There are lots of radio programmes which are, essentially, people talking about music. I haven’t crunched the numbers, but it may well add up to the majority of all radio. We love hearing people talk about music almost as much as we love hearing the music itself, and Soul Music, Desert Island Discs, Paperback Writers, Tracks of My Years and more are testament to that.
This week, there’s another programme to add into the mix. Moira Stuart, having quietly departed from BBC Radio 2 at the end of 2018, has settled into her home at Classic FM.
At the weekend, she began a new music interview series, Moira Stuart Meets (Classic FM, Sunday). It’s not a million miles away from Radio 3’s Private Passions: the contributors are famous names drawn from the diverse worlds of arts, entertainment and politics, sharing their favourite pieces of classical music and talking about what music has meant to them over the years.
Stuart’s first three guests have strong musical backgrounds, and indeed foregrounds: Sir Tim Rice and Sir Willard White will be among those making appearances over the coming weeks, but we began on Sunday night with the Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins.
Stuart asked kind questions that invited rosy reflections and happy storytelling, in which Jenkins was game to take part. How did Jenkins first find her love of music? How does she juggle a musical career with a young family? What has it been like singing with Dames Vera Lynn and Kiri Te Kanawa? All of the answers to these questions were sweet and lovely; none was particularly surprising. She doesn’t ever remember not loving music; it’s hard, but she manages; her experiences have been more than she ever dreamed.
Stuart has a distinctively trustworthy and sincere voice, familiar over the course of an immensely distinguished news broadcasting career. As an interviewer in this programme, however, she still seemed very newsreader-ish, and I wanted her to lean in more to the conversation and add some spark. It often felt as if Jenkins were answering a series of questions on a piece of paper rather than engaging in a conversation with Stuart, and radio is nothing if it’s not a conversation.
There is no doubt that the demands of social distancing made recording all this infinitely more difficult than it would otherwise have been. Still, there is plenty of time for the format to loosen up over the planned eight episodes. And it did mean that there was something very placid and calming about the programme, making it a much more relaxing listening experience than the quick-march pace of Desert Island Discs, for instance. Classical music has been something vital and enduring to lean on this year, and hearing how it has helped others is an experience that warms you from within.
A drama that was less cosy and much sharper than I expected this week was Bloody Eisteddfod (Monday to Friday, Radio 4), an adaptation of Myfanwy Alexander’s novel set in rural mid-Wales, when all the pomp of the national cultural festival comes to town and a grumpy Welsh-speaking police inspector called Daf Dafis (played by Steffan Rhodri on sardonic, lugubrious form) has to deal with the fall-out. I was anticipating a romp, but got something much more intriguing, acerbic and satirical, and the darkness was delicious.
Though it still couldn’t approach the spine-tingle factor of The Missing Cryptoqueen (BBC Sounds), the investigative journalism podcast produced like a thriller by Jamie Bartlett and Georgia Catt, which has returned this week for a new series. I’d only just picked up my jaw off the floor from the first one, which was released last September.
Soundtracked by original music from the London Bulgarian Choir, and including candid confrontations, secretly recorded phone calls and enormous amounts of money, it’s the story of how the charismatic entrepreneur Dr Ruja Ignatova promised millions of people she would make them rich by involving them in a new cryptocurrency, then simply disappeared.
Fraud, organised crime and very dangerous people are complicit, with huge numbers of people having fallen victim to a scam on an international scale. How deep and dark does this story go? Bartlett has just signed a book deal and sold the screen rights, so there seems to be much more to this tale yet to come, and the podcast is the place to hear it first.