Welcome to The Palace of Glittering Delights!
Encompassing 2 hours of “comedy, poetry, live music and a boy called Lard”, The Mark Radcliffe Show, or as it’s adoring public knew it The Graveyard Shift was Radio 1’s 10pm-midnight show every Monday to Thursday from 25th Oct 1993 until 6th Feb 1997, and remains one of the greatest shows ever broadcast by Radio 1. On the occasion of its 20th birthday let’s we, the Children of the Monkey Basket, fondly remincise about a radio show that introduced us to loads of comedy gubbins, quality music, plenty of cobblers and the lives of Scrawny Boy and the hapless Boy Lard.
“Hiya Mark!” Scrawn & Lard set the controls for another night at the Grayard ShiftBasket
If the previous sentence means anything to you, then like me you’re one of the people who had their tastes in comedy, music, films, TV, poetry and probably even friends shaped by the all-pervading influence of the Graveyard Shift, a legendary cult radio show hosted by Mark Radcliffe and sabotaged by Lardy Boy (aka Marc Riley). Both of them have gone on to shambling media careers and can now be found cluttering up the 6Music days and nights schedule and the Radio 2 airwaves with their particular brand of tinpot local radio. They’ve managed this in spite of being the finest and funniest radio broadcasters of their generation and have left a trail of adoring fans (well, two I know of) in their wake. It all truly kicked off twenty years ago when BBC Radio 1 headhoncho Roger Bannister mistakenly gave Scrawn and Lard their own nightly radio show to do as they please, and found he’d only gone and created the soundtrack to the music geek’s 90s.
It’s impossible to overstate just how fantastic the Graveyard Shift was – featuring the finest musical playlist that’s ever been assembled, Mark would play the best of the current indie and alternative choons, supported by unknown pleasures from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Live bands would drop in to record some their finest radio sessions – ranging from the heartbreaking delights of Tindersticks, Drugstore and The Melons, to the chart-troubling noise of blur, the Bluetones and Kula Shaker. Comedy-loving friends of the show such as Greg Proops, Katie Puckrik, Stuart Maconie, Andrew Collins and Frank Sidebottom would drop in for a chat. Cult choices in Film, TV and books were unearthed by Merk Kermode, Kim Newman and Will Self. Poetry (poetry on Radio 1!) would be created and lovingly read by Simon Armitage (“No, no, no, no, no), Joolz (“Our Billy got stabbed in the car park”) and Ian McMillan (“eee it were reet cold”). Music news and other quality gubbins came courtesy of BMX Bandits frontman Duglas T Stewart and former Orange Juice drummer Stephen Daly (from New York). Comedy sketches taught us about Great Moments In Pop and featured characters such as Shit Agent, Bill & Ken the Snooker Men and Cyril Dorricott (with his patheological news). In short, it was all the best of Radio 1 and Radio 4 mashed together (and a bit of Radio 3 if you count Tony McCarroll’s Classical Gas).
To underline just how cool this nightly two hour muckabout really was, it had its very own theme tune – the immensable hummable High Wire by Edwin Astley (better known as the theme to thrilling 60s spy series Danger Man) which was the intro/outro to every show. The intro also included a rallying welcome to the Palace Of Glittering Delights (aka BBC studios on Oxford Road, Manchester – now tragically demolished to make way for the Palace of Airport Lounges at Salford Media Centre), and the show would always kick off with two absolutely belting tunes to get us under way.
Radclife & Riley honed their hapless antics on Hit The North for Radio 5 in the early 90s.
The Fast Show crystallised the 90s obsession with catchphrases – but the Graveyard Shift easily had more per show, without ever becoming repetitive. They included (deep breath) “Hiya Mark!”, “Hello to you all from the North”,”Oh dear!”, “Cod fish battered balls!, “I’m coughing me guts up”, “Must get some oil for that door”, “Coffin Dodgers!”, “F**k my hat, I didn’t know that”, and the one that went viral “It’s all gone terribly Pete Tong” (yes that started here). My own favourite was Lardy Boy’s growing calls of contentment when a particularly quality tune was played… “oh yes…oooh yes…ooooh yes!” Always used to great effect in the breaks in Jon Spencer Blues’ Explosion’s Bell Bottoms!
Cult Film Corner was a particular treat in the pre-internet age, with critic Mark Kermode digging up classic movies titles for us to hound our local video store about, or else pray that they’d turn up on late night Channel 4. Ken Russell’s oeuvre was dissected in detail, with a particular fondness expressed for the baked beans scene in Tommy. The Exorcist was invoked on a regular basis and touchingly, the last ever CFC was dedicated to one of Scrawn’s favourite flicks, the evergreen beauty of The Railway Children. Kermode himself was often a figure of derision (especially if Lardy Boy happened to be in that Thursday), with his quiff and leather trousers getting him a bit of a bashing for being such an Elvis buff. It all climaxed when one night he not so much stormed out, but squeaked out of the studio in his tight leather pants, threatening never to thrust his pelvis into the microphone again. Fortunately all was forgiven a week later, and Kermode has since gone on to become one of the country’s foremost film critics, thanks no doubt to his impeccable taste and 100 miles-per-hour enthusiastic rants about his love of cinema.
