Author Archives: Alan Johnson

About Alan Johnson

My radio career began in the late 90s when I ran a number of trial stations in my then home town around the same time Phoenix was doing similar things in Brentwood and Billericay. I joined Phoenix in May 2010 and presented Feelgood Saturday for seven years, also supporting the running of the station for a time as a director. Since stepping aside from regular presenting I've been covering presenters and broadcasting one-off specials, including a show based on my fascination with music samples - I'm a big dance music fan.

Sounds Familiar

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What do Another Chance by Roger Sanchez, Toto’s Africa and James Hype’s More than Friends have in common? The answer is they’ve all been used in – or used – other songs. In other words the connection is samples, and it was great to be back on Phoenix with a special show dedicated entirely to songs that have either sampled others or themselves been sampled.

With pop and electronic music from the 60s and 70s, AOR and big hits from the 80s and 90s and a fair sprinkling of dance and R&B spanning the past three decades I hope there was something for everyone. Perhaps we’ll do it again some time!

Witchy Travel Tales

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It was a pleasure to be back in the Feelgood Saturday chair this week while Naomi was away and in particular to chat with my guest, a children’s author from Billericay.

Sibel Beadle started writing her series of “Witchy Travel Tales” when she was getting divorced and she explained how the first story came about when her children went away with their Dad on holiday for the first time. Desperate for a good-night story, each night Sibel texted them paragraphs of an imaginary story which they loved so much that she later compiled the various messages into her first book.

Since then she’s explored many beautiful locations in the World and has written stories about places she’s visited every time her kids went away with their Dad, and she told me how she uses her writing not only to inspire children to want visit these magical places for themselves but also to help them deal with real problems they face in today’s world – without losing a sense of magic!

© Kelly Holmes - used with kind permission

© Kelly Holmes – used with kind permission

It’s goodbye from me…

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After seven wonderful years I’ve taken the incredibly difficult decision to take a break from regular presenting on Phoenix and hand over the Feelgood Saturday to someone who’ll bring some freshness and exciting new ideas to Saturday mornings.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of giving an airing to some amazing people; some made fleeting appearances, others became regular guests. It wouldn’t seem right to single anyone out as particular favourites as each one helped create a programme that has been a very special part of my life, but if you’re one of those who contributed I simpy take the opportunity to thank you.

For my final show I allowed myself a bit of self-indulgence, with some of the songs from the past seven years that I’ve personally particularly enjoyed – some with a special relevance, but most simply tunes that clicked with me for no explicable reason. Amongst them was the song from which my final Word Up! lyric teaser came:

All along, I knew I had something special with you;

But sometimes you just gotta know that these things fall through – I can’t hide my connection with you.*

Phoenix is a great radio station and having the opportunity to broadcast each week has been not only a pleasure but a privilege, for which I’m grateful to Paul Golder – our founder and Chairman – as well as my good friend Steve Robertson, who persuaded me to get involved back in 2010. Whilst I have mixed feelings about leaving Feelgood Saturday I’m delighted to be continuing my support for and invlovement with the station, and hope to be back on air from time to time catching up with friends old and new.

In the meantime, if you’ve enjoyed the show on any level – whether as someone who’s occasionally tuned in, a regular listener or a follower of this show page – thank you!

Please join Naomi Sayers as she takes over the programme; she’ll be great. If Naomi gets a fraction of the pleasure and satisfaction from it that I’ve done she’ll be be very happy.

*Word Up! was Never forget you by MNEK and Zara Larsson:

Expressions of humanity

Naomi and I were joined this morning by two great sets of guests with, I think, something in common.

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With their unbelievably high turnover of performances Early Doors Productions are regular visitors to the show – with no fewer than three last year and plans for an incredible four during the course of 2017.

Amy Clayton, Matt Jones and Darren Matthews took precious time out of rehearsals to talk about their latest production which, as we’ve come to expect from these guys, stretches their boundaries of creativity ever further – with their first performance as a company of a Shakespeare.

bhsIt seems that in typical Early Doors tradition Director Amy and her enormously talented cast have managed to preserve the integrity of the original plot despite placing it into an entirely contemporary setting, bringing what Amy describes as the beauty of the original language to a wide audience whilst appealing also to traditionalists. As is often the case with their choice of works it’s one that draws on extremes of the human condition which, Amy believes, fundamentally remains unchanged over the centuries.

They’re stepping into a new venue, too – Isle of Dogs performing arts centre The Space, where it runs from Tuesday 23rd to Saturday 27th May.

