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Pirate Memories

 

 

 

Pirate Memories

www.piratememories.com

 

For anyone who loves their music and who grew up in the UK in the sixties, pirate radio, and the pirates who operated the pirate stations, were a hugely significant lifeline and deserving of hero status. They played our kind of music 24 hours a day when the BBC had been playing an hour of popular music a week. They were young and hip and with it where the BBC had been stuffy and square.

For anyone who loves their music and didn't grow up then, they nevertheless owe a huge debt of gratitude to the pirates for the popular musical revolution they enabled, the impact of which is still with us today. 

Here Digger talks to Chris Dannatt about Pirate Memories, a site dedicated to the memory of these innovative and brave DJs and support staff. They lived and worked on choppy seas for weeks on end on abandoned forts, on ships and rigs around the coast of Britain back in the sixties. That is, until the BBC and the Government decided they'd had enough...

 

 

igger: Please tell us about your background and about your passion for Pirate Radio Chris.

Chris: Radio Caroline - the UK's first pirate radio station, began broadcasting at Easter 1964. I missed out on the first year of offshore radio, but came across 'Radio London' - 'The Big L', in the Summer of 1965. 

I was 11 years of age, and my dad had just passed away. I had got through my 11 plus exams and was set to go to our local Grammar School - a feat which did not come easily to most working class families in our area. During the summer holidays, mum and I went to stay with her sister in a small Lincolnshire village, and I soon became friendly with two of the local children. I went to their house, a couple of doors up from my aunt's - and their mother, Doreen, had the radio on in her kitchen as she was baking. The radio played endless pop tunes, and, as I'd always been one for stealing my brothers record player and playing his discs when he was out at work, I knew that the BBC didn't play non-stop pop. I asked where the music was coming from and Doreen was quite graphic. This was 'Radio London' - although the music wasn't coming from London - it was coming from a ship near London. But apparently they (who THEY were - I didn't tag onto until much later!) were going to close it down soon anyway - but wasn't the music really good?  I had to admit that I'd never felt so strongly about something ever before. I was hopelessly hooked, and spent the rest of the summer holidays at Doreen's house listening to her radio. 

When I arrived back home, I eagerly tuned in to our own portable to where Radio London was on the dial. From then on, Radio London was our staple diet for music entertainment. In June 1966, Radio London reception was blotted out on the dial by another new pirate radio station - Radio 270, off the coast of Scarborough, north Yorkshire. Radio 270 felt more local, and mentioned places near to where we lived, so although I still twiddled around the dial to listen to the other pirate stations which were now on air - Radios 270 & London were the stations we listened to.

 

 

 

In August 1967, the then Labour Government (The "They" I mentioned earlier) brought in a very unpopular Bill (The Marine Offences Bill) which silenced all the pirates bar one - Radio Caroline... but that is another story in itself.

I decided that as the pirates had nearly all but gone, I wanted to be a DJ, and I started running a pop music club at the Grammar School. I wrote articles in the school magazine, and even set up a make-believe studio in my bedroom. I now had my own record player, and a tape recorder, with which I recorded all the music from Pick of the Pops on the BBC. Very naughty, but I didn't care. The BBC, I felt, had a hand in the closure of the pirates so they became public enemy number one. I left school and got a dreary job in a local garage, but the nights and weekends were filled with music. When I was 16, I approached a local mobile disco company who took me under their wing and I began to learn how to be a DJ proper! I worked with them for over 7 years and during that time set up my own mobile disco. I even sent a "demo tape" to the nearest local radio station to us at the time in Nottingham. Sadly, I received the usual "Don't call us - we'll call you" letter, but the advice was sound (very poor pun there!) - press on with the DJ'ing - stop trying to sound like a pirate radio DJ and be yourself.

Fast forward 40 years and my career includes the following: 3 years with BBC local radio as researcher/station assistant;12 months working on a number of Irish pirate radio stations in the 80's; 13 years in Independent Local Radio as Commercial Production manager/engineer; Winner of over 50 awards for commercials around the world, including New York, Chicago, Hollywood, London, oh ...and Leeds! Still involved with the 'mobile' disco business, but from a purely office based perspective; Now presenting programmes on Internet radio & still producing commercials for anyone in the business who wants them.

