The week in audio: Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball; The Most Streamed Christmas No 1s; Lights Out; Frozen Head and more

Capital and Steve Wright at Radio 2 offer choice Christmas soundtracks, while a true tale of cryonics is chilling listening

Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball | Global
The Most Streamed Christmas No 1s (Radio 2) | BBC Sounds
Lights Out (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Frozen Head | Wondery
Naughty | Wondery
The Essay (Radio 3) | BBC Sounds

Everyone has their own “start of Christmas” trigger: putting up the tree perhaps, or a celebratory office party, or spotting the first drunk person in tinsel accessories crying on public transport. For about 40,000 people, Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball concerts are the pop gun that sets off all seasonal festivities. The gun is packed full of confetti, by the way, and is actually more of a cannon; it’s blasted at regular intervals while stars including Lewis Capaldi, Sam Smith, Coldplay, Aitch, Dua Lipa and Stormzy take turns to do a hit-packed, abbreviated set. Live, it’s a fabulous sugar rush, like too much Christmas icing all at once. On catchup audio it’s pretty much the same, but in snack portions. Recommended, if the Christmas spirit is yet to arrive your way.

Other singalonga offerings are provided this year by Radio 2, which is busy tickling its audience’s fancy with the Radio 2 Festive Selection Box, a collection of Christmas-themed shows. Steve Wright hosts The Most Streamed Christmas N0 1s (streamed, as opposed to physically bought), which counts down from, at 40, Cliff Richard’s Saviour’s Day – No 1 in 1990 – to (spoiler alert) the top seller, Ed Sheeran’s Perfect.

The countdown includes East 17’s Stay Another Day (which kept Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You off the top slot, fact fans), plus odd bits of radio archive, such as Rage Against the Machine raging against … Simon Cowell. Wright drops enough facts to hold the attention of chart-geeks throughout, and this is an enjoyable, surprisingly interesting three hours’ listening, ideal for anyone with long car hours ahead.

If you want more straightforward Christmas banger shows, Sounds is also offering those, from Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Kitchen Disco to Jordan North’s Relax at Christmas; most include a celebrity interview as well as the tunes.

More seasonal joy, at least for experimental audio fans, arrives with the news that BBC Sounds has finally turned the excellent Lights Out series into a podcast. The Radio 4 strand, known for its immersive, thought-provoking pieces, began its new series last week with Accounts and Accountability, an unusual programme about documentary-making from producer and documentary-maker Jess Shane.

Shane put out an advert for people to tell a dramatic personal story for a doc, and we hear from seven of those who answered – though not in traditional, telling-a-dramatic-personal-story documentary manner. Actually, we never hear their full tales. Instead, through clever cutting and interweaving of what could be called extracurricular audio, we arrive at a strong impression of what sort of people the speakers are. Throughout, Shane reminds them of the strange contract between documentary-maker and subject: if your story is recorded and then edited by someone who is not you, is that story still yours? A fascinating, compelling piece.

Jess Shane looks at the strange contract between producer and subject in Lights Out
Jess Shane looks at the strange contract between producer and subject in Lights Out. Photograph: PR HANDOUT

As too, but for different reasons, is the fabulously named Frozen Head, from US true crime powerhouse Wondery. It’s madly enjoyable: Alaina Urquhart and Ash Kelley, the funny gals from the hit show Morbid, take us through a true tale of cryonics – the idea that in the future, scientists will be able to bring dead people back to life, as long as the dead have been successfully preserved/frozen. Huge if true, etc.

This story has a couple of strands, but the main story in episode one is about 83-year-old Dora Kent. When she was near death, her son, Saul, moved her out of her care home into a cryonics facility, where she died. He and his cryon bros then pumped her body full of preservatives, and… cut off her head. The idea was that they only needed to preserve the head, because when future scientists brought Dora back to life, she wouldn’t want an 83-year-old body, and the scientists would definitely be able to plant her brain into a nice young non-brained body, those being readily available.

Aaaaanyway: these loons needed a death certificate, but they didn’t want to hand over Dora’s precious frozen head. A coroner came over with a search warrant to get it … but they’d spirited the head away. A court case ensued, the coroner lost, and someone sent Saul an anonymous letter, taunting him for being (clears throat) a “mother melter”. What a story! And it will continue in this hilarious, fascinating fashion, apparently, for five more episodes. What’s not to love?

OK, OK: for more traditionally Christmassy fare, Wondery also has a daft six-episode drama, Naughty, about two elves who are sent to find Santa in the wrong place (New Orleans, not West Hollywood). One elf is a nerd, the other a grump usually found in the Hanukkah department. Silly and funny. Or, for a more cerebral approach, why not try Radio 3’s The Essay, which last week was a serious-minded consideration of animals and the Arctic coast. Frozen waters, frozen heads, frozen margaritas? Whichever you choose, have a happy Christmas.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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