Oh, by the way – the play they chose is the Scottish one…

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The connection I drew with our other guests is the power performance can have to enable the expression of raw human emotions.


The medium used by TIME isn’t drama but music; founder of the Basildon-based service Marc Barnacle and his colleagues Mike and Rob visited the show back in November to describe how they use a wide range of theraputic sessions and workshops to help people with a wide range of disabilities, mental health or other challenging issues express themselves through music – in some cases this being the person’s only real outlet for doing so.

The power of musical expression was enorsed by Gary Walker, lyricist of Screaming Roar Inside. The song is the debut single for a band put together by TIME, and Gary – who’s also lead vocalist – joined us along with Caged Arts drummer, Gavin Jones, and guitarist and backing vocalist, Tom Hughes.

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As well as the workshops and targeted sessions TIME also have a weekly club night; I know from the experience of my friend Paul who goes along what a great opportunity this is for people to get together and have fun regardless of age, ability or background.

Screaming Roar Inside is released on Monday 22nd May and available from iTunes and other mainstream digital outlets.

Listen again:


Caged Arts - Screaming Roar Inside

Angel in the sky

Amongst the most painful of human experiences imaginable are miscarriage and stillbirth, with the resulting grief often affecting the wider circle of family and friends.

On 5th May 2007 a little boy called Thomas was born sleeping, and 10 years later his cousin Hollie Heard has written a song about him in which she beautifully expresses her feelings about the little cousin she never got to meet. Hollie performed Angel in the Sky live for us and explained what Thomas and expressing herself through the song mean to her.Holly Heard

Hollie is a member of Dreams Theatre School, whose Director Karen Easteal also joined us to explain how the school came about and how it helps fulfil the dreams of children who yearn to be involved in various aspects of theatre – such as through a recent performance at Royal Albert Hall! Dreams holds regular after-school classes in Shenfield, Romford and Chelmsford.Dreams logo

You can download Angel in the Sky via Amazon or iTunes; all the proceeds are going to support the work of Tommy’s, a charity which funds research into the causes and prevention of pregnancy complications.

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Hollie Heard 13 05 17 - 4

Hollie Heard 13 05 17 - 1

Alex and his accordion

I enjoyed co-presenting this week’s show with one of the newest presenters to join Phoenix, Naomi Sayers. Naomi has already been keeping busy working with Steve and Aaron on Between the Lines and will soon become a regular addition to our happy team – watch this space for more!

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We had a lot of fun with our guest who made a welcome return to the show after his first visit three years ago. Alex Southgate is a professional accordionist who’s built quite a reputation performing in care homes across the area, and he described some of the joys – as well as pitfalls – of playing for audiences who, generally speaking, aren’t afraid to say exactly what they think!

Alex gave us a selection of medleys of some of the songs he regularly plays in the homes, and much to our embarrassment he even got Naomi and me singing along.

He’s not just a skilled musician but also a great entertainer, so there’s little wonder Alex clocked up over 250 care home appearances in just 12 months. He’s still got time for more, though; to find out more get in touch via his website or Facebook.

Listen again – with my apologies for the poor audio quality in places:

Alex Southgate 06 05 17 - 1

Here comes Summer!

With unbroken sunshine and temperatures expected to hit the low 20s this weekend it’s perhaps forgivable to wonder which of the current crop of uptempo dance hits will go down as the song of the summer – until you remember that it’s still only the second week of April! The weather’s forecast to get back to normal next week, though, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

My Word Up! lyric teaser this morning was:

These people round here wear beaten-down eyes sunk in smoke-dried faces.

They’re so resigned to what their fate is – but not us (no, never)!*

Last week’s lines were:

Now can’t we talk this over? ‘Cause your conversation ain’t right.

We can make our love stronger – you don’t have to think twice!*

*This week’s Word Up! was Come on Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners:


Last week’s was Alexander O’Neal’s Criticise:

Phoenix FM 10th birthday: Lydia Lucy

Lydia Lucy at Phoenix FM 25 03 2017

It was great to welcome “old” friend Lydia Lucy to our 10th birthday celebrations! Lydia came down to the Holiday Inn to chat to presenter Alan Johnson and sing a play a few songs live, including new single, the self-penned Instagram.

If you missed it you can see and hear it all again below:

Lydia has been incredibly busy since her appearance on The Voice last year, where she made the final. She talked to Alan about how the last year has gone and what to expect in the future – including a new album.

You can keep up to date with Lydia’s latest news by following her official Facebook page.

The boot that’s being given… the boot!

