Hotcakes meets… Huw Stephens

Making the long journey up to the top floor of Topman on Oxford Street – a journey of countless escalators – gave me pause enough to think that this was a fairly odd place to be conducting an interview. As usual, the place was full to the brim with shoppers and had loud music thumping overhead. That is, I suppose, unless it’s an interview regarding a Topman associated event in which case it makes perfect sense. So here I was, in the relative calm that is the Style Lounge, meeting (probably) the nicest man in radio.

Q: Hi, nice to meet you. To start off: for those who don’t know, could you briefly say what Topman CTRL MX is?
Huw: Hi to you too. OK sure, it’s pretty simply really, it’s a six-part new music TV show on Channel 4, it starts on 10th February. We’re going to fit as much music into every show as possible, some bands and artists will do two songs, some will do one. There’ll be some bands you know and some new names that hopefully the audience will like.

Q: Nice. So where do you come in?
A: I’m the presenter and every week there’ll be a different ‘controller’ come in to choose one artist that they’re loving at the moment. James Buckley from The Inbetweeners is on the first show, Mark Ronson is coming on and I think he’s bringing The View.
Q: Is this your first TV gig then?
A: I’ve presented music shows in Wales for a little while. Lots of music shows. But this is the first for the whole of the UK.
Q: Are you excited or a bit nervous about it?
A: yeah I’m really excited about it. We film the first one next week and all the bands are playing live and I think it’s going to be a really relaxed show I think. We’re going to fill it up with music and interesting guests and I think people are gonna get their opinions across on the show. I think it’s gonna be a good watch.
Q: So are you going to be the new Jools Holland in years to come then?
A: Yeah I’m going to be be joining all the bands on the boogie woogie piano and asking cringy questions!

Q: Out of all the bands that are on the bill is there anyone you’re particularly excited about?
A: Looking forward to seeing The Vaccines playing, think they’ve got some great tunes. The Joy Formidable are going to be on which I’m very excited about because they’re album is amazing. I’ve been a big fan of theirs for years now so finally seeing them breaking through is really good. I’m excited about a lot of the bands and also the people who the controllers are bringing with them as well. Gryff Rhys is gonna be on the programme playing as well so there’s going to be a lot of different stuff.

The Joy Formidable – Greyhounds in the Slips

Q: Your radio show is all about new music and features a lot of unsigned bands so you’re very much suited to the role…
A: Thank you.
Q: …and the Radio 1 Sound of 2011 list has come out with artists to watch this year so it’s a bit of a crossover with your role here but is there anyone who didn’t make that list that you would have liked to have seen there or someone you thought should have been higher up the bill?
A: Oh yeah that always happens, yeah you’re right the list was exciting and there’s a lot of good artists there… I rate Wretch 32, I think he’s brilliant. James Blake I think is amazing and I think he’s going to do something very special this year with his album. There’s always people that should be on the list, isn’t there? I’m sure you’ve got a list of artists you’d like to see get more recognition.

Yuck – Holding Out

I love Fixers from Oxford and Chad Valley and it was great to see Yuck on the list, they’ve got an album coming out this year which is really strong. Frankie and the Heartstrings have got an album coming out this year. CockNBullKid as well, she’s been around for a good few years now and she wasn’t on the list so there’s always people who didn’t make it but I think the world of new music is so vast and people are always so creative that there’s so much good stuff out there every week and new bands and tracks and acts.

Fixers – Iron Deer Dream (Chad Valley remix)

Q: Have you ever been in a band yourself?
A: Yes, I was in a terrible band called Picnic when I was about 15…
Q: They sound like a nice folky kind of number…
A: No, we were the first ever, and last, Welsh techno hip-hop band. We were awful…
Q: Did you rap?
A: Yeah, in Welsh! We were two records and we got reviewed by Mark E. Smith in Melody Maker, that’s how far back it was, and he slagged us off and said we were shit. We were like “yay, brilliant!”, he slagged us off but we were just happy you know.
Q: You’ll have to release those or when you leave Radio 1 play one as you’re last ever track.
A: Yeah yeah, I’m the most unmusical man you’ll ever meet though, I can’t play or sing so I was very lucky to be in a band really.

Q: So say if you’re Welsh techno hip-hop group Picnic made it, where would you have loved to gig? Anywhere in the world?
A: I’d like to go see a gig in a desert, I think that would be quite an interesting time, not in a building just in a big…
Q: Like at Burning Man?
A: Like at Burning Man Festival yeah exactly. I think that would be good, just somewhere really barren and desolate and raw. Johnny Cash in a desert, that’d be a gig I’d like to see.

Q: Topman CTRL MX features live music and on the radio you’re always live, so I’m guessing things go wrong from time to time. On Radio 1 has there been anything particularly hilarious that’s gone wrong?
A: Yeah the worst thing that’s ever happened to me on air is, I’ve never sworn, but once I was sitting like I am now and I accidentally moved my foot and it flicked a switch which took the show off air. It was a live broadcast from a venue in Cardiff and we were off air for about a minute and a half to two minutes I think…
Q: Which is a long time on radio…
A: Yeah, it felt like hours! So that was bad but thankfully that’s the worst thing that’s happened.

Quick fire three:
Q: What was the last album you bought?
A: Last album I bought was in the Netherlands last week, I went to a record shop and I bought a CD album of Dutch dubstep. Cost me €13 or something and, do you know what, it’s brilliant and I’ve played it on the radio since.

Q: What was the last gig you went to?
A: On Wednesday night I went to see the Sand Band from Liverpool who were really good. Really, really good, I really liked it. The venue they played was tiny and everyone was talking but they were really good.

Q: What is the best gig you’ve ever been to?
A: Oh that’s impossible isn’t it? I should have a really smooth stock answer really… it’s probably Catatonia, this is how old I am, in Aberystwyth University in the late 90s. It was just one of those amazing gigs where you jump around down the front and everyone’s going mental.


Thanks to Huw for sitting down with me and for generally being an absolute gent!

Catch Topman CTRL MX on Channel 4, 12:10am on Thursday, 10th February.

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