A Career in Ten Songs: Mike Ritchie, PR consultant

MIKE Ritchie set up his own PR company – in 1996, in Glasgow – after a 25-year career as a journalist, starting in Dundee before heading to Glasgow where he worked, firstly for The Scotsman and then the Daily Record, mostly as its health correspondent.

He also presents a live, two-hour show on Sunday afternoons on Celtic Music Radio – on 95FM or www.celticmusicradio.net – and writes live reviews for the station’s website and the americana-UK website.

1. David Bowie – Suffragette City – From my junior sub-editor days (1971/72) at the Weekly News before heading to DC Thomson reporters’ team. My first ever music review, Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars. “Keep it to five pars,” I was instructed. I did. Brilliant song from a memorable album. Wrote one more record review, never thinking that, many moons later, I’d review live gigs on a regular basis.

2. Led Zeppelin – Communication Breakdown – January 1973. I had just started reporting duties in Perth but had the night off to see the mighty Zeppelin at Dundee Caird Hall: ticket £1. Seem to remember I was earning about £14 a week at that stage. I think it was the final track that night in a powerhouse performance. Unforgettable stuff. Couple of years earlier, for the band’s first Dundee visit, I remember queuing overnight for tickets with some mates from DCT and former school chums.

3. Bob Dylan – Meet Me In The Morning – Was discovering Dylan more and more, and Blood On the Tracks (1975) came out just before I was transferred back to the Dundee newsroom. Learned lots in The Courier’s Perth office, including that whisky did not agree with me one bit. Seriously, it was a joyous way to learn the trade. Never bored, well, apart from covering Traffic Commissioners’ hearings. Torture. Loved the reporting role in my home town, even though the first job was a ‘death crash collect’ and I knew the family from my BB days. This Dylan album is a marvellous, confessional one. A singer/songwriter masterclass.

4. The Rolling Stones – Beast of Burden – in June 1978, I was starting my general news reporting job with The Scotsman. This was slap bang in the middle of the World Cup in Argentina and Scotland’s flop out there. My new colleagues were great, and I remain friends with some to this day. The Some Girls album is one of the Stones’ best: not so fond of their hits but this is bluesy and chunky and airs quite frequently in the Ritchie household.

5. The Smiths – How Soon Is Now? – Headhunted by the Record, I was nervy about working for a tabloid but the troops there were so helpful. I was replacing one great set of colleagues for another. Great days. There was a buzz, a real edge to the stories tackled. Also learned to accept that quite a few headed ‘spikewards’. This track from Meat Is Murder (1985) is astounding. I know Morrissey has his critics but I think his music is always worth listening to. When he performed this track at the Glasgow Barrowland a couple of years back, the place went bonkers. And no wonder; what a blistering song.

6. Gillian Welch – One More Dollar – it was in 1996 when this song came out. All good things come to an end and I left the Daily Record not sure whether to freelance as a writer or become a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. As I tried to make my mind up, I dabbled in both. My abiding memory of working at the Record was being in the same newsroom as some of Scotland’s top hacks, at a time in the 80s when the paper was selling 850,000 copies a day. Talk about a heyday. Got all Gillian Welch albums: class act.

7. Ryan Adams – Oh My Sweet Carolina – My darling wife, Maggie, left the features’ desk at the Record to join the business in the year 2000 – a welcome arrival. As a freelance, she hit the ground running. So did Adams, musically. This is such a gorgeous song. He was instantly big-time with the ‘Heartbreaker’ album, the start of a solo career that mixed the terrific with the troubled. Saw him recently live in Glasgow and he was in sparkling form, really living up to his billing as a singer/songwriter to be reckoned with.

8. The Handsome Family – Our Blue Sky – Strangely, this track (from the album, Last Days Of Wonder) reminds me of a mild panic when one of my longest-running, retained clients and I parted company as they were taking the work in-house. I remember driving back from their offices with this on in the car and feeling slightly anxious as our baby boy had been born just a couple of months earlier. This was 2006; the business had been going ten years. But it never became a crisis as new clients and projects were won. I’ve seen The Handsomes many a time, live, and they are true entertainers. They are a husband and wife duo with a penchant for songs riddled with darkness, death and the macabre, all delivered with a great dollop of deadpan humour. They always make me smile.

9. Neil Young – Comes A Time – I ventured, after being asked several times, to do live stand-in slots in November 2013 on Celtic Music Radio, the Glasgow-based community radio station. What a great bunch of people: so helpful and supportive to a novice broadcaster like me. While I had done some radio and TV interviews over the years, sitting in front of a microphone, live for two hours, is somewhat different – and there’s the technology to master, as well. But I’ve not set fire to anything so far. No question I’d play a Neil Young track as my first ever offering – picking the track was difficult, but the title seemed appropriate.

10. Fraser Anderson – Rag & Bones – Been playing his music regularly (along with Blue Rose Code, aka Ross Wilson from Edinburgh) on the regular two-hour, live Mike Ritchie On Sunday Show on Celtic Music Radio, that got underway in August. Playlists are my choice, and mine alone. The mince talked is all me, too. While loads of Americana, roots, bluegrass, alt-country and folk music are featured on my show, there are plenty of Scottish singer/songwriters to savour as well. They are a joy to listen to. Fraser is only one of them: it is an uplifting, beautiful composition.