Joy Parkinson chats to Robin Ross about pirate radio, The Old Rock Factory and Sand, Sea & Spray.
As a student journalist there’s nothing more nerve wracking than having to interview someone who has worked in the field. With every question, former radio presenter Robin Ross knew what was coming next. “You need to vary your questions, you need to avoid them from becoming predictable” he says. “Oh and nod instead of saying yes, it makes editing audio a whole lot easier.”
Moving on I try and guide my questions away from the foreseeable ones that he is evidently expecting but with each question comes a tip and a useful one at that, something that shouldn’t be surprising looking at Ross’s experience. Robin Ross’s career began as a DJ working at London’s club, ‘The Rock Garden’ before moving North to Merseyside and starting work on radio. “I took my demos into a shop to sell and the buyer had a few questions. He asked me if I wanted to be part of something he was setting up, an illegal pirate radio station.” Robin explained that the radio station was transmitted from towerblocks across the Wirral, towerblocks that are still there today. “The great thing about towerblocks and illegal broadcasting is that the police can trace you to the block but not the floor. Once the DTI home office were coming up the stairs to catch us and they moved over for us and our Cornflake box which we hid our transmitter inside, they had no idea.”
Although guidelines are in place, it is evident that Robin doesn’t always play by the rules. “Maybe I’m a bit of a rebel” he says. “When interviewing Diana Ross I never called her Ms Ross, you’re meant to, but I didn’t. I guess it’s funny because sometimes when interviewing someone you get this magical connection and well I did with her, we ended up talking about all sorts of things.”
With such a high profile in radio, it’s surprising to think that anyone would change their career or focus. “I get bored very easily” says Robin. “I didn’t have anything else to prove in radio so things changed.” Like radio, the art work that Robin produces allows a lot of freedom and expression. “I’ve always been interested in art. I collected limited edition prints because I was very much into the San Francisco artists, they were the ones who made posters for the early gigs.” Although the San Francisco artists play a big part in influencing Robin’s work, Warhol seems to be key to explaining Robin’s shift into the art scene. “Seeing what Warhol was doing and how he was generating images was amazing. I mean he was a screen printer and he had the Factory. Well, we have the Rock Factory and I guess that’s a slight acknowledgement to him.”
The Old Rock Factory is the screen printing studio where Robin not only produces his own work but runs classes and tutorials to teach others how to produce prints too. The studio, tucked away down one of Blackpool’s alleys is a creative hub that can only be described as organised chaos. Alongside the large equipment sits scraps of paper, pots of paint and hoards of magazines and images. “I used to take photographs but now I take photographs for the image because that is what’s important when printing.”
Although printing is currently Robin’s main focus, it is evident that street art plays a big part in his life too. In 2011, Ross created, organised and ran Blackpool’s first free urban art festival called Sand, Sea and Spray. With over 40 artists, each from different parts of the world, the walls of Blackpool are transformed into pieces of art. “In 2011 I guess we did it very much under the radar. I mean people would go home on the Friday night and come back on Monday morning and be shocked not only at the imagery but at the size of each piece.” Now in preparation for running into it’s third year Robin explains how he is amazed at the scale of the event. “It’s becoming a community, a family. The biggest artists are asking to come from all over the world not just to paint walls but to paint walls in Blackpool, it’s bizarre.”
Ross explains how he is excited for the number of things planned for Blackpool. “I think everything has fallen into place at the right time, the right people have fallen in at the right time” he says. “People are grafting from North Pier to FYCreatives to the Winter Gardens. We are growing as a town and a community. This year is the year for Blackpool.”
Image courtesy of Linzi Cason Photography.
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