50 episodes

In-depth conversations with some of the world's leading artists and creatives across theatre, visual arts, music, dance, film and more. Hosted by John Wilson.

This Cultural Life BBC Radio 4

    • Society & Culture
    • 5.0 • 19 Ratings

In-depth conversations with some of the world's leading artists and creatives across theatre, visual arts, music, dance, film and more. Hosted by John Wilson.

    Eliza Carthy

    Eliza Carthy

    Musician Eliza Carthy was born into an English folk dynasty. The daughter of acclaimed folk singers Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, she joined the family business at a young age as a singer and violinist, playing with her parents as Waterson Carthy and with her mother, her aunt Lal and her cousin Marry as The Waterdaughters. As a solo artist and bandleader, Eliza has explored the roots of folk and expanded the repertoire. Awarded an MBE in 2014, she was twice nominated for the Mercury Prize for album of the year, and in 2021 became the president of the English Folk Dance and Music Society.

    She tells John Wilson about the first time she attended the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in 1989, aged 13. Standing on the main stage at sunset overlooking the mountains and sea was a defining moment at the start of her career. She also discusses the influence that singer Billy Bragg and Scottish folk rock band Shooglenifty had on her music. Eliza also talks about the impact of the pandemic on the folk music community and the personal loss of her mother.

    Producer: Edwina Pitman

    • 43 min
    Damien Chazelle

    Damien Chazelle

    Oscar-winning film-maker Damien Chazelle talks to John Wilson about his career and cultural influences.

    As a child, Chazelle first started experimenting with making films using his dad’s old camcorder. After studying filmmaking at Harvard, he drew on his own experiences as a skilful jazz drummer to make his debut feature film Whiplash, about a music student and his abusive teacher. His movie La La Land, a musical in which star-crossed lovers sing and dance through the backstreets of LA, won six more Academy Awards. Damien explains how much that film owes to the Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand's 1964 romantic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. He also reveals how the Los Angeles paintings of David Hockney, and in particular his 1967 work A Bigger Splash, inspired the feel and the palate of La La Land. Chazelle's latest movie Babylon explores the birth of the film industry itself and the painful transition from silent movies to the talkies, and is inspired, in part, by the classic musical Singin' in The Rain. He also explains how his love of west coat jazz musicians including Stan Getz and Chet Baker has influenced his creative output.

    Producer: Edwina Pitman

    • 43 min
    Stephen Hough

    Stephen Hough

    The British born musician, composer and writer Stephen Hough grew up in Cheshire, won the piano section of the very first BBC Young Musician of the Year competition as a teenager, before moving to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music. Over the last 30 years, Stephen Hough has made more than 60 albums and is globally renowned for his thrilling live performances of a wide classical piano repertoire. Knighted in 2022 for services to music, he is also a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music, holds the International Chair of Piano Studies at his alma mater, the Royal Northern College in Manchester, and is a member of the faculty at The Juilliard School.

    Stephen talks to John Wilson about some of the most important influences on his musical career, starting with a 1962 LP called Keyboard Giants of the Past. This compilation album, bought for him just after he started to learn the piano aged 6, included artists from the earliest days of recording such as Ignace Paderewski, Vladimir de Pachmann and Sergei Rachmaninoff, all of whom inspired him with their rich artistry and individual styles.

    He reveals how Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius helped him back into the world of classical music after suffering a breakdown while at Cheetham's School of Music, and began his conversion to Catholicism as a teenager. Stephen also describes how leaving Cheshire for studies at the Juilliard School of Music in New York was his coming-of-age in many ways and how winning the prestigious Naumburg International Piano Competition while a student there, launched his career aged 21.

    Producer: Edwina Pitman

    • 44 min
    Whoopi Goldberg

    Whoopi Goldberg

    Whoopi Goldberg is the one of very few people to have won all four of America’s big awards - Emmy, Grammy Oscar and Tony - for her work in film, theatre and television. Brought up by a single mother in a New York housing project, Whoopi Goldberg first made her name on stage with a solo comedy show before making her film debut in an adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple.

