Tommy Vance Dies
6th March 2005 · Last updated: 5th October 2016
Today I heard news of the death of Tommy Vance. Like John Peel, he was another great British DJ I listened to a lot when I was young. Again like Peel he had started out on American radio, before moving to offshore pirate radio, then getting a job at Radio 1. Whereas Peel focused on punk, Tommy Vance was your man for heavy metal and rock. But like Peel, he wasn't afraid to play other styles of music as well. His regular slot on The Friday Rock Show introduced many new bands via the regular sessions he put out. I remember hearing Marillion for the first time on his show, long before they reached the charts. He would also play archive sessions from classic bands like Cream. He worked with producer Tony Wilson, who came from Melody Maker (writing the sleeve notes for Yes on their first album). I remember Tony had a catchphrase he would often shout out at the end of a show, "Rock on, Tommy!!!". It was a great partnership but it was a sad day when he left the station. He went on to become a VJ (for VH1 I think) and moved to Spain.
He also had a great affirmative voice, one of a rare breed of DJs that sounded like they were made for the radio. His voice led him to do a lot of commercials, so it was a profitable asset. I always remember an interview he did with Sounds music paper, which had a large photograph of him on the cover, with the legend "Metal Guru".
Even though I didn't like a lot of heavy metal, I would still tune in to the Friday Rock Show every week. Why? Because it was one of the few places on radio back then where you could hear new and exciting progressive rock. He would regularly play new tracks by Yes or whoever was hot at the time. He was the DJ who played a sizeable chunk from Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays' classic album As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. Or he might play singles like Ghosts by Japan, just because he felt the audience should hear them, and because he really liked them himself. He was also a great fan of Tangerine Dream, often slipping one of their songs into his show.
On the Friday show, along with a Saturday one he worked on later, he interviewed many rock stars during his time at Radio 1. People like Dave Gilmour, Jon & Vangelis, Bill Nelson, and many more. Perhaps his greatest triumph in terms of breaking new acts was when he gave over the whole show one week to a live set by The Enid. I'd heard their singles before and hated them. But live, they were a mindblowing mix of Pink Floyd and classical music. Probably the only act to fill the Hammersmith Odeon without even having a record contract. Truly amazing. So felt the listeners - the switchboard was jammed with requests for more information.
He would make each show worth listening to by the worthy chat between records. I always remember him saying once that every time he went home after a show, his wife would ask him "Did you play Comfortably Numb?". After playing it one week, he said he would be able to go home that night and say yes.
I never wrote to John Peel, but I did to Tommy Vance. I had taped a superb piece of music from an older show of his, but didn't catch who it was by. So I sent him the whole tape, cued to play the mystery track. He wrote back revealing who it was by. I since went on to buy the whole album. You don't get service like that with every show.
Rock on, Tommy!!!