My passion for radio and essentially the Pirate variety has never diminished, and I think that it has become more of an obsession, since I've now got a little more time to dedicate to it generally.   

Digger: And what about the background to Pirate Memories?

Chris: Pirate Memories came about in the early 2000's, as I became more savvy with my PC. I had started to try and find websites which were dedicated to Pirate Radio and was stunned to find there were dozens. During my 40-odd years in the business, I had collected, bought or been given dozens of old recordings, many dating back to the original pirate days. It seemed that although there were a number of sites detailing the history and the stories surrounding Pirate Radio - there wasn't a good site actually dedicated to selling the recordings and spreading the word.

 

 

I also had in my possession a video tape, which was a silent recording of the arrivals and departures on the Radio London ship, the Galaxy - back in the 60's. Presumably, this film had been recorded by either a visitor to the ship, or someone within the organisation who went to the ship on a regular basis. After watching the film dozens of times, I noted scene changes and timed the length of the scenes. I then wrote a script and, as I was now producing commercials for a living, asked one of my voice-over colleagues to do a narration. I then added some authentic 60's sounding production music, and had another friend who is a video buff finalise the film onto a DVD.  I decided that "Pirate Memories" would be the ideal vehicle to sell the tape and set about getting 'PM' onto The internet. I started out in a very unprofessional way, and had no means by which customers were able to actually buy online. Orders came in, slowly at first, and as I added new material to the site, more quickly. Pirate Memories has really still only got a small selection of the audio I have actually collected, but I am careful not to put on anything that is of poor quality, as I value the custom of the people who have bought items from me.  

Digger:  Can you please tell us about the events and activity at Harwich?

Chris: I received an email from one of the station news producers at BBC Radio Essex, asking about my pirate radio exhibition. Perhaps I should explain..... I now had a website selling pirate radio recordings - I was busy buying and collecting pirate radio recordings, and the main source was quite naturally eBay.

In 2005, I came across a Pirate Radio exhibition for sale called "Flashback '67". I made some enquiries, and found that this show had only been seen once in its entirety back in 1977. The asking price was not exorbitant, so I watched the auction continue and finally plucked up the courage to put in a bid. I was staggered when I found that I was the winner. And when the huge parcel arrived, I was even more taken aback - there were dozens of 30" x 24" cardboard sheets, each with several photographs attached. Many boards had headers, and others were large blow-ups of only one picture. Some of the boards were shabby, but in the main, most were in good condition. They were all some 28 years old.

 

 


Since 2005, I have added more pictures, replaced some of the poorer ones, and generally tidied up the whole thing. My efforts had been mentioned on a number of occasions on other websites, and this also came to the attention of the news producers at BBC Radio Essex.

In 2004, Radio Essex had put together a week of broadcasting dedicated to the sounds of the 60's pirate radio stations, along with a number of the original DJ's playing the original tunes. Radio Essex was about to do it all again on a much grander scale in 2007, and wanted my Flashback Exhibition as a backdrop to the event.

After a very successful appearance at the Sugar Reef Club in London's Soho at the beginning of August 2007, where over 200 people (including around 30 original 60's presenters), gathered to honour the Pirates, we travelled to Harwich to put the Flashback show together for a week.

We were working in association with BBC Radio Essex and the Pharos Trust, who look after the last manned lightship - the LV18, to be built in Harwich. The lightship was to provide the "base" for the broadcasts, and in true Pirate Radio fashion, the ship was moored offshore on a buoy in the middle of the river Stour between Harwich and Felixstowe. Travelling to and from the vessel was by way of a small 'tender' boat operated by a local ferryman. Indeed, all the BBC staff, pirate DJ's and visitors had to use the tender, as there was no other way to get on board.

