It’s not often you get to meet your favourite DJ - but Terry Wogan was busy - so I had to make do with Shaun Keaveny. This sentence would typify a Keaveny-esque quip. This is what he does. He is like your cheeky pal that always makes dry remarks. He will make them in passing, in the delivery of Father Stone, without excuse or explanation, leaving you just, well, laughing.
I met him two years ago at the event to save his radio station, BBC 6 Music, at ‘6Fest’ at 229 Great Portland Street. His band had covered The Smiths: There is a Light. He was in fine, merry form. He seemed excited after we spoke for a good half hour, saying: ‘Cheers Julie! See you at work tomorrow, yeah?’ when I was leaving. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I didn’t work at 6music, I sort of took it as part compliment/part he’s-too-drunk-to-know-what-we-just-talked-about, so on the tube home I imagined re-telling this story in a jolly fashion as special guest on his show sometime in the future, perhaps as part of some hilarious feature.
Two years on, his radio show is more popular than ever (and I have not been on to tell that story) but it’s part of my morning routine to tune into his show, and I can’t break the habit (by God I have tried - but he goes well with porridge). He interacts very closely with his listeners, who, on some days, dictate/distract/direct the whole show. Part of his brilliance is to make himself and the show out to be quite tragic, hopeless, useless: ‘It’s either genius broadcasting, which I doubt, or it’s a deep-seated lack of confidence’. Whatever it is, it makes the listeners love him more as he welcomes - nay - encourages disparaging remarks and massive put downs. This listener-developed strapline coins it beautifully: ‘The Shaun Keaveny Show: Keep up the work’.
Some may call him lazy the way he blatantly looks to good, innocent listeners like myself to provide him with precious gold and gems of material to read aloud: ‘Half of what comes out of my mouth is what listeners have come up with’ - but I would call him the hold-onto-your-sides, funniest, loveliest, most original and brilliant person on the radio (between seven and ten Monday to Friday on BBC6Music). I’m glad I helped in some small way to save the station for him, because he’s better than five cups of coffee and a packet of Smarties in the morning. He is a tonic, a pick-me-up, an all-round smasher, and after hearing his show you’ll feel so high you could header the moon and score a goal for Earth against Jupiter.
He cries at DIY SOS and Stevie Wonder concerts and his favourite crisps are salt and vinegar. When I met him, he was ‘six days short of forty’ and was drinking one of those posh coffees in a glass. He told me that his favourite cake was coffee and walnut and that he was, well, ‘a bit in love’ with Johnny Marr.
He described our interview, very early on, as much like ‘a small death’. I half died.
J: Please say your full name.
S: I am Shaun William Keaveny.
J: Please describe yourself in a sentence.
S: I’m an incomplete person seeking completion.
J: And you’re nearly forty.
S: At the time of going to press, I am six days short of forty.
J: Are you excited?
S: Excited is an interesting… um… I wouldn’t say I’m ‘excited’, I’d say that I’m resigned to it, as the only alternative is death, so I might as well just roll with it. But I have it on good authority from people older than me that it’s not all that bad.
J: It’s not. I was forty in December. Do you feel better now?
S: How was it? I had you pegged for years off that.
J: Sixty-two? [Laughs] The run up to it is actually worse than the turning. It’s a bit like ripping off a plaster. Once you get to forty there’s nothing you can do about it. The worst part is knowing that next year you’ll be forty-one.
S: It sounds a lot older than forty doesn’t it? ‘Forty one’. Some ages are like that. Somebody else said that it’s quite good because then you are in your ‘early somethings’ again for a while.
J: The next major ‘party birthday’ is going to be fifty.
S: The other one I enjoy is when you get told that you can’t double it, so fifty well, I’m not going to make a hundred, really, so at forty we can pretend that we’re just at the half way mark.
J: Forty is the new thirty. Forty is quite young now.
S: I have been panicking about dying since I was five.
J: Oh. Have you put a lot of thought to dying then?
S: I’ve been thinking about it, yes, and I’m thinking about it now. And I’ll be thinking about it again, soon.
J: Is this because I’m interviewing you?
S: This interview is like a small death.
S: I am quite a macabre person. If you worry about death a lot it means you’re enjoying your life. You don’t want it to stop.
