Archive for the ‘radio’ Category

Manchester, so much to answer for (Day 30)

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

The day was centred on non-writing activity – namely a speaking event at the Radio Festival 2013 in Manchester where I participated in a discussion on Democracy, Radio and the Media with Bea Campbell (writer and feminist) and Rod Liddle (journalist, columnist in The Spectator, former editor of Radio 4’s Today programme). The session in The Lowry theatre in Salford was chaired by radio presenter Peter Curran and produced by Radio 4 Today Editor Peter Hanington. I traveled up on the train to Manchester with Rod. The last time he came on my radar was when I read a piece of his in The Spectator about Channel 4’s decision to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer during Ramadan. His view of Channel 4 commissioning editors was expressed thus: “The suspicion persists that over at Channel 4, in the commissioning departments, it is forever Wank Week. A perpetual circle jerk of low-achieving white middle-class males tugging away like there’s no tomorrow. The latest spurt of fatuity comes from its Head of Factual Programming, a very pleased-with-himself little semi-bearded monkey…etc. etc.” Other than his being apparently down on monkeys (which I love and are only 0.4% different in their DNA, or so I heard on Radio 4 last Sunday [from evolutionary anthropologist Professor Volker Sommer on The Museum of Curiosity - presenter John lloyd was someone I was thinking about for the Comedy chapter], and apparently men and women can be 4% different), other than the monkey thing  and his being too down on Crouch End (he uses the word “bien-pensant” a lot, deliberately pronounced in an English accent), he proved a very affable chap with a voice fit for the stage. He knew a lot about the landscape we were trundling through from the Welsh borders to Stockport viaduct (which later showed up in an exhibition I went to, see below). He was helpful sharing his experience of book writing and publishing.

Once in Salford, at Media City in the shadow of Old Trafford, both very ugly, we hung out in a strange long curved back-room getting our heads together and broadly discussing the issues at hand. Bea was very friendly and easy to connect with. She now does a lot of her writing in South-West France which she balances with Camden Town. She has a great passion about her which explains why my Other Half has been so inspired by her over the years. Peter Curran did a grand job holding the whole thing together so the session proved smooth and not narrow, three clear perspectives on the topic, mine focused very much on the multiplatform potential of radio, the medium I love most (I listen to over 20 hours a week).

Once over I high-tailed it into town to the Manchester Art Gallery to see the Jeremy Deller exhibition I missed previously at The Hayward in London. I was fortunately alerted to it by the art collector at The Groucho on Day 29. It’s a tremendous exhibition – All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is Exhibition as Art Work, a reflection on the Industrial Revolution created from existing artworks and artefacts arranged to give maximum illumination to experiences and phenomena which remain central to our lives. It only opened on Friday so time was on my side. Time was one of the most revelatory themes for me – the regulation of time through industrialisation – working hours, clocking on, time off. The most disturbing object on display was a contemporary device from Motorola which is affixed to the wrist (where, having listened recently to an extract from Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, the nail went in to fix Jesus to the cross) to monitor the efficiency of warehouse picking workers at Amazon and similar workplaces. That kind of thinking, zero hours contracts, and you can see the Industrial Revolution is not played out. At Peter & Shelagh’s wedding on Saturday in the church where Milton, inspiration for the ridiculously long sentences in this post and the insane sub-clauses, we, heavenly muse, sang Jerusalem so this whole thing has been in the air all week.

Jeremy Deller is the subject of my Art chapter so it was brilliant being able to tune into him through such an inspiring show. I saw him talk about it once at a small conference while he was creating it, focusing on the above image of a miner and his returning prodigal son. What a perfect capturing of the tension of industry – connection and alienation, love and fear,  old and new, monochrome and colour, manual work and non-manual.

I enjoyed the people-watching as I walked from the gallery to the station – everything you’d expect from the city of Lowry and The Smiths.  And of Tony Wilson, the subject of my Music chapter.

The  journey home allowed for a bit of writing, carrying on with Paul Arden to the rhythm of the train and the Talking Heads.

