Pirates !

Throughout the 1970’s radio featured large in the lives of myself and just about every teenager in Britain. Our live centred around starting the day with Tony Blackburn through Jimmy Young and Johnnie Walker ending around midnight with ‘Sounds of the Seventies’ or John Peel.

When I mention Radio of course it is Radio 1 I am referring to, I have no idea what music Radio 2 played apart from a terrible moment on Sunday evenings when it combined with Radio 1 after the chart show. Just the intro to ‘Sing Something Simple’ the easy listening show that followed the rundown of the top 20 can still send me into a mild depression.

Radio 1 had a monopoly, there was no legal competition, there were no independent stations. Luckily John Peel was an independent thinker who would play what he liked but you had to stay up until 10pm just to hear him (as a footnote one of my favourite Radio moment was in the 90’s when DJ smarmpot Simon Bates actually played a track Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica on his mid-morning show-it really did happen). I listened to a lot of Radio 1, after all I didn’t have a huge record collection but inevitably the playlist was limited during daylight hours and there were plenty of records that you didn’t really want to hear more than once.

One of the benefits of living on the East Coast was the possibility of receiving a signal from a Pirate station. I had inherited a huge radio which my parents had initially purchased in Germany and as well as AM it had shortwave which meant I could listen to crackly shows from Bulgaria when the mood took me.

A more reliable source was either Radio North Sea International or Radio Caroline. I can’t remember much about them as they tended to come and go depending on tides, atmospheric conditions and legal and financial constraints. I think that Radio North Sea International disappeared and was replaced at some point by Radio Caroline.To further complicate matters, at one point, Radio Mi Amigo appeared which was also the name of the ship which Radio Caroline operated from.

The history of pirate radio is quite fascinating and exciting. From the mid-sixties radio stations operated from ships in the North Sea or even, at one point, an abandoned fort off the coast of Kent. The Labour government sought to ban them and would block their signals. The man in charge of this was ironically Tony Benn avuncular darling of the left wing. Caroline actually ran a campaign to get young people to vote conservative as they thought they would be more sympathetic to free speech…different times.

Anyway, as night came so did Radio Caroline (I don’t know why but there seemed to be no signal in the day) but at 10 O’clock it had to compete with John Peel in my bedroom.

To be fair the golden days of pirate radio were now over and soon commercial radio would make them redundant. Radio Caroline was still a bit of a hippie station. It was run and owned by an Irish businessman Ronan O’ Rahily who had espoused a philosophy of love and would use the station to promote this.

‘Loving Awareness’ was the philosophy that O’Rahily was to promote and every now and then there would be an advert for his project inserted between track by Family or The Stones or the Doors. At some point this included the possibility of purchasing an Album called Loving Awareness by a band called, believe it or not, The Loving Awareness Band.

By 1976 this was all a little passé but credit due to O’Rahily for pursuing something more than making money. I think you could only buy the album by sending off a cheque (or postal order!) and sure enough a few weeks later the postie would deliver your copy. It was a bit like the record that smiley people would try and sell you in the street which promoted transcendental meditation and allegedly had George Harrison on it except it took more effort to purchase and consequently very few people did.

And that should be the end of a not particularly story except for a twist in the tale.

The Loving Awareness Band had been recruited from a bunch of jobbing musicians, John Turnbull and Mick Gallagher on guitar and keyboards respectively had played together with Skip Bifferty which were one of many third division bands in the 70’s. Charlie Charles on drums and bassist Norman Watt Roy had played in various bands and were all living the hand to mouth existence of working musos without a recording contract.

After the inevitable demise of The Loving Awareness Band. The Rhythm section gravitated to Stiff Records. It was apparent that Watt Roy was a phenomenally good bassist and Charles was an experienced drummer. The pair were set to work with writer Chaz Jankel to try and knock the ex Kilburn and the High Roads singer into shape as a recording artist. The resulting product was Ian Dury’s ‘New Boots and Panties’, probably one of the best records to come out of the punk/new wave era.

When Dury wanted to upscale his live band Turnbull and Gallagher were also recruited and The Blockheads were born. Fame and hit records awaited. This was pre Twitter, no one really knew that Dury’s no shit kickass band had been singing about Loving Awareness just a couple of years previously.

The Blockheads still exist today, long after the death of Dury and are widely acknowledged as one of the tightest live bands ever.

Thanks to YouTube it’s possible to hear more of The Loving Awareness Band than it was in 1975 unless you actually went to the trouble to purchase the record. It’s actually a lot better than I anticipated if you can ignore the lyrics, it’s certainly not ‘Hit me with your Rhythm Stick’ but there’s a certain warm Abbey Road vibe going on. It is certainly amusing to think the band that recorded this would cranking out ‘Plaistow Patricia’ on stage just a couple of years later.



If you want a proper review of The Loving Awareness Band there’s one here


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