I opened my dissertation with these acknowledgements.
“A very special thank you to my family for their help throughout difficult times, and for the staff at Southampton Solent University for being the most tolerant staff on the planet over the last three years.”
It sounds like a tease. However, this time I really meant it.
On 23rd September, I had set my alarm for the time that the results would be uploaded, and had my laptop ready on that page by the side of my bed. I woke up, checked, and was happy. As opposed to running around the house cheering, I went back to sleep, and so my mother thought I was sulking, having read some bad news. She arrived in my bedroom an hour later, walking solemnly in with a cup of tea for me. “Oh, I got a 2:1.” Cue much screaming.
After three years at Southampton Solent University, I finally had a degree in Popular Music Journalism.
After some of the nightmares that I faced during my third year, I was pleased with my 2:1. Having to undergo neurosurgery during a time that I was trying to write a 21,000 word dissertation on Radiohead’s Kid A (for which I got a First), was tricky. Harder still was completing a four-person group project alone (two students left, the other didn’t contribute, and failed), which involved me founding a content provider company, as well as produce, direct and conduct interviews for a daily podcast to be released during the university’s SMILEfest 2013. In total, the podcast series had a cast and crew of 49 people, and I was at its reins. I can’t say I’m proud of anything I have done very often, but I’ll give in when looking back at that project. With this week’s graduation, it felt great to draw a line underneath it all.
Still, I’m back here for another year on a Master’s Degree, studying Multimedia Journalism, so the uni has done something right! The last piece of advice that I received from course leader and Professor of Music Industries Martin James was that it was my job to challenge the lecturers of my new course as I bring new context to assignments from my previous studies. And that I shall. Be afraid Solent.
Here are some of the memories of the chaotic last three years…
Millbank Riots (November 2010): To not have witnessed this means that you probably out of the country. In November 2010, after 20,000 were expected, 50,000 people arrived to march on London, in protest of education cuts, and raising fees in higher education. I was asked to attend, but had too much work to do. Just by chance, the lecturer walked past just in time to hear this, and interrupted. The protest was important enough that the deadline was delayed for a few days, and I was allowed to go.
This led to the attack on 30 Millbank, which I visited en route to the nearest tube station. It was a real shame, as it pulled away all attention from the planned peaceful protest, and rendered the work of most protesters obsolete.
Student Radio Awards (November 2010): Held every year and presented by some key figures in BBC radio presenters, this took place at the London IndigO2, to praise university radio stations. Key moments include Greg James advising that to get his job, top BBC radio presenter, you needed to ‘suck a lot of cock’, and Tim Westwood not receiving a very warm welcome, drowned out by booing. The day before, Westwood had called all students ‘revolting’ on his show, after the Millbank Riots. If I remember correctly, University Radio Nottingham swept up most of the awards (yet none of the presenters were quite sure how to say ‘URN’), but Mel Lewis of Solent’s own Radio Sonar won Best Female Presenter. Congratulations!
‘Harmonia’: In early 2011, music performance and composition students sent out emails requesting performers to aid them with an assignment, during which they staged a classical music concert comprised of their own compositions. Not accepting my time as a performer being over after finishing my HND Music Performance in 2010, I agreed to be their drummer. In the end, it was a rousing success.
Student Radio Conference (April 2011): I travelled with the rest of the Radio Sonar crew to the University of Hertfordshire for the SRA Conference.
While the drunken ‘toga party’ that a couple of students campaigned for for days never surfaced, it was still chaos. Here I finally got to meet the aforementioned Tim Westwood, who in a bit of a career downturn, was handing out free condoms from a bucket. I met him very briefly, and couldn’t resist asking what he was doing at a student event if we were so revolting. “Ha! You’re funny… and I guess you’z revoltin’ too”.
A regular feature of the conference is The Demo Factor. Students create short demos to be played to everyone, and interrupted if the four industry professionals don’t approve. Getting Peter Dickson to do the voice over was a nice touch, making it significantly more terrifying to those whose demos were chosen. If I remember correctly, only one demo was played in its entirety.
