John MacCalman Interview April 2010
Born in Scotstounhill, Glasgow in a big house next to Scotstounhill Railway Station. This was to have an early influence on my first job! As a kid I grew up among steam trains and would often be found down at the station helping out.
Growing up as a teenager in the Sixties was great. I had two half sisters who were ten and eleven years older than me. My first interests in broadcasting came from sister Pat who worked as a news secretary at BBC TV in Queen Margaret Drive. Every evening she would come home with stories about “what went wrong today.”
I wasn't happy at school - I went to Hillhead High where I think they were more interested in making up quotas than meeting any educational desires of the pupils. I was really interested in Geography so they made me drop it in favour of History. Corporal punishment ruled and I would frequently receive the belt. When I sought out careers advice they hadn't a clue about broadcasting. I started to skip days at school and would often go up to STV's studios in Cowcaddens and watch them make the live lunchtime show The One O'Clock Gang. This became a rather bad habit and my absences were so frequent that halfway through 6th Year I was expelled.
At the time the Pirate Radio Station Radio Scotland was all the rage. My late father was a lawyer who mainly specialised in licensing work but one of his clients was Mr T.V. Shields who ran Radio Scotland so naturally I wanted to become a DJ or at least work in radio. I actually did an audition for them supervised by Brian Holden, a rather stern South African who was in charge at their Cranworth Street Studios. There were several hopefuls there and the audition included reading a rather tough news script and describing an object taking constantly for one minute making sense. Harder than you think! It was the time of the Vietnam war. The news item contained some foreign names, among them was Nguyen Cao Ky, Prime Minister of South Vietnam, so one DJ hopeful decided to call him Mr Hoochie-coochie. He didn't get the job. Neither did I!
I also took up the guitar rather badly and formed a band which did not last very long - the Spectre Beat Unit - did about three gigs before I realised it wasn't for me. One of the gigs I do remember was at Jordanhill College; can't remember the year but I do remember that also playing at the same venue was a young Billy Connolly.
I also had an attempt at TV scriptwriting in 1963 which earned me my first rejection letter from the BBC! It was for That Was The Week That Was and the subject was a political party's leadership election which I wrote in the style of a horse race commentary.
The early influence of growing up beside the railway station paid off and in the summer of '65 I joined British Rail in Glasgow Central Station Enquiry Office dealing with the public. I remember the job interview. They gave me a massive tome, the British Rail Timetable, to look at and then asked me questions about train times. I was such an anorak that I could respond without looking up the timetable!
That launched an 8 year career which I did enjoy. I remember early on getting a row for giving out too much information! After Glasgow Central I was the booking clerk at Hillfoot Station then went on to a two-year Railway Studentship course spending time at Falkirk Grahamston Goods Station, Motherwell Central and the Divisional HQ in Union Street. There was a section in there called Work Study and one of the clerks spent most of the time sleeping at his desk. Every time I saw him I found myself humming the Herman's Hermans hit of the time Sleepy Joe. After that I ended up in the Greenock Area Manager's Office for four years.
I also had my first venture into pop promotion. I would spend weekends down at Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae doing a DJ spot at the dance hall in the Garrison. When in Glasgow my Saturday nights consisted of a visit to Bearsden Burgh Hall where they had a dance with live bands. One of these bands was Tony Rivers and the Castaways who did an excellent job of covering Beach Boys hits as well as their own songs. I thought it would be great to put them on in Millport. Booked them and paid up front. They were great but the gig was a financial disaster.
While all that was going on I was still very keen on developing my broadcasting interests. Any time I tried to get a job in the industry I was met with “you have to have experience?” So what better way was there than to start my own radio station? I met up with some like minded people who were also very keen on the notion and we decided to try and establish a Hospital Radio service in Glasgow with the name Radio Phoenix. Two key friends in this project were Bob Carson and Irene Craney.
We had dreams of setting up a big network serving all the Glasgow hospitals so we approached the authorities with our ideas. Naturally we planned on a pop music type service.
It was the Glasgow Northern Board of Management that saw in our approach something that was desperately needed but not in the form we had been thinking. Foresthall Hospital and Home in Springburn was a geriatric care establishment which was filled with lonely neglected old people. They offered us a trial period of one year to provide a weekly programme service for a couple of hours over the relay system in the hospital every Sunday. Their wisdom in giving us this challenge was probably the best thing that ever happened to my ambitions.
