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INTERVIEW: Mark Whitby - DJ (Dandelion Radio)

Green Banana spoke to Dandelion Radio DJ and author of the book 'The Festive Fifty'.

Dandelion Radio is an internet radio station inspired by John Peel

How did you first get involved with Dandelion Radio?
I'd been a listener from the very first day and some of the Dandelion DJs had contacted me to buy a copy of my book on the Festive Fifty. I met Mark Rosney, one of the original Dandelion DJs who sadly passed away a few years ago, in person as he lived close to me and he suggested a I send them a DJ demo. This was in 2007. I'd done quite a lot of community radio in the nineties and thought I'd give it a go. Dandelion had done a lot to fill the hole left by John Peel for me and it was great to become part of it. 

In the John Peel tradition, you have band sessions. How do they come together?
Basically, the bands/artists record the sessions and I broadcast them at an agreed time in the schedule. At Dandelion, we liked the idea of continuing the Peel session idea in some form, though of course we had to adapt it to our circumstances: there is no Dandelion HQ as such, although Rocker does have a studio at his house where he's recorded sessions with bands. For me, I'm restricted to a laptop and microphone. We've had some great sessions on the show down the years, though and many of them have been released. Our agreement with them is that the artists have all rights to the material after the month of broadcast - we just ask that they remain exclusive during that initial broadcast period.

You have had over 150 sessions on your Dandelion show. If pressed, what are your favorite 3 sessions?
That is a horrible question - like asking me to choose between my children. I'll say the following three for different reasons but, if you ask me again tomorrow, I'll probably have changed my mind.
1. The Woodentops (October 2009) - I'd been a fan since their early days so was really pleased when they agreed to do a session for the show. It didn't disappoint.
2, The Sinatra Test (September 2011) - Project of Phil South, whose work I've featured a lot in my show. I love it when artists use the session slot to experiment and probe a bit further than perhaps they've done in their recorded material and this is probably my favourite example of that.
3. rOZZ (August 2020) - From the Netherlands, rOZZ sent in her session with talk between the tracks which is not normally what I ask for but the whole thing just held together so well and I was pleased she did it that way. The result was an artist whose approach to recording is idiosyncratic anyway taking over a chunk of the show to do whatever the hell she wanted in her own way and I love it.

There - I've done it and sadly no mention of The Chasms, Vert:x, Trembling Blue Stars or indeed any of the sessions from the Thomas Imposter label - like I said, narrowing it down to three is very difficult. I've not had as many sessions in recent times: it's really something I need to get back onto as a regular feature.

Dandelion Radio took over the Official Festive 50 after John Peel’s passing. What does the Festive 50 mean to you?
An obsession. I started listening to Peel in 1978 and, although I was aware of the Festive Fifty, it didn't really grab me until the 1983 FF, which is still one of my favourites. I started to think about writing a book about it at some point in the eighties and eventually began to put it together in the early years of this century, when the internet made research so much easier. 
I was delighted when Dandelion took it over. I hadn't become a DJ with them by that point and had been working on an idea to continue it online in some way. Thankfully, however, Dandelion were asked to carry on the official chart, which has proved to be the best possible place for it. Our station controller Paul Webster does a fantastic job of putting it together each year, as he does running the station in general. As with the Peel FFs, it can be a bit unpredictable in terms of quality - particularly in the lower reaches of the chart - but for me that's part of its charm. I can't understand why people say 'how did that get in?' - it seems to me inevitable that a chart of fifty tracks selected by hundreds of different people will contain some stuff you agree with and some you don't. That's healthy, I think - too many people inhabit echo chambers.

What advice would you give to artists submitting tracks to you, other Dandelion DJs or other radio stations?
Avoid too much blurb and let the music do the talking - personally, I'm not interested in whether other stations have played you, what the producer's credits are or who you've been told you sound like - I listen to it and if it intrigues me and stands out in some way I'll do my best to find time for it.
And make sure what you do is right for the station - preferably by listening to it first to make sure it really is a show that would consider playing who you've put your time into creating.

What was the first record you bought? How do you feel about that choice now?
Bloody hell. It was 'My Coo Ca Choo' by Alvin Stardust when I was about eight. Its appeal has not lingered. When I started buying records in earnest, from when I was about 13, it would have been something like Sham 69 or Elvis Costello. The first record I ever bought as a result of listening to Peel was 'Money' by the Flying Lizards.

Apart from music, what are your other passions?
I love reading and football. As with music, I just find the idea of discovering and devouring new books irresistible. Current favourite authors are Jess Kidd and Nina Allan. I'm a massive fan of Margaret Atwood, also Stephen Baxter and a lot of stuff in the realm of 'hard' science fiction. 
I'm a Manchester United supporter and get to Old Trafford about fifteen times a season. I'm a season ticket holder for the women's team, which I currently find particularly fascinating - I also went to several women's Euros games in the summer. I also watch Runcorn Linnets in the Northern Premier League. The game as a live spectacle is what I love - I've no time for 'virtual' fandom and social media exchanges: getting to the ground early, soaking up the atmosphere and taking in the whole experience is something that can't be replicated by television coverage.
I'm currently putting the finishing touches to a novel I began writing during lockdown, called 'Balls'. I hope to self-publish it at some point. I'm not looking to sell it in great numbers - just to put something out there before I die.

Finally, what band/artist do you tip for big things?
I'm the worst person to ask as I have no idea what makes a band popular. I've been delighted to see bands like Yard Act and Wet Leg gain popularity recently but whether something has widespread appeal or not is something I have no idea about. I'm always surprised when anyone agrees with me on anything, including music. Peaness maybe? Or Agent Starling? I think success in music is very hit and miss and always has been. Follow your obsessions and see where it goes is the only way, I think. Personally, I've never had a 'career plan' as such - life is chaotic, embrace that and see where it leads you. 

Interview by Thomas Imposter