On my radar: Elizabeth Alker’s cultural highlights

The Radio 3 broadcaster on a composer’s inspired garden, oil paintings of motorway bridges and a magical local pub

The broadcaster Elizabeth Alker was born in Rochdale in 1982 and grew up in a musical household; as a child she learned the clarinet, recorder and piano. She studied English at Leeds University and wrote about music for Dazed & Confused before joining the BBC as a researcher in 2005. Alker now hosts Unclassified and the Saturday Breakfast show on BBC Radio 3. Her first book, Everything We Do Is Music, will be published by Faber next year. The second series of Northern Drift, Alker’s BBC Radio 3 programme showcasing the best new poetry and music from the north of England, goes out on Mondays at 9.15pm and is on BBC Sounds.

1. Music

Hinako Omori

Hinako Omori at Manchester Academy in 2017.
‘Giving a voice to all parts of her character’: Hinako Omori at Manchester Academy in 2017. Photograph: Andrew Benge/Redferns

Hinako Omori is one of the most interesting producers around. She’s worked with the likes of Kae Tempest and Ed O’Brien from Radiohead. I particularly love how she plays around with effects on her vocals, giving a voice to all parts of her character. Her music explores the relationship between technology and what makes us human. This was striking on her 2019 EP Auraelia. She’d been suffering with extreme headaches, and the vocals were quite robotic and painful-sounding, but really affecting. Her 2022 album A Journey… was much lighter and more blissful.

2. Festival

Dark Music Days, Reykjavik, Iceland

The Moonbow Project at Dark Music Days festival last year.
‘Nice to break up the winter’: The Moonbow Project at Dark Music Days festival last year. Photograph: darkmusicdays.is

I’ve been to this brilliant annual music festival three times, and I’m hopefully going again at the end of this month. It takes place in venues all over Reykjavik. I saw a Lithuanian analogue synth artist in the basement of a bar, and some experimental dance at the back of an old theatre on the lake. Or you can see the Iceland Symphony Orchestra play their full orchestral works to hundreds of people. There’s a brilliant contrast right across the spectrum. And I’ve seen Björk in the audience as well. It’s a nice thing to break up the winter.

3. Place

Penderecki’s Garden, Lusławice, Poland

Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) in his Lusławice garden, 2019.
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) in his Lusławice garden, 2019. Photograph: pendereckisgarden.pl

Krzysztof Penderecki was a great composer, a pioneer of the Polish avant garde. He purchased a manor house in Lusławice, south-east of Kraków, to write in, but then embarked on creating a 30-hectare garden. It’s such an incredible mix of nature and human design – he designed it like he designed a lot of his compositions. It’s very idiosyncratic but very beautiful. I spoke to one of the gardeners and she said she could sense that he was still alive in the garden. I would recommend it to anyone, even if you don’t know his music.

4. Art

Jen Orpin and her motorway bridges

Southbound Pies by Jen Orpin, 2021.
Southbound Pies by Jen Orpin, 2021. Photograph: © Jen Orpin

I discovered Jen Orpin’s work at the Modernist shop in Manchester, where they had an exhibition of her paintings of motorway bridges. A lot of them are around the north and north-west, so I recognised quite a few. She paints them very lovingly, in quite a dreamlike way. It’s a celebration of these things that are quietly part of our lives, that you see every day but don’t pay much attention to. There’s humour too. On one of the bridges, someone’s painted “THE PIES” in massive letters. I’ve got a print of that one.

Zaffar Kunial - England’s Green

5. Poetry

England’s Green by Zaffar Kunial
My husband and I recently moved to the Calder valley in West Yorkshire. Zaffar Kunial is from Birmingham originally but he lives in this area. I’ve never met him, but when we got here, so many people recommended his work to me. So I got hold of England’s Green and it’s been one of my favourite discoveries in this new home. I love the way he rolls everyday words around and around to reveal what they really mean to us. There’s a sense of loss in some of his work but he fills it really beautifully with memories of people and images of nature.

6. Venue

Golden Lion, Todmorden

Landlady Gig Nilavongse (in red) and co outside the Golden Lion in Todmorden, July 2020.
‘Fearless’: landlady Gig (in red) and co outside the Golden Lion in Todmorden, July 2020. Alamy Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

The Golden Lion pub is a magical place: a big, rambling establishment with a great bar, Thai food and a pool table. You can take your dog in, which I appreciate. It’s a music venue too, and you might happen upon an acid house matinee or a heavy metal all-nighter. Even their pub quiz is a little bit surreal – they have a sweary limericks round. The landlady, who we call Gig, is fearless in the way she runs the place and it pays off. It’s just great to have somewhere so unique in a small town.


Killian Fox

The GuardianTramp

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