AH’VE BEEN THINKIN’ ‘BOUT CHOO…
J: You enjoy your two boys, don’t you, Arthur and Wilf?
S: Yeah! Arthur and Wilf. Wilfie. He’s Wilfred, but for some reason it comes out as Wilfie, like Wolfie, we don’t know why. Incredible things, children, aren’t they? They put a spring in your step, stop you being too introspective.
J: Yes! And I know it’s a cliché, but they do say the funniest things…
S: God yeah, funnier than any adult human could ever be.
S: That is the other sad thing about being around kids is that you realise what life robs from children. Your ability to think like a kid is just taken from you slowly as you are expected to assume responsibility.
J: You’ve managed to keep a hold of your childish qualities though.
S: What are you saying?
S: I know, yeah you’re right, that’s a great gift given to me by the cosmos.
J: Underneath your silliness you’re really quite bright aren’t you? How many ‘o’levels have you got?
S: I’m not that old. It’s GCSEs actually. I was in the first year of GCSE’s! I inhabit a weird world. I am not that kind of brash, filthily intellectual broadcaster (I won’t name any names). On our station you’ve got your Gideon Coes, and your Lamacq’s… you know, who are distinctly more cerebral.
J: Yes I think they are musically intellectual though, aren’t they? Lamacq in particular, he’s well… the ‘Lamacq-apedia’
S: Oh yes that’s a good one.
J: Write that down. Courtesy of Mr Goddard.
S: Write that down. I have his book somewhere. I realised recently that the reason I have any popularity is because I’m fallible.
S: Laughable, but fallible.
S: I’m lafallible. It’s annoying. It’s a rod for my back as well as being a great thing.
J: But you have encouraged ‘lafallibility’ very much. You put yourself out there – ‘I’m aplogise, the show is terrible today, keep up the work…’ and you whole-heartedly encourage listeners to slag you off. It is very, very funny, but why do you do it?
S: It’s difficult to know. It’s either genius broadcasting, which I doubt, or it’s a deep-seated lack of confidence, and that’s why I do it. If I attack myself first, then nobody can hurt me after that… I’ve noticed a lot of comedians do it.
J: Do you think the comedians are copying off you?
S: Of course they are! They’re all at it, aren’t they? They know where the mother load is. Where the source material exists – 7-10 Monday to Friday 6music. But a lot of them do it now. Maybe take their worst critics quotes and put them out there. You are taking the weapon away from somebody. There’s nothing more hurtful, no matter how long you’ve been doing your radio show, to come into work, at s*** o’clock to get some horrible email or text from somebody saying… ‘you are a …..’
J: Do you still get that?
S: Yes! I’ve been doing this show for five years now.
J: I know, I enjoyed the celebratory Bowie.
S: Aww! Yeah! I can’t wait to do that again in five years time, oh no, wait! That won’t work…
S: Ten Years Gone, Led Zeppelin we’ll play.
J: I might not listen then.
S: Well this is where we’re gonna have arguments, isn’t it?
J: You are, if I may say, a brilliant breakfast DJ because you lift the listeners up, you celebrate the little things. If you get bad news how does it affect you? Will you go on the air and be like ‘I’m just gonna play another two tracks, I’m too annoyed/can’t be bothered to speak.’
S: The good thing about doing our kind of programme is that we are very open about everything. If we’re all feeling low or tired we usually try and make it part of the show in some weird way, try to get the listeners on board, hope that maybe some of you feel like that. You guys are brilliant at coming back with stuff, in fact you’re all genius at it, so we can make an entire show that includes all your feedback.
J: You have straplines… ‘Keep up the work…’
S: … all created by the listeners. That’s Wogan-erian. He is one of my life gurus. We’ve had him on the show once or twice. He’d come down and bring me a bacon sandwich and sit and chat. People like him are the real benchmarks. People like (adopts Ken Bruce voice) ‘Ken Bruce! Ken Bruce! Popmaster!’
J: Your impressions are very funny. Is it possible for you to say someone’s name without doing their voice?
S: It is when I can’t do an impression of them.
J: Samantha Jones is top. As soon as I the Sex In the City music comes on I start to cringe and laugh simultaneously. It’s the whispery/sultry male-doing-female voice.
S: It’s so wrong isn’t it? I am acutely aware of the fact that it pisses some people off that I have become inhabited by different characters. I know people who say ‘shut up, just play the music.’
