Saturday, November 21, 2009

Radio Days

Southover Bonfire Society 2009 march, entering the fire site in Lewes, image by Oliver Gozzard In the run-up to Lewes’s amazing Bonfire celebrations, I realised a life-time’s ambition – presenting a live radio show!

I was lucky enough to be offered a brace of two-hour shows on Rocket FM – the Lewes Bonfire movement’s radio station, which transmits for around a month every year on 87.8FM in Lewes and the Ouse Valley and on throughout the world.

It was a brilliant experience!

Perhaps I spent rather more of my spare time preparing for the shows than I should have done.

Oliver's Gozzard Timewarp show on Rocket FM in Lewes 2009 Almost obsessively I listened to hundreds of tracks from the 1970s and 1980s and burnt the midnight oil scripting the shows in tremendous detail, including many of my favourite songs and my best stories from my time as a national newspaper pop writer.

It paid off to some degree, though I wasn’t great at delivering my lines and also made a few technical errors.

All the same, the audience seemed to enjoy my Timewarp shows – broadcast on two Sundays, 11 September and 18 September.

Oliver Gozzard's Timewarp show on Rocket FM 2009, Lewes

I received emails or texts from friends listening in Iceland, Hungary, Belgium, as well as Leicestershire, Rugby, Coventry, Oxford and Portsmouth.

But just as important were the listeners in Lewes and area.

My favourite email was from two people I do not know. It reads, as it was written:

"This is sunday night Lel and Moks listening to Olllys show on Rocket FM and its fantastic! In the last half hour you have played 2 of the most exciting pop records ever made - anarchy in the uk by the sex pistols and too much too young by the specials - with a Joni mitchell sandwich and OH MY GOD now the Smiths - !!!!!!!!

WE love you XXXXXXXX"

Feedback like that made it all worthwhile.

I listened to a lot of Rocket FM during the month it was on air.

It is how a community radio should be, with every kind of music and presenter imaginable strutting their funky stuff on the airwaves.

The mainstays of the station are also incredibly supportive of new presenters such as myself.

I was as nervous as hell at driving the show but my engineer, Pete, an experienced DJ, was really positive and generous in his approach.

Rocket FM breakfast show DJ Dino at the station's 2009 launch party in Lewes

The season kicked off with a launch party, at the St. Mary’s Social Centre, which is adjacent to / mother of the cozy studio (built in a small storeroom).

The party had a band, broadcasting live on Rocket FM.

It was a very entertaining occasion.

Dino, who with Ruth O’Keeffe hosts Rocket FM’s Breakfast Show, hosted the evening as well as belting out quite a few numbers himself - as Ruth knitted away in a quiet corner.

At one point some girls from the dance floor did a number – broadcast live.

It was a most entertaining night and, again, just what community radio should be about.

In my show I played all sorts of numbers I have loved. From The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks (the late John Peel’s favourite record) to The Damned’s New Rose – the first UK punk single – to Elvis Costello’s Imagination (Is A Powerful Deceiver), a stunning track that will very rarely have graced the airwaves.

Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Sex Pistols, Graham Parker and the Rumour - all the greats.

I was invited onto Dino and Ruth’s Breakfast on a couple of occasions and read the first three pages of my forthcoming poetry book, The Commuter’s Tale, and, on the second occasion, Give Me A Haircut Like Byron!

I always enjoy Dino and Ruth’s show. It had a really local favour and a lot of guests.

Admittedly it was hard getting up in time to walk up to the studio for the breakfast show.

But the view on the way - of Lewes Castle in the rising sun - was wonderful.

Lewes Castle in early morning light, image by Oliver Gozzard

Life has been hectic on all fronts since I last blogged.

Southover Bonfire Society stalwart Matt Street asked me to write a memorial poem about the tragedy of HMS Royal Oak – to be read out at the Southover War Memorial on 5 November.

The Royal Oak was a theme of this year’s celebrations. If you don’t know the story (and I didn’t), a German U-boat sneaked into the deep moorings at Scarpa Flow, in the Oakney islands, on one night in mid-October 1939, and sunk HMS Royal Oak with three torpedoes.

Eight hundred and thirty-three men and boys perished in this daring, yet cowardly, act.

Walter Dunk, of Priory Street, Lewes, who died on the HMS Royal Oak that night in 1939, aged 17 One of them was Walter Dunk, aged 17, who was from Southover in Lewes.

Indeed, he lived on the same street as I now do.

Well, I wrote a poem – I have to admit I found it tough – and called it The Eight Hundred and Thirty-Three.

I read it out on the Fifth at the Southover War Memorial, between a homily by the Rev. Steve Daughtery, and wreath-laying by a war veteran – and the bugling of the Last Post.

It seemed to go down well and, afterwards, a gentleman came up to me and said he was Walter Dunk’s brother, Patrick, who still lives round the corner from where they had grown up on Priory Street, Lewes.

