When you switch on Radio One and hear Phil Taggart’s voice, the Omagh accent can sound strange amongst the voices of English DJs and American pop stars and actors. He doesn’t try to hide it. As he mentions the time on his Wednesday night broadcast he admits, ‘By the way, saying quarter to eight in a Northern Ireland accent is literally the most Northern Ireland time of day,’ and goes on to repeat it, impersonating an even more Northern Irish version of himself. “Quortar te ate.”
Two days later he visits us at South West College, where his Omagh accent is much less distinctive, and he’s notably happy to be home for a few days.
Phil has performed regularly in Ibiza across the summer, but when asked what it is that appeals to him about bringing his DJ set to a local Omagh bar again, he responds simply, batting away any implications of some celebrity lifestyle on the party island. ‘I like being busy, I knew I was going to be home and would have a free Friday night, so why not do a gig? It’s not Ibiza but I’m doing the same thing. People might think being a DJ in Ibiza means living the party life, but I’m just working, doing a set, then maybe fitting in a drink or two before getting a flight back.’
Performing locally is nothing new. When Phil was first exploring radio, he broadcast with Strule FM, a temporary community radio station in Omagh, which picked up an award at the 2009 Sony Radio Academy Awards. He says, ‘Strule FM was a great break for me. I got into it just because I was excited that someone was doing this locally. I saw myself maybe working behind the scenes, because I wanted to create things. Then, if I’m honest, I realised that was a lot of work, and thought it would be easier just to be chatting about music on air.’
You can’t start thinking. If I thought about all the people listening, it would blow my mind, so I just try and relax and chat behind the microphone.
It was this chattiness that played a large part in Phil continuing to find himself behind the microphone. After leaving university, like many graduates, he was unsure of what exactly he wanted to do; then after being on the dole for an extensive period of time he was pushed into a work placement scheme. It was his background in studying media – he won the BBC/Skillset Young Broadcaster of the Year Award while at University of Ulster – which meant he found himself at BBC Ulster making tea. He says, ‘I used to bounce around the office and have so much fun. After like three weeks of making the teas, they put me on air because the presenter had to get his tonsils taken out. They just said to me, “If you can be the same on the air as you are off it you’ll be grand”, and that’s still what I try to do. You can’t start thinking. If I thought about all the people listening, it would blow my mind, so I just try and relax and chat behind the microphone.’
Things moved fast. ‘After getting that break on Across The Line, I did a 2-month residency with BBC Introducing and a couple of stand-ins, but I was very much wet behind the ears. It all felt very fast, and it’s still amazing, I feel like “when are these people going to find me out?” and I still don’t allow myself to think “I belong here on the radio.”’It’s Phil’s passion for music that allows him think this way. He identifies with musicians on a musical level, sees them as artists rather than celebrities, and any idea of himself as a radio personality always comes second. He explains that it didn’t necessarily have to be this way. ‘When I started at Radio One I did a few stints filling in on day time shows, and there was a while when I could have went in a different direction and concentrated on more stuff like that. But my strength and passion has always been the music, and it was important for me to follow that.’
It’s clear listening to Phil speak that his passion isn’t being on Radio One, it’s doing what he does on Radio One. As we talk he takes out his laptop and explains that his Mum recently found an old USB pen of his lying around the house. He opens up an old article he wrote a few years ago, when he was writing music reviews and journalism, which he found on it. ‘I didn’t remember writing this,’ he says, as he highlights a particular paragraph, ‘but that’s me being creative, talking about music, doing what I wanted to do.’ He seems to take just as much pride and get just as excited about this as any talk of broadcasting to millions of listeners or enjoying nights out with rock stars.
Read Part Two of our chat with Phil here.