By Roy L Hales
Phil Allen became a DJ back in the years that Cortes Community radio was a pirate station. He likes to find new music and share it with others. Phil jokes that his show is the one man and his dog show. It can feel very lonely, being in the DJ booth by himself speaking into a microphone. You don’t know if anyone is actually listening until someone comments about your show. So why does he do it? What is the Story Behind Phil’s Pick ’n Mix?
The Story Behind Phil’s Pick n Mix
As you can tell from his accent, Phil comes from England. His father still lives in Oakley village.
“That is where I go back, when I go back, but as soon as I hit adulthood I did a lot of travelling. I spent a year at college in Plymouth. I went back to Bedfordshire for a short time, realized I could not live with my parents anymore. I was in my twenties. So I moved down to London and squatted there for three years, living in empty council places,” he said.
Phil explained, “You can’t be caught for breaking and entering if you are just living there. You aren’t doing anything illegal. I didn’t consider it bad because I wasn’t taking anyone’s place. All the places we were living in were considered unfit for human habitation. They had no heating or … the council couldn’t rent them out, so we just moved in instead.”
Most of the building was occupied and, as Phil lived on the 19th floor, his unit benefitted from the residual heat below.
He eventually found inexpensive rentals in other parts of London, moved to Australia for a year and then travelled through Asia.
Coming To Cortes Island
“December 28, 1992, was the first day I was in Canada. On the sixth of January I arrived on Cortes. If you ever look up the records, it is still the record snowfall for that day. The first time I ever got to Cortes, I walked to the island of Hague Lake because it was so solid frozen it was easy. It was least a foot thick ice and you could walk straight to the island in the middle of it. There was hockey nets left overnight on the ice. I’ve never seen it since,” Phil says.\
He and his girlfriend Susan came for the winter. They stayed at Linnaea Farm for six months. He briefly returned to England, while she stayed on to complete a permaculture course.
They were married on August 6, 1994 and, apart from two years working in Alberta, have been on Cortes since then.
“Twenty-three years ago Cortes Island was cheap to live on, but the cost of living has gone up astronomically. The great thing I found when I got here was the amount of wild craft and wild food , which you certainly never got in England. The beaches are covered in food. There is food growing in the hedgerows, there is food everywhere,” he says.
But there only so many clams and nettles you can eat.
“I’m trying to find a way of staying on this island without huge expenses, which we seem to accrue having children and cars and things. The trick to having a happy life on Cortes is not requiring a whole lot of money, because it is not easy to make a lot of money here. Finding a way of living cheaply here can be done, but it restricts what you can do.”
“I want to grow a more extensive garden, more fruit and just go on living.”
His Favourite DJ
Some days when he is working, Phil might not hear any music, but he listens to between 4 and 6 hours a day at home. His musical roots go back to the post punk alternative rock music of the 1970s and 80s.
Phil’s favourite Dj is John Peal, who broadcast over BBC Radio 1 from 1967 until his death in 2004.
“He had a show four nights a week, two hours. Everyone used to send in their music, so he always played new music – every night. People would just send him demo tapes. When the Ramones came [ in 1976] his listenership dropped overnight from an average age of 29 to 19 in one night, because he played the Ramones. Old people were shocked and didn’t like it. The young people tuned in and he kept that age group the whole way through his life. He was into his fifties [and] sixties, still playing for 19-year-olds. He was always on top of it and a step ahead of everyone,” Phil explained.
“John Peal also encouraged a lot of musical genres into mainstream culture. He was probably responsible for more successes than any other DJ. He went all the ways through the 70s and 80s, always keeping ahead of the new things coming out. ”
I Would Like To Do That
Phil added, “I would like to do that, but no one sends me demos … My friends send me CDs and compilations which I try to introduce into shows, if I can. I just got one today, in fact. ”
“Sometimes I get playlists [sent to me] with them [on it], which doesn’t make it very easy. ‘Yes, that was a very great song, but I don’t know what it was.’ I’ve actually done that a couple of times.”
When CKTZ Was A Pirate Station
Phil became one of the station’s DJs back when CKTZ was a pirate station. He thinks he started about 2006 and was on the Board of Directors for a short time before leaving to work in Grand Prairie, Alberta. Amber was the President at that time and Phil remembers working with Victoria Smith, Lisa, Howie and Sean.
