Mark Radcliffe: Why 6 Music Festival is returning to Manchester

This year sees the annual 6 Music Festival return to its Greater Manchester roots, where it will be permanently fixed from now on. 6 Music and Radio 2 presenter Mark Radcliffe sat down with Headliner to discuss what the move means for fans, the festival, and artists

You can listen to this interview here or read on below...

Since launching in Greater Manchester in 2014, the 6 Music Festival has become a roving event, taking place in a different city each year. This year, however, it is returning to its birthplace for good, with promise of a greater focus on supporting new music.

Taking place from March 24-26, live performances will come from Loyle Carner - featuring a brand-new collaboration with the AMC Gospel Choir from Manchester (March 24), Christine and the Queens - the global premiere of his new live show (March 25) and Arlo Parks - the global premiere of new music, with special guests (March 26). Additional live performances will come from Wu-Lu, Lava La Rue and The Big Moon.

There will also be DJ sets across the weekend from AFRODEUTSCHE, Erol Alkan, Daniel Avery, Don Letts, Good Future, Hot Chip, Jamz Supernova, Steve Lamacq, Tarzsa, The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess, Yard Act and BBC Introducing DJs, Emily Pilbeam and Phoebe I-H.

Commenting on the new look festival, Samantha Moy, head of BBC Radio 6 Music, said: “6 Music will be rooted in Salford over time, so we’re bringing the festival back home to Greater Manchester, where it all began, with some incredible performances. You may have seen Arlo Parks, Christine and the Queens and Loyle Carner before, but you won’t have seen them like this before. It promises to be a very special weekend indeed.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, also said: “We are delighted to welcome the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival to Manchester. There is a rich musical heritage in Greater Manchester, and a real pride in the independent music scene, and as BBC Radio 6 Music has always supported new and alternative artists, it’s a perfect fit for the festival to have its permanent home in the city for the years to come. There’s so much new Greater Manchester music out there right now that deserves to be heard, which is why we started Artist of the Month with BBC Radio Manchester, and like BBC Radio 6 Music, we want to give emerging talent a platform.”

Here, Radcliffe discusses the festival’s move, why the 6 Music family is like a “disparate group of people who massively disagree on certain things”, and why the prospect of leaving 6 Music for another station would be “like punching yourself in the face every day…”

What are your thoughts on 6 Music Festival residing permanently in Manchester?

Well, it’s clearly a different offering. It’s an interesting time because for many years, when I was doing the Radio 1 afternoon show with Marc Riley, we felt very much like an outpost, as network radio was a London thing, and it didn’t seem like that would ever change. And then you switch to the situation we have now in Salford, where at the weekend you have every network broadcasting from there at the same time. And a lot of 6 Music is still being moved up there as it will largely be based there. So, at this moment in time the festival coming back feels like a rubber stamp and an endorsement of what a centre of gravity for network radio Manchester, Salford, Media House etc. has become.

There are a lot of festivals now and lots of people are competing for the same artists. There are a lot of artists doing their festival set at 10, 20 events across the year. And the idea was, rather in the same way that Manchester International Festival has come to pride itself on premieres and new work, that we should shape an event around the 6 Music raison d’etre of celebrating new music.

The idea you will only hear Bryan Adams and Queen ever again… it’s like punching yourself in the face every day. Mark Radcliffe

Does that give the festival a bit more focus?

I still like the original thing that 6 Music started out with, which was celebrating the alternative spirit. You look at the presenters on it - I’m 65 this year, but then you have people like AFRODEUTSCHE and Jamz Supernova. Radio stations were always keen – certainly when I was at Radio 1 in the ‘80s – to promote the idea that we were all one big happy family and all cut from the same cloth. No one talked about things like diversity in those days and that gradually changed. But with 6 Music now there is an idea that it is a family of people committed to the same thing, but it’s more like a real family in that it’s a disparate group of people who massively disagree on certain things. And I think that’s a far more interesting proposition than everyone pretending they are all the same.

