“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for.”
Managing expectations is a peculiarly British trait.
So this week, when the BBC 6 Music Breakfast Show marked ten years on the air with Shaun Keaveny in the chair, producers were keen not to go the way of Browning.
The approved hashtag #TenLongYearsofKeaveny was met with such glowing tributes from listeners as “Ten years of adequate radio”, “feels like longer” and “Ten years. Ten. Congratulations. To you and us. Mostly us.”
They don’t mean it, really. Regular fans include Radiohead, Jude Law and Kate Moss who listens between nine and ten am, a slot since renamed The Kate Moss Hour. (She was its guest for the hour before Christmas).
They even threw a party this morning at BBC’s Maida Vale studio with guests including Maximo Park, Law, Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine and Brian Eno.
The 6Music Breakfast Show is a comfort blanket of expectations managed, under the stewardship of producers “Fire warden” Phil Smith and previous incumbent Claire “The Slev” Slevin, music news reporter Matt Everitt and presenter Shaun Keaveny.
Radio at that hour broadcasts to a harsh, unforgiving audience.
The Today programme on Radio 4 remains the preserve of mainly men shouting at each other for telling lies or avoiding the question. On Radio 2, another man may be shouting at the listeners, or colleagues if they have fallen out of favour. On Radio 1, the thought of Everything being Amazing before the day’s first gulp of coffee can be a bit much and the two hour interview they just broadcast with Harry Styles is not for most of us over 21.
The 6Music Breakfast Show is the sound of a man howling at the moon or, on a day he’s struggling, happy to let dead air speak for his pain. If Pedro Almodovar ever wants to switch the gender of his classic film Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and relocate it to the UK, he should contact Keaveny and Everitt.
Any awkward dead air – other breakfast shows are available but less willing to offer this – is interrupted by dad jokes, impersonations and random clips from Keaveny’s “cart wall” of sound effects. These include the Sid James guffaw (for innuendo), Happy Birthday on the tuba (for birthdays he insists he doesn’t celebrate), horse braying (a tribute to Everitt’s Easter Island-style fizzog) and inexplicable singalongs to Take That’s Greatest Day (a record 6Music listeners would not countenance all the way through).
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Keaveny will also use the Music News as an excuse to unleash ropey impersonations of Keith Richards and Paul McCartney but the real things don’t seem to mind, having both guested on the show. Everitt secures plenty of big name interviews from AC/DC and Rod Stewart to Elton John and Kate Bush.
Listeners are invited to contribute in the shape of an ‘ear worm’ (recent samples – Andrew WK’s Party Hard, Nu Shooz’s I Can’t Wait and Abba’s Thank you for the Music) and Small Claims Court, where a caller might remember, say, the time he met Hi de Hi’s Simon Cadell at Baldock services.
The Thought for the Day on 6Music is more likely to be about the hummus in Shaun’s fridge going off than the irreversibility of climate change. Small talk doesn’t get much smaller.
People, between 959,000 and 1.04m of them on last counts, nevertheless start their day with this show.
It can’t just be the records, although the playlist which ranges from The Animals to Alt-J, Stevie Wonder to Sharon van Etten, Little Eva to Laura Marling is almost always excellent. (He doesn’t play enough Pet Shop Boys but this is a small gripe).
It’s reasonable to argue that Shaun Keaveny has one of the biggest challenges in radio-land.
People who are Serious About Music (mainly men, to be fair) are often a tough crowd. Woe betide the 6Music DJ who gets his Clash B-Sides mixed up.
Keaveny once suggested the song Living In A Box had been recorded by an act other than the band Living In A Box at five to eight and while the 8am news was fresh, was addressing a tidal wave of complaints.
And he can be as grumpy as his audience, infamous for his bin-kicking, bemoaning his TV career (don’t ask) and bellowing “not on my watch!” when a record request does not meet his approval. (This is personal. My wife’s favourite group is Def Leppard – again, don’t ask – and she requested a song on her birthday. I didn’t mind, but there’s a reason all the DAB radios in our house are now tuned to the Today programme).
His sense of humour is rooted in his upbringing in Pete Shelley and Georgie Fame’s hometown of Leigh. In an industry of self-puffery, his deprecating humour is reassuringly Northern and unlike the heyday of Radio 1 DJs, Keaveny is quick to make himself and his anti-celebrity the butt of any jokes.
For anyone with a half-sizeable record collection, or who remembers what a record collection meant, 6Music is one of the jewels in the BBC crown. Perilously close to the BBC axe in 2010, many of its roster of talent are rock stars (Elbow’s Guy Garvey, Jarvis Cocker, Iggy Pop) and retired rock stars turned TV presenters (Lauren Laverne, Huey Morgan, Cerys Matthews). If the station’s roster was a beauty pageant, Shaun Keaveny wouldn’t be up to the podium giving his thoughts on world peace.
It does not sound like the recipe for a Sony Radio award. And the Sony Awards committee seem to agree with this, except for an award for the station.
But somehow it works. In fact, its three hours of old and new records, music bulletins and shambling amateurism filling the rest of it make it arguably the most lovable show on the station. As these shows include Iggy Pop, that isn’t too shabby.
Long may Shaun Keaveny’s reach continue not to exceed his grasp.