Colin Muirhead has presented Jazz on the Tyne on Hive Radio since 2019, giving news of gigs and events in North East England and supporting musicians with airplay and interviews. Alongside people such as Lance Liddle of the Bebop Spoken here site – a good friend of LJN – Muirhead’s valuable year-round work helps to build a community around the music in the region. He has just launched a new website which will offer all episodes of his programme and give listeners an easy way of getting in touch. Interview by Rob Adams
LondonJazz News: How did all this start for you? Were there any particular musicians who got you interested in jazz?
Colin Muirhead: I first got into jazz in the early 90s, when I was working in the US and heard it on the radio. At that time, I was particularly drawn to contemporary jazz artists such as Pat Metheny and Yellowjackets, possibly because of connections with the pop music I had grown up listening to. I still like their music, but as time went on, I discovered a wider range of musicians and my appreciation for other styles of jazz grew. I was drawn more and more towards improvised music in all its forms.
LJN: Did you have any experience in radio when you started Jazz on the Tyne?
CM: None at all! I had previously worked as a statistician and epidemiologist, and I was looking for volunteering opportunities. Through Newcastle’s Volunteer Centre, I heard about Community Arts Project North East, who were seeking presenters for their online radio station, Hive Radio. I contacted them and shortly after I started broadcasting.
LJN: What made you start Jazz on the Tyne?
CM: I felt that more could be done to highlight and showcase jazz in North East England. National media occasionally cover this, but I believed – and continue to believe – that a stronger light needs to be shone on both the artists here and the gigs and festivals taking place in this region.
LJN: How much planning goes into a programme, between sourcing the music, scripting, interviewing, and working out the running order?
CM: I start by deciding on the theme for the show. If I’m featuring an interview, I would normally set this up a few weeks in advance and – having recorded the interview – I would leave aside a few days to edit it and choose the tunes to accompany this. For other types of show – say, if I’m highlighting what’s on or what’s new – I would check out songs by these artists and make my selection. Sometimes the running order reflects the order in which gigs will be taking place, but not always; I try to mix things up. It’s normally about a week or so between initial planning and completing the programme, but longer when I include an interview.
LJN: How do you decide what music to play and what is the balance between different styles of jazz and local, national and international releases?
CM: It depends partly on who’s playing in the area and who’s got new music out. I always try to keep the North East as a cornerstone of the show, but I’m certainly open to playing national and international releases. Similarly, I’m keen to feature a wide range of styles. As the Duke said, there are simply two kinds of music: good music and the other kind! And if I can link any tunes to the North East – for example, if an artist from elsewhere will be playing here later in the year – all the better.
LJN: What part of broadcasting do you enjoy the most or is it all part of a general experience?
CM: For me, it’s the overall experience. I really enjoy the opportunity to showcase excellent music that’s rarely featured on mainstream radio and tell people how much is happening locally.
LJN: How often do you get out to gigs in the north-east and how far do you travel to hear jazz?
CM: During lockdowns I relied on online gigs; the Globe in Newcastle put together an excellent programme and were rightly honoured for this at the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Awards. Nowadays I try to attend one or two gigs per month locally. In the past I was a frequent attendee at the Montreux Jazz Festival; I even wrote a book about my 13 visits to the festival! Now I might go to gigs in, say, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull or London and make a trip of it.
LJN: What are your general impressions of the local jazz scene around Tyneside and of the UK scene currently?
CM: There’s a vibrant scene in and around Newcastle, with regular gigs at a range of venues featuring various styles of music, with support by bodies such as Jazz North East. The city has two annual festivals: the Newcastle Jazz Festival and the Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music. Plus, the Newcastle-based label New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings is doing a sterling job in releasing music by both local improvisers and those further afield. It’s probably fair to say that there isn’t the same range of styles at gigs outside of the city, but many places in the North East offer live jazz on a regular basis. Sadly, there are limited opportunities to study jazz here, so young musicians from the area often head to conservatoires in, say, London, Leeds or Birmingham; some of them do return to the North East following their studies, but it’s not a given.
The scene’s also looking good outside of the North East. It may be odd to say this in London Jazz News, but I believe it’s very important to support jazz outside of London, so the work of organisations such as Jazz North is particularly valuable. Plus, I’m highly impressed by (amongst others) the exciting cohort of young jazz musicians coming through from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.
LJN: How do we access Jazz on the Tyne?
CM: All episodes are available on demand, for free on Mixcloud. I’ve just launched a dedicated website, jazzonthetyne.org, which makes it easy to select individual episodes and to get in touch with the show. I’m always on the look-out for feedback, song requests and information about forthcoming gigs, etc.
LJN: Have you any tips for musicians and or bands we should look out for?
CM: Lots! There’s a wide range of top musicians in the North East, from the Strictly Smokin’ Big Band led by Michael Lamb, through vocalists such as Zoe Gilby, Alice Grace and Lindsay Hannon, to improvisers including saxophonist Faye MacCalman and bassist John Pope, plus emerging talents like drummer Abbie Finn – and many more! There are also excellent artists originally from the North East who are now based in London, such as pianist Paul Edis, vocalist Jo Harrop and guitarist Jamie McCredie. Listen to Jazz on the Tyne and find out more about these artists…and others!
LINKS: Jazz on the Tyne on Mixcloud