The BBC is rightly criticised by many on the left for its news and current affairs coverage. But the BBC is much more than a news channel, it is a very important platform for music. According to the Musicians Union in its campaign #ProtectOurBBC:
“The BBC is the single largest employer of musicians in the UK. It supports 5 full time orchestras. It employs more than 400 contract musicians, and many hundreds on a freelance basis. It’s home to BBC Introducing, a vital part of the UK’s talent pipeline. It plays more music than any commercial radio station. It supports Radio 1, Radio 1Xtra, Radio 1 Dance, Radio 1 relax, Radio 2, Radio 3, 6Music and the Asian Network alongside national, devolved and local talk radio across the UK. It hosts the world’s greatest classical music festival, the Proms. And it is the main commissioner of new music in the UK – supporting music writers, session players and many more.”
The Proms began in 1895 as a series of concerts at the Queen’s Hall, at affordable prices for a mass audience, with a proportion of the audience able to promenade in a designated space without seats. The founder, Robert Newman, wanted to increase the audience for classical and modern music. It has grown beyond its original aim and, although it remains rooted in the classical tradition, this year includes nights dedicated to Jazz, Bollywood, Northern Soul and fantasy film and game music. Every concert is broadcast live on Radio 3 and is available on the BBC Sounds app.
Radio 3’s everyday output is just as diverse. My favourite listening is on a Saturday afternoon. First up at 12.30 is This Classical Life with Jess Gillam. Jess is a saxophone player whose repertoire includes Bowie, Bjork, and Kate Bush, as well as classical music. She is just as happy to jam with a visiting rock band at a gig in her home town of Ulverston as she is to perform with a full orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall. This Classical Life involves Jess and her guest, another young and talented musician like herself, introducing each other to their favourite music in a genre-busting programme.
Next is Inside Music, where a classical musician, composer or conductor presents a selection of music and talks about what it means to them. They often include works that they have written or performed and give us a personal insight into their work.
My third slot varies — currently it is Sound of Cinema. As I write, last week was a tribute to TV and film composer, Carl Davies. Sound of Cinema rotates with Sound of Gaming which takes a serious look at the music written for video and computer games. Gaming composer, Eimear Noone, whose credits include World of Warcraft and The Legend of Zelda, has also featured on Inside Music.
By now it is 4 o’clock and I switch to my kitchen radio as I start to cook tea. Time for Music Planet, an eclectic mix of tracks from around the world. On one programme I heard music from Cameroon, Colombia and Estonia, plus a focus on the classic American Latin label Ansonia Records, and a look ahead to a concert by Indian star singer Adnan Sami. And when we sit down to eat it is time for J to Z, ninety minutes of jazz recordings, interviews and requests.
Radio 3 is not perfect. Far from it — its coverage of royal weddings and funerals and coronations is as sycophantic as the rest of the BBC in its full-on, pro-establishment, state broadcaster mode. But after the revolution when I am hosting my weekly show, Music That Changed The World, on the Bolshevik Broadcasting Collective, I will be drawing heavily on the BBC archives for my material.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Never voting Labour again.