Shaun Keaveny On Podcasts, Leaving 6Music, And His Love Affair With Broadcasting | Features

Broadcasting is – at heart – about community.

Just take Shaun Keaveny as an example. Across a decade-long span as host of 6Music’s Breakfast Show, he created a dogged cult audience, one that seemed to grow and grow on a weekly basis.

Taking this motley crew of nationwide listeners to the afternoon slot, Shaun Keaveny broke the news of his departure from the station with an emotional final show, one that eloquently illustrated the close bond between the host and his audience.

Remarkably, it’s a bond that has only strengthened in the past 12 months. The host launched a Patreon based radio show, alongside a flurry of other projects.

Inviting a variety of guests to name their perfect festival bill, his podcast The Line-Up returns for a fresh series this Spring, with the host joined by the likes of Radiohead musician Ed O’Brien and actor Kiefer Sutherland, legendary guitarist Johnny Marr and spoken word artist Kae Tempest.

Clash caught up with Shaun Keaveny to discuss Glastonbury wash-out memories, his insatiable thirst for broadcasting, and why sometimes the simplest conversations can have the most profound revelations.

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So, the new season of the podcast is done and you’re just waiting for it to go live – this must be the most exciting bit, surely?

It must be great for people who are a great screenwriter or a director, or you’re a rock star, and you’ve finished your album in Montreux or somewhere like that. Unfortunately, we’re still building the bridge while walking across the river. We’ve recorded about three or four, actually. But there’s still some to do. But it’s alright, because it’s a great pleasure doing The Line-Up. It’s an easy sell to people, judging by how many people actually ask to be on it, because it seems like fun. And it is, you know, it’s not too taxing.

It’s an idea that seems to have cut-through.

It’s nice to have a little jump off point, isn’t it? Five artists living or dead for your ideal festival, that’s your jump off point, that you can always refer back to. People quite rightly draw a comparison to an even more legendary piece of audio, which is Desert Island Discs. It’s the same kind of vibe, isn’t it? You know, you get a famous person or a well-known person or an eminent person in a room and you talk to them.

Ostensibly, they’re there to tell you what the favourite records are. But really, it’s everything else that you talk about. That’s the really interesting stuff. And that’s what I like about The Line-Up, is that you draw this stuff out, about their families, about their lives, about their struggles, about their losses. It all comes pouring out, which is quite therapeutic.

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It can get quite emotional – Bobby Gillespie talking about how drug use stopped him enjoying Primal Scream’s crossover, for example.

He’s incredible. Because he’s really honest, I think, and he’s always been like that. He’s an open book. And then there’s loads of other people who have given so much of themselves in just what is basically a chat about music. It’s quite moving, you know, like Shaparak Khorsandi talks about her neuro diversity and about adult ADD, which I think I’ve got, as well. So we had quite an emotional moment about that.

In the new series, we talked to Paddy Considine, and he’s just funny, because he’s a musician, as well as an actor and he’s just a deeply funny guy as well. But he talks about some of the struggles that he’s had over the last 15 years. And again, we were all like, quaking in the in the studio, you know, because we’ve gone to this really emotional place with him because he allowed us to do that. And that was a bit of a privilege, really.

Festivals are back to full strength this year, you must be excited to see them back?

I am, but I’ve got this problem though. Because, as I just mentioned, I’ve got the worst diary management of any human on the planet. I’m like diary tolerant, and I make a plan and then six weeks later, or just two days before it’s going to happen, somebody says: ‘You don’t remember you’re going to a wedding that day…?’ And it happens with alarming regularity. So I’m so excited about it. I’m looking for forward to it. I know I’ve got about four different people that I’ve got to have serious conversation with to cross reference, to make sure not fuck anything up.

I definitely want to be in some fields this summer and there’s talk of doing a few live line-ups, which would be a great way to get in for nothing. So we might do a few of these actually on site at festivals, which would be a really cosmic experience.

What’s the secret to a good festival? Is it the line up? The company? The weather, even…?

That’s a good question. And it’s a mercurial one that still isn’t pinned down. That’s why I guess there are so many festivals. Obviously COVID put pay to a lot of them, which is sad and an awful, really, but I remember when we were on air at six music over that time, from about 2007 to 2019. You saw this massive proliferation of festivals, didn’t you? You went from like about 50 in the UK to about 2,000 of them. And obviously, the market can’t sustain all of them. And some of them are better than others and stuff.

