I have quite a funny story about how I came to be introduced to this week’s Music Master Bernie Connor in that a good friend and somebody who’s taste I trust impeccably told me that he’d been listening to this incredible web broadcast over the last few months, told me that this guy in Liverpool was playing the most incredible selections of music ranging from acid house and rave to metal, pop, reggae and funk, but that it seemed to have been put through a processor of some kind, told me it had weird spoken word samples and speeded up radio jingles and just really mad cap things happening on it on a weekly basis. He told me it was right up my street and that i should check it out straight away. I turned in and listened, and I listened to all the ones that were up there archived. They sounded fucking excellent. But they were all played straight. Not speeded up in anyway, sounding just like any other radio broadcast. just much better than anything else out there, so I called the guy up and told him “sounds pretty great but straight to me mate” he then had to admit to me that he had – by pure accident – been listening to it with the player on his computer turned up to plus 8, he had effectively been listening to months and months of radio played at the wrong speed! As anybody that knows him will attest, Phil Cooper is a very funny man but this took the fucking biscuit.
So yeah, we are in the presence of greatness this week and once again we will not shy away from pop music. And this is why Bernard Connor is this weeks Music Master. You can listen to all of Bernie’s fantastic radio shows played at the normal speed on his Mixcloud page here, check the latest edition below and we assure you you’ll be hooked. On with the interview!
MARK BROADBENT – Where are you from, what are you on?
BERNIE CONNOR – I’m from here, in Liverpool. I have lived here most of my life. It’s one of the last remaining places on the planet where being yourself and getting away with it are completely understandable. And tolerated. When I was a kid, being the youngest of six children, I developed a morbid interest in music, which trickled down in the most wondrous way, from my elder brothers and sisters. They gave me the opportunity to become utterly obsessive about it. I was eager to impress, and I guess I still am. That’s what I’m on these days. Mostly these days, I figure everything can be straightened out by a cup of tea and the grateful dead.
MB – You were born in a time that enabled you to witness some incredible musical moments in an incredibly musical part of the country Bernie, is there one place or event that stands out from your formative years?
BC – I certainly was, and I’m never envious of those things that I didn’t experience but I didn’t see the faces or sex pistols, but I would have liked to have. I never really think of things in a ‘favourite’ sort of way. I don’t have a favourite record as such, it changes from day to day, depending on the mood and the weather. Sometimes I become entranced by a specific record for a very short space of time. like, Wesley Storey and I once spent an entire weekend tripping, taking Procol Harum’s psychedelic masterpiece, A Whiter Shade Of Pale apart, second by second, to figure out how it works and what it does. This works with all records and tripping isn’t an immediate per-requisite, but it doesn’t half help.
As gigs go, I saw some things that still to this day, fry mind on recall. Dr Feelgood at the stadium, when I was 13/14. The sensational Alex Harvey band at the Empire in the blazing heat. The Clash at Eric’s, a hurricane force wave of sound that, if I live to be a trillion years old may never experience again. I saw Joy Division umpteen times, in many places but the one that always sticks out is their last gig at the Factory in Manchester in April 1980. It was a powerful display of sheer, visceral emotion and the wonder of music. It was the red carpet walk into the new golden dawn. Tomorrow was made that day. I have a special place in my coal like, cynical heart for their performance at the 1979 Leigh festival, which took place on bank holiday Monday of that year. It’s one of those events that if you totted up everyone who claimed to be there, the attendance would run into the tens of thousands. In the actuality, there was probably no more than a couple of hundred there on the day, and that included the members of the 15 or so bands that played. When Joy Division came on, it had gone dark, late summer dark. Some hippie kids, just over there had lit a fire and were selling hot knives for 50p each. The stark light on the stage was beautiful, the music billowed off into the night. And of course, because you are so young, these things indelibly stamp themselves on your mind and your heart. I used joy division as a springboard for everything, they really were the signposts for tomorrow. The music was so powerful you couldn’t help but be transfixed by it. It’s hard to explain now, because there’s a legend to get round, and indeed, a joy division industry to navigate, but back then, when I was seventeen, they were simply the talk of the cab stand, this incredibly ‘new’ type of punk group from Manchester. They were so unlike everything else that chugged into town at that time, that the difference was actually shocking.
MB – I have been lucky enough to have had a few people in my life that helped guide my own musical journey (yourself included) of discovery, is there one person in your past that you can say this about?