4 differences between a podcast and a radio programme

At the one day Future:Content conference put on this week by London design outfit It’s Nice That the medium of Audio was covered by Francesca Panetta of The Guardian (podcasts) and (in her spare time) Hackney Podcast. Listening to a recent podcast of hers capturing Hackney at night I was reflecting – being a huge lover of radio (I listen to over 20 hours a week) – on what’s the difference between a podcast and a radio programme…

  1. A podcast does not have to fill airtime or a specific slot length – that means the subject-matter can define the shape of the content
  2. It does not have to appear with the exact regularity of, say, a weekly slot – so you could make more of an event of its appearance
  3. You have deliberately chosen to listen to a podcast, it’s not background or encountered by chance
  4. One that Francesca placed great emphasis on, a podcast is usually right in your ears (i.e. often they are consumed on earphones) – so sound design is that much more important and impactful.

I’ve made some radio in my time, some arts and music stuff for BBC World Service and Radio 2 with a variety of inspiring people from John Peel (on vinyl/records) to Jonathan Miller (on mirrors in the arts), loved the experience of that very special medium, and really want to carve out some time to do a bit of podcasting this coming year. I also want to pick up again on my Songlines project from next month.

I was covering Future:TV on the day. I focused on the re-socialising of TV through social media. It was an honour to be sandwiched between designer Neville Brody and Deyan Sudjic, Director of The Design Museum. I’ve had Deyan’s book Cult Objects on my bookshelf since 1987 and taking it out again on the eve of the conference it looked very much like a product of the 80s with its watches and pens, Filofaxes and objects of sleek matt blackness. My beloved Olympus XA2 pocket camera features on page 63, a happy matt black blast from the past, haven’t seen it around the house in a dog’s age. (Nor for that matter have I seen my copies of issues 1 to 10 of The Face, but they’re bound to be in the attic.)

Neville Brody arrived fresh from the student cuts demo in and around Westminster. He showed photos he’d just taken, including a placard saying “I still hate Thatcher” (also very 80s) which brought a smile to the lips. He reflected on how the current student generation has forgotten how to get angry and protest, how the day’s events felt like some kind of reawakening, and he brought with him an old school energy and rage at the assault on the Future:Contentmakers, the designers and artists of tomorrow. There’s something not right, was my first thought of the day as I walked down to the tube heading for the gathering at Shoreditch Studios for a day of interesting reflections on where Content is going, not right at all about addressing a problem of excessive debt by starting people out in life with excessive debt. The student fees question has brought out the worst in the LibDems (speaking as one who helped vote them in, in as much as they were voted in). It came out yesterday that, as Chief of Staff, Danny Alexander wrote about putting “clear yellow water” between the LibDems and the other parties on the issue of student fees – did he forget that clear yellow water is otherwise known as a streak of piss?

 

Future:Content summarised on It’s Nice That design blog

Twitter experiment with live TV

Next up from these quarters is a microblogging/Twitter experiment with live TV. From Monday at 10.25pm on Channel 4 you’ll be able to watch surgery – live. Open heart surgery, awake brain surgery (i.e. patient awake as well as surgeon and us the trusty viewers), keyhole surgery, tumour removal – alive&direct thanks to Windfall Films in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust. Wild enough in itself I hear you say but that is not all, oh no, that is not all…

We will not hold up the cup and the milk and the cake and the fish on a rake, but as the Cat in the Hat said, we know some new tricks and your mother will not mind (unless she’s etherised upon a table, as that other cat-lover said). The plan is to tip our hat (red and white striped topper or whatever) to that increasingly common behaviour of Twittering whilst watching TV and encourage people to tweet away during the live operations, sharing their thoughts and asking questions. The big difference here is that this is live TV and you can make an impact with your tweet on the TV editorial. The best questions tweeted will be fed through to the presenter, arch-Twitterer Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News, who will swiftly pose them to the surgeon at work. So a matter of seconds between tweet and the question being uttered on live TV.

