Global Gathering

So, Janice Forsyth has to go because her delightfully eclectic mix of music, blether and interviews no longer fits the template.  BBC Radio Scotland has decreed – though claims it is only following orders – that daytime is for talk, evening is for music.  Our brains, you see, are too linear to cope with anything so confusing as diversity.

But what’s this?  A music show – a proper music show at that – is being bumped from the evening schedules.  For years now, Mary Ann Kennedy has delighted and amazed with her Global Gathering.  No show has done more to promote folk, roots and world music with a distinctly Scottish wrap than this programme.  Mary Ann makes for a delightfully knowledgeable and enthusiastic host, guiding the audience through music from all parts of the globe.  The best thing about her show is the certain knowledge that you are going to discover something new, something you’ve never heard before.  

You must, if you haven’t already, set aside an hour or so and lose yourself in The Islands Suite  comprising four original pieces from young composers inspired by islands.  Every one is a gem.  Every composition will inspire and challenge you, in the way music should.

Listening to the suite again, my chest puffs with pride. What’s wonderful is the celebration of young talent, not all of it native, afforded the freedom to explore and experiment and produce such incredible work that so beguilingly captures a real sense of Scotland.  Not kailyard Scotland but Scotland as she should be, one element amongst many, one musical influence suffused with so many others.

At a time when Scotland stands poised to engage fully with the rest of the world, when our yearning to understand our place in all things global has never been more intense, BBC Scotland thinks it is time to retrench in cultural terms.  To shrink in on ourselves and abandon any faltering steps to full nationhood.  Global Gathering performs a hugely important function, giving us a sense of who we are, where we come from, and where we might want to go to.  Heaven forbid, but could there also be politics – in its truest sense – at work here, influencing this decision?

Just as unseen hands manipulate commissioning decisions, it is largely the invisible researchers, producers, editors and controllers who come up with the ideas and are then expected to come up with the goods to fill the schedules.  Often, it is the fruit of their labours which regales us: many presenters only come in at the tail end of the process, applying their gloss and their sheen and the finishing touches.

I doubt that Mary Ann Kennedy comes into that category.  She is after all a first class musician in her own right.  She lives this stuff, she knows many of the people she interviews and engages.  She composes, she plays, she contributes and her passion and her belief shine through in every programme.  Global Gathering needs her presence and is all the better for it.  The programme’s fortune has developed and matured organically and its success is utterly linked to who its presenter is.

Good radio – scratch that, the best radio – is the stuff that makes you stop what you are doing, pause in the routine to which the wireless is a background accompaniment.  You catch a fragment of a song and turn the volume up to capture it properly;  you listen to the end, pen in hand to scribble down the band/artist and title.  You hear an interesting conversation and before you know it, you’re nodding, laughing and best of all, adding in your tuppence worth.  And the really good presenters?  They’re the ones you feel you know, whose top of the programme intro comes across like an old friend opening the door, being delighted to see you and welcoming you in.

Mary Ann Kennedy and Janice Forsyth achieve this, all of it.  And most importantly (to me at any rate) is the fact that they are women: strong, articulate, intelligent, creative women voices engaging with the nation week in, week out.  Surely I don’t need to explain to this blog readership why this matter?

Radio Scotland’s gender balance is already awry.  Removing Mary Ann and Janice from the airwaves reduces women’s place on our national, publicly paid for state radio station to a sliver.  BBC Scotland might intend to replace their slots with other women but I seriously doubt it: if programmes presented by men are shipped into replace them, it will be a national disgrace.

Janice and Mary Ann do not deserve to keep their programmes and their slots simply because they are women.  They are presenters who create outstanding radio that people want to listen to and if that’s good enough for us, it should be good enough for the BBC.

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  1. I think there’s a broader issue at work here about BBC Radio Scotland’s atitude to music in general. Mary Ann, thank goodness, will continue to present excellent programmes on the UK-wide BBC Radio 3. Similarly, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is one of the UK’s (not just Scotland’s) top orchestras, but how often is it heard on Radio Scotland, as opposed to its high profile on Radio 3? There’s an irony at work here when the UK-wide BBC is doing more for these Scottish musicians than the Scottish national service.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      It’s a good point. I feel BBC Scotland is just stuck in a rut. I dont believe this is all about cuts, I think it’s about imagination and lack of editorial nous. I think we shouold also be wary of being against any change, I actually think the whole schedule could do with changing but the values and strategy seem all crazy.

