The Week In Radio: Saturday morning fever with master muso Mary Anne


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The Independent Culture

"In another life I would have been out on the road DJing and dragging a record box around in the middle of the night in some shady club," remarked Mary Anne Hobbs at the start of her new weekend breakfast show on BBC6 Music.

Hobbs was referring to her last job as a club DJ, one of her many working incarnations that have also included Sounds journalist, Radio 1 Breezeblock stalwart and presenter on XFM. In recent years, when most people her age are putting the kettle on and warming up the telly in readiness for Saturday Kitchen, Hobbs has been packing up the decks, waving goodbye to the boggle-eyed masses and crawling home to her bed.

Hobbs is a million miles from the presenters who are handed a mug of coffee and a playlist at the start of their shift, and politely requested to get on with it. She is a proper DJ who lugs records around with her like the rest of us carry handbags and who, unlike most in the throes of middle age, doesn't appear to fantasise about lying a sofa in a fleece-lined muumuu at the end of a day's work and using the cat as a pillow.

She's a woman with a vast musical knowledge, an enthusiasm that has remained undimmed since her early days under the wing of John Peel, and who absorbs new sounds like Betty Ford absorbed cocktails. So all credit to BBC6 Music for employing her (if even if you wonder what took them so long). Unlike its rivals, the station refuses to be dazzled by youth. It also hires female presenters not for their capacity to be wrist-slittingly bubbly in the early hours (hello Vanessa!), but on the basis that they are dedicated, world-class muso bores. In a good way, of course.

So, the new show. Hobbs's silkily hushed voice was perfect for this time of the morning. None of your nails-down-a-blackboard, Feltz-style quacking here. There was, it has to be said, a little too much nervous laughter and too much awestruck thanks at being allowed to sit in a studio in Salford in the early hours of a Saturday as if we, the listeners, had somehow been instrumental in her appointment.

On Sunday's show there was also a strange and ill-fitting feature show called "The Three-Minute Epiphany" in which the philosopher Roman Krznaric droned on about "the age of outrospection" and how we should all be nice to one another. But there was also an endless stream of classic, oddball, obscure and glorious records, each of them introduced by Hobbs with a sense of awe and astonishment that they had ever got made. For a weekend musical education, you couldn't hope for a safer pair of hands.

On Monday evening, another new signing was battling with first-day nerves.

Alice Levine, a former MTV presenter, made her broadcasting debut on Radio 1, alongside co-presenter Phil Taggart, on the late-night new music show made famous by John Peel. The pair certainly had chemistry, with the confident, charismatic Levine playing eye-rolling older sister to Taggart's over-excited schoolboy.

There was the odd teething problem, most notably in the form of a webcam that had been rigged up in the waiting area in order that we could spy on loitering guests, and which came with a migraine-inducing echo. "This is groundbreaking," declared Taggart, before stepping out of the studio and in front of the camera, leaning over guest Charli XCX and inadvertently revealing two acres of underpants.

The music was by turns interesting and atrocious, which is pretty much what we got in the days of Peel. Although, to be fair, I don't ever recall him flashing his pants.