The Playlist Series

Episodes

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Broadcast
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James Joyce's Playlist2012060920180911 (BBC7)
20180912 (BBC7)
James Joyce had a fine singing voice and earned money singing professionally as a young man. All his life he sang for friends; he sang to his desperately sick young brother, dying of typhoid; he sang to his mother on her deathbed. He sang to Nora, and she sang to him - their songs becoming a part of their courtship and marriage. He wrote songs, and set them to music; and certain special songs are repeated again and again through his fiction.

In this programme, recorded in James Joyce's Martello Tower near Dublin, we discover and recreate James Joyce's favourite songs. We also find, and hear, Joyce's own guitar. At one point in his life he had a plan to make a living travelling round Ireland playing it, as a wandering minstrel.

The songs include sentimental classics like 'Love's Old Sweet Song', which appears seven times in 'Ulysses'; the bawdy music hall ballad 'Those Seaside Girls', one of Joyce's favourites (his most erotic scenes are set by the sea); and a hauntingly sad farewell he wrote to his wife Nora, 'Bid Adieu'. We end with the rollicking 'Finnegan's Wake', an Irish song about a drunken wake which gave its name to the novel.

The contributors are Declan Kiberd, eminent Irish scholar and author of 'Ulysses and Us: the Art of Everyday Living'; actor Barry McGovern; and Katherine O'Callaghan, who has spent several years researching Joyce's music.

The presenter is David Owen Norris, pianist and music Professor, who has also arranged the songs which are sung by Thomas Guthrie and Gwyneth Herbert.

The setting is the Martello Tower near Dublin where Joyce lived as a young man, and which becomes the setting for the opening scenes of 'Ulysses'.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus Production for BBC Radio 4.

David Owen Norris and guests hear James Joyce's favourite songs in his Martello Tower.

David Owen Norris and guests compile playlists for famous historical figures

Nell Gwyn's Playlist2013122820191126 (BBC7)
20191127 (BBC7)
David Owen Norris recreates the musical world of the first female star of the English stage.

Nell Gwyn was a celebrity in the modern sense – and nobody could get enough of her. Just four years after women were first allowed on stage, "pretty witty Nell" was one of the sights of London - the equivalent of a modern stand-up comedian or rapper, improvising lines and comedy. And women on stage could deliver all sorts of subversive messages they were not allowed to express in real life, where they were expected to be chaste and obedient.

This programme is recorded on location in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Nell's theatre. Musician David Owen Norris discovers and records some of Nell's famous songs in her mocking, sexy and provocative voice. He then plays them to a trio of Nell Gwyn experts - actor and theatre historian Ian Kelly, scholar Judith Hawley, and early music expert Lucie Skeaping.

The songs are brought to life by jazz singer Gwyneth Herbert and classical singer Thomas Guthrie. They include a satirical account of being pinned to the ground by a fat greasy lover; a camp dialogue between Nell and her rival for the King's affections, the French Catholic Louise; and a message from Nell's sexy ghost.

David Owen Norris is a pianist and composer and Professor of Music at Southampton University.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke

A Loftus production first heard on BBC Radio 4 in December 2013.

David Owen Norris recreates the musical world of Nell Gwyn in Drury Lane.

David Owen Norris and guests compile playlists for famous historical figures

Queen Victoria's Playlist2011111920191219 (BBC7)
20191220 (BBC7)
In Buckingham Palace, David Owen Norris and guests listen to Queen Victoria's favourite songs. We have been given access to Victoria's own gold piano, on which we'll hear music written specially by Mendelssohn for her to play in a duet with Albert. We also hear an amorous serenade written for her by Prince Albert and a song which was sung in the streets after their first child was born, Queen Victoria's Baby.

David Owen Norris has discovered a startling popular song of the period about the Great Exhibition - the excitement of setting off to see the Queen as a gold statue, and the reality of fleas, dirt, crowds, and dubious dark alleys where it was all too easy to lose one's virtue and return pregnant!

Listening to the music are Royal biographer Kate Williams, cultural critic Matthew Sweet, and expert on Victorian music Professor Jeremy Dibble. They'll be discussing what Queen Victoria's favourite songs reveal about a very musical monarch.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke.

