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Friday 15 July 2022

Radio 4’s Summer of Arts - Simon Armitage, Jamelia and Ian Hislop


Simon Armitage revisits Philip Larkin for his centenary year, Gus Casely-Hayford presents a new history of fashion, Jamelia explores music made in the West Midlands, DJ Ash Lauryn traces the radical spirit of techno, and Ian Hislop explores the art made in the suburbs – all on Radio 4

From poetry and music to fashion and the art of the suburbs, Radio 4 presents a broad and eclectic line-up of arts programmes over the summer of 2022.

Jamelia, a musician who was born and bred in Birmingham, will start an investigation into the history of the music produced in her native West Midlands on July 13. Despite the significant contributions made to music by musicians from Birmingham and the surrounding area, this series tries to change the misconception that Birmingham's history is less well-known than those of other cities like Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, or London.

Over two parts, Jamelia uncovers a rich musical history. She hears from experts about Birmingham's musical contribution as far back as the Midlands Enlightenment in the 18th Century, as well as the work of composers such as Edward Elgar in the late 19th and 20th Centuries. She talks to musicians working now, including ELO drummer Bev Bevan, Reggae singer Pato Banton, Duran Duran original Stephen Duffy and Apache Indian, and asks whether there is a collective Birmingham sound - or at least a special Birmingham approach to making music.

From 19 July, Techno: A Social History traces the origins of techno music to its birth in a suburb of post-industrial Detroit in the early 1980s – a full decade after Motown records had abandoned the city for Hollywood – and explores its impact across the world, from the Love Parade in Berlin to hotbeds of resistance in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Presented by DJ, producer, and Detroit native Ash Lauryn, the programme features stories from techno’s architects, champions, and disciples: Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Ellen Allien, Richie Hawtin, and many more.

Ash learns how the cathedral-like nightclubs of Berlin were born, after the Cold War, in the city’s abandoned infrastructure – paving the way for the world’s most closely guarded dancefloor, Berghain, celebrated here by resident DJ Marcel Dettmann and house music legend, Honey Dijon. From speaking with Ukrainian DJ Nastia, she also discovers the resilience of Kyiv’s club scene. Born out of the turmoil of the 2013 revolution it lies dormant, for now. Meanwhile, in the capital of Georgia, Giorgi Kikonishvili speaks of Bassiani, the club that became a headquarters for queer politics and community organising – until armed police raids threatened the scene’s very existence. Over the series, Ash explores techno’s ongoing association with counterculture and asks why, to many, it offers the perfect soundtrack to political defiance and radical spirit.

Marking the poet Philip Larkin’s centenary, Larkin Revisited sees Simon Armitage, Poet Laureate, examine the power of Larkin’s poems to console and provoke. From 8 August - across ten fifteen minute programmes, and ten iconic Phillip Larkin poems - Simon unpicks both the poetry and the riddle of the man behind them. Larkin's poems still divide opinion: at times agitational, facing the reality of time and its passing, whilst offering moments of astonishing beauty and transcendence. Simon has lived with Larkin's work ever since he was told as a teenager that there was a real poet working in Yorkshire. He is fascinated by the way Larkin’s poems are constructed; the way they often seem to tear things down, exposing the truth of something difficult, and yet can also be freeing – the opposite of platitudes.

The ten poems Simon has chosen to explore (including Aubade and The Whitsun Weddings) show Larkin's range and achievement; they are poems that face the truth of relationships, of death, as well as poems of place and civic life like, Bridge for the Living (an unusual commission for Larkin which celebrates Hull as an 'Isolate city'). In this series Simon takes us to the places Larkin’s poems understood intimately – Coventry, and Hull – as he ‘road-tests’ different poems, to see what survives of them in 2022, especially when we know so much more about the uglier attitudes of this complex and contradictory poet.

From 22 August, Gus Casely-Hayford presents Torn: A Narrative History of Fashion. Over this ten-part series, the Director of V&A East reveals the intellectual and historical weight we carry on our backs, and the statements we make just by getting dressed in the morning.

Gus unpicks the histories that underpin ten garments – and the lives that created them - spanning the world and five centuries. By deepening our understanding of what we wear and why we wear it, he will show how fashion has shaped our history, and equip us with the knowledge to make informed statements about what we choose to throw on and what we cast off.

Also in August on Radio 4, In Suburbia, presented by Ian Hislop, takes a fresh look over three parts at the place where so many have spent more time over the past three years of lockdowns and home working. In fiction, TV and film and in art, suburbia has long stood as shorthand for repression - a place of "wide lawns and narrow minds," as Ernest Hemingway put it. But Hislop has an inkling that the suburbs, far from being the home of Stepford Wives and Margot and Jerry, have been a force for change and inspiration in the artists who have tried to encapsulate - and in some cases - escape the gravity of its clutches.

He speaks to JC Carroll of The Members, whose song ’the sound of the suburbs' still provides a backing track to suburbs across the nation, and to performer and writer Lee Mack who counters the trend away from Suburban sitcom with his perennially popular ‘Not Going Out’. And Ian also treads leafy suburban streets in Manchester, Ealing, Woodford and, of course, Surbiton, and finds new suburban voices but with variations on established suburban truths, not least that one generations ideal living is another’s youthful tedium.

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