New York Festivals Radio Awards Open Mic Spotlight shares the inside story on some of 2017’s award-winning radio programs and the creative insights from the incredible men and women who create these inspiring programs. This week, NYF interviews Raymond Meade, writer-producer, Demus Productions, Glasgow Scotland and bassist for the English rock band, Ocean Colour Scene. Raymond earned a 2017 New York Festivals Radio Awards Bronze Trophy for his compelling program created as a tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, “The Railway People.”
The Scottish songwriter and rock musician was deeply moved by his visit to Auschwitz. His journey inspired him to write poems and create music to commemorate the Holocaust with an EP “The Railway People.” Raymond forged a friendship with Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor which resulted in the two friends returning to Auschwitz to record the program for BBC Radio Scotland.
NYF wanted to find out more about how this program came to be. In the interview below Raymond shares how he became inspired to write poetry and music based on his trip to Auschwitz, the creative challenges he encountered when creating the program for the BBC, how he met Eva Kor and what he hoped to achieve with his creative tribute.
NYF Radio: What prompted you to create the program “The Railway People” and how did you come to write music and poems based on your trip to Auschwitz to launch this creative program idea?
Raymond Meade: I visited Auschwitz as a tourist and was horrified by the experience. It completely numbed me. I had always wanted to visit the Camps but nothing could have prepared me for the experience. On my journey home to Scotland, it became obvious to me that I’d need to try and write about what I’d encountered. It started with some poetry which then led to some music and eventually I made the decision to try and create a whole piece to mark the memory of the victims.
NYF Radio: How did your meeting with Nick Low of Demus result in the documentary “The Railway People” and it airing on BBC Radio Scotland?
Raymond Meade: When the groundwork was laid and I knew for sure that the format was going to be a return to Auschwitz with Holocaust survivor Eva Kor, Nick called me to say he’d heard about my plans. He was keen to film it and record everything I was doing. I maybe didn’t see the potential in the whole thing to begin with but Nick thought there was a great story to be told and he was right. What unfolded was a truly incredible experience and I’m forever indebted to Nick for taking the chance on it.
NYF Radio: You describe the program “The Railway People” as “my way of remembering the victims of the Holocaust.” What do you hope to achieve by respectfully drawing attention to this atrocity with your creative efforts?
Raymond Meade: All I’d hoped to achieve with the Railway People was to feel as though I’d done something to remember the dead. I think the whole point of going to Auschwitz is keeping the memories alive. It’s remembering what happened there and contributing to ethos of never forgetting. It’s not ancient history. It’s very recent. I wanted to be respectful and to hopefully find a new angle to tell this most tragic of stories.
NYF Radio: What creative challenges did you encounter and how did you solve those challenges?
Raymond Meade: There weren’t really many creative challenges. My main issue was approaching a subject as colossal as the Holocaust and not being Jewish. I was conscious of that and I wanted to make sure that every tiny detail was fact checked and accurate. I was probably over analyzing everything but it deserved it. It simply had to be correct from the very beginning. There’s no second chances with something like this.
NYF Radio: How did you come to first meet Eva Mozes Kor and why did she agree to record your poem for the spoken word segment of your song tribute “At the Top of the Stairs?”
Raymond Meade: I felt a direct link to Auschwitz would give the project a lot of weight and I’d read Eva’s book a few months before I started writing the Railway People. I decided to email her and ask if she’d contribute a spoken word piece on one of the songs. She was very responsive and keen. She’d never been on a song before. She liked the idea and the approach but then went even further by suggesting we do the recording on the Selection Platform at Auschwitz Birkenau, the site where she lost her family in the gas chambers over 70 years ago. When I read that email, I had chills up my spine. I knew then that this was going to be extremely special and important. When we eventually met several months later and traveled to Auschwitz together, it was without a doubt, the most memorable thing I’ve ever been involved in. To go through those gates with an 83-year-old lady who experienced it first hand was truly mind blowing. The most humbling experience of my life.