Patrick Dunk with pictures of his brother Walter Dunk who died on HMS Royal Oak in 1939, image by Oliver Gozzard Later, I went round to see Patrick, who is now 69. He said he was 17 years younger than his brother, having been born just a few months after Walter's death.

He said he understood that his brother had died standing to attention beside his bunk, under strict orders from an officer, as the HMS Royal Oak sank in just 13 minutes. Very sad.

Lest We Forget flaming banner at Southover War Memorial, November 5, 2009, image by Oliver Gozzard For me, the annual Lewes Bonfire event is part remembrance and part party.

The latter was especially good this year in Lewes.

The Southover marched with great discipline and decorum and, at the firesite, partied like it was 2009!

The atmosphere among the Southover Society was superb.

And when the march entered the firesite, with the Cluniac monks at the fore, it was a special moment.

Under the red flare, an awesome feeling.

Once on the firesite, we warmed ourselves beside an inferno of a bonfire and danced to the samba band.

Dancing at the Southover Bonfire Society fire site, Lewes 2009, image by Oliver Gozzard

I was struck by the silhouette of one girl's hat.

And when the fireworks came, they were extraordinarily well coordinated and artistic.

Silhouette of girl in hat at Southover Bonfire firesite in November 2009

Generally, it has been a time of coincidences.

I received a letter from an elderly gentleman called Ken Flint who used to live in my house in Lewes.

A charming man, of the same generation as Walter Dunk. Ken now lives in Deal, in Kent, but says his heart is still in Lewes. I have written back and will send him an image of our little house as it is now.

By another quirk of fate, an old friend, Melanie Knight, wrote an excellent piece about her formative years in Lewes, for the local newspaper, the Sussex Express.

I had worked with Melanie - now Mel Jennings - as a reporter at the Coventry Evening Telegraph from 1986-88.

She stayed up in the Midlands, marrying and continuing to work for the paper. I moved down south to the bright lights of London and, eventually, the tranquility of Lewes.

Strangely, when I started this blog during the week I was working again in the Midlands and living within a handful of miles of Mel. Yet, I never saw her.

She says she has also spent quite a lot of time visiting the part of Lewes in which I live - but we have never bumped into each other here, either.

Not such a small world!

Anyway, I wrote to her about her piece and we have since exchanged letters and emails which is very pleasant after all the years that have passed, so much water under the bridge.

Brighton at dusk on a windy November day, 2009, image by Oliver Gozzard

The weather has been pretty strange.

Some remarkably lovely days in London, Lewes and Brighton.

On one, I caught the train to Eastbourne and saw the film of the book Brighton Rock being remade, with 'mods' rioting under Eastbourne Pier. Looking good!

The rest of the time, there have been some atrocious downpours.

Sometimes, I feel like a drowned rat after going to the shops!

Downpour at Lewes Railway Station, November 2009, image by Oliver Gozzard

It has been frustrating that I have not been able to get over to Earwig Corner to sort out my allotment.

It would be good to dig in manure to try to improve the yield of next year's crops.

Or, even, to put in some winter crops.

But it often seems to be too dark or wet.

Allotment at Earwig Corner, Lewes
On a positive note, on one gloriously sunny day, The Mighty Rooks - Lewes FC - chalked up a home win - their first of the season - against Bishops Stortford - The Mighty Bishopric - at the Dripping Pan, triggering disgraceful scenes of jubilation and drunkenness among the Lewes fans, myself included.

Crowd as Lewes FC beat Bishops Stortford October 2009

I am afraid I am not terribly good at blogging.

I rarely find time to write blogs.

When I do, I try to illustrate them with numerous images I have taken and also overwrite, failing to build up a following or stick to a subject.

For me, blogging is about keeping a record of my life for my own pleasure and future interest.

Though it is thrilling when people read it and leave (positive!) comments.

Finally, apropos of nothing, I am outraged that the Meridian Pub in Lewes has closed and been sold on to property developpers.

In my view it is really bad news for Lewes.

According to the Sussex Express, Kent-based brewery Shepherd Neame has sold the pub to Creative Development Ltd., which invited the regulars to help themselves to the fittings such as the beautiful pub sign. They did.

I recall some great nights at the Meridian - which is genuinely on the meridian line - particularly the karaoke nights in 2002 and 2003 when the joint was packed to the gunwales.

Meridian Pub in LewesWith so much of Lewes's working population living close by, it is hard to believe that the pub is no longer viable - under the right ownership and management.

As the Sussex Express points out, there has been a pub on the site for 266 years.

John Eccles, a fine journalist, writes that it has been known as the Pewter Pot, The Rifleman (recalling the former company of Lewes rifle volunteers which merged with the Royal Sussex Regiment), and the Hole in the Wall, when it served as a canteen for those building Lewes Gaol between 1850 and 1854.

Indeed, before it closed, it was still the local for Lewes prison officers - and also lags just released from a spell of a bird!

I really hope that Lewes people protest vigorously and Lewes District Council turns down planning consent, so this fine old public house can rise again.

Save The Meridian!