In praise of John Fahey

He's my favourite guitarist and I want posters for my bedroom wall.

Everyone needs to get rid of his or her friends and find £79.99 and a free weekend. You may need something to drink as well. The Dust to Dust record label has just released a vast box set of 115 rare recordings by John Fahey for the Fonotone label between 1958-1965. It also comes with a beautifully put together book, all of which I suspect has taken someone an incredibly long time and an immense amount of love. I haven't read the book yet and will probably forget to for some time but have absorbed myself so deeply in the 5 CDs that I fear I may never return. From what I can gather they have spared not a solitary hum in compiling this slab of joy. Every last recording has been included, so it isn't all that surprising that there is the odd track that I may not revisit all that often ("I Shall Not Be Moved" springs to mind).

For me, it is a little odd to hear him sing so often and even more so to hear him talk. I kind of prefer it when he doesn't. I love when he comes storming in and firing out the other side without an utterance as to what he just did or how he did it. He's my favourite guitarist ever and I want posters for my bedroom wall.

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Was the BBC's World on the Move trying to cheer up coverage of the refugee crisis with a beautiful woman?

Angelina Jolie looked nervous as she addressed the threatre. But if anyone should feel foolish, it ought to be the BBC.

“Welcome to this special broadcast on Radio 4 and the BBC News Channel in the UK, BBC World News and BBC World Service radio. We are also being streamed live on the BBC News website . . .” The presenter Mishal Husain continues a day of debate about the “mass movement of people” – a special event made even more special by the live involvement of Angelina Jolie Pitt, a special envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (16 May, 12.15pm).

At the BBC Radio Theatre in London, Jolie takes to the podium wearing the sort of modest, grey wrap-top combo and wedding hair once favoured by Indira Gandhi – a touch of the noble Vanessa Redgrave in Howards End – and speaks sonorously about the migration crisis. “Deeply worrying . . . millions of refugees live without proper food . . . major test of our values . . .” A couple of times, she fluffs her lines, evidently nervous. Perhaps, I wondered, she is even feeling a little foolish (“I know that no one can speak for 60 million displaced people . . .”)? But if anybody ought to have felt foolish, it was the BBC.

Given the latest, stunning corporation figures – one in every 16 adults across the world now uses BBC News – to be seen playing along with the international charity jet set is definitively not good enough. What organisations such as the UN refer to as winning the media narrative by using the likes of Jolie Pitt is not just sickeningly vain and distracting (and entirely diminishes the seriousness of the institution) but transparently is what it seems – a bit of light relief from all this terrible stuff that has to be debated and decided all day between corporate heads.

The irony when Jolie Pitt or Emma Watson addresses Davos in particular! When you see photographs of them glad-handing caviar-plump executives (who probably live on a whole floor of the Dorchester), it is hard not to feel that they are unwittingly playing into the idea of virility and corruption and heads of state. The BBC can attempt to legitimise it but the “special envoy” tag in relation to a beautiful actress amounts to one thing only, even on the radio: the cheering up of an otherwise unconscionably depressing issue with a hot bird. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad