Shaun Keaveny is looking for ways to feel a little bit better. Photo: PR
For more than a decade, Shaun Keaveny’s voice gently guided BBC Radio 6 Music listeners into the day. He was the laconic leader – but the key was always in the community he cultivated, the human connections formed across the radio waves (OK, digital transmitters).
More recently, Keaveny has experimented with a new form of listener-driven radio with his totally independent, Patreon-fuelled weekly show, Community Garden Radio. Freed from the shackles of BBC impartiality, he laid into the “cruelty” of the current government.
But he found himself exhausted by anger. This week, he has launched a new daily podcast, Shaun Keaveny’s Daily Grind. It will be an oasis, he hopes, for others who are struggling to maintain their mental wellbeing in a time of unrelenting horror. He hopes that – like The Big Issue – his new show will be a rebellion against the forces that would pit us against each other.
The Big Issue: I’m sorry but the first thing I have to ask is… a daily podcast – are you mad?
Shaun Keaveny: Oh, my God. I knew somebody was going to point this out. I’ve just started absolutely canning it myself. To be perfectly honest, the only way that this is going to work, is that I’m gifting the first part of every day to the gods of content. So everything that happens almost from when I wearily blinked my eyes open to about two o’clock in the afternoon: it’s all fair game. I’ve got to try and harvest as much stuff as I can in that time.
I just listened to your pilot episode, in which you realised it would take two weeks to do each edition of Shaun Keaveny’s Daily Grind…
That was a moment, I had a real dark night of the soul. I’ve been very temperate for quite a long time but I made a terrible mistake of going out for a few drinks the Friday before last. I got the beer fear on the Saturday morning. I was in a freefall panic, bolt upright at 6.50am. I just sort of sat at the laptop trying to bang out contingency plans or fake my own death. But you know, between myself and my genius producer Ben and the goodwill of the whatever audience we’ve got, I’m confident that we are going to create something at least mildly diverting.
You started by rummaging through some literal rubbish.
Ages ago, when I was at 6 [Music], I was talking to my good friend and producers there, trying to come up with ideas for the afternoon show. We had all kinds of daft ideas, none of which we brought to fruition. I have written down on a piece of paper – and I don’t think I was joking, either – Dry Stone Walling with Shaun Keaveny. Because, number one, I like being in nature; number two, I love dry stone walls. The other idea, slightly more seriously, was I think people chat better when they’re already doing something. When you’re doing something mundane, you feel a bit less under the microscope.
But what the litter-picking was all really about – I bought these litter picking devices two years ago on Amazon, I hadn’t used them. I thought, wait a minute, this is a golden opportunity here to use these. Who doesn’t like walking up and down the canal?
And you’re making the canal a bit nicer for everybody else.
I mean, we got a full bin bag in 40 minutes. It is only a tiny contribution to the planet’s woes, but it made me feel a little bit better.
Talking about feeling a little bit better, you have promised to delve into the papers, which strikes me as not a brilliant way to feel better.
The news cycle now is so unbelievably sad and terrifying, with so much unimaginable human suffering going on all around, I personally find it very difficult to get through that.
The only thing that I have got in my armoury is to try and use my one slight talent, which is to give people something else to think about for a little bit. It’s not to say this stuff isn’t happening, or we should ignore it. It’s just a little oasis of silliness for a little while for us to catch our breath.
And so, it’s gonna be hard but we’re going to be picking out the real ‘and finally’ parts of the news that we can have a little bit of fun with. Those are the ones that we’re going to be using… with hilarious consequences, or at least mildly diverting consequences.
Are there serious things you want to talk about as well? Certainly on Twitter / X you’re quite political.
I don’t think there’s really any avoiding it. Our Community Garden Radio shows have been overtly political, to the point where I actually got myself burned out earlier this year, because I was so enraged with so many different things that are happening out there in the political sphere. A bit like a collapsing star at the middle of a galaxy, I just burnt out my fuel. Because it is kind of exhausting, isn’t it? If you’re always dealing with the inequalities and injustice you see being perpetrated, it can start driving you nuts, I think. I was going a bit crazy with it.
For my own mental health, I’ve kind of stepped – not away from it – but I’ve taken a step back from it to take a breath. I think what have been prepping to do with this podcast is make a nice space to be in, to try and bring the temperature down.
What is making you angry at the moment?
It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I didn’t have an axe to grind – because I do. Where I come from, just about everybody that I know and love are of a very similar socio-political persuasion. We believe in social justice. We believe in helping people, rather than ignoring people who are in need.
We’ve been presided over for such a long time by people who seem to have normalised – they’ve almost made an artform out of blaming other people for shit. There’s a callousness and a cruelty to discourse in modern politics that makes me want to cry. It’s a difficult time for humans to be alive and to be trying to make sense of the world, because there’s so much info and a lot of it’s not particularly good for your mental health.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m trying to be a little bit more meditative. What can I do in the world that might make me feel a little bit better and a bit more connected to the human race?
In a time of callousness, there’s something rebellious in connecting with people.
I think that’s right. And I think that’s what Big Issue does. You don’t have to be Noam Chomsky to understand that what the big money, the big corporations, are interested in is atomising us and making us a little bit more frightened of each other, so they can make capital out of that fear and competition. What people like The Big Issue do so beautifully, is say: no, that’s not what we’re about. We’re about bringing people together.
You know, I’m being very, very highfalutin about a stupid daily podcast that might kill me. But if there’s any kind of ethos behind it, it is that.
We talked about politics there. A lot of people are saying we’re about to see the back of this government we’ve had for a long time. Would it be better if we didn’t have them and maybe had the other lot in for a while?
I honestly do think all you can really do is look at the facts. Look at the record, look at the things that have been enacted, the beliefs that have been inculcated over the last 13 years and draw your own conclusions. It’s easy for governments to say, we’ve had this financial crash and we’ve had Covid. Yeah, there have been unbelievable challenges.
But some of the some of the moral choices that have been made over the past few years, in our name, have sat very uncomfortably for me. And I just think, to be as apolitical about it as possible, just to look at it almost as a matter of physics… sometimes it’s just better to have a change and let somebody else have a go and hope there might be a change.
Maybe we’re not done with kindness yet. Maybe that’s not an outdated concept. Maybe it’s something that we actually really need. I’d love to see that implanted back into society a little bit.
What are you most looking forward to about Shaun Keaveny’s Daily Grind?
I’m really interested to explore what it’s like to connect our audience. It’s one of the slightly less obvious attributes of podcasts. A lot of the time they don’t use audience, it can very often be a one-way process. Whereas we’re really trying to get the audience involved. So I hope that works. But also just being out of the studio, whether it’s recording a chat with some huge star in a pub for our tax deductible pop quiz… I’m imagining Bob Dylan in the local beer and burger, you know?
Can he consider that an invite?
Listen, you can tell him from me: he won’t have to put his hand in his pocket. That’s an offer. Up to the value of 20 pounds sterling.
Really, what this podcast is mostly about, it’s just getting me out and about. I had a combination of being a bit older, having another child when I was in my late 40s, then Covid happening. And I think that psychologically, I felt like I’ve been imprisoned in one or two postcodes for most of my life for the past four years. So, pray for me and just hope that it works and it doesn’t land me in some kind of place for distressed radio presenters.