As the anchor of the BBC Radio 6 Breakfast Show for the past ten years, SPOKEsman Shaun Keaveny has a career a lot of people would give their eye-teeth for. He gets paid to play the music he likes, chat with his mates, and buddy up with the famous. Clearly, this is someone with a lot to teach us.
So when we met up with Shaun at The Social, a bar and music venue in Fitzrovia, we asked the important questions: How did he get where he is today? What was the best new track he heard in 2017? And, above all, what does he really think of Simon Cowell?
You get up at dawn five days a week. What effect does that have on you?
“It makes me irritable. It makes me slow-headed. It makes me forget things. It makes me irritable.”
Any tips for combatting the soul-erosion of constant tiredness?
“Funny you should ask me that -because last night, me and my missus went to bed at 9pm. And we did that full Terry and June thing, reading in bed for half an hour. Then, when I woke up this morning at 5am, I realised I’d had seven solid hours of sleep. That was when it hit me. Why has it never occurred to me before to go to bed early? So after ten years of doing the Breakfast Show, that’s my life-hack. Go to bed early. Give me another ten years and I’ll come up with another gem.”
A lot of people would say you have landed the dream job. How did you make it happen?
“As a sixth former — this was back in the 1980s, kids — I was given a media project for communication studies. I put together a video called ‘The Complete Guide to Band Musicianship’ — because I was in a band, and I was 17, so i assumed I was an authority on bands. To supplement my expertise, I wrote to a band called The Wedding Present, and asked to interview them. It was a shot in the dark. I thought there was almost no chance they’d reply. Then one evening, about two months later, straight after Coronation Street, the phone went, and my little brother picked up. And he came back in and said, ‘There’s someone called David *Godge* on the phone for you.’ It was only David f***ing Gedge, lead singer of The Wedding Present. He invited me to one of their gigs and I interviewed him afterwards. And so looking back on it, 20 years later, I realise that was the start of my career as a musical commentator and *friend to the stars*.
Are you really a friend to the stars?
“I prefer to say ‘friend and colleague’.”
There’s a saying: you should never meet your heroes. Is there anything in that?
“No, I genuinely don’t believe that. I’ve always found it to be an edifying experience.”
So at 17, you’re in a band — was rock stardom your Plan A? Was there a moment when you realised you weren’t going to make it?
“I remember it very well. I was 24. You know you’re too old if you’ve not done it by 24.”
If you could give one piece of advice to your 24-year-old self, what would it be?
“Go to bed earlier. No, but seriously. It’s taken me many years, and a few quid in therapy actually, to work out that one of the best things that you can teach your kids is to force themselves to have a bit of vision. To picture things the way they want them to be. I never really did that. I don’t know if that was my particular working-class upbringing of [adopts Lancashire accent] *we’re lucky to ‘ave what we’ve got — we could be down t’pit*. Somewhere along the line I picked it up, this idea that you’re just lucky just to have a roof over your head. And you just get on with life. But what I’ve learned is that it’s massively helpful, in achieving what you want, to *know what you want*. To have a target and go for it. And to make it quite a high target, because then, if you don’t achieve it, you’ll still get somewhere close.”
How has music changed since you were 24?
“One of the most demoralising developments in music, in my opinion, has been the death of the intro. The Cure were famously one of the greatest acts ever for writing two-minute long intros for their songs before the first word was even sung. That’s all gone now. Or it’s going. Because of course, the way that people listen now, it’s bang, bang, bang. It’s Youtube. It’s Vevo. It’s Spotify. It’s: ‘Oh, I’ll have a quick listen, oh no, it’s not entertaining me, it’s not grabbing me, f*** off, next.’”
Bloody radio DJs cutting short the songs?
“Bloody radio DJs talking over the front of things. Talking over the back of things. Ruining everything.”
It’s not all bad though, eh? How has music improved since you were 24?
“The best thing about music today is also the worst - which is to say, you can now listen to anything you want in the world at any time. And of course that’s phenomenal and powerful and brilliant. But it’s also a problem. Because you just sit there and think: f**k me, what am I going to listen to?”
How *do* you decide what to listen to, when you’ve got the fire hydrant of new music constantly pouring out over you?
“The first thing that anyone should do, of course, is listen to BBC Radio 6 Music, as a way to discover new music, because that’s a curated experience. I’m not entirely joking. We have a team of dedicated explorers in outer musical space. And they bring their discoveries back and that’s what gets played on 6. So the point is, if I hear one of my fellow presenters playing it, I’ll think: okay, this is probably worth following up on. The other thing I’d recommend is to look at the Albums of the Year lists in Pitchfork or wherever. Because as much as you may hate the music writers — and god knows they can be really f***ing pretentious and silly — the point is that they’re probably 23, most of them, and they’re spending nearly all their time listening to new music. I’ve got two kids. I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning. I need people to tell me what to listen to. So I’m not the trusted music guide.”
OK — but if we put you on the spot: greatest track you’ve discovered this year?
“Funeral by Phoebe Bridgers.”
And most reliable floor-filler when you’re DJ-ing at a party?
“Rocket by Goldfrapp, playing into Jump by Van Halen.”
Is there any band, where you can’t understand what all the fuss is about?
“I can’t commit to The National with the same level of passion as some of the people I work with.”
Is there a case to be made for Coldplay?
“I think there is. I really think there is. I just think people are dicks sometimes. What’s the matter with liking a band that are really popular?”
What was your reaction when you learned that Simon Cowell had been admitted to hospital?
“I just feel sorry for Simon Cowell. I wonder what must have happened to him in his childhood, that he needs to be the king of everything. He’s like the Donald Trump of music, isn’t he. Destroyer of all that is good. He should be stopped immediately.”
You’re an experienced interviewer. What should we have asked you?
“You’ve already asked me the most important question, which is: what is my waist size?
Which brings us seamlessly to our final item. How do you like your SPOKEs?
“I feel like I didn’t know what trousers were until I wore these puppies.”
We’ll leave it on that dramatic note. If you want to check out a selection of Shaun’s life-changing SPOKEs, find them here.
And tune into Shaun, weekday mornings at six, on BBC Radio Six.