The Conversation: Stuart Maconie on Bronski Beat's enduring power and why pop's gone posh


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The Independent Online

The People's Songs, your year-long social history of pop music on Radio 2, has come to an end. Any particular listeners' anecdotes that stick out?

The "Smalltown Boy" episode, that centred around Bronski Beat, was brilliant because we got lots of small-town boys and girls who said, 'That record summed up my life. I left in the morning from some northern town with everything I owned in a little black case and went to London or Manchester or Liverpool because I knew that I wouldn't be accepted back home'.

Britain's love affair with the radio seems to go from strength to strength. What would you say that's down to?

We're small enough to have a national radio culture. It used to be said you could drive across America and know where you were from what music you were listening to. The wireless is associated with big things in our history: people got round the radio and listened to Winston Churchill's speeches and JB Priestley's columns. We've always had the radio at the heart of our psyche, right down to growing up with the Radio 1 Breakfast Show.

There was one particular episode of The People's Songs called 'How Pop Found a Social Conscience'. Do you think pop has now lost that conscience?

I think pop has retreated into itself in that pop songs these days are just about the internal lives of the musicians. In the Seventies you'd get Paul McCartney making a record like "Give Ireland Back to The Irish", which is incredible. An endless succession of ironic hipsters just writing about themselves and their love lives is OK, but I think it would be nice to have people who wrote a little bit about subjects external to themselves as well.

Why that shift?

This is going to make me sound like an old tub-thumping Marxist, but I think that the class make-up of pop writers has definitely changed. If you look at writers like Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart, they were all working class. The Beatles were all working class. Nowadays, most working-class kids can't afford the equipment and the time to be in a band. I think a new generation has grown up and because their experiences of life are perhaps a little more comfortable, they're less angry and slightly less politicised.

Pop's gone posh!

It has gone posh. When I grew up, everyone always used to say about Genesis that they went to Charterhouse. And they were unique for that. Now, if you went 'Oh they went to public school you know,' that would be the norm, not the exception.

You've said you don't trust people who don't like disco. Do you think Chic's revival is here to stay, or was it just the sound of summer 2013?

Definitely not! People are finally coming around to what I've been saying for years: Chic are one of the greatest bands that ever lived. Disco is too small a word for it really, they turned it into an art form.

Is there a genre of music you particularly don't like?

I don't like The Pogues, and faux Irish knees-up music. And I don't like good-time music: it makes me feel bad.

You've been credited with starting two rumours: that Bob Holness played the sax solo on Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" and that David Bowie invented Connect 4. Would you like to take this opportunity to start another?

Certainly. Let's say... Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys is a fully-qualified Rugby League referee.


Stuart Maconie is a TV presenter and radio DJ with regular shows on BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music. Hailing from Wigan, he landed a job at NME off the back of a gig review he sent in by post. He has just completed a playlist for Royal Caribbean International’s newest cruise ship, Anthem of the Seas