Radio: Good news that no one wants to print

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Last Sunday I wasn't really listening to my oldest radio, an ancient Bakelite wireless inherited from my aunt which can only get R4 LW - but gets it really well. It was pulsing gently to some pretty classy choral singing, which suits it.

The music stopped and a voice asked where all the journalists were: one sprang to attention. The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, on the Morning Service, was saying that the press, assembled to cover trouble at the Apprentice Boys' march, had gone home with no story. They should have stayed to see what was happening that morning: thanks to a friendship between two organists, the choirs of both the city's cathedrals had united to sing matins together. All right, no very big deal, but in Derry/Londonderry, Stroke City, a significant gesture.

Can one voice calling for peace make a difference? From the chorus swelling behind the quiet solo of Frances Lawrence this week, the answer might well be yes: the racket made by people scrambling up on to her bandwagon dominated the airwaves. Virtually everyone who decided to Call Nick Ross (R4) agreed with her campaign against violence, which is scarcely surprising, but precious few offered practical ideas.

It's touching to hear Ross try to get intelligent conversation out of his callers: time and again their initial remarks are respectable raincoats covering the naked ugliness of racism or bigotry, and he rightly recoils as they display their approval of repatriation and flogging. This week, he sadly concluded that one group thought that the trouble lay with parents working too hard and neglecting their children, the other with parents stuck at home out of work - and neglecting their children. As usual with this programme, it's always someone else's fault.

R3 is celebrating its 50th birthday with a series of selections by famous people of their favourite moments. The strength of this network is just that: it offers unexpected pleasures. One such delight came with a completely batty account of Beethoven's Fifth, on Between the Ears (R3). The cast of Alan Hall's eclectic production included Les Quatre Barbus, the Roaring Jellies, and singing dogs. Even with a proper orchestra, this work was greeted by a contemporary critic as scrappy and undignified: with this lot it was wild. Yet the references to the song of the yellowhammer and the dawn of creation, and the furious conductor shouting "No! Not da da; da DEE!" all combined to reiterate its unique, universal appeal.

Another moment came when a man telephoned Midweek Choice (R3) to say that his great discovery had come 20 years earlier when he had been working in a garage and been transfixed (metaphorically, one hopes) for an hour under a car listening to Rachmaninov's Vespers. He was rewarded by a repeat of the Nunc Dimittis, which ends with a sonorous bass chorus descending grandly to an impossibly low note, that could surely only be achieved by an exclusive diet of rough vodka and black Sobranies. "Marvellous," breathed Susan Sharpe, for all of us.

And on Sunday there was a glorious hour, when a largely Welsh choir, conducted by Andrew Litton, performed Verdi's Requiem (R3), that most operatic of Masses. They sang as if defying the Day of Wrath, as if insisting on eternal life by hammering on the doors of heaven.

People find many ways of influencing the mind of the Almighty. A strange bunch featured on Sounds From Within (R3), a series in which John Thornley and Brian Eno discuss world music. This week, people were Calling to the Gods, who must, occasionally, long for earplugs - especially when a Sufi howled as a nearby steam train apparently tackled a steep incline, or a Malaysian medium attempted a healing by sucking, blowing and, mysteriously, imitating a cicada.

The oddest was a New Guinea ritual whereby a sandwich made of wild cassowary and green bananas was consumed by the sick man's relatives, while he was treated with sage, hour-glass drums and a pipe played by a Lutheran pastor: even the erudite presenters wondered if the women wailing like a hund- red drunken banshees at that bedside had in fact been trying to sing together.

Which takes us to R2's World of Faith IV. The title suggests a watered- down horror film, but perhaps that's unfair. Still, there was a feeling that all the ordinary things about religion had been said, and the barrel was emptying. Diane Louise Jordan kicked off Keeping the Faith with some pagans naming their infant Crescent May in a Somerset wood at the autumnal equinox, then toasting the infant in oak-leaf wine. Jordan's style is punchy and she certainly acquired some unusual believers, though one of them, who wanted to talk about the smuttiness of teen magazines, seemed to have strayed in from a different programme. Oops, let's have some music: it's OMC's "How Bizarre".

It's the music on these R2 documentaries that makes you laugh. Is there some mischievous goblin selecting it? I was glad I listened right to the end of God Bless our Divorce, though every instinct except the dutiful (and perhaps the prurient) begged me not to.

Undoubtedly, Claire Rayner has a purpose, but presenting this muddled garbage is not it. In that unctuous, breathy voice, she promised to speak of pain and anger, guilt and suffering: the goblin selected "Your Baby Doesn't Love You Any More". She suggested that the Church (unlike herself, of course) is out of touch with what people want. A Norfolk vicar, on his third wife, cheerfully demurred, saying that sex makes fools of us all: that shut her up. The wicked goblin rounded it off with the Monty Python crew singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life".

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