Interview With Dave Fanning

Just over two weeks ago, I spoke with legendary Irish radio DJ Dave Fanning over the phone just before he went on air to do his show on 2FM. Pretty much everybody will know who Dave Fanning is as he has been broadcasting since the seventies. He began on pirate radio with Radio Dublin and then Big D before moving on to 2FM in 1979. He is known for being one of the first champions of U2 and for his interviews with countless huge names including Radiohead, Ramones, Madonna, Nick Cave and David Bowie to name just a few. He has always been outspoken about the music he likes and the music he doesn't like. I wanted to find out what his views are on the current state of the music industry so here is the interview I conducted. Enjoy.

What are your self isolation top 5 Irish albums?
Oh God, if I had a list of 2,000 albums in front of me I would be able to pick no problem. Obviously "Loveless" by My Lovely Valentine would be number 1. "The Positive Touch" by The Undertones, maybe any of The Undertones albums actually. For something a bit different, Adrian Crowley's album "Season of The Sparks", the second album by Fionn Regan "The Shadow Of An Empire", "The Joshua Tree" by U2, I could go for "Astral Weeks" by Van Morrison or any of his first 10, certainly not the next 30. It's impossible to say really, I'll think of some in an hours time that I've forgotten to tell you but there some that I like.

What Irish bands/musicians are you currently enjoying?
I've been listening to the Daithí album "L.O.S.S." a lot lately, I like that. I'm looking forward to a debut album from Somebody's Child, I like what they've done so far. Obviously I like some of Fontaines D.C., I need a list in front of me then I could tell you instantly. 

Are you still on the lookout for discovering new bands or have you reached a stage where you listen to your favourites and there’s no room for new?
No, it's neither of those, I'm not on the lookout for new bands but I do listen to everything new both internationally and Irish, if that means I'm on the lookout then I'm on the lookout. I don't feel like I'm on the lookout fro any reason, I'm just listening to stuff. I have a habit of going old fashioned and getting Mojo Uncut and looking at the 100 albums they review and I'd write down the names and listen to them all on the Apple thingymabob because it's easy to listen to them that way. I don't approve of the new way, I'd rather the old way of swapping an album at school and that being the only time you ever heard it. In one way I prefer that because the journey is now gone because its all just there now at the click of a button but it does let me hear everything. Any time they mention an Irish artist I will listen to that but I'm probably listening to too much new music. Can you listen to too much new music? Absolutely you can. This will sound awful but if there was never any new music I almost won't care because I have so much that I want to go back on that I never heard and there's so much I want to go back on that I want to hear again. There's just too much out there and you can't keep up. 90% of it you will never hear at all, at night I watch box sets and during the day I have music on, mostly as background noise. I don't listen to too much radio and sometimes I draw a line through a name and say right i don't want to listen to that shite again but that doesn't always happen.

Who do you tip to be the next big artist to emerge from this country?
Haven't got a clue, I never have a clue, probably twice in my life I did it and went with my body and soul all the way and got it right supposedly. I pushed a million bands in the early 80's and thought they were going to be great but they never did a damn thing. You know as well as I do the amount of bands that have been absolutely brilliant and sold 5 copies and the amount of bands that go to number 1 in the charts, sell a million copies and are just complete and utter shite. Thats just the way it is. The two that I went all the way with were obviously U2 who i started playing on pirate radio before they even had an album and the other one was a bizarre situation with Billie Eilish. I went all the way with her for a reason that I can just never explain, it was my daughter really. I only ever paid to see two artists abroad, most of the time I went for free but two I paid for were Bob Dylan in 1976  in London and then Billie Eilish with my whole family twice when she played to a room of about 80 people. i thought she would be gone by Christmas and was never going to make it. I had no idea that what happened would actually happen.

What was the last gig you were at?
Your man, eh, I've forgotten his name already, it's not really my thing, Lewis Capaldi. I went because my daughter was into it. It's quite interesting to see, we went to a thing Rex Orange County in Vicar Street and she kind of liked him and the place was pretty packed and I had never heard of him, nobody I know ever heard of him. It was interesting what happens now because everything is done through social media. Aiken and MCD almost don't have to take out an ad anymore, they just have to put it up that someone is coming and there's enough of fanbase that it will sell out anyway. I thought he was shite by the way.

