Saturday, March 22, 2008

Voices on the Radio

Jenny Huston was filling in for Gerry Ryan on the mid-morning show on 2FM yesterday. If An Spailpín had his way, La Huston would be on the radio all the time, and Cap’n Gerry would be given his papers.

It could simply be great age of course, but right now Irish music radio seems very grating to An Spailpín Fánach. It is generally my practice to plug in the iPod once I cross the threshold of any Spar or Centra in the city as I attempt to drown out the breakfast shows with Santa Esmeralda’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, or something similarly sonic. Trading off hearing for sanity, you know. In such a broadcast environment, hearing Jenny Huston’s Saturday evening show, The Annex, is something of a faith restorer.

The blast-from-the-past format isn’t new of course – Larry Gogan had a golden hour that went back to the time of the Tuatha De Danann I believe – but Jenny Huston has what Larry never had, and that’s cred. Larry played the soundtrack to all our childhoods, but he was about as cool as school. Jenny Huston, on the other hand, with that beautiful Canadian timbre in her voice and her sheer joy in spinning the discs, carries her to another level. Listening to the show when there’s a guest presenter just isn’t the same. It’s not coming from the heart without La Huston. A little more variety in the playlists – Jailbreak or Whole Lotta Rosie for the AC/DC slot instead of the perpetual Thunderstruck would be nice – but the show remains a jewel.

I’m told that Jenny also does an Indie show on 2FM but I wouldn’t be too bothered about that. Scrawny looking urchins from Salford feeding back their guitars or rich American college kids sharing their angst with the world before getting a good job with JP Morgan? Not this time, thank you. An Spailpín’s tastes run more towards the classical at this stage, and he’s happy to have Lyric FM’s Evelyn Grant as his tour guide for that.

Evelyn Grant’s musical credentials are strong, but the great thing about her show, as with Jenny Huston’s, is that Evelyn Grant really loves playing these tunes and sharing the music. With Evelyn Grant everything is lovely, just lovely. This can lead her into tricky waters of course – one Christmas she played a request for the prison officers in one of our leading jails and decided to throw in the guests as well, as part of the Christmas spirit. As she was talking though, she realised that if you’re doing seven to ten years listening to the old triangle going jingle jangle it’ll take more than Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1 in E Minor to cheer you up.

But no matter – Grant is hopelessly in love with the music, and the love is catching. She enjoys playing this piece from a recent French movie called Les Choristes, The Choir, which is exactly her world. Listening to her, you realise that yes, there is such a thing as culture and yes, it is being passed on. Hurrah for Evelyn Grant.

An Spailpín developed his love for radio at night, in the 1980s, when Mark Cagney did the Night Train on Radio 2 as was. The Waterboys’ Spirit, The Doors’ Riders of the Storm, Freddie White singing Guy Clark’s Desperadoes Waiting on a Train – all signature moments. Long gone now, of course, but An Spailpín has great time for Cagney’s fellow Corkonian Lillian Smith, currently doing the weekend Late Date. Lillian Smith has wide and varied tastes – a few months ago she played The Buddy Rich Big Band version of The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, and it was transcendent.

John Spillane, also from the beautiful city, makes the most of Raidió na Gaeltachta’s new relaxed policy on songs in English after the watershed, and has a wonderful show on Sunday nights. He delights in playing a bizarre recording of one Reverend AW Nix, telling us about who’ll be travelling on the Black Diamond Express Train to Hell. After three minutes, a miserable Spailpín realised not only is he on board, but he could fill at least half a carriage. Check An Speal out sometime you get a chance. It might even do your Gaeilge no harm.

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