It was a major culture shock to me and the rest of the team. We built up a music library not of current pop hits but of very oldies - traditional Scottish, wartime hits and standards. We went round the wards making a great effort to talk to the patients. For many of them, we were the only visitors they had and it was tough going. At the end of the year we were honoured by the Hospital Board with a special dinner and their grateful thanks. For me it was a great lesson on how to succeed by listening to your listeners.
Radio Phoenix was the pilot scheme out of which grew HBS Glasgow. While that developed, Bob Carson and I were both still very keen to enter the broadcasting industry on a professional basis.
The Sound Broadcasting Act of 1972 was my big opportunity. This legislation changed the Independent Television Authority (ITA) into the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and set about establishing commercial radio in the UK. Glasgow was one of the first areas to be identified as a site for one of the new radio stations and the IBA carried out “public consultation” as to what listeners in the area wanted from the radio station. Bob Carson and I, with tireless help from Irene Craney, set about preparing a written submission to the IBA. We handed it in to them and it was kindly acknowledged. Then the wheels of the Authority started to move in my favour by presenting a great opportunity.
The Royal Television Society was holding an event in Glasgow about the future of Commercial Radio. By this time the franchise for this had almost been finalised and Jimmy Gordon (now Lord Gordon), who headed the company which had been successful, was going to address the event. The IBA arranged that I would have the chance to address the gathering on “the listeners' attitude to commercial radio” What was more important to me was I would have the chance to meet Jimmy Gordon.
We frantically set about preparing a proposed programme schedule how we would
When I look back at them now there were so many glaring errors in the schedule both in philosophy and practicality but despite these Jimmy Gordon shortly afterwards offered me a job as a Station Assistant joining the company two months before we went on air. I packed in my career with British Rail; after all it was just a change of station, and in November 1973 reported to the new HQ of Radio Clyde under construction in the Anderson Cross Centre.
These days you would probably be called a producer but that was a title that was frowned upon - very BBC. As a Production Assistant your main job was to help put the programmes together. You would learn all about copyrights, music, artists, and relationships with record companies. It was all very new so we had to make it up as we went along. There's a fabulous book by Tony Currie who was the first DJ on air called Not Quite Altogether Now which goes into great detail about these pioneering days and I would highly recommend it. This would also save me taking up space so I can get on to the real stuff of interest to Glasband.
. What sparked your interest in the local music scene?
A band was playing so I sat down and started to enjoy them however I didn't recognise any of their songs. Their front man, Billy Fairbairn, has a great rapport with the audience. At half time I approached them and asked them “how much of your own material do you do?” “All of it is our own” was the slightly miffed reply. I was impressed and my love affair with Underhand Jones was born.
I figured that I could help them with my contacts in the music business through Radio Clyde however I would have to keep any activity separate to avoid any conflict of interest. With a friend, Andrew Harvey, who was a successful Chartered Accountant interested in some kind of involvement in the music business, we formed two Limited Companies to look after the interests of the band. One was Jammy Music Publishers Ltd. and the other was Scotia Nostra Management Ltd.
. You ran the Kelvingrove Festivals featuring the cream of the local band
I suggested that we should run a free open air concert using only local musicians who performed original material. This would encourage talent on our doorstep to grow and reach a wider audience. The funding of the event was possible because commercial radio had in these days (sadly, no more) an obligation to spend 3% of their net revenue on live music. This was why Radio Clyde was able to have its own recording studio and mobile.
At Radio Clyde we had a very good relationship with the Glasgow Parks Department and provided them with summer roadshows - Parks Patrol with Richard Park - the infamous “Dr Dick”. Kelvingrove Park had a great bandstand with a natural amphitheatre and this was chosen for the venue for the first Kelvingrove Free Music Festival.
The naysayers said nobody would turn up for unknown bands even it was free but they were wrong. The sun shone, the bandstand was full and an event was born. Sadly, the first Kelvingrove was not recorded but subsequent years were.
The basic principle of original material from local bands was the mainstay throughout the years the Festival ran, though occasionally we would allow the odd cover.
