INTERVIEW: Stuart Maconie | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Having been described by one national broadsheet as verging on national treasure status, it is no wonder the popularity of prolific radio presenter, columnist and esteemed travel writer Stuart Maconie has grown exponentially.

His most recent project, The People’s Songs – coming to Sage Gateshead on Saturday 4th April – is an amalgamation of his Radio 2 show and book of the same name, and arguably his biggest project to date but one that was clearly a labour of love. “It’s an attempt to piece together a social history of Britain through the records people actually bought rather than the traditional turn-left-at-punk narratives of rock history.” He tells me. The show aims to avoid regurgitating the accepted ‘bloke history of rock’ by redressing some of its problems and prejudices. “I mean, you can’t turn on the telly on Friday night on BBC 4 without seeing the same narrative over and over again and the same critics going over the same records.”

It could be argued Maconie is somewhat of a contrarian as he excludes artists that are usually the staples of musical criticism, replacing the Rolling Stones with the likes of Spandau Ballet and The Shamen. This subversive approach lets him stray away from the accepted narrative and discuss records that maybe haven’t received as much critical attention, such as Cornershop’s Brimful Of Asha, which allows him to explore the British Asian experience.

“Pop music now – with a few noticeable exceptions – is just some trembling, limp lad singing about how his girlfriend’s left him”

Maconie also succinctly demonstrates pop music’s innate ability for political dissidence. A notion emphasised in the inspired addition of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, an unnerving portrait of a young gay man forced to leave home and head for the city that was a breakthrough hit in all kinds of ways. However, he feels current pop music has lost its socio-political edge and returned to a pre-Beatles era where it’s in the hands of corporations and tasteless A&R people.

“I listen to James Bay and Ed Sheeran and I think all these songs are about the singers’ fragile and emotional life…pop music now – with a few noticeable exceptions – is just some trembling, limp lad singing about how his girlfriend’s left him.”

It is pop music’s reversion to this bygone era, and the fact it’s no longer borne out of emerging subcultures, that are at the forefront of where society is heading and which has led Maconie to question its status as a barometer for societal change. “I don’t think it’s at the absolute vanguard of what’s happening anymore like the Pistols were, or the Beatles were or even the Smiths were.”

Although the show takes The People’s Songs as a framework, this is only really a jumping off point to allow Maconie to digress into his other work. “It’s not an anoraky music show so people don’t need to come thinking it’s going to be a discussion about Jethro Tull’s bass players. It’s quite an accessible show going over the last couple of books I’ve done about British politics, history and, of course, music.”

Stuart Maconie brings The People’s Songs to Sage Gateshead on Saturday 4th April.

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