Radio - Rachel Cooke
Yes, Antony, you might be a star - but round this way we don't like a lot of splother, see?
I feel I've been neglecting Radio 2 in this column, though there are good reasons for this. On paper, I'm the perfect Radio 2 listener. For one thing, I'm in my mid-thirties. For another, I'm locked in a music time warp. Either I listen to stuff that came out before I was born (Bobby Short is my current favourite), or I stick on the albums I liked as a student (The Smiths and, er, other 1980s tunes too embarrassing to go into here). The only new album I have bought this year is I Am a Bird Now by Antony and the Johnsons, which won this year's Mercury Music Prize - and I got that months after everyone else, and then only because I think that he sounds like the bastard child of Nina Simone and Boy George. So, in theory, Radio 2's combination of the old and the (not-too-scary) new should be right up my strasse.
But when I turn it on, it irritates beyond belief. Is there anyone in the land who can stand Ken Bruce (weekday mornings) wittering on about absolutely nothing with that prim-sounding woman who reads the travel news? And how does Jonathan Ross (Saturday mornings) get away with so much chuntering on what is essentially a music station? As for Russell Davies's excellent Sunday afternoon show being trimmed to make room for the utterly wooden Elaine Paige and her wretched musicals, it's enough to make you punch a wall. I do like Richard Allinson, but that's because he sounds like Gary Davies, who was a big Radio 1 DJ when I was doing O-levels. It certainly has nothing to do with his taste; he's the kind of man who likes Supertramp and Yes. In any case, you can hardly ever find him any more.
What about the long-serving Paul Gambaccini? I can never make my mind up about Gambo. Though extremely knowledgeable, he can be a bit prissy. I caught The Class of 2005 (Wednesdays, 10pm), in which Gambo presents his choice of the "breakthrough artists" of the year. In part one, he talked to James Blunt and - and this was why I listened - Antony, of Antony and the Johnsons. The show was interesting because both Blunt, a former army officer, and Antony, a man who likes Yazoo and is not afraid to admit it, are more articulate than your average pop star: they speak in sentences and use adjectives. But it was also pretty funny. Gambo was on top form. Apparently, the first time he heard Blunt's "You're Beautiful", he gave up halfway through on account of its "barnyard language". Blunt sounded chastened. "I don't swear often," he said meekly. Yes, I know. Rock and roll.
And then there were Gambo's compliments. Talk about damning with faint praise. "It fits the 'light FM' format," he told Blunt, of his album. "I see what you mean," said Blunt, after a pause. Naturally, I was dying to hear what he might say to Antony, and it was not a disappointment. After a fairly reverential build-up, he came in for the kill by asking Antony if he "edited" the pop out of his music. Antony, with an amazed titter, replied that he tried to edit it in. Gambo had now hit his stride. Did Antony think that his success was the result of "sufficient talent and favourable circumstances"? Do note his waspishly precise use of the word "sufficient".
If Gambo spoke with a Yorkshire accent rather than a ripe American one, he'd be pure comedy. He's like something out of Alan Bennett: yes, Antony, you might well be an internationally acclaimed star with a bestselling album to your name. But round this way, we don't like a lot of splother, see.