I was trying to find a complete bandography of the acts that appeared each year at Kelvingrove (and one year at Queen's Park) but so far have been unsuccessful.
This is a question that has been discussed many times over the years, Do you know what happened to the old Clyde Kelvingrove Festival recordings, and do any of them still exist?
. Did you have any involvement with any other outdoor concerts around?
There was nothing on the scale of Kelvingrove that springs to mind as far as outdoor concerts go but the Music Department at Clyde was incredibly active recording concerts up to five nights a week. The Apollo was in its heyday and if the concert was on a Friday night we sometimes would record the band and play bits back on Steve Jones Boozy Woogie Rock Show at midnight with the band present. After the show we would all retire to the Albany Hotel for drinks with the band and would still be there when the sun came up. Around 3am the cleaner came round the bar area to try and clean up. Anybody who made it past that hour was entitled to wear the special T-shirt “I was hoovered at 3am at the Albany”
In the late 70's I also devised the music magazine programme “Stick It In Your Ear“ This was at the time quite cutting edge whereby we would interview artists then cut out as much as possible - especially the interviewer - and mix it with key snippets of music - great fun to produce with Brian Ford as the presenter.
In 1990, Glasgow European Capital of Culture, an event took place that was one of the highlights of my career at Radio Clyde - The Big Day. This featured four live stages throughout the city. We covered it live with stereo feeds from each of the stages into our Anderston Cross HQ and four live roving units with a reporter and production assistant. I drew on the crews from our Superscoreboard sports team to resource the event and approached it in the style of live golf tournament.
. You mentioned on the Rock Scotland forum about past ideas and possibilities for reviving the Kelvingrove bandstand, do you think that will ever happen?
There was a great story about one of these covers that came out under the title “Always Mayo”. An Irish record company wanted to use the song but change the lyrics. To do this they must have the permission of the original publisher. They wanted a 30% share in the royalties of the adapted version which would have been a reasonable request except for the fact that they had already produced the album without first obtaining permission. We granted permission but without their 30% share.
I had spotted a niche market in music tailored for the duration of radio commercials. At the time the shortest lengths of this kind of tune was 28.5 seconds for technical reasons attached to film commercials on TV at the time. We recorded each instrumental tune into unit lengths of 10, 20 30, 40, 50 and 60 seconds and distributed these on disc - first vinyl then CD - to production houses throughout the UK. It was groundbreaking at the time but now it is pretty standard.
I also recognised a market in music for movies. I pitched for a TV theme tune which an LA based music house was wanting for a new TV series based on the Modesty Blaise stories. Cha and Jim produced a great demo and while the pitch was unsuccessful it opened the door in LA for Jammy Music and a deal was set up with the Fricon Entertainment Company to handle our material in the USA. We had moderate success with this over the years.
Jammy Music's Production Library expanded and was relatively successful in its projects but we never landed the big one.
We also did some successful library projects with Bill Padley and Grant Mitchell and even brought out a single on BBC Records on 23rd July 1986 to mark the Royal Wedding of Sarah Ferguson to HRH Prince Andrew. It was a rather neat arrangement of the two traditional wedding tunes - Wagner's Bridal Chorus and Mendelssohn's Wedding March - played by the True Love Orchestra and called The Wedding Song. Sad to say BBC records did not release it till the day after the wedding but they did do a beautiful cover for the single!
Jammy records also had comedy material. I produced a solo album with Craig Ferguson (now a mega TV star in LA) in the guise of Bing Hitler Live at the Tron.
. Underhand Jones/The Shops released the L.P. “Jammy But Nice” in 1980, What do you remember about that project?
Jammy Records became a vehicle for promoting songs signed to Jammy Music and also for bands who wanted to do their own material and release their own singles. Jammy But Nice was a free promotional album mainly for the songs of Underhand Jones.
. Did you have any input on UHJ playing at The Loch Lomond Festival in 1989 and What qualities did you see in the band ?
It was initially the simplicity of the songs. They were nice guys and great to work with but I guess on reflection it was the wrong time. There I was trying to push a band of their style at the dawn of the punk revolution! We worked incredibly hard on the songs because that's where the real earning potential is in the music business.
