As our special festive gift to you, here is a free download of Sowerby & Luff’s exclusive Yuletude single “A Stylophone Christmas”, featuring Georgina on the Stylophone, Brian on the piano and a host of surprise celebrity guests who may or may not be the people we claim they are. Enjoy.
Brian Luff writes…
One Monday morning we saw an advert in Media UK which said that a small community radio station called 102.8 Chorley FM were looking for presenters. I contacted them and they listened to a few of our podcasts. We eventually agreed that we’d record a weekly show for them, which would go out late at night during the week. We’d never done radio before so we had a lot of fun recording a series of shows for them. They then asked us to record some breakfast shows which would be played out when their regular breakfast presenter was not on the air.
Around that time I went on one of my quiet little writing trips – this time to North Wales. I was staying in a small bed and breakfast near Penllech Bay, when my mobile phone rang. It was a chap called Steve Simms.
It turned out that Steve was the programme controller of a commercial radio station called Coast FM. He had been listening to a few of our podcasts and really liked what we did. He’d then visited our web site and seen that we were doing breakfast shows for Chorley FM.
“Would you like to come and cover the breakfast show at Coast FM next week?” he asked. “If it goes well I might have a permanent job for you. Between you and me, you’re way better than some of the presenters I’ve got now!”
As you can imagine, this came as a bit of a shock. By a staggering coincidence, the Coast FM studios were only about 20 miles from where I was staying, so I said I’d jump in the car and drive up to meet Steve for dinner.
We sat in a Harvester restaurant and he practically offered myself and Georgina a job. We talked about money, we even talked about relocating from London to north Wales.
Georgina was very exited when I rang her and told her all about it.
“But do we really want to move out of London?” she asked.
“Do we want a breakfast show?” I replied.
“I suppose so,” said Georgina. But not very convincingly.
We had about a week to prepare for the show. Steve told us that we could do all the same stuff on the radio as we normally did in the podcast, so “Things That are Nice To Say” and Dead Penguin were about to make their debut on local radio.
We arrived in North Wales about 24 hours before our first show, so that we could sit in with one of their DJs and I could learn how to drive the sound desk. They had already made a load of jingles for us, and Georgina set to work doing prep for the programme.
Because Coast FM were at that time a part of the Capital Radio Group, we had the same playlist and access to the same programme research as Johnny Vaughn had in London, so we were definitely now playing with the big boys.
Everything was going swimmingly until Steve asked me how many live shows we had done at Chorley FM.
“Oh, we don’t do it live,” I replied, “That show is recorded.”
Steve looked a little worried, “So how many live radio shows have you done altogether?” he asked.
“None,” I said.
The expression on Steve’s face said it all. He had obviously believed that we had a whole lot more experience than we actually had. But it was too late for him to back out of his offer now. We were already in the studio.
“OK, I guess I’d better sit in with you, “ he said.
The radio station booked us into a hotel opposite the studios, and at four o’clock the following morning we crawled out of bed and staggered into work.
“Do you think we could do this every day?” I asked Georgina.
“I have no idea,” she yawned.
I was absolutely terrified. Not of performing, I was used to that, but I had to press all the button as well. Records, jingles, news bulletins, weather updates, traffic reports – none of these things appear in a Sowerby & Luff podcast.
Steve insisted we call ourselves Brian & Georgina, not Sowerby and Luff. “It’s more friendly,” he said.
The first show went OK. I only made a couple of mistakes, and Georgina was bright and lively despite the early hour. We went on the air at 6am and were live until 10am. It was the longest 4 hours of my life, but by far the most exciting.
After the show I had a bacon sandwich with Steve at the Burger Van outside the studio.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Not bad,” he said. “Considering.”
Our stint with Coast FM was very short. Too short, really. By the time we got the hang of it and were beginning to get pretty good at live radio it was over. Steve was very honest with us. He simply did not have the time to devote to training Sowerby & Luff to be radio personalities. He needed a breakfast presenter with way more experience, who could hit the ground running.
Actually, I completely disagree with him. I think that if he had taken a punt on us we’d be on BBC radio by now. But it wasn’t to be.
Soon afterwards, Coast FM were taken over by Heart FM and most of their local programmes became network shows. Then Steve left. So, our big break into radio faded away. It was at that point that we decided to concentrate 100% on our podcast and make it as good as we possibly could. At least we could say whatever we wanted and we didn’t have to get up early.
Prison radio began in the UK in 1994 and today there are almost 30 prisons running their own radio stations including Brixton, which has already beaten some of the the biggest radio networks in the country to win coveted Sony Radio Awards. Most recently the Prison Radio Association helped to set up a new station at Pentonville Prison, which broadcasts 24 hours a day and is always on the lookout for prison inmates who want to become DJ’s.
So, the talent co-ordinator at Radio Pentonville must be rubbing his hands with excitement at the moment. Because if we’re to believe what we’re reading in the press since ITV’s Jimmy Savile documentary, it’s possible that the breakfast shows at Pentonville, Brixton and Wormwood Scrubbs may all soon be hosted by some very experienced and well known broadcasters.
Jimmy Savile and John Peel may be dead, but day by day, as dozens of Savile’s alleged victims contact the police, it’s emerging that rather a lot of the BBC’s radio talent, and the producers and executives who employed them, may have been more than happy to turn a blind eye to what was going on in Savile’s dressing room. Even more sinister is that there is now a suggestion that one or two of them might even have popped in and partied with him.
Was Savile part of a secret BBC paedophile ring? If he was, the shit that is about to hit the fan at Broadcasting House will make Blue Peter-Gate look like a walk in the park.