Apparently noting that there hadn’t been enough footage focused on myself for Sonar TV’s documentary, whoever was behind the camera on the way home decided to draw on my face. I didn’t notice until we stopped at a service station on the way home. I looked in a mirror,discovered my whiskers and unconvincingly pretended that I knew that they were there all along. I didn’t even known who did it until I saw this video. See 10:20 for my facial graffiti.
Radio Sonar 87.7FM (September 2011): I had been presenting at the University’s radio station for several months, and shows never ran particularly smoothly. The uni probably owes the John Cage estate a lot of money for the number of times that I unintentionally ended up playing 4’33” when the computer crashed. That said, I don’t know that the station’s audience rose above single figures very often.
For Freshers Week 2011, Radio Sonar acquired a two-week FM RSL license, meaning that the station would be broadcast to local FM radios, and not just online. During my show, amidst nerves, technical hitches and just being terrible, it was a bit of a disaster. When my mother, having listened from her car had no variant of ‘it wasn’t as bad as you think’ for me, I knew that it hadn’t sounded good. I was partially happy to be ill the following week so that I didn’t have to go through that again.
I had been told that it would be listenable around the Southampton area. They weren’t lying. Out of curiosity, after a 40-minute drive back to Portsmouth, I switched on the car radio to find out what was on that frequency. It was STILL Radio Sonar. How many people had heard that show? I imagine quite a few.
“What the Buzz? 2011” (December 2011): There is no denying that I had a face for radio, and so visual journalism was seemingly not to be. However, when a online TV show project, profiling 2011, wanted a guy to chat about the music events of the year, I was the one to step up. This actually went very well, discussing the outrageous success of Adele, the death of Amy Winehouse, the split of REM and the horror that was Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’. I’d love to do it again. However, I’m reluctant to upload it: One, due to no permission from the other performers, and Two, I look way too much like James May. I’ve been teased about it forever, but finally I hit the ultimate May-ness. Were he to wear a Sesame Street T-shirt anyway.
(Not) Upsetting Alan Parker (April 2012): Legendary film director Sir Alan Parker was in town to give a guest lecture at the university. As I had been a creative media student during my college years, and now studying journalism, I was interested in how he reacted to criticism. During the Q&A, I asked about how he reacts to harsh criticism, since his latest film (The Life of David Gale) had fallen under great scrutiny. Sir Alan gave a very thorough and informative response and seemed to have no issue the question. Students filming the event were uncomfortable with someone apparently insulting his work. The entire lecture was made available online. All except my question. I was only doing my job!
Abbey Road (May 2012):
I was lucky enough to visit Abbey Road Studios with local folk band Flatland Wolf, who were awarded a recording session in Studio 3. After a severe lack of sleep the night before, it was difficult to keep my eyes open, especially while keeping quiet in a dark room, sinking into the comfiest sofa ever, listening to the same song over and over and staring at a hypnotic visualiser on the most monstrous mixing console I had ever seen. Still, this was great fun.
It was great to have a nose around the premises, and listen to the recording of the Skyfall soundtrack in Studio 1. I made sure that I mucked around on an instrument in every studio (pianos in Studios 1 and 3, and a celesta in Studio 2) just to say that I did. Students who were not members of the band, including myself, apparently recorded clapping on the track, however I am not convinced that anyone even pressed record. Just a way to convince us to brag that we had recorded at Abbey Road.
Bestival 2012 (September 2012):
The Bestival Bugle is a paper founded by Toby Collard in 2005 that has been issued daily at the festival to humourously cover the events. It’s a joy to read, but a nightmare to produce, as I found out during my time as an assistant to its creation in 2012.
Despite the incite that I got into what goes on backstage and in the press department, and got to meet some great people such as founder Rob da Bank and music journalist Alexis Petridis, one particular moment will always stay with me: interviewing, whilst being attacked by, four attendees dressed as ‘security ostriches’. I kept myself together and received a quote that I will forever treasure: “Wow! Quite some journalist this one!”.
Thanks again to for all of the support over the last three years from my family, as well as lecturers Martin James, Sean Albiez, Ruth Dockwray, Chris Anderton, Iestyn George, Lucy O’Brien, Louise Morrell and Fiona Sturges for dealing with me!