No Peace in the Barnyardby Screaming Doc Hansen / 16.09.2009
Willie Dixon had the rare insight that to have peace in the barnyard you needed a noisy rooster, preferably little and red. To me that was LM radio in its heyday, or more accurately the days of Radio Clube Mocambique, before it was swallowed by the SABC and became Radio 5. Barnyard Theatres and Dave Guselli, of East Coast Radio, formulated a tribute show, running until recently in Durban, and called it LM Radio. But was it a tribute? And to what?
LM was a pirate – a pirate twice over for that matter, because the business model was already established in the UK by Radio Caroline and others. Set up a transmitter outside the legal boundaries of a major market served by a monopoly broadcaster and cream off the advertising while spending as little as possible on programming. No news staff, no radio theatre… bare bones. So why did we love it so? Because it had edge. It had to have, because the sound was despicable. Listen Barnyard sound guys, if you really want to do LM sound here are the technical specs: bass cut 12 dB from 100 Hz, treble cut 12dB from 3 kHz, white noise at + 3 dB, efx = phaser . On top of which, here in SA you could only receive it at night, once the sky had cooled down, because it really was broadcast from Lourenco Marques, over the horizon. Despite the station announcement, ‘ondes mediez e cortez’ (medium and short wave), I don’t know anyone who seriously listened to it on short wave for pleasure.
The edge that I am talking about is best shown through example. In 1964 Roger Miller recorded ‘Dang Me’, a song about a deadbeat who spent his wife’s grocery money buying drinks for his mates. It had the most ludicrous chorus complete with yodel, definitely inimitable, and it was charting in the US. LM played Roger Miller. The SABC played Peter Lotis’ local cover version. It didn’t hurt that Mr Lotis was at that time the resident DJ on the SABC’s teen radio show, the Radio Record Club. I’m not saying that the Lotis version was bad. It just wasn’t funny or real. And the kids could tell, or at least those kids at that time. Sorry Peter, and good luck with your new radio station, AM 1485. Funny how the wheel turns.
In the Barnyard version, Lola (Kinks 1970 banned by the BBC and the SABC) is sung by an actor (male) in drag, really more of a pantomime dame. Visually hilarious, and of course in the wake of the Caster Semenya riot, there’s scope for all sorts of gags like looking up the skirt and giving a thumbs up, but how does it reflect the song? The song is written from the perspective of the naïve john, not the tranny hooker. “I met her in a club in North Soho”, and so on. The tension resides in the fact that at the end we don’t know… did he go with Lola… and did he like it? Perhaps that image, the one of the pantomime dame, says it all. The leggy leading lads are there too, but they are real ladies as we can almost see because the costumes are open from breastbone, virtually to the bikini line and with a sparkly thing in the belly button in case we weren’t paying attention. It’s cabaret. We even have a comedian, well almost, because Dave Guselli’s understudy was on duty the night I went and he did the audience abuse lines with a studied determination.
So why invoke the memory of LM at all? My guess is that the sausage factory of tribute shows has run through the entire catalogue. They needed a new hook to hang the tenuous plot on. Looking round the theatre, where the accent is on self-catering and many parties seemed to have grandpas and teenagers all together now, it struck me that the better banner would have been that ad for braavleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet. Perhaps that’s what LM radio represented to some, but to me it was a different beat. A little slice of freedom. A little danger, a little edge.