Stephen Doyle Interviewed – the Salford DJ bringing the original era of punk back to the airwaves
Imagine stepping into a Salford Street in the late Summer of 1976 – a selection of records under your arm and a copy of NME screaming about ‘Sex Pistols’.
It’s not too far removed from the experience of then-teenager Stephen Doyle, now a DJ on Salford City Radio 94.4FM (shows also available on Mixcloud) who is bringing punk releases from 40 years back onto the radio, week by week – as part of his unique show ‘Punk! It was 40 Years Ago’.
“It was an era that felt like it was sprinkled with a kind of magic,” Says Stephen, a self-confessed music obsessive, “I play punk because it’s what I love.’
You can listen into his 2-hour show every week on a Tuesday 10pm – midnight (also available as a podcast) to hear some of the most interesting punk bands around in the 1970s – often those who have been done a disservice by history, but actually had an important impact at the time. This is punk at its rawest and often most raucous.
What’s the inspiration – and why the start date of 1976? Stephen explained that it was after listening to a recently-released recording of Sex Pistols’ infamous 4th June 1976 lesser Free Trade Hall gig in Manchester that he decided to use it as a starting point for the show:
“When you listen to the Lesser Free Trade Hall gig – I think it actually sounds great!” He grins, disputing the views of many around at the time that Sex Pistols were just a ‘load of noise’:
“I decided to start the show on the nearest Tuesday night in June to the date of the recording, with a set-up of playing stuff that was released in those weeks, 40 years ago. It’s a great way to see how punk influenced modern music.
“After all, in the early days of the show especially, I played things that influenced punk too so to flesh it out a bit. I started that a year ago – so whilst we were listening to 1976 in 2016, now we’re in 2017 and listening to 1977. I’d say that in 1977 the impression of punk was clear – there was a massive explosion of new music, often from bands that saw The Pistols and of course influenced by Buzzcocks and their Spiral Scratch EP.
“A significant thing was that people also started releasing their own records, rather than relying on labels. It meant for more creativity – and can make it difficult to research the exact date of a release! It’s now what I do, every week, and I make sure to incorporate recordings of Peel sessions as well as people on the fringes.”
He also celebrates emergent punk bands on the edge of Manchester like The Chameleons and The Hamsters.
Stephen unfortunately didn’t see the Pistols’ 1976 gig himself, but what he did see was that the sounds that were happening in the early punk era, were part of musical progress – like one of his heroes, Broadcaster John Peel:
“I was a 14-year-old,” Stephen describes his involvement in the late 70s music scene and the impact radio had on him “One minute I liked Thin Lizzy and heavy rock – then all of a sudden, John Peel heard a new sound coming from people like the Pistols and jumped on it straight away. He likened it to the rock n’roll movement in the 50s when all these great bands started making records.
“By the time I was 15 in November 76, he’d played Eddie and the Hot Rods and then the Sex Pistols – I thought ‘wow this is for me’ and I became a punk rocker!”
Punk, at that time in Manchester and Salford, wasn’t necessarily associated with the mohawks and regalia of the later era. According to Stephen, wearing a pair of skinny jeans rather than flares was enough to have you deemed ‘different’ and at risk of being bricked on Rochdale Road on the way up to The Electric Circus.
Stephen was often out at gigs – so much so that his mum, still at home, would record John Peel’s radio sessions for him.
“I remember asking her to record it on cassette and thinking when I was out ‘will mum have turned it over?’. If she hadn’t, I’d still have 45 minutes, but when she remembered to, I had the whole 90-minute show recorded.”
“There was something I just really liked about ‘punk’. The newness of it and it wasn’t generic either –a really strange experimental sound was happening, and I loved it! There were even bands that could barely play and wouldn’t have the balls to release the stuff in 1975 that was happening in ’76. People would even just be banging a piece of wood or a piano. People like the Desperate Bicycles; people would have once said ‘never in a million years’ would they create anything.”
It is his passion for gigs and creativity back then which has actually fed into his love of new music now. As well as ‘Punk! It was 40 years ago’ he has another long-running show also on Salford City Radio, dedicated to new music both local and international, called ‘Sonic Diary’.
“I’m not stuck in the past though – that’s for sure,” Says Stephen “I set up a new music show and called it Sonic Diary from day 1. Why? When I was 16, 17, 18 etc – I kept a diary of all the gigs I went to and all the records I bought. So I thought why not call it that? I’m on show 358 now!”
The Sonic Diary show is on a Wednesday evening from 8-10pm and according to Stephen:
“It’s all about new music – and it can be from anywhere. I do think is important to introduce people to sounds they may not get exposure to otherwise, as well as supporting local bands. It’s not about genre – I will listen to anything and typically give it the ’30 second test’ to decide whether it goes on the show. Ultimately, if I don’t like it, I don’t play it – and that’s just an expression of my taste, it’s not meant personally. “
He even set up a ‘Guilty Pleasures’ programme to play all those cheesy tunes and power ballads we secretly love and shy away from admitting to. Here is a man who will listen to Girls Aloud and Adele, as well as hardcore rock and punk. “Music is all about enjoying it!” He says.
