Ballad Of The Fix

Click here for a full list of Jon’s radio credits

The story of Scotland’s deadly drug crisis narrated by the voice of the narcotic itself (available to listen here). Scotland has the highest rate of reported drug deaths in the European Union. There has been a rapid rise of cheap, imported synthetic drugs – especially Etizolam, an illegal tablet similar to Valium but with an unpredictable potency often many times higher. But why do so many people, especially young men, feel drawn towards this dangerous self-medication? Scottish poet Niall Campbell explores the lives and deaths of a small number of drug users and of their families in Dundee. Niall’s poem weaves through first-hand accounts of the addictive process to create an elegy to the lost and those they leave behind, against a constantly evolving and intricately detailed landscape of music, found sound and organic textures.

”Sometimes, but not often, something comes out of the air and goes straight into you, zing. Ear, heart, mind, memory. That was me, last Monday night and The Ballad of the Fix. There was no resisting it. I didn’t actually want to hear “the story of Scotland’s drug crisis”, told by “the Scottish poet Niall Campbell”. Come on. After another day of perplexing news and wet weather? I didn’t specially select this programme. It was just on. And from its first seconds, it engulfed me. 

“I can tell you stories,” a man’s voice said. “I am the fix. Up the nose, in the chest, in the vein…” There was suppertime in a soup kitchen, a walk in a garden of memory, names hanging between the leaves. “I can tell you stories…” of alcohol, Valium, heroin, tobacco, cannabis, speed, ecstasy, temazepam, methadone and back to heroin. Buyers becoming sellers; families in Dundee with three generations of addicts; scoring, taking, surviving. “I can tell you stories…” 

These stories weren’t unfamiliar. The threading of real voices in and out of Campbell’s pulsing, compulsive narration wasn’t unusual. What held the ear, opened the mind, flooded the imagination, was the shining skill of the producers, Monica Whitlock and Liza Greig. They wove it together so brilliantly that you and I, even listening by chance, were instantly part of radio that caught you up, sat you down, made you understand. Unforgettable. ” (Gillian Reynolds in the Sunday Times).

Producer: Monica Whitlock | music, sound design & mix: Jon Nicholls

Ballad Of The Fix was a Radio 4 Pick Of The Week and is available to listen here as a permanent part of BBC Sounds ‘Seriously’ collection of significant documentaries