A week listening to … Classic FM


Despite its smorgasbord of celebrity DJs, a self-promoting Classic FM manages to retain a soothing quality – until David Mellor turns up Because my dentist plays Classic FM in her surgery, I will forever associate it with a rather painful series of root canal treatments. But I too have employed it for its soothing properties – tuning in as a last ditch attempt to calm frayed nerves on long family car journeys. It never works but due to Classic FM’s land-grab of the dial between 100 and 102MHz its often the only station my temperamental car radio can pick up. Not that we ever stay listening for long – I think eight minutes is our record before the quest to find a bit of Rihanna or Lady Gaga starts up again.

This week I endeavoured to listen to quite a bit more. It wasn’t always easy. I have always been a snob about pop, but my ignorance about classical music means this is the best I can do when describing what I like and dislike: if it sounds as if it could have been in a Hitchcock movie I’ll like it; if it sounds as if it’d be played during some show-jumping highlights I probably won’t. Sadly Classic FM seems rather full of the latter.

But then this is the point. Whereas Radio 3 can be viewed as somewhat intimidating and professorial, Classic FM is approachable and demystifying. During the daytime, when smooth but slightly simpering presenters Mark Forrest, John Suchet and Jamie Crick reign supreme, fielding listener requests, Handel and Mozart rule the schedule much as Adele and The Wanted do on Radio 1.

The days float by and if it wasn’t for the constant reminders that I was listening to Classic FM, “now with more music”, followed by commercials for Classic FM compilations, Classic FM concerts and Classic FM’s dating services, then I would have disappeared into a permanent orchestral trance. It is these interruptions, alongside such furniture as “The weather bought to you by Benecol” that I’d imagine many find rather vulgar. I was thankful for the punctuation.

Classic FM in the evening is much better, when John Brunning’s enthusiasm and knowledge lift the station beyond the realms of pleasant background music. The big star names pad out the weekend schedule where Changing Rooms fop Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Myleene Klass bookend the schedules. Klass’s mission is to “keep things relaxed”, an objective she achieves with some panache. There was no rambling or irrelevant chatter during her late Sunday show, just respectful announcing of what she’d just played and was about to play, rather like I very vaguely remember them doing on pop radio once – although she did reveal that she had “giant man hands”.

The A to Z of Classic FM Music with Alex James on Sunday afternoon delivered a little more personality with the Blur bassist turned Barbour-wearing cheese lord waxing lyrical through “classical alphabetti spaghetti”. This week it was the letter B. I was expecting James to draw some analogies between classical music and pop but he completely neglected to ponder if the band Modest Mouse and composer Modest Mussorgsky were related . Instead James furnished us with the information that to him brass bands were the “musical equivalent of freshly baked bread, but mixed with heavenly clouds and fresh roast coffee, not to mention rolling verdant valleys”. I wonder what the roadies down The Good Mixer would have to say about that?

Sadly, as well as the dentists, Classic FM did remind me of something else I’d rather forget existed – David Mellor. His Saturday teatime rundown of new CDs found him goshing and gollying about the latest Naxos reissue and bemoaning soprano Kate Royal, whose “diction sometimes leaves a bit to be desired”.

Ever listened to Classic FM? What do you make of it? And what classical music radio shows elsewhere should we be listening to?

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