Why I wasn't in a band

In tribute to hard-working bands, I revisit songs I didn't like on first listen.

It seems quite stressful being in a band, I have always been quite grateful I wasn't in one. For starters there is a lot of carrying to do and I don't generally like having things in my hands. Then there are the odd relationships, the fear of letting each other down and - much like playing 5 a-side football - there is always one person who cares more than everyone else. I say this as I have been hanging out with a few of them recently, or rather sitting in corners and been ignored by them, and have developed a new found respect for how much hard work is actually involved. I genuinely believed that most of the time you'd just be getting off with people.

As a result of this enlightenment I have been less flippant in my listening this week, revisiting things I didn't at first like, a lot of slog went into that "How dare I put it in the bin with such ease." Wise Blood's new e.p These Wings is one such record; I was a bit put off by the drama in his voice at first, but have since bothered to listen to everything else that is going on, and it turns out there is quite a lot and some of it is a bit brilliant. It must have taken bloody ages.

Fresh sounds from the BBC 6 Music DJ
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The radio station where the loyal listeners are chickens

Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, knows what gets them clucking.

“The music is for the chickens, because of course on the night the music is very loud, and so it needs to be a part of their environment from the very start.” Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, is standing in the sawdusty ring under a big top in a field outside Stroud as several rare-breed chickens wander freely around boxes and down ramps. They are the comic stars of the summer 2017 show, and Emma is coaxing them to walk insouciantly around the ring while she plays the early-morning show on Radio 1.

It’s the chickens’ favourite station. There seems to be something about its longueurs, combined with the playlist, that gets them going – if that’s the word. They really do respond to the voices and songs. “It’s a bit painful, training,” Emma observes, as she moves a little tray of worms into position as a lure. “It’s a bit like watching paint dry sometimes. It’s all about repetition.”

Beyond the big top, a valley folds into limestone hills covered in wild parsley and the beginnings of elderblossom. Over the radio, Adele Roberts (weekdays, from 4am) hails her listeners countrywide. “Hello to Denzel, the happy trucker going north on the M6. And van driver Niki on the way from Norwich to Coventry, delivering all the things.” Pecking and quivering, the chickens are rather elegant, each with its fluffy, caramel-coloured legs and explosive feather bouffant, like a hat Elizabeth Taylor might have worn on her way to Gstaad in the 1970s.

Despite a spell of ennui during the new Harry Styles single, enthusiasm resumes as Adele bids “hello to Simon from Bournemouth on the M3 – he’s on his way to Stevenage delivering meat”. I don’t imagine Radio 1 could hope for a better review: to these pretty creatures, its spiel is as thrilling as opening night at the circus. Greasepaint, swags of velvet, acrobats limbering up with their proud, ironic grace. Gasps from beholders rippling wonder across the stalls.

Emma muses that her pupils learn fast. Like camels, a chicken never forgets.

“I’ve actually given up eating them,” she admits. “Last year I had only two weeks to train and it was like, ‘If they pull this off I won’t eat chicken ever again.’ And they did. So I didn’t.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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