Q&A: Coughing Pigeon

The Coughing Pigeon duo, Jon and George, take time out to chat about the show and their musical lives.

Tell us about the show.

It’s called Coughing Pigeon. The name is a mixture of George’s ‘Coughing Fit’ persona and my (Jon’s) Pigeonhole night.  We are both committed to playing music from a genuinely wide range of genres.  The word ‘eclectic’ is used rather too much and when we talk about ‘sounds from across the spectrum’ we genuinely mean it.  In any two hour show you will be guaranteed to hear music from across the world and a whole range of styles.  Any given show may have a slant more towards one or two particular styles but that can depend on what we are listening to at the time or what has just been released.  We will then try to rectify that in the next show.

We try to keep the talking to a minimum.  We are both fairly self-deprecating and we don’t engage in two-way conversations on air. We try to be informative about the music so that people enjoy it and may then go and track it down – just as we do when listening to other people’s shows. So you might hear some anecdotes about the music but it’s rarely more than a minute before the next tune comes along.

We divide the show into four half hour sections and do 30 minutes each.  We rotate the order each week.

How did you get involved with Brum Radio?

By pestering over a long period!  We are both committed to Birmingham and, in a non-arrogant way, felt that a station that was aiming to be the alternative sound of Birmingham, really should have us on it!  We met Brum Radio, talked through ideas and things that we were involved with and went from there.

What was your approach when first putting the show together?

We had DJ’ed together and knew of the areas where we had great similarities and records that we both loved and also those areas that one of us may have more knowledge than the other. I know dub fairly well whereas George doesn’t, but George has fairly encyclopaedic knowledge of post-punk and industrial, for example! The show always starts quite slowly and ends pretty up-tempo.  It changes direction in between those two end points.  We wanted to create something that was genuinely different to what was currently on offer.  We also wanted to create relatively timeless shows that are up on Mixcloud that people may go back and listen to again without it feeling outdated.  We do refer to events that we are involved in and also other gigs involving bands that we like.  We try to play between 26 and 30 tracks per show. That requires us to think carefully about how many longer pieces we play in a show as we want to ensure that we are covering a broad range.

What do you look for in the music you play?

It has to move me – either in the head, the heart, the hips or the feet!  I love music that has an ‘outsider’ quality to it and isn’t necessarily straight line.  Certain lyrics can put me off tracks and certain musical patterns can ruin great vocals! Why people like certain types of music is very much a personal, often irrational and subjective issue.  I tend to have certain physical and emotional responses to music that I like the most!  We both feel that if people were exposed to a wider range of music, they would find things that they love – just like we do.  The problem with ‘playlists’ on certain larger stations and streaming services is that they can be controlled very heavily by people who either have influence or have been unduly influenced. We also think there are issues with stations or publications being too influenced by major labels or large indies and try and find our own way through the musical maze. There is one significant online publication in the “indie” world which actually has account managers rather than staff writers, for example! This restricts choice and results in some artists – be it bands or DJ’s – earning huge amounts of money and having a disproportionate effect on our culture.

Where do you find your music and how long does it take?

We live with our ears and eyes open all of the time!  Listening to other shows, ‘following’ certain labels, people who have the ability to devote their lives to music, subscribing to certain mail-outs.  We also find things from each other that we then go and buy! Going to record shops remains as important as it ever was.

Putting a show together is an ongoing process that never starts with a blank canvas.  I have a note book with the dates of forthcoming shows (and live events) at the top of separate pages and which parts of the show I am doing on any particular date.  I get ideas about things that fit well together and scribble them down. George keeps a large spreadsheet where he notes down anything that he’s discovered and thinks should go on the show, which he then usually works from when choosing his bits. Usually this has at least 100 tracks for future play. We try and put little sections of 3 or 4 tracks that go well together into a running order – a bit like you would do when DJ’ing out in public. I will normally then put the show together on a Sunday and it will take a couple of hours. This involves putting all of the tracks (and timings) on a spreadsheet.  It is really important to us that the track listing for each show is complete so that listeners can discover music and do some digging for themselves.  We then both write notes for the show so that we say what we want to say about the music (and anything else) in a concise way so that we can get on with playing more music! We play mainly vinyl but also other formats.  There is always a double check of the bag!

We come to the studio and do the show live every Friday. That element is important to us and it is nice to see the different places where people are tuning in from.  The next step would be to make it a bit more interactive.

Tell us something about your live events.

I do a monthly night called Pigeonhole at 1000 Trades.  It is on the first Saturday of every month.  This was a night that I ran in the early-mid 90’s and I decided in 2017 that I wanted to revive it!  The name derives from the idea, similar to the show, that there will be a range of genres and you won’t be able to pigeonhole the night.  Back in the 90’s I was mainly playing at Techno nights at Birmingham venues such as The Que Club and Bonds.

We both regularly play at the ‘credible 80’s night’ called ‘Nowham’ at 1000 Trades and also support bands for local promoters, ‘This is Tmrw’. George has put on a few post-punk nights in the past, and we have done a few one-off events for this specific type of music together, with one or two currently in the works.

We have done a few Coughing Pigeon live events but are looking for a venue for regular post show Friday night….!

When are they coming up next?

Pigeonhole is regular (see above). Our next band / artist supports are both at the Hare and Hounds: March 19th supporting Damo Suzuki and April 1st supporting Dennis Bovell. The next post-punk focussed event is likely to be late April.

Sum up the current Birmingham music scene in a few words.

Brimming with enthusiasm and talent, but not as widely appreciated as it should be!

And finally… recommend an artist.

Chloe Raunet should be more widely listened to!  She records as C.A.R and I love her fairly recent workalbum, Pinned. Also, try mystical Finland-via-Glasgow vocalist Cucina Povera.

Thanks! You can hear Coughing Pigeon between 6pm and 8pm every Friday, or listen again at Mixcloud.