Greg James is best known for being Radio 1’s golden boy. Currently hosting the prime time slot on Radio 1, DJ’ing around the country and heading up BBC TV documentaries, he’s well and truly cemented himself as one of the UK’s leading presenters.
He’s set to judge the Live and Unsigned Festival this summer so the Live and Unsigned team caught up with him to find out what he thinks makes a track storm the charts, what he looks for in an unsigned band and whose tour van he would love to be bundled into…
L&U: Tell us how you got into the industry – did you always want to work in radio?
Greg: It actually began with TV. I was fascinated with entertainment TV programmes like the Big Breakfast and Noel’s House Party. I thought one day, how do I become Noel Edmonds? And when I did a bit of research I found out all about the wonderful world of radio and the radio shows these celebrities did – and I was actually more fascinated by that. I became obsessed with radio. I first started out volunteering for local stations, doing general admin work and queuing up CD’s and really getting the experience I needed. It all kicked off at Uni when I worked for the student radio station. I loved it, and spent most of my time working in the station – as a presenter and eventually becoming the station manager. I did that for three years alongside my drama degree. I then did some work experience for other stations, and I worked as a presenter for Pulse Unsigned – which was all about championing new music, which I love. The studio wasn’t very glamorous, it was in a converted bungalow, but it was amazing. But it was when I won an award at the National Student Radio Awards that I was spotted by my (now) producer Neil. I sent in a few demos to Radio 1, covered a few shows including Sara Cox’s, and that’s where it all began. I worked on the early morning show in 2007 and eventually moved to the mid day show that I present now.
L&U: We imagine most presenters want to work for Radio 1, but did you want to work for any other radio stations?
Greg: Before I got the offer for Radio 1, I did have an offer to work for Galaxy in Birmingham. I think it would have been good, but ultimately this was my dream job. And I still can’t believe I have it! There is definitely an element of luck involved in getting your dream job, and anyone who says there isn’t is lying.
L&U: You rub shoulders with Fearne Cotton and Chris Moyles on a daily basis. What’s it like working in the office?
Greg: At first, it was really surreal. It felt ridiculous to be handing over after my show to Chris Moyles – who I had listened to at Uni. But then gradually, I told myself to relax and get over it. And now it’s just a normal day like in any office – and I really feel like part of the family. I don’t get to see enough of the DJ’s, but coming in to work to see Fearne Cotton every day isn’t bad!
L&U: If you weren’t a radio presenter, what would you be doing?
Greg: I think I would be working really hard to be a presenter, because this is what I have always wanted to do.
L&U: You have had lots of star guests in the studio – which one was your favourite?
Greg: Ricky Gervais. He was the first guest on my new show, and I have always loved him. He was really funny and was exactly how I imagined him to be.
L&U: You’ve done a few TV documentaries – any planned for this year?
Greg: I did a BBC show on health and binge drinking and we went to Magaluf which was really interesting. I don’t want to do any old thing though. We’ve talked through some ideas, but I won’t do a show until it’s the right one.
L&U: What kind of music are you into?
Greg: Uni really shaped what I got into. I was obsessed with bands like the Mystery Jets, Maximo Park, Bloc Party and Kings of Leon. I’m now a huge fan of Mumford and Sons.
L&U: RnB and Hip Hop seem to dominate the charts at the moment, do you think that will change this year?
Greg: That’s the reason I love Mumford and Sons, because they are so different. They have really broken the mould. There is so much of N Dubz and Black Eyed Peas stuff out at the moment. I think it’s great if a band comes along and does something completely out there. I think music goes in waves so it could definitely change this year. I love chart stuff – but I have to say if I wasn’t working in radio, I wouldn’t be playing The Saturdays at home.
L&U: What’s the best gig you’ve ever been to?
Greg: I’m not a huge fan of the Foo Fighters, but the best gig I have ever been to was their one at Wembley. There were 80, 000 people there and there was this one moment which I will never forget. Dave Grohl ran down to the halfway line and a blue spotlight shone on him, and he started the first few chords of Everlong. That’s when I knew it was the best gig I had ever seen.
L&U: Apart from the Live and Unsigned Festival, will you be going to any festivals this year?
Greg: I went to Glastonbury last year which was amazing and I think I’ll be going again this year.
L&U: What’s your all time favourite band?
Greg: Tough one…Maximo Park
L&U: If you were kidnapped and put in the back of a tour van, whose tour van would it be and why?
Greg: Probably Mumford and Sons. Because I stalk them.
L&U: If you could be in any band, which one would it be?
Greg: Kasabian. They are not only an amazing band, but they are lovely blokes. They always say hi and are really friendly so I would definitely be in theirs!
L&U: What would your advice be to up and coming bands? How do they get their music heard?
Greg: I think the best thing to do is gigs. Do a lot of gigs and really try to build your fan base – that’s the most important thing. I think doing something a bit different is good too. But I think gigging and getting people to blog about you or write about you is what helps.
L&U: Do you think it’s essential to have a Myspace?
Greg: I think it’s good to, but I actually think it’s more about You Tube and visual stuff – really showing people what your band is like.
L&U: You listen to radio tracks all day and we audition bands live. Do you think there’s a real difference between the two?
Greg: Absolutely. Live gives you a much better feel for what the music is all about. If a band is not good live, they won’t be good on the radio.
L&U: What makes a band or a track stand out?
Greg: I think when a band is performing live, the one thing that makes a difference is seeing that they are having a good time. If I go to watch a gig, and I don’t know any of the songs, it won’t matter as long as the band are really going for it and enjoying them selves! That’s really important.
L&U: What will you be looking for as a judge at the Live and Unsigned final?
Greg: I’ll be looking for energy and an act that’s really enjoying themselves. A really good pop song with a catchy hook will also grab my attention and I think you always think ‘will this song sound good on the radio.’ There isn’t really a formula to that.
L&U: Do you think a band needs to be on a major record label to make it these days?
Greg: I think it helps. But there isn’t a set way to breaking the industry – I think a label can help, but then sometimes bands get their songs released too soon. The most important thing is that the band is ready.
L&U: Are you looking forward to joining the L&U judging panel?
Greg: Yes, I can’t wait! I’ve never done anything like this before so it’ll be exciting.
L&U: And finally, describe yourself in three words
Greg: Tall, disorganised…and…ermmm…I don’t know…errrmmm….indecisive?
For more information visit the Live and Unsigned website.