There have been some pioneering experiments in this area by the likes of The Bad Movie Club (established by Graham Linehan, writer of Channel 4’s Father Ted and The IT Crowd, spotted recently on stage at the TV BAFTAS) and Channel 4 News but I think this may be some kind of first in the telly realm. Now of course there are echoes of phone-ins and combining TV with forums/chatrooms the best part of a decade ago (by Danny Baker on Channel 4) but what this new generation of social media brings is a networked conversation which is global, searchable, tagable and open.

I think it is important to consider carefully what kind of broadcast material to combine microblogging with. I personally tend to indulge in the practice while watching undemanding TV like Jonathan Ross on Friday night. Bad Movie Club has the right idea – the clue is in the word Bad, stuff you may well have watched before and is crap in a good way. There was a little unofficial attempt at it at the BBC but it was allied to radio, and egg-heady radio at that – the broadcast material was too complex and demanded too much attention to allow for multitasking. What I’m expecting with Surgery Live is that once you get into the flow of the programme you don’t need to give it your undivided attention to be able to follow the action. I, of course, will be watching over the rim of my specs to take the edge off it all, being of a squeamish disposition and never cut out to be the doctor my parents wanted me to be. I’m a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, the City livery company associated with the crafting of swords and surgical instruments, which is ironic given my phobia of all sharp edges (other than the cutting edge of interactive media ;-)  ).

Surgery Live is the second of three Twitter experiments on my radar. The first was Osama Loves which used Twitter, early last summer, to enable our two intrepid adventurers in search of 500 Osamas in 50 days right across the Islamic world to update sharers in their journey from areas where they couldn’t get online or didn’t have sufficient bandwidth and were forced to rely on mobile. The third is the forthcoming Alone in the Wild (watch this space).

I’ll report back here on whatever interesting comes of it but in the meantime, please do join us for The Operation: Surgery Live on Channel 4 on Monday at 10.25pm (then Tuesday through Friday at 10.30/11.00, varies) to watch an illuminating show and discuss it there & then.

Radio Radio

Neil Pearson

An article by Robin Parker in Broadcast this week about my The Radio Play’s The Thing commission, a project I’ve been working on for two years now and which is just concluding its production phase.

I conceived it as an experiment in what I called (back in 2006) ‘User Commissioned Content’, which was sloppy short-hand for ‘User-Generated Content where you give the User a few quid to help realise their vision’ (for some studio time, a special actor, whatever). As it turned out I was applying a TV/video paradigm to the Radio medium where the gap between writer and producer/director is much wider so I adapted the project on the fly, eventually bringing in professional directors from other disciplines (TV, experimental theatre, etc.) to produce the radio dramas professionally but with the freshness of never having worked in the Radio medium.

4Radio sounds off with dramas ahead of launch

  • Published: 07 May 2008 11:45
  • Author: Robin Parker

The first fiction commissions for Channel 4’s fledgling 4Radio venture are to debut online later this month when the broadcaster unveils four audio dramas.

The plays are all by new writers and will be directed by TV and theatre directors making their radio debuts. Neil Pearson and Hollyoaks actors Gerard McCarthy and Jennifer Biddall are among the cast.

The scripts were chosen from more than 1,000 submitted to an online competition launched last year off the back of C4 theatre talent search The Play’s the Thing.

They were originally intended to be shared with OneWord before C4 pulled its funding from the station in December.

C4 now plans to use the web to launch the plays ahead of 4Radio‘s planned start at the end of this year and will also make them available as podcasts.

The 15-minute plays tackle heavyweight themes. Hospital doctor Andy Prendergast’s To the Broad Shore explores euthanasia; DA McIllroy’s The Interpreter features a confrontation between a Belfast police officer and a Chinese illegal immigrant; Stephen Todd’s Proud Songster looks at the impact of genocide in Rwanda; and Caroline Gilfillan’s The Colonel reflects on Chilean torture that took place in the 1970s.

All four are produced by Maud Hand of Maud Hand Productions and John Dryden of Goldhawk Productions. Hand has developed the project since January 2006. Dryden was invited latterly to come on board and is an experienced radio producer who has specialised in recording plays on location, most notably Radio 4’s The Cairo Trilogy, starring Omar Sharif.