“A lot of people wanted this to happen. That is what it takes I think – and Sean. A lot of people wanting it to happen and someone with the know how on the electronics and the technical side. I’m clueless. If the leads not plugged in at the back of the table, I’m ‘What do I do, this isn’t working Sean!’He knows very quickly which plug to plug in, just by asking the right questions. It is good we have him around,” said Phil.
“It has been really good that the radio has found enough people who are willing to come in for a few years helping out. I do not believe people realize how much has to be done behind the scenes to keep the station up and running with grant forms and meetings and what have you. I couldn’t even make the AGM this year. I got to the meal at the start and had to leave after ten minutes and had to go meet someone.”
Looking back over the years, he says CKTZ is no longer the funky little local island radio station it once was.
“It has more of a range of shows now. I don’t know if [the station] has the same go good feeling it had in the beginning, but it probably has just as good a listenership if not more. The people who liked that funky sound probably aren’t listening any more and probably other people are.”
Vinyl Is Better
In terms of quality, Phil agrees with Neil Young’s assessment of digital media.
“Vinyl as twenty times as much information as am MP file. I have listened to stuff, I’ve [previously] heard on vinyl
on an Mpeg file and there is instruments missing from it; whole instruments gone. Wasn’t there a tambourine here? It is not on the Mpeg file because they couldn’t get that information on – I guess.”
They have the ability to do these beautiful high quality digital files, but they don’t want to use up the space.”
Encouraging Local Musicians
Though Phil looks upon Young as a role model, he also recognizes the value of local musicians.
“I try to encourage local music. If there is a band I like playing on the island, I will try to play them before [their show]. I’ve always had a go at Back Eddy and the Procrastinators. I think they’ve now released a CD … I always used to say, if you put a CD in the radio station I will play it before your show. to encourage it. Roots Roundup – I used to play them before they came to the island, or the Rutabagas; the Brains; [various] Rockabilly Bands. Quite often I’ll play a CD from a band that has come to the island, they may not necessarily be local. I try to encourage people to come and see local live music, even if it is not from here,” said Phil.
“I know I don’t have enough Canadian content on my show and I’m trying to do something about that, but you’ve got to listen to a lot of music to find something you want to play.”
Broadening His Musical Horizons
“DJing has taught me to broaden my horizons in music and listen to more different music. I like to listen to other people’s shows. I like to hear Josée [from CKTZ’s Misty Morning Hop] playing cover songs of old songs that are completely different from the originals and things like that. I try an listen to jazz shows sometimes, even classical, though those aren’t the kinds of music I tend to listen to … It is not my music, it is my father’s.”
“for years and years,” Phil did his shows on the fly. He’d normally know what his first two songs would be.
“Winamp has a search engine and you can put a word into it. It comes up with very good playlists. The devil, for instance, has some good songs. If I remember [correctly], God has too. I’ve tried different words and put them in the search engine. It is a good thing to do if you are not feeling inspired.”
He once considered quitting, only to realize “I really enjoy DJing.”
“So I decided to do a show on every year of my life. A music show for 1965, 1966 etc all the way through to 2015.”
This meant finding about 30 songs per program, which was easy for Phil up until 2008. Then he had cover two years at a time.
“I find you You can’t be inspired every week, you start playing the same songs.”
HIs most recent idea is covering three songs, by ten different artists, every program.
What Is His Wife Doing While Phil Is Listening To Music?
I had to ask what is Phil’s wife doing while he is listening to music?
“She’s normally at home …[maybe] she’s off watching a movie or something. This is the thing, I’m not an avid movie watcher llike the rest of my family. I hate watching bad movies. There is nothing more annoying like wasting an hour and a half of your life on something that ..has a terrible ending, which doesn’t make any sense … So unless it is a really good movie, I don’t like watching.
A Word To Would Be DJs
“I think a lot of people are very scared of what to say on the radio … I get way more scared on the stage, when I am looking at people. I don’t get scared on the radio because you don’t actually see your audience … I don’t even think [about] anyone listening. [I have the attitude] ‘Ah no one is listening this week, I can play whatever I like.'”
Originally published Oct 29, 2017
Top photo credit: Phill Allen of Phil’s Pick n Mix – Roy L Hales photo