2015: out with “new”

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To paraphrase the Electric Light Orchestra, the big wheel keeps on turning. But before 2015 winds down and 2016 rattles into view, I thought I’d reflect on the old year with a stock-take of new experiences I have notched up since January 1. This may not be a long list, as life tends to solidify into routine when you pass 40 unless it doesn’t, and fresh experiences are rarer. This also makes them more cherishable.

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For the record, these are my cultural roundups of the year, now patted into shape after a few last-minute additions, the incorrigible bean-counter that I am.

I didn’t do the year in theatre or gigs as I didn’t step foot inside a theatre in 2015, and only attended one live show, albeit a splendid one, and a new experience, so let’s start there.

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  • Classic FM Live | I have been to a classical concert before – the then-controller of Radio 2 invited me to a Prom when I was at 6 Music – and I’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall countless times, albeit usually to see rock or pop in the line of duty (Elton John, Echo & The Bunnymen, the Manics), and once, a ballet. This was my first Classic FM concert, and my first time seeing the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of their Principal Conductor Vasily Petrenko. It was their 175th anniversary year and a very special night – also, my initiation into the rites of Classic FM, my new employer, who provided a box, and sat me with a selection of Lords (who were the first peers I have ever met). I loved seeing the young pianist Ji Liu doing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2, and it was fun to see James Galway playing a selection of favourites, as I had actually heard of him! I would say that the explosive rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture by the RLPO was a musical highlight of 2015. (I also saw my pal Justin Moorhouse live; he was on terrific form in Edinburgh – arguably his best – but this is not the first time I have seen him so does not count as a “new” experience. If I hadn’t been working in Edinburgh, I might have seen a few more shows and chosen them less conservatively.)

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  • Saturday Night At The Movies | One thing I didn’t foresee when this year began was a new job on the near horizon. Since my tenure at 6 Music ran out in 2012, I’ve relied on the occasional Front Row nod to keep my voice on the radio, but the wireless took a back seat. When the eminent Howard Goodall announced that he would no longer be able to present Classic FM’s weekly film programme Saturday Night at the Movies (due to having a West End musical to write and oversee), I didn’t expect to be asked to audition for the gig. I leaped at the chance. And, after a couple of tryouts in late 2014, I found myself royally announced in February as a new, contracted Classic FM presenter. My first show was on March 7, and I’ve been on pretty much every Saturday thereafter, a new experience all round. I’ve been on commercial radio stations as a guest (I’ve even reviewed the papers on Nick Ferrari’s LBC breakfast show, which is in the same building as Classic, and is owned by the same media company, Global), but I’ve never presented on one, and it’s a whole new ballgame, and I feel incredibly proud to slot in between the august likes of John Suchet, Alexander Armstrong and Charlotte Green. My appreciation of classical music, and movie music, has been vastly expanded and refined over the year and the experience has given so much back. I’ve also loved discovering videogame music (which we also cover), and becoming an evangelist for it, and communicating with the listeners and movie music fans via social media. One new thing I’ve discovered is how appreciative composers are when you play their music on the radio – as, frankly, movie music doesn’t get much of a look in. I genuinely feel as if I am offering a public service.

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  • County Cork | I’ve been to Cork before, but it’s not a county I know as well as I know Galway, or Kerry, and this year’s holiday in Glengarriff was a highlight of 2015, and packed with the new! First time in Glengarriff itself, a tidy harbour town, and first time to neighbouring Bantry, a metropolis by comparison, and a surefire spot for picking up the Guardian of a morning. We also visited Garinish Island by boat, saw seals in repose and dolphins at play along the way, and drove through the pretty Bandon, where Graham Norton was raised (and which has named a river walk after its most famous son). The waterwheel in the large photo above is in Bantry.

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  • Nice people | My job, when writing, can be solitary. However, over the last few years, hosting has grown into a more significant string to my professional bow. My fourth consecutive year at the Edinburgh TV Festival, hosting Q&As and screenings both public and industry-only, was another blast, but something of a regular event for me. What’s always new about the job is the sparkling parade of people I get to meet and talk to in the name of work. I’ve upped my work-rate for UKTV this year with events for channels Watch and Dave that have been among my favourites. And among those new people I’ve met and green-roomed with have been: Ron Perlman and the cast of Hand Of God; the band Glasvegas (unexpected stars of the reality show Singing In The Rainforest); Monica Galetti of Masterchef: The Professionals; Roger Allam (pictured, with Barry Cryer, as voluble as ever, at January’s Radio Times Covers Party); Myleene Klass (also a colleague now); Charlie Simpson of Busted; Peter Kosminsky, who I interviewed as part of a BBC staff morale-boosting day in Salford, where I met DG Tony Hall for the first time too, too; the entire dramatis personae of Gogglebox as it stood after series 5 (minus Steph and Dom, who were busy), with special mention for the lovable and witty Giles and Mary, with whom I caroused at the Radio Times Festival before interviewing them in a freezing cold tent in front of an audience who doggedly refused to throw in the towel and seek warmth elsewhere; it was, naturally, a boyhood dream come true when I interviewed Harrison Ford in the flesh for Classic FM, in December – a hell of a way to end my Zelig year.

