By Elvis Costello
It was with a shudder of sadness that I woke on St. Stephen’s Day to news of the passing of the broadcaster, Janice Long.
Janice and I were approximately the same age and although our friendship was more episodic than constant, I was always gratefully aware that she had a genuine curiosity about the music she played, listening to every tape or, more recently, music file that was sent to her by upcoming musicians, getting out to see young bands and singers play live and frequently airing the gems and surprises of less celebrated voices, along with the more routine work of any long-term broadcaster.
When we were both kids, the BBC’s view of the role of women in society was pretty much explained by the titles of radio shows like, “Housewives’ Choice”, the soap opera serial, “Mrs. Dale’s Diary” and even the long-running magazine programme, “Woman’s Hour”, as if an hour was all you were likely to get.
The BBC’s early attempts to get “with it”, admitted at least one strangely sinister misfit who had clung to the edges of show business since the ‘50s. When it came to spinning records – prior to Janice – I can only think of Annie Nightingale’s voice among a chorus of mid-Atlantic, former pirate radio disk jockeys, hired to drag the BBC into the late 1960s and on into the backside of the 20th century, with a cast of blokey, clubby types, many of whom became household names just as surely as they were the spitting image of the deluded, self-promoters of popular satire in the 1990s.
Bear in mind that when Janice and I were but children, the BBC had only just abandoned the practice of male broadcasters donning an evening-dress jacket to read the news…on the radio, while recorded music was strictly rationed, so you frequently heard hit parade tunes mangled by radio dance bands and light music ensembles. You could turn on the “wireless” in 1960 and imagine that it was still 1935.
Curiously, it was the very rarity of shows that actually played the music you loved that made them so precious.
Over the last 45 revolutions of our lives, the voices that have stood out and stood up for music have often been at odds with a tendency to quip or froth at the quickening pace without any apparent strength of conviction, let alone a pause for thought.
Nevertheless – despite what might be suggested by a song I wrote a very long time ago – I keep my favourite broadcasters in my heart and memory and while Janice might have named some different personalities, I’m glad to say that there are such advocates out there to this very day, although we are now poorer by one of their number.
There was a poignant comedy to the last conversation that I enjoyed with Janice Long.
That we were thousands of miles apart; Janice in a temporary home studio in Liverpool in the early evening, while I was timing my remarks between the droning approach of sea-planes on my back porch on a West Vancouver morning.
We struck out confidently via a trio of miracles; the internet, home recording and a video phone connection that used to seem so impossibly futuristic when it turned up in “Star Trek” or “2001″.
While I could hear Janice’s cheery voice with the clarity of a crystal set, my replies apparently sounded to her as if they were being relayed via “Studio One” in Kingston, Jamaica and processed some particularly willful dub echo.
There was nothing to do but press on regardless. We had “Vision” but we did not have “Sound”.
Although our words were being recorded clearly at either end of the line, any chance of a coherent rhythm of conversation was quickly reduced to semaphore and mime; fingers pointing at ears, exaggerated enquiries of “Can you hear me?” – mouthed at the computer camera.
Through all of this, Janice remained only mildly flustered, typing furiously on a phone, apparently, to her dear friend, Gill Taylor, who has worked with me for thirty odd years. “What’s he saying?”, Janice texted.
“I’ve no idea, I’m not on the call but probably something about “Helsinki””, replied Gill.
“So tell me about Helsinki”, said Janice without missing a beat and I went into an explanation of my expedition to make some records of clattering noise at an island studio in the freezing approaches to the Finnish capital.
There was a pause when I finished speaking and Janice and I stared at each other for a moment on our respective screens as a jumble of my words began ping-ponging across the world wide web via various delays and echoes.
An expression of recognition spread across Janice’s face.
The word “Finnish” must have finally filtered through the relays.
“So how did you finish this album?”, asked Janice, ever the cool professional.
And so we stumbled on….
Of course, if this had been back in the analogue days, it would have taken a stack of razor blades to edit this comic routine into a coherent conversation but apart from Janice’s acknowledgement that the technical circumstances had been a little trying, we got the job done and had some fun doing it and that is how I should best like to recall Janice, whatever time and fashion have brought, she has been a pal and a dear friend of the music and I will miss her.
My condolences go to her many friends and most especially to her husband, Paul, Fred and Blue.
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