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.