Memories of the past, ideas for the future

Taming Van and riling Louis

Dave Fanning, who joined RTÉ Radio 2 in 1979, made his television debut on the series ‘Jobsuss’ in 1984. Among the 20-plus television shows he has been involved in are 'Number One', 'The Last Broadcast' and 'Planet Rock Profiles', which has sold all around the world. He currently hosts a weekday evening show on RTÉ 2fm.

“It’s very hard to get across to anybody nowadays how important all the music programmes in the 70s were. You saw the programme on a Tuesday night - you couldn’t record it and there was no such thing as [an online] Player - and you didn’t see it ever again. That was your only shot. So there was a collective thing of knowing that everybody around Britain and Ireland was watching at the same time.

“Tony Johnston was a guy with white hair who used to present a music programme every Friday on RTÉ. I’ll never forget one time – I was about 18 and a student at UCD - I went down for a drink in Donnybrook and when I walked into the pub there was Tony, having just done the show. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was so cool. My biggest memory looking back – and I’m sure it’s lost and I wish it wasn’t – is Tony doing a special on his programme on Van Morrison. Van had brought out five astonishing albums and in 1974 he came home and played in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin. People hadn’t seen him for ages and they really wanted to see him.

“I realised beforehand it wasn’t going to work. I saw it, and it so didn’t work. It was live television and it was car crash. It was never going to work. You shouldn’t interview Van Morrison. I did it once and it worked but there was a reason why it worked. I did it on Channel 4 in the early 90s on an altar in a church in Bristol. The other guy there was a guy called Mose Allison and when Van is in the presence of one of his own heroes he’s as meek as a little boy. It was perfect. It couldn’t have been any better. It was only because of yer man, it was nothing to do with me.

“I really enjoyed doing ‘2TV’. It was a bizarre show. We did 52 shows a year, every single week, for five years. Even Christmas we recorded. I was doing ‘The Movie Show’ at the same time. It was two hours of live television on a Sunday morning, between 1995 and 2000, and 80% of the music was utter s***e.

“I’d arrive in at five to eleven and leave at five past one, and never went to a meeting. I used to eat the bananas that were props as my breakfast. It was just mad and I really enjoyed it. I’d have to do live interviews and it was just a wing and a prayer. I remember one time Eternal (was it Eternal, the one with Jamie Redknapp’s wife in it? Ed: Yes) they came in one time but I thought somebody else was coming in. For the first three minutes I was talking to a completely different band than I thought, up until they went: ‘That’s not us.’ I went: ‘Oh, okay.’

“It didn’t really matter though because the stoned students who were getting their pop fix for two hours thought it was hilarious, coming down on a Sunday morning, and the kids didn’t care as long as I played Boyzone.

“There were memorable moments in that programme because it was live. We had the world exclusive on the new Boyzone video. I don’t know what the song was but the video was filmed in the desert and a little airplane comes down while they’re singing. Anyway, we played it directly out of news and I’m in one room and about four rooms down is the guy doing the sound. He just put the sound up after the news thinking I was going to be speaking. As the video was playing away I was talking to The Corrs off-camera and they were saying how Boyzone were getting really big. I said: ‘Yeah, and they’re s***e. None of them can sing. Yer man can sing about as well as my big toe.’

“Every word was heard, every word. You could hear me better than Ronan’s singing. I even had someone at home going ‘Quick! Ring him up!’ I had Louis Walsh on ‘suing RTÉ’ and everything. The manager of The Corrs came in and listened back to it all and went: ‘We’re not implicated. You’re on your own Dave, see ya.’ Fair play, they’d been very nice.

“For weeks afterwards if I saw a load of blokes on the street it’d be ‘Good man, Dave’, if I saw schoolgirls I’d cross the road. Everywhere I went I was either really good or really bad. Louis, who I knew well, milked it for all it was worth and said: ‘Dave, this is the kind of publicity I love, sorry!’.”

Dave Fanning was in conversation with Jan Battles