Andy Parfitt: ‘Radio 1 shouldn’t be locked into this idea that it’s just a station’

Andy Parfitt has gone from running Radio 1  to a charity tuned in to helping kids in deprived areas

Andy Parfitt enjoyed some golden years at Radio 1. When he started as station controller in 1998 there were predictions the audience might collapse to 4 million as youth radio became less relevant – by the time he left, two years ago, the network was enjoying all-time record ratings of nearly 12.8 million.

One of the primary tasks he faces in his new portfolio career is to galvanise the music-making of children with all the societal benefits that might bring – from bolstering the confidence of a young person in care to finding the next pop star to fill UK plc’s coffers.

And of all the instruments that might inspire the chair of the national charity Youth Music, the one that fills him with hope is that unlikely wooden box with four strings: the ukulele.

It was the subject of a feature that Parfitt made for Radio 4, in the earliest days of his long career at the BBC, and it occupies his thoughts again now. “I was walking through a Cornish town with my kids and there were two young girls busking with a ukulele, and if you go on the web there is tons of this [ukulele] stuff,” he says.

“It’s a beautiful simple instrument that is very portable and you can knock up a tune in three seconds flat. It suits the web age even though it’s incredibly analogue – a bit of wood. You can combine it with mixing and recording apps and suddenly have your YouTube channel full of the stuff.”

It also suits the music zeitgeist, he thinks, citing an appearance by folk acoustic artist Lucy Spraggan, whom he heard after tuning in to Radio 1 to hear one of his former protégé presenters Matt Edmondson. That the effervescent Parfitt still listens to the network at the age of 54 is not a surprise, though it might irk his successor, Ben Cooper, who is desperately trying to bring down the median listening age of the station.

Parfitt has spent many years studying the impact of technology on the way young people listen to music and is clearly a supporter of the changes Cooper is making on his old patch. “There’s an amber warning light on the dashboard for radio and young people and it’s starting to flash,” he says.

If Radio 1 is to reach the nation’s youth – 80 per cent of whom now have a smart phone or similar device – it needs to think in pictures as well as audio. “Radio 1 is not just a radio station,” he says. “It can comfortably exist as a YouTube channel, as an event, as an app or as a stream to your mobile device. It shouldn’t be locked into this idea that it’s just a radio station.”

The fact that young people rarely buy radios these days doesn’t mean their lives can’t be transformed by music. Youth Music works with 100,000 young people, distributing £10m a year of National Lottery funding. Parfitt says the beneficiaries often come from isolated communities or inner-city estates. “Urban deprivation and rural isolation are the words used here to describe the pinpoint accuracy by which they try to distribute the money so that it’s spent most effectively.”

Youth Music has had two difficult years after a government review of cultural education raised questions over the focus of the organisation and its overheads. Parfitt says changes have been made, pointing to a new no-nonsense logo that replaces the previous one of a singing face in a pair of headphones. The message is that it  is a responsible charity that is not trying to be down with the kids. Parfitt is speaking in Youth Music’s more modest new headquarters, near London’s Tower Bridge. He says he is “the final bit in the jigsaw puzzle” in a reform process begun by his predecessor, Richard Stilgoe. Less than eight per cent of Youth Music’s budget now goes on infrastructure. The rest is aimed at giving young people access to music that they otherwise would not have.

Formal music education is not fashionable. Parfitt says only 1 per cent of young people take the subject at A-level while 80 per cent cite it as a passion. He likes the idea that those who benefit from Youth Music projects can get a recognised qualification, even if they are not academically minded. “It’s not A-level music or maybe it’s not even GCSE that I’m thinking of, but it might be something that recognises attainment outside the school system and helps with the CV and bolsters the confidence,” he says, remembering how as a young trumpeter he struggled to read music.

One lesson he learned through audience research work was that Radio 1 risked losing listeners if it tried too hard to become a hangout for cool “scenesters”. Youth Music, too, tries to be inclusive and is “genre-agnostic”, encouraging young people to explore styles from classical to  grime.

Music and its effect on young people seem to be constants in Parfitt’s career. He keeps coming back to ukuleles, referring to a shop that is selling them “by the cartload”. Later, he emails with a link to a story saying that a Frank Skinner-inspired ukulele craze has actually led to an unwanted surplus of the instruments being sold for as little £1.12 on eBay.

It seems to run counter to his theory, but Parfitt says not. “ Looks like an opportunity for the young to benefit,” he says.

He hopes Youth Music can offer similar advantages.

Youth Music is staging the "View the Fresh Thinking for Music Education" seminar on Wednesday 24 July. The seminar can be viewed live online at www.youthmusic.org.uk/network. Questions may be tweeted in to the panel using the hashtag #ymseminar.

Andy Parfitt: 6 questions

Where was the last place you went for dinner? 

Chicken and chips in the town square, Llafranc, Catalonia, Spain

What was the last album you bought/listened to?

Hummingbird by Local Natives

What was the last book you read?

Karl Marx by Francis Wheen

The last event you attended?

Prospect presents Michael Sandel and AC Grayling in conversation

The last sporting event you attended?

London 2012 Olympics track events

What was the last film you saw?

The Intouchables directed by Olivier Nakache

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future