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How Pirate Radio Saved My Teenage Years

The recollections of the Father of The Holy Ghost Train

by Brother Jonno My teenage salvation came with discovering early pirate radio music, it was like the cavalry arriving just in the nick of time.

I can tell you it arrived in time to save me from the mundanity of my day to day teenage life.

Listening to pirate radio was like the grey skies had suddenly turned to an azure blue.

I was hearing things that I was NEVER going to hear on what was then called 'The BBC Light Program'

Let me explain what a misnomer that name was because 'light' wasn't even the half of it.

Try to imagine listening to middle aged crooners like Bing Crosby or Perry Como and insufferable Big Band music assaulting your ear drums daily.

This is what conventional radio had to offer the youth of this era, like some awful punishment meted out for an as yet unknown crime.

The BBC represented the 'establishment' they also had a monopoly on radio broadcasting, so quite naturally pirate radio had a magnetic appeal to most of my generation.

Of course my parents loved the good old white bread BBC radio 'Light Program' so in turn of course I HATED it, I mean literally hated it with a passion!! Pirate radio felt so revolutionary and dangerously empowering by comparison to the BBC Light Program of the day.

Having already heard glimpses of a new music language that my uncle who worked in the Docks of East London had introduced me to on plate thick shellac's, believe me when I tell you I was ready.

It was like finally learning to read, see, and hear again from scratch, sweeping away all that came before it.

Rock and Roll unfettered, untamed, not elderly blokes with kiss curls like Bill Haley but real rock and roll.

This was not the simpering gelatinous crap of 'Vegas Elvis' I'm talking about Sun Records 'Hillbilly Kat' era Elvis...

A dangerous Elvis and I'd already heard Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent on record too.

The God fearing folks of the southern states of America called it 'The Devil's music' it scared the living piss out of them.

I first heard the Beatles played on pirate radio and the early Rolling Stones too and the first incarnation of what would become Tamla Motown.

This was our 'British version' of the 'Devil's music.

Like most kids of my vintage, in this era I didn't really know much of what Black Music was, so this was a ground zero music moment in my young life. I want this, no I really NEED this.

Boy I was so hungry to devour what life had in store for me, my life, any life, I was literally starving, I wanted to devour it whole in one giant bite, then gorge on more.

So here I was with a tiny portable transistor radio, tuned in or out to one of the pirate stations, fuelled by batteries that would last a day at best. This would require me to regularly steal batteries from my local Woolworths department store in order to ensure my new addiction could be properly satisfied.

No long life batteries had been invented back then, that came much much later on.

Radio Luxembourg was my first meaningful introduction to Pirate radio followed shortly after by Radio Caroline and then The Big L (Radio London) The Big L would go on to become my special favourite because it was named after my home town.

Radio Caroline and the other 'Pirates' all broadcast from the North Sea offshore of the south east coast of England.

Luxembourg had a really terrible radio reception and the volume would drop out to almost silent after a minute or two.

Most of the tunes were about 3 minutes long so this was always a labour of love.

You would have to continually retune the station, it was like chasing a drug buzz, it was probably my first ever real drug of choice.

I often quote this time in my teens as being like "Living in a cultural poly-pharmacy" this isn't over stating things at all.

The DJ's of pirate radio were irreverent and sounded larger than life to us, my favourite would have to "The Royal Ruler" Tony Prince of Radio Luxembourg. I would unhesitatingly cite his influence for igniting my ears and my mind to a new way of thinking about what music really meant to me.

He was the man who introduced me to Tamla Motown and through his stewardship of the airways to the Friday teatime music TV show Ready Steady Go.

The weekend always started with Ready Steady Go, without doubt pirate radio was responsible for RSG doing a 'Tamla Special' presented by the people's princess Dusty Springfield.

I remember my late sister and I watching that TV Tamla Special at a friend of hers house, we didn't own a TV set that was a luxury my folks couldn't afford.

Finally I could put faces to names, Marvin Gaye, Little Stevie Wonder, the girl groups, it was a joy that made me grin from ear to ear.

As a young teenager it's hard to overstate the alienation of youth from the conventional wisdoms of adult society, this hasn't changed from that day to this.

I viewed the old conventions as belonging to my parents and grandparents generation, here was a brand new world gleaming before my eyes like polished silver.

Ultimately the corporate loving BBC corporation used the 'Marine Broadcasting Act of 1967' to hole the pirate radio fleet below the belt, and below the waterline.

Spare a thought for the true pioneers while you consume your ten thousand internet radio station options.

The pirates gave you what you take for granted today.

What I find so interesting now is that a lot of the young people that come to my club nights will often tell me how they too had rejected the conventions imposed on them by their peers.

They tell me they don't want to be a 'consumer' they want a much deeper connection with music than that.

To summarise I'd would just say this...

Please be passionate about music, it's as primal as ancient mankind, it's the shamanic equivalent of cave paintings.

It's not about life or death it's so much more important than that.

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