“Broadcasting from Tolworth Tower, it's into the night with Heart FM, the SOUND of south-west London…"
There are many unusual and enjoyable times to listen to the radio but the all night shelf-stacking shift at J.S. Sainsbury's isn't really one of them. The music's main purpose seemed to be to block out the sound of ‘Big’ Sean shouting at ‘Dodsy’ – : "that's shit, mate! I want it all shifted before three..." in which task it, occasionally, succeeded.
The radio is also, perhaps, intended to provide stimulation during the otherwise weary hours of monotonous labour. But this is no update on ‘Worker's Playtime’ ; more of an ingeniously staged environmental challenge, particularly if you're working Aisle 23 (beans, soups, tinned meat etc). Located approximately mid-store you are now perfectly positioned to ‘enjoy’ the sound of two different radio stations simultaneously blasting out at equal volume, one from ‘up-store’, one from ‘down’, This demands a certain psychological discipline. You have to decide which station you're listening to and somehow ignore the other. For a while it's just about do-able, but, oh, how quickly the mind crumbles. After that you just work faster to get the hell out of Aisle 23.
The vicinity of the bakery, come 5am, could also be a little hard on the ears. It's the start of the day for those guys. They have their own radio, their own preferred station and they're havin' it large and loud.
Not that it's an entirely passive experience for the nocturnal toilers. There are many nice ‘shout-alongs’, especially from the middle-aged women stackers every time a Madonna song gets played. Similarly, the Nigerian guys would occasionally venture some vaguely West African melody. Nice, except that none of them could actually sing and, owing to their awareness of the fact, the songs rarely lasted two minutes until they felt obliged to make stringent observations of each others dismal vocal abilities. This was useful only in that it served to break up Moses's endless whistling extravaganzas - his lack of vocal ability being lamentably matched by his failed attempts at tuneful lip-puckering.
Heart FM’s Saturday night's offerings are strictly up-tempo, Sunday night's stay light and melodic until about 3am when it's ‘suicide ballad’ time. They work, perhaps, on the assumption that anyone still wakeful during the early hours of a Monday in a south London suburb must be in dire need of a ‘top yourself-style’ soundtrack such as Eric Carmen's ‘All By Myself’, Nilsson's ‘Without You’ or Karen Carpenter getting all mopey.
But, whether it’s happy Saturday or sad Sunday, the station's concept of song rotation was always limited, to put it kindly. With certain songs, repetition seems to create a kind of inoculation; an immunity to irritation achieved by constant exposure. I've heard Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ more times than any man should be expected to in one lifetime, and yet it remained an amazingly durable song while Gabriella Cilmi's ‘Sweet About Me’ grew on me, alarmingly, the more I heard it.
But other songs are so virulent that there's no accommodation to be made with them. Some seem progressively worse with each hearing. K T Tunstall's ‘Suddenly’ proved itself a particularly nasty example, its unending cycle of repeat choruses a fine approximation of an eternity in Hell. Likewise, Snow Patrol's apparent hymn to lethargy ‘Chasing Cars’ always instilled a strong desire to send the songwriter to Helmand Province, minus sun block.
Perhaps the most teeth-gritting moments were inspired by Estelle's ‘American Boy’, a song so idiotically perky that it wouldn't feel welcome on the happiest summer morning of your entire life, let alone the supermarket graveyard shift. Also, it made me drop things; big, heavy glass things, often containing jam and on one, mildly spectacular occasion, large quantities of red wine (“Damn it all, man, that was the Rothschild '39” quoth ‘Big’ Sean. )
However, the song that finally broke me was a classic oldie. I was blitzing ‘roll-outs’ onto pallets with ‘Young’ James and ‘the Twins’. We're running late. ‘Big’ Sean is reminding us of this fact every ten minutes. And then, seemingly for the billionth, trillionth time, on comes Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans Of Shitting Swing’.
“Oh, for fuck's sake!”
“That wanker just never stops playing lead guitar...”
“Can't say I've ever noticed, mate”.
The Twins look amiably bemused. One gently ventures the question:
“Don't you like music, Keiron?”
is a musician and writer. Occasionally he runs out of money and, stupidly, takes blue collar jobs. Because he thinks it makes him look ‘hard’ - then he wonders why his back hurts, not to mention his ears…
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