Monday 19 February 2018

Radio: Singing the blues with these unsung heroes of music

Way back when... The Blue Nile, left to right, Robert Bell, PJ Moore and
Paul Buchanan in their prime
Way back when... The Blue Nile, left to right, Robert Bell, PJ Moore and Paul Buchanan in their prime
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

The first Blue Nile gig had an audience of…two. Which is less than the band itself.

As we discovered on In Search of the Blue Nile (BBC Radio Scotland, Mon 4pm), however, great oaks and tiny acorns: the Glaswegians never became superstars, but from 1984 to 2004 they established themselves as perhaps the cult band of all cult bands. Think The Velvet Underground, only more obscure and slightly less revered by a generation of fellow musicians and fans.

Ken Sweeney, who produced and narrated, is both. He was in a band called Brian, and nowadays is a journalist and broadcaster. You might know him from regular appearances with Tom Dunne on Newstalk, and might remember his Radio 1 documentary a few years ago, which told the incredible story of Michael Jackson living in Co Westmeath, virtually incognito, for six months.

And he's a huge Blue Nile fan, so this was a conclusion so logical, it was basically inevitable. Sweeney travelled to Scotland to speak with band members Paul Buchanan and PJ Moore, and visit the streets and buildings which inspired the music - 'A Walk Across the Rooftops' down memory lane, you might call it.

Irish broadcasters such as Donal Dineen, Tom Dunne and Mark Cagney contributed, and the show was dedicated to our late colleague (and radio regular) George Byrne.

I'm not the biggest fan of that sort of jangly pop, but I appreciate why others really dig The Blue Nile. And this was a thoughtful, warm-hearted documentary, made with obvious passion by a true believer.

Russia was the subject on Talking Books (Newstalk, Sun 7pm), as Susan Cahill discussed the Great Bear with author Peter Conradi, who's just written Who Lost Russia?

The subtitle reads, 'How the World Entered a New Cold War', which should give some idea of where we're at now. I found it fascinating, especially to relive the dying days of the Cold War, as I'd be old enough to remember them to some extent.

Gorbachev striving to prevent the collapse of Communism and inadvertently causing it to happen; the Yeltsin years, then manic rush to capitalism; and finally Putin's "rise without trace", to a quasi-dictatorial position.

The 1990s détente, Conradi reckoned, was unfortunately the exception not the rule in Western-Russian relations. We might even be looking soon at a pre-World War I type situation of rising tensions and alliances being built between European countries. So there's that to look forward to at least.

Leap of Faith (Radio 1, Fri 10pm) is a religious affairs show that, by rights, a self-important atheist tosser like me, up here in my media ivory tower, should hate. I don't really, though.

I mean, I don't exactly approve of this stuff - religion has been just about the worst poison in the history of humankind, for me, and I must admit that I'd sooner it didn't exist.

But I don't really care, either. I suppose you lose a lot of that angry hostility as you get older - or you should, anyway - and now I'm literally indifferent to religion, at least the relatively harmless versions, ie modern-day Catholicism, Church of England, Buddhists, Jainists, Taoists, Quakers, etc.

If people want to believe, let them off; and if someone wants to make a radio show about it, let them off too. And this week had a very interesting piece by Belfast man, Reverend Steve Stockman, on the Christian influence in U2's music.

Their journey in faith, he said, mirrored his own. And while I am indeed an atheist media tosser, I always admired U2 for not denying their religious beliefs: honesty and sincerity are very cool.

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