Late at night is when the strangest things happen, and so it is with the Proms. One of the most curious bookings of the season saw Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker waking in a brass bed in the centre of the Albert Hall (“This must be one of those anxiety dreams,” he said) and proceeding to bring his Radio 4 series Wireless Nights to peculiar life. With the help of the BBC Philharmonic, the Manchester Chamber Choir and everyone from Echo & the Bunnymen to Wagner and some deep sea divers, he led his audience on a disquieting journey to the bottom of the ocean.
Cocker began his radio presenting career in 2010 on BBC 6 Music, with a sleepy Sunday afternoon show. On Radio 4 he has become still sleepier, creating surreal themed explorations that make the most of radio’s ability to conjure seemingly half-dreamed nocturnal atmospheres. As you might expect from the deadpan Sheffield stick insect, there is often humour. This evening included the ominous music of Jaws, as well as his crooned delivery of the closing theme to the ancient TV puppet show, Stingray. But there was also beauty, with an emotional version of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren and the magical Aquarium movement from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.
However, the most absorbing element was not the music but the pre-recorded interviews. Sam Amps, a freediver who dons a mermaid’s mono-fin, takes a giant breath and swims as deep as she can go, told of “the rapture of the deep”. More prosaically, that’s the point when your brain goes a bit funny and you believe that staying there forever would be a good idea. Submariners Roger Chapman and Roger Mallinson described their ordeal trapped in a sub on the sea bed for 72 hours, after the cable that was supposed to pull them back up snapped.
Cocker linked these watery travels to the internal wanderings described by psychiatrist Carl Jung. He sent his audience off to bed with plenty to think about and giant squid ready to float through their dreams.