      1. Albalha says:

        You’re right. If you take just one programme which has been regularly changed in terms of style, presenter and time slot, the phone in. When they decided to bring K Adams on board the budget was greatly increased not just in terms of her fee but staffing as well, I think more people are devoted on a daily basis to Call Kaye than three hours of GMS. You have a Head of Radio who has no interest in News and a Head of News and Current Affairs who has no real interest in radio preferring to cut radio news production jobs but retain TV news producers. Piecemeal change for changes sake seems to have been the motivation, no real commitment to overhaul the schedule. How can we still have the stale, dull Fred programme for example? And then of course where is the radio critic writing about BBC Scotland in the mainstream press? Where is the Scottish Gillian Reynolds?

  2. Rolf says:

    So BBC Scotland thinks the daytime should all be about talk, by which they mean Gary Robertson and Kaye Adams telling us how the world looks through their Union-Jack glasses, and grown men obsessing over fitba like it held the key to the meaning of life itself. And I pay a license fee for this?

  3. Albalha says:

    In my view in addition to the arguments you outline there’s the problem of TV names being gifted radio programmes just because the audience may have heard of them; Shereen who is truly dreadful and probably should have stuck to reading an autocue, likewise K Adams who today is being replaced by K Wark who may be an average TV performer but is truly hopeless on radio. So while I take on board your gender point I’d rather have talented male radio presenters than well known TV women.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Yeah I dont think its about having well known tv women I think its about having saturation football coverage. I LOVE football and enjoy the football coverage but ENOUGH. After the commentaries do we need an other 1 1/2 hours discussion?

      Even during the summer close season we still have Off the Ball and others trundling along. There’s no variety.

      Why not play to our strengths and have more live music, and non-sporting content? We have the National Theatre of Scotland yet do Radio Scotland do any radio plays? We have virtually no comedy yet we have a thriving comedy circuit.

      1. Albalha says:

        I think it’s about all of it. BBC Radio Scotland really is a dogs breakfast for a variety of reasons and in my opinion a change of those in charge is the first step, J Zycinski and K McQuarrie have been in place for years and look where the station is now. On plays they have been doing more of that and of course many plays made in Scotland pitch up on R4 at 215 so as you say no lack of ability. But while it’s by no means all about cuts the level of staffing compared to R4 is an issue in terms of what can be expected.

      2. Albalha says:

        Should have added that the point I make about the well know TV folks is it’s a symptom of the overall let’s make the station more commercial in sound and populist strategy which has been going on for quite some time.

  4. Jacqui says:

    I am reminded that I never got a reply to my complaint about the axing of Macgregor’s gathering. At that time BBC Scotland had a great morning line up – including Ruth Wishart, Colin Bell and Lesley Riddoch – all now posted missing. Ok, maybe some are missed more than others, but they were good radio shows. Brian Morton was another excellent presenter who was shifted out the door. because he didn’t fit the mould. I used to listen to Radio Scotland all the time – but never even turn it on now. I am disappointed in the homogenised bland output of news (as entertainment) subjective comment, and football. Out nation has so much more to offer than this.

    1. isobelk says:

      radio scotland has steadily gone down hill since they axed McGregor’s Gathering. Looking back, the magazine type content was similar to that of BBC TV’s current output in the ‘One Show’, – except of course that it was in a Scottish context. AHA!! – Could it be that cultured Mary-Ann’s show has too much Scottish stuff? could it be that articulate Janice’s accent is too Scottish? … Mmmm.
      Taking them off air is utter madness. They are the 2 best quality programmes they have! And- has anyone else noticed that lately GMS is dumbing down with more trivial content?

  5. Dave MceEwan Hill says:

    Jacqui touches on football so If i may be allowed to expand slightly into the mundane we have lot of it on Saturday afternoons radio which is probably traditional and expected.
    But what continues to surprise me is BBC Scotland’s TV soccer coverage. Can anybody imagine the people of Portugal sitting down on Saturday night (and Sunday morning ) to several hours of Spanish soccer while the Portuguese equivalent is relegated to a short proramme very often on a different night. Or the Norwegians having Swedish soccer as their staple
    This is exactly what we have in Scotland with overfour hours of English soccer, including the all the games in English Divisions one and two before we see anything of Scottish soccer.
    It is absurd and it is very damaging to the profile of the Scottish game which is much better than is generally understood.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Couldn’t agree more. And what coverage we do have is amateurish, poorly filmed and badly produced.