NYF Radio: In your opinion, what makes “The Railway People” such a successful program?
Raymond Meade: I think it’s been successful for the simple reason that it came from the heart. I didn’t set out to write a documentary, or a film or win an award… nothing like that. All I wanted was to find my own way of coping with the experience of visiting Auschwitz. The real surprise of the Railway People is the friendship that developed between Eva and me. That was not expected and there’s some light moments in among the darker tones. The fact that so many people made contact after it aired was amazing. People of all religions, ages, occupations, all felt the same way and that was a really satisfying feeling for me because I think it moved them in the right way. There’s been so many teachers and lecturers asking if they can have copies to teach it in their various classes and that has surprised me. It’s such a massive compliment and I feel I’ve made a worthwhile piece that might help introduce people to the atrocities that occurred there.
NYF Radio: How was the radio program received in Scotland and the UK?
Raymond Meade: It was very well received. The press coverage was huge and most of the newspapers ran stories. There was national television coverage and plenty of radio interviews too. I think it became such an unusual relationship between Eva and myself and that caught people’s imaginations. A genuine closeness has developed and I now regard her as a very dear and special friend. We speak very often and have met up a lot in the time since the recording. I’m sure it’s a friendship for life and I’m very grateful to now have her in my life, even if she does constantly tell me that my jeans are too skinny and I need to eat more food! Haha!
NYF Radio: Your program “the Railway People” earned the coveted 2017 Bronze Trophy in the Heroes category, what does earning this award mean to you?
Raymond Meade: It was genuinely one of the most special nights of my life. I’ve never been involved in anything like that before and to win the Bronze Trophy was so unexpected. When I saw firsthand all of the talent in that room, I just felt lucky to be in that kind of company for a night. But, for my own program to then be acknowledged and included was something I’ll remember forever. New York has a special place in my heart. I’m there 5/6 times a year so it was literally perfect. A dream.
NYF Radio: How did your creative background as a musician aid you in expressing your thoughts about your visit?
Raymond Meade: I think that songwriting is the way that I’ve always dealt with my life, through good and bad times. I’m fortunate to be able to put my thoughts into words and music. When I came back from Auschwitz, I knew there was going to be something coming. It’s like an incoming signal. You just have to be open to it and do your best to express it when it arrives. It’s essentially a crutch. A coping mechanism. I’m grateful to be able to do it.
NYF Radio: As a rock musician did you find composing a musical tribute honoring those who perished in the holocaust a different process than creating music for your group Ocean Colour Scene?
Raymond Meade: It was only different because it was such an important topic. The process was no different and the songs poured out. There was no force. It was all very natural and I think that comes across in the finished tracks. I spent a little longer on the lyrics but on the whole, it was pretty much the usual way I write music.
NYF Radio: Do you have any advice for young people wanting to create a program that they have a passion about or a cause they want to illuminate?
Raymond Meade: The only advice I could give is if you feel something and you can’t ignore it then you must pursue it. It becomes something you don’t have a choice in and that’s when the magic happens. If everybody told their stories and experiences then the world would be a better place for it. I would tell any young person to wear their passions like a badge. Take chances, write letters, knock doors, make the phone calls. You can’t ever know where it’ll take you.
NYF Radio: Now that you’ve been so successful in your first radio documentary, are there any other radio projects on the horizon? What’s next for you creatively?
Raymond Meade: I’ve no problem in admitting that the NYF Radio Awards has given me a new lease of life. It has shown me that I might be able to do something different from playing music and that my writing is of a decent standard. I’ve set myself a target of making 3 radio documentaries before next year’s awards and I want to be back in New York to experience that special night again. I’m working on a true crime piece, a further Auschwitz piece and also a local heroes’ collection which will be a series of interviews. The interesting thing for me was seeing how many podcasts were included. It shows that a commission isn’t everything and that there is always a way to tell the world your stories. It would mean everything to me to return next year and to be considered again. Thank you for such a special experience. It’s been incredible.
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