We set up the exhibition in the Ha'Penny Pier building right on the harbour frontage. The build up took several hours and we were exhausted, but well pleased with the way it all looked.

Not really having any idea about what was going to happen, we arrived at the pier at 9.00a.m. the following morning to be confronted by several people who were already queuing to get their first look at the Flashback show. The BBC Radio Essex publicity machine had done a really good job of advertising the event, and we were soon to find that the queues would increase alarmingly over the next few hours and remained so throughout the week of the broadcasts.


 

In all, we entertained over 4,000 people during the six and half days we were there. People from all walks of life came to see us and talk Pirate Radio. These ranged from the original listeners, to an 84 year old chap who arrived looking for three of the Radio Caroline DJ's who were on board during a storm in January 1966. He told them he was one of the Breeches Buoy Crew who lifted them off the vessel on that wintery night, when the ship ran aground on Frinton beach. To say that the guys were speechless would be an understatement, and I left them to their tears and reminiscences!

I had people arriving with bundles of pictures, scrap books, tapes and all manner of memorabilia - all wanting to show us their memories, and some just wanting to see that their collections went to a good home. We brought back far more material than we took, and interestingly, no-one wanted any money - they just wanted to make sure their memories were looked after! Naturally, everything has been added to the Flashback show, and I am eternally grateful to those who came to see and talk to us.

 

 



The 2009 event was somewhat different as, although we were still working with BBC Radio Essex and the Pharos Trust, the added attraction was a new film directed by Richard Curtis of Notting Hill fame...."The Boat That Rocked" is a story of a spoof Pirate Radio station - "Radio Rock", and was about to be released on an unsuspecting public. Universal Pictures had given the Pharos Trust a large number of give-away items including posters, T-shirts, radios, and leaflets, so the stage was set to operate another fantastic week (well five days actually) over Easter 2009. This time the LV18 lightship was moored to the Ha'Penny Pier itself, and acted as a floating stage for the appearances of the Pirate DJ's, many of whom had travelled from the other side of the globe to attend the event. The weather was good - the pier was crammed with fans, and once again, we spent our days endlessly talking "shop" to the Pirate Radio fans.

If I could make a living out of that job, I'd move to Harwich permanently.... It was truly a magical time, and I'd do it again tomorrow! 


 


Digger: What is the legacy that the Pirates have left us and do they get the recognition they deserve?

Chris: The legacy, if there is one - is that the UK now has commercial radio. Personally, I consider that the 'state' of radio in the UK is abysmal, but that's for another time when I have my soapbox with me! It's very difficult all these years later to describe just what the UK was like - radio-wise in the early 60's, before the Radio Pirates appeared.

The BBC had a true monopoly, and fought tooth and nail to preserve it. When, before the second World War, a number of European radio stations began beaming commercial programmes into the UK. The BBC had complained to Government, with little success about the "illegal" broadcasts. Naturally, the war altered everything, but the legacy the BBC was left with, was an outdated radio service that simply could not or would not adapt to the changing trends in listening entertainment.

Many of the BBC's programmes were running during wartime, and there was only a cursory nod to pop music.

Trad jazz, and music from the shows was a staple diet, and many orchestras were employed by the BBC to play cover versions of hits of the day. It was clear by the birth of the Beatles in 1963 that something had to give, and when a 23 year old Irishman called Ronan O'Rahilly tried to get an artist he was managing - Georgie Fame - onto the radio, the change was made.

On being rebuffed by the BBC big-wigs, O'Rahilly reasoned that he would have to start his own radio station to allow the public to hear his artist...and Radio Caroline was born. The pirates were only on air for just over three years, but the die had been cast. Successive Governments had worked hard to resist allowing commercial radio in the UK, preferring all forms of radio to be looked after by the BBC. However Commercial Radio became an entity in 1973.

Over time, Independent Local Radio has become big business, but many stations are owned by only a small number of companies. True local radio no longer exists, and even the new "Community" stations fall far short of providing local services.

As for recognition, I think it's fair to say that many older ex-politicians now openly admit that they got it wrong.

