Transmissions: the Definitive Story: Lights Out: From the Ashes of New Cross - review

<span>Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

Transmissions: the Definitive Story of Joy Division and New Order Cup & Nuzzle

Lights Out: From the Ashes of New Cross (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds

There are some real-life stories you know so well that they morph into fairytales. And for any lover of British indie music, the history of Manchester band Joy Division/New Order is one of those: “Once upon a time, at a 1976 Sex Pistols concert at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, Bernard Sumner and Peter ‘Hooky’ Hook decided that they, too, were going to start a punk band…” The pop career of Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, along with all those who supported them, from Factory Records’ Tony Wilson to producer Martin Hannett, feels less like a true tale of genius, luck and tragically young deaths, and more like a post-punk myth. A bedtime tale of derring-do told to young alternative rock bands while they’re still trying to grow their fringes.

It should be noted, of course, that this bedtime story has long been told by the same people: usually journalists (like me), Friday-night-on-BBC Four researchers or film-makers (Control, 24 Hour Party People). And, what with all this coverage, this Mancunian myth-making, you might feel that a new eight-part podcast, Transmissions: The Definitive Story might not be worth your while. You’d be wrong.

The result of almost two years’ work by the team at indie production house Cup & Nuzzle, this is a detailed, brilliantly researched documentary series. Not only does it boast interviews with all the surviving members of the band (which, as Hooky fell out with everyone, is no mean feat of intra-band negotiation), but also with those who are often forgotten, such as Lindsay Reade, Tony Wilson’s first wife. (Reade points out that it was her money, as well as Wilson’s, that funded Factory Records’ first ever vinyl release, a sampler that included Joy Division and the Durutti Column; she is also dismissive of the Hacienda’s acid house revolution. “I preferred it when it was quiet,” she says.)

The archive is great: we hear the band’s first stuttering interviews, Hannett’s twiddling of a bass sound, Wilson’s brilliant pontification. “Musicians know fuck all about music. They’re given the gift of writing, but their attitude to it is bollocks,” he pronounces, which is true and made me laugh. The new interviews with the band members are relaxed and revelatory, and there are other contributors whom you might not expect: designer Virgil Abloh, producer Krystal Klear, the Pet Shop Boys, Damon Albarn and Bono, as well as the more familiar (when it comes to Manc tales) Shaun Ryder and Liam Gallagher. Plus, the whole thing is narrated by Maxine Peake, who is just the right combination of enthusiastic and cool. Be warned: this is a long listen, taking eight episodes to get to Blue Monday, but it’s compelling throughout. I know this story inside out and I really loved this series.

More reassessment of the past, from Radio 4’s always reliable Lights Out series. Last Monday’s From the Ashes of New Cross told the tale of the 1981 New Cross fire. It’s a terribly upsetting story. On 17 January 1981, 16-year-old Yvonne Ruddock had a party for her birthday at her family home at 439 New Cross Road. A fire broke out and 13 people were killed, including Yvonne and her older brother Paul, who got out and then ran back in to try to save his sister.

The programme hears from people who remember, and weaves their stories in with the voices recorded back then: “I stood there and saw every one of the children laid out on the pavement and I looked at every one of them, and they were screaming. And when the screams had stopped, I said to myself, they’re all dead… I knew they were dead,” said one woman, who was there. “The problem with the coloured population, it’s very hard to distinguish between each face, they appear all alike to the white people, it’s a problem of identification,” says one policeman from the archive. Despite the National Front being very active in the area, nobody was ever charged with arson. A tale worth telling.

Three political podcasts to help you through the next few days

Oh God, What Now?
The immensely popular political podcast Remainiacs began as an anti-Brexit show. But as we all know, the UK is about to leave the EU (“youlostgerroverit”), so the Remainiacs have decided to rebrand. Welcome, Oh God, What Now? It’s the same show, presented by Dorian Lynskey, Naomi Smith, Ian Dunt, Ros Taylor, Alex Andreou, Nina Schick and Ingrid Oliver: meaning it’s a group of clever people talking about the UK’s ever-changing and never-resolving relationship with Europe, plus British politics in general. Last week’s talk around Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan was excellent, and the name change seems apposite, in our “what fresh hell is this?” era.

When Katty Met Carlos
A World Service/OZY podcast that treats its audience with respect and an assumption of intelligence, this relatively new show has two immensely experienced and talented journalists talking to other informed people about the US election and America’s place in the world. Katty is Katty Kay, the BBC journalist based in Washington, and Carlos is Carlos Watson, owner of OZY, an entertainment company, and ex-CNN journalist, who has his own YouTube interview show. Although both Kay and Watson are warm and easy on the ear, this is not a bantz-style programme, but a serious show that covers serious stuff.

The distinguished reporter Michael Goldfarb has covered many US elections in his time, and his podcast FRDH (First Rough Draft of History) has recently been showcasing some of his past work, on Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush. Over the past five years, Goldfarb has been back and forth to the US (he’s American and lives in London), making shows about Trump for the BBC (eight so far!), and he’s out in the US now, covering the presidential election. This time Goldfarb isn’t reporting for the BBC, but for his own podcast, and he’ll be bringing out short, daily FRDH shows, reporting on the aftermath of 3 November.