Episodes

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0201Andy Partridge2017052320170731

An intimate portrait of the songwriter, singer and frontman of the new wave rock band XTC.

An intimate portrait of the songwriter, singer and frontman of the new wave rock band XTC, Andy Partridge.

Brought up on a council estate in Swindon, Andy Partridge's escape from the poverty of his working class upbringing followed a classic path - art and music. At 15, he enrolled in what he calls the 'art floor' of the local college - Swindon didn't boast an actual art college. Then, he discovered the magnetic power of carrying around his Dad's old guitar. He didn't even have to play it to find himself the centre of attention.

In the years that followed - and in the wake of the punk explosion - he tasted celebrity and success with his band XTC. His curious vocal style and angular compositions were distinctive and influential. XTC built a cult status with songs such as Making Plans for Nigel and Senses Working Overtime, as well as albums including the acclaimed Skylarking.

But Swindon didn't lose Andy for long, despite the lure of London and New York. He lives there still, now with his American partner. And he's still writing songs - including for the recent album by the reformed Monkees.

In this programme, he talks about the trajectory of his career and the 'art blood' that has consistently flowed through his veins.

Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.

An intimate portrait of the songwriter, singer and frontman of the new wave rock band XTC, Andy Partridge.

Brought up on a council estate in Swindon, Andy Partridge's escape from the poverty of his working class upbringing followed a classic path - art and music. At 15, he enrolled in what he calls the 'art floor' of the local college - Swindon didn't boast an actual art college. Then, he discovered the magnetic power of carrying around his Dad's old guitar. He didn't even have to play it to find himself the centre of attention.

In the years that followed - and in the wake of the punk explosion - he tasted celebrity and success with his band XTC. His curious vocal style and angular compositions were distinctive and influential. XTC built a cult status with songs such as Making Plans for Nigel and Senses Working Overtime, as well as albums including the acclaimed Skylarking.

But Swindon didn't lose Andy for long, despite the lure of London and New York. He lives there still, now with his American partner. And he's still writing songs - including for the recent album by the reformed Monkees.

In this programme, he talks about the trajectory of his career and the 'art blood' that has consistently flowed through his veins.

Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4

[Photo courtesy of Kevin Nixon, Prog Magazine].

An intimate portrait of the songwriter, singer and frontman of XTC, Andy Partridge.

0202Christopher Robson2017053020170807

Countertenor Christopher Robson reflects on his life in music.

Countertenor Christopher Robson reflects on his life in music - from playing in a Salvation Army band, via the stage of the Coliseum singing Handel, to working with Damon Albarn.

Christopher Robson found his voice by chance during a singing lesson as a teenager. Up to that point he had proved himself a musical child, playing cornet in a Salvation Army band and singing during services, sometimes reluctantly and often with his brother Nigel. But from the moment he discovered falsetto - the ability to soar above the usual range of the male voice - his ambitions led in a different direction. What followed resembles, at times, the life of a rock star rather than an opera singer.

In this intimate portrait, recorded at the London Coliseum, Christopher looks back on his rocky route into the music business, roles in iconic productions, such as Nicholas Hytner's Xerxes, his life in Germany and collaborating with Damon Albarn on his opera Dr Dee.

Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.

0203Ane Brun2017060620170814

Norwegian singer Ane Brun talks about her life in music.

The Norwegian singer Ane Brun talks about her life in music.

Ane Brun has lived and worked in Stockholm for most of her professional life. Much of her music is sung in English - collaborating with British and American artists such as Peter Gabriel and Ron Sexsmith, or re-imagining songs by Beyonce and the music of Monteverdi and Purcell. It's as if she spends her life in a kind of musical translation, between artists and languages, cultures and history.

But her solo albums - including A Temporary Dive and It All Starts With One - reveal an artist rooted in her own sense of musical expression, alternately melancholy and playful. As she muses in Changing of the Seasons, "I guess I'm too Scandinavian."

Alan Hall visits Ane Brun at her studio in Stockholm and shares a walk through the old city, discussing Shakespeare, her family at home in Norway and the particular qualities of her distinctive voice.

Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.

03Claron Mcfadden2018041720180421 (R4)

Amsterdam-based American soprano Claron McFadden on the life she has shared with her voice

Musicians talk about their life and work.

Growing up in upstate New York, it wasn't a surprise that Claron McFadden wanted to be a singer - she was immersed in gospel music at church, soul and pop at home. That she aspired to be a classical soprano was, as she describes it, no choice at all. Her voice led her there.

Having lived in Amsterdam for over thirty years - a place she instantly recognised as home - she now inhabits a space somewhere between America and Europe, just as her voice is at home in music across stylistic boundaries and eras.

With hard-edged modern music by Brian Ferneyhough, an elegant aria by Rameau, Gershwin's Summertime, a jazz arrangement of Bach and even a visceral performance of Erwin Schulhoff's Sonata Erotica, Claron talks with Alan Hall about the life she's shared with her voice.

Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.

03Rachel And Becky Unthank2018042420180428 (R4)

Sisters Rachel and Becky reflect on each other's voice and the music of The Unthanks.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

During the last ten years, The Unthanks have redefined what might be expected of English folk music. Their sequence of albums has reimagined traditional material in vivid new arrangements and reached into surprising new sources - for example, the songs of Molly Drake. But at the core of the group are the voices of Rachel and Becky, sisters born seven years apart.

Rachel and Becky share their sense of belonging to the landscape of the north-east, their inevitable attraction to melancholy and the qualities that allow each other's voice to blend so effortlessly.

And, in their studio in a Northumbrian farm-yard, they sing their signature melodies and a duet that most typically sounds for the two of them.

Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.

0301Sharon Van Etten20180403

An intimate portrait of American singer-songwriter and actor Sharon Van Etten.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

Sharon Van Etten has been described as having an elegant voice "wrapped in enough rasp and sorrow to keep from sounding too pure or confident". It can suggest folk traditions and Americana with layered harmonies, as well as an edgier, more confrontational sound rooted in urban drones reminiscent of John Cale or PJ Harvey.

After a decade or more of songwriting and recording - on albums such as Because I Was In Love, epic, Tramp and Are We There - she's now migrated into acting via a surprising detour.

The interviews for this intimate portrait were recorded in Los Angeles, where she's working on a new album of songs between calls for her role in the Netflix drama, The OA.

Presented and Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4
(Photo credit: Ryan Pfluger).