BC – There’s never one is there? I was very fortunate in my younger years to hover among some wonderful ‘older’ people who were very good at offering that gentle nudge in the right direction. Roger Eagle, who ran Eric’s was incredible because he knew how susceptible teenagers are to the power of suggestion. He was great at planting info into your fertile mind, he knew darn well that if he mentioned, Howlin’ Wolf, Lee Perry, Sun Ra, Mose Allison that us inquisitive teenagers would be in Probe at the first available opportunity bugging the arse off the staff to play us these very things. But Probe itself, is the major part of the story. I imagine that Geoff Davies – its original proprietor – is the person who had the most effect, to be honest. He’s the second most important person in the history of Liverpool music after Brian Epstein, by virtue of the fact that without Brian and Geoff, there’s no story. Like, somebody may have come along and opened up an alternative/underground record shop in 1970’s Liverpool, but it wouldn’t have been the same without Geoff’s input. Similarly Brian Epstein, somebody else may have come along and managed the Beatles eventually, but there’s no way it would have been the same. Their all conquering prowess was directly attributable to Brian.
He’s a great conversationist, Geoff. He has that ability to draw you in to what he’s trying tell you. And he offered us some fantastic music to consume, at all the right points and on all the right occasions. All the great seekers since the early seventies owe Geoff, without him I wouldn’t be writing this, like I always say, I’d probably have a steady job and a bizarre outlook on life. But thankfully….
A special mention must really go to John Peel, too. He planted ideas and sounds in my head that I never want to go away. I realised from a young age that as music fan, I had more in common with what peel did on the radio than what people were doing in nightclubs and bars.
MB – You famously say “we will not shy away from pop music” and this has become a mantra of our own in the Badgers Lair but can you please explain the sentiment to those who may not until now be familiar with your wonderful online radio broadcast The Sound Of Music?
BC – I had this vision when I sick, a few years ago. I imagined that all music was exactly the same and was released onto a level playing field. It doesn’t matter if it’s Stockhausen or Sex Pistols, Taylor Swift or Throbbing Gristle, it’s all the same thing: pop music and the only thing that matters is whether you like it or not. It doesn’t matter what other people think about your taste, because it’s yours and ultimately your own responsibility and nobody else’s. There’s a tendency for people – like me, my friends and neighbours- who have grown up listening to more ‘cerebral’ music, for the want of a better word, to view mainstream pop as something abhorrent, beneath them. Particularly those who grew up with punk in their blood. An awful lot of people, including people I know, still check the Joe Strummer manual of punk authenticity to see if it’s alright to like a Doobie Brothers record they just heard on the radio. It’s a life half lived, awaiting verification of your own personal taste from a third party you may never meet. These restrictions only work like that if you let the style police patrol your waters, which is fine when you’re 16, but when you get to your thirties, forties, it’s surely alright to let go of that baggage and like what you like, when you like. It was a toss up between Off The Wall by Michael Jackson and Daydreamer by David Cassidy –one of my current favourite records ever – it dictated the whole direction the sound of music would follow. Michael won the initial battle, but you are never too far from paradise when David Cassidy is at your side.
MB – I consider myself to be quite well informed in the pop music cannon but every time I listen to your show I have not heard of at least 40% of the tracks you play, how did you gain this huge knowledge of popular music past and present?
BC – I’m a nosey swine. One of the things I’ve tried to do with the sound of music over the years is not to play the same type of music twice in any given show. It doesn’t always work that way, but it gives you something to aim at, keeps me interested and constantly looking for other things. I’ve always been interested in loads of different types of music, like when people often say “what kind of music do you like/play?” I always say “music”, it requires no further explanation. I like where the changes in style/tempo/genre might take you, like nobody ever talks about juxtapositioning, the simple act of what comes next. As a disc jockey, that’s the really interesting bit. Throughout all the years of doing this, I’ve always shied away from a ‘set’ as such. I always know what the first tune is, and sometimes the last, so to that end, I love filling in the spaces with different coloured and different flavoured squares. I suppose, if you are like me and my good friends, who grew up immersed in a myriad of music, then this all dead normal. The variety of it all is absolutely essential. I always play exactly the music I would like to hear ta that time, whether that be in a room full of people or on the internet, or even at home on my own. And, The Sound Of Music is always exactly the sort of radio show I’d like to hear myself, although it is constructed in a rather perculiar way. It’s all about difference, and that’s the difference. I think. One of the reasons I don’t think I ever took to becoming a ‘house’ dj as such, was that even in pharmaworld, I could never envisage myself playing the same type of music for twenty minutes, let alone hours on end. And, I couldn’t, and still can’t, mix.
