The week in audio: Courtney Love’s Women; Kicking Back With the Cardiffians; The Belgrano Diary; Word in Your Ear – review

<span>‘Curious and clever’: Courtney Love.</span><span>Photograph: Victor Boyko/Getty Images for Balmain</span>
‘Curious and clever’: Courtney Love.Photograph: Victor Boyko/Getty Images for Balmain

Courtney Love’s Women (6 Music) | BBC Sounds
Kicking Back With the Cardiffians | BBC Sounds
The Belgrano Diary | London Review of Books
Word in Your Ear | Acast

Sometimes it feels like we will never reach the peak of the celebrity podcast phenomenon, but few lives burst with the lively detail required for a multi-part series. Then along comes Courtney Love.

“You’re telling me that you recited Sylvia Plath’s Daddy at your audition for The Mickey Mouse Club?” asks her co-host, journalist Rob Harvilla, on Courtney Love’s Women, a new eight-parter that broadcast its first episodes last week at 11pm (Monday-Thursday) on BBC Radio 6 Music. “I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance but I could re-cite,” Love says of herself at 11, matter-of-factly. “They didn’t seem to care about the Nazi references!”

Thirty years after the death of her husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, and the release by her band, Hole, of their 1994 breakthrough album Live Through This (a raucously accessible entry point into feminism and punk for teenage girls, of whom I was one), Love is now quite the alternative grande dame of the airwaves. This series spans her life, beginning with her anarchic 60s childhood in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, surrounded by her mother’s counterculture magazines, poetry records (hence the Plath, which is glorious to hear, in full, on a pop show) and odd attitudes to pop culture (Love saw Last Tango in Paris in the cinema and Hair at the theatre but wasn’t allowed to watch the Cher show on TV).

Given the tabloid scrutiny Church survived in her youth, you understand why she wants to show the other sides of her story

Early in episode one, anecdotes trail off and errors around dates go uncorrected, making me fear a tsunami of self-indulgence and tall tales. But a rough-and-ready, very charming memoir emerges, told through the voices and sounds of other women – singers, instrumentalists and writers – who Love sought while growing up in what she calls a male “gatekeeping mono-overculture”. Her choices aren’t about projecting edginess, but being honest and passionate about what she holds dear. I loved her urging listeners to find Karen Carpenter’s vocals-only take of Close to You (“it is as close to God as you can get”) and recalling Joan Baez records giving her comfort during her grunge days with Kurt. “She made me feel safe and secure, like my stepdad taking me to the postcard store.” Beautiful.

Love is curious and clever throughout, with a nice line in self-deprecation (she slags off a Buffy Sainte-Marie cover she did in 2010: “This was in my flop era!”). The music is a fabulous mix, too, from Big Mama Thornton to Donna Summer, Marlene Dietrich to Dolly Parton, and although the role of Harvilla often feels extraneous, you sense that Love needs a foil for her lightning bolt to brightly bounce off. Four more episodes of chaotic fun follow next week.

You wait a few days for a BBC podcast led by a famously forthright singer and two turn up at once: cue Charlotte Church’s Kicking Back With the Cardiffians. Church’s family – working-class, sweary, unfiltered – are introduced episode by episode, and the first show is called There Now in a Minute, named after a bit of Welsh slang which means you’re on your way. (Clearly there to suggest fun and warmth, these titles, to this Swansea-born writer, risk making the Welsh look like people to laugh at rather than laugh with.)

It’s a slow, strange listen at first, with no explanation of who Church was in the past or is now. In recent years she has become a wellness guru, buying Laura Ashley’s former home in mid-Wales, in which she offers affordable luxury retreats. This part of her only intrudes on the first episode when she tries to get her “dada” to breathe deeply to “let us land and be calm in where we’re sat”. “I’m not into this sort of shit!” he hilariously bites back.

They then chat tenderly about his penchant for “flipping houses” to make money, the horrific abuse he endured as a child, and his terminal diagnosis with AL amyloidosis (“I caught Charlotte trying to turn the switch off,” he says, to her laughter, on once being put on a life support machine). You wonder who will listen to this who isn’t a fan of Church, although it’s so refreshing to hear these working-class stories explored in depth. Given the tabloid scrutiny Church survived in her youth, you also understand why she wants to show the other sides of her story, in her own words.

Two more recommendations this week: the London Review of Books is a few brilliant episodes into The Belgrano Diary, in which the novelist Andrew O’Hagan tells the story of the Falklands war through excellent BBC and ITV archive recordings, officer diaries and LRB pieces from the time by the Labour MP Tam Dalyell. O’Hagan’s got a great podcast voice, all Glasgow fog and bite, bringing levity to the military material. I loved the moment in episode two where he explains a word used in a message by an admiral: “Spitchers is a good old posh word for fucks up.”

For other, lighter early 1980s insight, Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant was the guest on last week’s Word in Your Ear podcast with journalists David Hepworth and Mark Ellen, with whom Tennant worked at Smash Hits before leaving print for pop. Digging into his gorgeously ordinary working years before fame, the singer-songwriter recounts being the father of the chapel for his union during a dispute with Robert Maxwell, while Hepworth recalls Tennant negotiating his Smash Hits contract in a cafe, demanding extra apple pie and custard. The pop star’s comeback is worthy of his famously urbane lyrics: “I was always very good at lunch.”