Certainly a number of very prominent DJ's still find time to tell anyone who will listen that they owe all they have.... and have done - to their time on the early Pirates. People's listening habits are very fickle though, and Pirate Radio is remembered most fondly by the people who were actually there. We must also not forget that Pirate Radio has had many phases. We had the original 60's type - then in the 70's, Radio Caroline was back with its Love and Peace and Rock format, and Radio Noordsee played music for a young Europe. In the 80's Caroline was back again, with rock & pop and Laser 558 was "Never more than a minute away from the Music".....so those listening habits have come and gone. Also as technology has moved on - people are not so reliant on their radios. The advent of the iPod and The Internet allows people to programme their own music now. So if they don't like what they hear on the radio they can tune out and make up their own.    

Digger:  What products and services are available on the Pirate Memories website?

Chris: PM offers a small selection of good quality Pirate Radio recordings from the halcyon days of Pirate Radio. I've also tried to cover a number of the other stations such as Radio Noordsee and Capital Radio from the 70's. Both of these stations were based in Holland, but are still part of the history of offshore radio. So too is a recording of Radio Hauraki - a Pirate station operating in 1966 off Auckland, New Zealand.

Pirate Radio has a rich history, and PM can really only scratch the surface of what was quite a memorable and creative time in radio.

  

 

 


Digger: What gives you most pleasure about what you are doing?

Chris: I think the thing that gives me most pleasure is seeing the look on people's faces as they talk to you about their pirate radio memories. I get a good feeling too when people contact me asking questions about a certain station or are simply wanting to find out more generally. People's memories and recollections are very important to them, and many just want to remember the good times the Pirates seemed to evoke. Everyone has a different aspect they like to talk about, and those memories are very personal.

On the other hand, I have been contacted by a number of students who are working through their Media Studies courses, and have come across the Pirate Radio phenomenon. Most have really no idea why (or how) the pirates existed, but several have gone on to use material I have supplied in dissertations and presentations as part of degree level work, so that gives me a feeling of pride knowing that I can still spread the word. 

Digger: What sort of feedback do you get from customers?

Chris: Feedback is usually very good, and most buyers come back for more. I have several customers who have bought up most of the Pirate Memories collection of recordings. These customers have also given me invaluable testimonials about the products, and obviously this helps generate more business. I also must emphasise that all Pirate Memories sales go towards buying more memorabilia for the "Flashback '67" exhibition. I know there are still a lot of unearthed collectables out there and I keep a look out for anything which will fit in with the era that Flashback covers.

 


Digger: What plans have you for the future of Pirate Memories?

Chris: I'd like to see PM expand with further recordings and other video material. I have plans to expand the collection of recordings. I would also like to see the whole PM website revamped. I have some ideas for connecting the PM site and brand with "Flashback '67" too, as they are both focusing on the same things in reality. Flashback '67 will be responsible for the visual side of pirate radio history, and PM will take care of the audio side. I'd also like to look at ways of customers to PM being able to download their orders on-line if they wish, rather than receiving a CD through the post. Not everyone will want to I guess, but it will provide an extra outlet for the material.

It is a massive project, but it's one that I think needs some research, and I'm quite looking forward to having a stab at creating the platforms to make it possible......Watch this space. 


 

 


 

Pirate Memories

www.piratememories.co.uk

 

Pirate Memories is an on-line shop selling Pirate Radio recordings and memorabilia, from the halcyon days of offshore radio broadcasting.

Pirate Memories will include recorded material from the60ís offshore pirate stations and we will be looking for recordings from the 70ís and 80ís pirates too.

As new material becomes available, we naturally will bring it to you via the on-line shop.

All recordings will be on CD where possible.

 

By Post:

Pirate Memories
19 Smithfield Road
Ashby
Scunthorpe
North Lincolnshire
DN16 2NJ
Great Britain
 
By Email: info@piratememories.co.uk

By Phone: +44 (0)1724 338450

On the web: www.piratememories.com

 

 

 


 

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