Updated: Sep 23, 2020
I’m not sure how I first came to listen to Alan May’s Glory Boy Mod Radio Show on Six Towns Radio (6TR). I do know I was doing so when he played ‘Dog’ – the B side from the single of my old outfit The Mild-Mannered Janitors. I contacted him and said I was writing new songs. He was the first to play Man in the Paisley Shirt. In fact, he has championed mine and a great many other bands continually over the years.
We meet over Facetime, he is relaxed and occasionally pulling on a vape pipe. There has always been something warm and reassuring about hearing his bass voice and it comes with an encyclopaedic knowledge of music.
How did come to have the slot on Six Towns Radio?
I have always been a Stoke City supporter and I knew a guy called Rob Ledgar- he knew I had been into the mod scene for many years and I had a half decent CD and record collection. He started up the potteries media company and was one of the original directors of 6TR. They needed to fill some slots on a 24/7 radio station and asked me to help him out. I lived 130 miles away, but he said with it being a predominately internet radio station, would I do three months for him. This month it’s 10 years of 6TR and I’ve been there since day one. Like a prison sentence!
Had you done any before that?
No, I hadn’t. For the first 18 shows I used to go to the studio in Burslem, Stoke on Trent. But Rob said the travelling is too much and there’s a different way of doing it. You can do a live broadcast from your home. For a long time, it was live and then it became pre-record and then it became live and pre-record. Either way it still goes out live on schedule, unlike a podcast where you can upload anytime. It always has to go on the radio schedule. It
used to be 7 till 9 on a Friday. The most successful show for a while was my own, with the most listeners. So, they gave me what they call relax time, on the Sunday. The key timeslot was 6 till 9. I’ve had that for the last 3 or 4 years.
It was all getting a bit much and I had two months off last year where I took on additional roles at another radio station called Mad Wasp. I did a mod show for them where I did about 50 shows called ‘Shake’, I also did a show called ‘Garage Punk for Boys (and Girls!)’. They were both successful. But I found I was doing too much. With the time I take on GBMRS, searching for new music, getting in touch with band members and waiting for MP3s, CD’s and vinyl that I have to convert, I was spending 15-20 hours a week putting a show together. At the moment I’m quite swift and I can do it in 12.
After I close down on Sunday nine o’clock, I start again – my mind is planning the next show, asking ‘have I got music in from any new releases, planning adverts, and not just on the social media platform. There are many people who listen to the show who do not go on Facebook for example. I’m quite amazed sometimes when people say, ‘I was listening to your show last week Al, I quite enjoyed it.’
We created the Facebook page for more interaction, so people that wanted to meet new people and new bands as well can do so in a chat room type format .
I have connected quite a lot of bands – yours included, The Past Tense, See No evils, The Loop…and so on..
Yes, it felt like we were all coming through again at a particular time, another wave.
I’ve championed all them bands Robby. From day one and I still play them today. Rightly so, good music should be heard.
After all this time, is there still something that excites you about doing the radio show?
I enjoy the opportunity to put on good music. The modernist scene…including the scooter scene, there’s a certain age element, probably 50 plusers. Once we’ve run out of steam it’s in danger of becoming extinct. I think it’s quite important that if you have a social or media platform where you can play people’s music, and there’s a lot of good musicians out there as you know, that deserve to be heard it should be played.
The music industry has changed so much over the years. In the 70s you had Mickie Most doing it, in the 80’s Stock, Aitken and Waterman followed by the devil himself - Simon Cowell - what they’ve done over the years is ruin the music industry by ignoring good honest musicians and bands that work tirelessly putting decent music together, as you know with studio time, the cost to go out there and play.
I’m a big believer that musicians should be paid for playing their music. Sadly, it’s all become free. It used to be you would do a live gig because you had released something that was successful, now you have to try and sell a few albums at a gig! If performers have a talent, they should earn from that talent. It’s all music for the masses now and a bit nondescript. Though having said that, look at a band like The Who – never had a number one hit and have become massive.
Yes, and Roger Daltrey saying he didn’t want to release anything because it doesn’t sell anymore.
Yeah – but they do charge £120 a ticket for their gigs and there is only 50% left of the band!
[Alan pulls on his vape and gives a deep chuckle. The laughter dies and he becomes more reflective again.]
My point is…were they a talented band? They were an R’n’B band, doing covers as the Detour Jazz Band when they first started. They dropped the jazz band…they followed a trend and stuck with it…in 73/74 when they did Quadrophenia, that was a reminiscence wasn’t it? It was about what was going on ten years previous. Then we had it again in 79, revising what they [The Who] did in 74.
You’ve met a lot of musicians and actors – have you ever been star struck?
I wouldn’t say star-struck. I’m just really humbled when I get the opportunity to meet some people. I think because I’m quite a social person and quite easy to get on with – and I do ramble as you well know…talk for England and talk about anything. My persona has been enough that I can now call these people friends. I am probably more star-struck when I meet famous footballers.
