Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Spoilt for choice, really, songs about the radio abound all over, and it is the immediate word association I link to listen, watching or touching the radio seeming always a bit pointless. Let alone smelling. But there are only a few that go as far as to spell it out, and Nanci came up top of my pile this morning.

And I've been wondering what's been happening to Nanci Griffith of late. For a time, in the 80s, she was huge over here, well, as huge as what-was-then-country-and-is-now-americana got in the UK at that time. She seemed to be forever touring her neat little ankle socks off, perhaps taking advantage of the local enthusiasms, playing venues such as the Birmingham Irish Centre on more than one occasion. (Come to think, there has always been a hibernian appetite for twangy guitars and half her band were from Ireland, so maybe the clue is in the name of the hall.) I snapped up all her early records up until suddenly I reached peak Nanci, round about the brace of covers albums she put out, somehow feeling she had lost her muse. The truth, it seems, is more prosaic, she was losing her health, with breast cancer, treated successfully, and a prolonged spell of what was (euphemistically?) called writers block. There have been sporadic records this century, but her innocent sparkle seems anachronistic now. But then, hell, it was a delight, her quirky introductions, all in look at li'l ol' Texas me high school prom voice, giving me as much delight as the songs. I strongly commend her 'One Fair Summer Evening' live opus from 1988 to catch that flavour at its sweetest, just one stir ahead of saccharine.

So this song, 'Listen to the Radio', what about it? Well, it's from her 8th record, 'Storms', the one where she was being groomed slightly away from her folk-country hybrid into a hoped for wider appeal, with a more easily consumed and slightlier (slighter?) AOR sensibility. Produced by Glyn Johns, the alchemist of the early Eagles output, and without a fiddle or a steel guitar in sight, it was initially dissed by the purists, but I have to say its legacy has lasted longer than its forbears. It sounds good to these ears, my delight heightened as I read the names of Bernie Leadon, Albert Lee and Jerry Donoghue amongst the contributing musicians. The lyrics are typical Griffith, harking back to west texas backroads, nostalgia tinged with regret, loneliness never far away, but :
                                           When you can't find a friend  
                                           You've still got the radio  
                                           When you can't find a friend  
                                           You've still got the radio …,

words with which I can relate with ease. So my days by the radio were an oceanwide away, a room in a shared house in London, south of the thames, but, 10 years later, settled in Birmingham, I could remember well the feeling. Do people still listen to the radio in this way, I wonder? I know I don't, beyond an occasional catch of the morning news in the car. Are there now songs about Spotify playlists, or YouTube channels? Perhaps there are.

Go on, then, listen to the radio.......

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