Radio - Words and Music

Did you know that the United Nations General Assembly has nominated 2021 as the International Year of Fruit and Vegetables? This week, Radio 3’s Words and Music celebrates Veganuary and dedicates itself to the UN’s humble theme.


Georgia Mann’s uplifting audio production throws everything at us from Handel’s sublime ‘Ruddier than a Cherry’ to Billie Holiday’s devastating ‘Strange Fruit’ (Abel Meeropol).


It’s a spellbinding 70 minutes. We open with Scott Joplin’s ‘Pineapple Rag’ and Wendy Cope considering an orange:


it made me so happy / As ordinary things often do


Memorable readings by Paterson Joseph and Jane Whittenshaw include Beatrix Potter’s description of Peter Rabbit’s friends gathering autumn fruit which contrasts nicely with Seamus Heaney’s more solemn ‘Blackberry Picking’:


Late August, given heavy rain and sun / For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot / Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet / Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it /

Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for /Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger / 

Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots /Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

It’s hard not to smile at the mischief of William Carlos Williams’ poem: ‘This Is Just to Say’

I have eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox

and which / you were probably / saving/ for breakfast

Forgive me / they were delicious / so sweet / and so cold.

Other poetry highlights include Sylvia Plath’s ‘Metaphors’, Thomas Campion’s ‘Cherry-Ripe’ and Emily Dickinson’s playful ‘Forbidden Fruit a Flavor Has’ that reminds us:

How luscious lies the pea within / The pod that Duty locks!

There are also extracts from Elisabeth Gaskell, Jerome K, Jerome, Milton and Shakespeare and many musical delights including Vincent Rose’s version of ‘Blueberry Hill’ (Fats Domino) and Nick Drake’s brilliant ‘Fruit Tree’.

This is a potent brew of words and music that will have you tapping your foot one moment and shedding tears the next. 

Radio 3 / 5.30pm, January 24

BBC Sounds


Originally published in Camden New Journal