Xfm founder Sammy Jacob celebrates Camden’s rich music heritage

Camden Market

Camden Market - Credit: Archant

Camden Market radio service CDNX plays old and new music but founder Sammy Jacob says there will always be a need for live gigs

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant met while working at Xfm and dreamed up sit-com The Office

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant met while working at Xfm and dreamed up sit-com The Office - Credit: PA

Sammy Jacob is celebrating Camden’s rich music heritage with a radio service that also features emerging acts.

The founder of Xfm and NME radio stations is running CDNX in partnership with Camden Market, and this summer organised several live outdoor gigs called Camden Unlocked.

It takes the Hackney-raised entrepreneur back to his youth: “I grew up hanging around Camden listening to music and have spent the majority of my adult years there. When Xfm launched it broadcast to the boroughs of Camden and Islington and was all about new bands and new music so this takes me right back to where I started.

“Camden is still a location with more live music venues than anywhere in the UK. Shoreditch is great but it doesn’t have the heritage - or the Roundhouse.”

Growing up listening to Motown and Elvis, by 14 Jacob was “bunking off school” to hear the latest American soul and disco at the 100 Club.

“It was 35p on a Friday afternoon, we’d stuff our uniforms in our bag. I looked about 10 but told the bouncer I was 18. People forget how hard it was to get your fix if you were into underground music, you had to hunt it down.”

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A stint as a sound engineer at Vince Power’s Mean Fiddler was followed by radio presenting and music promotion in the 80s.

Of founding dance and indie station Xfm, he says: “Radio One was playing Phil Collins and Celine Dion, there was no cutting edge youthful music. We came along it was incredibly successful and changed the industry. Without us there would be no BBC 6 Music, and they stole most of our DJs.”

Due to start broadcasting on September 1, 1992, when Jacob heard of Princess Diana’s tragic death the day before, he rushed to the office to exchange the upbeat test transmissions to atmospheric seagulls and crashing waves.

He then famously hired Ricky Gervais as head of speech “on a music station!”

“He was entertainment manager at University of London, we ended up in the pub and he was a brilliant natural comic who I thought would be brilliant on radio.

“So I offered him a job to be this character who hung around the station popping into everyone’s show to read out a bit of news or gossip.”

Stephen Merchant was pulled off a pile of applicants as his assistant - the pair ended up with their own show and used their downtime to dream up The Office.

Jacob says: “I was a working class lad who left school at 16. I didn’t know the right people and it was a massive five year battle to start a radio station with all the rigmarole of getting licences. Today the whole landscape has changed, barriers have broken down and you can launch your own station on digital platforms at will.”

But he’s fearful for the future if bands can’t play live.

“The industry has been decimated, and as a radio operator finding new music is getting harder. Being being able to perform live is such a major part of the industry, is a record label going to sign an act without seeing them perform?”

Jacob now lives on the Hackney/Islington border and is not bemoaning his home borough’s gentrification. “Anyone who grew up in Hackney knows it was a really hard place to live. Dalston was a complete sh**hole and you didn’t hang around Shoreditch at night in the 70s. I just wish people who have moved in understood its heritage more.”

Listen to CDNX at www.camdenmarket.com/journal/cdnx-radio