Monday, 30 November -0001

Radio Review: 27 March

Radio leads a merry dance but strikes the right tone

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-dog-176Normally, when a radio presenter swears accidentally on air, it’s easy to see how it happened. For example, when Nicky Campbell had trouble with the West Kent Hunt, the road to ruin was obvious from the outset.

However, when John Inverdale tried to say ‘rose-tinted glasses’ during Radio 5 Live’s Cheltenham coverage, and it came out as something rude, there was no such logical path. I’m struggling to grasp what was going through his mind at the time, although this is generally the case with me every time he opens his mouth.

Maybe he should shove a harmonica in there. Earlier in the week on Radio 3, American poet and mouth-organ enthusiast Kim Addonizio went on a pilgrimage to Trossingen, the German town where Hohner has its factory. The small instrument casts a large, benign shadow over Trossingen, where the streets are named after Hohner family members.

‘Children learn to overblow at school,’ Addonizio said. As the father of a harmonica-owning child, I wish mine would learn a ruddy tune, never mind advanced blues techniques.

One player, blues musician Joe Filisko, referred to the liberating sensation of playing an ‘instrument so flawed it doesn’t do anything perfectly’. This underlines the skill of players such as Larry Adler, Toots Thielemans, Stevie Wonder and that old Goon Show favourite Max Geldray, who made or make this small, rasping device sound rather beautiful. It’s best used sparingly: a contributor compared it to salting a meal.

Sometimes, when a poet or similar tackles a relatively lowbrow topic, it can become unlistenably pretentious and a bit patronising, but Addonizio struck the right tone. Suitably inspired, I might nick my daughter’s gob-iron now and see if I can do any better.

Between The Ears, Radio 3, Saturdays at 9.45pm.
Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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