In the beginning you go and see a band, you watch your heroes on stage. You’re in awe because they’re playing music you listened to as a teenager and still you’re listening to it today.
If they have a merch point and they’re happy to sign something you’ve bought, it makes you feel special. When you strike up conversations, I think being lucky enough to do the radio show, because it’s a popular show, they get to hear about it.
In 1979 trying to get backstage to speak with Secret Affair was near impossible. They had songs in the charts, they were on Top of the Pops. These are stars. They might only be five or six years older than you. Now go to a gig and you’re in your fifties and they come up to you and say, “you’re the guy that does the radio show, I’m really pleased you played some of our music.” It makes you feel a bit special, but then you talk about life in general and you find you’ve got a lot in common. You become friends through music, and I cherish that. Music is one of those platforms that brings people together.
Why the mod scene for you?
We were always a music family. My Father and Stepfather both liked rock n roll; big Elvis fans, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins. Stepfather Dave was listening to the Rolling Stones and Saturday morning was a drinking session round our house for all the dart player mates from the RAF. I’d wake up on a Saturday morning to him doing a Mick Jagger impersonation whilst he was drinking his moonshine that he’d got from a Norway trip with the RAF. My elder sister was into Northern Soul and T-Rex. My Mum liked music too – Connie Francis, Kenny Rogers; country fan, plus Tom Jones. So, there was always music in our house.
All of a sudden music changed in the mid-70’s, there was this thing called punk rock.
Probably came out of New York with the MC5 and bands like that. In the UK it was always the Sex Pistols, I listened to them, the Stranglers, Rizillos, Peter and the Test Tube Babies, 999 – all these bands we started to get into. All good solid punk rock bands. I was also still listening to Sparks. So, I had this combination of punk, Sparks and Suzi Quatro and not forgetting Leo Sayer.
I put Top of the Pops on one day and Secret Affair were on. I thought ‘I like this, it’s quite punky.’ Catchy – and they all looked really smart. At this time my brother-in-law was having me housesit, he was a mod in the 1960’s, I was babysitting Wombles, who was a huge English or Irish Setter dog, that used to dribble all over your balls and just sit on you in this old 16th century cottage they had , which I called the haunted house. I’d sit there with a 12-bore shotgun, this bloody great dog – terrified as I believe the house was haunted - but whilst there I’d be listening to The Who, The Yardbirds, Kinks, Small Faces, Them, The Animals, from Richard my brother in laws record collection - All these bands that I’d never really heard before, until the mod revival thing had kicked in. I liked the look of the Quadrophenia album. Did a little digging, found bands like Squire, The Chords, Purple Hearts, Speedball, and a lot more of the underground mod bands.
I Just started following the movement like we all did at school. Of course, the Jam were there as well, who we’d listened to as a punk band. They looked different because they wore suits and union jack jackets and winkle pickers and looked like the guys I’d seen on the album covers in the haunted house. You’d go to a youth club and there’d be 200 lads all wearing parkas and suits. Look at each other and go “I didn’t know you liked that…have you heard of a band called Teenbeats?” In 79 our local youth club put the Teenbeats on – they were the first revival band I got to see.
The conversation turns to the legacy of that time. I reveal that I hadn’t really known many of the revival bands until I started listening to Alan’s show. Partially through being locked into the 60’s stuff and then later the Medway garage scene. Alan, wonders whether the onset of two-tone and Ska bands who had the mod look overshadowed the revival bands.
I believe the media took a liking more to Madness, The Specials, The Beat and promoted them in such a way that they became the front runners of the mod revival really. If you look at a lot of music press over the last 15-20 years mod revival doesn’t even get a mention. It’s all ‘do you remember the ska bands’ – not The Chords, Purple Hearts, Lambrettas, Merton Parkas, Squire, Secret Affair. It is an element of music that’s almost being ignored. That’s why I think the platform of certain radio shows are really important. The mod genre where music is concerned is such a broad church.
I’ve played 1905 Mississippi Delta blues on my show. Crackling 78’s where people say, “what you are playing this for?” Then I play some jazz, some R’n’B guitar bands, revival, Northern Soul. It all sounds very different but that’s what’s the key about mod music , it is so varied…and the image that goes with it – it’s smart, it’s casual, it can be a mixture of the two. It’s comfortable, it looks good. I think Britain produces a culture of being part of something.
When I go out on Big D (my scooter) I still say I’m going out for a pose. As I did when I was sixteen.
Why not. If it makes you feel good.
I think they are pointing saying I look cool – they’re probably saying look at that weird 52-year-old!
I’ll tell you a story…one Tuesday night with the scooter club there was about sixty of us burning around town. At the end of the night we all go home, left with about five of us and all racing through town. Turned around to the sound of a siren. It’s the old bill. Two lad zipped off because they didn’t have insurance and three of us pulled over. This twenty-something copper gets out, puts his cap on, walks over and says: “now then lads…” Thinking he’d pulled over three sixteen-year olds! One (Colin) takes off his helmet – he’s bald and sixty. Copper looks at us and we pull our helmets off and he goes “oh…you’re not ‘lads’ are ya!” He said, “do you know how fast you were going?” I said “no, I’ve got a Lambretta, the speedo hasn’t worked in years!”
