InTOCZEKated: Nick's show on BCB Radio
The first Bradford Festival was organised collectively in the summer of 1987 by a bunch of Bradfordians with a commitment to arts and entertainment in the city. Prominent among them were Allan Brack and ‘Dusty’ Rhodes. By then, Willi Beckett and I had been running Bradford Alternative Cabaret on a weekly basis for a year. We both knew most of the festival organisers, especially Allan and Dusty. They invited us to get involved, individually as performers and jointly by organising a series of cabaret events to be included in the festival programme.
In 1992, as part of the burgeoning promotional programme developed to publicise the Festival, a temporary licence was obtained to create a festival-long radio station – Bradford Festival Radio – to which I began contributing. For the first year it was based in Treadwell’s Art Mill in Little Germany (where Willi & I were by then already running Bradford Alternative Cabaret). The following year it was in The Wool Exchange in the city centre. In February 1994, a year-round licence was granted and Bradford Community Broadcasting began. For the first ten years it was based in a run-down office block in Forster Square which had formerly been used by Comet. In 2004 BCB Radio moved into purpose-built premises at 11 Rawson Road.
Because, in 1992, we were running our festival cabaret in the same building as Festival Radio, we forged a close relationship. We went on air again and again, chatting about our programme of acts, performing our poems, and getting some of the acts to go on air. More importantly, I put together an eight-person team of local comedy writers and performers. We’d meet up every evening, pool material, plan a show and, next morning, perform it live on air. Broadcast daily for two weeks, it was called Trouble At T’Mill.
During the 1993 Bradford Festival, Willi and I, together and separately, guested frequently on Festival Radio, as did our cabaret guests.
In 1994, once BCB started, I became one half of a weekly half-hour improvised topical comedy show – The Nick & Mick Show. Then from 1995, I began presenting my own weekly one-hour show, InTOCZEKated.
Initially, I had help from fellow volunteers who took it in turns to operate the desk for me while I presented my show. However, after a year or so, I learned to do it all myself and was soon sitting in solo glory in the studio, lording it over all that technology.
Now in its third decade, InTOCZEKated, which features occasional guests, is an original blend of forthcoming musical releases, obscure music from the past, world music, poetry and political commentary. I never plan a programme. I just take in a big bag of CDs and talk my way through the hour playing whatever takes my fancy.
It’s aired between 8pm and 9pm every Sunday, going out in our part of West Yorkshire on 106.6 fm and worldwide via the website (www.bcbradio.co.uk). There’s also a Listen Again service on the website. Here you can find and listen to my most recent programmes whenever you wish to do so… like now, perhaps!
Nick Toczek, May 2018
Months after writing the above piece, I found my archive of material dealing with my years at BCB. Using this resource, I was able to write a longer piece. Here it is:
Working with Bradford Community Broadcasting
On Sunday 28 September 1986, Willi Beckett and I launched our seminal cabaret club, Stereo Graffiti, at The Spotted House pub on Manningham Lane. Featuring a weekly mix of new comedians, musicians, circus acts, poets, theatre and more, it was one of Britain’s earliest alternative cabarets and the very first in the north of England.
The following year Allan Brack, Dusty Rhodes and others organised and ran the first Bradford Festival for which Willi & I organised and presented a special series of festival cabaret nights. Thus began a regular annual relationship between our cabaret and the festival.
In September 1991, after having used a variety of venues (The Alhambra Studio, Tickles Music Hall, The Market Tavern, Tumblers, The Flagship, Sheik’s, Bradford University’s Communal Building and The Midland Hotel) we moved the cabaret to a new and extraordinary venue, Treadwell’s Art Mill on the edge of Little Germany.
In the summer of 1992 Bradford Festival Radio was inaugurated with a short-term licence to broadcast on FM for a few weeks before, during and after the second Bradford Festival. It took up temporary residence in Treadwell’s. Being based in the same building and running the festival cabaret, Willi and I regularly guested on programmes, as did many of the artists whom we’d booked. In addition, working alone and with others, I started devising and creating programmes for the station. Thus began my ongoing relationship with what would evolve into Bradford Community Broadcasting (BCB).