Not bad for a man who got into radio kind of by ‘accident’. Describing himself as someone who was always willing to approach musicians and ‘obsessively’ going to gigs from being as young as 14, using whatever money he had earned whilst growing up in around Ordsall, it wasn’t until much later that lifelong Salford man Stephen approached radio:
“I had a friend called Tony Thornborough, and I’d obsessively listen to his radio show. Before I knew it he asked me in as a guest, and I can talk music forever! In a period of about 6 months I had guested about 5 times. Then the station manager heard one of the shows and must have said something along the lines to Tony; ‘Your mate was really good – why doesn’t he do a show himself?’
“I was like ‘I don’t know how do all the equipment?’ but they made things really straightforward and I was invited to a welcoming show with all the DJs, about 7 years ago now and it’s just gone on from there.”
Stephen doesn’t shy from talking about his inspirations either – including other broadcasters such as Bob Osborne and musicians like Ian Keith Moss, who continue to champion community-level creativity. He adds:
“A big hero was John Peel – he used to religiously sit listening to submissions for his show; and I dedicate a number of hours every week to listening to what I get sent. As Peel said himself ‘I want to hear something different’ – and new music always continues to inspire me.
Take recently – an example of a track I really thought ‘wow’ about when I first heard it was by The Moods and called ‘Hope’. I remember putting it on and just hearing this incredible tune which felt like the Pet Shop Boys and Frankie Goes To Hollywood put together with brilliant vocals and just something that stood-out.
I remember calling my wife Yvonne over and she loved it too – it’s a tune that really hits you between the eyes and it made my top 50 of the year, for sure.”
He named a number of bands and artists he rates highly, active right now, including the likes of ILL, Electric Cheese, Four Candles, The Sandells, Factory Acts, Monkeys in Love and many more.
“There are some people who say that a lot of new music is rubbish – but I think we’re living in a golden age, you just have to dig deep.”
Part of the discussion focused on the age of over-saturation: with so much music out there making it potentially difficult to know where to start, often leaving people retreating to sounds they feel ‘safe’ in.
But that makes searching for new sound rewarding in itself. For example, Stephen reflected that discovering new music by adventure – so to speak – has a lot to its credit; going to a live night at a local pub or bar, browsing online, being open to new formats and ideas.
“There’s loads of great bands playing in bars, clubs and pubs – a million times better than bands that are filling the Arena. I’m not saying that the music is bad – and everyone is entitled to what they like – but there seems to be a lot of middle-of-the-road, even boring, musicians. There is so much more exciting stuff out there to discover.”
And Stephen knows from experience what it is to be engaged and excited by music:
“I’m somebody who always wanted to get involved – from buying records from people like Slade and The Beatles when was a kid, to being proactive in the punk era and sending reviews into the Fanzine City Fun.”
But considering his attachment to ‘punk’ – how does he define the term? Seems that it’s less about definition and more about listening according to Stephen:
“I don’t think it’s helpful to have a set definition of punk,” He says “It’s often been associated with ‘things that are different’, which may be fair – but it’s such a big word.
“For example, punk goes into and influences other genres, and will do as my radio show goes on. From the r’n’b of Dr Feelgood, to Bowie’s Low and Heroes – many artists have been touched by punk. In coming years, as we get into the tunes of ’78 and ‘79 I see the show morphing into a lot of stranger music which showed punk in a changing guise, like The Fall and Joy Division.”
There has been plenty of rewarding material so far. Take the first week of July as just one example, in which Stephen was spinning out punk tunes which featured both sides of Sex Pistols classic third single “Pretty Vacant” released 1st July 1977, 2 Peel Sessions from The Damned and Models plus classic singles by The Modern Lovers and The Saints, amongst others.
Stephen plans both ‘Sonic Diary’ and ‘Punk! It was 40 Years Ago’ to be long-term features. After all, the format of playing music as it was released 40 years ago means that each show is varied – and Stephen can proudly say that he has never played the same song more than once within a year of two-hour shows. He also has plans for a website, which would help to form a chronology of such a significant era:
“I’m going to carry on researching – it shows some amazing patterns and influences,” Says Stephen “For example, take the last week of July ’77; there were about half a dozen new singles knocking around by bands which became very iconic; like The Drones, The Only Ones, The Lurkers. In fact, I was in Manchester buying them as 15-year-old. I had a special box containing about 50 to 100 recent singles and I played them over and over again.”
“It’s weird really, I sort of liked everything at the time – even groups that I weren’t mad about like The Boomtown Rats– they still had tracks smattered with greatness. From my favourites like The Clash, to some local acts trying it live who never released records, there was just a type of magic in the era around the time and I wanted to try it on a radio show. It’s community radio and I do it just for fun – and the love of it.”
Incredibly, Stephen’s position is voluntary, and he also holds a full-time job, whilst remaining utterly enthused about the tunes. It’s also been a source of motivation in very difficult times, as tragically, Stephen’s wife Yvonne died suddenly nine months ago.
“We had been married for 25 years – it was utterly devastating.” He told me “After thinking about it, I knew that carrying on the radio would be good for me and help me a great deal. It’s out of the sheer love of it.”
Listen to Stephens Doyles complete Archive of shows Sonic Diary and Punk! It was 40 Years Ago Today on Mixcloud here (including the latest ‘Rebellion Special’)
All words by Emily Oldfield. Her author profile is here.