54 episodes

From Armstrong to Zappa - music documentaries from the Radio 4 archive.

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    • Music

From Armstrong to Zappa - music documentaries from the Radio 4 archive.

    The Voices of Robert Wyatt

    The Voices of Robert Wyatt

    Robert Wyatt has been recognised as a prog-rock drummer, jazz composer, avant-garde cornet player, artist and activist in a wheelchair. But, above all else, he has been known by one of the most instantly recognisable and distinctive voices of the last fifty years.

    Forever associated with Shipbuilding, Elvis Costello's song written in reaction to the Falklands War, Wyatt's voice and the causes he gives voice to are intricately entwined.

    This intimate radio portrait, in his own words, traces Wyatt's journey from the psychedelic excesses of Soft Machine (appearing both with Jimi Hendrix and at the BBC Proms), through the life-changing accident that has confined him to a wheelchair for almost forty years, to recent celebrated musical projects that are reaching new audiences.


    Produced by Alan Hall.
    A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.

    • 29 min
    Jay-Z: From Brooklyn to the Boardroom

    Jay-Z: From Brooklyn to the Boardroom

    Ten years ago rap superstar Jay-Z was struggling to get a record deal after being spurned by every major label - so he started his own. A decade on, with 20 million CD sales under his belt, he is now a major music industry player, and currently reigns as president of the legendary Def Jam records.

    He built on his success with lucrative sidelines in the fashion industry, a chain of bars, his own brand of vodka, and is also part-owner of a professional basketball team. Now some of America's biggest brands are hiring him in hope his business savvy can help them, too.

    Finance guru Alvin Hall meets Shawn Carter a.k.a Jay-Z for an in-depth discussion charting the birth of his business empire and rise from the notorious Marcy Projects in Brooklyn to C.E.O’s office, revealing the story of a man who has become a brand in his own right.

    This programme was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on December 2, 2006.

    Presenter: Alvin Hall
    Producer: Richard Fenton-Smith
    Editor: Tony Phillips

    • 29 min
    Beat Mining with the Vinyl Hoover

    Beat Mining with the Vinyl Hoover

    Broadcaster Toby Amies digs into the archives to discover the value and significance of old vinyl.

    He uncovers a network of dealers and buyers, supplying a community of 'crate diggers' and 'beat miners' and a world in which samples from records bought for a few pence in a car boot sale can provide the basis for a million-selling hit.

    • 56 min
    Kate Bush

    Kate Bush

    In November 2005, Kate Bush broke a 12 year silence with the release of her double album 'Aerial', In this programme she gives a very rare interview to John Wilson in a special edition of Front Row, where she talks about why the album took so long to appear and tells some of the stories behind the songs.

    • 29 min
    Conjuring Halie

    Conjuring Halie

    Cerys Matthews celebrates the life of one of her musical heroines, the great gospel singer Mahalia ("Halie") Jackson, who died in 1972. Jackson became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world at the height of her popularity, inspiring singers like Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples. But she was also one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement in America, described by the legendary historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel as one of the bravest people he'd ever met.

    As a child she suffered illness, poverty and deprivation. The Church was her shelter. During the late 1920s, at the height of the great migration, she toured Illinois performing in churches. But it was in Chicago that she made her name and carved out a place for herself as the first professional gospel singer. She refused to sing secular music, a pledge she kept throughout her professional life. Even Louis Armstrong couldn't persuade her to sing jazz with him. By the 1950s and 60s, touring across Europe, she was being described as "the greatest spiritual singer alive." Throughout, she remained a close friend and comrade of Martin Luther King, travelling with him to the deepest parts of the segregated south and often singing at gatherings where he spoke including at the famous march on Washington.

    In this programme Cerys shares her passion for Mahalia with another huge fan, Sir Tom Jones. She also talks to gospel singer Vermettya Royster and to the Reverend Stanley Keeble both of whom knew and played with Mahalia. We also hear archive recordings of the historian Studs Terkel talking with Mahalia in the years when they became close friends. We hear from blues and gospel writers Val Wilmer and Viv Broughton. As well as hearing her live performances.


    Produced by Sarah Cuddon
    A Falling Tree Production for BBC Radio 4.

    • 29 min
    Fela Kuti Comes Home

    Fela Kuti Comes Home

    Fela Kuti is Africa's most famous musician. Before his death in 1997 he recorded nearly 50 albums and invented his own genre of music: Afrobeat. In the 70s and 80s his legendary club in Lagos was famed for housing the best live band on Earth. As witnessed by James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney.
    But there was more to Fela Kuti than ground-breaking music. He was also a political revolutionary who spent his life strongly criticising successive military regimes in his native Nigeria. While his contemporaries would sing in more general terms of oppression, Fela singled out his targets, personally naming them in songs which became popular all over Africa. It wasn't long before he was a hero to many working class Nigerians.
    But his taunts didn't go down so well with the authorities. Nor did his controversial lifestyle: he openly smoked marijuana, declared his home an independent state of Nigeria and married 27 women on the same day. The story goes he was the most arrested person in Nigerian history. He appeared in court hundreds of times, had spells in prison and permanently suffered from his injuries after regular beatings at the hands of the military and police. Fela believed they were also responsible for the death of his mother, who was thrown from an upstairs window when his home was stormed by 1000 soldiers.
    In 2009 his incredible story was turned in to a successful Broadway musical and this April it performed in Lagos for the first time. Fela Kuti was coming home. But while the rest of the world is finally paying attention to this musical and political revolutionary why will you struggle to hear any of his music on Nigerian radio? Have they forgotten Fela? Or do the powers that be still find his music offensive? Radio 4 visited Lagos to find the answers.

    • 29 min

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