“So many people have Mike Edgar to thank for a life in music. He has been a true champion, mentor, driving force and friend to the musicians of NI. His enthusiasm has never waned and we are so delighted to make him our Outstanding Contribution to Music recipient for 2021.”
Charlotte Dryden, CEO, Oh Yeah Music Centre
Back in the day, Mike Edgar shook hands with Michael Stipe. The REM singer winced with pain. The DJ’s grip had shocked the artist with its zeal, the directness, the force of personality. Michael Stipe may have met with countless radio broadcasters and media people, but this was the first time that he had been completely Edgar’d.
For most of us, encounters with Mike Edgar have been painless. We may have known him as a musician, a radio presenter, an executive and a mensch. He’s the guy in the Outside Broadcast truck, loving the scale of a massive music event but also knowing the names of all the security guys, the runners and riggers. He’s a blizzard of volume and hair and anecdotes. Mike Edgar is a believer and a convincer. The decent health of the Northern Ireland music community owes so much to his work.
He was a teenage jazz drummer from Belfast, loving the style of Buddy Guy. He played out of the punk era with The Peasants, who were about Beatles chords and a singular energy. He was signed to EMI Records with Cruella de Ville, a precociously odd band that combusted after some high-profile videos. Mike squatted in Sting’s London pad, met Freddie Mercury and managed a deal with Kate Bush to buy a Lambeg drum. Listen to ‘Running up the Hill’ to hear how that worked out.
He was back home when ‘yoof’ broadcasting became a thing, and alongside Davy Sims and Mary Carson, he was presenting Beyond the Line. He was gripping and grinning, lashing together vibrant radio journalism and contesting the brutal impact of the conflict. He worked the studio desk like a jazz drummer, riding the faders, popping the mic and pushing the VU meters into the red zone. He would not be limited.
He was poised to lead the radio show (rebranded as Across the Line) into the 90s, when alternative music asserted itself. Therapy? was the breakthrough act, and presently there was Ash, Divine Comedy, David Holmes plus a score of other contenders. It was a parallel force to the peace process, a chorus of joy. Everything culminated on April 9, 1998. The Good Friday Agreement was hours away from completion at Stormont Castle. Meantime, Mike had brokered the Irish Rock and Pop Awards at Blackstaff Studios in Belfast, alongside Hot Press magazine. He had fetched up U2, Morrissey, Ash, Shane MacGowan, Sinead O’Connor and Divine Comedy. Even David Bowie sent a thank you via satellite. It was unimaginably great.
Mike extended his influence onto the executive floors of Broadcasting House – an antidote to caution and low expectations. His broadcasting work began to taper off but he had already populated the evening schedules with like-minded presenters, persuaders and gig-goers. He was now entitled to be Head of Entertainment and Events.
Just as he had engineered the Belfast-Dublin channel for rock and roll, so Mike furthered the NI-London bridge. In previous decades, the Nordy temperament has been introverted and insecure. We have had issues with cultural cringe. But Mike did not recognise this. So he represented at the BBC’s National Popular Music Board in London. We were literally at the table and Mike’s credits have appeared on numerous TV specials: The Biggest Weekend, Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Live 8, BBC Music Live, Vital, Snow Patrol at Ward Park, Proms In The Park and Children In Need.
He was also a valuable Vice Chair of the Oh Yeah Board, rolling the agenda, winning friends and warding off evil spirits. He has worked his charm all over civic society. Now Mike is active as an independent media producer. In 2021 he’s been filming fresh talent like Problem Patterns, Dani Larkin, Dana Masters and Casual Riots. He still loves it. We’re hardly surprised. Mike Edgar is properly outstanding.
Mike Edgar will be awarded his Outstanding Contribution to Music award at the NI Music Prize on October 2021.
This profile originally appeared in Issue 6 of Dig With It magazine. Sales info here.