Episodes

SeriesEpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
Elly Stone2014122320191228 (BBC7)
20191229 (BBC7)
Elly Stone - a modest 87 year old New Yorker ("born and dragged up"), whose sublime voice will forever be associated with the songs of Belgian chanteur Jacques Brel - talks about her life in music.

In My Childhood, Song for Old Lovers, The Old Folks and Carousel she brings a new perspective to Brel's familiar emotional intensity and piercing social commentary.

20 years after her stage retirement, she offers a rare insight into her life and what music has meant to her - in a quiet New York studio, out on the streets of her bustling city and at Sardi's, the famous theatre restaurant.

Running through Elly's own story - from troubled childhood, through Broadway success, to marriage, motherhood and mid-life epiphany - there's a musical counterpoint that can be traced in the songs she famously made her own in the musical revue Jacques Brel's Alive and Well and Living in Paris.

Producer: Alan Hall

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in December 2014

The legendary interpreter of Jacques Brel's songs talks about her lifetime in music.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

In this interview in 2014, Elly Stone - a modest 87 year old New Yorker ("born and dragged up"), whose sublime voice will forever be associated with the songs of Belgian chanteur Jacques Brel - talks about her life in music.

Twenty years after her retirement from the stage, she offers a rare insight into her life and what music has meant to her - in a quiet New York studio, out on the streets of her bustling city and at Sardi's, the famous theatre restaurant.

Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in December 2014.

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in December 2014

Robert Wyatt2012100220170920 (BBC7)
20170921 (BBC7)
20191207 (BBC7)
20191208 (BBC7)
An intimate portrait of the musician Robert Wyatt in his own words and music.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

Robert Wyatt has been recognised as a prog-rock drummer, jazz composer, avant-garde cornet player, artist and activist in a wheelchair. But, above all else, he has been known by one of the most instantly recognisable and distinctive voices of the last fifty years.

Forever associated with Shipbuilding, Elvis Costello's song written in reaction to the Falklands War, Wyatt's voice and the causes he gives voice to are intricately entwined.

This intimate radio portrait, in his own words, traces Wyatt's journey from the psychedelic excesses of Soft Machine (appearing both with Jimi Hendrix and at the BBC Proms), through the life-changing accident that has confined him to a wheelchair for almost forty years, to recent celebrated musical projects that are reaching new audiences.

Producer: Alan Hall.

A Falling Tree production first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in October 2012.

0101Annie Briggs2016090620200215 (BBC7)
20200216 (BBC7)
20161001 (R4)
An intimate portrait of the iconic but elusive English folksinger Annie Briggs.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

Annie Briggs was a leading figure in the English folk revival of the early 1960s, inspiring Bert Jansch (famously, in Blackwater Side), Sandy Denny, The Watersons and many more. But she was a restless spirit, travelling through the British Isles and Ireland, finding songs and living close to the earth.

As Sandy Denny depicted her in The Pond and the Stream:
Annie wanders on the land.
She loves the freedom of the air.
She finds a friend in ev'ry place she goes.
There's always a face she knows.
I wish that I was there.

And so she remains, now a grandmother living by the water in the west of Scotland. She's always resolutely resisted celebrity and commercial success, withdrawing from the folk scene in the early 1970s, but her legacy - her voice and her attitude - continue to inspire and to carry a link to life as it was once lived in 'the imagined village'.

Annie talks to Alan Hall about childhood holidays singing along with the waves, writing songs while living on a beach in west Ireland, her garden and the wildlife that she shares it with, and the ballad tradition she discovered as a teenager and that she 'belongs to'.

Producer: Alan Hall

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in September 2016.

0102Ian Partridge2016091320200111 (BBC7)
20200112 (BBC7)
20160917 (R4)
A portrait of the English lyric tenor Ian Partridge, in his own words and recordings.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

It's not difficult to identify something classically, characteristically English about the lyric tenor Ian Partridge - his reticence and modesty, his boy chorister background and acclaimed performances of composers such as Roger Quilter, Benjamin Britten and Prince Albert.

