The week in audio: 5 Live Breakfast; LBC; Sounds of Black Britain; Empire; Love and Radio – review

When radio coverage of the Queen’s death ended up like a long Test match commentary, it was good to turn to some alternative views of Britishness

5 Live Breakfast (BBC 5 Live) | BBC Sounds
Sounds of Black Britain (The Black Curriculum |
Empire: Queen Elizabeth II and Empire | Goalhanger Podcasts
Love and Radio |

“I liked her,” said Arabella, seven, from Helensburgh. “But I’m not a big fan.” In an interview with Alexandra Mackenzie on Tuesday morning’s 5 Live Breakfast, Arabella’s answer was perfectly reasonable, given that Mackenzie had just asked her what she thought of the Queen. Arabella had queued with her dad and sister to have a look at the royal coffin in Edinburgh and was distinctly… unimpressed. The word “meh” was invented for Arabella.

Oh, it’s been a long week for 5 Live, which has been covering the royals, their subjects and associated shenanigans since Elizabeth II’s demise. Death is a tricky enough conversation topic, but especially when you’re required to deliver the perfect balance of information and respect in public. The result, especially on 5’s breakfast and teatime shows, has been a little like the commentary on a really long cricket game. The same small bursts of action in between hours of longueur. The same occasionally loopy filling from presenters, whose interviews with experts alternate with on-the-spot chats with ordinary people. On Wednesday morning, Rick Edwards talked to Anita, a miffed royalist from Durham, who’d travelled all the way to London to see the coffin but ended up standing for hours in the wrong place: “I was absolutely furious!” she said. “Nobody knew anything! It was a total shambles!” She saw… nothing at all. Another reporter spoke to three women at the front of the queue for the Westminster lying in state. They were much jollier, though one cried while talking about King Charles. Understandable, you may think.

On commercial news stations, the same subject dominated, though, unlike BBC presenters, hosts could enjoy the surrounding daftness. So, should republicans be allowed to hold up placards while in a royal-loving crowd? Are companies trying to show respect making themselves ridiculous? Sainsbury’s turning all self-checkout screens to black; the Met Office issuing weather reports daily rather than hourly; other people’s funerals being cancelled because of the Queen’s one being on TV. On LBC, Iain Dale wondered about “performative grief”. Earlier, James O’Brien had commented, about everything: “It matters, but it doesn’t matter.” About right.

Once the marmalade sandwich-isation of everything got a bit much, I turned to other – some would say alternative – ideas of Britishness. And I must say that Sounds of Black Britain thoroughly cheered me up. Hosted by the irrepressible Julie Adenuga, this weekly podcast started on carnival weekend and is four programmes in. Last week’s topic, ska and reggae, is one I’m pretty familiar with. Still, Adenuga got her guest, reggae producer/writer Dennis Bovell, to reveal details I’d not heard before, and his description of the drumming on Janet Kay’s Silly Games had me stop the podcast to re-listen to the track.

Dennis Bovell.
Sounds of Black Britain guest Dennis Bovell. Photograph: Pål Hansen/The Observer

The Afrobeats episode was also great; featuring producer Jae5 and singer and dancer Nqobile, it was upbeat and informative, whether discussing west African “high life” tunes or how Lucky Dube’s music sounds Caribbean rather than South African. Adenuga steered the conversation into interesting areas, such as whether white people should be “allowed” to make Afrobeats music: Jae5 insisted that Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You is, in fact, an Afrobeats track. Every episode is engaging, funny and vital, and the accompanying playlists are excellent too.

David Olusoga.

For another take on Britishness, you could try Empire, hosted by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand, a newish podcast that has spent its first five episodes discussing the British in India. For last week’s episode, Queen Elizabeth II and Empire, they turned to David Olusoga, and the result was gripping. He pointed out that many British people simply refuse to discuss the UK’s problematic history. “Whenever I mention slavery,” Olusoga said, “people will say, ‘Well, what about African complicity in slavery?’ And I will go, ‘Well, what about it? I’m talking about Britain.’ That urge to stop conversations is so strong that people genuinely don’t know they’re doing it.” Yes.

Finally, for something utterly different, why not return, as I often do, to Love and Radio, the original immersive storytelling podcast, which has recently come back on to all podcast apps. It’s putting out some old shows, including an astonishing catfishing story told over two episodes, Gotcha! (other shows would have made an entire series).

The most recent episode is Insufficient Data, about a man finding it hard to get over the death of his father and the lengths he goes to keep his dad’s memory alive. The twist – as ever with this show – is unexpected and, I found, madly moving. If you want to escape from the weirdness of British ceremonial death, Love and Radio will help you do that, while reminding us that human beings and the lives they (we?) choose to live can be very, very odd.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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