Monday, 30 September 2013

Nice to have known you, you were my big kick

The gnomes at BBC Radio 2 are at it again - fucking around with their schedules and once more cheapening the experience. One of the absolute highlights of my week has always been to listen to the intelligent dulcets of Mr Russell Davies' show at 9pm on a Sunday "celebrating the art, craft and inspiration of the popular song".

His - and the man really knows his stuff, being a jazz musician himself - was an hour dedicated to extensively-researched musical history, tirelessly revealing hitherto unknown details about the songs, composers, writers and performers of music from a long-lost era - when such legends as the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart (or Hammerstein), Lerner and Loewe, Irving Berlin, Harry Warren, Yip Harberg, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, Cy Coleman and many more too numerous to list created the song "standards" we still know and love today.

Now his show - listening to which I would normally soak in a luxurious bath, and just wallow in musical loveliness (as I did yesterday, with sadness in my heart) - is axed, along with the Beeb's own midweek BBC Big Band Special, to be replaced by an extended swing music programme presented by Clare Teal. Miss Teal is just 40 and is pretty, Mr Davies is 67 and, even by his own judgement no doubt, is not that. And thereby we identify a sad trend...

As Mr Davies himself recently said in an interview with The Telegraph, “I think there’s a cultural shift going on. I don’t know why they’re doing it. It seems to be at the expense of people who know anything before The Beatles.”

He continued:
“If there is no one on Radio 2 who knows about the standards of songs, it is a great shame. There are some people who are being increasingly poorly served by the BBC.

“People like me, in the BBC local radio firmament as well, are disappearing. I don’t think age has a lot to do with it. I think it is the kind of song. The well written song that was pioneered by the likes of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and the Gershwin duo. It is more [to do with] that catalogue: I don’t know what they have got against that. I think there’s a risk that the longer memory of music is being lost from the station... It’s a complete waste.

“I have had some messages already [from listeners] and they feel that they are being badly treated, and snubbed, and that their tastes are not being recognised, let alone catered to.

“Radio listening is diminishing among the younger people, but not among this older generation. These are not the people to be ignoring at this time, I think, or snubbing.

“On a lot of Radio 2, the music is just there. It’s the pleasant gaps between the chat and the chat.

“I think Radio 2 is just content to do that, and leave the music be and the music business can look after itself. There is always something to be said about the music business, past and present. And where better to say them than on Radio 2?

“My programme is a niche programme in the sense that only a certain number of people at any given time are going to take music seriously enough to enjoy the history of it in the way that I do. But Radio 2 is built on songs and there must be something on the network that is taking songs seriously.

“Money is always mentioned as being part of it, but I don’t really think much money will be saved from getting rid of me."
Although Mr Davies' voice will not be entirely lost to BBC Radio (yet!) - he has a new show (not the same intelligent format, unfortunately) coming up on Monday nights at 11pm for two 13-week stints a year, and he is still the question-master on the long-running Brain of Britain quiz on Radio 4 - I believe he is correct about the way "our kind of music" is increasingly being sidelined, and older presenters and listeners are not respected as they should be.

David Jacobs is dead, admittedly replaced by another "old-timer", the composer Don Black in the late Sunday slot; Mr Jacobs' contemporary Desmond Carrington (one of the voices on the BBC's predecessor to Radio 2, "The Light Programme" back in the 50s) is constantly seeing his show moved about in the schedules, having originally (much like Russell Davies himself) been shunted from Sunday afternoons to make way for superstar Elaine Paige; and the Your Hundred Best Tunes light classical show that was the domain of Richard Baker, the late Alan Keith and latterly Alan Titchmarsh is gone for good.

Latest figures from Radio Joint Audience Research showed that Radio 2 had 15.27 million listeners a week, up 4.9 per cent on last year. The increase was put down to older people turning away from Radio 1, where changes aimed at attracting a younger audience have led to a drop in listeners.

Yet the Controller of Radio 2 Bob Shennan seems determined to ignore the perhaps lesser-known and definitely older presenters and formats in favour of the new, the famous and the "shouty" - both the lovely Hugh Laurie (54) and the not-so-lovely Sarah Cox (38) have new shows announced. Let's not even contemplate why the well-respected folk singer Mike Harding (68) was replaced at the helm of Radio 2's folk coverage by Mark Radcliffe (55, formerly of Radio 1's "Mark & Lard" show), nor why Sir Terry Wogan (75) was replaced by "ginger minger" Chris Evans (47), nor indeed the alleged sackings of Sarah Kennedy (68) or the late Malcolm Laycock...

Just today I signed a petition asking for the programme to be saved, and left this comment:
"Russell Davies Song Show was the most important source of intelligent and important historical research, providing a valuable background to the wonderful music of the 20th century he played. He is replaced for what reason? The BBC quotes money. Piffle. Its values are increasingly about "celebrity" and intellectually light programme formats, and this is evident in the way Sundays on Radio 2 have been rearranged."
The man is too important to be sidelined in this shabby way...

In last night's show alone, we had rare treats from (among others) Rosemary Clooney, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Susannah McCorkle, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, the recently-deceased Joan Regan, The Swingle Singers, Frankie Laine and Peggy Lee - read more on his page on the "Wise Buddah Productions" website.

I shall miss Russell Davies' programme on Sunday, and look forward to hearing what he has in store when his new format show finally arrives on Mondays later this year.

Let's finish by playing the classic with which he opened his final "Song Show" - Miss Rosie Clooney and I'm Checking Out (Goombye), here in a medley with It Don't Mean A Thing... How apt.

Read more about the demise of the Russell Davies Song Show in The Telegraph.


  1. Replies
    1. I agree - that's what I signed the petition (not that that will do much good I suppose).


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