New Grey Whistle Test: Visual Radio Arts Arrives in Devizes

Not just on the premise of tea and nibbles, I find myself at Bath Road Business Centre. The Wharf Theatre’s old prop store has been gloriously converted into a recording studio, of a sort, by a company which once set up base in Frome’s Old Fire Station, Visual Radio Arts.

My initial reaction to the name was, hasn’t visual radio been done before, at the turn of the last century? They called it television! Over a bourbon biscuit, I’m gonna brave-up, come right out and ask founder Phil Moakes what defines visual radio as opposed to television or video, surrounded by his team, co-producer Maggie Gregory and presenters Patrick Moss, Carl Sutterby and Sara Vian, the latter of whom chuckled it was a good question; phew!

The only absent presenter I didn’t get to meet was Chris Watson, who, sensibly, turned up after I had gone. Independently Chris runs the site Music Eye, which does what it says on the tin, particularly prompting his readership to emerging talent.

“If I watch a television program there’s a relationship between what you see and what you hear,” Phil begun, “if you close or eyes and just listen to the audio, you’re missing the story because it’s partially being played out on video, and visa-versa. So, my argument is, visual radio should work on both mediums equally; if you close your eyes, you can still hear the band, you don’t need the pictures, but when you open them, the pictures are there, therefore, if you wanted, you could run the whole show on radio.”

Patrick added, “which is how it started.” This visual experience with the ethos of radio started little over five years ago as a project through Frome FM. Visual Radio Arts has blossomed since with a plethora of upcoming bands and solo musicians, both signed and unsigned, queuing to feature on episodes. Browsing their website, where their back catalogue is freely available to view, it seems our paths have crossed several times, just not met until now. But as many artists I know and whom have been featured on Devizine in the past, acts like Malone-Sibun, The Lost Trades, Kevin Brown, Strange Folk, and more recently, Ålesund, there’s a multitude of ones new to me.

Likewise, I’m hopeful the move to Devizes will encourage a partial shift of our local bands to jump on this most excellent opportunity, and I ran off some namedropping of my own. Fact is, being on the same wavelength, it’s a match made in heaven, oh, we could have talked all night! Though, as these programs are primarily a promotional tool, they’ve come from far and wide already, either headhunted by Visual Arts Radio or enquired.

If this era of lockdown raised the appeal of online gigs through streaming, it’s been a scramble in the dark to both improve on the quality and earn from them. We discussed the worth of Facebook live streaming, how other sites followed suit, on ticketed events and the inevitably of bandwidths unable to handle the traffic. If the novelty of watching your favourite artists perform with a backdrop of their washing on a clothes horse is wearing thin, Visual Arts Radio is for you.

It presents artists professionally with quality editing, and Phil was keen to point out the ethos of presenting an entire forty-plus minute, uninterrupted set, with a possible interview at the finale, rather than the unpredictability of a live stream, or this goldfish attention-span we’ve currently acquired scrolling through endless three-minute videos. It was at this point, I suggested they were “the New Grey Whistle Test,” to which they agreed, and in considering this ground-breaking show, perhaps Visual Arts Radio isn’t something entirely original, but right here and now, it most certainly is a unique venture that I, for one, am welcoming to Devizes with open arms.

Phil seemed focused on music, “What I’d like to do is have a variety of styles and shapes, so we’ve got a mix of solos, acoustic, maybe doing folk, and rock bands,” he explained, though open to suggestions, I wondered how this opportunity might suit other arts. Comedy, for example, which by the nature of the beast, couldn’t surely be visual. Phil pointed out they’ve had poetry in the past, which would obviously work audio. This moved from comedy music acts like Corky, or Calne’s Real Cheesemakers, and onto any bands which used props, like the visual experience of a Boot Hill All Stars show, of whom Phil replied had been in the studio already.

“I think we’ve moved on from where we first started,” Phil continued, “when we first started it was all about music, but I think five years later, we’ve kind of worked out what and how is our best game. And, so if something came along, and it was visual comedy, then we’d probably have a think, see how it would work, but we’d probably still do it, because I think the world has moved on, and more prone to want to see pictures.”

The move to Devizes is easier on commuting for Phil and Maggie, and there’s hoping bands locally will find it more suitable, calling in acts producing original material, from Swindon and beyond who thought Frome might’ve been a trek. Visual Arts Radio certainly have a wonderful space, large enough to accommodate the brass section of a ska band, for instance, and the possibilities I anticipate will build a working relationship with Devizine in the future. I’m glad to be invited to view bands and musicians performing here, of which we can feature and link direct to their website, where you can enjoy a full set from them.

Sure, is a groovy prospect, but for now, do browse their fantastic website, check the back catalogue of awesome performances and enjoy; more to follow shortly……  


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