With technology moving at a rate many of us struggle to keep up with and levels of international political uncertainy not seen for some years there’s a comfort in knowing that some things in life never change – such as the traditional board games enjoyed by generations of children. At least that’s what I thought, until the news broke that the new version of Monopoly – to be released in August – won’t contain three of the playing pieces that have been part of the game since its launch in 1935! The boot, thimble and wheelbarrow are all being ditched in favour of a penguin, a Tyrannosaurus Rex and – wait for it – a rubber duck! For me it begs a simple question – why?


One thing that didn’t change on this morning’s Feelgood Saturday though was the Word Up! lyric teaser, for which I gave these lines:

No show Wednesday girl waits with the wine – she knows just what to say.

While no one listens you can almost hear time slipping away!*

*Word Up! was We Close our Eyes by Go West:


I’d be clueless!

I often wonder whether I’d be able to solve the Word Up! lyric teasers I give on a Saturday morning if I weren’t the person setting them, but I can confidently say that I definitely wouldn’t have had a clue about this morning’s – well done if you did manage to work it out:

Someone is waiting for me to rise and dive into the ocean. I cried;

And I cried and I cried my baby to sleep, beside myself – my soul to keep.*

Perhaps last week’s was more straightforward:

Anybody who’s ever loved, ya know just what I feel.

Too hard to fake it, nothing can replace it!*

This week’s Word Up! song was Right Beside You by Sophie B Hawkins:


Last week’s was Mary J Blige’s Be Without You:

Fairtrade and Heaven Can Wait

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The annual Fairtrade Fortnight starts Monday, and Caryl Kwei from the Brentwood Fairtrade Group popped in this morning to give a few simple ideas on how to put into action this year’s theme of putting Fairtrade in your break. It was a good reminder that small changes by us can make a big difference to the lives of others.


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I was also joined by Lionel, Darren, Justin and Amy from Early Doors Productions. As usual the guys amazed me with their energy and enthusiasm as they prepare to stage their fourth production in the past year – the fantasy rom-com, Heaven Can Wait. If you’ve never seen them in action do get along to the Cramphorn Theatre Thursday, Friday or Saturday (2nd – 4th March) – you won’t be disappointed!

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A hard thing to say on the radio

A challenge I find with my regular Word Up! lyric teasers is not to read the lines in the tempo of the song. Normally it’s not too hard, but this week it wasn’t at all easy:

Um ba ba be, um ba ba be.

De day da – ee day da – that’s okay!*

I didn’t have any such problem with last week’s, which just contained proper words:

My simple heart will live and learn;

I took a chance at the price my soul would burn inside my desire.*

*This week’s Word Up! was Under Pressure by Queen & David Bowie:

Last week’s was D:Ream’s UR The Best Thing:

A licence to love…

…insurance to hold, melts all your memories and change into gold.

His eyes are like angels – but his heart is cold!

These were the lines from this morning’s Word Up! lyric teaser. It’s a well known song, but feedback was as I like it – familiar enough words, but not easy to actually get the right song*!

*Word Up! was Smooth Operator by Sade, who are actually a group named after the lead singer, Sade Adu. It was a similar thing with another song I played this morning – I Want to be Free was also not by the solo artist Toyah Willcox, but actually her band – simply Toyah!


Back to the 80s

There was something of an 80s flavour to this week’s Feelgood Saturday, with songs that don’t get played as much as perhaps they deserve – such as Dream Academy’s Life in a Northern Town, Tarzan Boy by Baltimora and Lean on Me from Red Box.

Meanwhile my Word Up! lyric teaser consisted of these lines:

My expectations may be high, I blame it on my youth – soon enough I’ll learn the painful truth.

I’ll face it like a fighter then boast of how I’ve grown; anything is better than being alone!*

*Word Up! was A Good Heart by Feargal Sharkey:

The Big Freeze

With frosty mornings and frozen windscreens having become the norm we took a look back on this weekend’s Feelgood Saturday exactly 30 years to the Big Freeze of January 1987, when parts of the south east – including Essex – saw snowfalls of 20 inches. The temperature stayed well below zero for several days, at Caldecott in Rutland falling to an incredible -23.3°C – and at Southend the sea froze over! Meteorologists claim it was probably the most intense cold snap of the 20th century, but of course 1987 would ultimately be remembered for an even more dramatic weather event.

I also gave you another lyric teaser, with these lines:

The gods may throw the dice, their minds as cold as ice

And someone way down here loses someone dear*

*Word Up! was The Winner Takes it All by Abba:


Volunteers needed

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I was joined this morning by long-time friends of the programme, Gaynor and Alastair Manthorpe of the South Essex Link of Chernobyl Children’s Life Line.

