Sue Marchant

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On Sunday 24 January, Sue Marchant joined the Felixstowe Radio team with her debut show where she played some of her favourite tunes and chatted with singer/songwriter, Steve Harley. I listened with excitement and look forward to incorporating her 10am-12noon show into my morning routine from now on!

Sue has a fascinating history and successful career in the music industry, including work with BBC Radio, and as a talented vocalist she has enjoyed singing in various bands. As a fan of her radio shows, it was a pleasure for me to chat with Sue about her life, music career and current projects.

Sue, I’ve always been interested in how someone’s earlier years can affect their future; can you tell us a bit about your background?

“I am an only child born in London and from the age of 18 months, my parents ran a pub in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Until I started school I was mixing only with adults (playing dominoes with pensioners) my dog Lucy and cat Timmy. I was incredibly lucky when I was eight to learn to ride at the local riding school and my love of horses was born, I do love animals and wanted to train as a riding instructor.

“At Stratton Grammar School the best thing I loved was the school farm and the school choir. I have washed and dried a lot of glasses! My dad was always playing Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller and Kathy Kirby records, plus the Everly Brothers’ ‘Wake up little Susie’ – his radiogram fascinated me.

“My first job from leaving school was at Pergamon Press as a production assistant. At 15 I used to commute from Sandy in Bedfordshire (where my parents had taken on another pub) to Kings Cross. It was in The London Evening Standard lurking on the train home that I saw an ad, ‘Female DJs wanted’, and I started lugging albums and singles in suitcases to a few London pubs that had DJs on a Friday lunchtime. I ended up living in Nottingham, working at the Disco Dine in the Black Boy Inn, six nights a week from 8pm-1am.”

When did your interest in music begin?

“In my youth, I always wanted to be a singer and joined a couple of bands when I was 14 after entering a talent contest and coming third, my dad was not amused.”

Can you remember your first gig? Who did you see and how old were you?

“The first gig I went to was in the village hall at Upper Caldecote – I cannot remember the name of the group, but it was a prog-rock band. My best friend and I had sneaked in – we were 13.”

With the gigs and festivals you’ve attended in the past, can you tell me any interesting, humorous and/or poignant stories from those times?

“It has been my joy to broadcast live from the Cambridge Folk Festival over the last ten years, I would spend all the festival gathering interviews and recording folk playing. Joan Armatrading, who I have chatted to on many occasions, was ready to do an interview for me and we had found a quiet place, so we began and so did the rain. It pounded on the roof of the press tent until Joan and I were in fits of laughter as it was impossible to record. After that, I was able to bring my campervan into the press area to do my interviews in.

“One year I was trying to get Imelda May. It was almost time to go to air, I had the folk duo ‘Ninebarrow’ already in the van set up to play, and as we were about to do the first link Imelda appeared and squeezed in to give a brilliant star start to the broadcast!

“One of my favourite festivals is FolkEast and in the early days, as well as compere I was hosting ‘Q & A SESSIONS’ the other end of the festival field. There was much hilarity from The Young‘uns, patrons of the festival, and many sing-offs to follow in the bar!”

When did you know you wanted to work in the music industry and how did your education choices help you reach your goals?

“I had always wanted to do something in entertainment, which I have achieved, and I don’t believe my education choices really counted as I left school at 15 and survived on charm, personality and hard work, and things were a lot different in 1970s; there were lots of jobs.

“I appeared on New Faces around 1974 with the band ‘Zoot’. We didn’t win but it was a fantastic experience. I took a break from everything when I fell in love, had my children and lived abroad until 1984.”

Who inspired you when you were growing up and while you were moving towards your career in the music industry? 

“There is no one person, I tend to be a loner and have my own inspirational path, and I am lucky; I always say it’s all cosmic!

“My first radio was tuned to Luxemburg, but I never thought of being on radio.”

Your passion for listening to and sharing music radiates from you! Can you tell me more about your experiences as a musician yourself?  

