REST IN PEACE, FLUFF – ALRIGHT?Sometimes premonitions really do occur. Last night I dreamed that Alan Freeman had just died, and when I opened this morning’s Times I found that that was exactly what had happened. I also thought of him while listening lazily (there is no other way of doing so) yesterday evening to Humphrey Lyttelton’s Best Of Jazz programme, since Lyttelton seems to be one of the few remaining radio music presenters capable of drawing the listener into his world by means of that rare brew of personality and passion. Who else remains in post-Peel British broadcasting? Desmond Carrington, who this year turned eighty; Tim Westwood, as rampantly brilliant as ever but closer to fifty than me; Jonny Trunk with his obscure film soundtracks on Resonance FM; Norman Jay on BBC Radio London; Annie Nightingale still clinging on at Radio 1, if you’re still awake to catch her. All with their own, self-defined but fluid and flexible worlds; all capable of provoking me to spending untoward amounts of time and money to find the music they play.Alan Freeman was one of that number, and the earliest to come to my attention. He was by the some distance the finest Top 40 DJ I have ever heard, in terms of announcing and analysing that week’s new chart. Although in my extreme youth the chart was announced on a Tuesday, and Freeman’s Pick Of The Pops show did not air until the following Sunday – such that he was delineating a chart already nearly a week old – I only listened to the Sunday rundown at that stage, and was spellbound by the tangible sense of drama he put into every list he broadcast. Of course, those were the days when chart movements remained unpredictable, when your favourites (unless they were the Beatles or similar) took weeks to find their peak (thus the suspense of whether they might make number one and who their likely rivals might be), and Freeman exploited that inbuilt tension with actorly mastery; his pauses growing ever longer as the Top Ten narrowed down to its apex, teasing the listener and keeping them hanging on until the last survivable second. When later he revived the format for Capital Radio, doing parallel rundowns of a previous Top 20 and that week’s new Top 20, he was apt to put in his own lovable bias; thus if his beloved Iron Maiden or Def Leppard had had a new entry, cue the Hallelujah Chorus blast – usually accompanied by Freeman solemnly intoning “The miracle has occurred” - and if there were some dreadful MoR or novelty tack at number one we would get Reg Presley’s “Awww NOOOO!” from “I Can’t Control Myself.”His Saturday Rock Show which ran on Radio 1 for most of the seventies was a seamless mix of classical tropes and a range of rock which spanned Stomu Yamash’ta and Vangelis all the way to the Slits and Devo. Even in his later years, when he returned to the BBC, he was still capable of being moved by magic; I remember a 1989 New Year’s Eve rundown of the 100 best-selling singles of the eighties and the palpable wonder he expressed at the genius of “Blue Monday” and “West End Girls” alike.He remained bound to music; in his final years at a nursing home in Twickenham, nurses became accustomed to asking him to turn his loud heavy rock metal/classical CDs down. He never grew old; such a contrast to the pallid premature old DJs of today who can only shout or advertise. Fluff never talked down to his audience, rather talked them into his world. Value his gift and preserve it.
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