Monday 22 January 2018

Whiley's one to watch

Lisa Williams, Press Association

Busy DJ, mother of four and music trend-setter, Jo Whiley on why her cool credentials don't wash with the family

Maybe it's because Jo Whiley is having to juggle her own radio show, a forthcoming television programme and four children that we've had to settle for a phone call instead of a face-to-face meeting.

But as she talks gently down the phone it makes sense to do it like this. After all, her voice, which sounds like a honey-dipped lullaby, is one we've heard for nearly 15 years on BBC radio, where she has made a name for herself as champion of exciting new talent.

"I'm just a fan of music and I've been lucky to get on the radio to share what I love with lots of other people. It's all I've ever wanted to do," she says.

One might have thought the dream was all over for the 46-year-old when, in February, it was announced she was being moved from her slot on the broadcaster's flagship youth music channel Radio 1 to a slot on Radio 2.

But Whiley seems to be happy with the move: "I left because I wanted to do new things and have a new chapter in my life. And I'm proud I was on Radio 1 for such a long time and so many of the bands who passed through went on to great things," she says.

Among the acts featured by Whiley on her 'Live Lounge' or 'One To Watch' segments were Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys and Florence And The Machine.

In her previous incarnation as an act 'booker' for seminal youth TV show The Word - a stint which she describes as "insane", "nutty", "incredible" and "stressful" - Whiley was also responsible for booking Nirvana for their first British TV performance.

"There was this massive energy to their performance, it was live television so anything could have happened," she says now.

It is just that kind of memorable moment she is trying to recreate in her new music series, The Jo Whiley Music Show on Sky Arts.

Since the axing of Top Of The Pops (which Whiley used to present too), opportunities for musicians to perform on television have been reduced to the odd stint on Lorraine, T4 or Soccer AM.

A slot on the Sunday night edition of The X Factor can make single sales rocket, but you need to be Britney Spears or Lady Gaga to be considered for such a prime-time chance.

Whiley, who's from Northampton, sings the praises of Later With Jools Holland, which also champions emerging acts at the same time as established names, world music and the odd legend.

But she thinks there need to be more opportunities for musicians to show what they're made of. "Performing on television can help bands branch out to a bigger audience and show a different side to themselves.

"If you think back to the history of music TV there are certain moments when bands connect with an audience and you have a really strong image to associate them with."

Each episode of her show will feature performances from two musical acts, and discussions about the music industry between Whiley and three guests.

The format is similar to her 1999 television series, The Jo Whiley Show on Channel 4, but she thinks the current musical landscape is completely different.

"The internet's come along and taken over, record labels are floundering, artists are having to completely rethink how they can make a living, and dance music and urban music are more successful than ever," she says.

While known primarily for championing rock and indie music, Whiley says there's space on the bill for acts from across the musical spectrum.

"I want a mixture of people who have opinions, stories to tell and can share what it's like. So we'll welcome people in boy bands just as much as we'll welcome people in rock bands."

As someone so immersed in the industry, it's no surprise Whiley is asked for music recommendations wherever she goes.

But her strangest encounter was at the Glastonbury festival earlier this year when she spied a lonely-looking Jay-Z watching Elbow from the side of the stage.

"No one was talking to him because he's Jay Z and people think they have to give him a wide berth. So I just strolled over to see if he was enjoying the performance and he asked me to tell him a bit about Elbow.

"I told him to listen out for One Day Like This, saying everyone will sing it and love it. And then every song they played he nudged me and said, 'Is this that song? Is this it?'" she recalls, laughing.

The DJ is a common sight at Glastonbury, presenting BBC coverage of the festival and enjoying the bands with her husband and children in tow.

They must think their mum has a pretty cool job. "I don't think they do!" Whiley exclaims.

"They just think, 'My mum can't cook!'. Kids always want you to be at home with them, do home dinners, pick them up - and feel sorry for themselves when you can't do it."

Another thing keeping Whiley out of the house is the charity work she does as an ambassador for Mencap, inspired by her own sister Frances, who has Cri Du Chat syndrome (a rare genetic disorder that can result in severe learning difficulties).

The sisters share a love of music and it was to Frances that Whiley dedicated the first chart show she presented on the radio. "I was the first woman to present the top 40 on Radio 1, that's quite a cool thing to do, especially as my sister's always been obsessed with the top 40 and recorded it every Sunday for 25 years," she laughs.

Frances has described Whiley as making everything look 'effortless', but she's not inclined to agree.

"There's a hell of a lot of effort going in to make it look effortless!" she laughs.

"It's the old thing of the swan gliding along peacefully, with legs paddling frantically underwater just going, 'Arghh!'"


:: 1983 - New Order on Top Of The Pops: "I grew up with Top Of The Pops, but occasionally you'd get a band who were a bit left of centre. When New Order came on I remember thinking, 'Yay, it's one of my bands'."

:: 1994 - Nirvana on MTV Unplugged: "This makes you feel warm and fuzzy and, compared to their incredible performance on The Word, shows how versatile they were."

:: 2006 - Arctic Monkeys on Later With Jools Holland: "It was their first television performance. They were so young, inexperienced and unexposed to television. Now they've been through it, but then it was just pure, raw talent."

:: 2007 - Laura Marling on Later With Jools Holland: "It was completely spellbinding. It's generally quite rowdy in that studio but when she played you could hear a pin drop."

:: The Jo Whiley Music Show begins on Sky Arts on Friday, October 21

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