WESTMINSTER PEOPLE: Soho Radio founder Finlay Morton
'We don’t have playlists – any of the presenters can play anything they like'
17 February, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya
Finlay Morton outside the Soho Radio’s studios
WHEN a trio of pals, including musician Finlay Morton, had a chat about starting an online radio station over a drink, they had no idea it would soon be voted the best in the world. The idea for the Soho Radio came from “a discussion in a pub, as the best ideas often do”.
Finlay, 44, launched the station along with Adrian Meehan, the drummer in his band, and Dan Gray, a former musician and promoter for Bestival music festival.
“We all loved the medium of radio, but a lot of the stuff that gets played on the nationals is quite limited,” Finlay says. “They play what major labels think they should, whereas we were all raised on old-fashioned radio where the presenters were the ones that counted. They could take a record and if they thought it was good they would just play it, and that doesn’t happen in regular radio now. We don’t have playlists – any of the presenters can play anything they like.”
He adds: “Also, we don’t encourage it, but people are allowed to swear… so we call it radio you can swear by. As well as a wide variety of music, there are chat shows, local news, cooking shows and community programmes. The Soho Society have a weekly slot. President Leslie Hardcastle comes in and tells stories about Soho in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Everything is hung on the idea that Soho is the creative centre of the universe. If you talk to people in LA or anywhere else they all know the talent pool that is here. We do a lot of my recording in a studio underneath the radio station in Great Windmill Street.”
When the space in Great Windmill Street came up, “we said ‘yes we’ll take it’ and worry about the rest later,” says Finlay, who lives in Pimlico.
He believes that broadcasting online is the future. “DAB is almost obsolete already. It is the radio equivalent of the compact disc,” he adds. The station recently won the prestigious title of best online radio station in the world as part of the Online Radio Awards by online streaming platform Mixcloud.
“It has such a lovely feeling about it. It is almost radio the way it was meant to be,” says Finlay. “The people are passionate about the music and the content of the shows. “Too much music these days is about what you look like, what label you’re signed to and how much money you’ve got, and we’re trying to go around that, develop talent and keep talent on the air which has been taken off other radio stations.”
Finlay, who is a dad of three, is originally from Aberdeen in Scotland, where he used to play around the music scene. “I moved to London to be rich and famous, because the streets are paved with gold,” he jokes. “But after about six years of being not famous and very hungry I reckoned that the streets probably aren’t paved with gold.”
As a youngster he used to pinch his brother’s guitar and taught himself to play from books and TV. “It was before YouTube, unfortunately,” he adds. Before he began making music full time, he worked as a sound engineer for 10 years in Downing Street, from Margaret Thatcher’s day, through to Gordon Brown.
But it’s not something he is keen to dwell on. “It’s a job,” he says. “I was making the microphones work, I had no political connection. It’s no different to being a sound technician in a conference centre, as it would be the same job, just in a slightly different venue. They are still talking into microphones, I had no control over what they were saying.”
Since 2010 he has been making songs full time, and he describes his music as soft rock in the style of Tom Petty and Neil Young, “Americana style with a hint of country”.
Finlay’s latest album, Only Half a Live, features a number of live tracks and a number of new studio tracks – he believes it is his best work to date.
“I come from that school of songwriters that likes to write about something other than just girls and cars which is what a lot of stuff these days tends to be,” he says. “It’s interesting – people come up to me and say they really like a song because it fits in with a part of their life. They will tell you a story about how it connects to them and it’s completely different to what the song is actually about. But if that works for them that’s great.”