Two other regulars would become familiar stand-in hosts when Mark was off for a week – music journos Andrew Collins, who pimped his very own teenage diary for our voyeuristic pleasure, and Stuart Maconie, whose smorgasbord of musical delights always included a healthy smattering of Northern Soul. In fact it’s thanks to Stuart playing classics such as Al Green’s The Snake and Needle In A Haystack by the Velvelettes that I became obsessed with the genre myself, and spent many’s an all-night grooving to the glorious soul sounds that make you want to dance and cry at the same time. In between showing off of his knowledge of the Wigan Casino’s playlist, Stuart would talk us through the bizarre world of the classified ad such as: FOR SALE – Parrot cage (bought in error).
Then of course there were the boys themselves – Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley. In his guise as the ever messing-about Boy Lard, we learned that Marc grew up in a borstal before he was taken in by the kindly Mark E Smith for a stint as bass player in the popular beat combo The Fall. Going the way of many Fall members before and after him, Lardy Boy left the band to form his own tunesmiths The Creepers before shacking up with Scrawn (aka Mr Radcliffe). It was in this heavenly abode that the quality content of The Graveyard Shift was developed, and after successful stints hosting Hit The North for Radio 5 the pair moved to John Peel’s old stomping ground on Radio 1.
Mark Radcliffe himself has rightly gone on to become a national radio treasure. With a warm and engaging wit, endless fascination with the crazy antics of pop and rock stars old and new, plus the most perfect taste in music, Mark’s broadcasting has been the cornerstone of my life since my teenage years. He’s the coolest geek in the room.
And then there was the music – oh sweet Lord, the music. Easily the most eclectically diverse collection of gorgeous melodies you’ll ever hear. It helped that at the time British indie music was going through a hugely popular renaissance, but Mark managed to uncover and give first exposure to many of the gems that would define the sound of the 90s – famously, Whitetown’s bedroom produced “Your Woman” made it to Number One after first being played by Mark, but there were so many others – The Cardigans got their first proper exposure on the GY, Teenage Fanclub were friends of the show, Catatonia got their early (and best) vinyl played regularly, Number One Cup, Minty and many more gems got their first (and sometimes only) plays from Mark. There were also all the previously unknown treasures that would never have seen the light of day on any other R1 show – I remember in particular a “Velvet Mix” that bundled Rhode Island power poppers Velvet Crush, The Lilac Time‘s heart-stoppingly beautiful Black Velvet, and Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra‘s Some Velvet Morning a contender for the most eerily wonderful record ever made. Americana, electronica, psychedelia, indie, schmindie, soul and rock & roll – every genre of pop music was played. If you want to know where 6Music got its musical agenda, look no further than the Graveyard Shift. In a time before the internet made everything available, Mark was the coolest librarian ever, pointing you to only the sweetest sounds and tantalising you with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the best music you’ve never heard.
There was all of that. And then there was Belle And Sebastian. I can still remember the first time
Mark’s first Radio 1 Show was Out On Blue 6 – Psychedelia meets Northern Indie
the band were played on the radio – it was summer’s night in May 1996 when Mark played “The State I Am In” from the band’s Tigermilk album, an extremely limited release funded by the Stowe College in Glasgow as part of their annual music project. Mark had said it reminded him of Nick Drake (another GYS rediscovery) and as Stuart Murdoch’s lilting voice sang “I was surprised, I was happy for a day in 1975” the song went on to break my heart and mend it again 14 times in the space of 5 minutes. The band was an incredible mystery for the rest of that year, but their 2 sessions for the GYS in 1996 made them tangible, and the rest of their songs sounded just as swooningly beautiful as the first. Of course I fell in love and became obsessed with B&S for the next ten years, seeing them live as often as I could, voting for them to win a Brit Award and even travelling to LA to catch them at the Hollywood Bowl. It was a wonderful experience, and both my joy as a fan and the band’s success were directly kick-started by Mark. Soon after the GYS ended, I found my soulmate through a shared love of show and B&S. Mark’s choice of music that night in May 96 changed my life.
So thank you Mark, Marc and all the others involved with this most fantastically funny, brilliant and wonderful radio show. The laughs, fun and dancing you brought really meant a lot to us, which I why I’m still laughing, dancing and getting some oil for that door twenty years on. Fancy a brew?
With thanks to the original Scrawn & Lard fanpage, and the to the Palace Of Glittering Delights for some quality items & comedy gubbins!