J: Well they can turn over.
S: That’s my mantra. You know what you’re getting. If you don’t like it, sod off.
J: Yeah. Go to Danny Wallace [XFM].
S: There’s always Danny.
J: Always Danny.
S: Always Danny to pick up the pieces for everybody else. Danny, Danny, Danny.
J: People weren’t happy when you left XFM, were they?
S: I would hate to comment on that. But I do remember a load of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
J: Let’s go back to how brainy you are.
S: Thank you.
J: You like that Brian Cox don’t you?
S: Taught him everything he knows.
J: Could you beat him in a pub quiz?
S: Yeah. Unless it was a pub quiz about physics.
J: No it would be general, news round, sports round, music round etc.
S: I think I would beat him. He’s good on music and science. He’s got two strong areas.
J: Is his music strong, really?
S: I suppose D:Ream weakens his position a bit.
J: Can you do an impression of him?
S: (adopts Cox voice) ‘Yessss.’ I texted him this morning. He texted back…
[Shaun notices his car go by]
S: That’s my wife! Where’s she going?
[I note that we drive the same car].
S: Yeah so he texted me back saying (does wispy voice): ‘I’m in Madagascar. Trillions and trillions of degrees hot. Give me a call in an hour.’ Then sent this massively long land line phone number. One of the things I love about the show - if you do it for long enough – is that you just get left to do stuff, and be terrible, and carry on being terrible until you’re good. The BBC don’t like change – in a good way. It’s because of this that we have people who constantly crop up. Having Brian on the show now, is like having Tom Cruise on the show and he still loves it.
J: Do you think he is aware that he talks like that/smiles all the time?
S: Have you seen the spoof on YouTube – that is so funny. He is acutely aware of how parodied he is. I think he can laugh at it.
J: It’s good that he has still got his feet on the ground… while reaching for the stars…
S: … thanks to gravity.
BARK AT THE MOON
J: When I told my mum that I was coming to meet you…
S: (adopts Frank Butcher voice) ‘Pat… Paaaaaat… Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat’.
J: I said ‘mum, I’m going to meet your favourite DJ – Shaun. Do you want to ask him anything?’ and she said, ‘Ask him if he’s a frustrated Alistair Campbell.’
S: Alistair Campbell? What does she mean by that? A frustrated spin doctor?
J: Oh no. I think I got the name wrong.
S: Does she mean Alistair McGowan?
J: Yeah. That’s it. My mum is going to kill me now.
S: (leans into Dictaphone): Just for the record there, I’m not a frustrated Alistair Campbell, because I’d be no good at it. I met him once though, he’s a very tall and handsome man. (leans back). Now, Alistair McGowan, he has his own set of charms. I just can’t help the voices. I can’t help it. It’s just fun, isn’t it? It’s fun.
J: It is. It’s a lot of fun.
S: It’s quite boring when you spend a lot of time on your own. Me, the microphone, texts and emails. I’m just mixing it up a bit. I enjoy it. I’m never going to do anything that I don’t enjoy, because I’m forty.
J: Can I take your picture for the blog?
S: Yeah, alright then [looks at picture] I look a right twat. Look at my hair. I look a bit like Norman Wisdom.
J: Let’s do another one.
S: I’m not very good at smiling.
J: Have you seen the picture of you on the tune-in radio app?
S: Is it really horrible one?
J: You look cock-eyed. It’s like somebody doctored your picture to put your eyes together
S: There aren’t any good pictures of me. This is a five year old photograph! I look like Nookie Bear.
NOOKIE & SHAUN
J: Has twitter changed the way that you work on the radio?
S: When I started it was just email. Before the technology existed I guess people just had: ‘I’ve got letter here, from Marjorie…’ We used to call people when I was at XFM. I did the X-List from 1-2pm, and took requests. I remember when texts came in, that was mind blowing, We got texts all the time. The interactive element has revolutionised what we do because our show is basically just your show. Half of what comes out of my mouth is what listeners have come up with.
J: Do you enjoy twitter?
S: When you get a minute it’s nice to go in and have a look at the feed because you always find some video or piece of music that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
J: Who’s the genius that put Two Tribes behind the features?
S: That was me.
J: It instantly improves any feature, no matter how bad. My very favourite feature you ever did was ‘What’s in your lunchbox’. Can you bring it back?
