Julie Cummings or ‘Crown Jules’ is East Yorkshire’s resident rock queen. Her knowledge is vast and her show is loud. We wanted to have a chat about her career and tastes so we went to hang out in Hull at KCFM and talked about heavy metal and the media and broadcasting industry. Come on in and check it out.
“This show has developed into a brand of its own”
S] So Jules, can you tell us about your career and how you first got into broadcasting and journalism?
J] I was twenty. I had done A-Levels at school. I was firmly convinced that I was going to be an archaeologist. First, I went through the clearing process because my grades were not great. I ended up going to do social studies with English at Bretton Hall in Leeds – I hated it and left on the second day. I came back to Hull and got a job in an estate agents which I hated as well. I lasted about eight months in that job and then gave it up when I got a place on a media training course which involved three weeks of intensive training that covered all aspects of working within the media that covered radio, TV and press. You could choose for the last few days of the course on one area and I chose radio. The rest of it involved a year-long placement where they would pay your expenses but then you would do the work for free. I got a placement with Viking FM. I started off in features but I did a bit of everything from working at reception and typing to promotions, and some event-management at road shows. I got taken on as a fully-paid member of staff three years later. This was back in ‘94 so we were dealing with tapes then before the automated play-out systems came in. I was there for three years and was a casualty of the buy-out of Metro Radio by Emap who were making a lot of people redundant but I got a job with Minster FM in York two days later. So, that’s how I started.
S] Can you tell me how your rock show at KCFM started?
J] Can I be honest and tell you that I was cr***ing myself!? As I said, I worked at Minster FM for four years and they were part of a really big group. I worked for Hallam FM (Sheffield) and Yorkshire Coast Radio in Scarborough and we did an RSL (radio signalling link) in Doncaster – so I got lots of experience. I then moved to the BBC for three years and then left to go and live in London and work for a songwriter. So, during that time I was completely out of radio and so I came back up north with no up-to-date experience and it was really hard. I’d say it was almost as difficult as getting into it in the first place. The reason I got the job at KCFM was that, the station manager used to work for Viking and they gave me the show. I had around two weeks to plan it and talk to them about it. I always had this idea that where people always went wrong with radio – especially within specialist music – is that you try and play too many obscure things or local unknown stuff for the sake of it. I think that you really need to cover a wide range of genres because even in the alternative are there’s a lot of stuff. My whole thing was that we need to have local content and that’s certainly important at a station of this size. Of course, it’s also important to play hits – I wanted to play everything from classic stuff like Led Zeppelin through to Kiss, Motley Crue and Poison and all these 80s bands that people really love. You know from interviewing new bands that they will tell you who has inspired them and it’s always these classic bands. As far as the name Crown Jules – it came from a guy who I used to work for in New York who used to call me that. One of my many jobs was working as part of an internet station called Music One and I had the Crown Jules show on there. So when I said to Anne-Marie (programme manager at the time) that my radio name was Crown Jules she told me she loved it and that’s how it began.
S] What are the key ingredients to the Crown Jules show?
J] The whole Crown Jules thing has developed into a brand of its own with a real identity and distinct sound. I would say that the key ingredients are personality, pace, attitude and brand building. Lots of people could do rock shows and they would be completely different, even if they played the songs that I play week in and week out. I like to bring a little bit of fun in to it. In terms of the format – I have about 51 minutes of audio to fill and I like to keep it very music driven, so we will have about twelve songs an hour. I like to mix old stuff with new stuff. There’s also a song of the week, and I usually do a local gig guide every week. I am always at big show as well so I will do a review and play an interview. Also, if there’s a band on I have to prep what questions I am going to ask them and it tends to follow the same format. Often the band will play a live set acoustically which incorporates one of their own songs as well as a cover done in their own way. The band I have on tonight (Sunday, September 27) The Mis-takes are from Hull and they’re a bit like Me First And The Gimmie Gimmie’s – they take classic tracks and they punk them up. On a typical show day I will come in early in the afternoon, listen to the music that I have been sent and see what fits with my brand before the show begins.
S] Can you tell us about how the show is going to be changing?
J] Yeah. It’s the last rock show in its current format tonight – so I am going to go out with a bang and play all of my favourite songs including all of the heavy stuff that I am really not going to be allowed to play anymore. The reason that it’s changing is because KCFM has been bought over. I am still keeping my show, and it’s still going to be specialist but it’s going to concentrate on new music including a variety of different genres. Of course, the main thing for me is that there will still be a heavy rock influence because I am allowed to choose around nine songs per show that will rock. That’s important to me because it means that all the hard work I have done with my show and building up contacts at labels will not go to waste because I can play their new stuff and just drop the classic tunes. This isn’t a problem for me as I’ve always been about seeing what’s new and looking at new bands coming out. It’s going to be called ‘The Sunday Sesh With Crown Jules’ and I am really excited about it. It’s important to me that I have been allowed to retain all of my industry contacts because it is very important because I didn’t work this hard for two years to just have to drop it and not have any influence any more.
