Cries & Whispers

Click to follow
IT IS now three months since Richard Branson launched his national radio station, Virgin 1215. It has yet to issue audience figures, but it will be a surprise if they are high. Virgin isn't working. My taste in rock is pretty conservative - I prefer Mott the Hoople to Suede, and Neil Young to Nirvana - but the stuff Virgin plays is too safe for me. It is aimed at what the marketing men call 'the CD generation' - Eric Clapton fans, basically - but without the technology to match: these are just the people who are going to mind the fact that it is on medium wave, bobbing about in prehistoric mono. In case you're wondering why it falls to me to comment on this, it's because our

radio critic, Sue Gaisford, lives in Sussex and can't actually hear Virgin.

Branson, naturally, is aware of the problem, and is reported to be lobbying for an FM frequency now occupied by BBC local radio. But he is on the wrong wavelength in another sense. Driving through East Anglia the other morning, I flicked between Virgin and Atlantic 252, the Irish station which would be called a pirate if it weren't so respectable. Atlantic was clearly the better of the two. It didn't play a Queen track every 15 minutes. It didn't see a fondness for old songs as a reason to give up on new ones. It didn't mention a Canadian beer in every other breath. And its DJs were not members of other stations' pension funds (I mean really, Tommy Vance). I suppose Virgin was always going to be commercial. But its music is a severe disappointment. Richard Skinner (above) is as knowledgeable a DJ as you could wish to be told the time of day by, but as Virgin's joint boss he is presiding over a missed opportunity.

A HEARTFELT plea from Michael Berkeley, whose opera Baa Baa Black Sheep had its world premiere in the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday: does anyone have a good tip for keeping boy sopranos boy sopranos when their voices are about to break? Berkeley's new opera has a long and demanding role for a 13-year-old. It is taken by the gifted Malcolm Lorimer (right), who is, as they unkindly say in this branch of the child-labour market, on the turn. The company are worried that they'll soon have a surplus tenor on their hands. 'In the old days,' says Berkeley, 'there was a straightforward remedy. The knife. But I think Equity would have something to say about that.' Suggestions more effective than tight trousers on a postcard, please.

THE WORLD does not need another columnist sounding off about the deficiencies of British Rail. But I fear my mainstream colleagues may have overlooked a pernicious new scheme where by BR is making life even more difficult for musicians. Anyone carrying a medium-to-large instrument is going to have to pay for it - the fare being the same as that for a child. BR is being vague about how the rule will apply - a spokesperson tells me it will be 'any instrument which a person has difficulty in carrying', which sounds like a calculated attempt to add insult to repetitive-strain injury. This will be a grievous blow to young cellists, who spend their lives travelling around the country to play music-club dates for modest fees, and to those buskers who travel in from outside London to brighten up the drabness of the Underground. If BR wants hard-up musicians to go by coach or cadge lifts off one another, it's going about it the right way.

LAST WEEK I appealed to readers inside the BBC to send in evidence of how Producer Choice, the cultural revolution begun by John Birt, is working, or not. My mailbag is now swollen with indignation, for which many thanks, but it's not quite what I was after - we need concrete examples, chapter and verse. If you have one, please write to me early in the week. Anonymity guaranteed, but please, no anonymous letters.

JUST WHEN Britain's record executives thought it was safe to open the paper again, I hear of a price too outrageous to ignore. As Patti LuPone opens in Sunset Boulevard, RCA has is-

sued a double album called Patti LuPone Live. A reader went to Chicago, and bought it for dollars 23.98 ( pounds 16.30). He returned home, dropped into Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus, and found the same set on sale for pounds 34.99. We've got used to discs being cheaper in America, but this is ridiculous. The premium we pay over here is usually about 50 per cent, according to my figures and those of the National Heritage Select Committee, or about 10 per cent if you believe the record companies. Here we have a premium of 113 per cent. Is this a record? Please let me know. The answer 'no - it's a CD' will not be accepted.

(Photographs omitted)