The week in audio: Uncanny; Just One Thing; Built to Thrive and more


Uncanny – BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds

Just One Thing – BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds

Built To Thrive – Amazon Music Original

The Cabinet of Jazz – Jazz FM

The Flipside – BBC Sounds

It’s beginning to feel a lot like autumn (NB not Christmas yet, ta, shops), so let’s turn to the once-traditional methods of occupying those longer nights. I mean, of course, the telling of scary stories. And – woo-ooh! – here’s Danny Robbins, who, with his last podcast The Battersea Poltergeist, established himself as the audio hero of all things spooky. He has a new show out this week: Uncanny. It’s a hoot.

Like the Battersea Poltergeist, Uncanny concerns itself with real life. The creepy cases it discusses – ghosts, UFOs, mysterious beasts – take place within living memory, and Robbins interviews those involved. Like the BP, too, he has two experts on hand to discuss the stories (this week: parapsychologist Caroline Watt and ordained minister Peter Laws), and Nadine Shah provides the atmospheric soundtrack (CHECK). No dramatic inserts to illustrate what’s going on, though, so things move more quickly. First up is the tale of room 611, a student room at Belfast’s Queen’s University shared, in 1981, by two first year undergraduate scientists. One, Ken, tells Robbins the story of a strange event that happened in the room. It’s definitely scary – he uses the words “pure, distilled evil” – and hard to explain. Soon after, Ken has an even stranger night. Plus his roommate has his own weird tale; as do the students who lived in the room before him, and those who took the room the year after.

The story is eerie, but quite straightforward in the telling. Robbins makes it into something more. He’s full of drama (“This is the biggest investigation into the paranormal… EVER”), and great at creating suspense; taking breaks from the action to recap, or discuss the case with his experts. It all adds to the fun. Plus, he involves the audience. At the end of this first episode, listeners are invited to contact the show with our own explanations, or insights into the ‘case’, and the show will return to Ken later in the series.

There are other forces swirling around this time of year: the desire to get a bit happier – a bit fitter, a bit calmer – seems to be prevalent right now, as our current environment is already in a handcart, careering towards room 611. Several podcasts aim to help. Dr Michael Mosley’s Just One Thing is one, where, each episode, the cheerful telly doc suggests a small, scientifically-based, lifestyle change to improve wellbeing. There are plenty to try, from eating dark chocolate to imagining you’re better at a sport (this works, apparently!) or playing video games to stimulate your brain. Though gaming, eating chocolate and imagining yourself fitter doesn’t necessarily lead to a more vital life, as any parent of teenagers knows. Moseley is an upbeat host, and every week he gets someone to join in the experiment, to see if it works. It always does, and this is jolly to hear.

Another podcast, from another famous doc, started last week. Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s Built To Thrive is a Monday to Friday daily offering, and is more hand-holding than Moseley’s: last week he suggested practical methods for reducing anxiety, such as not reaching for your phone when you wake up, or writing down when you’re stressed, and urged listeners to join in. (Though he also urged us to contact him via various social media accounts, which isn’t very… no phone.) Chatterjee already has a very successful health podcast, Feel Better, Live More, with over 200 loooooong episodes to choose from (over two hours for each). This new show, from Amazon Music, capitalises on the shorter, bitesize shows that accompany Feel Better, Live More. How Chatterjee is going to maintain his own wellness – or his doctoring – when he’s making so many podcasts is another matter.

Over on Jazz FM, Marcus Brigstocke has a new show, The Cabinet of Jazz, where he invites well-known jazz devotees to imagine a government of musicians. An accomplished host, in the first episode, Brigstocke maneouvred easily past a lack-lustre live audience into a nice interview with his first guest, Jay Rayner of this parish. This is a well-put-together, well paced programme, and the music gives it a welcoming feel.

Just time for another warm host, Paris Lees, and her new show, The Flipside, which tells “two stories from different sides of the same coin”. So far, she’s covered whether speaking a second language changes your personality (hmmm) and swinging culture versus celibacy for women (excellent). Lees is great, but the first episode needed sharper editing; it felt bizarrely flat when compared to the second. Still, this, too, is a friendly listen, and another show to cosy up with in your velour lounging trackie.



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