Radio review: Ian D Montfort Is: Unbelievable - When the lights go off, the symphony begins

  • @cmaume

Tom Binns has a bit of previous on the radio. He was fired by a local radio station for dissing the Queen's Speech in 2009. Ten years earlier, Tony Blair's apparatchiks tried to have Binns sacked from Xfm for dissing New Labour (a badge of honour for any comedian).

His most recent work should garner awards rather than sackings. In Ian D Montfort Is: Unbelievable, his alter ego is a psychic from Sunderland, working with a live audience, and it's terrific stuff. He's nailed that fishing-for-detail schtick upon which mediums rely. At one point he senses a spirit on stage with him: "He wants to connect with a gentleman here tonight who's been watching some kind of sports, maybe in the summer of 2012 ..." (Long pause – he's an absolute master of the long pause.) "I've got, like, a big athletics meeting, or swimming, possibly."

Some proper Derren Brown-style stunts were hardly necessary – he's just very funny. He does politics, too, noting that in the US £3bn is spent on psychic services every year. "If this stuff's not real that's an awful lot of people being scammed," he mused. "I don't think the Americans are that stupid, do you? Or easily led." Pause. "Or if they were, the world would be in a right mess."

In Sleepless Night (Radio 4, Monday, ****), a "composed feature" about insomnia, Helen from Hitchin described how sounds seem to change as she's tossing and turning, how she hears the radiators cooling down and warming up, how people walking down the street sound different late at night from first thing in the morning. "You feel you hear these sounds at a greater depth." It sounded like a state of hyper-alertness that would be enviable were it not keeping her awake.

There was some interesting material about how sound signals from our ears are plugged directly into the neural systems of emotion and reactions, without going through the filters of meaning and analysis in the cortex (which may explain why music has such a powerful effect on us). I'm not entirely sure what "composed feature" meant: there was some haunting flute music and a few atmospheric sound effects, but I hardly noticed them. What was being said was interesting enough in itself.