Shame on them for switching the music off

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BBC Radio Scotland has made a damaging decision to get rid of its flagship classical, jazz and piping music programmes, writes Angus Peter Campbell.

These days, I mostly just listen to two radio stations – BBC Radio nan Gàidheal and BBC Radio 3.

I hardly watch television, except for the occasional football match, when the mighty Darvel trounce the minnows once known as the Dons!

Now, that’s some carry-on, for I was living and working in Aberdeen in the glory days when Fergie took them to the top of the world, led by the marvellous Willie Miller, who was still there, down in bonny Ayrshire, as a footballing legend, rightly praising Darvel as worthy winners.

The problem with most programmes I might watch on television is that the presenters are usually so busy telling me what to think that it leaves me no room to think for myself.

Take their arts programmes, for example. I might see one about Michelangelo or Rembrandt advertised in the Radio Times and switch it on, hoping to enjoy their wonderful paintings.

Invariably, however, a presenter is then always standing between me and the original painting, “explaining” to me what it means or signifies. Please: let the art speak for itself. It’s not, I hasten to add, that I have nothing to learn, it’s just that I would rather learn from the work itself rather than from the interpreter set between us.

Radio 4 and Radio Scotland tend to have the same didactic tone. If it’s not Nick Robinson trying to weasel a grain of truth out of the latest corrupt cabinet minister, it’s Jock MacTavish phoning in to Call Kaye to tell me that all those millions being spent on Gàidhlig should be spent instead on fixing all those potholes on the road to Darvel. Or Darbhail, as we call it in the Gàidhlig.

Which is where Radio 3 and Radio nan Gàidheal come to the rescue. Radio 3, because it is (mostly) free of exposition; they let Mozart and Bach and all the rest of them speak for themselves, purely through their music.

As I write this, for example, Radio 3 is playing Chopin’s Ballade No 2 in F Major, which soothes and inspires. Not least by not reminding me of Nadhim Zahawi – will he still be “in office” by the time this is published on Thursday?

‘It’s meant to be enjoyed, not endured’

Music is not muzak, of course. It’s not some kind of brain-numbing background noise. Music, like all art, should challenge and move the heart and mind. And the great thing about Radio 3 is that it gives the music itself precedence. As the late, great Norman MacCaig said about poetry: “Let it be. It’s meant to be enjoyed, not endured!”

For the thing about poetry and music and art is that school spoilt it for so many of us. Instead of simply whooping with delight at the soundscapes of Gerard Manley Hopkins or Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir, we were forced to “analyse” them.

Our job may not just be to reflect the communities in which we live, but to try and mould and shape and inspire them, too. Isn’t that what art and journalism is for?

Instead of delighting in the parts we didn’t “understand” (who does?), we were asked to give “correct” answers, as if poetry was a puzzle, and as if art (and maybe especially “modern art”) was beyond our experience and comprehension. Thing is, Picasso is as delightful and easy to enjoy as a newborn lamb running around on a spring morning.

Which is why I also listen to Radio nan Gàidheal: I sometimes hear my friends speaking on it and know they are happy and well. Though I suppose the “function” of local newspapers and radio and media is also to stretch the possibilities of the communities we serve.

Our job may not just be to reflect the communities in which we live, but to try and mould and shape and inspire them, too. Isn’t that what art and journalism is for? To speak the truth to ourselves, and to power.

Our national broadcaster should reflect our culture

Which sort of brings me to the point of this column, which is the disheartening decision by BBC Radio Scotland to get rid of its flagship classical, jazz and piping music programmes.

These are important programmes for the so-called civic nation that is Scotland. We are not just a reductivist, phone-in, cheapskate culture, but one that should aspire to the best so as to inspire the best.

Petitions have been launched to save the radio programmes (Image: Andrei_Diachenko/Shutterstock)

The world that we live in owes as much to MacCrimmon as it does to Mozart (and vice versa), and it’s critical that our national radio broadcaster reflects and rejoices in that cultural glory. Not (merely) by telling us about them, but by letting us hear their music – their art – without any filters.

How else will the wider nation hear Ceòl Mòr as it ought to be heard, played by the greatest pipers, unless our national broadcaster plays it to us and for us?

Shame on BBC Radio Scotland, and do sign any or all of the three petitions to save Jazz Nights, Pipeline and Classics Unwrapped, and add your voice to the chorus.


Angus Peter Campbell is an award-winning writer and actor from Uist

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