He still lives in the same part of south London where he was born in 1938 and he spent over 50 years in a musical partnership with his sister, the pianist Jennifer Partridge. But the refined, passionate quality of Ian's voice has been a passport into other worlds - touring internationally, collaborating with celebrated composers and recording definitive interpretations of, for example, Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, Schumann's Dichterliebe and Ralph Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge.

Ian reflects on a lifetime in music that began lying under the family piano as his mother played popular songs of the 1930s and 40s and led ultimately to being appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Producer: Alan Hall

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in September 2016.

It's not difficult to identify something classically, characteristically English about the lyric tenor Ian Partridge - his reticence and modesty, his boy chorister background and acclaimed performances of composers such as Roger Quilter, Benjamin Britten and Prince Albert.

He still lives in the same part of south London where he was born nearly 80 years ago and he spent over fifty years in a musical partnership with his sister, the pianist Jennifer Partridge. But the refined, passionate quality of Ian's voice has been a passport into other worlds - touring internationally, collaborating with celebrated composers and recording definitive interpretations of, for example, Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, Schumann's Dichterliebe and Ralph Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge.

Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in September 2016.

Producer: Alan Hall

0103 LASTMarta Sebestyen2016092020200118 (BBC7)
20200119 (BBC7)
20160924 (R4)
A portrait of the Hungarian folk singer Marta Sebestyen, in her own words and recordings.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

The voice of Marta Sebestyen is closely associated with the folk traditions of Hungary and its neighbouring regions.

Through her work with the band Muzsikas, she helped revive the cultural phenomenon of Tanchaz, dance house, which preserved music and dance traditions and, during the Soviet era, provided a beacon for national identity - perhaps most vividly in the dissenters' song The Unwelcome Guest.

Her mother had studied with the folklorist and composer Zoltan Kodaly and Marta inherited her passion for music and village culture, collecting and recording songs from across the Balkans, some of which have found their way onto the soundtracks of films, such as The English Patient and Only Yesterday.

Marta talks about her relationship to the music of her homeland, its political connotations and the quality of the voices of village singers she's most admired.

Producers: Simon Broughton and Alan Hall

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in September 2014.

The voice of Marta Sebestyen is closely associated with the folk traditions of Hungary and its neighbouring regions. Through her work with the band Muzsikas, she helped revive the cultural phenomenon of Tanchaz, dance house, which preserved music and dance traditions and, during the Soviet era, provided a beacon for national identity - perhaps most vividly in the dissenters' song The Unwelcome Guest.

Her mother had studied with the folklorist and composer Zoltan Kodaly and Marta inherited her passion for music and village culture, collecting and recording songs from across the Balkans, some of which have found their way onto the soundtracks of films, such as The English Patient and Only Yesterday.

Produced by Simon Broughton and Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in 2014.

Producers: Simon Broughton and Alan Hall

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in September 2014.

0201Andy Partridge2017052320200404 (BBC7)
20200405 (BBC7)
20170527 (R4)
20170731 (R4)
An intimate portrait of the songwriter, singer and frontman of XTC, Andy Partridge.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

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 first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2017.

0202Christopher Robson2017053020200411 (BBC7)
20200412 (BBC7)
20170807 (R4)
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 first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2017.

Countertenor Christopher Robson reflects on his life in music.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

0203 LASTAne Brun2017060620170814 (R4)Norwegian singer Ane Brun talks about her life in music.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

0301Sharon Van Etten2018040320180729 (R4)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 P J 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).

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

Musicians talk about their life and work.

0302Hannah Peel2018041020180805 (R4)An intimate portrait of singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Hannah Peel.

