In amongst the crushing tedium of the indie bands with long hair, it’s easy to forget that music is supposed to be inspiring. As Simon Cowell, whose nauseating juggernaut the X-Factor was at The Echo this week, tries to absorb each and every one of us into the masses of musical zombies who will buy what we’re told, ROGER HILL quietly goes about his business of telling us what we may or may not like. He is one of the musical eccentrics you don’t see much anymore and he’s all the better for it.
After arriving in Liverpool (from Leicester, via Newcastle) 25 years ago to take up a are ost with the Everyman Theatre, Roger has had firm ties with our music scene. He often frequented the famous post-punk venue Eric’s on Mathew Street and through these links ended up as a regular contributor to Merseysound Magazine (second only in greatness of course to these pink pages). When a vacancy arose on BBC Radio Merseyside’s weekly show ‘Rockaround’, Roger was asked to take the reins and has been presenting the show in one form or another for the past 28 years. Despite several name changes including ‘Pure Musical Sensations,’ ‘Post Millennial Sounds’ and ‘Popular Music Show’, the content of PMS has remained consistent: obstinate in its eclecticism and rooted firmly in the alternative. Merseyside has Roger to thank for that.
When I arrive to begin my interview with Roger I find him happily chatting away to Bido Lito’s editor about the recently fitted musical lampposts (the ‘Echoes and Whispers’ sound installation) approaching the docks. It’s just an early indication to me of the fact that Roger does and will always have his ear to the ground (or lamppost) with all matters concerning Liverpool music and that clearly Leicester’s loss many years ago was our gain. These assumptions are not dispelled as we begin discussing the content of his show and he admits the reason he tends to shun interviews in lieu of back to back tracks is because he often finds that, “musicians are boring.” Funnily enough, this isn’t something I’ve heard before in interviews for this magazine.
Talk turns to the late John Peel, a ubiquitous presence for any DJ plying his trade in Mr Peel’s home city. Roger admits deference for Peel (well of course he does, he’s human and he likes music) and also expresses a jealousy of the Scouse accent for its natural synergy with the medium of radio. He says that his approach however, fits the “more learned and educated” resonance of his accent. This isn’t arrogance however; it’s a fair and considered appreciation of his own style with which his regular listeners will be familiar. Hill often interjects songs with brief, measured sound bites, which add colour to proceedings and explain the history and origin of the music he plays with great erudition.
A large part of our conversation centres on the issue of modern radio and the ever-growing list of restrictions and red-tape which is slowly choking the stream of creativity in broadcasting. He regales me with an anecdote about a song he previously played which garnered a complaint because it contained a curse word spoken in a foreign language; “how exactly do you check that up?!” he queries with genuine despair. Issues such as this mean that the creation of further shows such as PMS are under huge threat as the pressures of advertising revenue and, in the BBC’s case more than any, adhering to strict guidelines increase. PMS has been such a long term success in forming the musical tastes of listeners all over Merseyside but the worry is that, when Roger eventually leaves the show, it might just succumb to the current assimilation of everything you could categorise as inspired, to become run-of-the-mill broadcasting.
Outside of his show Roger demonstrates his deep knowledge of music by forgoing the short and sweet statements he often employs so well when linking songs. Our chat covered a wide range of subject as he gives me wildly detailed opinion on Liverpool, its musical heritage, and radio which unfortunately are too great to do justice in such a short article. Whilst I’ve tried my best to surmise them in this piece you truly do need to listen to his show to at least perhaps let the music illustrate the man’s dedication and wide knowledge of music either local or otherwise. Words cannot describe the amount of work that Roger and his team (who he ensures I thank in the piece) put in order to keep PMS as diverse and current as it was twenty-odd years ago. Don’t miss out and take the opportunity to listen now because, when it comes to gems such as this broadcast, like the great John Peel himself; you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.