The Life Line is a small but dedicated group of people who organise a holiday each year for children from some of the areas worst affected by the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster such as Borodyanka, a small town about 40 miles from the Ukranian capital Kiev, which the couple recently visited. Even though this was their second trip to the area they described this visit as an eye-opener, seeing for themselves the immense deprivation that some of the children they’d welcomed to the UK in previous years live with as they visited their homes – some without running water or proper sanitation.

Gaynor and Alastair have been involved with the Life Line for many years and they told me that their visit to Ukraine reminded them just how important the work is. Plans for this year’s holiday – between 11th June and 9th July – are already under way; not only will a dozen children from Ukraine’s northern neighbour Belarus be given four weeks full of fun and activities that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives but they’ll also be given much needed dental and eye treatment that will make a real difference to them long after they return home.

Something the Link can’t provide alone, however, is all the families needed to help host the children – and if you think you could help, or know someone who might be able to, Gaynor would be delighted to chat. This would suit a family with children themselves or perhaps a retired couple – ideally living in the Billericay or Brentwood area, as the meeting point for the daily activities is in Billericay. You’d be looking after two girls or two boys, aged around 10 to 12.

Gaynor’s number is 01245 328 235.

CCLL BBQ 26 06 15 - Gaynor & Alastair

Another year over

With 2016 drawing rapidly to its close I took the opportunity on this week’s Feelgood Saturday to dig out a few songs I’ve particularly enjoyed listening to this year along with some favourites of my fellow Phoenix presenters – including This Girl by Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners, Honeyblood’s Sea Hearts and the version of The Living Years recorded by The London Hospices Choir and Paul Carrack (which included representatives from St Francis). It’s always hard each year to pick not just a favourite track but also album but it’s a lot of fun and I always enjoy seeing the wide variety of music tastes on the station captured in words. You can see all our choices on our Presenter Picks page.

My Word Up! lyric teaser was from way before 2016 – the lines I gave you were:

A close encounter with a hardhearted man who never gave half of what he got.

Has made you wish that you’d never been born – that’s a shame ’cause you got the lot!*

*Word Up! was Live it Up by Mental as Anything:

An 80s Word Up!

We love playing a true variety of music at Phoenix, and that’s reflected in the songs we give an airing to to reflect the festive season. This morning, for example, I dusted off tunes by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Greg Lake – who sadly died earlier this month.

I also set another lyric teaser when I asked if you could work out which song contains these lines:

Living in the shadow of our yesterday – memories of children in the sun.

Everybody’s looking back but that don’t pay! Can’t you see you’ve only just begun?*

We also heard briefly from Clare and Louis Varley, who joined Ruth E Jones on The Hopefield Hour this week, talking about the somewhat unusual way they met:

You can hear the whole show at Ruth’s blog.

*Word Up! was Flashback by Imagination:


Music and Lights

alpha-roadIt’s that time of year when many of us enjoy the imaginative displays of lights that some people adorn their homes with, but residents of one house in Hutton have gone one better – with a magnificent display synchronised to music!

It’s all the work of 15 year old Ben Charles, who popped into Phoenix this morning with his Mum, Sarah Powell, to explain how it came about.

Ben has dedicated hours of time to the project, for which he’s also set up a JustGiving page for the Essex Air Ambulance Lights for Flights Appeal. Donations can also be sent by texting ARCL57 followed by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 for the amount you’d like to give to 70070.

Check out the display on Facebook and YouTube and listen again here:


The performance of a lifetime

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As I discovered a few weeks ago when I chatted with David Worsfold about the annual Brentwood Choirs Festival our area has a wealth of choral talent, and I was delighted this week to chat with three members of Billericay Choral Society about their recent once in a lifetime performance at the iconic Carnegie Hall.

Along with others from the Society – as well as members of Brentwood and Ingatestone Choral Societies – Rachel O’Hara, Gytha Washington and David Bateman jumped at the chance to join with a professional orchestra and soloists on the massive stage at America’s answer to the Royal Albert Hall. Gytha explained how they got the chance to take part in such a prestigious production of the Howard Goodall Requiem Eternal Light, commissioned in 2008 to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the end of World War One, which as David movingly described seeks to help ensure that the lives of those who fell are remembered in perpetuity.

The trip was made all the more special by the active involvement and guidance of the composer himself, together with a very positive review by New York Concert Review. This was truly the sort of experience that money alone couldn’t buy!

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