Caught by the River


Andy Childs | 31st May 2020

A roundup of welcome and wonderful distractions, this time guest-selected by Andy Childs.

Beautiful Music In The Night
This is a brilliant exercise in AM radio nostalgia, and an illuminating window into a genre of music that is somehow defined more by the circumstances of its listening than by the styles it employs. Guitarist William Tyler has had the good taste and flair to compile a three-hour compilation of music that was broadcast as Beautiful Music In The Night between 12am and 5am, five nights a week, sometime in the mid-70s I’d guess, on WAMB 1160 AM out of Nashville. The music was originally assembled by local ‘radio personality’ Ken Bramming and the broadcasts were taped on cassette by artist Lesley Patterson, partner of Tyler’s Lambchop bandmate Jonathan Marx, as she painted through the night. Tyler borrowed the cassettes and digitized them for us all to luxuriate in the melancholic splendour of an often-maligned but beguilingly resilient style of music. MOR, easy listening, exotica – call it what you will, it’s a refreshingly liberal mix encompassing film music, classical music, blues ballads, jazz, lounge crooners, cheesy covers, torch singers and various soundscapes between and beyond. Is this kind of music still played on night-time radio these days? There are probably online stations and podcasts out there now that fit the bill but I don’t know if they would work as well as this mix, because it really does feel like a spectral transmission from a more innocent and less frantic past. The analogue texture of the recordings, the few announcements and messages ‘from our sponsor’, the occasional sequence where the radio signal fluctuates – they all help create, for me, a comforting and curiously intimate experience; easy to imagine that whoever is playing the music, regardless of what it is, is alone out there playing it just for you. And like all the best radio, you can never really tell what’s coming next. Listen here.

The Stubborn Light Of Things
Perhaps one of the most positive trends to emerge during our current crisis is the apparent growing widespread realisation of just how valuable and therapeutic our coutryside and rural spaces are. Whether this bucolic passion will persist and become the catalyst for real change in the way we care and manage our environment of course remains to be seen, but in the meantime we have this truly sublime and timely podcast to stimulate our pastoral enthusiams and help us through these uncertain and restrictive times. Nature writer and novelist Melissa Harrison, no stranger of course to regular visitors to this parish, lives in rural Suffolk where she “can walk out of [her] cottage into open countryside without passing another human being” and The Stubborn Light Of Things (No.1 in the Apple Nature Podcast chart!) is a mixture of local travelogue, nature study, nature history, philosophy and wide-eyed, infectious wonderment. Nearly every slightly-less-than-half-hour episode so far has her setting off from her cottage and walking her local paths, woods and fields, observing plants, birds and other wildlife, ruminating on folklore, bird song, animal behaviour and the landscape so obviously delighting in the variety and splendour of her locale. There are regular readings from her own nature notebook that appears in The Times every month and which are soon to be published in book form, as well as excerpts from Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne – clearly an inspiration. There are also short guest appearances in every episode – fellow nature writer Kathleen Jamie’s was particularly memorable and the latest episode has the great Will Burns reading one of his transcendent poems and mulling on the “discomfort of uncertainty”Hopefully you get the picture by now. It’s a totally immersive experience of great calm and thoughtfulness, interlaced with the most evocative music from Peter Rogers. There are eight episodes so far with the intention of carrying on until October, after which I have no idea how we’ll cope. Listen here.

I Know This Much Is True
Along with The Eddy, this is my favourite drama on the telly at the moment (Sky Atlantic – Mondays at 9pm). The excellent Mark Ruffalo plays the part of twin brothers, Thomas and Dominick, trapped in a spiral of dependancy, mental illness, alienation and relationship breakdown. This amount of unrelenting gloom is not perhaps everybody’s idea of entertainment right now but it is an impressively crafted and brilliantly acted tragedy. Ruffalo’s alternating physical and mental personas are remarkable, the supporting cast is unusually strong, and the dialogue is sharp and intelligent. And the icing on the cake for me is the use of Harold Budd’s music throughout.

Sea People: In Search of the Ancient Navigators of the Pacific
My current obsession and an abiding interest ever since reading The Kon-Tiki Expedition as a young’un. This is the story, clearly and beautifully told by Christina Thompson, of how the vast area of the Pacific Ocean known as Polynesia was colonised by people who travelled enormous distances in very basic sea vessels, employing navigation by the stars and with no reliable means of sustenance. The achievement was staggering when you consider that the Polynesian triangle connects New Zealand to Hawaii and the Easter Islands, an area of about 800,000 square miles. It is also the story of the early European explorers – Mendana, Tasman, Cook and their encounters with these remarkable people. Fascinating.