The 4Radio plays are also made out of the studio in locations around London.

Directors lined up include Noreen Kershaw, the Life on Mars actress who has turned to directing Coronation Street and Shameless, and Andrew Foster, the New Zealand theatre director who developed cult comedy Flight of the Conchords for HBO and directed the feature film Eagle vs Shark.

C4 new media commissioner Adam Gee has championed the plays at C4, developing the project in his earlier role as head of 4Talent.

Also involved have been writer Annie Caulfield, Radio Academy director Trevor Dann and Shameless creator Paul Abbott.

“Having created some content for 4Radio, much of it linked to established C4 shows, this is our first experiment in making radio drama sound different,” said Gee.

Article reproduced courtesy of Robin Parker and Broadcast

Frock-coats and drama kings

Jason Isaacs

Sitting here in Carlingford, County Louth on a quiet evening in charge of sleeping children above, with my other half out with some of her dozens of cousins on the other side of Carlingford Lough in Rostrevor, County Down, with some godawful pseudo-american chatshow on RTE1 (Tubirdy Tonight – the name captures the height of shite it represents – a charmless, dull host behind a reproduction antique desk on the other side of which sits a fake nobody guest (the renowned Deirdre O’Kane?) with a D4 tango tan behind which are wooden window panes giving on to a fake cityscape unlike any part of Dublin I’ve ever seen, a lifeless photo devoid of dynamism or truth) and some two-bit boxing match on RTE2 with a ringside commentator with huge arched eyebrows and a forehead like the Mekon – jaysis, we’re blessed with our public service broadcasting back in Blighty, Ireland has much to offer the world but telly isn’t among its riches – I flick to a movie on Ulster TV, Joe Wright’s recent iteration of Pride and Prejudice with Ikea Knightley, as Mark Kermode (who popped up earlier this evening on the Culture Show) calls her on his weekly movie review show on Radio 5 with Simon Mayo. (How’s that, heavenly muse, for a Miltonian sentence?)

From this movie, which has somehow lost its appeal on a second, small-screen viewing, I drift off to an altogether more engaging gathering than the one before me with the dreadful Mr Collins showing off his lightness of foot. The other night I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Darcy himself, Matthew Macfadyen, and his charming wife Keeley Hawes (Cock and Bull Story, Ashes to Ashes, Spooks, The Bank Job) at the RTS Production Awards where he very deservingly won the best actor award for the excellent Secret Life in which he portrays a recently released paedophile striving for rehabilitation. This Channel 4 commission, written and (first-time) directed by Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later, Gas Attack), culminates in an astonishing scene in a fairground where the struggling ex-con brings his handsome Darcy-like features and non-Darcy-like charm to bear on an underage girl. Will he or won’t he? It’s painfully impossible to call.

I watched the drama as one of the twenty hours I went through as a judge in the Scriptwriter – Drama category in the company of the likes of Simon Cellan Jones (Cracker, The Trial of Tony Blair) and Kudos’ Derek Wax (Sex Traffic). For me it was the best film, alongside Mark O’Rowe’s Boy A, but the BBC’s adapted screenplay for Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford eventually won the category. Brilliantly crafted of course and a wonderful cast to deliver the lines with the greatest of expertise – but not brave in the Channel 4 way of Secret Life and Boy A. Too much Pride and Prejudice, too little Shameless for me.

I’d been introduced to the self-effacing (for such a tall man) Matthew Macfadyen by Jason Isaacs, who I hadn’t seen for some twenty years. On occasion we traveled together to school on the bus when he was a big boy and I an insignificant underling. I remember him being warm and open – most bigger boys just ignored you at best. He remembered himself as being unpleasant at that age and “driven by fear”. Mark Kermode – who says hallo to Jason Isaacs and David Morrissey every week on the aforementioned review programme – recalls Jason (who was in the same year as him) as very cool and collected. Jason recalls Mark as the cool one to be looked up to with his quiff and rockabilly persona. Which all goes to show the gulf between our perception of ourselves and how we actually come across to others, as well as the role self-confidence and fear plays in our formative years and beyond. Darcy has just walked out suddenly on a confused Elizabeth for just such reasons.

