Radio 2's Alex Lester gets stardom

Alex Lester Alex Lester starred in a music video for a band he had never heard of

For every Alt-J - this year's Mercury Prize winners - there are thousands of credible bands who never achieve even minimal success. No wonder more and more bands are using creative tactics to get their music into the hands, and minds, of the right people.

Enter The Lights, an obscure five-piece alternative rock band from Birmingham. Their bright idea was to make a video about the difficulty of getting anyone to take notice of new albums - and they have shrewdly enlisted the help of BBC DJs and personalities to do it.

Radio 2's Alex Lester has a starring role in the video for the single Days Don't Get Me Far Enough Away, along with Jeremy Vine, Janice Long and 6 Music DJ Chris Hawkins.

Start Quote

People are always looking for a gimmick to get stuff played. There is a sheer volume of stuff that is coming out”

End Quote Alex Lester Radio 2 DJ

Over a crackly telephone line, he explains that he didn't know the band or what kind of music they played, but the idea appealed to his vanity and he believes it was a clever 'marketing ploy' to get The Lights some national attention.

I'm sorry

Rather luckily, the single is no dud. 'I also do genuinely quite like the tune, so that's a surprise as well. Had it been awful I might have felt sorry for them, but it was nice,' the DJ concludes.

Lester uses the word 'sorry' a great deal over the course of 15 minutes. He apologises for the state of the music industry, for how hard it is for new bands, for not having enough air time to play new music and even for DJs with bland playlists.

'There is an enormous amount of music out there', he points out, and he feels sorry that people put their 'heart and soul' into creative music which never sees the light of day. 'That's the industry,' he adds with an air of resignation, 'and it always has been.'

Jeremy Vine in front of Broadcasting House Jeremy Vine looking the business in front of Broadcasting House (taken from The Lights video)

Lester should know about the cutthroat record industry. He's been working in music since 1977 and has had his Radio 2 show for 20 years, broadcasting at the unforgiving hour of 2 to 5am. He claims to have the best track record on the network for breaking new acts, who then get added to the Radio 2 playlist.

A magnet

'We are a magnet for the radio companies,' he says, 'which is another reason why [The Lights] approached us, because mainstream daytime stuff doesn't have the breadth that we do. We have an element of free choice that doesn't occur so much during the day.'

The advantages of graveyard broadcasting also include a loyal audience that interacts with the show regularly. Lester says it's not unusual to get a thousand communications for each show, whether through text, email, Facebook, Twitter and such mediums. 'The audience really latches onto things we are doing, so we throw stuff at them and they run with it.'

It's not just truck drivers who listen, either, but night workers and a large number of insomniacs. His listeners, Lester argues, don't just have the radio on in the background but are 'listening very intently' to what you play and the things you talk about.

'We [Lester and his producer] just play nice tunes and fool around. We like to think that no one else is doing what we're doing. You certainly won't get it anywhere in the commercial sector and so we think it's a unique show and never takes itself seriously, so it's an ideal vehicle for The Lights.'

Bear blackmail

In the video, The Lights' band members blackmail Lester into playing a track from the album Teenager of the Century, by kidnapping his beloved teddy bear. It's the band's final and desperate attempt at getting their single played, after being roundly rejected by Vine, Long and Hawkins.

The bear, it turns out, is something Lester had never set eyes on before the day of filming. It's simply a device used for the video, although he did have a much-loved bear as a child, which wore a dress stolen from his sister's doll.

Is he surprised that The Lights went to such lengths to get a bit of attention? 'People are always looking for a gimmick to get stuff played. There is a sheer volume of stuff that is coming out, particularly in the lead-up to Christmas.' He adds that commercial radio is now a 'wasteland' for breaking new music, which makes things tougher for newcomers. He argues that the BBC leads in taking risks and playing more obscure artists.

So will he be playing the new single and doing the band a favour? 'If they had actually bothered to send me a copy of it, I might have done,' he laughs. He does admit that it could be in the post or buried under a deluge of CDs by X Factor or The Voice wannabes, currently waiting for one of his listening days.

With this said, he apologises for not having the time to listen to it all.

Watch the full video on YouTube.


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