In the late 1970s, the tectonic plates of Irish culture shifted, and for the better. Dave Fanning, who has announced he’s leaving 2FM, was doing a late-night show on a pirate station called Big D while that seismic movement was taking place. When it was finished he had a proper job in the new RTÉ Radio 2, doing more or less the same show, but legally.
Radio 2 was “comin’atcha”, according to itself, as RTÉ struggled to sound streetwise. Their best guess was that the kids in the streets would respect you more if you pretended that you couldn’t spell properly.
So “comin’atcha” it was, but really there was no need for that. Dave and the other pirates were already an important part of that change from a showband to a rock and roll culture, though they would miss some of the madness of those nights of sin on Big D or Radio Dublin.
I’m thinking in particular of the legend of the Dummy Dire Strait. This is the tale of a man purporting to be John Illsley, the bass player with Dire Straits, who was interviewed by Dave – presumably to thank the DJ for his championing of ‘Sultans of Swing’.
It turned out eventually that it was just some guy pretending to be John Illsley of Dire Straits. As to why anyone would even think of doing such a thing, to this day there is no adequate explanation.
In Montrose, Dave could be pretty sure that visiting stars were not just vaguely convincing imposters, and anyway we would have our own stars now.
Dave was a different kind of star, one who didn’t come across as a ‘personality’
Indeed, Dave’s former rival on Radio Dublin, Pat James, had a listeners poll to pick the top three demo tapes he had played. The winners were the heavy metal band Raw Deal, the R‘n’B band Free Booze, and U2. Oh, and the son of the drummer with Free Booze turned out to be a fella called Hozier.
Dave was also a different kind of RTÉ star, one who didn’t come across as a “personality”, as such.
It’s hard to define the difference between a “personality” and someone like Dave who is just himself, but here’s a thing: the “personality” might clock off after another hard day on the campus, but it was obvious that Dave, having played records for two hours on the radio, would go home in the early hours of the morning and play more records.
After all, the meaning of life was to be found therein. And this helps to explain why Dave was still doing it 44 years later, and will continue to do it on RTÉ Gold.
When those tectonic plates shifted in the 1970s, it was clear that rock and roll music was not just music, to say the least of it.
In Ireland it was the sound of an emerging culture which was at war with more or less everything that was happening here.
There was a moral force in the mere act of realising that some music was better than the other stuff.
As was all that came with it, the “liberal” ideas that would be reviled by bishops and their ilk. And which would soon be as normal as the weather.
Dave would be seen as an apolitical figure, yet he and his music embodied a tremendous force in Irish life that was coming into its own.
Little did we imagine that it would become almost a cliche to hear The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ being played on RTÉ current affairs programmes when our politicians are feeling a bit confused.
The indecision of the DUP last week seemed like a perfect excuse for another blast of it. But to mark last week’s strangely cheerful news about the protocol, Morning Ireland (RTÉ1, weekdays, 7am) somehow avoided that one, going instead with a montage backed by Johnny Nash’s joyous ‘I Can See Clearly Now’.
You could still sense The Clash warming up on the next turntable, but you have to seize those Johnny Nash moments when you can.
Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays, 2pm) was seeing it clearly with an item about Galway city, where the most popular boy’s name is now Muhammad.
Speaking to the imam of the Galway mosque, Moncrieff established that if a lot of boys are called Muhammad, they do what we used to do in Ireland, identifying them by their father’s name.
“The disparate cultures are more similar than you think,” Moncrieff concluded.
Good shout, Moncrieff.