This article was written on Wednesday 1st July 2020. The COVID-19 lockdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic started in Britain on 23 March. The country had (mostly) sheltered in place for the whole of springtime before beginning to emerge in late June.
During those weeks and months we’d welcomed delivery drivers at the front door like celebrities, even as they dropped the packet on the front step and took five long paces backwards. Meanwhile, inside the home the sound of British radio had changed in subtle ways. I’ve been considering three things in recent articles on this website: listening, talking, and doing. Firstly, I’ve been listening to experts and media commentators talking about what radio audiences were doing; secondly, I’ve been hearing from journalists who were trying to do their jobs in the time of pandemic and attempting to speak truth to power; and thirdly, I’ve been considering how each one of us has turned from an audience member to doing the very thing modern technology has gracefully allowed us to do: have fun together in public from home. This article highlights the last of these. Previous writings on the other two topics can be found here and here. So what do you remember about the spring of 2020?
1 – You spent most days at 5pm in front of the telly
…Watching the Government’s daily press briefings. At first we hung on every word. Then we became worried, then we were bored, then we realised that in order to stay sane we needed to switch off the news. Especially as Public Health England published in mid-June an analysis of demographic data about COVID-19 victims (do please sit down before clicking the link).
The daily press conferences came to an end, with the final one broadcast on Tuesday 23 June, shortly after the death of George Floyd made the headlines. Individuals joined demonstrations across the world while faith leaders prayed for peace, reconciliation and an end to racism.
2 – Watched old movies
When we weren’t watching the daily pandemic briefings, we were fascinated by old TV shows from Britain’s video and cine vaults. It took us back to what we thought were simpler times. This report is from David Sillito, a former colleague at BBC Radio York and now a BBC media and arts correspondent, about an independent British channel called Talking Pictures TV. It’s a national TV network run by a family from their garden shed in Hertfordshire, just north of London. Remarkable.
3 – Sang into our laptop cameras
We did it across the nation, for example as Christians turned a period of desperation and uncertainty into a time of hope:
This event was led by the musician Tim Hughes, and went viral. It involved over sixty-five churches and the Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded that it was ‘sensational’.
We did similar things in our own communities too. For example my Church, New Life Christian Centre in Wakefield got together every week to remotely record songs such as this:
It’s our version of a song written by Brian Johnson and Jeremy Riddle of Bethel Music in the USA. Our idea has been to bless our congregation each week as they tune in on Sunday mornings to our services on Facebook.
4 – Watched big-name stars sing into their laptop cameras
Elsewhere, we’ve been watching the likes of Dave Grohl, Chris Martin and Dua Lipa as BBC Radio 1 repurposed its ‘Live Lounge’ into the “Stay Home Live Lounge”. All proceeds went to charity. The result was a version of the song which became the first BBC single to reach the top spot since 1997 [er, that last one was The Teletubbies with Say Eh-Oh! You couldn’t make this stuff up…]. You may recognise some of the stars singing here…
5 – We made music in our kitchens
Back to the D-I-Y ethos of lockdown times, and an eclectic band from Leeds had, in my opinion, led the way in unusual Friday evening live Facebook gigs during these times. Mik Artistik’s Ego Trip is a trio who started to post regular videos to keep their fans happy. If you liked the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, or John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett, then you’ll enjoy this lot.
I urge you to track down their social media feeds to find out what they’re doing at present. Meanwhile, to reflect on the events we witnessed in May and June the band’s guitarist Jonny Flockton composed a triptych called Protest Song which he uploaded to social media with Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here. [When I figure out how to embed FB-video on this page I’ll do so, but until then just follow the links; they’re worth it]. By the way, Jonny is my guitar teacher at the Leeds College of Music.
Other artists have been staying at home working on their music too. For example, Paul Weller… on the stairs in this link… And here, in what looks like a converted barn.
6 – We left the kitchen and went into the garden shed
And Paul Bell, a Christian singer from Nottinghamshire, had been inspired by comments made by Jesus about worrying: “Look at the birds of the air; they don’t sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NIV). Listen carefully and you can hear the wildlife in the background…
7 – Went back to the kitchen to prove that Old Rockers can still sing
Others have used internet technology to show that they’re still highly skilled and creative musicians. After all these years, one surprise was Sammy Hagar who came into his own during these months. Which goes back to the topic of not worrying…
…the Bob Marley number given a rock treatment. Given the limitations of the technology, this is great music.
8 – We played drums in the conservatory (in our suit)
9 – Produced radio plays remotely
And back to radio, Nick Ahad’s play, Umbreen’s Junction, recorded remotely during lockdown was a critical success. The four-part comedy, featuring Reece Dinsdale, is all about Umbreen, “a Huddersfield schoolgirl who’s trying to work out what to do with her life.” It follows other stage plays written by Nick, a Yorkshire playwright and broadcaster. You can currently hear him on BBC Radio Leeds on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
10 – Made lockdown podcasts about being locked down
Finally, we made podcasts about making radio. It may be post-modern, but it’s good to take stock of what we’re doing in the radio industry. These two examples are by Dom Chambers. Here’s part one, and here’s the second part. What is clear is that the future is something to be predicted, waited for, but not worried about.
To finish: another in a short series of bizarre quotes from Beachcomber. He was a long-time columnist on the Daily Express (1924 to 1975) who excelled in that dry satirical humour which is so quintessentially English. This one is from J.B. Morton Cram Me With Eels! (ed. Mike Barfield), 1994, Methuen: London, p.200.
How To Measure Lard
‘Journalists should always acknowledge quotations,’ says a novelist. The story is told of a leader-writer who was always late with his copy. One day, when he was later than ever, the editor found him asleep at his desk. He awakened him and goaded him into action. When the copy was delivered, it consisted of an entire leading article from The Times, cut out and pasted onto sheets of paper, and prefaced by the words: ‘What does The Times mean by this?’
Which is, I think, strangely comforting in these uncertain times. Stay safe, and do what the Government and the health experts tell you to do.
Let me know your radio listening experiences, and of your creative activities during these days. Fill out the details in the comment box below.