Radio: PM BBC Radio 4 Fri 12 November 2010

I have a confession to make. I don’t listen to anywhere near as much Radio 4 as I ought to.

You’d think I’d listen to more. It’s only by listening you can get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. And if you’re going to specialise in it, you’re going to need to know that kind of thing. Not least because you’ll know what’s been done before. There’s nothing quite so embarrassing as pitching an idea that’s already been produced.

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Contrary to the perception of how radio makes few demands on the listener (“I listen to it when I’m doing the ironing”), I need a distraction free environment to fully appreciate speech radio. The office environment can be hideously distracting a lot of the time.

That’s why it was my Significant Other who plucked this gem from yesterday’s PM on BBC Radio 4.

There are a number of elements which contribute to making this a cracking 10 minutes of radio.

The opening 60 second mashup of clips from contributors throughout the week grabs my attention right at the start. The mashup seduces the listener, toying with his/her perceptions by suggesting that news people can be a bit anarchic in their view on the world.

The remaining 9 minutes are simple in origin. Eddie Mair links a series of voiced contributions sent in from members of the public. Simple is good. We like simple.

The order of contributions is vital to the success of the piece. A balance of views (from cantankerous negativity to positive affirmation) is a given, naturally. But it is the range which makes the piece engaging. The listener is taken from witty and poignant (“..a symphony between the gale force wind outside and the computer fan inside”), to witty (“all I heard was my wife practising her violin – never do this again”) and thoughtful (“it felt as though all us listeners were folding in on ourselves”).

While Mair’s links and asides keep the pace, it is – fundamentally – the writing in these contributions, ruthlessly edited down which keeps attention focussed throughout. What is in effect an extremely long segment, it’s ultimate success is proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the “three minute attention span rule” trotted out by ill-informed production “experts” is nonsense. If it’s engaging, people will listen.

:: Listen to the full edition of PM from Friday 12 November 2010 via BBC Programmes.

:: Follow PM on Twitter. The PM blog is quite special too.

:: The picture used in this blog post was published on Flickr by Guido AJ Stevens and is used here under licence.

Testing LoveFilm on PS3 with the Pet Shop Boys

Mail-order movie rental company LoveFilm have launched their PS3 console service this week. Full-subscribers pay out £9.99 to gain access to a library of DVD-quality films, concerts, documentaries and other TV programmes which can be streamed direct on to the TV if available. DVD and Blu-Ray copies can also be ordered via the console, delivered a few days later.

£9.99 a month? What? That’s like £120 a year. Not a bad subscription rate – comparable you might say. There’s a thought. Pay a monthly rate and gain access to a library of stuff you can watch on the TV whenever you want. I wonder whether that idea will catch on. I wonder.

The application works well. The interface design is pleasingly clean. Realistic user experience design and efficient code make the application a pleasing one to use. I like the fact that if I’m searching for a programme title it will adapt the navigational options for ‘Watch Now’, ‘DVD’ and ‘Blu-Ray’ appearing according to availability. The fast-forward function works well (multiple speed options available by hitting the R3 button on the controller), although I can see how some might consider the lack of visual scrubbing to be a failing. Personally, I don’t.

My Saturday afternoon spent nosing around the LoveFilm library saw me peer at the Norwegian film Let the Right One In, momentarily forget how bad Carry on Cleo and settle down cosily on the sofa with the Pet Shop Boys’ live gig from the Savoy Theatre, London. Lead singer Tennant looked surprisingly young and handsome while Chris Lowe did his usual ‘I’m not really doing anything’ schtick. But both were – understandably and probably deliberately – upstaged by their backing vocalist Sylvia Mason James. She is fantastic.

By far the most entertaining was a near-acoustic performance of a classic PSB track Rent. One beautiful crowd pleaser.

Although their (surely ironic?) mix of Somewhere from West Side Story proves that just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. I mean really, who really thought this was a good idea?

Music: Paganini Variations Nielsen ‘Inextinguishable’ RSNO

God bless conductor Thomas Sondegard whose recent concert with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra turned out to be an unexpected joy to listen to on BBC Radio 3.

