Liberty Phelps, or Libby to those lucky enough to know her, is one of the need-to-know names in radio right now. A resident at Hoxton Radio for the past 2 and a half years, Liberty is launching a brand-new show with brand new London station – Islington Radio. Her latest radio endeavor will be celebrating all the brilliant women in music, the show aptly named ‘You Play Like a Girl’. In anticipation of Liberty’s new show, we caught up with her for some girl talk. You know girl talk? Music, politics, the patriarchy – standard.
You’re starting a new show on Islington Radio having certainly got your name on a fair share of radio stations – what drew you to radio in the first place?
When I was in my late teens I wanted to be a photojournalist. I loved the art of storytelling through both words and images and so I thought I’d actually figured out my career (it was a shock as I’m the most indecisive person in the world – bloody Libra!) I set my sights on Goldsmiths University back in 2016 and as soon as I got there, I threw myself into their student radio station, Wired Radio.
At first it was just for fun. I had a show called ‘Red Red Whine’ where I’d natter away on air with my best mate (also a red head) and play guilty pleasures. It wasn’t until then I realised that you could actually make a living by doing this sort of thing (probably wouldn’t be able to turn up with as many hangovers as we did in the real world). My love for radio really started in that studio.
I’ve since gone on to intern and work in broadcasting for numerous production companies, Hoxton Radio, Worthy FM at Glastonbury, Bestival, Radio X and now Islington Radio. For me, what really ‘does it’ is the pace, the adrenaline I get from being on air and ultimately the joy I get from hearing people’s reactions when I introduce them to a new song or artist who they love.
Rishi Sunak has recently urged creatives to retrain for new jobs to increase their employability. Do you think it’s hard to go for something in the creative /entertainment industry or are you getting on the retraining train?
To think that the next Bowie is now working in cyber – OUTRAGEOUS!
It did make me laugh to be honest. The majority of artists I know already have one or two jobs in other industries to support themselves, myself included.
However, I’m not going to beat around the bush, I was pretty disgusted with his comments. Personally being in this industry, alongside most of my friends, I know how much dedication, talent, passion and hunger has to go into your field. I think it’s an insult not just towards creatives themselves but the parents who drove their children to dance, theatre and music lessons to support their dreams too. This is just talking about artists physically on stage though. I think when discussing this people often disregard how many people work as crew behind the scenes.
Throughout the pandemic, when people have been at their lowest, they’ve turned to the arts. Whether it’s watching a film or TV show, theatre performances online or listening to their favourite album. Humans need the arts and for many people it’s not a hobby. Without it, life wouldn’t be worth living.
Statistics detailing the gender imbalances in the broadcasting industry were released earlier this year and in a word are startling – despite what the figures suggest, do you see the role of women / non-binary identifying people taking on a greater role in broadcasting?
Startling is an understatement and some of my favourite stations are the biggest culprits. In the four years I’ve been in the industry I have definitely seen the role of women take on a greater role in broadcasting, albeit a slow process.
However, it does drive me to make a change and makes me proud to be part of this current shift in gear. It’s an extremely competitive industry but I feel that it’s important to support each other. Look out for yourself but hold the door open. My advice would be to grow a thick skin and keep charging full steam at the roadblocks. I’ve been the only girl in the room on many occasions and have felt overwhelmed by the amount of testosterone being thrown around but know that I just need to stand my ground because I deserve to be there. You may feel like a drop in the ocean but if you lead the way, others will follow.
What about in the music industry as a whole? Does something need to change?
I feel as if there are a lot of fires to put out here but you’ve got to start somewhere. One of the most obvious places to begin, which has been a regularly occurring topic of conversation is festival lineups. There are many different elements that go into deciding who’s on the bill and I know that it’s not as straightforward as looking at a list and picking names that you want.
I’m sure many people would agree that it’s actually quite mundane going to a festival and not hearing and seeing a diverse range of artists. But we have to ask WHY we don’t see as many females up there. They’re certainly talented enough. Maybe look at the ground and work your way up – how can we change the industry to become more accessible?
I guess this can be traced back to radio and the stats that came out this year. Not only is there a gender imbalance in the presenters but also the artists played on air. I think the industry needs to view this as a wake up call. What can they do to make their offices and airspace a healthy balance?
