From Britain to Canada: How Pirate Radio and Radio Caroline Inspire Music Today

In the early 60′s, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was known as “Auntie” to its target audience of mild-mannered, working class, British households.  Pumping wholesome Jim Reeves standards and jazz renditions through the airwaves, Auntie BBC was seemingly oblivious to the frenetic counter-culture her nieces and nephews of Chelsea and SoHo were stirring up. Inspired by Detroit Motown, the blues, and rock and roll pioneers like Chuck Berry, British musicians saw the wave of subculture building from across the pond and used the momentum of the ‘Swinging 60′s’, to ride it into Britain in a style all their own.  There was a new sound to go along with the new thoughts and tensions of a new generation, but the BBC was a sonic breakwater blocking the growing subculture from “poisoning” their mainstream easy-listening.  A pool of popular music was sitting stagnant, waiting to be tapped and pipped through to an increasingly anxious audience. This cued up pirate radio’s appearance on the horizon; independent radio stations changing the tides of broadcasting from international waters. Various pirate radio stations competed for listenership, but none was more a reflection of the times which spawned it,  than Radio Caroline.  Radio Caroline was everything that the BBC was not: unorganized, chaotic, of-the-times, and buoyant.  Wild and unstructured, Radio Caroline, was made up of broadcast novices.  They were a band of former actors turned DJs,  headed by Ronan O’Rahilly, a musician manager and businessman looking for a way to promote the music he liked without having to cater to major record labels or the censorship of the BBC.    Established in 1964, Radio Caroline had two ships, the North and South, and a stream of DJs, which was all depicted vividly in the popularized movie “The Boat that Rocked”. While many of the DJs were unqualified by BBC standards, they had what DJ and program director, Tom Lodge, was seeking—a passion for music and emerging culture.

Robert Champan speaks of Lodge’s “new set of priorities” focused on spirit and attitude in his article, “The 1960s Pirates: A Comparative Analysis of Radio London and Radio Caroline.”  In a personal interview with Champan, Lodge said of his approach, “The DJs have to be totally involved with this new generation they are playing to.  This meant that you have to be the kind of person who goes to the concerts, who wants to meet the new people who are coming on the scene, and be absorbed in the music in every way.”  Lodge spent three years deejaying on both Radio Caroline North and South, and interviewing the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, until the Marine Broadcasting Offenses Act made pirate radio stations illegal in 1967.  Lodge tried to work at the BBC after Radio Caroline’s shut down, but he soon found it too restrictive and moved back to Canada—a country he had spent some time in in the mid-50s, chronicling his adventures in the book, “Beyond the Great Slave Lake.

Check out this classic clip of The Beatles in their earliest days winning a Radio Caroline Award.

Determined to spread his philosophy of “music without bounds”, Lodge set up the Music Industry Arts program at Fanshawe College in Ontario.  Before he discovered Lodge’s program, young Canadian musician, Greg Clarke, was playing coffee shop gigs in Toronto.  For Clarke, the Music Industry Arts program was more than just the place where he learned the facets of the industry.  It’s also where he met his future bandmate and songwriting partner, Brodie Lodge; Tom’s son.  In listening to songs like “Fly Away,” from their band The Corndog’s, it’s impossible not to hear the inspiration from the music Lodge used to play on Radio Caroline.                                

Even while the band delves into rock with a little more twang like in “Roll It Over,” their sound maintains an unruly edge in it’s irreverence to confine itself to any one particular genre.

Over the next few decades, Clarke went on to tour with many artists, including The Troggs, the Cowboy Junkies, and Johnny Winters.  His current band, Greg Clark and the Madvarks, have been together for nearly a decade, and it can be seen in the way they play together.  Clarke’s sweet-pitched Brian Wilson-esque vocals, paired with a raspy blues guitar and Lorne Gould’s saxophone accompaniment, make even their cover songs feel like an original experience.  

The support seen in their interactions on stage rings of a family dynamic.  When a band has that built-in comfort with each other, there is a safety that allows them to experiment with sounds.  Even with talkative, unreceptive crowds like in this clip,  the band dares to explore a jazzy spin on Charles Bukowski inspired Beat poetry.  

Spanning genres from jazz to blues and rockabilly to punk, Greg Clarke and the Madvarks enjoy playing together, and it’s a joy you can both see and hear when they performed at Hard Rock in Toronto.

