I’ve just finished reading the book Radio Caroline: The True Story Of The Boat That Rocked (History Press, 2014) by Ray Clark. My copy is the paperback version, with 256 pages; and it is a bit larger than a standard-sized paperback. There is a Foreword by EMPEROR ROSKO and KEITH SKUES. It tells the history of the pirate station in great detail, from its inception in 1964; to its current on-line format. It details the planning; the ships; the equipment; the legal and financial wrangles; as well as the less savoury shenanigans that went on – the plots, the back-stabbing, and even a murder! And there are some fantastic photographs throughout; including a magnificent colour section in the middle. This is a very good book indeed; and I really enjoyed reading it. I’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in pirate radio; in broadcasting in general; or in the history of British pop music. At all times it is easy to read and interesting. It is extraordinarily well researched. The author is to be congratulated on a fine piece of writing.
My only complaints about this book are: (1) That I think an appendix containing a definitive list of all the Caroline DJs who ever broadcast, and their dates of service would have been very useful. (2) That some sample play-lists from the various periods of the station’s history could have been shown to illustrate the varied and changing styles of music played – there were so many DJs that I’d bet some of them kept some play-lists as mementos, and would have been only too pleased to lend them to the author. There is one play-list shown but it is from a Radio Atlanta programme from the early 60s. And finally (3) one or two maps showing the positions of the various transmitter ships that Caroline used could have been included; showing broadcasting positions, wreck sites and the three-mile limit.
Personally, my first memory of the pirate radio station is from c.1967. It seems ridiculous now, but as a family, we’d often go on holiday to Felixstowe in Suffolk – only an hour’s drive from where we lived at the time; but it seemed like another world to we kids then! I remember my Dad saying that there was a pirate ship just off the coast and if they came ashore they’d be arrested. As a seven year-old I didn’t have a clue what pirate radio was; but I knew what pirates were! So I imagined the Old Bill fighting it out with a lot of cutlass-wielding thugs in tri-corn hats! Sadly that was a spectacle that I was never to see!
Then in my mid-teens (mid-70s), searching for more interesting music than that which I was hearing on Radio One and TOTP, I discovered this station playing exactly what I wanted to find out about – album tracks from bands that I’d maybe heard of, but knew nothing about. This was for me, totally new and musically stimulating, and opened my mind to a new world – particularly of Prog-Rock; with some meaningful Folky stuff there too. I can still hear the jingle ‘Three One Ni-ine Caroline!’; and the oft-played narrated excerpt from the MOODY BLUES album On The Threshold Of A Dream (1969) – ‘There you go man; keep as cool as you can….’ They also plugged the concept of what they termed ‘L.A.’ (‘Loving Awareness’ – but I was never really sure exactly what that meant!)
I particularly liked listening to the personal Top 30’s that the listeners sent in to the Caroline HQ based in Spain. Two of these were broadcast each Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings between (I think) 6pm and Midnight. Many of these Personal Top 30’s would culminate in Led Zep’s ‘Stairway…’ which I never seemed to tire of; and was always surprised if it didn’t reach their respective No.1 spots! Other very commonly played tracks I remember, were BJH’s ‘Mocking Bird’ and LONE STAR’s ‘Bells Of Berlin’. I recall scribbling out my own Top 30 with a view to sending it off; but never got round to it because I couldn’t decide the best 30 from hundreds of new songs I’d heard in the previous few years. I think RUSH’s ‘Xanadu’ was my No.1 from early ’78 though; with maybe STRIFE’s ‘Sky’ at No.2.
When I first started listening to Caroline; both it, and Dutch language Radio Mi Amigo, were both broadcasting from the ship MV Mi Amigo simultaneously. But then they merged due to financial woes and began to share the same wavelength – R.Caroline by night; and Mi Amigo by day. Even though I couldn’t speak Dutch, it was still worth listening to during the daylight hours, as they played similar sounds that I could relate to.
