Interview: Ally McCrae

Considering your focus in the past, who do you feel is currently the most exciting Scottish act? And you’re not allowed to say Prides!

Aahaa, I like that – no conflict of interest! Model Airplanes from Dundee are such an exciting band – they’re making really catchy indie-pop music and I think it transcends what you’d normally expect. When you hear indie-pop, you might think of The Kooks or whoever, something that sounds quite 5-years-ago, but I think it’s the way they write songs. Their lyricism is so accessible considering they’re just 18. I am excited to hear what they’re going to come with next because they were played on the Radio 1 Review Show that we broadcast here [at the QMU] on Tuesday night and luckily I’ve been able to choose one song a week for that.

On the show, they choose a ‘Most Loved’ track, and first week, it was my other choice, Fatherson and week two they chose Model Airplanes, so week three, I’m terrified!  I’m excited by what Model Airplanes are doing now, but what they’re going to do next excites me even more. It’s so early in their career, in a business sense – they’re only just getting a team around them and their manager’s working really hard. They’re just really exciting, in a Two Door Cinema Club kind of way, they could just blow up.

Bit of a two-pointer here – who do you feel is your biggest discovery and who do you wish you had discovered?

For the first part, a guy from Scotland who’s just been signed to Disclosure’s label, Leon T Pearl – we had him at our BBC Introducing Showcase in Brighton. I like his live show, he’s got a little way to go, he needs maybe more of a stage show presence, because it’s more just a guy with a laptop right now. But the beats and vocals he’s coming out with are GREAT. It’s just cool, and he produces all the beats himself but there’s something a bit more upbeat than Disclosure stuff, a bit more engaging. He’s got a track called ‘Take You To Market’ and it’s a love song, but in the video for it he’s in this bizarre hat and he’s just dancing in the veg aisle of the supermarket. Check it out, it’s really weird! I think it’s just this random little shop in Edinburgh too! You can see people walking on by… Anyway, it just seems exciting what he’s doing and he’s got real passion, so he’s definitely one to look for in the future.

On who I wish I’d discovered… I guess Jen was one of the first to play London Grammar on Radio 1, and I can kind of half claim credit for that because it’s still on my show but it was totally Jen. So I’ll give her that one, but look at the size of London Grammar now! Jen was really on that, proper early doors.

Speaking of Jen Long, who is lovely by the way, how was it going from individual presenters to a team? Did you meld right away or did it take time?

Well, we were friends before we started – we’d hung out together, partied together, been to festivals, chatted and all that. Plus, even though she’d worked at the BBC before behind the scenes as a broadcast assistant for a while, we started on air at the same time. It took a little while because, to make us even more bizarre, we don’t actually broadcast from the same studio.

Does that kind of set up ever make you feel a little disconnected, even though you’re meant to be presenting together?

I hope not! But it did take quite a while to get used to, because I’m running the desk and watching her on a laptop. Poor little Jen has to sit on her own in a studio whilst I count down, because we have to mute the laptop before we put the mics up, so if it’s the end of a song and you want to make it smooth and sharp and punchy, you have to count down from ten.Sometimes, one of two things can happen – the laptop can freeze, or my brain can freeze because I’m trying to think about what I’m going to do.

One time I remember counting down from ten and then one hand just starting counting back up to ten and Jen’s on the other end going “Uhhhhhh….” And she just has to guess what I’m going to do! Obviously, on a Sunday, it may have been a long week – it may have been an even longer weekend – so it’s the sort of time you want to not have to focus at midnight! So sometimes it can get a little odd, but we just try to see it as part of the atmosphere we try to create for the show – like we’re just hanging out, playing some music, one of us will definitely be hungover. It’s good because we need to relate to the audience and most people are either up late doing their homework, which is why we’ve started a new feature called ‘Last Minute Legends’, which is basically just reading out the names of people who’ve left everything to the last minute!

So, I’ve seen you all over the place in the QMU at the Academy this week, so what have you discovered or learnt from either a workshop or simply from a chat with someone?

I’ve learnt that Rita Ora is really bloody nice! She’s lovely, and interviewing her was fun because I don’t usually get let loose with actual mega pop stars, so that was a bit of a leap of faith on my boss’ part.

But the thing that keeps coming up on every single one of these panels is about taking a risk, I suppose, and I’ve taken many in my time! It’s about putting yourself out there and just doing it – not to sound too cheesy, but #takeiton.

But it is just that, and things become a cliché for a reason, so just go give it a bash! If it doesn’t work out, then maybe it’s not for you. And what I think is the most important thing, because I bloody love the BBC, I believe in it, I think it should exist and I think it can be a real force for good. Obviously we’ve come here with some huge names – Richard Branson, hanging out, saying naughty words?! That sort of stuff is all well and good to inspire people, but if we don’t give them a space to actually do that… I was hosting an open mic for two days which I was absolutely dreading because you know how if you go to an open mic the host, if nobody gets up to play, has to play! I am tone deaf! Nobody would’ve wanted to see that, and I thought nobody would come and I thought there’s going to be loads of people milling about and I’ll have to fill in for ten minutes talking absolute rubbish. I just kept thinking “this is going to be a car crash”, but from Monday when we opened up the sign-ups, it took an hour and all the spaces were gone. Yesterday, I think we got through 22 acts in 2 hours which was bonkers!

So for me, that was one of the most important things we did here because we can preach all day and say the best clichés and be like “YEAH YOU CAN DO IT” then just naff off. But we need to give people the opportunity to do what they want to do and get up on stage, and there was comedians up on stage who’d been at the comedy workshops! Obviously, there were musicians up there, but we also had spoken word poets, so all that was going on after we’d given these talks and workshops. So I think that was so important that we didn’t just go “Here’s the information, bye bye” but we said “here’s a space, here’s Radio 1 DJs”. Greg James had a girl play him acoustic guitar on his show yesterday to millions of listeners – that’s giving people an opportunity and that’s why the BBC is amazing! MIC DROP.

[Yes, he said that. And then we were interrupted by Tinchy Stryder for a second…]

So yeah, that’s my impassioned speech about the BBC!

Lastly, do you have any little nuggets of advice?

Well, at the Q&A with myself, Fern and Edith, being interviewed by our boss which was very strange, he kept coming back to that thing of being a nice person to everyone you meet. It’s so obvious, but you would not believe how many people forget it once they start working in the industry. Yes it’s a very stressful thing, and yes it’s very long days but you’ve got to remember that, be it one of the world’s most famous artists that’s just walked into the room or someone who just makes the tea, you never know where someone’s going to end up, so remember that everyone’s a human! And enjoy it! If you’re not enjoying it, even if you thought it’s what you wanted, there’s no point if you don’t love what you’re doing.

[Jo Reid]

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