It took a few hundred years, but in the end even the Vatican were forced to apologise for the Catholic Church’s incessant, institutionalised protection of paedophile priests. But you can choose whether you want to be a Catholic. You can’t, unfortunately, choose who you pay your TV licence fee to. So the pressure on the BBC to get to the bottom of all of this, and throw a few ex-staffers to the lions, will be overwhelming. The corporation cannot close ranks like the Vatican did. Because the public fund them.
My guess is that even as I write this, someone very famous is sitting quietly at home, and waiting hour by hour, minute by minute, for a very loud knock at the door. While he’s waiting, he might as well pass the time by writing a pitch for his new show on Radio Pentonville.
We love meeting up with other podcasters, comedians and musicians, partly because it’s a damned good excuse to go to the pub, but also because it gives us an opportunity to drop the names of famous people into our podcasts. When writer and broadcaster Tony Hawks was first thinking of producing a podcast of his own, we were introduced by a mutual friend, and spent a very pleasant evening with Tony talking about podcasting, comedy writing and some of the ridiculous adventures he’s undertaken in the name of humour.
Tony’s played tennis against the entire Moldavian soccer team and he’s had a number one hit in Albania with ageing comedian Norman Wisdom, but he’s probably best known for lugging a fridge around the entire perimeter of Ireland in order to win a bet.
The bet was a mere ₤100, and in fact the fridge cost him more than that. But that was the whole point. There was no point. Except that the adventure ended up making a splendid book. Chatting with Tony that evening gave Georgina and me much food for thought. Maybe we too should set out on some pointless adventure and then write a book about it. It certainly seemed to have worked for Tony. A couple of weeks later he invited us to a charity event at the National Geographical Society, where he was to re-tell his famous Irish adventure in front of a specially invited audience. By this time, Georgina and I were becoming more and more convinced that we should consider setting off on some daft quest of our own, so we were delighted to attend.
We loved the live version of Round Ireland With a Fridge, and after the gig we hovered in the bar so that Georgina could get Tony to sign our own paperback copy of the book. While we were waiting I glanced inside the front cover. “This book’s already been signed by Tony Hawks,” I laughed.
“What? Show me!” grumbled Georgina.
“There,” I said. “To Jim, from Tony Hawks.”
“Who’s Jim?” demanded Georgina.
I looked at the battered book again, and suddenly realised that it was in fact a copy I’d borrowed several years before from a friend. As it turned out, that friend had borrowed it from a friend of his called Jim, who neither Georgina nor I had ever met.
“I’ll get him to sign it anyway,” said Georgina.
“You can’t do that!” I said. “That would be very rude. You can’t ask an author to sign the same book twice!”
“Wouldn’t it make the book terribly valuable?” said Georgina. “It would be the only copy to be signed twice. We could take it to the Antiques Roadshow.”
Georgina can be very stubborn at times. I tried a different tack. “Look, it’s probably not good book-signing etiquette to ask someone to autograph an old copy of a book. Surely the idea is that you buy a nice new copy of the book, and get that signed.”
Georgina dug in her heels. “But we’ve got a copy of the book,” she said.
When Tony’s not explaining to Americans that he’s not the famous skateboarding star, he writes travel books which make a very close connection with his readers. You really get the sense that you’re going with him on his mad little trips – which is exactly the kind of intimate journey Georgina and I want our listeners to experience.
“We should go on a trip like that,” I said to Georgina.
“But what are we going to use as a fridge?” she asked.
“We’ll think of something,” I said. “In fact, I’m guessing our listeners will think of something for us!”
And they did.
Perhaps the most stupid of all the regular features in our early podcasts was Name That Bird. But as we were finding out more and more, the more inane the item, the more popular it became. Every week, we’d simply play the same irritating, high-pitched sound effect of a bird, and Georgina would try and guess what it was.
Subject: Name That Bird
“This has been annoying me for quite some time, cause I think I know the bird! So every time it plays I’ve been yelling at my computer “It’s a seagull! A seagull damn it!” For to me that’s what it sounds like. It sounds like a baby seagull. But I could be wrong.”
This utterly pointless competition, with no prizes, ran for months and months. Gary from Colorado suggested it might be a cardinal. Daniel from Idaho reckoned a spotted thick-knee. Julian suggested the common drongo. In every podcast Georgina would dutifully read her way through seemingly never-ending lists of obscure bird names, sent in by our loyal regulars.
Dean suggested emu, dodo, ostrich, pelican and flamingo. Laura suggested avocet, fish eagle, reed cormorant, green pigeon, stilt, and white headed vulture. When Georgina finally guessed it was a plover, after months of trying, the aforementioned Julian was listening to us on his iPod while sitting his mock GCSEs. At the exact moment she “named that bird”, a plover was mentioned in his exam paper. This extraordinary coincidence posed two important questions for Sowerby and Luff. One: What the hell were we doing with our lives? And two: What the fuck was Julian doing listening to an iPod while he was sitting his mock GCSEs? Even after the bird was finally guessed, the emails continued to flood in:
Subject: Name That Bird
“I haven’t caught up to the most recent episode yet, so don’t know if you’ve guessed that bird yet. But it could be a red-billed hornbill or a superb starling. Otherwise, there is another bird which nests on the ground and fakes injury to lead predators away from its nest. But I don’t know what it is called.”
Name that Bird was what many comedy writers like to call a repetition gag, and repetition is at the heart of a lot of the material we create for our podcasts. Audiences seem to love repetition, and I have absolutely no idea why.