    2. Jacqui says:

      You are right Dave – on radio, a Saturday afternoon is traditionally a time for football – I have no problem with that. Listening to the excitable commentators is part of our heritage – lol. Radio Scotland has 3 radio wavelengths – FM, MW and the Radio nan Gael frequency so on a Saturday, not only do we get 2 match commentaries – we also get the witterings and screechings of all their sports reporters on their ‘open all mikes’ program.
      Thats fine and we all like to poke fun at Chick and the rest, but the loss of Mary Ann Kennedy’s wonderful show is a travesty (to use football talk). Her celebration of Scotland’s music and how it has influenced world music is a treasure that is being taken from us – what’s new?

  6. John Thomson says:

    Don’t forgot they are also axing chat shows from the daytime schedule. Newsweek Scotland is going to be replaced by a new Good Morning Scotland Saturday edition. The common reply from the ardent Newsweek listener is, “Please no! Save us from yet another morning of GMS!”

  7. John Corrigan says:

    As someone who listens to a lot of what is termed World Music, and contribute to a message board on the subject, I have at times been perhaps a bit smug with my board pals from South of the Border about how well served we are up here. Mary Ann’s inputs to her always excellent World on 3 on Radio 3 has been supplemented by Global Gathering. In my world there would be more music from around the world and around the corner but I’m happy to shop around to listen. Mary Ann is one of the BBC’s finest broadcaster and the thought that Radio Scotland might abandon this seems crazy to me.
    I have to say that I think the Radio Scotland evening combination has a reasonable balance to it. I don’t like it all, but I see the reason it’s there. I hear about the way that local radio goes down south and would be sad if Radio Scotland were to follow suit. I dread the arrival of even more phone-ins. I’d rather they just introduce dead-time.
    I will be extremely sad if BBC Scotland decides to abandon World Music and Mary Ann Kennedy. I think it’s a retrograde move.

  8. Mr. Kleeg says:

    I’m not Scottish, and to make matters worse I’m a man – but your Mary Ann Kennedy is indeed a national treasure, and thanks to the i-Player, I can listen to her shows on Radio Scotland.

    I’m more than comfortable with her Celtic bias, and a little bit envious of the Gaelic tradition (now where did that go in England? I blame the Inclosures – but that’s another topic…)

    Her shows on BBC Radio 3 are only once very fortnight – and represent a miniscule amount of r3’s programming., so the loss of the Radio Scotland show sets a worrying precedent. I’ve not seen any reasons for this cancellation – have any been given?

  9. Alex. says:

    Stunned of Wellington NZ writes: I understand the tea ladies in Salford have some spare resource. Couldn’t the management of BBC Radio Scotland be outsourced to them, in the certain knowledge of better decision-making processes & outcomes?

  10. Jennie Macfie says:

    I’ve heard on the grapevine that MAK’s Global Gathering is to be replaced with a classical music show. Now, we have fine classical musicians in Scotland but they are already getting plenty of airplay on BBC Radio 3, and for all I know, as I don’t listen to it, ClassicFM;
    classical music aficionados are already being served by two dedicated national radio stations.
    World and traditional music lovers don’t even have one station, though there are shows on Radio 2. But they’re not Scottish shows showcasing the best of our young musicians as well as the best of visiting world musicians. Global Gathering is a treasure trove of good music and always worth listening to. Is there a petition to sign somewhere?

  11. Bill Alexander says:

    Mary Ann’s Global Gathering is a glorious programme, that Scotland should be proud of – endorsing and promoting Scots culture whilst also looking outward This is an appalling, shocking decision.

  12. Paul Garbett says:

    I agree with and endorse Bill Alexander’s comment – a glorious programme indeed and precisely because of the tireless work Mary Ann does to promote and encourage Scottish and world-wide music. Add this to the loss of Derek Bateman and Janice Forsyth and it seems like a complete abdication of duty by the BBC.
    Let’s hope the decision is not final.

  13. Dave Leslie says:

    A good article, Kate, and good follow-up discussion. While Janice’s show is excellent entertainment (though for my part, I think some of her movie star interviews are a bit fawning) in a very suitable time slot, Global Gathering is absolutely core to what Scotland’s national radio should be all about.
    I don’t believe for a minute that these decisions are or will remain final, if all the people who are concerned about these developments lobby effectively. But I do have a bit of a concern that the multiple petitions, facebook likes (dislikes?), blog articles and discussions on forums might be ignored if they’re not pulled together in some way and presented to the BBC, other media and politicians in one huge bundle. Who’s well placed to do that?
    If it takes the fall of the heid yin at Radio Scotland so be it.

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