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Mark Radcliffe is a plain-speaking and talking cynic, with a dry sense of humour. Like most of the best radio DJs, he grew up with a passion for music in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the days when pop and rock music really, really mattered to his (and my) generation, and has been an occasional member of rock bands, although he is better known as a regular presenter on Radios 1, 2 and 6.
Taking its title from the opening line of a classic 1968 song by The Kinks, this book is an autobiography of sorts. Being a considerate sort of chap who has no desire to waste our time, he has only written about the most interesting days and left out all the dull stuff in between.
To start with, he introduces us to the band who changed his life, and the day he met them. Dr Feelgood may be little more than a cult name these days, but in the mid-1970s they were the undisputed monarchs of pub rock, and their vocalist/harmonica player Lee Brilleaux, who sadly died of cancer in his forties, virtually founded the new wave by personally financing the launch of the renowned Stiff Records independent label. Mark loves this band with a passion, and even if you aren't a fan, it's impossible not to be swept along by his unbridled enthusiasm. And, he reminds us, they and Stiff Records were important. The Sex Pistols? Well... 'elements of their story smack as much of manufacturing as Westlife.' As for their svengali Malcolm McLaren? The Simon Cowell of his day, we are told. Good on you, Mr R.
Next, he takes us behind the scenes of working as a DJ in radio. Basically there are two kinds of DJ. One is the aspiring game show host who always wanted a career on what is called the 'idiot lantern' of TV (whoever can he be thinking of - and no prizes for guessing). The other is the eccentric nutter who wants to have his own radio programme and play records because he genuinely adores them and is driven by this sad, all-consuming desire to share them with like-minded souls. Which of us music lovers hasn't felt the same at one time or another? Mark, the lucky sod, realised his dream. A small part of me hates him for that - but only a small part, honestly. As he points out, we can download pretty well any track in the universe, but what's the good of that if there isn't someone there to point us in the right direction first?
While telling us about the joys of radio, he pours scorn on identikit commercial stations which now do nothing but rotate the current equivalents of Dire Straits and Whitney Houston - oh, and the odd advertisement for Kwik-Fit, of course. Who can blame him? When all is said and done, you have to hand it to the BBC. They do after all employ real presenters, notably one-offs like the late John Walters, a superbly opinionated old codger who would probably not have lasted five minutes in a commercial operation. When asked by the controller what he thought of the BBC lift, rebranded with the station's colours and logo, Walters launched into a ten-minute tirade on how pointless it was making it look like a Maltese businessman's idea of a discotheque. Well, he was invited to give his views.
I'm tempted to go through almost every chapter in this book and give you a run-down of the nuggets from each, the exceptions being a couple on sport which I skimmed at some speed. (Some of you would have probably found those your sole reason for reading the book, so I won't argue). For all the obvious reason, I won't. There are so many delightfully quotable bons mots here that this review would be inordinately long. I chuckled a good deal, and had I not been on the bus most of the time I was reading it, I would have availed myself of a goodly amount of floor at home to roll around laughing on.
Just do yourself a favour and get hold of a copy (£0.01 plus postage from Amazon Marketplace, for example), although you may wish to ignore the invitation from David Bowie at the top of the cover to steal it. It might not be much of a defence if you are caught in Waterstones on closed circuit camera - 'but look, see this, guv, David Bowie SAID I could!' Or do what I did and borrow it from the library.
Let me just tempt you with a few more passing observations of the world according to Mr R. The last time he saw Cliff Richard being interviewed, he looked like he was wearing a badly knitted maroon tam-o'-shanter. It was his hair. Remember 'The Old Grey Whistle Test'? It was fronted by the ever laid-back Bob Harris (no longer on our TV screens, but now very much king of the early Sunday airwaves), a thoroughly decent bloke who also loves music but was difficult to lip-read on the box as trying to watch his mouth was like looking for a darting squirrel in dense undergrowth. Recent photos of Whispering Bob make me wonder whether he has also read this book. And sometimes a more serious side is in evidence. He loves the Cambridge folk festival, partly because on Sunday morning everyone present spreads out their travelling rugs and looks at the papers while the main PA system plays the omnibus edition of 'The Archers' - 'a seductively heartwarming and quintessentially English scene.'
So what was it like introducing David Bowie on stage, interviewing Mick Jagger, going to Kate Bush's house for cheese flan, getting Paul McCartney's autograph for a kid daughter who has only just discovered that The Beatles were real people (and would have preferred Ringo's instead had there been a choice), or even being hit on the head with a golf club by his mother? On a more sombre note, how did it feel to be sacked from the breakfast show on Radio 1, or to learn that John Peel had suddenly died? And why did he buy flowers for Kylie Minogue, someone who it is impossible to dislike even if you may not enjoy her records? He's been there, done that and much more.
Finally, let me not forget to add, he has played with a band or two, and even recorded five albums. He may not have any framed gold discs in the loo, but he and his fellow band members obviously had a lot of fun in between sinking a few pints. I'm beginning to hate him even more - but only a little more. Let's keep a sense of proportion, right?
Many a true word, they say, is spoken in jest. You will learn something from this book, and you will probably agree with a good deal of what he has to say. I certainly did. In the process, I found it one of the most entertaining titles I have read for a long time.
And I can think of few famous people I'd rather be down the pub with a pint or two with than Mark.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]
My wife took this book on holiday with her and as a big reader, she finished it in no time. Personally, I'm not a huge book fan, but as we were facing 24 hours of air travel, she recommended that I give it a try.
For those of you that don't know, Mark Radcliffe is a Radio 2 DJ who currently runs a show with fellow DJ and author, Stuart Maconie. He is perhaps best known for his Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Marc "Lard" Riley. He is a Bolton boy and has played in various bands during his career.
Thank you for the days is a collection of some of Mark's most memorable moments throughout his early life and subsequent career. As opposed to just writing a straight autobiography, he sets out to only write about the best of his memories saving us from the "99% dull and routine" parts of his life!
I really found this a heartwarming and gripping read. Radcliffe manages to stir up real emotion as he talks about how he first met and then came to work with John Peel, before his friend and colleague's tragic death. He talks fondly about the day that he met his boyhood hero, David Bowie and got invited to introduce him on stage at a subsequent gig. He also comically talks of the day that he won Stars in Their Eyes as the Pogues Shane MacGowan.
Without a doubt, this book will mainly appeal to music lovers as many of the references throughout are about Mark's liaison's with the stars through his music career and perhaps there isn't much here for anyone not of that mind set. Personally though, I loved the book and found it hard to put down. There are some hilarious and bizarre anecdotes in there including meeting Tony Blair and going round Kate Bush's house for cheese flan! His writing is both witty and self deprecating throughout and each new chapter offers another nugget.