Arts

John Toal on Stromae, Shostakovich and why he's smug on a Sunday evening

John Toal (51) hosts the Saturday morning show on BBC Radio Ulster and is also their classical music man, presenting all the station's Ulster Orchestra concerts

BBC Radio Ulster presenter and classical music man John Toal
Jane Hardy

How do you unwind at the weekend?

My weekend doesn't really start until halfway through as I do my show on Saturday from 11am to 12pm. In normal circumstances, we'd have a group of people in the studio with Paula McIntyre cooking for us and live music, but now it's all Zooming. We might feature a string quartet on the programme or something by a 14-year-old on Tik Tok that sounds like Ariana Grande. I write songs, but wouldn't be inspired by the Covid situation – Van Morrison tried it, and it didn't go well, did it? My Spotify playlist has at the top a Belgian rapper called Stromae who's a musical genius. But Shostakovich is on there too. I might go for a walk to unwind out in the country, Co Down direction. On the back roads near our house, you can see cattle and sheep which is nice.

What do you recall about weekends growing up?

Music, as I'd be playing piano on Sunday or going to violin practice. On Saturday it was orchestra rehearsals, with me playing the clarinet. I'm friendly with the Ulster Orchestra's principal clarinettist Francesco Paolo Scola, aka Chicco, and he's always threatening to have a clarinet-off! Also, the smell of bacon and the sound of the RTÉ theme tune on the radio which we listened to at home in Newry.

Friday or Saturday night?

It has to be Saturday. If I said I went on the tear on Friday night, I'd be out of a job. But Saturday's actually a night in, watching a film with the family and having a nice dinner. My wife's a teacher and I say God bless the teaching profession. We have three kids, two of whom are at uni; they're all back home at the moment.

Do you have a must-listen weekend radio show?

I flick across the channels and like podcasts too. Filling the Sink is in English but about Catalonia. It's by Lorca Doherty. I'm a language person and like finding connections between the words we use, where they come from and so on.

Do you have a must-watch TV show or box set?

I'm running through The West Wing again, partly because of what's been happening in the USA. I also love The Wall with Danny Dyer.

What is your favourite eatery – or is it a takeaway?

In the current climate, it's a takeaway, although in normal times I like going to Ginger where I'd have fresh fish with harissa and beans. For a carry-out, I like proper chippy chips from maybe Café Fish in Belfast. I also like a Chinese and love Singapore noodles with curry sauce.

Is Sunday still special?

It's a special day because nobody's working. It's a family day and I often say, 'Shall I do a roast chicken?' But my kids, bizarrely, often say, 'No, do a fry.' I have picked things up from watching Paula McIntyre over the years.

How do you feel on Sunday night about Monday morning?

I don't dread it – no, I have a feeling of great excitement as everybody else is going back to work and I'm off. Yes, very smug.

Croí Uladh le John Toal returns this spring. Catch The John Toal Show on Saturday and Classical Connections With John Toal on Sundays on BBC Radio Ulster and Radio Sounds.

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