Inside the Chill Out Zone: Annie recording her show at BBC’s Yalding House, Clipstone Street, London W1 in 1995. Photo by Martyn Goodacre.
We loved working with Annie Nightingale. All of us at Heavenly were obviously very aware of her, she’d been ever-present in our lives, really, whether it was on the radio, Top of the Pops or on The Old Grey Whistle Test. But she wasn’t just someone who’d been there and done it, she was someone still at the cutting edge. Her shows on Radio 1 were fantastic, her enthusiasm and passion for the music she was playing was totally genuine. It was mad that Annie was on the radio every week playing the most genius, upfront music. This sounds a bit patronising, but ladies of a certain age weren’t given platforms to share their enthusiasms. That show was an anomaly.
She is such an enthusiastic person; she was so into every aspect of making the record. I remember we’d sit in the Eagle on Farringdon Road and we’d be going through the tracklisting and she’d be eulogising each and every track she wanted on there. She knocked my socks off, she really jumped in fully. The album was never about using Annie as a brand and just putting something out; she was working out what went where and how it would all sound and how it flowed. And all the decisions she made were
So, doing the record was quite a simple decision, and a lot of fun. Plus we just couldn’t resist that title.
• Jeff Barrett •
• Annie Nightingale • 1 April 1940 – 11 January 2024 •
I’d been doing a Sunday evening request show on Radio 1 for twelve years, broadcasting weekly all the way through the 1980s up to 1992. Each week, people would ring in for their favourite Smiths record or a Prefab Sprout track. Lots of the same indie bands would get requested week in, week out. Around the end of the eighties, I began hearing all this fabulous new music. It was dance music, really, and it kept arriving on 12-inch singles with wonderful long remixes and extended tracks that people like Andrew Weatherall were making. Most of the tracks would be bought in specialist shops on recommendations as I wasn’t getting sent them by record companies because, if they had them, they didn’t know how to promote them. It was a real shift from what had come before and musically it was much more up my street. Those tracks began creeping into my shows from 1988 onwards and it became a much bigger part of it after Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ came out.
Eventually, with a change of scheduling person at the BBC, I got moved to a slot later into the night. I didn’t mind because it meant I could play more of this new music that I loved, rather than three-minute edits of things that had been out for years. I had completely fallen in love with this incredibly exciting scene and had started going out clubbing with Bobby and Innes from Primal Scream, having met them in Brighton where we all lived.
I was playing dance music before Pete Tong arrived on Radio 1 at the start of 1991. John Peel was the only other DJ playing similar records; it was seen by the powers that be as a weird niche. The station was very out of touch with what was going on around the country – with the real underground. After they brought in Pete Tong, and his show really worked, a lot more dance DJs arrived at the station and they tried to catch up with rivals like KISS and pirate stations all over.
That love and obsession went on for years. Still does, really. I’d be doing the show and each week I’d get calls from people saying, ‘Where can I get that track?’ In those days some of those records were only pressed on 500 12-inches. Fewer, maybe. Once they’d sold out, you couldn’t get them. Someone might have something taped onto a cassette off someone who had a copy. Otherwise they ceased to exist. No one was making compilations of that stuff. There was no iTunes or Spotify or YouTube. Those white labels were precious items and people were desperate to get hold of them. I knew that because I was getting calls every week to the show where you’d have people going, ‘I’ve been out in Bristol and I can’t find this record. I have to have it, can you play it? Can anyone help?’ I knew what that feeling was like. Music wasn’t there at your fingertips like it is now.
More and more, my Radio 1 show was becoming a meeting point for people all over the country who’d been out clubbing and who were maybe all back at somebody’s house after a club. They’d started calling the show The Chill Out Zone. It really wasn’t very chilled out. From about two till five on a Sunday morning you’d be playing these amazing records then you’d have people ringing in trying to piece the night together. They might be trying to find a rave somewhere; they’d be out driving, in a field somewhere, trying to find the location: ‘I’m near Luton, I can see lights but I can’t find it. Where is it? Help!’ Or you’d get people calling in with simple requests like, ‘Can you tell our mate to hurry up because we’ve run out of Rizla?’
We were totally getting away with it – it was like a huge interconnected party on the air. So I thought, ‘Let’s do a compilation.’ And, at that point, compilations were desperately unfashionable. They were things like Now That’s What I Call Music and the Hits albums that provided a great service for pop kids, but there wasn’t a point where dance music was being collected and lovingly pored over. That whole culture was so exciting and I wanted to make it more available and to reflect the scene which was clearly out there, happening every weekend. I’d met Jeff through the Scream. He seemed to know everyone involved in the scene, all the DJs and bands who were making this fantastic music. I went to meet Jeff with the idea of compiling a bunch of those tracks and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’
Jeff was a real guiding force. I didn’t know anything about rights or how we got permission to use things, especially if they were unreleased. Or if they’d been limited editions. He just said, ‘Give me a list’ and he got on with tracking them down. He made it happen. I don’t think any other label could or would have done it. Heavenly, and Jeff in particular, are so free. It’s why they’ve stayed ahead of the game for so long, doing their own thing.
Annie on One became a bit of a soundtrack for a certain type of ‘up all night’ person – people who wanted to keep the vibe going and didn’t want to let go of the weekend. People have been staying up all night since rock ’n’ roll started – you might as well give them a good soundtrack. That compilation completely changed the perception of me in the media. Until then, there was an older Radio 1 audience who’d known me through the eighties, playing those indie records on a Sunday, but they maybe hadn’t known that I’d fallen very hard for acid house.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that album completely changed my life. It got people to see me in a completely different way; I was part of a completely different scene, connected to a different audience who thought and acted in a different way to the old rock crowd. I can’t stress enough that it gave me a new lease of life. I even ended up with a residency at Gatecrasher in Leeds! Years later, I met Danny Boyle – this was a year or two after the Olympics. He told me he had a copy and that he loved the Annie on One compilation. That really blew me away. I love his films and his taste in music. I have to say, I was terribly proud of that.
Interviewed by Robin Turner in 2020 for Believe In Magic: Heavenly Recordings The First 30 Years (White Rabbit Books). (Used courtesy of White Rabbit Books and Curtis Brown).