It was lovely catching up with Jason after so long, last time we met he was still in Capital City with Clive Owen et al. [Correction - see comment below: Make that Douglas Hodge - Clive Owen was in Chancer which aired the same year with Peter Vaughan and Leslie Phillips, written by Tony Grounds.] Since then he’s been to Hollywood (Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, Armageddon, Harry Potter, etc.) and back (to be able to raise his daughters properly) and the night of the RTS was playing Harry H Corbett in The Curse of Steptoe and Son on BBC4 to enthusiastic reviews. We chatted about the urban myth that was the Edgware Walker (as brought to the screen by the maverick Lee Kern), about mutual schoolmates including the legendary Laurence Gould, broader than he was tall, famous for launching two skinheads down the stairs at Stanmore Station, and that was another subject of conversation, the neo-nazi violence of the mid-70s which Jason recalls much more vividly than I can. My first gig was the Tom Robinson Band at the Hammersmith Odeon – TRB introduced me to Anti-Nazi League activism, as well as the notion of gay rights – but it was all a bit theoretical for me. It seems like the couple of years age gap between us made it all much more real for Jason. He also spoke insightfully about his own craft. Producer Vadim Jean (Leon the Pig Farmer, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather) joined us for that bit of the convo – he held up Gene Hackman as one of the most consistently excellent screen actors. Watching Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennett does make you think about consistency – the man from Mash and Klute is also the winner of the all-time worst accent award for his role in Goldcrest’s disasterous Revolution. But in the end it’s all just make-believe. Jason’s older brother, a doctor, it turns out saved a man’s life by performing an emergency tracheotomy (with a biro!) on a plane heading to North Africa. In the light of that, Lydia running off with the perfidious Wickham seems to pale into insignificance.

A few years ago I was filming in Northern Ireland with Eddie McCaffery of Joose TV (then Emerald Productions) and Roddy Gibson (now a TV specialist course director at Middlesex Uni). We had a break from filming and headed up to Horn Head in Donegal. Whilst walking out on the bog of the headland we came across an older man collapsed with blood coming from his mouth, his distraught sister kneeling at his side. The three of us had recently spent weeks in an edit suite cutting a scene involving first aid and so were quite up on our life-saving. We did all the right stuff, got blood all over Roddy’s new jacket which served to cushion the old fella’s head, ended up carrying the prone body (surprisingly heavy) by stretcher back up off the bog to the ambulance which took him to Letterkenny hospital. We never heard a word from the man or his sister. Jason’s brother was given an airline voucher for £30 for his trouble. Elizabeth Bennett may be struggling a bit with her values here but those are both seriously out of whack. Jason’s brother was, however, invited to his emergency patient’s subsequent wedding where he came to see for himself what the act meant to the young man’s parents. Lady Catherine de Burgh (Judi Dench, who also featured in Cranford) has just been shown the door by the feisty Elizabeth, a frock-coated Matthew Macfadyen is striding through the mist, so wedding bells are just around the corner now as things trundle to their happy ending.

Happy Christmas you arses

shane macgowan

With Channel 4 Radio coming over the horizon, what better reminder of why it’s sorely needed than Radio 1’s sacrilegious censoring of Shane MacGowan’s lyrics in the best Christmas song ever – Fairytale of New York. The people who failed to censure Fatboy Moyles’ dodgy use of the word “gay” have had the bare-arsed cheek to clumsily cut the word “faggot” from that bit we all love to sing-along with:

You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last

And while we’re celebrating the genius of Shane’s lyrics (difficult to reconcile with the figure who showed up like a benign Bill Sykes at Adie Dunbar’s last gig at the Boogaloo in Highgate with the Jonahs), let’s wheel out the title track from his first post-Pogues album, the Snake:

The Snake With Eyes Of Garnet

Last night as I lay dreaming
My way across the sea
James Mangan brought me comfort
With laudnum and poitin
He flew me back to Dublin
In 1819
To a public execution
Being held on Stephen’s Green

The young man on the platform
Held his head up and he did sing
Then he whispered hard into my ear
As he handed me this ring

“If you miss me on the harbour
For the boat, it leaves at three
Take this snake with eyes of garnet
My mother gave to me!