S: All these things are in an orbit. They come back around like Haley’s Comet.
J: You could replace ‘Song of Praise’.
S: What are you talking about? You don’t like ‘Song of Praise?’ If we carry it on for another two years you’ll come to love it.
J: The music reminds me of a Sunday night before school.
S: Yes Julie the music may depress you but the content is usually brilliant. It doesn’t really matter what you call the feature, because the feature probably should be called: ‘Let’s get a listener on and chat for a bit’ because that’s all it is. We dress it up with a name, but it’s the same every time. It was the same with ‘Toast the nation’ (It had to die).
J: You still sad about that?
S: Well it’s like an old girlfriend’s name. Keeps cropping up.
J: Bring it back.
S: We probably will. We’ll do a Bobby Ewing in the shower.
J: I understand that reference, because I’m forty.
S: Yes you can get that because of your age.
J: When you were looking for fictional headlines about Roger Daltrey I sent you one. Did you get it?
S: Of course I did. Er, what was it?
J: Roger Daltrey was walking in the park. He saw a dangerous dog about to attack someone. He went over to the dog, held up his hand and the dog went silent and sat down. The headline was: ‘Pit bull Wizard Roger Daltrey - sure tames a mean pitbull.’
S: Oh that’s great.
J: Great? It’s gold is what it is. Gold.
S: That is good. Pitbull Wizard. I like it.
PIT BULL WIZARD GOLD
S: I feel terrible when I don’t get through the big stack of emails and tweets that we get. I carry that guilt.
J: It’s okay. Let’s talk about The Smiths. The reason why we’re here.
S: Is it? Is this the reason?
J: Gimmie the reason. I know that you’re a Smiths fan.
S: How do you know that?
J: I saw you murder There is a light after twenty pints two years ago.
S: I am embarrassed to talk about The Smiths in your company and I was the same with Amy Lame. You two are proper fans. I do love the Smiths. I love Morrissey and Marr in particular, and Joyce and Rourke. And I love the work, but I consider myself a dabbler compared to you.
J: A dabbler how? How did you get into them?
S: I would say it was about 1988. My uncle Martin, who is only two years older than me - my gran had him late - got me into all kinds of stuff. He bought a couple of albums. That was all we did really. Before he discovered the pub we used to just sit and listen to records. Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, all the dad rock stuff I’m into now.
J: Have you got a favourite Smiths song?
S: I do love ‘Cemetry Gates’ because it reminds of my old music producer Nic Philips who left the show two years ago to work with heroin addicts in Hong Kong. He’s that kind of a guy. He always wanted to hear that song. I love the obvious ones as well – I love There is a Light. I love murdering that. I love Heaven knows I’m miserable now. But I’m not as obsessive about them as some people. But, they were such an important band. And Johnny Marr is such a brilliant person. I’m a bit in love with him. I’ve met him a couple of times. I just think he’s The Don when it comes to guitars. He’s so inspirational. I need to get Johnny into my life. We’ve kind of agreed that he’ll bring his guitar in and accompany me on my song Cheddar Cheese. I want to get him on it.
J: Are you planning on getting Cheddar Cheese featuring the legend that is Johnny Marr into the charts?
S: Hell, yeah. All the money will go to charity of course.
J: Cheese charities.
J: Help the Cheese-ed.
S: Air dropping cheese to the starving cheese deprived.
J: Have you ever met Morrissey?
S: No. I was thinking about this the other day. Who have I not met/chatted to that I’d like to. I’d be very interested to meet Morrissey but I’ve got a feeling that he’d terrify me in equal measure. He’s a spiky man. It’s almost his brand now, to be difficult and awkward and occasionally abusive. He enjoys the squirming. I’d love to chat to him, he’s deeply fascinating. Have you met him?
J: No. I think I’d be terrified. But I also think he’s highly mis-represented and is really just media bait. I don’t think he’s deliberately spiky, I just think he doesn’t play by the same rules because of the life he has led.
J: What if Morrissey was to walk into this cafe right now…
[Shaun sticks his chin out].
J: Is that meant to be Morrissey?
S: This is how I imagine him.
J: If he was to walk in here right now and say: ‘Alright Shaun?’ what would you say?
