On my radar: Beth Orton’s cultural highlights

The singer-songwriter on the trials of a Macedonian beekeeper, yoga to fall asleep to and a favourite Suffolk walk

The musician Beth Orton was born in 1970 and raised in Norfolk and London. After collaborations with the likes of Andrew Weatherall and the Chemical Brothers, she made her UK debut in 1996 with Trailer Park, fusing folk and electronic influences. Since then she has released six more albums, including Central Reservation, which won her a Brit award in 2000. Her latest album, Weather Alive, is out now. Orton lives in London with her husband, the folk musician Sam Amidon, and their family.

1. Film

Honeyland (Dir. Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, 2019)

Honeyland (2019), directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov.
Hatidže Muratova in the ‘incredible’ Honeyland (2019). Alamy Photograph: Alamy

Honeyland documents the life of a Macedonian beekeeper, one of the last in Europe to keep wild bees. Her life is disrupted when a nomadic rancher arrives with his family and decides to become a beekeeper too. It’s a modern-day fable, a terrifying parable of human need and greed. Her saying the whole way through is: “You take half and you leave half (for the bees).” But the rancher doesn’t understand this, with terrible consequences. It’s an incredible documentary and so beautifully shot – like watching photography in motion.

2. Audiobook

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar

Yoga teacher and writer BKS Iyengar in 2012. Getty Images
Yoga teacher and writer BKS Iyengar in 2012. Getty Images Photograph: Dominik Ketz/Getty Images

This book by the Indian yoga teacher Iyengar is about the philosophy behind yoga. I’m listening to it on Audible and I fall asleep to it, so I come in and out of the book, much like how I do with Proust, which I’ve been listening to over the years. It’s about using yoga as a tool for being well, rather than just keeping fit, and also the inner journey that can come from doing yoga. I tune in and out for great expanses of time in the middle of the night, and it’s just incredibly inspiring.

3. Walk

Snape Maltings to Iken, Suffolk

Looking towards Iken church in Suffolk.
Looking towards St Botolph’s church, Iken, Suffolk. Alamy Photograph: geogphotos/Alamy

There’s a walk between Snape Maltings and Iken that I did every evening when I was on a writer’s retreat at Britten Pears Arts in Suffolk, working from the grounds of Benjamin Britten’s estate. You walk through these extraordinary high grasses, and then all these crazy, burnt-out trees, like beautiful sculptures, until you get to the estuary, and at the end there’s a very old church. I would do this walk and just cry – maybe I was allergic to the grasses, I don’t know, but it was so beautiful.

4. Music

To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol 1 by Alabaster dePlume

Alabaster dePlume.
‘Spinning gold’: Alabaster dePlume. Photograph: Christina Almeida

I picked this up at a fantastic record shop in east London called Stranger Than Paradise. When I made my choices – Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry – they suggested I buy To Cy & Lee as well, and I adored it. Alabaster dePlume is a saxophonist and spoken word poet from Manchester. His tone on the saxophone is so beautiful and inspired, it’s a mystery to me how he gets it. I asked him to play on my new album and he’s ended up on two songs, spinning gold through the cracks in my voice.

Maria Popova Writer Creator of The Marginalian (once upon a time called Brain Pickings). Maker of The Universe in Verse. Lover of trees and books. Petter of moss. themarginalian.org

5. Instagram

Maria Popova
Maria Popova is a brilliant collector and curator of beautiful ideas. She has a blog called The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) where she writes essays around her favourite books. Her Instagram is a condensed version, where she collects quotes and beautiful images. Here’s one from HG Wells: “The world is a phoenix. It perishes in flames and even as it dies it is born again.” Every single day there’s something new that’s gorgeous and mind-blowing, and it keeps me hooked – I’m on Instagram against my better nature.

6. TV

The White Lotus (HBO)

Jennifer Coolidge and Murray Bartlett in The White Lotus.
Jennifer Coolidge and Murray Bartlett in The White Lotus: ‘very naughty’. AP Photograph: AP

The White Lotus [which is returning soon for a second series] is just perfection – the funniest, most satisfying TV programme. The first series is about ridiculously rich, entitled people going on holiday to a resort in Hawaii. It’s pretty hard to have much compassion for any of the guests, but at the same time I didn’t find it depressing. The actors were brilliant, especially Murray Bartlett, who plays the hotel manager, and Jennifer Coolidge as a completely unaware rich lady who befriends one of the staff. It’s really entertaining and very naughty. I binge-watched it in about a week.


Killian Fox

The GuardianTramp

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