Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead

Music

London Jazz Festival, 9-18 November, various locations

Opening tonight with a "Century of Song" gala at the Barbican centre, this landmark music festival is returning to London for its annual November stint. Exploding across the capital with a seemingly endless line-up of improvised music, this is guaranteed to keep all jazz aficionados positively paralysed with choice. From established performing legends to promising young newcomers, the twenty-odd festival gigs a night promises to show a unique snapshot of all that’s interesting in the world of jazz. Highlights include veritable living legend Herbie Hancock and last year’s Grammy Best New Artist winner, Esperanza Spalding. Jon Snow even takes a break from presenting Channel 4 news to show off his apparently "beautiful voice" in a duet with Mara Carlyle.

Festival

London Storytelling Festival, 9-18 November, Leicester Square Theatre

For the second year running, London Storytelling Festival returns to Leicester Square Theatre for ten days of tales, talks and teaching. Literary fans can hear from award-winning writers and performs, and a schedule of workshops is also in place. Aspiring writers can gain priceless tips from a weekend masterclass with Martin Dockery – seven time finalist in The Moth’s grandslam storytelling championship. Story-writing skills can also be honed at workshops with Sarah Bennetto, including the chance of reading your work live at a showcase. This unique festival sits somewhere between stand-up comedy, spoken word and a literary salon. Billed as ‘a great excuse to be snuggled up somewhere warm with fellow like-minds’, what more could you want from an autumnal evening?

Comedy

Josie Long, 10 November, Soho Theatre

“Hello there! My name is Josie Long and I am 30 years old and that is frankly a little alarming,” explains the three-time Foster’s Award Nominee in the introduction to her new show. Long may not be the first person to find that crossing the triple-decade milestone has put her in a reflective mood, but it's certainly funnier than most people’s. This, the sixth solo standup show from the amiable Oxford graduate, is written following her "political awakening". Not that her newly-found serious subject matter has affected the amount of laughs; critics agree this is the best offering yet from the TV panel show regular. Consisting of a spot of soul-searching, a tinge of Tory-bashing and an earnest contemplation of the frantic need to tick a bucket list in the last months of your 29th year, this show proves that the unstoppable comedian is exponentially increasing in talent.

Art

Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour, Somerset House, 8 November - 27 January, 2013

Perhaps the most iconic street photographer of all times, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a pioneer of monochrome but endlessly disparaging of the potential of colour photography. This exhibition takes an unusual slant through his oeuvre, re-assessing his influence on future colour photography. Centred around the rare exhibiton of ten extremely little-known works by the master, curator William A. Ewing seeks to find a new lens with which to re-examine the icon. He juxtaposes Carteir-Bresson's work alongside 75 works by 15 international contemporary photographers. The message? A categorical example fo the directionla influence he exerted on the pioneers of the medium he detested.

Theatre

People, National Theatre, until 9 February, 2013

When a playwright has a reputation approaching that of national-treasure status like Alan Bennett, success is almost guaranteed. Indeed, seat for People have been snapped up so swiftly that, unless you’re very lucky, you’ll have to wait a few weeks for the new batch of ticket slots. Following the success of The History Boys, Bennet brings us a new satire on – of all things – the National Trust. Described by Bennet in the preface as “a play for England, sort of” -  this is a story of upper-middle class snobbery descending into family drama. Nicholas Hytner directs.

Herbie Hancock is one of the artists performing at London Jazz Festival (Photo credit: RAFA RIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Harry Styles. Photo: Getty
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How podcasts are reviving the excitement of listening to the pop charts

Unbreak My Chart and Song Exploder are two music programmes that provide nostalgia and innovation in equal measure.

“The world as we know it is over. The apo­calypse is nigh, and he is risen.” Although these words came through my headphones over the Easter weekend, they had very little to do with Jesus Christ. Fraser McAlpine, who with Laura Snapes hosts the new pop music podcast Unbreak My Chart, was talking about a very different kind of messiah: Harry Styles, formerly of the boy band One Direction, who has arrived with his debut solo single just in time to save the British charts from becoming an eternal playlist of Ed Sheeran’s back-catalogue.

Unbreak My Chart is based on a somewhat nostalgic premise. It claims to be “the podcast that tapes the Top Ten and then talks about it at school the next day”. For those of us who used to do just that, this show takes us straight back to Sunday afternoons, squatting on the floor with a cassette player, finger hovering over the Record button as that tell-tale jingle teased the announcement of a new number one.

As pop critics, Snapes and McAlpine have plenty of background information and anecdotes to augment their rundown of the week’s chart. If only all playground debates about music had been so well informed. They also move the show beyond a mere list, debating the merits of including figures for music streamed online as well as physical and digital sales in the chart (this innovation is partly responsible for what they call “the Sheeran singularity” of recent weeks). The hosts also discuss charts from other countries such as Australia and Brazil.

Podcasts are injecting much-needed innovation into music broadcasting. Away from the scheduled airwaves of old-style radio, new formats are emerging. In the US, for instance, Song Exploder, which has just passed its hundredth episode, invites artists to “explode” a single piece of their own music, taking apart the layers of vocal soundtrack, instrumentation and beats to show the creative process behind it all. The calm tones of the show’s host, Hrishikesh Hirway, and its high production values help to make it a very intimate listening experience. For a few minutes, it is possible to believe that the guests – Solange, Norah Jones, U2, Iggy Pop, Carly Rae Jepsen et al – are talking and singing only for you. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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