Before Friday night became pub night, it was the night of getting your cassette ready, making sure you tuned out the hiss and buzz and waited to see what aural delights were in store…..
If you grew up in the 70s and 80s in the UK and were a fan of rock and heavy metal, there was only one place you would turn the dial on your radio turn with any frequency (geddit?!): Radio 1, Friday night, 10pm to hear this:
For a generation of rock and metal fans there was the man, the voice: Mr Thomas Vance (TV). The Friday Rock Show (TFRS) was essential listening as this, along with Kerrang and Metal Hammer magazines, were really the only places you could get the latest news about hard rock and heavy metal. But the FRS was more than that, it was a place to (generally speaking) hear your favourite bands and, more importantly, to hear new bands; established bands you hadn’t heard of and newer bands trying to gain a following. It’s sometimes hard, in 2015, to remember that the only place you could discover new music back in the 80s and 90s was on either radio or dedicated music shows (Headbanger’s Ball and Raw Power/Noisy Mothers). Now you can simply type a band’s name into Google and off you go… blah blah blah *insert more “in my day” clichés here*
I have many memories of Friday nights sat in front of the stereo listening to the varied sounds, some I liked, some I didn’t, cascading from the (in built) speakers. Perhaps my earliest memory, however, is of the broadcast of Iron Maiden’s set (in abridged form) from Donington ’88. This was quite early on in my metal fandom but I have a fuzzily clear memory of sitting in my parent’s dining room recording the broadcast on my Dad’s stereo. I’m pretty sure there were custard creams involved too.
The influence and impact of TFRS can’t really be overstated. It was the show you talked about on Monday morning, at school, with your friends who also liked metal. It was the place where you heard the latest single from a band band you liked. There were live sessions recorded and broadcast, not just gigs but sessions specially for the show. You could vote (later on in it’s run) in the Rock Wars (battle of the bands, essentially). It was glorious. It was a club that you belonged to, it was late night and strategically placed on a Friday. Whilst other folks would be heading out to go clubbing, the metallers would be worshipping at the alter of Tommy Vance.
Another fond memory I have of the show was the live broadcast they did of the 1992 Monsters of Rock show. In a wonderful symmetry it was Maiden’s second headlining slot. What made this special, for me, was the fact that this was not an edited highlights show, this was the actual show live from Donington (with a 5 second delay for bad language, I’m sure). Again, armed with a phalanx of C-90 cassettes I made my way through the day in a sort of an elated state of mind. I’m pretty sure I recorded the whole day but sadly, those tapes are lost to the mists of time. Maiden did release the show on CD/Vinyl/VHS but there is still a little bit of magical charm remembering the panic when the tape recording ran out at the end of Side A and trying to quickly flip it over to Side B so as to minimise the music missed.
TV went on to, well, TV, hosting TFRS on VH1. He sadly died in 2005. But his voice and his influence is without doubt. For a generation of rock fans he was a champion of our music. Knowledgeable, expansive and truly appreciative of the genre.
But that’s not the end of my adventures in radio. In June 1993, Metallica were heading towards the end of the almost 2 years tour as support of the Black Album. This last leg, cunning title ‘Nowhere Else To Roam’, featured a gig in front of 60,000 people at the Milton Keynes Bowl. This was also to be broadcast on Radio 1. I remember specifically buying brand new cassettes for this and being hugely excited to hear my, by now, favourite band perform live. So imagine my horror when, 6 days after the gig, I discover that I had the dates wrong and ha missed said radio broadcast. Now, of course we have iPlayer and YouTube, but back then if you missed it that was it unless it got a repeat. Fortunately a friend’s older brother had recorded the show (as well as an interview with Lars) so I was able to borrow the tapes and make my own copy. Years later I now have the show in MP3 format. I still have my cassettes though. There’s a fascinating documentary about this gig and a very specific reference to the radio broadcast in this episode of the Music Biz (yes, I have that on VHS too). Skip to 28min mark for a chuckle!
In 1994, Radio 1 again live-broadcasts the Monsters of Rock show with a particular stellar line-up, the coverage presented by then Rock Show host Claire Sturgess with roving reporter Bruce Dickinson (yes, that one). My memory is hazy on this one but I do remember listening to Extreme and, I think a bit of Aerosmith. But more ingrained in my memory is the other music event from 1994, Woodstock ’94. I was certain that, this time, I was not going to miss Metallica. No sir! So, given the time difference I roughly worked out when they were 5 hours behind me which meant (originally) somewhere around 3am UK time. I was resolute that I wasn’t going to miss this show and decided that as I was going to be up for most of the night, I should probably make sure I had provisions for the long journey ahead. This, in reality, meant that I made myself some cheese sandwiches and a flask of coffee. I shared a bedroom with my younger brother and we had bunk beds (I was on the bottom), so I had to listen to the broadcast through a set of headphones. At somewhere around 4am (I think) finally, Metallica was being broadcast live. I was ecstatic. I still have these tapes today, too. I stayed awake for the entire show but must have nodded off somewhere in Aerosmith’s set as my mum found me asleep later, with headphones wrapped around my face in an awkward manner.
Fast forward a year and Metallica were again the focus of more radio recording, this time an abbreviated broadcast on the Sunday Rock Show (already in it’s death throes by that point). What was notable about this gig and it’s broadcast was that we got to hear a brand new song (“2×4”) just under a year before the album version (on ‘Load’) was available. Even better if you were AT the gig as there was a second new song played (“Devils Dance”) which we wouldn’t hear the studio version of for another TWO years (on the ‘Reload’ album). I remember dissecting “2×4” with my friend (and band mate) Graham for a large number of hours over the following months. At one point he bought a VHS bootleg of the entire show and I was able to hear (in terrible quality) the other new song which was equally exciting.
I must admit I was rather surprised to find out that the Radio 1 rock show is on Sunday evening at 7pm. Not so much that it still exists but that the time slot is so… early. It’s almost like, in it’s own little way, Radio 1 has acknowledged rock and metal again. Everything in music is cyclical and none more so that the programming tastes of music broadcasters. But I do find it awesome that there is clearly a commitment to the genre and the show (they gave it an extra hour in the move, too). There’s a great article on Thrash Hits that celebrates this in a much better way than I could. The Friday Rock Show itself and the live broadcasts they did were a key part of my life at one point, and thinking about it, it’s not the show I miss, or the time period (young and carefree etc etc). I think, it’s more the concept of listening to songs that you had never heard before and some you had. It was a new mixtape every week that led off into new and interesting avenues, it was hearing a band that you loved played on a medium that reached the entire country. In our 24/7/365 culture, we’ve kinda lost that: the exclusivity of ‘if you missed Friday’s show you missed an AWESOME band’ type of scenario.
Having said that I’m glad that I don’t have to sweat-inducing tension of hovering over the Pause button to try and chop off the DJ speaking over the end of the track…..