Dermot O’Leary Gets Chatty: ‘Saturday Sessions’, The X Factor and Not Stealing People’s Cabinets…

3 Oct

Words by Rahsian Parris

After all the fuss that was made about Cheryl Cole being British television’s new ‘darling’ and her and Dannii Minogue’s wardrobe warfare, it is easy to get caught up and forget the fact that, for a few years now, it has not only been the talent, the tantrums and the tears that have kept people religiously glued to the X Factor, but it has, for the most part, been the quality of the presenting by none other than Mr Dermot O’Leary that has kept up coming back – obviously the only reason we were able to sit through weeks of Jedward.

However, unless you have been living under a rock (or just don’t listen to the radio) you will know that he is not just the face of Saturday night television, but the voice of Saturday afternoon radio as well with The Dermot O’Leary Show, a dynamic mix of new music from up and coming artists and live sessions from some of music’s best bands. So with a hugely successful radio show, the X Factor and a string of awards under his belt it must be pretty fantastic being Dermot O’Leary right now. We recently caught up with the man himself to talk about his show’s new compilation album Dermot O’Leary Presents The Saturday Sessions, why radio is just a great as TV and why his secret music mogul is his hairdresser.

So your show recently won Gold for ‘best music program’ at the Sony Radio Awards, how did that feel?

It was really odd because we didn’t expect to win it. On those sorts of nights, sometimes, you get the impression that it’s either going to be your radio stations year or not. The first year we won it we were over the moon, we sort of felt like it was going to be [BBC] Radio 2’s year because I think that night Jonathan [Ross] won and Terry [Wogan] won and a few other people won. I don’t think we thought we were going to win anything this year because Radio 2 wasn’t up for that much so it was a bit more of a shock the second time around.
Do you prefer Radio to Television then? Do you have a preference?

They are such different disciplines, it’s an odd thing to try and explain, they both tick boxes. There’s something really exciting about doing live television, especially something like the X Factor because it is the biggest entertainment show in the country and there’s all these things, you can’t deny that there’s an attraction to that and that’s probably the thing that excites me most if I’m honest with you, but there’s just an intimacy to radio; in many ways you can get more out of people that you interview.
You can get more our of bands; they can be truculent at the best of times and most people pick up instruments because they can’t talk in the first place, so interviews with bands can be tough, so there’s something wonderful about the radio for that […] you don’t have to worry about makeup and to a degree you don’t have to worry about the press and PR getting in the way, so I think in many ways you can get more out of a radio interview and for me, that is the beauty of it.

You are dealing with unsigned and up and coming artists both on your radio show and on the X Factor, how do they compare?

That’s a really really good question, I’ve never been asked that before and I’ve never really thought about it. The thing about it is the people you get on the radio are people that from a very early age picked up instruments and for the most part are from musical backgrounds, you don’t really get that on the X Factor.
The one thing I would say about the X Factor is, if people just want to be famous for being famous, the first stage of the audition process is where they bow out, then it gets through to people that have got incredible raw talent, but they don’t really know what to do with it; they’re either too young or they can’t write their own music or they haven’t really got avenues where they can express that, so for me it’s an entertainment show, but for them it’s a very important avenue for them to take because they don’t really have many other shots at doing it, they can’t pick up an instrument and go and play, for the most part, so it’s a very big deal and you’ve go to respect that.
As much as I love doing it, it’s an entertainment show and you’ve got to have fun with it, but you’ve got people’s aspirations at hand and you’ve got to deal very sensitively and carefully with those things. I think this year, with people like Cher and to a degree Matt Cardle and Aidan Grimshaw, you’ve got people that have turned up and really tried to do something different and you can sense from them that there’s a real want from them, to prove themselves as performers and credible artists; whether they can do that or not remains to be seen, but I don’t think anyone questions it, whether you like their musical style or not. I don’t think anyone questions Alexandra or Leona or JLS’ talent, so the show does breed talent; it’s just a question of how it’s channelled and what people can do with it when they’re given the opportunity.

So in that sense do you think the X Factor is harder in that the contestants don’t have instruments to hide behind?

I think there’s two sides to it isn’t there? You can then argue that what’s difficult is sitting in the bedroom trying to write the classic three and a half minute rock song or posing and struggling to get signed and so forth. Those people argue that X Factor is the easy way out; I think there’s a combination of both really. The flip side to that is, it’s not easy to stand on stage and be scrutinised, you require an awful lot of balls to have the gumption to get up and do that, ‘I want this affirmation and I want this chance and I’m going to take my chances because I could get slaughtered here’, that’s the flipside to it with the X Factor. For every 12 finalists we get, we get 220,000 people that apply and they don’t get through so you’re always going to have a situation where an awful lot of people walk away disappointed, but the stakes are high for both.

Are there any memorable songs from your live sessions that didn’t make the CD?

Yes and no, some of them you just can’t clear because the American record companies just wouldn’t clear them, that just happens in every walk of television and radio, sometimes even on the X Factor we can’t use the track we wanted to use, it’s not exclusive to radio. Katy Perry did a cover of Tears For Fears ‘Head Over Heels’ which I just thought was brilliant and I went home and got out all my old Tears For Fears albums that I hadn’t listened to for years. Every now and again someone really surprised you with something like that and I would have loved to put that on the album.

