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John Bird

Big Issue founder John Bird talks to Michael Berkeley about the role music played in transforming his life.

Big Issue founder John Bird talks to Michael Berkeley about the role music played in transforming his life.

For two weeks in 1970 John Bird worked in the Houses of Parliament washing dishes; in 2015 he returned as a life peer.

To say he didn’t have a great start in life is something of an understatement. Born in 1946 in a Notting Hill slum, he was five when his family was made homeless and at seven he was taken into care. Much of his teens was spent in reform school, he slept rough, and he went to prison several times for stealing.

But John Bird turned his life around and has devoted it to fighting for social justice and particularly for homeless people, founding the Big Issue in 1991 with Gordon Roddick. Nearly thirty years on, and with over 200 million copies sold, it’s become a multi-million pound social investment enterprise, and has helped 92,000 vendors earn nearly £120 million pounds.

John tells Michael about the music that cut through his chaotic childhood, and we hear Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, played to John's class by a beleaguered music teacher and which John has never forgotten.

Passionate about making classical music accessible to all and breaking down notions of elitism in music, John chooses works by Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Weber, Wagner and Steve Reich, music he has discovered on his extraordinary journey from reform school and prison to the House of Lords.

Producer: Jane Greenwood
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 3

Available now

36 minutes

Last on

Sun 14 Oct 2018 12:00

Music Played

  • Johannes Brahms

    Academic Festival Overture

    Orchestra: New Philhamonia Orchestra. Conductor: John Barbirolli.
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

    Dance of the Reed Pipes (The Nutcracker)

    Orchestra: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Semyon Bychkov.
  • Edvard Grieg

    In the Hall of the Mountain King (Peer Gynt)

    Orchestra: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Sakari Oramo.
  • Richard Wagner

    Overture: Tannhauser

    Orchestra: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Bernard Haitink.
  • Mike Westbrook

    I See Thy Form

    Performer: Mike Westbrook.
  • Steve Reich

    The Cave

    Ensemble: Steve Reich and Musicians. Conductor: Paul Hillier.
  • Carl Maria von Weber

    Overture: Der Freischutz

    Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Colin Davis.

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