Bob Dylan obsessives “belong to the category of person you don’t want to get stuck next to in the pub”, said James Marriott in The Times. I am myself a lover of Dylan and a “believer in his genius”. But I can do without the Dylanologist acolytes, with their endless chat about bootlegs and “boring theories about the exact compositional history of Visions of Johanna”. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find myself enjoying Is it Rolling, Bob? an “endearingly (not eye-glazingly) nerdy” podcast about the musician, whose new album has just garnered his best reviews in decades. The hosts are actors Kerry Shale and Lucas Hare, and over recent months their Dylan-fan guests have included author Neil Gaiman, playwright David Greig, comedian Nish Kumar and the Shakespeare expert James Shapiro, “who sounds curiously like a scholarly Donald Trump (just listen)”.
Radio 4’s Art of Now strand (70 episodes available via BBC Sounds) sometimes comes up with absolute gems, said Charlotte Runcie in The Daily Telegraph. One superb recent episode, Hearing Architecture, was an intriguing “invitation to think about buildings in a different way: not about how they look, but about how they sound and feel”. Its focus was Chris Downey, an architect who became completely blind after surgery to remove a brain tumour in 2008. Remarkably, he rebuilt his career around sound design, and the different noises and atmospheres produced by different materials and surfaces. His story worked perfectly on radio; like Downey, we couldn’t see any of the buildings being visited and discussed. We could hear them, though, thanks to a “deftly woven aural texture” created by producer Michael Umney. This was “one of those programmes that changes, even if only a little, the way you perceive the world”.
A brand new podcast I strongly recommend is StoryNotes, said Fiona Sturges in the FT. In the first episode of this single-story anthology series, Grandma, audio producer Alice Homewood explains that Margaret, her grandmother, “lived through enough stories to fill several lives”. Through interviews conducted by Margaret’s son John, we become absorbed in a real-life story of family secrets, hardships and stoicism. It’s an “extremely poignant piece of audio, and a vivid snapshot of a different time”. Another series highlighting short works by audio producers across the UK is In Your Place, introduced by presenter Gemma Cairney. In Natural Born Isolator, Rhiannon Walsh, who suffers from the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia, describes her experience of lockdown in a one-bedroom flat in a Glasgow tenement. It’s “full of warmth, candour and detail – and the production is elegantly understated”.