The week in radio and podcasts: Desert Island Discs, David Tennant, Alan Alda | Television & radio

Desert Island Discs | Radio 4
David Tennant Does a Podcast With… | iTunes
Clear + Vivid With Alan Alda |

Ah, the art of the interview. Not the stroppy news two-way, where the journalist operates on the assumption that the interviewee is lying – or applying local council funding principles to the truth. No, I mean the celebrity interview. The cosy, on-air chat with the artist who has something to promote.

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I often interview such people, occasionally on the radio, and there are a few factors that can make or break such interchanges, the most important of which is time. There is never enough. You are always rushed, restricted, checking how long you have left. And so the best radio interviewers are usually those who have come up through live broadcasting, who know exactly, to the second, how long there is before the news, who can work out in their heads the minutes they have for each question – and, more importantly, answer. They take that skill with them to pre-recorded interviews, which are often more intimate when recorded “as live”, rather than as an indulgent, no-clocks shooting of the breeze.

Then there’s atmosphere. A relaxed ambience always helps; and that, too, is about the interviewer. They must have done the work: read the book, watched the film, thought about the career. What’s the opening question? The last one? How to bring up difficult topics? And then they need to forget all of that, and listen. Interviewing is hard listening.

Finally there’s the interviewee. Some artists understand what is needed from a 20-minute talk. Others – often star actors, veterans of chat shows – go immediately into anecdote mode. I’ve experienced this, and it takes a lot of determination to pull them away from a story once they’ve started. It’s like interrupting a pub bore. You practically need to smash a chair over their head.

Lauren Laverne and Bob Mortimer in the Desert Island Discs studio.

Photograph: Amanda Mango! Benson/BBC Radio

Which brings me to Desert Island Discs and its current, charming, non-chair-smashing host, Lauren Laverne. Since she began sitting in for Kirsty Young, Laverne has been good, but she’s really hit her stride in the past few episodes. Last week’s interview with Bob Mortimer was a delight: good questions, easy atmosphere, excellent interviewee. And great listening from Laverne. When Mortimer talked about his dad dying, he said: “It was the defining moment of my life.” “How so?” she asked, lightly, and I almost applauded. That’s all it takes. Just a little nudge, a “Why?”, a “How do you mean?” And Mortimer, and his story, opened up.

Other good audio interviewers? Nihal Athanayake (5 Live) is on great form at the moment. John Wilson (Radio 4) is excellent. And there are, of course, multitudes of interview podcasts out there, with more and more presented by celebrities themselves. George Ezra’s is immensely popular. Will Young’s engaging Homo Sapiens, which he presents with Christopher Sweeney, has recently returned for its third series (Troye Sivan and Sam Smith so far). And David Tennant has started a podcast too (David Tennant Does a Podcast With), which featured lovely Olivia Colman being lovely as his first guest last week. Last week, Tennant chatted to Whoopi Goldberg, slightly less successfully. The pair had a great rapport, but Tennant let Goldberg talk for too long on each topic. Four minutes on how it’s important to be nice to fans is about three and a half minutes too long.

David Tennant Does A Podcast With... Olivia Colman

David Tennant Does a Podcast With… Olivia Colman

Ex-M*A*S*H actor Alan Alda also has an interview podcast, called Clear+Vivid, which is based around Alda’s conviction that we should be mindful when we talk to each other, that we should listen properly, and then connect more. The podcast is a little hit and miss, though it’s always fab to hear his voice – and last week’s features him talking to four of his old M*A*S*H chums: Loretta Swit, Jamie Farr, Gary Burghoff and Mike Farrell. Cor. Still, I would start with the previous episode, where Alda talked with Sheila Nevins. Nevins had a string of high-profile jobs at HBO stretching over 38 years, but left last year. “When you’re talking and people say to you, ‘I gotta go’, you know you’ve lost your power,” she says. Funny, touching and revealing. Like all the best interviews.

Three unexpected jazz shows to open up your ears

Gilles Peterson: New York Winter Jazz Festival special
Gilles P’s 6 Music show, always a pleasure, gives us a proper treat with this three-hour special from New York’s Winter Jazzfest, packed with live music recorded in Le Poisson Rouge club, and interviews from the likes of Ezra Collective, Yazmin Lac ey, Emma-Jean Thackray and Tawiah. Some really brilliant experimental soul-jazz here from up-and-coming artists. I listen to Gilles to make me feel summery and, oddly, this winter festival episode does this and more. Listen now, because it’s only up for one more week.

We Are… With Paul Camo
NTS Radio has any number of excellently experimental shows to take you to the outer reaches of music. When it comes to jazz, Tej Adeleye creates a nice, cosy vibe in her Floating Roofs show, though she’s a little breathy on the microphone for me. The legendary Patrick Forge has his own monthly show, which is proper good. But I’ve gone for designer Paul Camo, whose show is tagged straight jazz/free jazz/modal, because it’s an ear-and-mind opener. Only on once a month, but there are plenty of old shows to check out.

Jazz Decades With Ray Smith
Funny one, this. Ray Smith was the long-term presenter of Boston show Jazz Decades, until he died in 2010, aged 87. The station, WGBH, has put up some of his old shows up a looped stream, giving dedicated listeners a nonstop playing of a couple of hundred hours of Smith. He owned around 9,000 78s, and thousands more 45s and LPs. His presentation is old-school – all about the artist and recordings – and his selection is usually around 1920s and 1930s jazz. Fantastic stuff.


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