Get To Know: Ralph McLean
He’s a newspaper columnist, radio producer/broadcaster, arts commentator and TV presenter, and has interviewed celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton. Get to know: Ralph McLean.
Where you’re from: Lisburn, Co Antrim
Describe yourself in 5 words or less: Tall, devilishly handsome and modest!
One thing that would surprise many people to learn about you: I’m so short sighted I couldn’t stumble out of bed without hitting a wall if it wasn’t for my contact lenses. I’ve worn them since school.
What led you to a career in broadcasting: I had a summer job once shifting breeze blocks on a Glasgow building site and I’ve had a pathological fear of having to do a “real job” ever since. They and a lifelong love of all kinds of music and art has always driven me on. My mum Iris was a church organist and music of all kinds was always in the house. I’ve never been obsessive about getting a Media career but I knew from an early age that I wanted to be involved in music in some way and since I can’t write songs (well I can but you really don’t want to hear them!) I thought playing other people’s songs on the radio was a good alternative. Good job that happened as I’ve no plan B!
What is your favourite part of the job: I love meeting artists and hearing their stories. I enjoy a good interview. The history of music has always fascinated me. You might say I’m an anorak but I prefer to call it knowledge! I’ve always loved live performance as well. It’s a real thrill when I have live sessions in the studio and I get to sit there and see the magic being created right in front of my eyes. I think that’s a real privilege. I’m very lucky.
Biggest shock/surprise on air: I’m a bit of a control freak with my shows, I produce as well as present, so there’s very little room for things that are likely to shock me. I do remember when I was presenting the afternoon show a few years back I was hosting a quiz on air and when I asked “where would you expect to find Otis Redding sitting?” The caller said, without a hint of humour, “on the back of the bus?”I found it hard not to laugh and I can’t hear old Otis to this day without thinking about it. Now that is shocking!
Favourite release so far this year: The Bonnevilles new album Dirty Pictures is a masterpiece of filthy scuzzed up garage punk blues..straight outta Lurgan! I’ve loved everything that Andy and Chris have done but this is special.
The best thing about NI: We don’t allow people to get too big for their boots. That Northern thing where it’s always “get over yourself!” I love that. We can slag off each other like nobody else. All in the right spirit of course.
Most memorable gig: The recent Rolling Stones In Croke Park was pretty magical. Mick and the boys have still got it. Best gig ever though would have to be when my wife Kerry and I went to see soul king Solomon Burke in Vicar Street about 15 years ago. He was amazing, a proper soul preacher. We met him afterwards. He was seated on a throne and had a towel over his head. He blessed us and told us we’d have “three beautiful children” and guess what..he was right!
Most challenging part of the job: Because I cover all kinds of music there can be a mountain of new releases and reissues to listen to. For a tragic music obsessive like me that’s hardly much of a problem admittedly.
What are you listening to right now: As always it’s a massively mixed bag from new albums by Willie Nelson and John Prine to a box set of 60s freakbeat pioneers The Creation and local stuff from Ben Glover and Ciara O’Neill. Tons of stuff really.
Favourite NI musicians: I love what Stevie Scullion does with Malojian. That mix of roots, country, west coast and psychedelic sounds is brilliant.
Who would be a ‘dream guest’ to have on your show: I’d like a Beatle on the show while there’s still a couple left alive, so a sit down chat with McCartney would be nice.
What is your biggest accomplishment: Fathering three gorgeous children, Tara, Dan and Eve, with my beautiful wife Kerry is all I care about.
The last gift you gave to someone: I bought my son some World Cup stickers this afternoon. Does that count?
Favourite line from a song: “And I need you more than want you and I want you for all time” from Wichita Lineman – kills me every single time.
What artist would we be surprised to find on your personal playlist: I love a bit of Ivor Cutler. I Believe In Bugs is a big classic in our house!
Ring tone on your mobile phone: I’ve a boring old classic phone ringer sound effect. Like me it’s retro all the way.
What is your most valued material possession: My vinyl collection is ever expanding and worth a few bob I imagine. Not that I’m selling like!
Most interesting celebrity you’ve interviewed: Dolly Parton was astonishing. Open, honest and such a great songwriter. I interviewed her in her private studio in Nashville. She was charm personified.
Fantasy festival line-up: Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and The Small Faces, with Elvis as MC!
Ralph McLean celebrates the Biggest Weekend Fringe by welcoming some of his favourite local musicians to perform short acoustic sets in the unique surroundings of the Palm House, Botanic Gardens Belfast on Wednesday 23rd May 2018. Details here.