Get folked

Save yourself from pap pop with accordions and violins.

January can be a bit quiet when it comes to music. A lot of it is taken up by people in the industry predicting what will be popular in the year ahead. I'm not all that fussed about knowing what you or I are going to listen to this year. I'd like to think my favourite records of 2011 will
be by people I have yet to hear, or that perhaps some new form of alien sound is going to descend on the planet and change music for ever.

I do know, however, what I will be listening to for the next couple of months because I am already listening to it and have been for quite some time. I listen to music quite erratically and in quite an unprofessional and childish way - perhaps not listening to anything for a day or two, then a sack of albums in just a few hours. When I find something I like, I tend to listen to it over and over again until I get it so thoroughly stuck in my head that I don't want to listen to anything else. Over the years I have managed to train my brain to be able to pick out very quickly the things it might like to get stuck in it. I thought perhaps I could suggest some new things you might like to get stuck in yours.

My most recent obsession is an American folk band called Dark Dark Dark, a rather lost- looking bunch whose numbers fluctuate and who briefly claimed they met as a result of choosing to sleep under the same bridge. I met them recently at a gig in London and they are a slightly odd and, by their own admission, pretentious lot. Their songs contain a great deal of accordion and piano, sitting often quite dramatically at the front of most of their songs. Those instruments alone could make even the most bitter heart swoon before anyone has sung a word.

I gush a little when I talk about Dark Dark Dark and this is because the noise they make is stupendously beautiful. It is also tragic and has a tendency to make me cry a bit, which makes them quite hard to introduce on the radio. Despite their ability to bring out my more pathetic side, I have managed to play their records so often that I've been accused of having a vested interest in their sales figures, which would be absurd, as they currently don't have any records you can buy. Their album, Wild Go, is out in the spring but until then you will have to put up with streaming their records on the internet. Do it as often as I have and soon your brain will be able to play it back to you perfectly without the need of a stereo.

Shit Horse, from Brooklyn, have a silly name but are really rather good, moving wildly from screeching blues to psychedelic rock with the odd moment of tranquillity in between. I haven't heard anything like them before and am therefore rather excited by them. I get the impression they don't take themselves all that seriously so perhaps it is our duty to do that for them. Their album is called They Shit Horses, Don't They?, which isn't going to make our task any easier.

There's one more band that I can guarantee won't get the attention they deserve. A Hawk and a Hacksaw are a couple from New Mexico. With just the use of an accordion and a violin - we'll call it "Balkan folk" - they can fill the largest of rooms with joy. Their album Cervantine is out in March; it will make you want to run away with a family of gypsies.

I am trying to assist you in letting good music get stuck in your head because if you leave a void, something awful might find its way in. My little sister has a nasty but effective trick she plays, which involves saying, "Simply Red - 'Fairground'" when she greets you in the morning. It stays with you all day, torturing your mind. Oh no, you haven't got that stuck in your head, have you? Quick, go and listen to the bands I mentioned - they'll wash it out. l

Tom Ravenscroft's radio show is on BBC 6 Music every Friday at 9pm

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Hillary and the Viking: dramatising life with the Clintons

August radio should be like a corkboard, with a few gems pinned here and there. Heck, Don’t Vote for Him is one.

Now is the season of repeats and stand-in presenters. Nobody minds. August radio ought to be like a corkboard – things seemingly long pinned and faded (an Angela Lansbury doc on Radio 2; an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor on Radio 4 Extra) and then the occasional bright fragment. Like Martha Argerich playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1 at the Albert Hall (Prom 43, 17 August).

But on Radio 4, two new things really stand out. An edition of In the Criminologist’s Chair (16 August, 4pm) in which the former bank robber (and diagnosed psychopath) Noel “Razor” Smith recalls, among other memorable moments, sitting inside a getaway car watching one of his fellows “kissing his bullets” before loading. And three new dramas imagining key episodes in the Clintons’ personal and political lives.

In the first (Heck, Don’t Vote for Him, 6 August, 2.30pm), Hillary battles with all the “long-rumoured allegations of marital infidelity” during the 1992 Democratic primaries. Fenella Woolgar’s (brilliant, unburlesqued) Hillary sounds like a woman very often wearing a fantastically unhappy grin, watching her own political ambitions slip through her fingers. “I deserve something,” she appeals to her husband, insisting on the position of attorney general should he make it to the top – but “the Viking” (his nickname at college, due to his great head of hair) is off, gladhanding the room. You can hear Woolgar’s silent flinch, and picture Hillary’s face as it has been these past, disquieting months, very clearly.

I once saw Bill Clinton speak at a community college in New Jersey during the 2008 Obama campaign. Although disposed not to like him, I found his wattage, without question, staggering. Sweeping through the doors of the canteen, he amusedly removed the microphone from the hands of the MC (a local baseball star), switched it off, and projected for 25 fluent minutes (no notes). Before leaving he turned and considered the smallest member of the audience – a cross-legged child clutching a picture book of presidents. In one gesture, Clinton flipped it out of the boy’s hands, signed the cover – a picture of Lincoln – and was gone.

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 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue