Alex James: The Great Escape

With friends like these, who needs guests? Me!
Click to follow

I reckon I've been to more than a thousand radio stations over the years, from Greenland to New Zealand, and there was always something terrifying about them. It's a bit like catching spiders. You know they can't hurt you, but they still make you go weird. There's a nakedness about live broadcasting that generates irrational anxiety. And microphones are like magic wands - when you wave one at someone who doesn't know the counter-spell, they become either nervous or over the top. Invariably, it changes them into someone else.

The best advice I've been given about exactly who to address when someone points a camera or notepad or furry sausage in your direction, is: "Imagine it's someone you know, imagine it's someone you like, and imagine it's someone you know likes you." Even if you can't always think of someone who fits all three criteria, it's about right. Armed with this wisdom and an excellent producer, I've started to really enjoy myself.

We've had some great guests, too. The drummer from The Noisettes could only possibly have been a drummer in a rock'n'roll band. He looked like nothing else. He was waiting on the sofa in the hub where the news girls usually sip their tea. He was comfortably taking up the whole sofa. A big presence. A lot of beard, brilliant, burning eyes and an extra something that said bang bang crash.

He said "fuck" a lot. All the time. The producer Frank's eyes got wider with each one. Whenever a "fuck" flies out of Broadcasting House there are recriminations. They're still talking about Siouxsie Sioux saying "motherfucker" on the breakfast show two years ago.

Frank took me into a corner to discuss how to go about putting The Noisettes on live. (Someone had told me that they were the best band in the world. As he was very hip and handsome, I believed everything he said.) I pointed out that the drummer hadn't said anything worse than "fuck", which was encouraging. Frank had a quiet word.

He turned out to be one of the best drummers I've ever seen. He was totally absorbed by his kit, entranced in his rhythms, all wigged out and wonderful, and solid as a rock. A star. Greatness is always too hot to handle, but of course he didn't swear once.

It has been illuminating being on the other side of the studio. I thought that it was important to be brilliant. It's not. All you've got to do to satisfy everybody is smile and be nice. It's a great discovery.