Status Quo’s Francis Rossi on Saturday Live BBC Radio 4

Status Quo’s Francis Rossi featured in a package on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live on Saturday 17 September 2011.

Rossi revisited his old school in South East London’s Forest Hill, reminiscing on his time there.

He explained to journalist JP Devlin how he ended up passing on the family business opportunity of selling ice-cream, instead embarking on writing songs and playing in Status Quo.

Francis Rossi on Saturday Live BBC Radio 4 (mp3)

2010: Gillian Duffy reflects on ‘Bigotgate’

Here’s a review of something essentially reviewing something else which happened during 2010. But what’s striking for me about this is not so much the story, but the engaging nature of the interview itself. It’s definitely worth a listen.

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Radio 4 PM host Eddie Mair’s interview with the woman at the centre of the ‘Bigotgate’ scandal is an interesting listen, not least because it takes the listener on quite a long journey. By the end of it, Duffy – the media’s ‘victim’ during the ‘scandal’ – reveals her to be a normal human being. Normal in that there are so many aspects to her which make like all of us.

I was particularly struck with the obvious rapport Mair established with Duffy resulting in a hugely entertaining piece of storytelling.

And with the reflective interview broadcast at the end of the year too, there’s a sense of closure on the whole sordid media affair.

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.

Eurovision 2010: Pete Waterman on Radio 4’s Front Row

“know your material as best you can”

BBC Radio 4 Front Row presenter Mark Lawson spoke to Pete Waterman about Eurovision on Tuesday 9 March 2010.

Listen to the interview via BBC iPlayer or here.

Mark Lawson, presenter of Radio 4’s arts programme Front Row makes an interesting (and actually quite reassuring) point in the advice he offers journalists on how to conduct an arts interview. Impartiality is key to arts interviews, he says and this is illustrated perfectly when Front Row is reviewing the BBC’s own output, he says.

So, in the spirit of self-imposed impartiality I find the opportunity not to assess a piece of his work too delicious to ignore.

The illustrated cue for the pre-recorded interview with the UK’s Eurovision 2010 Puppet-Meister Pete Waterman wasn’t the best start.

After all, any UK Eurovision fan who tuned in to listen to the interview would have known that the UK’s last win wasn’t Bucks Fizz’s Making Your Mind Up, but Katrina and the Waves singing Love Shine a Light in 1997. And, on a point of style Jade didn’t so much ‘fail to win’ last year’s Eurovision, she came fifth and she was gorgeous and she continues to be gorgeous and we love her.

In some senses this did put Mr Lawson on the backfoot – although only amongst the hard-core cognascenti who like nothing more than to judge in a sneery, dismissive way.

But Waterman clearly came out better by the end of the interview when Lawson kept pressing the songwriter to reveal the name of the song, even going as far as asking him to sing a bit of it. Waterman was hardly going to do that. It had already been telegraphed Waterman had refused to reveal anything about the song which really means the TV production team wouldn’t allow it. Call me a cynic if you like.

“We haven’t exactly put the country’s strongest songwriters at the forefront of this for the last twenty years.”

What Waterman did instead was to underline his core principles. Don’t forget that his involvement in Eurovision raises his profile as much as it does the handful of youngsters (some of them shave every day, I understand) who are wriggling around on stage on Friday night. Waterman’s name should rise in Google ranks. People will on one level or other think about him, Stock Aitken and Waterman and the many songs they churned out during the 80s and 90s. This translates into record sales. Regardless of how we do at Eurovision, that’s a good thing for the Waterman brand.

And because of that back catalogue and because his tracks help 30 somethings diarise their own lives, the man does – even if he didn’t intend it to be this way – represent someone with a heritage. He’s someone who’s been through the system. Survived. Succeeded. Profited. He knows his stuff.

And because of all that he’s got a view on the world which underlines his maturity and in turn appeals to us long-in-the-tooth Eurovision fans.

“They think they know better than the writers. I think that’s disrespectful.”

There’s an air of “the trouble with young people today …” in some of the responses he gives Mark Lawson. That’s why he focuses on the important of strong melodic lines in the interview. That’s why he keeps banging on a central European song tradition rooted in classical music. He keeps talking about Mozart and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik presumably because what we’ll hear on Friday night is a rip of the chords Mozart used in his now ubiqitous work.

And if that’s the case regardless of whether you like the song or not, regardless of whether you like the performer of that song or not, Waterman’s intentions and workings-out have been made transparent. He reckons he’s done for Eurovision what he’s done successfully all his life. And that’s a good thing.

Just whatever you do Pete, don’t be tempted to pronounce “Celine Dion” as “Selane Deeon” as you did in this interview. Like talking about your interest in steam railways, you’ll only shoot yourself in the foot.

As for you Mr Lawson …

Radio: The Archers

Radio 4 Blog Editor Chappy Steve Bowbrick has been at The Archers headquarters this week, nosing around the studio at the BBC’s Mailbox in Birmingham. He went with his digital camera. Some of his pictures are spookily engaging.

I say spookily because I’m normally averse to seeing too much behind the scenes of a radio drama. I don’t want too many mental images shattered by taking a peek at the real identity of Ambridge. Especially right at this moment in time.

There’s a story line at the moment which is making me feel incredibly sad. Jack Woolley is – I think – suffering from Alzheimers. His illness is being played out with a ongoing degeneration of his formerly stable mind, not unlike the slow dripping of a tap. At times it was amusing. Now as Jack’s illness edges him ever closer to a nursing home – The Laurels – each incident makes it a more attractive option for his carers. Us listeners is find it increasingly more difficult to listen to.

As a son with aging parents, it is – let me be honest – my worst nightmare. My parents are fit and healthy. They have all of there marbles and frequently make use of them, scaring me in the process. If I could be half as active as them at their age I’d feel quite pleased. As the years roll on and I admire their energy so the thought of Jack’s illness makes me worry.

I’ve no idea how I would cope in that situation, seeing someone I know in one way behave in a completely different way in front of me. And yet, as scary a thought as that is I check in with the Archers every single night at the moment.

That’s the key to the Archers you see. I can check in with an entirely different (albeit fictitious) community. It’s escape. It’s entertainment. It’s thought provoking. And when its good it stays with me all day long.

And seeing pictures from behind the scenes doesn’t really change that. Sure Ruth Archer does look a bit different from how I picture her and David Archer might want to think about shaving that silly beard off, but Ambridge still exists in my mind. So much so I know I’ll find things a little difficult when Jack faces his ultimate end.