He smiles reminiscing “gosh it takes me back, I started playing in a cover band called Haze, we played Purple Haze, Guns ‘n’ Roses, etc, we rehearsed in a church and played occasionally at school.” He then moved onto to ”an awesome band” called No Moles In The Precinct, then to another cover band before auditioning for The Letter “but they turned me down” he says forlornly, before adding “I still gave them a live session.”
Not finished yet, his musical journey took in a church music group, then DJing “a friend introduced me to house music and I started going down to The Arches in Sheffield and then to Scuba, Remedy, All Points North and NY Sushi and it went on from there.”
University then called in 2000, then he came back to Sheffield and started playing drums with Bracken Hill, then a punk band, he also ran a Thursday indie night at Tequila, “with guy called Steve from FOPP.” Bracken Hill of course have a link to rising stars Pistola Kicks, Iain explains “Yeah Richie went on to form Pistola’s but I stepped out for a break then.”
Iain has since hooked up with Radio Sheffield colleague Seth Bennett along with a couple of (Sheffield) Steelers ice hockey players and various football players and managers in an occasional band called Benrod.
From time to time Iain has been known to guest for bands too, he bursts into laughter “yes I guested for Elephant Keys at Nick (Simmonite)’s wedding, that was a laugh, also I played drumpad for Playground Mafia for Dave Healy’s birthday at the Harley and I was appalling.”
So a musician, DJ and radio host with a full time job, but the component parts when added together don’t come close to describing Mr Hodgson’s role in the regions music scene.
Iain has carried the mantle of South Yorkshire music for several years, no matter what the genre, in fact he has championed the right of less commercially popular music to be heard on the airwaves. Many acts have much to thank Iain and his Raw Talent team for, but he is always very unassuming and modest. His love of music and passion for live gigs will find him at many venues across South Yorkshire every week, in his ‘spare time’ and he’s refreshingly accessible for musicians too.
Iain Hodgson is on Raw Talent at BBC Radio Sheffield every Thursday from 7 till 10 – 104.1FM, 88.6FM, 94.7FM and 1035AM & DAB.
If you want to submit a demo for his consideration see the website listed below, it could ultimately lead to a festival gig, ask Shake Aletti (Sonar) or Nerves (Leeds/ Reading) to name but two.