Wednesday 18 July 2018

Radio 1 shakes it up nicely with summer swaps

Dave Fanning
Dave Fanning
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Organisations like RTÉ are often criticised for being overly inflexible, too slow to change, lacking in inventiveness. Sometimes, those criticisms are justified - they seem inherent to the nature of bureaucracies once they reach a certain size.

But sometimes they're not, and Radio 1 has displayed a fair bit of imagination and willingness to experiment with its summer schedule. About a dozen new shows are running during the season, some returnees and some completely new.

I haven't listened to everything yet, but of what I've heard, I'd describe it as good-to-very-good. The shortish run of Will Hanafin's Sure T'Was Better (Thurs, 10pm) was decent crack: frothy nostalgic fun at the expense of - and in tribute to - Ireland of the 1970s. Meanwhile That Baz Thing (Wed 10pm) ranges from interesting to sometimes almost ephemeral, but Mr Ashmawy is a genial and surprisingly thoughtful host.

Purely for reasons of personal taste, my attention has been most attracted by The Reading List (Tue 10pm) and Dave Fanning's Story of Irish Rock (Tue 10.30pm). Great books and the music of my youth - how could I be expected to resist?

The former, presented by John Kelly, explores a classic piece of literature by a great writer, tending more towards less-heralded works, or ones we're less likely to have read.

We've thus far had things like Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote and Anaïs Nin's novella A Spy in the House of Love. This week Kelly discussed Primo Levi (author of the seminal Holocaust memoir If This is a Man) and his collection of stories, The Periodic Table, with writer Christine Dwyer Hickey and Dublin Review of Books co-editor Enda O'Doherty.

I'd like to see someone else besides Kelly doing this sort of stuff - it must be close on two decades now that he's been covering the arts on RTÉ, and a change is as good as a rest et cetera et cetera. But having said that, he is competent at what he does, knows his brief well and - maybe most importantly - he picks good people to talk to.

So Dwyer Hickey (a fine author herself) and O'Doherty were able and enlightening guides through Levi's work. Part-autobiography, part fiction, part science book, it sounds absolutely brilliant. Like many people, I've only read If This is a Man - which was great - but this one will hopefully be joining it soon.

Meanwhile Dave Fanning's personal meander through Irish rock 'n' roll arrived in the 1990s this week. First thing to note: the 1990s was, beyond doubt, the greatest period of artistic creativity in human history. Yes, I'm including the Renaissance in that.

"But hold on, Darragh," I hear you interject pedantically, "isn't it just the case that everyone feels like that about the books, movies, music and TV from when they were coming of age?" It is the case, dear reader - but in this case, it also happens to be true.

Dave played some tunes, aired some audio archive, gave a few rambling thoughts on the times… I loved it. And great to hear an old interview with Dolores and Fergal of The Cranberries: never my favourite band, but really decent sorts - and much more talented than an envious Dublin media gave them credit for.

Finally, Patricia Baker's documentary A City Feast (Newstalk, Mon 11am) looked at a small but expanding social tribe: people who forage for food, and grow their own, in unused urban waste-ground. There's something really lovely, and inspirational, about that idea: taking something seemingly empty and useless, and finding within life, sustenance and positivity. Good for them.

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