Maconie comes out to a near full Nottingham Playhouse last night and immediately tells the audience that if they are expecting a lively show they are going to be disappointed. A local interview he has done prior to the show stated that they thought it was a stage show rather than a talk, so he just checks that the audience knows this before continuing. Also, he hasn’t had his tea and is flagging a bit after a long day at BBC 6music and a quick dash down from Manchester. Not that it shows.
He is as witty as ever as he starts discussing his latest book, The People’s Songs: The story of Modern Britain in 50 records, which accompanies the Radio2 series of the same name. He is quick to point out that this isn’t a list of 50 of the greatest songs, but a collection of songs that reflected certain times in modern British history and in some cases have become synonymous with events/times. This isn’t an objective talk, but then again it never can be when you’re talking about music because it’s such a personal thing for people.
He talks about his dislike for ‘straight down the middle’ rock. He says he is not a music snob and can quite happily listen to a bit of ABBA if the mood takes him. He doesn’t scoff at ‘cheap’ pop music and claims it has its place in society, even giving over a couple of chapters in his book to it. He lists a few of the chapters, which are also the song titles. He talks a little bit about Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll meet again’ the opening chapter of the book which looks at the meaning this song gave to couples being torn apart by war, before moving on to a quick chat about Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’ and the Olympic opening ceremonies.
He also discusses his first ever gig, The Beatles in Wigan in 1963/4. He states that he doesn’t remember much about it, being only 2/3 and only having learnt to walk upright about a year before. He asks his mum for an interview for the book, which turns into a slightly calamitous northern tale of drizzle and tedious family connections, which as Maconie says, is how Northerners tell their stories.
The evening isn’t geared exclusively around the new book, and talk also turns to his love for fell walking and the social protocols that go with meeting someone on the top of a hill (including a chance encounter with Sting’s keyboard player) as well as his dislike for a certain type of walker who attempts to conquer every hill in record time. There are a few tales from the vaults, a more memorable one being around working at the NME during a strike which quickly collapsed when his colleagues realised striking also meant not doing the fun stuff, like going to gigs.
The night is brought to a close with a series of questions from the audience. The audience are quite slow to respond to begin with but soon have questions firing round, some of which are more probing than others. All in all, it is a great night, although maybe a little too short. It felt somewhat rushed, but that may be because the subject of the book is such a big one and is hard to fit into a couple of hours. He delivers the night with the same wit and charm as he demonstrates on his radio shows and the main thing you take away is that you’d quite like to meet him in a pub and have a proper chat!
Review by Emma Lane
Maconie’s book, The People’s Songs: The story of Modern Britain in 50 records’, is out now and the accompanying radio2 series is available on the BBC iPlayer.