Shaun Keaveny - The Early Morning Kensal Riser

By Richard Foster
Richard Foster interviews the well known breakfast radio show presenter. We are publishing it in 3 parts. This is the first one, conducted on January the 20th at The Masons Arms, Harrow Road.

“Shaun Keaveny as the 21st century Renaissance Man. Following in the footsteps of a rich pantheon of ridiculously multi-talented people. Leonardo de Vinci, Orson Welles, Stephen Fry and now, Mr Shaun W. Keaveny.” This may appear a rather grandiose way to start an interview with a breakfast radio show presenter but it would be a typical way for Shaun to set up one of his many interviews and I thought it would be apposite to start our interview with a Keaveny-esque homage. As we share the same birthday (although separated by too many years for my liking) we are very much on the same wavelength.

There is solid justification for such hagiography as Shaun can attest to his skills as a musician, having been a founder member of the seminal 1980s band Mosque; an impressionist of some ability, his Paul McCartney transports you back to the heyday of the Beatles whilst his Ian Brown flicks you effortlessly through to the madness of the Madchester scene a few decades on; a master in the kitchen as shown by his appearance on “Ready, Steady, Cook”. 

But Shaun is not content to rest on his considerable and voluminous laurels as he now embarks on a journey into the terrifying world of stand-up comedy. Does this man’s talents know no bounds? But before delving into that rich array of talents at his fingertips we must find out more about Keaveny’s musical taste, his influences and his attitude to the current scene, and to the industry as a whole.

I fling a Hunter S. Thompson quote at him. “ Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel.” Whilst he agrees with the broad principles of Thompson’s fuel argument, his response is as surprising as it is candid.

“Compared to (Steve) Lamacq and (Tom) Robinson - fellow BBC6 Music presenters – I see myself as the ‘class clown’ with the bucket of water on top of the door. Whereas they mine for new music, I have to concentrate on the nonsense we do between the records. I am daunted by the volume of new music that awaits me in my pigeonhole when I check it”. He realises he is never going to become the next John Peel, but then again it is nigh on impossible to combine a continual search for new music with being a breakfast presenter.

“It’s a ridiculous job in many ways,” Shaun continues “and you become quite blasé about stuff that is so exciting to the outsider.” Keaveny has interviewed some of his idols from the comic rock genius of Spinal Tap to his ultimate hero, Jimmy Page. 

When we start talking about the changes in the music industry and the breakneck speed of change driven by technology, Shaun sums it up well “We sound like those two fusty old guys from The Muppet Show (Stadler and Waldorf).” So we pull ourselves up before wallowing in a grumpy show of Luddism and agree that the digital revolution has definitely brought many benefits.

The likes of Spotify and YouTube are “a wonderful resource,” trills Shaun. “Having the world’s greatest performances on your laptop is brilliant.” He has introduced his young son Arthur to the delights of Presley and at the tender age of 22 months shows an impressive obsession with The King. That could never have happened without the liberating effects of the instantly accessible library, both video and audio, which is now but a mouse click away.

Fear not though, Luddites, it is not long before we are dragged back to pointing out that this very accessibility is also responsible for the disposable nature of music today. We are soon bemoaning the lost days when one bought the album and raced home to gorge oneself on the vinyl for two weeks solidly until the next release. The youth of today do not buy such fuddy-duddy things as albums, they merely locate their favourite tracks and download individual songs. 

Such a view of the music business today is supported by the fact that in the majority of cases the most played track on an album on Spotify is the first one on the list. So this points to people sampling and then moving on if it’s not instantly their thing. Skimming, surfing, call it what you will, listening to music is no longer about depth, it’s more about breadth and that makes us old codgers sad and nostalgic.

One of the other radical shifts in pop music has been the reversal of the business model whereby gigs are now the revenue driver and the recorded material is relegated to a supporting role, aimed at encouraging the punters to go and see the live show. It was not like this in the old days. However, because of the peculiar nature of his job as a breakfast show presenter, Shaun bemoans that live music is “a foreign country to me.” Having to get up before the milk floats have begun to warm up their electric engines, is not a recipe for late night partying. 

 “When you first start doing an early morning slot (he was at XFM for 5 years before BBC6 Music) you think you can still go out a few nights a week but you quickly learn that it destroys you. Your own life goes into some sort of storage centre as you have to eschew normal behaviour. As all the decent gigs seem to be midweek these days, I probably only went to 4 gigs in the whole of last year which is a bit poor… I’m looking forward to coming back.”

As touring has become where the big bucks are made we have witnessed a plethora of bands reuniting which could be viewed as a cynical money-making exercise or more favourably as a chance for another generation to witness performers who otherwise would be confined to YouTube. Pixies are a prime example of the ambivalence we feel towards The Great Reunion. When they split up in 1994 it was for good. Black Francis and Kim deal so hated each other that towards the end, Francis claimed he could smell Deal before she came into the room, that was how poisonous their relationship had become. But lo and behold a decade later the reunion was on and Brixton Academy et al were packed in adoration. It is great that those fans in their twenties whose only exposure to Pixies was through the use of  “Where is my Mind”’ in the film Fight Club, could sample the energy and brio of a live gig. 

Balancing this out is the issue that all the members of the band are old enough to be parents of the younger elements of the audience and should know better. Shaun takes up the theme “any band that reunites will always disappoint” because it is no longer the zeitgeist. “The Smiths must never, never reform”. But let’s hope that Mosque break the mould and make it back to a stage near you assuming the lead guitarist is not indulging in another area of the arts just to test his unfathomable bag of tricks.
Richard Foster has his own blog  at http://fosterfire.blogspot.com and occasionally writes for Park Life
He also co-hosts 7th Heaven quiz  with Simon London at The Masons Arms once a month.
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