Today, on this side of the Atlantic, families are gathered, all over the country, to gorge on turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and God knows what else, as a way of taking time out, from hectic work schedules, to be with one another and celebrate the beginning of the holiday season (that is, until Black Friday commences, and peace and harmony are chucked out the window and replaced with stress, anxiety, tension, street crime and general pandemonium).
As we prepare Anglophile Studios, for the holidays, we decided it was a jolly good time to invite a new guest into our patriotic inner sanctum. This time round, we’re putting our Union Jack spotlight on Mr. Ronan Munro, the founder, head writer and editor of Nightshift, Oxford’s premier music publication that features the very best of Oxford’s local music scene. During our chin wag, accompanied by our famous afternoon tea (along with a bottle of red wine, Ronan’s favourite tipple), Ronan indulged us like we’ve never been before.
We hope you enjoy the following transcript 🙂 Happy holidays to everyone!!
1. Who or what inspired/influenced you to become a music journalist?
I’m not sure I was inspired to do it, I more fell into it. I love writing, and I love music, so the two went together well, and I always wanted people to discover good new music rather than accept the mediocre crap they’re fed by mainstream media. Also, I saw loads of great new bands who, pre-internet, had no way of getting into the national music papers, so I started doing a local mag as a way of hopefully providing that missing first rung in the ladder.
2. Where did you see your very first concert, in Oxford, and who performed?
My first ever gig was by OMD (supported by The Cocteau Twins) in 1982 at Hammersmith Odeon – when I still lived in High Wycombe, before I ever came to Oxford. I moved to Oxford, to study at what was then the Polytechnic (now Brookes) in 1984, and I think my first gig in Oxford was probably by at the time local goth heroes Chatshow in the union bar. I still know the guitarist, John, who is a well known sound engineer for some seriously big bands. I think around the same time I saw The Smiths at The New Theatre – I bought the last available ticket – back row of the balcony. There was a stage invasion. Fantastic scenes.
3. You’ve watched bands like Ride, Radiohead, Swervedriver, Supergrass and Foals go on to worldwide, award winning acclaim. As Jon Spira’s amazing documentary, Anyone Can Play guitar noted, so many other notable acts weren’t able to get their due, for whatever reason. Of the many bands you’ve seen that have come and gone, over the years, which ones would you have loved to have seen go on to bigger success?
Oh god, so many. The Candyskins so completely deserved massive success, and were right on the cusp of doing so not once but three times, but as Jon’s film shows, they must be the unluckiest band ever – nothing that happened to them was of their own making, it was all just circumstances, often tragic. Personally I’d have loved to have seen Death By Crimpers, Beaker and Little Fish make it big, mainly because they were all amazing bands, but also because there’s never been a successful female act come out of Oxford. The industry is still very skewed towards men and women have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. The Crimpers were all close friends of mine and I saw firsthand how they got treated – by agents, journalists, record companies. They were ultimately destroyed by their own record label. Julia Walker from Little Fish has one of the greatest voices I’ve heard – she’s an equal to Patti Smith or Chrissie Hynde; she’s also been badly stung by industry machinations and probably needs a good confidence boost to recognise her own talent.
4. In your humble opinion, who are the five greatest live bands to ever come out of Oxford and why those five?
On a purely live basis, Foals take some beating – the first time I saw them they blew me away and they continue to do so. Supergrass were always this unstoppable ball of energy and every song was a hit. Little Fish had so much grace and aggression and poise. Sextodecimo were absolutely astonishing: seriously, just the heaviest, sludgiest, most oppressive thing you can imagine – I think I once described them as sounding like the radioactive waste from Chernobyl if it formed a band. And of the current crop I’d say Vienna Ditto – they’re a oddly ramshackle boy/girl duo who make brilliant, wired sci-fi jazz, rockabilly and electro-pop, all mashed up, like Billie Holiday fronting Suicide at times. When they’re on form their shows teeter between absolute chaos and outright genius; that tension is what makes any gig exciting. They take all their equipment to gigs in a stolen shopping trolley. Totally unprofessional but totally brilliant.
5. What is it about Oxford that produces such a rich diversity of music? I think about some of my personal favourites, like Rhosyn, Spring Offensive, Richard Walters, Hold Your Horse Is, Undersmile, Gunning For Tamar and Coldredlight.
I think the local scene has grown and expanded at a pretty organic rate over the last 25 or so years, mainly because there have been people who have been totally dedicated to making things happen, and as we’ve produced more successful acts, that’s attracted others to come here, either as students or just to form or further their band. You see that more and more often now. Gunning For Tamar definitely came to Oxford for the music. Undersmile is a different matter – they’re all grunge and metal kids from around Witney, but they were inspired by other local acts like Sextodecimo and Sevenchurch, so you have a generational thing going on, where even cult local acts can inspire the next bunch of kids. And of course, they all know they stand a good chance of getting a review, if not the guarantee of a good one.
6. You’re on Desert Island Discs and Kirsty Young has asked you to select a book and luxury before she casts you off. What book and luxury do you choose and why?