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  • Such thing as a free lunch | Sky Atlantic invited me, along with other gentlefolk of the press, to dinner at the top of the Gherkin in the City of London (a building that now stands as a paragon of architectural modesty in the gruesome shadows of the Shard and the Walkie Talkie), which was another first for 2015. I also discovered for the first time that the SD memory card in my knackered old phone sometimes erases all your photos for a laugh, never to be recovered. This pic was taken by Charlie Jordan. It was a fabulous evening, with a top view, and we were there to watch exclusive clips from The Last Panthers, which turned out to be one of the TV dramas of the year, luckily. UKTV also kindly invited me to a noisy Christmas press lunch at Mossiman’s, the “private dining club”, my first time there as well, although fine dining is not all it’s cracked up to be and there’s no point putting on airs and graces if you have tacky, framed pictures on the wall of all the celebrities who’ve privately dined there!

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That’s it for the new. It’s already old, so let’s throw it out with the neither new nor old. I’ve totted it up and I saw 140 films in 2015 that I hadn’t seen before, of which 97 were released in 2015. Nothing to trouble Mark Kermode but I pay to the go to the cinema and he doesn’t have to. And in any case, that’s quite a bit of new. I’ve also started to try and pronounce the word “new” properly, having noticed that it still comes out as the flat Northamptonian “noo” on the radio, when I prefer to to hear it exit my lips to rhyme with “phew”. Just goes to show that, even at 50, you’re not finished yet, and there’s more to do, things to improve and refine. I’ve blogged only intermittently this year, but not through want of things that enrage and engage me. May things do both once again in the new year. I am definitely getting more left wing as I get older, which I wholeheartedly welcome.

 

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Is this thing on?

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It’s not exactly been radio silence, but since the end of 2012, my voice has been heard only intermittently speaking into a microphone. (Thanks to benevolent producers I’ve known for many years at Front Row and The Film Programme on Radio 4, I have enjoyed occasional short bursts of public address in the interim.) Above is one of the last Zelig photos I had taken for my collection when I was deputising on the 6 Music breakfast show and welcomed my transatlantic friend Harry Shearer onto the air in the latter half of 2012, with Matt Everitt standing by. It was fun while it lasted, but the two-year break has allowed me to indulge my insane ambitions to concentrate on scriptwriting, so I’ve been grateful for that.

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Which is why this is the best birthday present a broadcaster of a certain age could have asked for. I have landed the job of taking over the hosting of Saturday Night At The Movies on Classic FM. This has been brewing since before Christmas, when I first discovered that the station’s eminent composer-in-residence Howard Goodall was giving up the show as he had a lot of actual composing to do – notably, the Bend It Like Beckham musical – and his prime 5-7pm Saturday evening slot was available. (As if to prove how tasteful Classic FM’s more recent appointments have been, the show is sandwiches between Alexander Armstrong and Alex James. I feel rather honoured.)

As someone whose twin loves are and always have been music and cinema, and whose natural way-in to classical music has been through orchestral film soundtracks, this is my dream gig. I’ve listened to the show with Howard at the helm, and its mix of populism and intelligent dissection works a treat. Classic FM is a commercial station (part of the Global group, which also includes Capital, Heart, Smooth and XFM), and it seeks to entertain as well as inform. As a relative layperson when it comes to classical, I often tune into Radio 3 and find it a little forbidding and exclusive. Classic FM is the opposite, and I think I’ve found a perfect new home here.

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The idea of curating and “jocking” some great movie themes and perhaps lesser-known cues and overtures from a century of cinema, and enthusing about them in between, thrills me to the bone. After a sabbatical, even more so. Continuity arrives in the form of John Barry, whose Zulu theme (one of my all-time favourites with its foreboding timpani and wall of brass and strings), used to herald my arrival on 6 Music, by law, and may just feature in my first show for Classic FM, this Saturday at 5pm.

It’s well over ten years since I last joined a new radio station, and the experience of being welcomed into the bosom of the Classic FM “family” has been warm. Having been in and out of the Leicester Square HQ to record some demos during the job-interview process, it was with some awe that I actually collected my electronic “dongle”-style pass yesterday, having been introduced to everybody who works there from the MD to marketing, and taken in to see the great John Suchet while he was playing a record on-air. Having worked predominantly for the BBC over my 20 years in broadcasting, it was a shock, but not an unpleasant one, to be introduced to a dedicated team of people who all seemed to have definable jobs. As I commented to John, as I now call him, it’s all muscle and no flab in commercial radio.

Wish me luck. It’s a big new adventure. There will be no Cud, but there might be some There Will Be Blood. We already have plans, my new producer and I, to rustle up a disaster movie special, and perhaps a show revolving around music from comedy films. I will get Clint Mansell into a future show, too. Along with Eric Rogers and Philip Glass. Maybe in the same show.

And God bless them for using this “classic” picture to advertise my arrival on the Classic FM website. Cue the old joke: who’s that woman with the new presenter of Saturday Night At The Movies?

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