Loch Lomond was a great gig. I knew the promoter and was able to get the band an early spot scheduled - I think it was just 20 minutes- but while they were on stage the stage manager told me that the next band had been delayed and would be late reaching the stage. He asked if Underhand Jones could play a longer set. I passed the word on to the boys and they duly obliged. They'd probably have played all day if given the chance. In true professional style they made no hint to any backstage problems and played longer till the word came that the next band had arrived, Unfortunately this may have backfired on them because some of the crowd thought that the band had deliberately over run their slot.
. Cammy Forbes and Brian Coyle went on to form The Dolphins after the
Stevie Doherty was the singer with Underhand Jones and decided to leave the band, I was still his manager because my contract was with each individual so I worked with him at the early stages of his career with Zero Zero.
This is a basic standard situation in band management contracts whereby each individual is signed up. It covers situations where band personnel change. It does mean that when a member leaves the band, he can still be under contract. Sometimes the management company will release that person from the contract. In Stevie's case until a new management company came along I was happy to carry out my obligations to look after his interests. We were good friends and I still keep in touch with him today.
I did what I could to help Stevie and Zero Zero. By that time there wasn't any formal arrangement but I was still happy to try and help him because I believed in his talent, It might seem a bit naive to say this but a lot of what I did was done on trust. If something had worked out I know I would have had a share of the action.
. You went out to the States to promote Cammy Forbes and Stevie Doherty, tell us about that ?
In this letter I outlined my history of my involvement with Stevie, after he left Underhand Jones in 1979.... Here's an extract from it.
I continued to fulfil my obligations as manager by helping his career including getting him an audition with AC/DC. Although I kept in touch with Stevie it wasn't until he first formed Zero Zero that I took serious interest in the potential of the new band. Around November last year I noticed the band were cooking well and started to get involved in their promotion, Management and business affairs, I made it clear from the start that I had no desires to manage them as my main interest lay in publishing.
I'd forgotten just how much work went into my projects!
. Were there any other bands you were involved with?
. I spoke to Tom Russell last year and he mentioned that his Rock station
. The Glasgow band scene from the late 80s was dominated by “Tennents
. Did you have a favourite Glasgow venue to see a band and why?
Several. I loved The Amphora in Sauchihall stret best because it had the most perfect room for live performance, I'm sure big Ski - Cammy's brother and UJs sound man would tell you. The room was carpeted and the wall very non reflective of sound so playing at a sensible level you could get an excellent PA mix through the room.
. What do you think of the modern TV shows like X Factor, Pop Idol etc…
There's an interesting history here. Back in the late 90s we were looking for a presenter to host a “New Country” show on Clyde 2. I had listened to one of the RSL (Restricted Licence Service) stations which would come on for a few weeks to provide a special radio service to the community. This one featured Country Music and one of the presenters was an American called Pat Geary, a former Assistant District Attorney from Orange County in California, who had set up home in Scotland and owned a specialist record store in Byres Road. I was impressed by his presenting style and knowledge so I suggested we take him on to host a new show.
When DAB Digital Radio came on the scene Radio Clyde's parent company - Scottish Radio Holdings (SRH) - was successful in its licence application. The beauty of the DAB system is that one transmitter can carry up to around 10 services. In addition to relaying its existing FM and AM services SRH decided to set up an entirely new station to provide Country Music 24 hours a day.
I returned to presenting on radio after an absence of many years. It was a massive learning curve for me. I probably knew around 20 country artists and most of them were in the traditional Country and Western genre which was what 3C was NOT about. I learned about 300 new to me artists and bands that were all incredibly talented and performed modern country music.
Oh, I made big mistakes in these early days. Always be sure of the pronunciation of an artist's name and most especially what sex they are and if you don't know the song, listen to it first before opening your mouth. We prepared the shows using a voice tracking method. You would record all your links then drop them into the playlist. As we frequently played 3 or 4 songs in a row before talking we didn't hear the middle songs at all. My classic booboo was to refer back to a song by an artist called Tracy Byrd saying she gave us a fine performance. Only thing wrong is Tracy Byrd is a 6 ft tall strapping cowboy.
I loved the modern country scene because the songs were so relevant, creative and often told great stories. And there was a lot of fun. How about “The Big One”
In 2000 I started to write for an aviation column for Scottish Travel Agents News (STAN) called On The Fly.
