Friday 28 October 2016

Radio: Culture shows really cut to the art of the matter

Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30

Fionn Davenport - more palatable when dealing with the arts.
Fionn Davenport - more palatable when dealing with the arts.

The other day, I saw the will-they-won't-they government non-formation shenanigans described as being like "absurdist theatre". But of course that's not true, because theatre has structure and beauty and the involvement of talented people and ultimately an underlying meaning and all those things.

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Art pees all over politics, most of the time. Anyone who gets jazzed by politics, or describes it as being like a "really great drama" etc, just isn't reading the right books or watching the right movies.

So this week I said to hell with you, politics, and devoted my attention to art, beginning with Inside Culture (Radio 1, Mon 10pm). This was the first in a new series, presented by Fionn Davenport (right), probably best known as a travel expert but he also did Culture Shock on Newstalk in the Noughties.

When he's wearing that "travel expert" hat, I'm not mad about Davenport (nor, indeed, most of his peers); there's something rather elitist and patronising about a lot of it. "We're not tourists, we are travellers" - that sort of thing.

But he's much more palatable when dealing with the arts. Culture Shock was pretty decent back in the day, and Inside Culture (yes, there seems to be a certain leitmotif regarding titles here) made a solid, if not world-shattering, start.

The programme, produced by Zoe Comyns - also behind the excellent Book Show on the same station - describes itself as exploring "creativity, culture and a world of ideas". The aim, the outlook, the whole aesthetic, seems to be rigorously and unashamedly intelligent - and no harm in that.

We live in a largely stupid, ignorant world, where people would sooner share infantile memes or talk drivel about sport than open their minds by engaging with a classic novel. And coverage of the arts has unquestionably been dumbed down; I expect to see an article headed "Ten KILLER quotes from Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment" any minute now.

So it's nice to see a somewhat high-brow approach to the matter. I mean, if the arts don't merit it, what does? (Please don't say politics, I might be forced to kill you.)

Anyway, this first airing of Inside Culture had a good mix of topics and tones, with interesting segments on the creative workspace Block T in Dublin's Smithfield, a website that maps cities "according to emotions and senses", Rossini's famous opera The Barber of Seville, and an interview with David Rieff, whose background is in international policy but here was discussing his book on memory and forgetting.

It didn't all grab the attention at all times, but Davenport is comfortable across a range of areas, the show unfolds at a nice pace, taking its time, and it peers into those corners of artistic and cultural life that are generally ignored by other media and shows. Worth tuning in again, methinks.

On The Green Room (Newstalk, Sat 8pm) - Newstalk's successor, I guess, to Culture Shock - Orla Barry had a genuinely fascinating interview with a guy called Daryl Davis, subject of Accidental Courtesy, a new documentary which just premiered at the excruciatingly hip SXSW festival. (Fionn Davenport, the Travel Expert, I'm guessing, would like it.)

Davis is a chatty, very affable man in late middle-age. He's a blues musician. He's also black. And what makes him, and this documentary and interview, remarkable is that he's spent years seeking out racist yahoos like the KKK, in an attempt to understand them.

Because he was born to diplomat parents, and spent much of his childhood in various spots around the world, Davis had no concept of racism until he was 10. He didn't understand why someone would think that way - and still doesn't.

So he began contacting the self-styled "race warriors", on the eminently sensible principle that preaching to the converted is pointless; to change someone's view, you have to talk with them.

It hasn't been easy, and Davis has faced the ire of both white and black people. But he's a courageous and intelligent man, doing something that is, let's be honest, fairly incredible; more power to him. Oh, and he comes across as a cool guy, too.

Another Radio 1 arts show, the daily Arena (Mon-Fri 7pm), looked at the publication of When I Was Old by Georges Simenon. The legendary Belgian author led a mind-boggling life - the amount of books he churned out, of itself, is remarkable - and this new publication is a collection of notebooks he kept in the 1960s.

It was previously published in 1973, now Penguin are reissuing the thing, alongside all 75 of his Maigret mystery novels. Sean Rocks' guest Anthony Thuillier read the book and gave a concise, informative overview of book and man: his work life, his marriage difficulties, his incorrigible womanising, which was probably the root cause of said difficulties.

I've only read one Simenon novel - not a Maigret - and it was good: much darker and more unsettling than I expected. This whetted my appetite to seek out more.

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