The same musical spontaneity and passion that made Tom Lodge and his broadcasts on Radio Caroline revolutionary for their time, is what makes Greg Clarke and the Madvarks a significant band in their time.  Greg Clarke and the Madvarks continue to tour, and were recently featured on the Ruby Slippers show hosted by Carol Barrett on Toronto’s CIUT.

Contributing Writer,  Jessica Carreiro

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A Closer Look at RadioFlag’s Best Artist Winner, Nathan Roberts & the New Birds

Meet Nathan Roberts and the New Birds; the Best Artist winner for RadioFlag’s RadioStar Awards 2014 Spring edition. The DJ who nominated them was Kayla Marie Williams, a radio personality from WXUT, in Toledo. Williams hosts a live freeform radio show that plays “music across genres (indie, alternative, electronic, soul, local, shoegaze, punk, hiphop) and time (new & vintage)”.  She won the award for Best Music Show – Fall 2013 season of RadioFlag’s RadioStar Awards. Listeners can tune in to her live show, called ‘Radio Alchemy’ every Friday Night from 10pm – Midnight (EST). Listeners tuning in via RadioFlag can follow along with her live “flagging”, connecting with her in real time,  make requests, share links,  purchase songs from her playlist which she posts after the show, and basically have a “Connective Listening” experience. She continues to promote local bands turning the RadioFlag community on to up and coming sounds like ‘Nathan Roberts and the New Birds’.

Nathan Roberts and the New Birds are a 3 piece group coming out of Toledo, Ohio.  Their overall style seems more remote and non local, compared to the plentitude of gritty heavy souled indie talent that rock this part of the heartland’s music scene. Their sound is clean and lustrous with a consoling melodic classic rock undercurrent, giving them an air of distinction, depth, and refinement; which is confidently accentuated by perfectly timed out thrusts of edgy rock ’n’ roll vigilance. Stylistically they describe themselves as ”an indie rock outfit with an eclectic and full-bodied American rock sound.”  

Although Nathan Roberts originally did his songwriting unaccompanied, he made his move to include the ‘New Birds’ in 2012, after crafting music independently for a year. This current trio of musical mates, includes Nathan Roberts on lead vocals and guitar,  Joel Trzcinski on drums and Daniel Trzcinski on keyboard and guitar. The ‘New Birds’ happen to be brothers, which lends to the cool factor in some peoples’ eyes, based most likely on an ideal. It makes sense when people get idealistic or sentimental about siblings making musical magic together, after all the thoughts are, they probably hung out with each other in childhood,  know each other super well, and generally  ”bro out” together.  Seems like a paragon set up for creativity to thrive. When bros share the gift of a musical ear, ( like some of these famous siblings acts , you may or may not be thinking of)  dreams can seem even more attainable, as long as sibling skirmishes don’t get the better. Too bad for Oasis huh?

In the case of Nathan Robert and the New Birds, it feels like three is the number for balance, and from balance comes harmony.  After all, tripods and things of that nature, are perfectly designed to create a firm foundation to support many creative endeavors. As ears can attest, this triangle of songsters have created a nice nesting ground for hatching out some fervently soulful rock ‘n’ roll tunefulness. Nathan Roberts and the New Birds have kept on together like birds of a feather, going on three years now, and as every band start up comes to realize, keeping it together is an art in and of itself.

SOME BAND HISTORY 

Starting out in 2011 Nathan Roberts was flying solo as an independent singer and songwriter for the first year. During that course in time, he released his first solo album and called it “Beautiful Universe”, creating some inspiring  heart opening tracks that speak to our human condition. The Beautiful Universe album lends a nourishing vibe without the heaviness;  a musical mist of uplifting lyricism and mirthful melody, that feels as right as rain. A collection of contemplation and sincerity without the sappiness;  simple spoken truths with a realness that is so easily forgotten, and often readily denied. It feels like truly authentic sounding music, serving as a fresh cool breeze of sound current, blowing tenderly over a world of wandered, marred, and charred ears;  a sonic salve that reunites hearers that sweet spots of un-spun time dwell in the ” forever young ” parts of us. The “untitled” track on this album gets us aligned with messages like; we are the ‘fillers of our own titles’, acceptance is a key to love,  and just let go and know that it’ll all be okay. Tracks like “Beautiful Universe” remind us to see ourselves in everything, never give up, and discover the uni-verse (single verse) that is our own soul’s song. Another track called “Forever with You” is just so lovely and pure; sounds like a message about embracing the eternal moments within a spirit of unbounded innocence. Enjoy a listen:

