Living Books, Radio 4
Behind the Brel: The Story of a Musical Genius, Radio 2
Sunday 21 March 2010
Here's what the Human Library website says about journalists: "In human circles also known as the parasite. The leech that sucks your blood and spills your guts in a global forum." Thanks for that.
In Living Books, Sandi Toksvig experienced the Human Library for herself. The project, which began a few years ago in Denmark and now operates all over the world, involves people with very particular profiles – transsexuals, bank robbers, neo-Nazis, phone sex workers, atheists – being available "on loan" to "borrowers". The idea is that people confront their prejudices (hence the line about journalists, that being, bizarrely, how most people see us).
It can be very effective. A Christian fundamentalist admitted she'd believed atheists are simply "too lazy to do the work to develop a faith". After half an hour talking to one, she said, "I was asking myself why I wasn't an atheist." It doesn't always go as well. In another religious encounter, Toksvig got slightly tetchy with a devout Catholic in a polite ding-dong about abortion and papal infallibility. "It left me thinking I need to be much more prepared to stand up for my beliefs," she said. Still, she concluded, she'd always thought the answers to everything were to be found in books. "I just didn't know that some of the books might be breathing."
Having recorded an album of Jacques Brel songs, Marc Almond was the perfect host for Behind the Brel: The Story of a Musical Genius. There were a few too many hot-air encomiums to the great chansonnier, but Nick Currie, aka the wonderful Momus, pinned down Brel's performing genius. "Facing the audience for him was like a torero facing a bull," he said. "He had to go up there and subdue them."
Interestingly, that approach doesn't always work best for those who cover Brel. Almond played Shirley Bassey doing "If You Go Away" with her usual bombast. Then came Dusty Springfield's version, breathy, almost whispering. The radio moment of the week, it tore your heart out.
Sadder still was the death of Charlie Gillett, music broadcaster supreme. Radio is the poorer without him.
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