Having been to fair few, you’re right, it’s not as simple as the line-up is. Sometimes you look on paper and a festival is going to be great, but it’s just a bit of a shitty, gnarly experience. A bit corporate, there’s not much atmosphere at the place, you have a miserable experience, for one reason or another. And equally, you can go to festivals with nobody on that you’ve ever heard of, but you have the most brilliant time. And I think that to find that balance is probably more or less impossible, actually. It’s just bloody a lottery!  

It’s weird. It’s like what makes a good pub, isn’t it? It’s difficult to pin down. You can have great beers and nice tables, but there’s something missing. It’s something about the people it attracts and the atmosphere they create when they’re there. It’s hard to beat Glastonbury for that, isn’t it? But you expect that because they’ve been doing it for 50 odd years.

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Glastonbury is famously weather dependant, though, isn’t it?

I was there in ’98, the real disaster year. It was me and three other lads, and we were right at the sort of crest of the hill at the back of the Pyramid Stage. And we had just been soaked to the skin and we sat – I’ve told this story before, it’s sad! – we sat in our boxer shorts, because everything else was wet, just passing around this bottle of warm, warm vodka to keep warm. And then Robbie Williams started playing on the Pyramid Stage and we just sort of looked at each other and said: “I think it’s time to leave.” And we just packed up and went. We couldn’t take any more, with all the stuff nicked out of our tent… we were just miserable. We were broken.

Then so many other times I have been there, and it’s just been the best weekend of the year.

Podcasting is a different discipline than radio, which is much more immediate. How has that change been for you? Is it revitalising, in a way?

People always say: “In order to grow, you must challenge yourself every day, and you must seek new experiences.” And I was always quite resistant to that because I am like, a lazy old geezer. I’m in my lane, and just leave me to it. So I was quite happy on the radio. But for one reason or another one, when fate takes its turn, and you’ve got to pay the mortgage, you try lots of other things. I love the podcast community.

People talked about that. And I just thought what? Is there a podcast community? Is that bollocks? But it’s not bollocks. It’s real. There’s a whole cabal of people who are obsessive and very passionate about it about that particular medium. And I’m just starting to learn about it really. Arguably, I’m doing a bit too much of it. But I’m kind of obsessed with audio.

I like the combination of talking my own particular brand of bullshit, which is what the Patreon radio show is great for. It’s a radio experience and it’s live. And I love the fact that we can keep that going. But then with The Line Up, you get to try all these totally different things. And also, I get to talk to people I wouldn’t necessarily choose to talk to because I don’t know anything about them.

The first one we did was Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, and that’s not the music I’ve listened to before. Yeah, he just brilliant. He was such a great guest. Or Keith Urban, you know, or Natasha Bedingfield. People I would never think to ask to do a podcast, but they bring all this kind of interesting stuff to bear that you didn’t know about. And I suppose it all goes up on a server and lives forever – whereas radio feels a lot more ephemeral.

You briefly touched on the podcast community, but you’ve a particular community around your own work. Was it gratifying to make that change, and move from 6Music, and for that community to follow you?

It’s really gratifying. That’s the word, to sound like an actor accepting an award. But it is humbling. Really, that’s the only word for it. Because I went on about it on the last show, and we’ve carried it through on so much of the stuff we do now, but I meant it. That’s why it resonated with people. And it’s the same with people who do podcasts for a long time. You create a community.

I’ve been told this by people who sell live events for different podcasts, and they say, it’s like fucking Beatlemania! You do these live shows, and all these people who are fans of this podcast turn up and they know all the inside jokes… like, my mate Greg James and Felix White, they do Tailenders podcast. I’ve been told – I’ve not managed to go yet – it’s like The Beatles at Shea Stadium, everybody’s losing their shit! That’s such a great experience of growing something together. It’s not just one person at the top talking down to their listeners, you’re all creating something together.

And on the Patreon show that I do, on that Community Garden Radio thing, people have set up their own forum to talk amongst themselves during the week. We’ve got an email, and they can send us messages through the week, and we just get hundreds and hundreds of messages and jokes and content for the show. So, it becomes this kind of growing thing that’s separate from you, which is brilliant, you know… it means a lot of time I don’t need to do that much work which is great!

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Subscribe to The Line-Up HERE. Stay in touch with Shaun Keaveny online.