Mark Radcliffe - Thank You for the Days
Mark Radcliffe speaks to Mark Robertson about his new book of musical misadventures. Just don’t call it a memoir.
Showbiz is, as many will attest, a fickle business. Radio DJ, TV presenter, musician and all-round music boffin Mark Radcliffe has managed to exist on its periphery, trousers and dignity both relatively intact, for over two and a half decades. That’s not to say he hasn’t had his fair share of A-list run-ins, from Bowie, McCartney and the Rolling Stones to, erm, Bros. He revisits many of these poptastic moments in his new book Thank You for the Days, a memoir of sorts. ‘When I was asked if I could write a book about radio I couldn’t see where I could make a narrative out of it, as my job is, for the most part, fairly routine,’ Radcliffe admits. ‘So I chose to write about the specific days or times when something has happened that is interesting, funny, tragic or whatever. A catalogue of disasters, maybe.’
Radcliffe used up a fair whack of his life story in a debut book entitled Showbusiness where he detailed all the bands he had played in over the years. His second, Northern Sky, was a work of straight fiction, so this book developed out of fragments of his life rather than the whole story. ‘I started writing things about being a kid, being at school and about my grandparents, and so it became like snapshots of my whole life. But I still didn’t want it to be an autobiography, because that sounds so grand. I suggested we do it non-chronologically instead, so it is just these moments.’
We jump from Radcliffe in New York meeting teen hero David Bowie to getting his first guitar from his grandfather, and on to a near death experience trying to (unsuccessfully) endear himself to drunk Scottish football fans at the 1998 World Cup. All retold in his own slightly hapless, thoroughly charming way. While the book is peppered with pratfalls and comic turns, it’s also punctured sporadically with moments of considerable poignancy. In describing the limited, but ultimately satisfying horizons of his grandparents’ Yorkshire world or the day he found out John Peel – his mentor and friend for many years – had died, Radcliffe’s blunt, unfussy prose very much captures the spirit of what makes him such an enticing proposition on the radio: that ability to ramble whilst remaining both funny and compelling. Writing the book has made Radcliffe reflect on his lot in life, which he surmises as being pretty great considering he had no real compulsion to get in front of a mic and pour out his thoughts to the nation.
‘I didn’t want it to be too sentimental,’ he says. ‘I’ve always been pretty realistic about my own abilities and lack of abilities. The key moment for me, however, was written about in the first chapter where I went back into my halls of residence at university after 30 years. I realised I will never be as free or have the great kind of notion of possibility in front of me again, which is quite a sad feeling. On the other hand, though, if someone had told me when I was 18 that this is what I would do, I would have absolutely snatched their hand off.’
Thank You for the Days is published on Mon 6 Apr by Simon & Schuster.