I had also produced several live broadcasts from the USA for Radio Clyde including Disneyland Florida with Mike Riddoch, a series that went coast to coast with Alastair Macdonald and George Bowie's Breakfast Show live from Times Square New York.
While at Clyde I wore the Travel Editor's hat so I followed the travel trade with interest. I also covered the activities of the Scottish Claymores during the short reign of NFL Europe and would travel to all their away games.
Along with all my music biz trips to the USA I built up a massive amount of frequent flier miles which I used each year for a holiday in Thailand travelling the long way via the USA and Tokyo.
I became very friendly with a Thai rock band in the city of Pattaya who did superb covers of rock classics. I was so impressed by them that I set up a website for them
When I left Clyde I had an idea of a TV documentary series on a group of islands in the North Pacific. More on that in the response to your last question. I spent a year on that with virtually no income except a couple of consulting jobs for Clyde, a little bit of freelance presentation and the odd travel assignment.
In October 2008 I realised I had to get a full time job so I applied to Travel 2 for a post of Travel Sales Consultant helping Travel Agents package holidays worldwide. While I had no previous experience in the industry my knowledge of overseas countries and of aviation would help. I've been working full time with them since then and I must say that though the pay is very poor for the responsibilities you have, the company is great to work for and the people there are fab. The company only deals with the trade and does not sell direct to the public so don't go asking me for cheap holidays!
Not really. I would like to but I fear I might want to become involved again!
. What are you working on at the moment?
I am still working on my Pacific Islands project.
Air Mike - The Island Hopper will be a ten part TV documentary series on the history and contemporary economic status of the islands of Guam, Saipan, Truk (Chuuk), Pohnpei, Kosrae, Kawjalein, Majuro, Palau and Yap. The link for these islands is the development of air services in the US Pacific Micronesian Islands by “Air Mike”. Each show is planned on being 1 hour long and the common theme will be how the air services provided a critical boost to the economy of the region. As far as I can establish this has not been done before and would make enthralling TV.
Anyone interested can find out more at the website
John MacCalman was part of the beginning of Radio Clyde in 1973 working as Production - co ordinator, he was a strong champion of the local band scene setting up and organising the legendary Kelvingrove Festivals which brought the cream of local talent to play in front of thousands at Kelvingrove bandstand. Excerpts from these concerts would later be aired on Radio Clyde giving the bands and artists valuable exposure and much local acclaim.
This interview will cover John's career from his first Job to what he does now, his involvement with Radio Cyde, The Kelvingrove Festivals and his work with some of the bands and artists from that ara, the success of "The Big Day" in Glasgow 1990 and his opinions on the music scene today.
John Receiving an Award for Radio Clyde
The Dolphins....The Dial Inn
Cammy Forbes....The Mayfair
Stevie Doherty.... Kelvingrove.
Clark Sorley recording Scheme at Sirocco Studios
The Dolphins night gig was special to me because I remember that day in 1983 well as it was the day I got a letter confirming my first full time job/apprenticeship (1983 not a lot of them going around for a 17 year old) so while on a high from that I decided to make my way that morning to Kelvingrove to soak up the atmosphere, little did I know that the band were already there setting up and had just finished the BBC interview with louise Batchelour (which had been set up by John), Cammy's first words to me were " you should have been here 5 minutes ago you could have been on the telly" I was in my element asking the band questions in the bus, we had a wee 2 a sides game of footie, went for a fish supper oot the chippie, I got to go onstage (during the day that is) and had a go on keyboards showing Drew how to play "Me and no one else", I think I remember you John talking to Richard Park or someone at Clyde on a Radio leaning into the door of a car, (how that was possible back then I don't know, CB I think) any way after that I went home got cleaned up and came back with my brother to watch the best free outdoor gig I have ever witnessed.
I mentioned Cammy's comments in the middle of that gig "This is like a scene from my favourite movie" (referring to Film The Warriors) on The Band's write up on Glasband 80 and I was proud that that bit (among others) made it into the book "Minstrels Poets and Vagabonds" published last year by Robert Fields......... I AM waffling now! BUT... Brilliant memories!!!
When I sent this to John in the middle of working on his interview he suggested I use it as post script....So, I did.