Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Swinging the axe

On the weekend came the news that Graham Norton is leaving his long-running Saturday morning Radio 2 magazine show - to be replaced by that professional irritant, Claudia Winkleman. 

Last night (as I listened to her show on catch-up) came even worse news - the BBC has cancelled one of our favourite hours on radio, Clare Teal's Swing and Big Band Show!!

From The Telegraph (via Yahoo):

Radio 2 has axed its shows dedicated to swing music and early rock’n’roll as the station concentrates its attention on “the next era of pop”.

The Swing and Big Band Show with Clare Teal, and Bill Kenwright’s Golden Years, have been fixtures of the Sunday night schedules for a decade.

But the programmes will have no place in a “refresh” by the station’s new controller, Helen Thomas.

Kenwright hosted his last show on Sunday and bade his listeners an emotional farewell. Teal will leave the station in January, and told the Daily Telegraph that she was sad to leave.

“The swing and big band community in this country is really strong. It saddens me that the show is going. We’ve built up this audience and it’s a real sharing experience,” she said.

They are the latest specialist shows to disappear from Radio 2. The cull began in 2018 with the end of programmes devoted to brass and military band music and organ music.

Last year the BBC announced the new role of Controller of Pop, appointing Lorna Clarke to oversee the musical direction of Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 1Xtra, the BBC Asian Network and 6 Music.

When she advertised the Radio 2 head of station job in March, Clarke said that she was looking for someone to “help me shape the next era of pop from the BBC”.

However, Teal said swing and big band music do constitute “pop” for her listeners, particularly older listeners who grew up with it.

She said: “This music is popular music of a different era - a soundtrack to people’s lives. It is so memory-linked. I hope older audiences will still be served. Older people don’t all like classical music and they’re not all going to head off to Radio 3.”

Teal hopes to produce a version of her show on the Anchor podcast platform in the New Year.

A Radio 2 spokesperson said: “We would like to thank Clare Teal and Bill Kenwright for bringing such passion and commitment to their shows.

"We are always exploring new ways of reflecting a broad range of genres across Radio 2 and the music they featured will continue to be heard, whether in forthcoming series Top Brass with James Morrison and Barry Humphries’ Forgotten Musical Masterpieces, and within our regular shows, weekly strands such as Sound of the 60s and Jamie Cullum, plus specials. We very much hope to work with both Clare and Bill on future projects."

"Reflecting a broad range of genres" - what utter bollocks. When the genial Don Black retired this year, himself a replacement for the late David Jacobs, what did Radio 2 think was a suitable replacement for their style of laid-back, easy listening music, the "comfort zone" that traditionally ended Sunday nights? Why, a show of generic pop pap, of course, presented by Anneka Rice (of all people), generally best known for her cheesy grin and for wobbling her arse at the camera while seeking the prizes in 1980s adventure game show Treasure Hunt. Of course. A natural fit, NOT. A whole "genre" of music, lost.

The above-mentioned Miss Winkleman's first appearance in the Radio 2 schedules was itself during a previous reshuffle after the retirement due to ill health (he died soon after) of the station's longest-serving and beloved DJ, purveyor of classic showtunes, standards and gentle music Desmond Carrington. Her brash style of presenting and banal playlist-pop content sat uncomfortably as his ostensible "replacement", and disrupted the flow of Sunday evenings with a jolt.

The world's longest running music radio show Friday Night is Music Night has also been treated shoddily by the once-proud BBC. Ostensibly in a "temporary move" when radio schedules were being "simplified" in response to the coronavirus pandemic earlier in 2020, the show was shifted to Sunday evenings and "temporarily" re-titled Sunday Night is Music Night. Long before any hint of COVID existed, there had been little in the way of new programming in its normal tradition, however - one of the great "perks" of this publicly-funded network was that audiences could attend recordings of these generally Light Music (and Big Band) concerts for free; and over the years we successfully got tickets (in their draw) for several of these - and its output began to rely heavily upon repeats of old shows, unless there was a concert for which the Beeb could charge, of course, which would then be broadcast in its place.

Lately, and perhaps understandably in a pandemic, repeats are all that occupies its Sunday slot, but the entire programme is unceremoniously dumped altogether if another music-themed event comes along such as BBC Live Sessions, the Olivier Awards or, shamefully for a nation which has no such music in its national canon, America's Country Music Awards. This is the British Broadcasting Corporation, in case anyone in charge of scheduling has forgotten.

