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On-U Sound In The Area

Personnel Steve Barker

Steve Barker
Steve Barker
Photo: On-U Sound

Steve has an entry here for having been on On-U Sound front line support for just about as long as Adrian Sherwood has been thrusting his productions onto an unsuspecting public.

After a period as a music journalist, he joined Radio Blackburn (in Lancashire, UK) in 1978. By 1980 he had his own weekly music show "Spin Off", which from 16th September 1984, became "On The Wire". The first guests on relaunch day were none other than Adrian Sherwood and, fresh-in from the USA, Keith LeBlanc. By now the station's name had also changed - to BBC Radio Lancashire - while the show had become an established platform for the airing of On-U's wares, and those of anyone else with music that needed to be heard but with no other means of transmission.

From the start of On-U, Steve has often been the first recipient of the new On-U material - and for those within transmission range this has meant a regular feast of pre-release exclusives, specially recorded versions and never-to-be-released rarities ever since. Apart from the radio show, Steve, as THE On-U expert, has also helped compile compilations, discographies, magazine articles, name albums and write memorable sleeve notes for numerous releases wearing an On-U logo. Most extensively his words can be found in the 'Master Recordings' CD series of reissues of the late 1990s.

Steve has also made some brief appearances for On-U himself - providing vocal overdubs for special OTW versions of Dub Syndicate's 'Hey Ho' (which also features his young daughter - Georgia!) and the current long-running theme 'Ravi Shankar'. His other unreleased track, 'I See The World Through Different Eyes', was put together with Sherwood late one night at Southern Studios and remains a true On-U rarity. Steve recalls the highlights of the early OTW days:

An 'On The Wire' promotional poster
An 'On The Wire'
promotional poster
An open protest letter that OTW supporters were offered the chance to sign to save the show in the 1990s
An open protest letter that OTW supporters were offered the chance to sign to save the show in the 1990s

"...through the eighties On The Wire slowly built a reputation beyond Lancashire and the North West, throughout the UK and onwards, before the internet, via cassette to the outer reaches, Greece, Sweden, Australia, Italy, USA ... The show was fairly expansive: releasing a compilation 'Bugs On The Wire', putting on The Fall free at Clitheroe Castle when 2,500 people turned up, an Xmas party at the Ritz in Manchester including Sherwood with Gary Clail, 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald, Little Annie and a heavily pregnant Neneh Cherry absconding from a Bomb The Bass gig. First radio plays for in the UK for Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson and the radio premier of 808 State's 'Pacific State'.

As the Nineties turned OTW was under threat from the BBC as new leaves were turned, but at the last minute the show was saved by the BBC board pegging the show as a "unique BBC product". But the heady days of three hours on a Sunday afternoon were over, as in the BBC speech and sport ruled. And so OTW has wandered the airwaves within the BBC schedules ever since."

The format is largely the same though - a mix of music you can't hear anywhere else, studio guests and sessions. Aside from Sherwood himself, the On-U associated register includes visits from Depeche Mode, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Jeb Loy Nichols and Jah Wobble. The show's longevity now means that it is the longest-running alternative music show on UK radio.

With the changing times and over 25 years of broadcasting, many friends of the show, current and past, have played their part, either on-the-air or behind the scenes - Mikey Martin, Fenny, Culf, Jim, Brian "Planet" Jackson, Andy, Pete, Alex, Dom, Bob and the rest. With the rise and rise of technology, the internet age has offered OTW a new lease of life. Past shows are now available to download from OTW's own website ( The latest show can also be heard streaming live online as it goes out on the air, and then for the next seven days for re-play on demand (both via

2011 has seen far reaching proposals for budget cuts affecting all BBC local radio stations in the UK, meaning that the show is once again under threat of being taken off the air. Steve invites you to find out more and show your support at the OTW website.

(Steve's quotes are taken from his own introduction to the show at

Al Jourgensen
Alan Branch
Alan Pillay
Ari Up
Bernard Fowler
Bonjo I
Bruce Smith
Carlton "Bubblers" Ogilvie
Congo Ashanti Roy
Crucial Tony
David Harrow (aka James Hardway)
Dr Pablo
Jah Wobble
Jah Woosh
Keith Levene
Kishi Yamamoto
Mikey Dread
Neneh Cherry
Pete Holdsworth
Prince Far I
Shara Nelson
Steve Barker
    . Biography
Steve Beresford
Style Scott
Talvin Singh
Vivien Goldman

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