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Profile: Introducing the music man - Dave Gilyeat
Dave Gilyeat is listening to new music; lots of it. As the presenter for BBC Oxford’s local music show he is inundated with ‘demo’ tunes from aspiring new bands all hoping to get their break by appearing on his show, BBC Introducing.
And because a slot is so coveted, he has a stack of songs to get through before putting together his Saturday evening programme.
“There are absolutely loads,” he says, relaxing in his studio in Banbury Road.
Not that he doesn’t enjoy it. On the contrary, he loves every minute. “I love listening to new music as much as I like going to gigs,” he says. “And I have been sent about 3,000 in the past two years alone. And I have listened to every single one.
“I love unwrapping a CD and playing it — and not knowing what it will be like. There are so many talented people in Oxfordshire that we have too much good stuff. Musically, this is a world-class city.”
A former struggling musician himself, Dave knows what it’s like for artists to try to get themselves noticed.
“It is so important for them,” he says. “It can make all the difference to their careers.”
Born in Iran, Dave, 35, is the son of an Iranian mother and a British army officer.
His early years were spent on the move. He left Iran for North Yorkshire, when his father was posted to Catterick Garrison.
“I can’t remember anything about Iran, because I was so young, and I’ve never been back,” he says. “I do have a big urge to return to the motherland — though it might be tricky with me being a BBC journalist.
“Growing up in North Yorkshire, I felt quite different and just wanted to fit in, but as you get older you become prouder of the things that mark you out.”
When his father was posted to Saudi Arabia, the then nine-year-old Dave was sent to boarding school — Gordon’s in Surrey.
“In Saudi, I was in a class of 20 kids of all ages. My parents realised they had to send me to boarding school if I was going to get a decent education.
“I was there for five years and loved it; it was like Hogwarts! I was far from home but living with my friends. At the time I thought it was the most incredible experience. Though, looking back, I wouldn’t send my own children there.
“It wasn’t real life – I was living in a microcosm and while it was lots of fun, it wasn’t a very good grounding.”
His family settled in Bicester when he was 10, and it was there — at the town’s community college that he met a fellow music-lover Tim Bearder. The two hit it off instantly. Both were passionate about new bands — and it wasn’t long before they started their own — the (probably best forgotten) Bicester group Toshi Station.
“Tim was a real comedian,” he says. “And that came through in the music. We were a Brit pop band with funny lyrics and didn’t take ourselves too seriously.
“We were not critically acclaimed. If I had been sent one of our demos now, I would be fairly harsh on it. It was indie rock gruel. Our later stuff was better than the early material though. We were definitely going in the right direction.”
Growing increasingly interested in the media, Dave got a place at Sunderland University to read media systems — but found time to return to Bicester and play in the band. “I always need to do something creative,” he laughs. “It’s the way my brain works.”
‘The band split when Tim got the job of presenting BBC Oxford’s local music show, The Download, in 2005.
Replacing his friend “with a pedal” Dave formed a new one — the marginally better indie three-piece Strafe.
At the time he was working for a company selling advertising space in theatre programmes.
Bigger things were about to happen, though; Tim invited Dave to be his sidekick on the show.
It was an inspired move. The pair’s on-air banter and often surreal humour made it a huge hit with listeners and musicians. One of the country’s first dedicated local music shows, it went on to inspire the now-national BBC Introducing series of programmes.
“Tim was the nutter and I was the one who had to keep him at bay,” he smiles.
“Interviews with bands can be a bit dull so we tried to make it more entertaining.
“It was also my job to sift through the mountains of demos. There were boxes and boxes of them being sent and no one else to listen to them.”
Dave now presents the show alone. And while it is perhaps less knock-about comical than before, it remains influential. “The ladder to success can be a long one, but we are the first rung.
“I hear stories of musicians’ families and friends gathering around the radio to listen to them when they are on the show. We have created opportunities for bands to play festivals, get play-listed on BBC Radio 2 and get shortlisted for awards. Among the breakthrough Oxfordshire bands and artists he has championed are Foals, Chad Valley, and Lewis Watson, who have all played BBC Introducing stages at festivals; Stornoway, who featured on Later with Jools Holland, and Spring Offensive and Fixers who have been playlisted on BBC Radio 1.
All received their first break on his show.
He and Tim were also early supporters of Little Fish, who also had major label success.
“Because I was in bands I know what it’s like for them,” he says. “I’ve seen it from their side.”
Does he wish he was still in a band? “No!” he says without hesitation. “I loved it, but when I set out I always said I didn’t want to be in a band over the age of 30, if we were not going anywhere.
“There are more talented people out there, who we play on the radio. There’s no room for people making mediocre music.
“There is so much that is wonderful, beautiful and amazing — and I never get tired of it.”
- BBC Introducing is broadcast on Saturdays at 8pm.