This is the first post in the Amplify Vibes series, where we take a break from political discussion to look at Stroud’s rich culture of music and arts.
By Ben Norris
Of the many great projects to emerge from the Five Valleys during lockdown, one of the most community-minded is Stroud Lockdown Radio. Set up by Neil Wilson and Marcus (AKA Juggla) in the first few weeks after the government quarantined the country to slow the spread of Coronavirus, the project has blossomed into a weekend staple, with a host of DJs presenting all day Saturday and Sunday and on Friday evenings.
Asked where the idea came from, Neil asserts that Marcus was the one who got the ball rolling initially. “I suppose I have to put up my hand for that responsibility,” Marcus says over the phone in a group call, “although I would say it was inspired by what Neil was already doing. Several other DJs were uploading and streaming shows online via Facebook intially and then various other platforms – that gave me an idea for setting up a Facebook page, a common ground where the locals are able to listen to DJs.” Marcus previously ran a pirate radio station, and felt that the denizens of Stroud in lockdown were in need of something similar. “It seemed good to get all the DJs to put their shows one after the other on one platform where people can listen to them.”
Marcus reached out to Neil, and then between them they came up with a schedule and a list of DJs they thought would be good on the kind of station they’d want to create. “Every DJ we’ve spoken to has been really up for it and more than keen to get involved with it,” said Neil. “Which is a bit nuts.”
“And luckily Neil knows all of them,” added Marcus.
Stroud Lockdown Radio goes live every Friday evening, with shows all day Saturday and Sunday. “We started off with Saturday-Sunday, probably broadcasting for eight to ten hours per day,” says Neil. “By the time the first weekend was over we had enough DJs getting in touch to say they wanted to get involved that we were covering the Friday night as well. What we’re trying to play on is that we’ve got younger DJs on there playing brand new fresh music, jungle and garage all the way through to northern soul. We pretty much cover every decade of music going within the shows.” The range of styles and genres covered is suitably eclectic, with a lot of music of black origin. “Personally I play hip hop,” continues Neil, “and there’s a lot of reggae, which is our general feel. Every genre falls under our umbrella.”
The station has also been playing its part in promoting local artists and musicians, as Neil explains. “We’ve been able to play Fidel Castro – he’s a local DJ who’s brought out his first or second album since he’s been on the air, and he’s been doing a show so that’s been getting lots of promotion on there. One guy who does lots of new-world jazz shows has been playing a lot of local artists, I play a lot of hip hop from Bristol artists, and we’ve got Harry doing his UK and hip hop show. So there’s a lot of national and international artists all over the place.”
According to Marcus, SLR wasn’t initially set up with a view to running longterm. “Originally we all thought, didn’t we, that lockdown was going to be three or four weeks and then back to normal again. And… we’re all trying to get used to the fact that’s not what’s going to happen.” One nuance of the online radio format that Marcus has found interesting has been the interactivity promoted by the web chat. “Because we have a chat room there’s been some brilliant developments between the DJ and the listener, a sort of circular energy.” This has proven to be one of the most rewarding aspects of running the SLR for Marcus. “You sort of find that each DJ has their friends or fans who listen and get involved in the chat rooms by giving shoutouts or by talking to the other people in there, and that’s been a revelation. Within that I’ve seen lots of conversations where the listeners have said ‘Oh this can’t finish when lockdown finishes, I’m having too much fun’, and they are, and so are the DJs. I think it’s been really good for them and for the DJ’s mental health as much as the listeners.”
A lot of DJs who have moved away from Stroud who are well-known in the area have now come back for the lockdown, and they’ve given them an opportunity to play in their hometown as well. As a result of this, the radio crew have managed to pick up a local celebrity in Robbie Duncan. Neil explains: “For the first time in years he’s playing his hometown which he hasn’t done, which for someone who’s used to playing in front of celebritites or whatever he says he’s more nervous about playing for his friends!”
A major aspect of the Lockdown Radio is that every show is broadcast live. “The DJs are playing music and interacting with listeners in the chat room as it’s actually happening,” says Neil. “There is the option to go pre-recorded as it does work, but we feel that by being live at all times we actually can interact with the people in Stroud, and they can say to us ‘brilliant song’ or ‘give a shoutout to so-and-so’, and having that connectivity with our audience is really fantastic.
“And you’re not alone if you’re listening to live radio,” adds Marcus. “You know, you can be by yourself in isolation but if you’re listening to live radio you’ve got someone there with you. The radio’s fantastic for that, it’s such an intimate medium.”
The call is interrupted by the loud squeaking of a dog toy, which Neil takes full responsibility for. Marcus jokes that there are several dogs on the radio that often compete with one another. “That’s the nice thing about live radio, we do cock up. Things happen like my daughter comes in and shouts something on the mic as I switch it on, or last weekend I was answering someone in the chat room and the record suddenly ran out and I thought ‘Oh damn’, you know; that’s the fun of it, people love a sign that you’re human.” The payoff from this is the ability to unite people in different houses, different parts of the country or even somewhere else altogether. “I’ve got friends in three different countries who were dancing to a record I played on Sunday, and they’re dancing to the same record at more or less the same time – maybe with a few seconds of delay. But that’s really what we want, to make people feel connected.”
The passion shared by Marcus and Neil towards the project is evident. “We do love the station,” Neil says warmly. “It’s really touched a nerve with every DJ that’s played on it, and we intend to continue after lockdown. It’s something that we’ve spoken about amongst ourselves, me and Marcus, but I think it’s brought up by the other DJs on one of the other chat’s we’ve got, they are just fully 100% ready to keep on going. They can see SLR being around for a while, which is encouraging for us. Obviously there’s a few things we need to sort out, but if we get the chance we if people want to hear it then we’ll keep on doing it, I imagine.” Marcus fully agreees. “I think while people aren’t able to go to pubs and clubs then there’s definitely a need for it. There was a Stroud FM years ago, but at the moment with people socially distancing and with communal spaces shut down there’s a massive need for it going forwards.”
As the call rounds to a close, Neil adds that Stroud Lockdown Radio are always looking for more DJs. “If you know any, give them a shout and we can give them a slot. As long as they fill our quota of playing music of a black origin or new world music then we’re more than happy to have them on board.” Marcus agrees.
“Absolutely, we want more DJs – we’ll fill the week if we get enough DJs.”
“Particularly if they play grime or drill,” Neil adds. “We’re looking for a grime DJ.”
Tune in to Stroud Lockdown Radio online on Friday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday, or visit their Facebook page for more information.