For the third Bradford Festival, in 1993, Bradford Festival Radio broadcast from The Wool Exchange. And, in 1994, BCB came into existence, pioneered by Mary Dowson, Jonathan Pinfield and team of other local activists and enthusiasts. They secured the station’s first permanent premises in an upper-floor suite of former offices in Forster Square. Though conveniently central, these were fairly run-down and very makeshift. From here it broadcast intermittently on a series of temporary licences while it strove to secure a year-round FM licence. This was finally granted in 2002 and, on Friday 1 March 2002, BCB began broadcasting daily on 96.7 FM with a full time Access Radio Pilot licence.
During that period, I began creating more regular programmes, some on my own, others with friends and fellow performers. I particularly remember a series of comedy shows which I co-wrote and co-performed with a team of young local stand-up comedians. Being based at Treadwell’s, we called our shows Trouble At T’Mill. One development out of these shows was BBC interest in our work. For a couple of years we worked collectively and individually writing, performing and recording sketches for a series of pilot shows, initially for Radio One, later for Radio 2 and then for Radio 4. Eventually, having discovered that we were just one of more than a dozen teams working unpaid on endless pilots, we gave up. However, this contact with major media figures helped. One of our number went on to become a full-time BBC comedy producer, several of the others formed a sketch-writing and performing team with regular late-night comedy slots on YTV (Yorkshire Television). Meanwhile, I was taken on by YTV as a comedy consultant (booking comedians and contributing to scripts) for high-profile weekly Richard Whiteley Show. Working with local radio was proving to offer fringe benefits.
Later, with fellow stand-up comic, Mick Shaw, I did a series of half-hour comedy shows for BCB – The Nick’n’Mick Show – based on the news. Each week we’d bring in cuttings from the local and national press, briefly discuss them in the five minutes before recording, and then improvise the whole show around them. It was fun! Mick went on to become a popular presenter of features and documentaries on YTV.
On 13 February 2002, just before BCB went daily, I put in a formal programming application to present my own regular one-hour show to be called InTOCZEKated. This was accepted and, in early March 2002, I recorded the first of these shows, as I’ve continued do on a weekly basis ever since. For a variety of reasons (illness, personal or work commitments, etc.) I’ve missed maybe two dozen recordings over the years, with earlier shows being re-broadcast in their place. Another dozen or so shows have been replaced by some important sporting or news event. Allowing for that, I calculate that I’ve made well over eight hundred shows, all of which have been broadcast.
I said that I put in a ‘formal’ application in February 2002. That wasn’t quite true. I still have a photocopy of the document. The station had produced a two-page printed proposal form which I’d filled in by hand. The main section required me to describe my proposed programme and its target audience. I wrote that it would be ‘1 hr of music, poetry, stories, guests and my improvised ramblings (sad/self-indulgent/pseudo-anarchic/funny/pathetic/political/inspired/insipid*)’, with a footnote saying ‘* delete whichever you think inappropriate.’ After describing the kinds of music I’d be playing, I wrote: ‘Target audience: a sad bloke in a flat in Manningham with a personal hygene problem bad enough to keep him home listening to BCB’. I never could spell hygiene!
In the spring of 2005, having secured considerable funding, BCB moved into new purpose-designed and accessible ground-floor premises at 11 Rawson Road from where it continues to operate. Nowadays the station broadcasts on 106.6 FM, reaching most of the greater Bradford area. However, anyone with internet access, worldwide, can listen via the www.bcbradio.co.uk website. They don’t even have to tune in when the show’s on air. There’s a listen-again function which allows any-time access to the station’s recent programmes, including mine.
InTOCZEKated goes out every Sunday night between 8pm and 9pm. Each show is a mix of whatever music I choose to play. This ranges from early blues through world music to local releases, obscure indie stuff and a whole load of non-mainstream pre-releases sent to me by independent promoters. I feature occasional guests and usually include a couple of poems, either my own or those of other poets who’ve produced CDs of their work. I’ve no idea who listens to my shows, or even if I have listeners. Maybe that guy in Manningham is still tuning in.ry 2019)
As a writer and performer, I lead a busy life. Finding the time to get into the studio for an hour every week can prove demanding, doubly so when it’s unpaid work. It has, however, continued to provide unforeseen benefits. And these have been extraordinary. They’re the reason I’m writing this piece, so let me list them.
Because I work extensively as a performer, there’s a first and obvious benefit to doing weekly hour-long radio shows for which I do no pre-planning. I simply go into the studio with a bag of CDs and the vaguest of ideas about what I might want to say. Each show then comes together based on ad libs and improvisation. The confidence to do this is an invaluable skill for any performer to acquire.
A second benefit has stemmed from the show requiring me to network with hundreds of other performers who’ve guested or simply sent me CDs and information that’s enabled me to promote them and their work. Similarly, I’ve for many years been a columnist, reviewer and features-writer for the UK music bi-monthly, RnR (formerly R2 and Rock’n’Reel). This work (again unpaid) has provided me with a platform to write about my fellow-performers as well as honing my writing skills. However, the real benefit of both has been that this constant networking has built my reputation and has led to countless fruitful collaborations.
My constant presence on the music scene via both BCB and RnR has resulted in some notable spin-offs. Here’s one of them which came about through re-connecting with an old friend from the early eighties. He’s Nagbea who, back then, was active in local bands. Having met up occasionally over the years, we renewed our friendship in 2010 through the show (of which he and his family had become firm fans). He and two of his sons were setting up a local fanzine, record and CD imprint called Sound Shack. I began playing some of their releases and plugging their activities. Soon some of my own poems and musical tracks began featuring in their publications and on their sampler CDs. Then in 2012 Sound Shack released Bavariations, a 3-track cassette EP of music and lyrics produced by a collaboration between me (as vocalist/lyricist) and German musician/electro-mixer Thies Marsen. That same year they then also released Motormouth, a 3-CD collection of me reading 46 of my poems. In 2018, Not-a-Rioty re-release Motormouth as a 2-CD collection. Thies Marsen and I are currently completing work on our debut album. None of this would have happened without my involvement with Sound Shack, a liaison which stemmed entirely from my BCB show.
However, there’s one particular outcome from you work with BCB changed my life completely. It began simply enough. While working on Trouble At T’Mill in the early nineties, I was struggling financially. Gaynor and I had married in 1984 and now had two young children. I was looking for more work. The young comedians working with me on that show had a friend, Vicky Cave, who was an administrator at Eureka!, the children’s museum in Halifax. They suggested I contact here and ask for work. I did so, but she said they’d tried poetry and it hadn’t worked. Two years later, when I was even more desperate for paid work, I contacted her again. She repeated that there was still no call for poetry, but mentioned that they were recruiting for a story-telling post that very day. Though I wasn’t strictly a story-teller, I’d a wealth of experience working with children, both in doing a one-man family show and as a writer-in-schools. When I expressed an interest but explained that I was working in a school that day, she suggested I turn up early in the evening for an interview.
It was about 6 pm when I arrived. For more applicants had turned up ahead of me and they were overwhelmed. Rather that have me join this already-impatient throng, Vicky asked me to just sit down and quickly outline what I could offer. I did so and left feeling fairly dejected about the whole thing, sure that the job would go to someone more qualified as a story-teller. Later that night, to my utter amazement, Vicky phoned to offer me the job. I accepted immediately.
My brief was to tell stories about dragons. At our first preparatory meeting I was given a pile of books about dragons and told to choose stories from them. I read the books but hated the idea of just re-telling any stories. Instead, I started working out some dragon-themed stories and performance-poems of my own. I’m a writer and that’s what we do.
The post was funded by the booksellers W.H. Smith. They paid my fees and supplied a budget to create a stage-set. I designed one to suit the stories I was creating. It had a cave and a castle and a pirate ship. We had a Chinese parading dragon, lighting, a smoke machine, a huge gong and a wide selection of other props. I also had three staff members assigned to me, with instructions to teach them how to story-tell. We’d a couple of months to plan a programme. I worked hard every day and wrote every night. The gong, which we planned to use at the entrance, required a script announcing the show. This resulted in the first of my dragon poems, one which warned the visitors that they were about to enter the dragon’s lair. More dragon poems followed in quick succession.
By the time we started doing regular shows for visiting families and school parties, I’d written sufficient material for a couple of one-hour shows. We needed that material. The work-load was demanding and the shows proved really popular. We were soon being pushed to do more and more p0resentations. I remember one week in particular during which I was also working extensively in schools and doing evening pub performances for adults. All told, in that one week, I did fifty-six one-hour performances and workshops, the vast majority at Eureka!
This work was a real baptism of fire for me and laid the foundations for the years of one-man shows and workshops that I’ve done in schools, libraries, festival and community centres ever since.
As if this wasn’t enough, some of the people from W.H. Smith’s London office came up to see what I was doing. They seemed particularly impressed with the poems which I’d written for the show. One of those who came to see my work used to go to a café near their London offices for lunch. Here she’d dine with friends, among whom was Susie Gibbs, the poetry editor for Macmillan Children’s Books, to whom, during one of these lunches, she enthused about my dragon poems.)
Interested, Susie contacted me and asked to see some of these poems. By then, having written dozens of them, I knew I’d enough to fill a book and was excited to have finally drawn the interest of a major publisher. Since the publication of a first pamphlet back in 1972, I’d become well established as a small press poet with around fifteen had further books and pamphlets, but was yet to be taken on by a major imprint.
I compiled a manuscript and sent it to Susie. This was during the summer of 1995. She liked them and I was sent a publisher’s contract which I signed and returned. I waited eagerly for news. Having heard nothing more for some two months, I contacted her in early autumn. She was apologetic, but informed me that they’d had no interest from the book clubs and had therefore decided against publication. These book clubs, of which there were several, took bulk book orders in the hundreds or thousands which they then sold via school book fairs and via mail order direct to the public. They were therefore essential outlets for all the major publishers. Rejected, I did what all men do when they don’t get their own way. I sulked for weeks.
Then, in early November, Susie suddenly got back in touch to tell me that one of the book clubs had placed a pre-Xmas order for several thousand copies. Within days, I’d been sent a typeset manuscript which I’d proof-read and returned immediately. By mid-December, they’d done a first print-run of ten thousand. Within months, this had sold out and a second edition followed. Over the next decade, Macmillan published five more collections of my poetry and several anthologies which they’d asked me to compile. Hundreds of thousands of copies were sold and I soon found myself being described by them as a best-selling children’s author. Since then, other major publishers – including Hodder, Golden Apple, Caboodle and Routledge – have produced books of my work. I’ve been a visiting writer in thousands of UK schools and in overseas schools in about forty countries worldwide. Again, none of this would have happened without that initial contact through my work with BCB.
As you’ll gather from this account, there are sizeable elements of both chance and luck in the way my career and successes have developed. As far as my work as a children’s poet is concerned, what’s remarkable is how little my big break with Macmillan depended on my poems. It was sobering to learn, for example, that when that book club had placed its pre-Xmas order, they’d not even read my poetry. Macmillan had only sent out a copy of the cover that they’d commissioned, a stunning painting by David Scutt. It was this alone which had prompted the book club to take my dragon book.
No matter. The breaks are out there. All I do is keep going. This is partly why, nearly a quarter of a century later, I’m still doing my weekly BCB shows. Who knows what else they’ve yet to throw my way?
Nick Toczek (January 2019)