Hannah Peel inhabits many different worlds. She can, blithely, be described as a singer-songwriter, known for stripped back renditions of 80s pop songs, accompanying herself with a hand-turned music box. But then she's also composed an epic concept album for brass band and electronics and provided the music for a theatrical re-imagining of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, as well as being a session musician as a singer, violinist, trombonist, keyboard player and arranger.

Her personal life - like her professional activities - traverses different worlds, too. Her childhood was divided between Northern Ireland, where she was born and to which she returns often, and Yorkshire, where she grew up in the brass band tradition.

Now, she's a synthesiser convert and calls her studio The Lab. Yet, in all her music-making, her voice carries the legacy of a family steeped in the culture of singing.

Presented and produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4
(Photo credit: Adam Patterson).

Musicians talk about their life and work.

0303 LASTClaron Mcfadden2018041720180421 (R4)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.

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

Musicians talk about their life and work.

0304Rachel And Becky Unthank2018042420180428 (R4)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.

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

Musicians talk about their life and work.

0401Alison Goldfrapp2019070820200413 (R4)An intimate portrait of Alison Goldfrapp, an innovative artist and electronic dance music performer (with Goldfrapp) whose voice is inflected with folk, opera and cabaret styles.

Recorded overnight on a walk through woods in Hampshire during the summer solstice and at her home in east London, this evocation of one of Britain's most versatile singers touches on Alison's childhood and the impact of being educated by nuns, her adventures across experimental art forms, the joy of a thumping electronic dance track and the enduring allure of nature, both in her music and her life.

Presented and produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio Four

An intimate portrait of the voice of electronic music duo Goldfrapp.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

Presented and produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio Four

0402Kurt Wagner2019071520200414 (R4)An intimate portrait of Kurt Wagner, singer and creative force behind US band Lambchop.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

An intimate portrait of Kurt Wagner, singer and creative force behind American indie band Lambchop.

Growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, Kurt Wagner's artistic aspirations were inclined towards the visual arts rather than the city's all-pervasive country music scene. But hanging around friends, exchanging school cello for garage guitar, he found that he became - by default - the singer. No-one else wanted the role.

So began Lambchop, an indie rock band that Kurt mischievously publicised as 'Alt-country' to see which music hacks actually troubled to listen rather than just re-hash the press release.

Recorded on his porch at home in Nashville, Kurt reflects on his idiosyncratic vocal style, his embracing of technology and sharing life with a political activist in a Republican state in the third year of Donald Trump's presidency.

Presented and produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4

0403Stephanie Phillips2019072220200415 (R4)An intimate portrait of Steph Phillips from black feminist punk band Big Joanie.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

Growing up in Wolverhampton, Steph Phillips was a quiet girl, shy to the point of wanting to vanish during social occasions and conscious that as a black teenage female she was, anyway, invisible to most of society. These days, she's found her voice in a space where she can be what she describes as her "full self'" - she's the guitarist and lead singer with the black feminist punk band Big Joanie.

In a lineage of music-making with attitude that can be traced back through Riot Grrrl to the original punk icon, the late Poly Styrene of X-Ray Specs, Steph now commands a stage on which issues of identity, of race and gender, of political activism and artistic expression collide in joyful, noisy creativity.

Presented and produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4

0404 LASTRichard Dawson2019072920200416 (R4)An intimate portrait of folk musician Richard Dawson.

Musicians talk about their life and work.

For a man whose musical demeanour comes across as rough-hewn with a potency that's barely contained, Richard Dawson in person is gentle with a soft smile and opinions that are precisely worded though almost tentatively shared. He admits to a high level of everyday anxiety, yet has left a mark on contemporary folk music in England that testifies to an innate confidence in his musical vision. His albums (notably Nothing Important of 2014 and Peasant in 2017), as well as being critically acclaimed, have taken folk music into new territory that's at once ancient and avant-garde.

Speaking at his home in the north-east of England, Richard reflects on the particular qualities of his voice, the life that music has opened up to him and his ever-present companion, Trouble the cat.

Presented and produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio Four