In order to publicise themselves and make a little dough, there were also the Radio Caroline Road-shows. These took the form of a rock disco. I remember attending several of these from about ’77 to ’80 in various locations across London and Essex (one in Southend-On-Sea, I recall – and more on this later). These were normally hosted by two or three of the well-known Caroline DJs who’d play everyone’s favourite up-beat rock songs; and sometimes a band would agree to play too. They’d normally finish with Led Zep’s ‘Stairway…’ or Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’.
I particularly recall one Road-show held upstairs at The Red Lion PH in Leytonstone, East London. This was hosted by three DJs – I think they were: Rob Eden; Robbie Day and ‘Harvey The Rabbit’ (now I need that appendix of DJs to be sure!) I remember the sprung wooden floor in this pub started bouncing alarmingly due to all the dancing about! And I can date this gig quite precisely because I remember one of the DJs playing a track from the latest BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW album, Long Live Rock And Roll, which had just been released; and he asked if anyone had it yet. I was one of only a few who’d got my hands on it at the time; and I know it went on sale in April ’78. I also remember my mate Mark (whatever happened to him, I wonder?) impressing some girls with a great impersonation of Leonard Rossiter’s character ‘Rigsby’ from the 70s TV sit-com Rising Damp – and it paid off for us too! Nice one Mark!
Something that regularly used to occur at these road-shows, was when one of the DJs would ask for a volunteer among the young ladies present, to come up on stage, and change into a Radio Caroline T-shirt – rendering her topless for a few seconds whilst she changed in public. This would bring about great cheers of approval from all the blokes in the audience! At the Southend gig that I attended, I remember a certain young lady who willingly climbed on stage, but bottled out of getting changed at the last minute (to great Boos from all the libidinous teenage boys in the crowd); but she was given the T-shirt anyway. I remember because I knew her (and no, I never did get to see them either!)
Then in 1980, the rusting Mi Amigo sank in shallow waters in the English Channel; taking Radio Caroline with her, and leaving only her mast above the waves. A campaign was started to raise money to re-float her – or buy a new ship. Part of this campaign was a new road-show. I went to one of these new series of gigs at Ilford Palais, in late April 1980. I seem to remember that the NWOBHM band, TYGERS OF PAN TANG were on the bill. They and some other bands had agreed to help get Caroline on-air again, and I heard they were playing for free. Incidentally, whilst I was there, I bumped into Paul Di’anno – original singer of Iron Maiden; who I knew from The Ruskin Arms, East Ham – and we talked about their debut album Iron Maiden which had just been released.
I think the biggest name that Caroline had on board for this fund-raising tour, was GILLAN. They too had agreed to help out and were booked for a show somewhere. I remember this because I bought a Radio Caroline sweat-shirt at the Ilford gig, with all the other dates printed on the back of it; but I never saw Gillan at that particular road-show unfortunately.
Then, when they finally got their new ship fitted out and started transmissions once again in ’83, I eagerly tuned in; but they seemed to be playing stuff that I really didn’t want to listen to, so I gave it up for yonks and never gave it another thought. Circumstances in my life changed my priorities at around that time too, and I found less time to go to gigs or listen to the radio anyway. From reading the book though, I realised that there was a show on the new Caroline that would have suited me – Caroline Overdrive. But, sorry to say, that passed me by!
Well, that’s about it. Radio Caroline is now on-line of course; and I listen in occasionally. Their website has a lot of interesting info on it. They have a 50th anniversary 500 albums list, as voted by the listeners. Floyd’s Dark Side… is No1; with The Beatles at 2 & 3. I was disappointed to see Wishbone Ash’s Argus (my personal No1 album) at a lowly 68 though! They also have listeners’ personal top 15 album tracks listed. – a bit like the old days! I’m listening to Caroline as I write this, and they’ve just played Led Zep’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’ followed by The Moody’s ‘The Actor’ – I could be back in the 70s again! Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! PTMQ
Here is a link to Caroline’s website…..
Here is an excellent compilation of Radio Caroline jingles…..
‘Climb aboard the Love Ship and sail away!’ PTMQ