 


After a year of doing a solo song making flight, it was time to bring some extra wings aboard. At that point,  Joel and Daniel joined this one man flock, and hence forth became Nathan Roberts and the New Birds. Since 2012 the band has been soaring through clouds of sound together, releasing their debut album in November of 2013. Their 10 track debut album is a successful merging of soul stirring lyrics and harmonious melodies as before, with additional highlights of keen sharp edgy rock ‘n’ roll veracity. Songs like “in stereo” has put out an almost hypnotically psychedelic groove with its chilled out repetitive pulse and mind shifting lyrics,  before it veers ears into a deeper “rocking out” state, as the sharp edgier parts get played up.  The musical compilation of this first song of the album, may be the newest sound method to clean up your state of mind, and wipe the slate clean so to speak, giving you the grips to rock on and on!  Just check out the rock ‘n’ roll trance this song induced in a hearer.

This album effects your inner vibe the longer you listen, with a conquering positivity that becomes that first thing your humming when you wake up in the morning. And it’s no wonder, with songs like “Step into the Light”,  that are filled to the brim with consciousness shifting questions, insights, and self redeeming outpours of soul. The musical epiphanies keep unfolding in tracks like “Walk On”; about keeping on, keeping up, and keeping calm in the eye of life’s many storms. On a more lush and physical level there is the ultimate break up /make up ballad, “Please Don’t”, with vocals that make being vulnerable cool; accented by a permeation of pensive guitar elevations, amid sensuously clamoring drum cymbals. Songs like “Dead on Arrival” bring on an upbeat kick backed 70′s vibe, with a seamlessly executed “Chicago-esque” layered brass sound, with honest lyrics about the frustration of communication, and limitations of words to express true feelings.   One could go on and on, but just know every single song on this album is worth spending time with. Listen on :

After listening for a while, the musical influencers the band mentions seem fairly easy to pick up on.  The most recognizable were the Beatles (especially in tracks like “Heaven Knows”) , Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Ryan Adams, Oasis, Neil Young, John Lennon, George Harrison, (“Step into the Light” especially)  Fleetwood Mac and Jack White.  The credible classic rock band Bread, with their low key 70′s soft rock vibe, is something Nathan and the New Birds seem tuned into on some level; coming through especially in Bread’s song “Guitar Man”.  Of course, the Jack White’s influence peaks in with the Americana classic he covered called,  “Wayfaring Stranger”. Listen to it done up wonderfully by Nathan Roberts.

These three bandmates deserve recognition for bringing forth a very balanced and polished  album with their first release (in collaboration with Rewire media); comprised of 100% original compilations. Although the quantity may be an amuse geule like tease on time, the quality makes up for it, with a perfectionistic flavor and presentation that makes these tidbits of sound something to sit with and savor.  The band seems satisfied with not going against the grain, or taking giant provocative leaps into new experiments in music making at this point. Instead they seem to have opted for going in the direction of meticulously reflecting on the music and music creators that have become legendary, and then adding onto that greatness with their own soulful sound signature.

So in a final contemplation, I regress back to the whole balance thing, and growing in harmony as a result. Harmony begets flow right? So then, once in the flow all directions seem to become more accessible it’s thought. It feels like Nathan and the New Birds are migrating along this course, flowing in and between water and air, because of their soulfulness (water), and connected communication (air). All things besides, with a first album that is phenomenally well done, we can only anticipate to hear more of their signature soulful rock ‘n’ roll sounds, in the seasons to come.

Speaking of seasons,  here’s a “way to early” Christmas song, by one of Nathan Roberts’ earlier solo works. The rule is it can’t be listened to until after Thanksgiving please! That would just be obnoxious, okay. ;)

RadioFlag is currently accepting nominations for the Fall Season RadioStar Awards, so keep on nominating radio hosts and local artists, to to get spotlighted on a global stage. The world is waiting to listen, so get heard the ‘Connective Listening’ way!

 

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Radio DJ’s and Artists Read about the  ‘Got Airplay?’ collaboration campaign.  “Because Air Should Always Be Free”

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