Mod is about an image, looking good and cool. Feeling good about yourself and friends. People look and think ‘he looks a bit different, he’s a bit sharp’. The music relates to that. Most good mod songs are love songs.
I guess the vast majority are love songs or at least relationships. But I think there’s also ordinariness in the songs. Paul Weller, Ray Davies – write about the normality, mundanity of life. Punk does it as well. It allows you to make that commentary.
Or stuff that’s got bad in your life and you’re trying to turn it around.
I have got some great friends I’ve met through the mod scene. Sometimes you’re fortunate that you can keep hold of your old friends. Your truest friends. You talk or text everyday – even if it’s a term of endearment like ‘how you are getting on you old fool?’ That said, I am a lot older and uglier now though to realise that there’s more things that are more important than music and scooters…families are important, your children are important, work’s important. General health is important.
But you can have all of that. It can be part of the deal can’t it?
But sometimes things override. I was guilty of it twenty years ago or so. I had to go on every scooter ride out. Had to go on half a dozen rallies a year. A ride-out almost every weekend. That’s taken me away from family. Looking back, maybe it was a selfish hobby. One that wasn’t important to the missus and kids. It was to me which is why I wanted to do it. I enjoyed riding down the road with 300 scooters, it was great fun.
Always a lovely feeling to look over your shoulder and see these like-minded people.
Yeah. Still is.
[The conversation turns to playing music. It is a little-known secret that Al plays a mean blues harp. I roped him into The Box Dwellers project with myself, Luke Smith (Yellowstone), Darren Day (The Loop), Dave Pinching (Chosen) and myself a few years ago.]
Are you still playing the harmonica?
Yes, and had another couple of offers recently. One from The Angry Foetus on half a dozen garage tracks. Bruno (The Reaction) has asked me to do two tracks on a new single he’s producing. It’s difficult now because they all use garageband – trying to lay down tracks and I don’t even know how to get into the system…I may visit him at home (Bruno) if it comes off.
Is there snobbery in the mod scene?
I would say yes but then there are so many elements to the mod scene. I’m guessing people would be surprised if they looked at other people’s record collections. I’ve got mod stuff till it comes out your ears, but I’ve also got other bands that I was into that no one would ever imagine. The Big Dish, Bunnymen, China Crisis, and Lloyd Cole that I followed for years.
You’ve been to a lot of gigs – what stands out?
That’s a real tough one Rob…I think the first one would be the Teenbeats which was my first ever gig at youth club in 1979. I like that because it was first, I became friends with Huggy Leaver. They didn’t turn up till 11 O’clock because the van broke down. They had to ring the youth club from a phone box near North London. A guy at youth club said, ‘if you don’t turn up I’m going to have a riot on my hands – I got loads of mods in here waiting for you.’ After the gig had finished and they gone away back to the South Coast a load of rockers turned up at about one in the morning and we had a set to with them for about three hours. The odd thing was – the youth club was right next to the police station – and it was shut. So, it just went on and on. Great fun at the time.
I like intimate underground gigs. I like seeing The Kite Collectors, The Theme, Solid State and bands like that live. It shows honesty, integrity; that they can play their instruments, that they can sound like the music on the CD or vinyl, and they put a real honest performance in. I value that in a gig. I think Secret Affair always put on a great show, their music is sensational. The partnership between Page and Cairns is something out of this world. Dave Cairns is a musical genius. I Used to love seeing The Chords and Purple Hearts when I had the opportunity; they were honest and raw.
There are others artistes like French Boutik, Popincourt, Sound of Pop Art, Cow UK, and the Found – their music is lovely and classy with a more relaxed atmosphere. People like Tetley and King Mojo / Yellowcayke, just Fabulous. 100 people in at a gig and he’s literally throwing his organ around [this brings on that deep dirty laugh]. He Should be right up there with the best of them, I know these people have sat down, written their own songs, rehearsed, travelled in the car, lumped all the equipment about and they’re the gigs that are most appreciative from the audience point of view. They’ve put all that effort in and that’s what I really like – like one of your gigs at the Brumby venue in Hull – those people together as the Glory Days choir. How special with that? Sadly, some of those people aren’t with us anymore…but, how special was that moment in time?
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All bands / labels have donated their tracks free of charge and a proportion of the profits will be split between two charities that Detour and Alan May have proposed…. Future volumes may have other charities nominated by listeners of the Glory Boy Radio Show…
Copyright © Mods Of Your Generation, Robby Allen 2020, All Rights Reserved. Image Credit Alan May, 6 TownRadio Show & Glory Boy Mod Radio Show. No part of this review may be reproduced without the permission of the authors.
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