On Sunday October 30 the WWFM crew gathered at the Brownswood studio to celebrate the last six years before signing off at midnight leaving the station on hiatus until a new era beckons.
It took a few days to gather up the courage to listen back to my short, somewhat slurred, slightly inebriated contribution to the final WWFM broadcast. The studio was packed, there was a lot of love in the house for Straight No Chaser. but on reflection, beyond the humour of the moment, I can’t help but feel that going down in history as WWFM’s “drunken master” was, essentially, not a good look.
That said, I did have my jazz notes and a bass driven jazz tune courtesy of the Silt Trio at the ready. As a rule, it’s never good to dwell on past events so, moving on… in fact, what left this scribe most bereft was sitting down at my desk the morning after the party and having no WWFM to tune into… No Morning Mari and Shipping Forecast. No Balearic Breakfast. No Breakfast Club Coco. The silence was deafening and it immediately brought home to this listener both what I was missing and what had been achieved in that relatively short but turbulent six years.
Worldwide FM is the digital radio station pioneered by DJ, record producer and broadcaster Gilles Peterson. As I see it WWFM was GP’s legal pirate radio station – an extension through time of the pirate radio station that he had set up in his garden as a teenager. It’s always been a battle to get the music that we love onto the airwaves. As a long time associate and friend of Gilles we have consistently been fellow travellers in the struggle to enlighten people around the world to a host of brilliant but often underground artists…. players of instruments, singers, wordsmiths…. purveyors of the culture.
Back in the day we operated to the maxim -“Jazz is the teacher. Funk is the preacher” and in many respects that sentiment still underpins our musical world view. Music has a genuine function in our daily lives – it can make you happy or it can make you cry, it can make you move, it can educate, it can uplift you and transport you into another dimension. It can be mundane but it can be deeply spiritual and touch the soul….maybe that’s the root of my mission… the quest of going that bit deeper.
For a brief moment in time, in the early days of Jazz FM, I was regarded as a persona non grata at their studio for insisting that, as a “jazz” station, they needed to play Sun Ra in the daytime. That was weird! Around the same time , Gilles was sacked from Jazz FM for playing “Peace Jazz” … (‘Peace’ – Bobby McFerrin / Leon Thomas – ‘ The Creators Got a Masterplan’)… in response to the outbreak of the Gulf War. Basically, Jazz FM wanted the expertise and the audience that followed Gilles Peterson, Chris Phillips and Jez Nelson but as DJs/presenters they were still subject to the power of the gatekeepers and the money men who were afraid they would alienate their listeners by exploring the more challenging side of the music. In time honoured fashion anything vaguely radical was moved to the late night slots.
Gradually over the years there were slight shifts of consciousness but the arrival of digital radio provided the opportunity to break free of the gatekeepers and gave a station like WWFM an opportunity to unite a host of knowledgeable people across generations and across continents. The potential to elevate the curation to another level was thrilling.
Obviously WWFM was not alone. NTS pioneered the space and others followed. WWFM refined the musical curation of the station based on Gilles’ experience of travelling the world and playing alongside like-minded – seasoned or up ‘n’ coming – club DJs, musicians and producers. Like Straight No Chaser – the magazine – WWFM was actively focussed on building a community… a diverse, global, forward thinking, progressive community.
There was breadth to the programming. In the early days there was Boko Boko’s Tash LC, Ezra’s Femi Koleoso, “ascending soulstress” Muva Of Earth, EZH’s Tina Edwards and Rome based afro futurist Khalab. WWFM LA with Jeremy Sol and Jimetta Rose was pioneered by Jonathan Rudnick and over time it led to Adrian Younge’s Artform crew with Marcus Moore, Nelson George, Moni Vargas et al,. The vision was in place. It expanded, shifted and morphed over the next few years to embrace regular offerings from Coco Maria, Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy, Mari Kimura, Erica McCoy, Emma Warren, Tom Skinner, Esa, Toshio Matsuura, Thristian BPM, Shuya Okino, Pete On The Corner, Louie Vega, Osunlade, Francois K, Luke Unabomber, Debra Richards, Leanne Wright, Alannah Henry, Papoul, Haseeb Iqbal, Leanne Wright, DJ Paulette, Lex Blondin, Ouska, Kassin, Tim Garcia, Charley Dark, Ceylan, IG Culture & Selectors Assemble, Channel One … the list goes on!
Jazz may be the foundation of WWFM but as you can see from the list of presenters above all corners were covered. The music on WWFM reflected the evolution of contemporary club culture as it spread worldwide and the presenters were all ready and able to dig deeper. Along with DJ culture WWFM readily absorbed the live scene that evolved London around Total Refreshment, Church Of Sound, Jazz Refreshed and Steamdown. Apologies for being so London-centric but that was the case at that time but maybe the impact of WWFM has helped boost scenes in other cities like Leeds and Bristol, as well as globally. WWFM was able to generate a unified live musical front that embraced the diversity of Alabaster De Plume, Shabaka Hutchings & The Ancestors, Cassie Kinoshi’s Seed Ensemble, Rosie Turton, Emma-Jean Thakray, Yussef Dayes, Comet Is Coming, Kokoroko, Da Lata, Makaya McCraven, Ashley Henry, Ben Le Mar Gay, Greentea Peng, Jaime Branch, Jeff Parker, Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Lonnie Holley, Ezra Collective, Secret Night Gang, Wildflower, Tenderlonious, Tori Handsley, Steve Williamson, Okumu, Herbert & Skinner and the New Regency Orchestra.
