The week in radio – Annie Nightingale; In the Moment; Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids

Annie Nightingale relived crucial moments in pop history, while Stewart Lee revealed his love of free improvisation. Plus the frank charm of children’s writing

Annie Nightingale: a louche rock’n’roll air that masks the sharpness of her brain.
‘Long may she continue’: Annie Nightingale, celebrating 50 years behind the mic. Photograph: David Levene
‘Long may she continue’: Annie Nightingale, celebrating 50 years behind the mic. Photograph: David Levene
Miranda Sawyer

Last modified on Tue 25 Aug 2020 08.55 EDT

On Air with Annie Nightingale (Radio 2) | iPlayer

In the Moment (Radio 4) | iPlayer

Grown Ups Read Things They Wrote as Kids | Podcast

Annie Nightingale is celebrating 50 years in the broadcasting business this week and I hope she’s enjoying every minute. She has a compilation album out that features music from the 1960s through to the present day. Big coup: it opens with the Rolling StonesMiss You, the first time the group have ever agreed to let one of their songs appear on a compilation.

On Wednesday we discovered why. In 1973, Annie played a track from Goats Head Soup, the new Stones LP, on her Radio 1 show. The track was called Star Star and featured a rude-worded chorus. She didn’t notice at the time, but the Stones noticed she’d played it and thanked her at their album launch party (at Blenheim Palace, of all places). Great – except Annie’s executive producer went white and launched an immediate investigation. They got through the palaver, but only just (her producer resorted to playing the track to random strangers to see if they noticed the offending words: they didn’t). “I had a kind of reputation after that,” she laughed.

This programme, the first of two, was essentially a long interview with Annie, an hour of her storytelling, illustrated by music. She was at many important pop moments, from the Beatles on, and was honest about the ones she didn’t quite make. When the Who played the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, they came on so late, she’d already left. “It was six in the morning, I’d driven off site, and I remember hearing across the island, with moonlight on the sea, ‘See me, feel me, touch me...’”

Nightingale’s voice can be slurry these days, which gives her a suitably louche rock’n’roll air but masks, I think, the sharpness of her brain. She made some astute points about 1970s rock’s resemblance to the EDM scene of today (the pomp and theatricals of the live show), and also highlighted the importance of perseverance – a quality, she said, she learned from David Bowie. When confronted with sexism from the BBC – they wouldn’t have any female DJs on Radio 1 because, they said, presenters had to be “husband substitutes” – she wrote about it in her Cosmopolitan columns and kept banging on the door until they had to let her in. (I was reminded of station controllers who have said to me that the reason they can’t find older female radio presenters is because they didn’t bother hiring any young ones in the past, so there aren’t any with enough experience.) She’s a legend, Annie Nightingale, and long may she continue.

Comedian Stewart Lee, another dogged music appreciator, is a man who will continue on a particular musical ride long after everyone else has left. On In the Moment on Radio 4 this week, he talked about his love of free improvisation – music where the musicians turn up and play, without preparation or prejudice. “It’s like sailing, like catching the wind,” said one of his interviewees, though the music itself sounds more discordant and vibrant than that gentle simile.

Stewart Lee talked to fellow free improv fans on In the Moment.
Stewart Lee talked to fellow free improv fans on In the Moment. Photograph: Antonio Zazueta Olmos

This was a lovely, impressionistic programme, with some wonderful quotes from musicians. “It’s a society running in parallel with what people think is conventional society. It’s extremely disturbing and extremely fulfilling”; “You can fall in love and hate someone in the space of a 20-minute set – you can get who somebody is.” Lee visited the site of the Garrick Yard theatre club, where in 1966 a group of music-makers met to play whatever they wanted. He stood outdoors, talking to saxophonist Alan Parkin about those days, and as they chatted we heard the sound of bottles crashing into bins, which seemed appropriate.

Just time to recommend yet another podcast, Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids. A bit like Radio 4’s My Teenage Diary mixed with The Moth, it has much charm, if a little too much significant music and gloopy explanation by presenter Dan Misener. There are some lovely stories though, and it’s worth checking if only to hear the emotional and direct way that children write.

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