Miss Teal, in her statement above, makes a very good point that Swing and Big band music is a genuine part of older people's memories and lives - it was their "pop music", as she says - and fears that generation is being sidelined by the decision. I would argue further that there are millions of people - ourselves included - for whom this type of music is not a personal memory-jog, but a matter of musical taste. We love not only the eternal back-catalogue of British dance bands, US swing bands, jazzy singers and Latin orchestras that were at their height in the early to mid 20th century (before "our time"), but also the modern inheritors, conservationists and innovators of this style - not least the likes of Max Raabe, Joe Stilgoe, Matt Dusk, Michael Feinstein, Claire Martin, Puppini Sisters, Michael Buble, Tricity Vogue or Kansas Smitty's House Band (and even Nina Hagen, Robbie Williams, Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats and Matt Goss of Bros have embraced it). Let us also not forget our own "house bands" here at Dolores Delargo Towers, Pink Martini and Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox...

So who is this embarassingly-titled "Controller of Pop" Lorna Clarke, anyway? On investigation, it seems her main pre-BBC experience was at Kiss 100, the former urban pirate radio station specialising in Hip-Hop, R&B and dance music, from where she progressed to BBC Radio 1Xtra, the digital urban contemporary and Black music radio station. No "swing" there, methinks. As for her appointee as Head of BBC Radio 2/Axeman, Helen Thomas appears to have experience producing mainstream output such as that channel's shouty Drivetime and Breakfast shows, and is on the committee of something called the Young Audio Awards. Both started their careers in radio news rather than music. I feel my life flashing before my eyes at the thought of what this pair have in mind next for the UK's biggest radio station.

Very sad.

Let's have some of "our kind of Swing" to cheer ourselves up, shall we?

And finally, proving that it's not just for oldies...

That's what we want!


  1. I am very disgruntled by Norton leaving. I won't bother with Winkleman - she is NO replacement for Norton. I'll listen to Dermot and then switch off for the rest of the weekend.

    1. Mr Norton's not my favourite presenter, but he's a damn sight better than some. We love our weekends on Radio 2 - from his show through Pick of the Pops and Rylan Clark-Neal to Liza Tarbuck on Saturdays, then Michael Ball, Sounds of the Seventies, Paul O'Grady, Sunday Night is Music Night and Clare Teal on Sundays. Slowly but surely, it is all being chipped away, I fear. Jx

  2. Seems as if it's time to play CDs with your favorite music, sweetpea! I've turned to music on my MAC via music I've loaded on my MAC and spotify. Good luck with finding a way to listen to your favorites! xox

    1. Thanks, Savvy. We have more than 1100 (catalogued) CDs, and yes we do play them now and again. However, I do love a traditional old fashioned Radio schedule, and to let the DJ do the work... Jx

  3. I'm familiar with Claudia Wankerman only from the Head and Shoulders adverts, an annoying personality vacuum indeed.

    1. The only reason she got into telly in the first place is 'cos her mother is Eve Pollard; the one with the big tits that ran the Daily Mirror and ended up on the panel of Through the Keyhole... Jx

  4. you selected some FABU swing tunes, dear. and that final video - damn those boyz are smooth dancers! wonder if they won a prize.

    spouse and I listen to classical music on weekdays, jazz/swing on weekday evenings, and swing/big band all weekend.

    1. I'd give those boys a special prize...

      You and I have very similar listening tastes, it seems. I always have BBC Radio 3 (classical) on in the week while I'm working, and we love listening to Swing at any time!


  5. My kind of music. All our radios are tuned to ABC Classic and when tv is rubbish(that's most of the time!) we can now pick up Mal Stanley's JazzTrack through tv.
    I like tuneful music. I probably have all of Frank Sinatra's recordings, and scads of blues and jazz. Is Ronnie Scott's place still going??

    1. It's a moot point as to whether any club venues are going to survive this pandemic. As far as I know, Ronnie's will most likely have been closed since March - and if London remains in a higher "tier" under the COVID rules, then even once this current lockdown ends next week, it may still not be able to reopen.

      Coincidentally, we watched a very interesting documentary on the history of Ronnie Scott's (and the sad life of the man himself) just the other day. It was shown here on BBC 4, but from looking at IMDB, it seems it may be available through streaming services (if you have such new-fangled things; we don't). Jx

  6. No, this old gal aint new-fangled! I know Ronnie had a less than stellar life, but his old place was a great gathering point for people in the 60s.
    It's probably rather weird, but when I think back to my London years I remember Ronnie Scott's, Wigmore Hall and Eel Pie!Oh! Anouska's place, but that was a private house so not everyone was there.

    1. Wigmore Hall's thriving - the Beeb has been doing loads of its lunchtime recitals live from there (without an audience, admittedly). No idea about the EelPie!Oh! bit (unless you mean the recording studio in Twickenham?) - and who is/was Anouska? Miss Hempel? Jx

    2. Heavens. you mixed with the coolest of the cool, then! Jx

  7. Enough is enough ! They have slowly taken every thing away from us.
    Now is the time to storm Broadcasting House and set up a Guillotine in Portland place.
    Heads should roll in the Streets for this.

    1. Can you even imagine what a "Save our Swing" protest might look like? Love the idea... Jx


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