MB – As I have already said you grew up in a wonderful time and place that enabled you to witness some amazing musical happenings but if you were able to travel back in time and change shape where would you go and what would you be for one weekend only?
BC – The greatest gig I ever saw was Happy Mondays at CBGB in August 1989. I can’t re-experience the whole night, because of course, it was so out there and fucked up and wondrous and beautiful and all those superlatives that escape me right now. However, what I would like to revisit is the face of the ‘rock dude’ in the audience that looked like Slash out of Guns ‘n’ Roses, to see the look of utter bemusement on his face as Shaun stands on stage, twatting the mic-stand with a tambourine, screaming “Wake up! Fucking America, fucking wake up!” smashed to the fucking tits on everything except roller skates. it was priceless, a moment of sublime ignorance confronting something new and forward thinking, his look of utter helplessness in the face of something very unusual and, a bit suspect, it has to be said. Also, sometime just before our Buddy was born in 1995, I went out on manoeuvres with Andrew Weatherall for a short spell. In the pantheon of having a fucking incredible time and astonishing things happening, it rates up there with the last days of Sodom and Gommorah. No animals or children were harmed during this sequence of events.
MB – How do you get a dog to speak?
BC – Put it on the 82C. Also, “Hey mate, is this bus going to Speke?” “Well, it hasn’t said anything yet, but if it does, I’ll give you a shout.”
MB – You worked in Probe Records, were you the typical horrible record store worker all snooty and unhelpful or were you one of the good guys?
BC – The thing about probe is, it has this reputation as being this fearsome place that people were terrified to go into. But first and foremost it was an operating business that sold the best rekkids in town. Again, that reputation is something that’s been inflated over the years. When I worked there, some of the next wave of Liverpool musicians would hang out in there while sagging school. They gravitated towards me and I’d share me ciggies and tea with them. I didn’t realise till fairly recently –when it was pointed out to me – that that was the reason Geoff took me on, because everybody else who worked there was 35 and may have been a shade intimidating to the younger punters. Pete burns, who worked with me, had people who would come into the shop just to gawk at him and I guess those sort of weirdos were given short shrift. And people who loved Gary Numan. Still can’t get me head round that, almost forty years later, Gary Numan, who’d a thunk it?
MB – How old were you when you first went to Eric’s and who did you see?
BC – I was fifteen when I first went to Eric’s to see The Damned. It was the first time I’d ever been in a nightclub, it stank of stale sweat, stale ale and stale ciggies, I was fascinated. It was so fucking loud I couldn’t hear in school for week. It was dark, slightly grown up and foreboding. From thereon in, I was hooked. But I was hooked anyway, for the next year it would be the only club I went to, nothing else was on offer. When I discovered perfumed girls and disco and acid, how the other half lived, I was mesmerised. We’d crossed the punk line for the better of mankind and we had no idea that it would be such as short space of time in which the whole situation could be reviewed. Once January 1978 was out the way, and the pistols had split up, all bets were off, the direction was about to change again. Punk ceased to be what they were hollering about and more what youth like us could take from it and make for ourselves. Just around the corner is The Fall, Joy Divison, the pop group, the punk carve up was on, within six months the music, the fashion, the people, would be barely recognisable.
MB – Who’s currently doing it for you out there, who’s making the tracks and who’s playing them?
BC – I was much taken by the remix LP by Young Marco last year, that really did it for me. Picked that up in Buyers Club one night by accident. There’s always individual records that do it, the new Jane Weaver lp, Chaz Bundick and the Mattson 2. A 12” by Sordid Sound System called Fear Eats The Soul, a remix LP by Hi-Fi Sean, which has some tremendous bits. I could go on listing them for hours. Also, I seem surrounded by young bands these days, Liverpool has an embarrassment of riches at the moment, better than anytime in my life, I reckon. Special mention should go to The Floormen, Ohmns, Jo Mary and Samurai Kip who manage to take the roof off every building they ever play in, every time. I love the way the future looks, in this city there’s a similar amount of young disc jockeys who are slaying it time after time, Melodic Distraction, Joseph Kaye (my eldest son), Abandon Silence, and of course, those wonderful people at Circus and Chibuku that just seem to go from strength to strength. And lastly, that wonderful mountain of audio fun, Jeff O’Toole, Manchester’s best.
PHEW! An excellent and informative interview we’re sure you’ll agree. Many thanks to Mark and Bernie for the words! Bernie makes his Pikes On Sundays debut this week and we simply cannot wait to hear what he’s got to offer. Come on down and listen to the best music you will ever hear. We guarantee it.