Janice is Gone

I hadn’t intended to post anything else until the New Year, but, sadly, recent events have meant that I feel compelled to crank the old laptop into life on my first night at home and post something.

I’ve spent the past three nights safely ensconced in the bosom of my family, Lateral Flow Tests dutifully completed before visiting. I had a really lovely time, the only black mark coming late Saturday night/early Sunday morning when the news broke.

I say I had a really lovely time, and I mean that, my time split fairly evenly between eating, drinking and watching TV or, more precisely, falling asleep in front of the TV. This seems to be a family trait, but then my father is in his mid-80s and my mother – who probably won’t thank me for telling you this – moves into her eighth decade in a little under a month, so they’ve both got a much better excuse than I have, and have earned the right to an occasional snooze in any event. By Sunday, my father felt compelled to comment: “You’re like a bloody vampire, you only come to life when it gets dark!”

Saturday night arrived, and my parents decided they would prefer to sleep in a horizontal position during night hours and headed off to bed. I stayed up to watch TV for a while longer and also to have a scroll through Twitter to see what kind of Christmas had been enjoyed by those I follow. But literally the first thing I saw was this, from music journalist, author and broadcaster Pete Paphides:

I felt my heart begin to sink, and immediately checked Janice’s own Twitter feed – nothing since June when she announced he was in a hospital in Liverpool and “bored silly” – and then the BBC news website – nothing at all. Probably some misunderstanding then, I thought.

I scrolled on and came across an exchange between Sean Dickson, formerly of The Soup Dragons fame and Ian McNabb of The Icicle Works:

There was nothing else in McNabb’s Twitter feed so, after noting equally concerned tweets from Lloyd Cole and Martin Rossiter, I figured it unlikely there would be any news until the morning, so, after raiding my parents cupboard of munchies, I headed to bed too.

When I awoke on Sunday, I checked my phone almost immediately. And there it was: Janice Long had died after a short illness on Christmas Day.

As I said right at the top of this, I hadn’t intended to post anything else until the New Year; I try not to make this blog just about famous people from popular culture who have sadly passed away, but the brutal truth is that when you’re my age, the majority of the people whose work I admire are a good twenty years or so older than me. They’re all at an age when that terribly sad news is going to come sooner rather than later.

Here, I try to just write about the ones whose loss I feel most acutely, but sometimes I get that wrong. To this day I rue not writing anything when Caroline Aherne, Victoria Wood and – and it may seem strange to include her in this trio – Sarah Harding from Girls Aloud passed, for these were all deaths which caught my surprise, knocked the wind out of me, and by the time I had composed my thoughts, too much time had passed so that anything I wrote might be considered a bandwagon-jumping after-thought.

So, I’m not prepared to let Janice suffer the same fate.

Janice made a career out of breaking glass ceilings; having joined Radio 1 in 1982, by 1984 she was rewarded with her own daily show on BBC Radio 1, the first woman to achieve this. She was also the first woman to host Top of the Pops; if you’ve been watching the reruns of the show on BBC4 over the past few years, you’ll have noticed that, after David ‘Kid’ Jensen quit the BBC, she was often paired with John Peel, and it was a partnership which flourished. The two obviously loved working together and held a mutual respect for each other (and if you’ve ever read Peel’s autobiography Margrave Of The Marshes you’ll know that this was not a professional courtesy extended to all of his Radio 1 colleagues).

For example:

When her death was confirmed, I commented on Twitter that at least she would be met by her old partner-in-crime and they could get up to some more japes. I bet Peelie’s sad but delighted she’s there, and right now they’re slagging off all the current chart acts they hate, whilst also swapping notes about all the stuff the other has missed out on.

In 1985, she was also one of the hosts of the BBC coverage of Live Aid; here she is interviewing Status Quo shortly after they have came off stage having kicked off proceedings:

After her time at Radio 1 was over, Janice began presenting a Saturday afternoon show on Radio 2, before taking over the post-midnight slot. But this was no Quiet FM show a la Smashie & Nicey, nosireebob – every show would start with an absolute old school indie banger (usually something from her Liverpudlian roots: Teardrop Explodes, Echo & The Bunnymen, Pete Wylie/Wah!) whilst at the same time championing new acts and getting them in for exclusive sessions – Janice was the first presenter to give Amy Winehouse a radio session – a formula (classic old track followed by something more recent, repeat till end of show) which a cursory listen to any of the current crop of 6Music DJs will confirm is copied to this day.

Although I listened to her every now and again in the Radio 1 days, it was here on Radio 2 that I became a regular member of her audience. I loved the mix of the old and the new, but more than anything, it was her style of presenting I adored, which was almost conversational, like an older sister thrusting a record into your hands and saying “Give this a listen, I think you’ll like it.”

Indeed with the advent of social media, texts and tweets, Janice became more accessible to her adoring audience. On a Monday night/Tuesday morning, she would choose a subject and ask her listeners to make appropriate suggestions; then she would pick the best and compose a playlist which would air on Thursdays, her last night of the week. I remember once, perhaps with one twinkling eye on Smashie & Nicey dedicating records to “all the truckers out there”, she asked for listeners to suggest songs about their favourite roads that they regularly drove. I emailed her – not really expecting to get an answer – and said that, as a non-driver, I felt a little excluded this week – could we make the subject our favourite songs about roads instead?

Imagine my surprise when she not only read out my email, but also agreed to tweak the subject to my suggestion.

And then, to cap it all off, on the Thursday she began her playlist with the words: “And here’s the song which kicked it all off, suggested by Jez…” and played this:

Billy Bragg – A13, Trunk Road To The Sea

To my mind, Janice would have been an ideal 6Music DJ, and she was there, for a short time, between 2002 and 2004, hosting Dream Ticket, a show which played current music as well as music from the BBC music session and live performance archives. She should still have been there, but instead, she left Radio 2 in 2017 after her show’s length was outrageously cut, moving to BBC Radio Wales. I’d always meant to tune into her there, but, alas, had never quite gotten round to it

Like many others – go to Twitter, type in the words Janice Long in the search bar and see the outpouring of sorrow at her passing – Janice’s death has left me a little numb.

Trying to find a song which sums all of this up, well…there’s one which is so obvious I can’t help but post it. Written as a comment on her exit from Radio 1 – if memory serves, and I should stress I can’t find anything to confirm this, she was fired when she became pregnant yet was unmarried – this is a pre-fame (short-lived as it was) tune and to my mind the best thing the band in question ever did (and I really like them, as I’ve mentioned before).

I’ve posted this before, here, and if anyone is interested enough, let me know via the Comments and I’ll re-up all the other songs mentioned in that post.

But for now, here’s the Milltown Brothers and their utterly wonderful and sadly appropriate song, Janice is Gone:

Milltown Brothers – Janice Is Gone

It’s a rare event when you can post a song so perfect to mark someone’s passing. I’ve only ever really managed it once before, when posting The Larks’ Billy Graham’s Going to Heaven on the day the death of the evangelist was announced.

But I take no pride or satisfaction in this. I’d much rather Janice was still with us than having to post this song.

RIP Janice. You will never know just how much you were loved and will be missed.

Keep spinning those tunes up there.

More soon.