    Discussing her biggest cultural turning points with John Wilson, she recalls her earliest experiences of acting at the Hudson Guild, a children’s community project. Having struggled at school, she was encouraged by her mother to make the most of free cultural opportunities in the city, including museums and public lectures, which fuelled her fascination with language. She also remembers seeing the Joseph Papp Theatre troupe, which performed free Shakespeare plays in New York parks.

    Whoopi recalls her friend and mentor Mike Nichols, the director of The Graduate who, after seeing her solo stage show in San Francisco, directed her on Broadway. After that show became a hit, Whoopi Goldberg was invited by Steven Spielberg to perform at his private theatre leading to her casting in the role of Celie in his 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, a film debut that earned Whoopi Goldberg an Academy Award nomination. Since then, she has made around a hundred films, including Ghost, for which she won an Academy Award, and Sister Act. She has hosted the Academy Awards several times, and has forged a career as an opinionated television personality. Whoopi also talks about her latest movie Till, the story of Mamie Till-Bradley, who pursued justice after the murder of her 14-year old son Emmett in 1955.

    Producer: Edwina Pitman

    • 44 min
    Sam Mendes

    Sam Mendes

    Theatre and film director Sam Mendes first made his mark when he launched London’s Donmar Warehouse theatre in the early 90s. He has won Olivier and Tony Awards for numerous productions including Cabaret, The Ferryman and most recently, The Lehman Trilogy. He made his cinematic debut directing American Beauty in 1999, and won the first of two Oscars - the second was for the war film 1917. He also directed the two James Bond movies Skyfall and Spectre, and was knighted in 2020.

    Sam tells John Wilson about his earliest memories of feeling the thrill of live performance, at the London production of Godspell in 1971. Later, how the work of Shakespeare came alive for him while watching productions at the RSC, and in particular, a memorable performance of Antony and Cleopatra starring Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren. He reveals how his directorship of the Donmar Warehouse, which established his reputation as a ground-breaking theatre director, all began with a chance late night stroll around Covent Garden.

    Seeing Wim Wenders' 1984 film Paris, Texas was to be a formative influence on Sam when he eventually came to direct his debut feature American Beauty and later films including Jarhead and Revolutionary Road. Casting the actor Daniel Craig in his second film Road to Perdition, despite a poor audition was to have a significant impact on both their careers. Sam also talks about moving into writing and making more personal films including 1917 based on the war stories of his grandfather, and Empire of Light, partly inspired by his childhood experiences of witnessing his own mother's struggles with her mental health.

    Producer: Edwina Pitman

    • 44 min
    Tim Minchin

    Tim Minchin

    Comedian, actor and composer Tim Minchin wrote the songs for the musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl story Matilda which, after more than a decade of sell-out West End shows, has now also been adapted for the big screen. His stage musical version of the film Groundhog Day earned him an Olivier award and seven Tony nominations on Broadway. He also co-wrote and starred in the television comedy drama series Upright, and has performed solo shows around the world.

    Tim Minchin tells John Wilson about his most important cultural influences and creative inspirations, starting with his upbringing in Perth, Australia. He recalls his earliest attempts at songwriting, influenced by TS Eliot and 90s grunge rock bands, which led to him writing a musical version of Love's Labour's Lost for a youth theatre company whilst he was still at school. Tim chooses the American singer-songwriter Ben Folds as one of his key influences, and particularly the 1997 Ben Folds Five album Whatever Ever And Ever, Amen. He also cites being commissioned to write the songs for The Royal Shakespeare Company's Matilda The Musical, and working with director Matthew Warchus, as a major turning creative turning point. Perhaps surprisingly, Tim chooses an ill-fated musical project, Larrikins, as another important moment in his career. He reflects on how the animated adventure, which was due to star Hugh Jackman and Margot Robbie, was cancelled by studio bosses and the effect that experience had on him.

    Producer: Edwina Pitman

    • 43 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
19 Ratings

19 Ratings

cloudhand1 ,

Excellent listening

I was sad to hear that John Wilson was leaving Front Row, so it’s wonderful to hear him again with his gentle and insightful questions exploring the arts and culture.

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