This snake cannot be captured
This snake cannot be tied
This snake cannot be tortured, or
Hung or crucified

It came down through the ages
It belongs to you and me
So pass it on and pass it on
‘Til all mankind is free.”

Now there’s a song that will be sung in a hundred years time, long after Radio 1 is history. There’s echoes in there of the greatest London-Irish poetry…

I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
“That fellow’s got to swing.”

Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.

Here’s to the wilde men of words! Mess with genius in your hole! Happy Christmas your arse! Slainte

Starless and Bible-Black

Dylan Thomas

Came across an astonishingly beautiful piece of music this week thanks to my friend – writer, music-lover, and fellow enthusiast for creative thinking – Doug Miller. STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK is a tune inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, from an eponymous record of 1965 by the Stan Tracey Quartet. The Quartet was a British jazz outfit right there on the front line, “one of Britain’s few genuinely original contributions to world jazz”. The tenor saxophonist on Starless is a Glaswegian called Bobby Wellins whose performance is Something Special. I really, really love the title.

STARLESS AND BIBLE-BLACK.

It’s just one of those perfect phrases. It comes from the very beginning of Under Milk Wood: “To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black”

I once started a novel (inspired by Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones) and took the rather over-reaching step of starting it “In the beginning…”. Proved a bit too much to live up to.

Tracey worked outwards from the titles which I really love as a working method – titles can be key and inspiring. “I settled down with the book and the album [original performance of Dylan Thomas' play], and as I was going through I jotted down ideas for titles. By the time I’d got to the end of the play I’d got all the titles worked out and just went on from there – writing for the titles”.

The phrase immediately brought to mind my favourite sentence from my favourite book:

THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.

It’s from James Joyce’s Ulysses (page 619 in my trusty old Penguin Modern Classics copy). It’s from when Bloom and Stephen go back to Bloom’s house after a wandering night on the lash and go out into the back garden for a piss.

Which brings us round to the Simple Pleasures – an outdoor piss after a great night out; an inspirational read; and a musical surprise. Total cost: about a fiver.

It sets your heart on fire

How you listen to music

“I can never hear lyrics. I’ve got a real dyslexia with lyrics.”
Paul Abbott, scriptwriter of Channel 4’s ‘Shameless‘ on Desert Island Discs

It was interesting to hear this throw-away remark (I missed it when I listened to the first broadcast last weekend), interesting because I have a similar relationship to song lyrics. Strange for a lover of Dylan and similar but I really struggle to engage with lyrics in a whole or analytical way. They’re more like part of an audio collage to me. Glints of light, a diamond spinning in the dark.

A good rounded choice from Mr Shameless punctuating a raw, honest, insightful and illuminating interview:

1.Good Vibrations
Performer The Beach Boys
Composer B Wilson-M Love

2.Ode to Billie Joe
Performer Bobbie Gentry
Composer Gentry

3.Sweet Soul Music
Performer Arthur Conley
Composer Conley/Cooke/Redong

4.Imagine
Performer John Lennon
Composer John Lennon

5.Children of the Revolution
Performer T Rex
Composer Marc Bolan

6.Town Called Malice
Performer The Jam
Composer Paul Weller

7.Video Lullaby
His son Tom Abbott with his band Kid4077

8.The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
Performer Roberta Flack
Composer Ewan MacColl

Record: Town Called Malice
Book: Complete works of Arthur Miller
Luxury: Writing pad and pencils

Particularly like his One Record – it’s an explosive song, brilliantly exploited in ‘Billy Elliott’ – a kicking the wall song. Yes, really kicking. He zooms in on it as an expression of creative anger, constructive shouting, exactly as his writing is.

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