The music industry has changed drastically since the time you began broadcasting, do you think radio still has a major role to play?
Two things about that, first of all it has changed obviously hugely in one way. I think music has changed, people want something different from music. When The Beatles and The Stones were doing their thing and the Led Zeppelin and Oasis vs Blur, I'm not saying today's music doesn't have that but people like Taylor Swift and Beyonce are absolutely huge, just as big as anything years ago but it's not the same, people aren't using music in the same way. They aren't saving hard earned money and handing it over the counter of a shop and get a vinyl back and inject that vinyl into their blood. We'd learn off the serial number of the album, you had to work hard and it was a journey. Now you just have to press a button and it's there. Music just can't serve the function that it did. There's at leats one generation of people that's getting music for free so don't tell me that music hasn't been devalued. People aren't paying for music anymore and it just can't mean the same thing so maybe the music that's being made fits that whole idea. It's impossible to tell a lot of people today just how much music meant. It really was life or death. It isn't the same today yet music is still huge. My sons go to every gig these days but they just don't feel it the same way. My daughter does so I suppose it can still happen.

Do you think digital streaming has ruined the album concept?
No, oddly enough it hasn't really. There is isn't a Justin Timberlake or Justin Bieber who don't still talk about their new album. I loved double albums with flawed tracks, I have been following Arcade Fire and they brought out "Reflektor" which was a double album and it's really intense and there's a lot of stuff that isn't necessarily that great but to me it's great because it's a band I like and I'm interested to see where they're going and it's like seeing extra pieces of them. Obviously it's another kettle of fish with people just taking one or two tracks from them but the album still exists in music I love and also in music I hate.

With the current state of the world we are seeing artists shifting to online streaming live gigs, do you think this is the type of thing that will continue when things return to normal?
I don't know, I presume it will. This could actually start online gigs. It could be a good idea with a whole community all paying a euro or two to watch a live gig and you know it's live. But you've got to see the white of their eyes, you can't beat standing with a pint in your hand in some sweaty shite place ya know. That's what it's all about. I saw Inhaler three times last year and standing with a pint in your hand, you can't beat it. It could end up becoming more of a promotional thing.

What is your favourite music venue in Ireland past or present?
They all mean a lot to me. I do like Vicar Street and Olympia Theatre. I like the actual stage at Vicar Street. I like the layout of Whelan's but can see how it's difficult. I liked the Baggot. One of my favourite venues and I wish people would stop giving out about it is the 3Arena. The sound is perfect.  We wanted a 10,000 seater in Ireland and we got it so shut up complaining. It can still feel very intimate.

What Irish artist was the most underrated?
The Undertones, they got better with each album but got less listeners as they went on. I can't think off the top of my head but there's so many that should have been bigger than they were.

Contrastingly, what Irish artist was the most overrated?
I always liked all the rock bands but I don't always get the pop world though. I'm not sure if the likes of Boyzone and Westlife were actually rated. Like who actually rated them?

Do you think daytime radio will ever become less generic and formulaic?
No I don't. Don't forget they tried stuff with rock music all day like TXFM and they just lost money. In Ireland anyway, I think having a specific station like that, I just don't see it. I remember Paul McGuinness came to me about something like that and I asked him was he sure. I think the people that like that kind of music are pretty much tech savvy and will listen to the music themselves elsewhere. I quite like Radio Paradise, it goes through so much stuff and conjures up memories. they have no ads and the man just comes on every 5songs to thank you for listening, even that's too much for me. I wish he would just shut up and play the damn stuff. 

You must have amassed a huge record collection by now, do you still buy records or have you switched to digital?
I still buy vinyl. I've lost a lot through moving house but I can't be too worried about it, I wish I hadn't but I did. I do have a vinyl player, I use it but not often.

Have you kept all of the demo tapes that you acquired over the years?
I never really kept them. Ian Wilson did but they are around the studio somewhere. I meet bands who say they came in and did a session with me and half the time I don't even remember the band's name.

A few years ago I moved from Dublin to Dundalk and discovered that it was a hotbed for creativity with incredible bands such as Just Mustard, Orwells ’84, and David Keenan to name a few. How important is it that people support their local musicians to help keep these pockets of music alive?

I think if bands want to be bands then great. Not everybody will want to go to the pub to see a new band but I do. It's not always going to be for everyone. It's better for a band to play to a handful of people than to spend three days rehearsing in a warehouse somewhere. The circuit in Ireland hasn't changed. It's still the likes of Connolly's of Leap or Black Box in Galway so it's not as if there was some golden heyday that isn't there anymore.

Finally for my own personal curiosity being a huge Ramones fan, what was it like to meet them?

Funny you should say that because I loved them. They were one of my favourite bands. I couldn't believe I had the 4 of them in the studio at once. It was fantastic. Their second album "Leave Home" would be in my top 5 albums of all time. It changed my life. They were nothing like what NME made them out to be, they made them out to be stupid but they weren't. They were really cool, talking about everything including working with Phil Spector. Having my picture taken with all 4 was great.


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