S: I’d be so chuffed. I have these chats with my mate Kev. I’d probably say something awful like: ‘Thank you for the music’. To which he’d reply: ‘This is why I don’t enjoy meeting the public.’ And then walk out. Get back in his car. What do you say to somebody like that? You’re always trying to impress people like that. Whereas Marr, Joyce or Rourke you can be a bit more relaxed because they are more down to earth.
J: You were a singer in that band doing There Is A Light though.
S: Yeah, but I’m a singer/guitarist. I can also play the drums and bass. I’m multi-talented and therefore ‘down-to-earth’.
J: You’re a ‘musical handyman’.
S: Yeah. Jack of no trades, master of none.
J: Man of a thousand voices, all of them the same.
J: So Morrissey is coming round to your house to see you and Lucy. What snacks would you put out for him?
S: If Morrissey was coming round Lucy would call the cleaner. Because we do live in North West London, so we have a cleaner. That’s my MASO [Middle Aged Shout Out].
J: You say MASO? I say it like ‘MAISO’
S: That’s fascinating.
J: You could do a whole show on that.
S: ‘MAISO OR MASO, which is it? 6-4-0-4-6. That would be funny because they’d write it the same. It’s a visual joke, on the radio.
J: You could put Two Tribes under it and there you go. Instant national panic about how it’s pronounced.
S: Just on that, I’ve never felt so excited in my life than when Holly Johnson was tweeting me during DIY SOS. I was like, ‘this is it now – Holly just tweeted me’.
J: You know what you need to do when that happens. Just - RELAX.
[Shaun looks out the window. A baby cries].
J: What snacks would you put out for Morrissey then?
S: I’d play it safe. Those vegetable crisps. Some hummus, carrots, celery. I don’t like taramasalata so we wouldn’t have that anyway.
J: He wouldn’t eat it. It’s cod roe.
S: He’d throw that against the wall.
J: Leave your house, never go back. I wouldn’t blame him.
S: Maybe a sun-dried tomato pate.
J: Do you make that yourself?
S: No. Maybe when I’m older – retired. I’ve got better f***in things to do with my life at the moment than make pate, Julie. Jesus.
J: Alright! What if Holly found out and he came too?
S: I think Holly is a lot more laid back that Morrissey. He’s deliciously camp and Morrissey is more private. My aim would be to get him drunk very early on, and come on to him in a dress.
J: Would you host our Mozarmyquiz on a Friday night?
S: Okay. I will do that one day. I’m very good at promising my time then not delivering. One Friday when Lucy is going out and I’m staying in, I’ll do it.
J: Who’s your favourite DJ?
S: Danny Baker
J: TV show?
S: DIY SOS and Blackadder III
J: Favourite cake?
S: Coffee and walnut.
J: Favourite biscuit?
S: Belgian chocolate shortbread.
J: Favourite sandwich?
S: New York pastrami with pickle on rye bread.
J: Lyric or song of all time?
S: It changes all the time but, really, the most regular answer would be Daydream Believer by the Monkees.
J: Favouite pizza topping?
S: Something hot, pepperoni with loads of fresh chilli, black pepper. Oh yeah.
J: Are you hungry? Do you want to order something?
S: No, no, thank you. I’ve got to hold out for the dinner party.
J: Who’s coming?
S: Becky and Sam.
J: Favourite thing your mum says?
S: ‘Don’t eat that apple on your own - you might choke.’
J: Favourite concert?
S: Stevie Wonder at Hyde Park. I cried three times.
J: Childhood toy?
S: Evil Kenevil wind up. I used to whizz him into the wall until he broke all his plastic limbs, like in real life.
J: Smiths/Morrissey song?
S: Heaven knows I’m miserable now and Suedehead.
J: Favourite person to interview?
S: I think I would have to say the holy trinity of Jimmy Page, Nile Rodgers and Jessica Hynes
J: Favourite soap character?
S: It would have to be, Norris Cole.
J: He’s mine!
S: Forget soaps - he’s the best thing on TV.
J: I agree. Would you write a note to my mum?
S: Of course.
DE NIRO? OR BEAKER FROM THE MUPPETS?
You can follow Shaun on twitter @shaunwkeaveny and his show @BBC6Breakfast. Listen to him from 7-10am on BBC6music. Please send him some material soon, he’s desperate.
Keep up the work son.
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