What do you love about British music right now?

What I love is the diversity of it and I love how I can be listening to the radio and I’ll hear something on Radio 1 or 1Xtra or XFM to a degree, or 6 Music especially and really get into it and then be able to listen to Radio 2 and hear something that’s been around for 20 odd years and you’re almost getting back into it. I love the fact that people, especially the bands that we get on, don’t necessarily have to sign with majors anymore.

I don’t really like piracy and I’m not a huge fan of file sharing, the way I look at it is, if you’re an artist and you build a cabinet why should someone walk into your house and steal that cabinet? It’s your cabinet [we laugh]. That’s kind of the way I look at music, I don’t like the idea of people stealing music. People put a lot of effort into making it, but the flipside to that is the great thing about the internet is that it does open up so much music to people and for us that’s a great thing, you can hear something and then next week you can get that artist in and test them so I think the accessibility of it is the most exciting thing.
So how would an unsigned act get their music played on your show?

It’s so odd and so tricky, it really is down to, obviously the talent and it being a really good track in the first place and certainly being radio friendly, but I hate to say this, but it really is down to it falling on the right desk at the right time or being sent to the right person. We get sent a lot of stuff between the three of us, I try and listen to a lot of stuff and also the stuff from people just actually coming up to me with their CDs, so I just try and listen to as much of that as I possibly can. There isn’t really a hard and fast rule of how the best way to go about doing this is, but I still think you should send it in; if you email it in to Radio 2 and 6 Music it’s the best way of getting it out there, definitely.

What’s on your iPod right now?

[Gets almost excited] Ok, well I’ve got a strange pact with my hairdresser. He’s got great music taste and he’ll always pick out something for me that I haven’t really heard before. There’s an album by a band called Fanfarlo [he asks me if I’ve heard of them… Nope is my answer] Honestly, I don’t know anyone that knows them, he’s the only guy I know that knows this band, it’s really odd, they are terrific, I think they’re an American band, so I’m really loving that.
I also love the new Bombay Bicycle Club album, so those are the two that have been on repeat as it were. What else? I love the Gaslight Anthem album, I love the Hold Steady album, so yeah, those are the ones that I have been listening to recently. [I comment that I’ve met and love the Gaslight Anthem boys] Are they nice? [I say they are lovely and their music’s really good too] awww I’d love to have them on the show.

Is there anything coming up on your show that we should look out for?

[He sighs a massive, epic sigh then mutters, more to himself than to me] I’m not entirely sure who we’ve even got in this weekend
[He laughs; it’s almost a ‘dirty’ laugh, the kind of laugh that you let out when you’re not thinking about who can hear you and I love it]

[Half laughing] We’ve got Athlete in this weekend; we’ve got… who else have we to in this weekend? It’s weird really because you want to do as much new stuff as you can but it’s really lovely to just get bands in that you just love as well. We’ll just endeavour to help out some new people and kind of go from there. That was a rubbish answer wasn’t it? I’m just not entirely sure what we’ve got coming up.

[I’ve lost track, still slightly mesmerised by the laugh and mention that I’ve forgotten what I was saying… he starts laughing again]

What’s your favourite track on the Saturday Sessions album?

[Still amused] What is my what? Favourite song? I’m just trying to work this out as well, it’s really hard, I love the cover of ‘Bullet Proof’ [La Roux] that Athlete did, I love how stripped down it is and quite often, the point you made is really well made [see the Music-News review for Dermot’s CD] where even when you hear the original song, like Florence + The Machine, when it’s done in an acoustic way, there’s a certain rawness about it, you know? I’ve also always been a huge fan of the The Divine Comedy and when Neil [Hannon, the front man] came in and did ‘Time To Pretend’ [MGMT], because he’s such a lovely, polite man, he changed the lyrics, so instead of ‘choke on our vomit’ he says ‘choke on our pheasant’ at the end, it’s adorable.

And just like that our time is up (actually it was up a few minutes before), I bring this to Dermot’s attention and get a mock telling off “yes young lady” he says playfully and then there’s that laugh again and I can’t help but wonder if it’s not just the good music that people tune in for. Talking to Dermot, you hardly remember that you’re talking to one of Britain’s finest and best loved radio and television personalities; the compassion, humour and complete lack of ego is not just for an audience, it seems to be who he is and you can’t help but love that about him.

Something that slightly surprises me is the way he talks about his work and music in general; it is obvious he is an extremely passionate soul, he doesn’t just talk about the music, he feels it, which is probably why his radio show has been such a success; though it is his wisdom and a kind of palpable charm that moves you; this is something that just does not translate as much on television. From his array of love struck fans it is abundantly clear why some people tune in to the X Factor every weekend (have you seen Dermot in a suit?) but behind the model face and contagious humour is a simple guy that knows what he loves and knows it well, but deep down I think we all knew he was more than just a pretty face.

Dermot O’Leary Presents The Saturday Sessions is available from Monday 4th October

Rahsian Parris for Music-News.com

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