“I am forever trying to improve my ukulele playing but singing has always been my thing. After returning to England my husband lost several jobs so I thought I should start singing again to bring some money in. I was the last ever talent winner at Butlins Skegness – £500 came in very handy – and a fantastic cabaret band called ‘Hollywood Nights’ offered me a job which I juggled between being a mum and travelling the UK.”

I am a fan of your ‘radio voice’ – it’s comforting and so natural. What’s your response when I say my ears enjoy hearing you on the radio?

“My radio career began in 1995 when I saw that a rock station called X-CEL FM was bidding for a local licence for the Fens. By October 1999 we were on air full time and I had the lunchtime slot and was also in charge of promotions for the station. I was the only female presenter, apart from a recorded show from Carol Miller in the USA. My boss told me I was on X-CEL because people liked my voice, they felt calmed by it and said I sounded like a friend. My first rule of radio is always being yourself, it’s all about you and me!”

Can you tell me about your favourite music/bands/musicians and musical tastes?

“My taste is so broad from Sinatra, Doris Day, The Beatles, Francoise Hardy to Joe Bonamassa, Fairport Convention, Billie Holiday, Melody Gardot, Beth Neilson Chapman, Martyn Joseph, Elkie Brookes, Nell Bryden and Beth Hart. I love so much from big bands to the blues.

“Folk is a focus of mine as there is such an assortment of artists, traditional and contemporary, who blow my mind.”

With your music industry career, can you tell me about your past and current work?

“My first radio work was with X-CEL FM from 1999 to 2002. I Joined BBC Cambridgeshire (Cambs) to do ‘Early Breakfast’, then the first local radio ‘Nightshift’ across the region from 1am-5am for 20 months, four nights a week.

“I also worked at BBC Northampton on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I presented the weekday evening regional show for seven years before it went national (broke my heart). I was still employed by BBC Cambs as staff and I worked on projects such as ‘World War One at Home’ and my daily ‘Runaround Sue’ show, again on BBC Cambs.

“Every Sunday was ‘Sue Marchant’s Big Night’ across the region and then I had a folk show on a Monday evening co-hosting with Nicky Stockman for BBC Cambs.

“Covid knocked all shows for six and in August last year I launched a Sunday evening folk show on BBC Cambs, but I was also accepted for voluntary redundancy which I took to unleash myself.

Sue told me about her current radio shows – tune in and enjoy great music and guest interviews:
Can you tell me about some of the bands and musicians you’ve enjoyed meeting and interviewing?

“The best thing about my ‘Big Night In’ show was to invite artists to play live, especially when they are just starting out and local. The pleasure of driving a live session is wonderful. ‘Honey and the Bear’ are ones to watch, as well as John Ward Trio’. Sadly, ‘The Broadside Boys’ are no longer, but I remember Mat being beautifully persistent to get on the radio with me and, right until the end, he would come to the studio and perform. There is so much talent in East Anglia.

“Colin Blunstone came to the studio to perform – to sit there when he hits that high note in ‘Say You Don’t Mind’ was electric. ‘Passenger’ is one artist who used to come and play for me before he hit the big time. When I first started my BBC shows on a Sunday evening, my first ever guest was Donovan, who came to the studio and guitar God, Snowy White.”

You’ve met so many musicians and bands, have you ever felt starstruck when meeting them? What’s it like speaking to your musical heroes?

“No, never starstruck, but when doing a phone interview with Todd Rundgren, I was all set up and his phone just kept ringing with no answer. I had to give up but managed to get him the next evening. He was so apologetic because there had been a storm in Hawaii that had knocked his power out, so although his phone was ringing at my end there was no power to it. He really went overboard, being so sweet about it. He is one of my heroes.”

We’re all so pleased you’ve joined the Felixstowe Radio team! I feel you’re a true asset to them and they’re such a great bunch, it must be really nice working with them. Can you tell me about how your work (and your Sunday morning show) with Felixstowe Radio came about?