A Loftus production first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in November 2011.

In Buckingham Palace, David Owen Norris and guests hear Queen Victoria's favourite songs.

David Owen Norris and guests compile playlists for famous historical figures

Robert Burns's Ipod2018012520180126David Owen Norris and guests listen to Robert Burns' favourite songs in his drinking club in Tarbolton, near Glasgow. With National Poet of Scotland Liz Lochhead (writer of a play about Burns), Dr Kirsteen McCue and Professor Nigel Leask - and featuring Burns' own fiddle.

We hear the songs with the tunes he wanted - not always the ones which have become famous. For instance, 'My Love is like a Red Red Rose' was changed by his publisher against Burns' wishes. Kirsteen McCue is the world expert on Burns' songs and she reveals the original versions. We also hear a naughty song called 'Nine Inch will Please a Lady'.

Robert Burns' playlist reflects his political vision and also his complex love life. Burns was writing for the high-class Edinburgh ladies who took him up in his 30s, but he was also composing songs in broader Scots about their maids. Songs were a crucial part of his seduction technique - and they seem to have worked for him. He left 15 illegitimate children. Even on his death-bed, Burns was writing songs - for the pretty blonde teenager who was nursing him. That song, 'Oh Wert Thou in the Cold Blast', is one of his most beautiful and almost unbearably moving. Burns was destitute, he was dying at the age of only 37, and yet he sang to his nurse: "Oh wert thou in the cold blast, I'd shelter thee, I'd shelter thee".

Presenter David Owen Norris is a broadcaster, composer and concert pianist. He has arranged the songs, which are performed by Thomas Guthrie and jazz singer Gwyneth Herbert.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke.
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

David Owen Norris hears songs the Scottish bard might have carried around with him.

David Owen Norris and guests compile playlists for famous historical figures

The Duke Of Wellington's Playlist2013122120190501 (BBC7)
20190502 (BBC7)
The Duke of Wellington's military achievements, including his victory over Napoleon, are well-known. Much less well-known is the Duke of Wellington, the musician.

His father was a composer and music was the only consolation of a lonely, unloved childhood – the only thing he was good at was playing the violin. But as a young man, in a theatrical gesture of renunciation, he burnt his violin and vowed to give up music altogether as too much of a distraction from his military career. But despite the grand gesture, the Duke had a passion for music all his life. And music played an important role in warfare too, with military bands marching into battle and vying for supremacy.

This programme discovers and records the Duke's music, including long-forgotten songs about the Battle of Waterloo. Musician David Owen Norris gives old songs a new twist and sets them for jazz singer Gwyneth Herbert and classical singer Thomas Guthrie. He then plays them to a trio of Wellington experts - Royal historian Kate Williams, military historian Tim Clayton, and the Duke of Douro (the Duke's direct descendent).

The programme is recorded on location in Apsley House on Hyde Park Corner and includes performances on the Duke's own Grand Piano.

David Owen Norris is a pianist and composer and Professor of Music at Southampton University.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in 2013.

David Owen Norris discovers the Duke of Wellington - the musician.

David Owen Norris and guests compile playlists for famous historical figures

William Shakespeare's Playlist2012042120180910 (BBC7)
20180911 (BBC7)
David Owen Norris and guests compile a playlist for the bard. Choosing Shakespeare's favourite songs are the renowned Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells, RSC director Greg Doran and musician Lucie Skeaping.

The music ranges from a lullaby Shakespeare's mother Mary Arden might have sung him, through bawdy ballads from the local tavern, to haunting songs written by Shakespeare himself. What do they tell us about our most enigmatic genius?

The programme is recorded at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, a wooden recreation of a Shakespearean playhouse.

With singers Gwyneth Herbert and Thomas Guthrie, and a trumpeter from Shakespeare's old school to test the theatre acoustics with some rousing fanfares.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke.
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

David Owen Norris and guests listen to Shakespeare's favourite songs in the Swan Theatre.

David Owen Norris and guests compile playlists for famous historical figures