S] What do you think about the north and south divide in terms of the alternative music scene – do you belief that bands need to go down south in order to be successful?
J] I disagree with that completely. Speaking from Hull’s point of view there’s absolutely no need for anyone to do that anymore. I think that with the way the record industry is changing with downloading being a key factor – it really is moving forward. I think that getting into the Hull scene and seeing local bands – I mean, I have had a band in every week for two years – and finding out how they record their demos and get their name out there, it’s all very online-orientated with MySpace and other sites and it’s very exciting.
I think that in the past bands have had to go south because that’s where the people were who made the decisions and could book you but that really isn’t the case. I mean, one question I always ask bands is, ‘Because this show is all about giving local bands a voice – what’s the one piece of advice you would give them?’ I interviewed Corey Taylor at Sonisphere for the second time and I said that to him and he replied, ‘Man, you’ve just got to be true to yourself and don’t be swayed by anybody telling you this is how it’s got to be done, because you’ve got to play your song night in and night out and love it.’ So that was his advice and I think that it works. There are lots of things that bands can do for themselves now. There’s a place called The Warren in Hull which is this really cool place and there are lots of separate independent studios that are run by really professional people. There’s at least four or five of these in Hull where you can actually, for a small fee, get some professional production. Actually there’s a guy called Colin Richardson who’s one of the big names in metal record production and he actually lives in Bridlington believe it or not.
S] We know a few bands in Hull that don’t really know where to go, and are a bit disillusioned, so can you tell us about some of the best places to go?
J] There are loads of places and you just need to find them. When I first started doing this show, I really was like, ‘Where the hell am I going to get a local gig guide together where do I go?’ I’d been away from the area for a long time and in that space loads of places had sprung up. I go to the Polar Bear on Spring Bank, and they have live music every Friday and Saturdays – that set-up is really cool. I also really like The Welly and The Piper club on Newland Avenue. Also, The Springhead is another place that is just so random and out in the middle of a housing estate with this excellent PA and stage for people to play on. So, if bands are looking for places to play then there is so much on offer.
S] Going back to you and your show – what are you looking forward to in the future – will you always stay “metal” in terms of your broadcasting duties?
J] I think that living in the north where there really isn’t a great choice of media outlets it is hard to survive – I mean, I have a day job in marketing on a Monday to Friday which pays me more than a local presentation job at a radio station would ever do. Ultimately I would like to work in America for a station called KRock who I am going to send a demo to. The dream would be to do what I do on the weekends day in and day out. I’ve done it before but never in a predominantly rock environment. But these jobs are out there for people you just have to keep going. I honestly feel like I am doing the ground work right now and I am laying the bricks. Keep striving, keep plugging away, tenacity is the key.
I always ask bands the same question so it’s weird to be on the other side for once! I am always sending out demos and I don’t let it put me off if I get a negative response. I just see these things as a way for building relationships and that’s how people can get their foot in the door within this industry.
S] Is there a band on the Hull scene that really stands out for you at the moment?
J] There are loads of bands around this area and Yorkshire. There is a signed band called Glamour Of The Kill who played Sonisphere this year and they are really great, heavy heads down headbanging metal. I also really like a band called Storming The Banquet – I asked them to define their sound to me and they are a bit of indie, folk, metal and pop – they real were amazing and they were on the show a couple of weeks ago and covered a Take That song and it was really good. There are a lot of really talented musicians up here and it’s great to meet them all.
S] You obviously cover all areas of the North, so what does a band have to do to get on the show?
J] Just send me a link to your MySpace. I think that quality is very important. I really don’t want any band who have been together five minutes coming on the show. I would like them to have demonstratable passion for what they do and this usually comes across when we speak before the show. I think it’s also important to be able to put songs together and so I look at that. So, the first thing is the quality of the music and the second thing is personality because I have had bands on in the past that come into a live radio situation and you open the mic and they say nothing and there’s no banter. So it’s really important to have no nerves coming in. The third thing is that it’s essential for the band to want to play live. We obviously have a studio here but it’s not a recording studio, so it’ll be an acoustic and unplugged set. So, it’s essential to be able to come in with an acoustic guitar and perform a couple of tracks for me – one original and one live. So it’s a bit like Radio 1’s live lounge but on a smaller scale.
