Natalie-Eve Williams began broadcasting over 2 decades ago on various stations across Manchester. She joined the BBC in 2006 and since 2007 has also been a founding member of BBC Introducing, giving the perfect platform to up-and-coming music acts both locally and nationally. We spoke to her all about her career and the importance of Manchester music. She isn’t half good at making playlists too, you know (see below)…
THE NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS INTERVIEW
How did you become a DJ?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: I loved radio and growing up I never to went to bed without my headphones on. My first taste at presenting was on a pirate station called ‘North Soul’ where I made contacts with other DJs and ended up working on multiple community stations across Manchester. I finally applied for a ‘Proper Job’ as a production assistant at the BBC in 2006 and got to know Terry Christian whilst producing his show and started working on the Manchester Music Show with him as a result.
Who influenced your music tastes growing up?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: My Dad was the record buyer and was constantly filling the house with music. Northern Soul, Motown, The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, The Stones. I was always pretty self-exploratory with music though and used to love watching specialist shows on MTV and listening to radio pretty much constantly. I remember ordering loads of stuff on import from the US and paying a fortune for a single or album.
Did you ever have ambitions to become an artist yourself?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: Errrr NO – trust me, I would be the worlds worst nightmare if I could sing!
How proud were you when you began working for the BBC? It’s a big deal, with such a rich radio history…
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: I was extremely proud and worked so hard in the first 2 years to get a staff job. I’ve produced every show over the years, made documentaries, been part of 2 Sony Award winning shows for news coverage and of course, been able to help get some pretty incredible music on national platforms and festival stages – that is invaluable to me.
How has the transition been with the new line-up on the BBC Introducing show?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: It’s strange not working with Michelle (Hussey), after 14 years on air together. We had such great on-air balance and became pretty great at reading each other. Hopefully we will get to work together on-air again somewhere else one day. I’ve been presenting and producing solo since December, while the new presenter is ready to start (with Ryan Paul on TA duties) and of course with the show being off air at the moment due to the current situation with COVID-19, nobody knows when the new format will be up and running. Myself and Ryan are however working on loads of online content and sessions to keep Introducing Manchester going and more importantly, to offer any support we can to our uploading artists.
The show has helped break the likes of The 1975, Blossoms, Tom Walker – did you feel these all had the ‘X factor’?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: I wouldn’t say ‘X Factor’ as every single artist is different. With The 1975 (Drive Like I Do as they were then known) they were born at a very interesting time and it was a slow build.
Blossoms were grafters and knew what they wanted and got picked up by Radio 1 really quickly.
Tom Walker, was again really early on in his career when we played him and he did his first radio session on Intro. His sound was really quite different in the early days and then he just went stratospheric with ‘Leave a Light On’ and has become a huge commercial success.
These are obviously the artists who are used by Introducing to highlight how the platform works, but it’s actually the artists who are on my playlists from an upload 5 years ago and those who you really believe in and keep supporting for years and years and then they get their break, that are the best part of the job for me.
How good is Manchester music at the moment?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: Always has been, and still is such a wonderful place to be in terms of music. Very proud to see such world class music continuing to flow out of our city and being recognised globally as one of the best in the world.
BREAKING NEW GROUND
You have a range of styles and artists on the show. Without naming names how do you handle supporting an artist that you’re not particularly fond of?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: Luckily, most artists are really lovely and get that it would be impossible to play everything. It’s also pretty difficult with the number of submissions we get, to give individual feedback. I’ve played music that is good, by artists that have been pretty horrendous on many levels, because that cannot come into the equation (unless it was something seriously bad) but equally, you can’t play something just because everyone is raving about it, or it’s ‘trending’.
We have several pairs of ears on the show now and we disagree on stuff sometimes. Music is subjective of course, but we have to try and fit so much into the show that we often send more specialist stuff over to the national shows on 6 or Radio 1, who have more freedom.
We were at the Off The Record event last year which focused on the challenges for women in the music industry – from your own experiences, how far are we from making the industry a diverse, equitable and inclusive community?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: Simple answer to me – start at the top!
You’re at nearly every gig I attend in Manchester, is this a work or pleasure thing?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: Sadly, I’m not at as many as i’d like to be these days, because I have 2 jobs and 2 small children. I’ve always gone to gigs because I love music and it has been that way since I was a kid and will always be I imagine.
Which is your favourite Manchester music venue?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: The Apollo. I’m a sucker for history and I love the beautiful Art Deco interior. The sound is always so rich. Also the fact my parents saw Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner and countless others there before i existed is always special. Saying that, I think the Albert Hall is stunning!
You were on the panel for the blue plaque of cultural importance for where Factory Records was formed in Didsbury. What influence has the famous record label had on your life?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: It’s had a massive influence. The rebellion against the industry and the artistic/contractual freedom was such a brave move (maybe not the best financially). The fact that wherever you go in the world, people know the label and of course The Hacienda is testament. Tony (Wilson) was extremely helpful to me and encouraging, by giving me loads of demos and videos when my dads mate told him I was into the Factory stuff, and then of course he became a colleague at Radio Manchester, where he was just as brilliant to me.
THE CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN
How are you coping with the current crisis?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: It could be a long time until we’re all at a gig again… ? Trying to find things to laugh at constantly. Trying to listen to as much music as possible. Trying to stay positive, which can be a struggle, admittedly.
During these difficult times, can you recommend to us a good film, book and LP from yesteryear to get our teeth into?
NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS: Films – I’d usually say ‘The Pianist’, but may be a bit too depressing at the moment? I’ve been watching lots of old musicals with my daughter this past few days. Also ‘High Fidelity’, ‘The Breakfast Club’ and loads more 80s films.
Books – I fly though autobiographies (because I’m nosey) but you know what I’ve just re-read? ‘The Diaries of Samuel Pepys‘, which was my Dad’s. ‘Manchester Blue’ by Eddie Shah. ‘Camellia‘, was a book I read as a teenager and I was gripped, I was telling Michelle about it a few years ago and she tracked down a copy and got it me for Christmas last year! Also, one I read recently which was interesting was ‘The Courage To Be Disliked‘ by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi – a good one for lockdown… and mental health. Got to mention ‘Playing Mercy‘ by my mate Matthew David Scott – who is an author, but also has some brilliant book recommendations on his socials.
Albums – I’ve been listening to loads of Mazzy Star again, Rae and Christian, Doves, The Cure, Talking Heads, Otis Redding, Marva Whitney and Sharon Jones.
THE NATALIE-EVE WILLIAMS PLAYLIST TO CHILL OUT
When we’re talking BBC radio DJs, check out our interviews with BBC 6 Music legends:
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