Why would you want to listen to a radio station where the people playing and choosing the music have all had exactly the same upbringing? It makes no sense at all. It’s like saying, I’m only ever going to eat Italian when I go out, or I’m only ever going to go on holiday to the same place. Why would you do that if you have an inquisitive and open mind? I might still want to listen to David Bowie’s Space Oddity and think about what an amazing piece of work that is, but it doesn’t mean I don’t also want to hear the new Little Simz album. People often ask me if me and Stuart (Maconie) pick all the music on our show and we don’t, and I don’t want to. I don’t want the show to only be things that a 65-year-old bloke has heard and likes. I want it to be other things. And sometimes I might hear something and not like it, but at least I’ve heard it. And if you don’t like something, in three minutes time there’ll be something else along.

So, I suppose the festival does have a contemporary feel, so it probably is a bit more focused this year. And there are other things on aside from the three big concerts, like Introducing stages. Sometimes I feel there can be a tendency, if you’re putting on a festival in a place like Manchester, to focus on celebrating Manchester’s musical history. But everyone knows Joy Division were from Manchester, everyone knows about Tony Wilson, so I think if we are going to be celebrating the best of Manchester, we should be celebrating the best of Manchester now.

Does having the festival permanently in Manchester open up any opportunities for new talent and the emerging artist community in the area?

There aren’t any specific things like a regular 6 Music night or anything like that throughout the year. This will be the first time we’ve done it so we will have to see what the residue of it is. Also, when you decide to root something like this there will be dissenting voices, people saying, why isn’t this coming to my town? So you don’t want to make it look like, this is great for the bands of Manchester and they are all going to get played on 6 Music, because bands from Newcastle, Liverpool, Cardiff, or wherever might say, well, is this going to make things harder for us? We don’t want to give that impression.

What I would hope is that it will come to showcase the best of all new talent, regardless of where they are from. I hope it expands into more venues and we can grow it. When you think about the success of something like SXSW. It’s always in Austin, Texas, but there are bands from all over the world playing in different bars. I would hope that it would have a positive impact as anther outlet for new artists in general.

What are you looking forward to this year?

I always say this when people ask me who I’m looking forward to, but I’m looking forward to people I don’t know yet. To me, festivals are about discoveries and hearing something I haven’t heard before. Which is true of 6 Music as a whole. One of the things I enjoy is the community of everyone from 6 Music being together, as we are all spread between Londion and Manchester, so that will be nice. And I’m looking forward to going to some of these stages knowing nothing about some of these artists. Most weeks I find something that sounds great and that’s part of what keeps me going and always wanting to be at 6 Music.

There is a lot of talk about people from the BBC leaving to work at other radio stations, and they might get paid twice the money so fair play to them, but the idea that you are going to only ever hear Bryan Adams and Queen ever again… it’s like punching yourself in the face every day. So I never want to do that… well no one’s asked me [laughs]. What a strange thing it would be though, to go to any artistic or creative organisation that says, come with us, we’re never taking you anywhere new, ever. That’s just bizarre to me.

I understand that people want different things from radio and that they’re not all sitting down all day analyzing it and taking notes - I’m being a bit glib about it. But the idea that you’re never going to hear anything new is depressing if you’re interested in music.

What have been some of your favourite discoveries at 6 Music Festival down the years?

I remember very well in Glasgow going to see The Lemon Twigs and thinking they are clearly polymaths and should be superstars. It was in a little church and there was only about 200 people, but they were playing like it was Wembley Stadium, doing high kicks and things, and I thought they were absolutely amazing.

I remember the little shows, really. I was in Newcastle at a pub doing a talk with Kae Tempest and Eliza Carthy about the oral traditions that go through folk music and into rap-based music, and afterwards Songhoy Blues came on and they were amazing. It was the joy of that African Highlife guitar style and the lead singer saying, ‘right I’m going to put my guitar down now so I can do a little dance for you’. And I thought, brilliant! Why don’t more lead singers in bands say that [laughs]? But those small fringe events are the ones I remember best.

Snapped Ankles I remember really enjoying in Liverpool. They came on covered in streamers looking like some weird Wicker Man thing, and then they played this motorik krautrock thing that was fascinating and fantastic.

You can listen to an extended version of this interview below.

The BBC Radio 6 Music Festival takes place from Friday 24th - Sunday 26th March in Greater Manchester. Tune in on BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC Sounds and BBC iPlayer. For more information, visit