As a presenter you’re tasked with representing yourself and whoever you’re working for, do you take the BBC impartial approach or find your opinion is conducive for your presenting style?
My dad always told me to never talk about politics and religion at work. I understood his reasonings behind this but as I’ve grown older and become more educated about the world we’re living in, I find it incredibly difficult to restrain from doing so.
I consider myself to be a very opinionated person but I keep that between my friends and family. I don’t make my views known on air as I want to make my show a safe, inclusive environment which anyone can tune in to. I don’t think people lock into my shows for politics, they’re there for the music. In spite of this, music can be very political!
Do you ever feel pressured to promote music you’re not overly fussed about?
Absolutely! Occasionally I get music through from friends that I’m not ‘fussed’ about who want me to send it to presenters and music programmers at other stations and even play it on my own show. It’s rare but when I play songs that I don’t believe in, part of me thinks it will damage my image but I think it’s also important to support your mates. I’ve definitely learnt how to say ‘No’ over the past year or so though and that it’s better to be honest if you’re not digging someone’s sound. I have to fill a two hour slot and I don’t always get sent 2 hours worth of music that stops me in my tracks. I probably believe in about 99.9% of the artists I play on air. Music is subjective anyway – someone listening will love that tune!
What musicians are you overly fussed about?!
Some of my favourite artists of all time are Jeff Buckley; Bowie, Amy Winehouse, The Cure, The Clash, The Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Norah Jones, Marianne Faithfull, George Michael, The Beach Boys, Frankie Valli, Marc Bolan, Simon & Garfunkel and Donna Summer (I’ve probably missed some key players here).
New school? At the moment I’m really into Phoebe Coco; Molly Payton, Fontaines D.C., The Ringards, Bad Nerves, Porridge Radio, Marika Hackman, This Is The Kit, Ghostlawns and L.A. Salami.
Oh and ABBA. You can’t forget ABBA.
When choosing new tracks for your show – what sort of music are you interested in sharing?
People that aren’t trying to sound like someone else. I don’t mind if there is a nod to another artist or you catch a glimpse of an influence but don’t try and replicate them. On Sonic Sunday I play post-punk, rock, indie and alternative tunes and what excites me when I’m raking through my inbox is when I hear something different. God knows how many bands I go through that are trying to be the next Arctic Monkeys.
I think it’s fun to hear clear influences from people’s cultures around the world in rock music. I’m trying to branch out at the minute and find pluggers from further afield than the UK – so please get in touch if this is you.
For my new show ‘You Play Like A Girl’, there are no boundaries with genres. I’m looking at a whole host of women from rock and pop to folk and disco. I’m going to go crate digging to find records that didn’t go mainstream and the B-Sides that were never written about or made it to radio. I think it will be an exciting learning platform to discover tunes.
What do you do outside of radio, who is the REAL Liberty Phelps?
Throughout Covid – not a lot! This year has really given me time to think about how important a healthy work-life balance is. I’ve suffered from burnout quite badly and now I’m taking it upon myself to sort this out. I used to go to gigs four or five nights a week which was brilliant but now I’ve got to find other things to do. Not many people actually know this about me but I love classical music and really miss going to listen to orchestras.
Last month I started playing netball again which is fantastic. I’ve been playing since I was about six-years-old and use it as therapy to disconnect from everything, get some endorphins moving around and meet new people.
At the weekends, I try to make it down to the coast as often as I can. It’s my favourite place to be, standing with your feet in the surf and letting its vastness wash over you – it’s a good place to go to clear your head.
This is beginning to sound like a Tinder profile but I love travelling. I’ve realised when you’re in your 20s and your mates start getting into serious relationships it can be a bit of a challenge to find someone to go away with spontaneously so I’m hoping to do a solo trip in 2021.
And finally, tell us why we have to listen to your new show on Islington Radio?
Why not? ‘You Play Like A Girl’ is a chance to switch off from the outside world and really learn something new. Apart from the frequent comments about the colour of my hair, I actually miss school. I love learning new things and this is not only an opportunity for you to go back to the classroom, it is for me as well. We can’t go to gigs right now so I thought I’d bring them to you. Each month I’ll be profiling a different women who changed the game in music, broke through the glass ceiling and rocked the boat. At the end of each show I’m going to play new music on my radar who I think you should know about. Come along for the ride, it will be fun I promise!