Damian Thompson

Damian Thompson

Damian Thompson is an associate editor of The Spectator

Calm fire: the consolation of listening to Bruckner

31 min listen

Here’s an episode of Holy Smoke to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Anton Bruckner later this year. This embarrassingly eccentric genius was, perhaps, the most devoutly Catholic of all the major composers – but you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the unique consolation offered by his gigantic symphonies. On the other hand,

Yunchan Lim’s Chopin isn’t as good as his Liszt or Rach

Grade: B- In 2022 the South Korean pianist Yunchan Lim became, at 18, the youngest winner of the Van Cliburn competition, displaying a virtuosity that stunned the judges. You could see conductor Marin Alsop’s astonishment as he bounded through the finale of Rach 3, combining accuracy and swirling fantasy at daredevil speed. It’s been viewed

The mutilation of Radio 3

On Saturday 12 December 1964, Harold Wilson addressed his first Labour party conference as prime minister, George Harrison was photographed with his new girlfriend in the Bahamas, Pope Paul VI told Catholics they could drink alcohol ‘in moderation’ before Midnight Mass and, according to the Mirror, ‘two strip-tease girls fought in the nude in their

Damian Thompson

The real reason I don’t drink

It’s been 30 years this month since I last touched alcohol and I still can’t face the prospect of a social event without drinking. Other people drinking, that is. I’m terrified by the thought of going back on the sauce again, but that doesn’t mean I want to hang around with teetotallers who’ve never had

The problem with cringe-making funerals

21 min listen

When did supposedly religious funerals turn into ‘celebrations of life’ that are more about entertaining the congregation than mourning the dead person – who, these days, hasn’t died but ‘passed’?  In this episode of Holy Smoke I’m joined by one of my favourite American priests, Fr Joe Krupp, a self-described ‘redneck’ from Michigan who reaches

The greatest British symphonist you’ve never heard of

Grade: A Rejoice! A glorious symphonic cycle by a British composer has been issued as a set for the first time. George Lloyd (1913-98) was treated with lofty condescension by the musical establishment because his twelve symphonies contain barely a single dissonance. They’re sprinkled with jaunty tunes that have the feel of an Ealing Comedy

Stephen O’Leary, my brilliant friend

One afternoon in June 1995, I found myself trapped in the Bodhi Tree, a stucco-fronted bookstore on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood where New Age wisdom-seekers sip herbal tea while discussing the latest ravings of Shirley MacLaine. I was freaking out because the professor I’d travelled 6,000 miles to meet had apparently stood me up.

How the Church of England patronises African Christians

17 min listen

In this episode of Holy Smoke, I’m joined by The Spectator’s features editor William Moore, who asks in this week’s issue of the magazine whether the Church of England is ‘apologising for Christianity’. A report by the Oversight Group, set up by the Church Commissioners to make reparations for African slavery, not only wants to see unimaginable

Lang Lang’s wretched new album

Grade: F At the end of his life Sviatoslav Richter decided to try his hand at the Gershwin Piano Concerto. It was a ghastly experiment, but his admirers were used to his quirkiness, knew his powers were fading and so sensibly forgot about it. Now we have Lang Lang playing Saint-Saëns. It’s an even more

How much did Pope Francis know about Fr Marko Rupnik?

16 min listen

At a press conference in Rome last week, an ex-nun claiming to have suffered ritual sex abuse at the hands of Fr Marko Rupnik turned the heat on Pope Francis. How much did he know about the stomach-turning charges levelled at the Slovenian mosaic artist, who was a Jesuit until he was thrown out of

A thrilling new recording of Messiaen’s Turangalila-Symphonie

Grade: A Pierre Boulez once called Messiaen’s giant Turangalila-Symphonie ‘brothel music’. That was mean-spirited but you knew what he meant: a typical performance comes in at just under 80 minutes, much of it consisting of the B-movie sound of an ondes Martenot wailing over lush harmonies. There’s a constant zig-zag of polyrhythms, plus great towers

How liberal bishops are squeezing the life out of the Church of England

28 min listen

Can the Church of England escape from the deadly grip of bishops and bureaucrats who spend their entire time genuflecting to the metropolitan Left? Why does Archbishop Justin Welby wade obsessively into secular political battles when his churches are emptying? And do worshippers realise that eye-watering sums of money are being siphoned off from their

Top oratorio-mongering: Elijah, at the Barbican, reviewed

As a young music critic, Bernard Shaw poked fun at anyone who thought Mendelssohn was a genius. Shaw conceded that Mendelssohn was capable of touching tenderness and refinement and sometimes ‘nobility and pure fire’, but his music was marred by kid-glove gentility, conventional sentimentality and – worst of all – ‘despicable oratorio-mongering’. Shaw’s pet hate

Does Trump have evangelical Christians to thank for his second coming?

23 min listen

Donald Trump now seems certain to be the Republican presidential candidate in this year’s US presidential elections. That’s a prospect that horrifies liberal America and quite a few other Americans besides. The former president secured overwhelming support from evangelical Christians in Iowa and New Hampshire and some commentators are speculating that we’re seeing a resurgence

The wonder of Jon Pertwee and his frilly shirt

 When a friend asked if I wanted anything for Christmas I took a deep breath and replied: ‘Well, maybe I finally need to watch this.’ I handed him a video cassette retrieved from my sister’s attic and he took it to a place that digitises such things. On Christmas Day I nervously plugged in the

Raymond Arroyo on the joys of a Sinatra-style Christmas

22 min listen

In this festive episode of Holy Smoke, we’re taken back to the Christmasses of the 1950s and 60s by Raymond Arroyo, Fox News and EWTN presenter, whose enemies in the Vatican have been trying to silence him for years.  They’ve failed, thankfully – and now silencing him is even harder. Raymond, who trained in musical

The strange appeal of Integralism

28 min listen

You might imagine that a political project to place modern nation states under the supreme authority of the Catholic Church would stand zero chance of success anywhere in the world, including in traditionally Catholic countries. And you’d be right. Even so, a movement known as Integralism – whose 20th-century incarnations were closely related to fascism

A marvel – how did Bradley Cooper pull it off? Maestro reviewed

As the overture to Candide blazed away during the ovation for Maestro at the Venice Film Festival, three members of the audience flung their arms around in an imitation of Leonard Bernstein’s conducting style. They were his children, Jamie, Alexander and Nina, and their reaction said it all. Bradley Cooper, the film’s star and director,