It was the ability of WWFM to blend the dynamic potential of the live scene with the club scene that makes the station unique and that perspective fed directly into the We Out Here Festival and the Worldwide Festival in Sete. In my opinion, the impact that WWFM has had in promoting a new generation of musicians onto the local and international music scene has been profound and ought to have been recognised by those who fund the arts in this country. Interestingly, a quick scan of the current line up of forthcoming Arts Council festivals like the prestigious London Jazz Festival reveals they have fully embraced the emergence of this new generation of artists and the fans who have followed their evolution. Though periods of recession have in the past led to a flowering of the culture, the nature of the digital world feels like smoke and mirrors. Though the digital stations have relied on covert financial sponsorship, keeping them free of invasive advertising, it seems like it was only a matter of time before the financial pressures kick in. We have all prayed for the emergence of a philanthropic institution or visionary with a ready supply of cash but sadly, a period of dark austerity looms and much of the music scene will undoubtedly be forced back underground.
Back in 2007 I was forced stop Straight No Chaser due to the impact of the internet on our advertising revenue. Shorty after that someone suggested I approach the fledging NTS re. a Straight No Chaser show. Basically you had to pay to do a show and I was told that I’d easily make make the money back from the DJ sessions I’d get. As I had no interest in being a DJ I decided to pass on the idea. Fortunately, WWFM came along around the time I’d decided to relaunch Chaser /#SNC98. I was offered a show and readily accepted.
For my part, I would say that putting together my monthly Straight No Chaser show was always a revelation. The content was always dictated by whatever was new or re-issued. Rarely did I fall back on my own archive. Discovering nu-skool US players like Irreversible Entanglements, Damon Locks & The Black Monument Ensemble, ,Kamasi Washington, Jeff Parker, Angel Bat Dawid, Heroes Are Gang Leaders, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Tomeka Reid and Mazz Swift, James Brandon Lewis, Luke Stewart. Moor Mother, Chad Fowler…. that was a real buzz. Plus I was able to give serious props to elders like Wadada Leo Smith and Kahil El’Zabar who both continue to make amazing music. On a global tip there was Ife from Puerto Rico, who I first heard playing in an arch in Haggerston and there was David Idaduola. the final guest on my SNC show, who had no idea what WWFM was or what it represented but had created the ‘Lucumi Suite’ – an amazing fusion of Afrobeat and steel pan music. I give thanks that I was able to interview pioneering journalist and photographer Val Wilmer, reggaematical don and novelist Penny Reel before he passed away, Liverpudlian poet/author Malik Al Nasir, Black Top’s Orphy Robinson, award winning Trinidadian born poet Anthony Joseph and bring into the studio Trevor Herman and Dave Hucker to talk about the legendary Jumbo Vanrenen.
PB & Val Wilmer 14 / 02 / 18
WWFM – 25 / 01/ 17 : PB & Peter Simon aka Penny Reel RIP
Straight No Chaser’s by-line was “Interplanetary sounds:Ancient to Future” and that was the basis of the WWFM show. Never once was I asked to tone it down for those listeners who boldly logged in to savour one of those afternoon sessions or delved into it on catch up. It was what it was… mistakes ‘n’ all. It could be a little rough but it was live and direct. We could travel from Kingston JA to Cape Town to Helsinki to Accra to Recife to Chicago and back to London in a couple of hours. We could celebrate the elders and pay our respect to those who left us… Greg Tate, Pharoah Sanders, Jaime Branch… we lost too many.
I give thanks to GP, to all the presenters / DJs and to all the peeps who made the station run like clockwork. Six years flew by… with COVID in the middle. GP’s lockdown broadcasts provided me the opportunity to put my editorial skills to good use and work with Gilles and typographic don Hugh Miller on a book – Lockdown FM: Broadcasting in a Pandemic . It you are familiar with WWFM or not… you need this tome. It’s a 600 page hardback that goes directly to the heart of what defines WWFM and illuminates exactly why WWFM will be missed worldwide. Word has it there’s a few left in the WWFM shop, so don’t sleep on them.
OK, on a positive tip, Gilles is continuing with his Thursday morning jams… so who knows where that will take us! Also, the WWFM archive remains. There are hundreds of excellent shows to listen to. You can’t possibly have checked them all so, why not dive in, dream of the future and plot with your allies to create the next stage of the revolution. It might not be televised but it will undoubtedly be broadcast.
PS: Also a positive tip: The final WWFM day raised £3000 for the Steve Reid foundation!! Respect is due to Ayian and the WW FAM!
#SNC Back issues – https://straightnochaser.bigcartel.com/
Words: Paul Bradshaw 15/11/22