Review by Liz Dexter
Nightingale was the first female DJ on Radio One, having been a journalist and live TV presenter before then and ready for the tough time she was going to have at the beginning, and she is still there, fifty years later. In this book she reviews her whole career, using a mix of interview transcripts, republished pieces and recollections to build a portrait of a career and life inextricably bound up with the music of the day, from The Beatles to Billie Eilish. Her close relationships with all sorts of artists mean she can share intimate discussions and details, all done with good sense and a sense of the sometimes ridiculous nature of her world and job.
First and foremost, Nightingale clearly loves music and radio, and her enthusiasm shines through every piece. She’s a fan as well as a journalist, a friend as well as a reporter, and that comes across beautifully. Although in a vague chronological order, this is a collection of pieces rather than one big narrative, revisiting interviewees as she goes, but always there with Radio One. It was fascinating to read about her early days, campaigning to work for the new BBC music station and pushing the boundaries of the daytime shows from pacifying housewives to introducing new music that “young me” might be listening to, but also actual friends with The Beatles, heady days that she seemed to navigate calmly. She uses this campaigning streak throughout her career, achieving permission to broadcast from the top of the BT Tower and trying to push through sets on other worldwide tall towers, and in the TV documentaries she’s made recently, she states she’s made sure she includes a concentration on the women of the punk and post-punk years – a good cheerleader to have, for sure.
She is really clear on lots of the intricate details of her job – for example being a specialist rather than a name and a brand means she concentrates on the music and artists rather than promoting her own personality. She owns her career mistakes – being too harsh at a talent contest she judged with Malcolm Maclaren – and there’s a wonderful section at the end where she gets really into the nitty gritty of how to make it in music broadcast journalism, a set of do’s, don’ts and lessons that would really stand someone in good stead even in the different world today to when she started out in the 1970s (be polite; be early).
There are hilarious and touching interviews with stars like Marc Bolan and Underworld’s Karl Hyde, building an intimate picture of how influential musicians build their work and careers behind the scenes. I really like Nightingale’s italicised modern asides in the interviews, too. The interview with Bob Marley is hilarious, as she struggles to hear him against a background of loud versions of his own music. Travel pieces on Paris and Ibiza are atmospheric and personal, and then there are more journalistic pieces, such as an interview with Andy Eakin about his experiences in the Falklands War and an immediate reaction to the death of seminal Radio One broadcaster, John Peel.
I read the paperback: there’s a set of black and white and colour plates in the centre of the book, and a thorough index. An entertaining read whatever your music taste, and a history of radio and music from a very personal viewpoint.
Liz Dexter transcribes interviews like the ones found in this book for her job (but not for Nightingale) but enjoyed this slight busperson’s holiday. She blogs about reading, running and working from home at http://www.librofulltime.wordpress.com
Annie Nightingale, Hey Hi Hello: Five Decades of Pop Culture from Britain’s Broadcasting DJ Pioneer (White Rabbit, 2021). 978-1474616690, 388 pp., ill., new in paperback.
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