The book – probably The Secret History by Donna Tartt – an incredibly moving story. She has an almost magical ability to make you root for even the most unlikable character, though Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which I read earlier this year, had a similarly huge impact on me. As for luxury – I’m torn between a bottle of red wine that never runs out and a link to Wycombe Wanderers’ online media player so I can still follow all their matches.
7. As an avid drummer, I feel compelled to ask; who do you think would win a drum duel between Loz Colbert and Phil Selway?
8. Have you met Thom Yorke and Yannis Phillippakis? If so, what are they like in person?
Yes. I used to see Thom a lot back in the beginning as I helped out with Radiohead’s formative fanclub and interviewed them a couple of times, back when they were still On A Friday, though I’ve not seen him to talk to for a long while. He was very shy but very determined and focussed, a classic introvert, which is why he maybe comes across as prickly or elusive, but he’s always been a nice guy in my experience. In fact Radiohead are all absolute gents, and Colin Greenwood is rightly considered the nicest man in Oxford music. Seriously, he makes Dave Grohl look like a right tyrant. Yannis is a nice bloke too, though I wouldn’t say I know him well. Like Thom he knows what he wants, which helps when you’re trying to make it in music, and again I think he’s essentially quite a shy, thoughtful, highly intelligent bloke who comes across as rather more brash and prickly than he really is. I bumped into him a year or so ago and had a nice chat. Bands who make it out of Oxford don’t really do big egos.
9. How many concerts do you attend in any given week? Do you find out about new bands on your own or do you receive recommendations?
Funnily enough I was talking to someone about this at the weekend and I worked out I’d been to 23 gigs since the start of October. Which, combined with having kids and not being as young as I once was, is pretty tiring. I’d happily go to even more but I’d be dead before Christmas and I like Christmas too much to miss it. Finding out about bands can be from all sorts of places – demos they’ve sent in, catching them live by chance, or being recommended by promoters, friends and other Nightshift contributors. Joal Shearing at The Wheatsheaf has a good ear for a new band and he always lets me know if there’s some he thinks I’ll like.
10. At this time, what band(s), and even solo artists, are you excited about? Why?
Seeing Glass Animals doing so well is genuinely gratifying as I gave them demo of the month back in 2010 before they’d even started playing gigs. They’ll probably be headlining Glastonbury in a few years. Of the current crop bubbling under, Vienna Ditto are always a treat live, and Coldredlight could be huge if they can keep writing songs of the calibre of `Little Scorpion’. Both Gaby-Elise and Casper are astonishingly talented, and way ahead of their very tender years musically. The August List possibly don’t get the credit they deserve, perhaps because they’re such an understated couple, but they write beautiful songs, as does Cameron AG; he has a gorgeous voice.
11. What’s the greatest compliment you’ve received from an artist that you’ve spotlighted?
I got a kiss off Cerys Matthews from Catatonia once; does that count? Ed and Colin from Radiohead saying they wouldn’t have made it without the help of myself, Mac from the Jericho Tavern and Nick Moorbath from the Zodiac was lovely. Complete bollocks, but lovely. They’d have been huge whatever. I got a handwritten letter off a band whose album I’d reviewed once promising that I was going straight to hell. I’ve been working towards that all my life so it was nice to get confirmation.
12. What did you think of Ride’s reunion tour, this past summer?
I only saw their first reunion gig at upstairs at the O2 in Oxford, but that was a bit emotional as I saw their first ever gigs back in the beginning – I used to work in the same record shop as Steve Queralt, and later sold t-shirts for them on tour. It’ll be interesting to hear what the new songs are like when they finish recording them.
13. What sort of preparation do you undertake when interviewing a band or artist?
Drink heavily, force them into a corner and ask them what the hell they think they’re doing. Sadly, due to the nature of life almost all interviews now are done via email, so it’s all extremely cordial. Checking what questions they’ve been asked before on various blogs is always a good start, so you don’t just repeat what’s already been said. Actually hearing their music is usually the first and most important bit of preparation.
14. What interview has been fantastic/disappointing/surprising?
The best interviews are usually with people who have been out there and done things in life, or have strong opinions or a wild imagination. A group of young blokes with little life experience beyond playing in band rarely makes for a thrilling read. ShaoDow, a rapper who made his name in Oxford before going off to tour round the UK, was always really interesting on all sorts of levels. I think maybe The Goggenheim did the best interview – they were all a bit older, were all into very different things and had loads to say – too much to fit in the interview. Musically they were insane too, which always helps.
15. Enquiring minds want to know…what is Dave Gilyeat REALLY like?
He has lovely hair, likes cats and loves David Bowie. He’s also even more of a Doctor Who geek than me and would win a James Bond trivia quiz in his sleep. Other than that – awful man.
16. When Ronan Munro has long left the Earth, what would he like his legacy to be?
There’d be a lot less wine left in it.
17. What makes you proud to be British/from Oxford?
I’m actually from High Wycombe, but I do love the community that’s built up around the Oxford music scene. I love everything about Oxford, except the football team.
18. What is your biggest accomplishment with Nighshift?
Probably just keeping the mag going for over 25 years now. I’ve been so close to it all ending a few times in the past due to lack of money, but somehow managed to keep afloat, while remaining completely independent. After all this time I don’t think I could do anything else. I’m institutionalised.
To listen to BBC Introducing in Oxford, go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001d7q6