Friday, January 16, 2009

TV times

Looking back at my last posting I completely failed to say that The Prisoner is among my very favourite television shows ever, and that Patrick McGoohan was one of the best actors of them all- so I thought I'd better start by saying that here! I think I got a bit bogged down in my own particular version of The Village... but it's got me thinking about how music was presented on television before the days of set top boxes and subscription channels.

Like most people of my age who liked 'pop' music I used to watch 'Top Of The Pops' on BBC1 every week. (I was a bit young for 'Ready Steady Go!') When I first started watching it regularly in the early 1970's it was a rather odd mixture of grinning chart-orientated acts and incongruous heavy metal bands begrudgingly promoting their 'not-on-the-album single', all introduced by a BBC Radio 1 DJ. By the time of it's demise in 2006 it had gone through several re-vamps but never really deviated too far from it's original concept of featuring the music and performers from that week's singles chart. Personally I really liked it during the glam rock times of '71-'74 when the likes of T.Rex, Slade, The Sweet and David Bowie drove my Dad to previously unimagined (by me at least) heights of righteous indignation- which of course made me like it and indeed them even more. As I was too young to go to gigs this was my only way of seeing any of the bands that I liked- except of course they were miming rather than actually performing live. Still none of this bothered me too much at the time, especially during the punk rock days of '77-'79 when the likes of The Buzzcocks, The Ruts and The Damned made regular appearances. I lost touch with the show sometime in the early '80's when the ratio of grinning chart-orientated acts to heavy metal bands finally got too much for me although it was interesting to tune in again a few years later when bands like The Senseless Things and Carter USM appeared as often we'd been supporting them only a few weeks before! (Many if not all of the above bands can often be seen on the retrospective show TOTP2 - one of my earliest and clearest memories from the early '70's shows is of seeing The Faces playing football during 'Maggie May' which just might be the most repeated clip of them all? And if you think they look drunk wait until you see Stiff Little Fingers!) For what my opinion's worth I think it's all too easy to mock 'Top Of The Pops'- after all it did what it set out to do didn't it? And I've managed to get this far without mentioning Pan's People...

Meanwhile a rather different TV experience was taking place on BBC2- 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' was album-orientated and therefore a bit too 'serious' for my teenage tastes. I'd love to be able to say that I saw the infamous appearance by The New York Dolls and went out the next day and bought an electric guitar- but I didn't; put simply it was before my time, or at the very least it was on too late for me to stay up to watch and still be able to get up in time for school the next morning. That said I'd started watching it by the time the punk bands had invaded, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the likes of Public Image Ltd, The Skids and XTC actually playing live on television, as well as being astounded by Gary Moore playing 2 songs with Phil Lynott, Cozy Powell, Scott Gorham and Don Airey. The 3 retrospective DVD's devoted to the programme go a long way towards showing why it's still fondly remembered by many, and maligned by quite a few.

'Rock Goes To College' ran from 1978-81 and featured a band or artist gigging at (you've guessed it!) a college or university; I remember the Rory Gallagher and Joe Jackson shows very well, and AC/DC gave a typically boisterous performance 'though maybe the most well-known show featured The Police at Hatfield Polytechnic. Before that the seemingly all-but-forgotten 'Sight and Sound In Concert' extended the idea of the long-running Radio 1 'In Concert' show to present one or two bands playing live and being simultaneously broadcast on both TV and radio- the one that always sticks in my mind was the 'dream gig' (for me at any rate) pairing of Ian Dury and The Blockheads with Dr. Feelgood, and The Tom Robinson Band show gave me chance to see guitarist Danny Kustow in all his chaotic glory for the first time. Some if not all of these shows must be in the archives somewhere- time for a rebroadcast or, even better, an official release or two methinks!

Over on ITV I remember seeing 'Supersonic' which was OK (The Damned gave a blistering performance of 'Neat Neat Neat') but 'Revolver' was much more like it; 'presented' (I use the term very loosely!) by Peter Cook and featuring a bewildering line-up of then-contemporary punk and new wave bands it was at best rough around the edges and at worst shambolic, but somehow managed to present the bands in a sympathetic setting- and let's face it, any show that features The Lurkers must be a classic mustn't it?!? Special mention must also be given to 'Marc' which featured the glam rock god himself presenting a 6-episode series, the last show of which went out shortly after his untimely death in September 1977, and the Saturday morning programme 'Tiswas' which saw the likes of Motorhead falling for the fatal charms of Sally James and ending up covered in custard pies as a result. Great stuff.

Channel 4 gave us 'The Tube' which I always found to be a bit of a mess (not least due to the sound of the live bands always being a little, shall we say, 'odd') although it did feature the last TV performance by The Jam as well as tremendous sets by The Redskins and The Smiths among others. For me it was all a bit too 'Eighties' if you know what I mean; oh and Jools Holland caused a furore by swearing during a live trailer for the show 'though it didn't seem to hamper his T.V. career unduly...

These days BBC3 and BBC4 feature all manner of music-based documentaries on everything from prog rock to classical music and beyond (I particularly enjoyed the Les Paul retrospective 'Chasing Sound') as well as concert performances (the footage of Jeff Beck at Ronnie Scott's was priceless) and all points in between. Which reminds me- I can't sit here typing this for too much longer or I'll miss 'All The Young Dudes: Pop and Fashion' in which, and I quote, 'Paul Morley revisits his adventures in fashion and meets the pop stars who influenced him'. Sounds good doesn't it? Imagine that- going back over the musical sights and sounds that you saw and heard as you were growing up... I could do that... actually I just have!

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