I’ve included his picture – shamelessly lifted / embedded from the CBSO website – because it’s a telling one. Sondegard has a wild look about him. And it’s reflected in the performance he demanded from his players last week when the concert was recorded. And that’s reflected in the broadcast, unusual for us radio listeners who don’t have the budget or the time available to experience music-making outside the capital. (Yes, I would relish the opportunity both afforded.)

Whilst I agree with Peter Cudmore’s assessment of piano soloist Lukic’s “immaculate, sparkling performance” of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations for piano and orchestra, I’m of the mind his assessment of the Nielsen symphony – ‘The Inextinguishable’ – performed in the second half of the concert stands as an indispensible primer for the composer’s work. It was exciting. Gripping, in fact. All in all an engaging listen.

Still, each to his own.

:: The performance (will, if it isn’t already) be available via the BBC Radio 3 website or via iPlayer (when it’s cooked)

Connect with your inner queen

Is this clip – quite possibly – now the best feelgood dancing at a party clip?

It is for me. Possibly because it is exactly what I used to dream of doing when I was a spotty teenager desperate to feel comfortable at otherwise painful sixth form parties. The opportunity to say ‘look at me – I’m not such a dweeb after all’ was all too difficult to avoid dreaming about. And, it might just be the case that I *may* have realised that dream in the safe confines of my bedroom .. from time to time.

It’s from the recent comedy drama wotnot Whites which has – contrary to what I heard one ill-informed PR-type say during a tiresome event recently – been brilliant. Not least because far from concluding the series with a happy ending for everyone,  character Skoose – the ‘dancer’ in this clip – gets his comeuppance from the boss he was trying to impress. It turned out he wasn’t the ‘big I am’ he thought he was when he arrived in his new job at the beginning of the series. And, as we all know, there’s nothing better than seeing someone getting their comeuppance.

Free Thinking Festival 2010: Vultures Roy Williams

Vultures is a play written by BAFTA award winning playwright Roy Williams.

It was recorded at the 2010 Free Thinking Festival on Saturday 6 November and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday 7 November at 8.30pm.

Listen to an interview with the playwright or read the reasonably interesting text below.

The Radio 3 Drama recorded live at the Free Thinking Festival every is year is always a must-see for me. After all the discussion during the day, the opportunity to sit down and see a spot of fiction is a relieves the senses. It’s live theatre, recorded ‘as live’ (meaning it’s recorded all in one take) in front of an audience.

This is the third Free Thinking drama I’ve been along to. Tony Marchant’s play two two years ago was upsetting. Last year’s entitled ‘Beware the Kids’ was disturbing. This year’s – written especially for Free Thinking by Roy Williams – was immersive and thought provoking.

Williams’ play – ‘Vultures’ – joins a growing list of memorable dramas, in part because of it’s simple premise. Author Yvette is participating in a Q&A at a bookshop at the launch of her recently published book. But there’s a fly in the ointment. To what extent is the book autobiographical? A strong opinion emerges from the audience. Initially finding it difficult to speak out, Sean – someone from Yvette’s past – bursts out.

The presence of two of the actors in the audience during last night’s recording did come as a surprise. The moment Sean is introduced was – quite unexpectedly – an incredibly tense moment from where I was sat on the back row. I didn’t know he was there, wasn’t expecting him to be there and was – quite frankly – petrified of him.

This despite director Kate Rowlands advising us all that they were “dotted around” before the recording started. Mind you, us lot in the audience were perhaps concentrating on our role in proceedings. To the side of the stage throughout the play a production assistant held up pieces of cardboard with instructions on them. Yes, the audience you hear in the recording are part of the drama too. And yes, this means that I have – in a sense – been on the radio. At last.

But it was the audience participation – none of us knew before we got there – which was one of the risky elements. Whether or not that contribution necessarily works is open to interpretation and – thankfully – won’t impact on the interesting themes playwright Roy Williams introduces in the play.

I spoke to Roy shortly after the recording. He seemed utterly cool about the whole thing. Mind you, it was over by then.

:: Listen to ‘Vultures’ recorded at the 2010 Free Thinking Festival on BBC Radio 3 at 8.30pm on Sunday 7 November.