“Lovely Rob Dunger asked me to do an interview about me leaving the BBC and starting on the Delux Radio online station. We had a super chat. Rob was always so lovely whenever I visited BBC Suffolk, he said I should do something on Felixstowe so after Julie rang me for a chat I kind of fell into being part of the team.”

What’s it like working with the Felixstowe Radio team?

“So far everyone has been so friendly and helpful and once again, Rob Dunger has been a superstar. I know Roger Petit from FolkEast compere days so I feel that I am reconnecting with great people and the area.”

Can you tell me about your Sunday morning show on Felixstowe Radio?

“My show is about my choice of music, musings and a natter to a guest about their Sunday mornings and life in general. It’s chilled out but fun.”

What do you love about Felixstowe? Do you have any memories and favourite haunts?

“I have only been to Felixstowe about a dozen times so to explore Felixstowe further is on my list – and to visit the studio.

“I remember playing with my band ‘Freestyle’ at Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club and wandering through the gardens and along the beach. When on the ‘Nightshift’ program there was always the crane operators at the Port being interactive on texts about how windy it was there. I was to go to Felixstowe Sands with my daughter and granddaughter but Covid didn’t allow.”

The pandemic has changed how we live and work so much – can you tell me how the Covid crisis and the various lockdowns have affected you and your work?

“Just before Covid hit I was taken away from work in an ambulance with chest pains. It was quite upsetting as I was told I was having a heart attack – I wasn’t, it was all put down to indigestion and a virus. I felt really ill for six weeks and was signed off work. There was no going back to the office or studios and the BBC was very strict on keeping everyone safe and I had to work from home. My Sunday evening show was gone and so was my Monday evening folk show due to the schedule changes, and I was working from home sourcing stories for the newsroom. Eventually, I went out reporting with a fishing net for social distanced recording. Things just never felt the same for me and I could see that the BBC was changing and having to make cuts, sadly.”

We’ve chatted about your ever-growing CD collection and how you prepare your radio shows – can you tell our readers and your listeners about the process?

“I am now producing five radio shows which are all pre-recorded for the time being: a music and chat show for Felixstowe Radio, A folk show for Spotted in Ely, A folk show for Delux Radio, a Gold Folk show for Delux Gold and I’m soon to start a music show for Cambridge 105 Radio.

“I select all of the music, find some interesting guests to have a natter with and it all comes together, it’s an instinct with me. As I have said before, I am lucky and I love radio and sharing music.”

You’ve told me that you love chatting to people, that it’s a highlight of your work. Can you tell me more about this?

“I love interviewing people and having experts on shows I have presented in the past. ‘The Naked Scientists’ used to come on my evening show and we used to do a Q and A with listeners and learn so much.

“On my afternoon ‘Runaround Sue’ show on BBC Cambs I used to go and meet people to celebrate their positivity, passions and places across Cambridgeshire. I absolutely loved doing the show, it was a lot of work but I managed, and I met some wonderful people.”

What are your hopes and goals for the future?

“My hope for the future is that we get over this pandemic safely. We are all making history – now the world, I hope, will learn to look after the planet and themselves better and realise that Mother Nature is not a force to be messed with.”

“My goal is to continue being on radio and build my little business up of vintage items plus essential oils and diffusers on Ely Market. I loved having a stall all through December until Covid stopped trade.

“I am so looking forward to visiting and hugging my daughters and going to the seaside and camping.”

Thanks, Sue, for the very enjoyable chat! It’s been great learning more about you.

Sue is always looking for new music by talented musicians and loves hearing from her listeners. If you’d like to submit your music or get in touch with her about her shows, you can find her on Facebook: Sue Marchant’s Radio Shows – where you’ll find contact details and her latest news.

Do tune in to Sue’s radio shows – you’re in for a treat. Happy listening!