I’m tired of writing about the BBC‘s coverage of Middle Eastern rebellions. I need a break. Let’s check out a different section. How about “Music?” Hmm… “For One Night Only: BB King Live at the Regal.” A narrative radio segment of American blues music. Why not?

Hey, this is pretty interesting! Who knew the BBC had soul?

BBC Radio’s “For One Night Only” recently went back on the air after taking a three-year hiatus. Paul Gambaccini is the narrator, and he covers musical events of all sorts, from Elvis’s Dec. 1968 TV appearance to Leonard Bernstein’s conducting Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in Berlin on Christmas Day, 1989.

BB King, "Live at the Regal" (www.bbc.co.uk)

The BB King episode, about the “Live at the Regal” album that has become the gold standard for live blues albums, is very well done. Gambaccini does a solid job of constructing a beginning, middle and end. I never knew how BB King got his name (“BB” stands for “Blues Boy,” acquired while working for a radio station in Memphis), and now I do.

The episode is well recorded, with clear sound quality for the interviews, narration and actual clips from the album. The episode actually goes into why the sound quality for the album is good, which I appreciated.

Great job mixing up the interviews: the local DJ who sponsored the show, backing organist Duke Jethro (the only backing musician from that show still alive), guitar legend Carlos Santana (who gives some context to the album and its impact), and of course King himself.

My favorite segment was when interviewees discussed how, due to limited radio play, Black musicians had to build their reputations on live performances. The interviewees proceeded to name the key theaters in major cities that could make or break a Black musician’s career (including the Apollo in New York and the Regal in Chicago). Gambaccini overlays each person’s voice on top of each other, creating an echoing cacophony of theater names.

The result is you that feel as if these theaters really carried weight in the Black community, as every musician can still remember their names 50 years later. Great audio effect.

The one error I think the show made was in their use of John Mayer’s voice. There’s never a clear transition or attribution to anything Mayer says, so I can only assume the nondescript voice I hear is his, because everyone else mentioned in this story is either a) directly attributed, b) dead, or c) Eric Clapton.

The episode is bookended by previews for other BBC radio programs. I found this problematic for two reasons. First, it’s very strange to hear a British guy talk for awhile, then hand it over to an American for half an hour, then hand it back to a British guy. Now, it would sound even stranger to have a British man narrating a story about a blues concert that took place in Chicago. But a better solution would have been to let Gambaccini himself introduce the bit, let his voice be the first heard, then when it’s all over bring back the accent.

The second reason I didn’t like this is that the previews are not for music programs. The first program is about Tolstoy, the second about an Islamic poem called “Shikwa.” Again, perhaps either find different programs to preview or at least do it all at the end. I clicked the link for BB King, and for the first minute I’m listening to something about a Russian novelist. Very confusing.

Overall, I really liked this program, but I found the web integration a bit lacking. The photo (above) is great – classic BB King, rockin’ and makin’ a face – but the text doesn’t really grab me. For what appears to be the seminal live blues album (or perhaps just “seminal blues album”), you’d think the text would have more punch. On NPR’s “All Songs Considered” page, they introduced an album with “Imagine if Dark Side of the Moon was composed on an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System.” That is good writing! That makes me want to listen and learn more! The BBC’s introduction? Boring.

But what else is new?

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