S] If you could have a Crown Jules dinner party and you could pick some artists to have dinner with you who would you pick and why?
J] Okay, the first one would be James Hetfield – for obvious reasons he is just an absolute legend and Metallica are simply one of my favourite bands of all time. Am I only allowed four? I might need to go over because I read this thing about James Hetfield in Slash’s autobiography where Slash had said that he’d walked in on James being pleasured by a girl and repeating the phrase, ‘That’ll be fine’. [Laughs] I’d want to talk to him for that reason alone and because they rocked at Sonisphere. I’d probably feed him some kind of Asian food. My second choice I think, would have to be Dave Grohl because I think that he is an incredibly charismatic frontman and hugely important to music. I recently went to Leeds fest and his new band Them Crooked Vultures played a surprise set and he just sat there and played drums the whole time while Josh Homme did the vocals. So, I would pick Dave Grohl because I think that he is funny – check out the video for ‘Learn To Fly’ – based on that he would definitely be there.
I would also choose Corey Taylor because he is just so nice. The first time I interviewed him was at Download a number of years ago back when I worked for the BBC around 2003. I just approached him – it was just as Stone Sour where picking up and he wasn’t with Slipknot – he had really long hair. I asked someone who it was and I when I was told I just went up to him – I hadn’t even asked a label about doing an interview or anything – and asked if I could have ten minutes, he said yes and we sat down and he talked very candidly about his upbringing and how he’d had a really sh*t time having lived on the streets for a little while. So Corey because of where he was to where h now is. Definitely Rob Flynn from Machine Head. I interviewed them when they were supporting Metallica on the ‘Death Magnetic‘ tour. I would like him to make me a Brown Eye because he drinks them on stage all the time and I don’t know what’s in them. I’d also pick Josh Homme because I think he is very cool and very attractive so I would like him to be there.
I’d also pick Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers – I love them. I really like their sound but he has had a huge drug addiction and has really struggled in the past. I find him really fascinating so I would like him to be there as well.
S] Okay, so Jules tell us your unrestricted top five favourite tunes to play?
J] Anything? Okay well, ‘I’m Broken’ by Pantera – I love that track and somebody once asked me: ‘When you are in a really bad mood how do you get into the right mindset to do the show and I tell them that it I just head into the studio and listen to really loud music and stuff that I really like. Also, a Metallica track – I mean I like the new album – possibly ‘Broken Beaten And Scarred’… [at this point Jules plays the track and we discuss the finer points of ‘Tallica riffage]…So I would have that one and then the track that they end every single set on ‘Seek And Destroy’ as it’s the perfect festival tune and it’s great to see them play it with the wind in their hair and the smell of chemical toilets in the air. I’d also need an extreme song though because I saw them in Leeds last year and I have loved them ever since their album ‘Pornograffiti’ which was in the early 90s and some Steel Panther.
S] Back to you now, obviously music journalism is an incredibly competitive industry so we’d like to know what drives you to succeed – what’s your advice for anyone who perhaps wants to start their own rock show?
J] The one thing you need to have is perseverance. I mean, I could have given up so many times in that space where I wasn’t involved in radio – I was out of it for three years and it took two just to get back in to it – so five years in total and the longer it got the more I became worried that I didn’t have enough up-to-date experiences because it’s fine having done it ten years before but if you don’t have anything current in this industry everything changes – there’s new play-out systems and more. You’ve got to keep trying and don’t give up, I mean, you get so many no’s from people telling you that you are too fast or too slow, or that you’re too young or not young enough you know? You just have to keep going because the industry changes so quickly like, I sent a demo to XFM once and got to the next stage where they asked me to do an XFM specific show and so I went in having downloaded some of their jingles so it sounded really genuine and the guy came back to me saying that I was too fast. That guy doesn’t work there anymore – people change and they move so you are always in with a chance. Also, don’t pis* anybody off because this is such an incestuous business.
Be prepared to work for free because both times I was trying to get back into radio I worked for absolutely nothing for a good few months. When I started at Viking FM I worked for nothing for six months and they took me on because I had done my course and then when I did this I gave up a job that I hated to come and freelance in the newsroom and it was only through being here that you get in and get to know the people and you can prove yourself. The other thing is you need to be able to take it on the chin when people tell you that you’re s*it and privately know that you are actually really cool and very good at what you do.
For more information visit Crown Jules‘ official MySpace and the KCFM website.
Watch Hull-based band Squealer perform on Jules‘ show below: