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The Continuing Need for an All-Encompassing Music T.V. Show…
I can’t remember how many weeks ago…
it was when I mooted the desire for a return to the days when there were genuinely good music-based T.V. shows on. It might have been around, I guess, the time of the one-off revival of The Old Grey Whistle Test – hosted, on the night, by Bob Harris (in February). I floated an idea out there: getting The Old Grey Whistle Test back on a full-time basis. I have been following the progress and nature of the newest music show on the box: Sounds Like Friday Night is hosted by Radio 1’s Greg James and Dotty. The show has been picking up good reviews and a firm following but, to me, it appeals to a particular demographic. The main artists booked are Pop-based and chart-bound. The presenters have charm and charisma; there is a connection between them that cannot be faked. There are amusing sketches and the whole show has a feel of nostalgia-cum-modernity: recalling some of the aspects of Top of the Pops with the urgency and polish of modern-day music. Whilst it will continue on our screens – I feel it has another few series left in the tank… - there is a gap forming in the market. When The Old Grey Whistle Test returned to the screens; there was a two-fold aftershock that stuck in my brain. Seeing Harris and other contributors look back at the show’s best memories and finest guests. It was great seeing the likes of Bob Marley and Sex Pistols play for the show.
IN THIS PHOTO: Dotty and Greg James/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC/Getty Images
There was a varied catalogue of guests during its long reign. The show ran from 1971 to 1988 and stood out from what was on the T.V. Now, in 2018; we have very few musical options. Look at Jools Holland’s late-night, hugely popular show and Sounds Like Friday Night – that is about it, really! I am not suggesting there is a straight revision of the long-gone music show: more, a guide from its foundation, updated for the modern age. One could argue today, given the access we have to music; there is very little desire for music T.V. YouTube means, essentially, any artist can get their faces on the screen and their music viewed. One can see the biggest mainstream tracks and hidden gems from unsigned acts. There are two rebuttals regarding that assumption. For a start; YouTube is a huge and unfiltered site that has little of the organisation you would hope. So many artists and videos pass you by – even some of the big-league releases slip by; it is hard compartmentalising and organising videos so we get a good and fulsome spread of sounds. The other problem (with YouTube) is the fact it is not the same as seeing a band/artist play live. Reviving The Old Grey Whistle Test, essentially, would be a rather lazy move...
Some would argue why I am floating this notion prolifically and vociferously. To me, modern music needs a T.V.-based tentacle that provides platform for artists, new and established. Sounds Like Friday Night is, for the most part, a pulpit for the best of the mainstream/near-the-mainstream artists to shine and perform. The performances are live but, in terms of genre and age demographic; it is narrower than, say, Jools Holland’s brand. Even if you consider Later… - that is a show that has been on a fair few years and its format has not shifted (critical attention and praise: no need for a retooling, sure?!). If one can argue – wrongly and foolishly – there is room for one talent show, let alone several of the bloody things; you can apply the assumption to a show that promotes genuine, proper musical talent! The concept I would pitch – I am not sure of its name just yet – would use The Old Grey Whistle Test as its muse and mother. The studio would be fairly small and have a smattering of audience members. It would not need a lot of lighting, gloss and glamour: nor would it be a glorified portal toilet in an industrial estate in Coventry (no offense to the makers of portable toilets!). We have Facebook Live and YouTube: neither is an effective and practical substitute for the thrill and physicality of music T.V.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
I know the game has shifted compared to The Old Grey Whistle Test/MTV days. People have access to musical visuals without having to switch on a T.V. Families do not excitedly hustle around the glow of the box – I am making this sound like a 1950s dystopia! – to see the latest sh*t-hot music video or an interview with the likes of Madonna or Talking Heads. Given the inaccessibility and inconvenient nature of live music – many people cannot afford to travel or have time to watch a great artist play – moving that to television would, you’d think, be a win-win scenario?! The ‘classic’ element would keep that studio setting and sense of minimalism. You would have a single host in the studio – not necessarily someone young and trendy: it is open for debate and discussion – and the music being featured in the studio itself would be a real mix. There would be accommodation for established artists in any genre – so long as the music is great and affords itself to the rawness and nature of the studio. I would like to see established acts like, spit-balling here, Radiohead or Björk performing new songs (if such an eventually was to happen!) and some classics. Newer acts – Goat Girl and IDLES; Hannah Peel and Nils Frahm, for example – could lay down a song or two each?!
IN THIS PHOTO: Goat Girl/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The way I have described the set-up and backdrop (of the studio) sounds like musical nihilism: it would, in fact, be quite a homely and good space for the artists to pull great performances out the bag. Running alongside the performances would be music news and updates. We would bring in social media aspects and bring live – as close to the show’s broadcast – news updates to the people. Interviews would either be done in the studio or a special location. I have been thinking of artists being interviewed in a cocktail bar – something like Nightjar in London. It is a quirky and cool space; one where the interview and artist can get down to business and chat. They would select a favourite song or album of theirs; talk about their past and new music – a full and unique interview series. There would be multiple features and regular spots – including recommendations of new acts and documentaries that tackled issues/sides musicians and fans alike would be into (mental-health features and the live music scene; the music culture of various cities; highlighting music from a certain decade/year etc.). There would be documentaries that explored classic albums. This is nothing new: stations like VH1 have investigated legendary records and talked to the people involved. From The Beatles’ eponymous record to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours; the introduction of Elvis Presley and Joni Mitchell’s Blue – a thorough and candid look at the album’s creation, its best moments; its lasting legacy and how it changed music at the time.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
I would like to see a one-hour, weekly show that helped preserve legendary music and surprise those who are passionate about the prospect of a cover-all music show. It would act, in a way, like a radio show: a selection of genre/decade-hopping songs and great live bits; minimal needless chatter and quality at the absolute top of the list (depends on what station you are tuned into!). The show would not necessarily need a comedic/light feel – I have an idea for a music-based animated short that would be a miniature sitcom. Education and enlightenment are important factors that cannot be overlooked. Whilst the emphasis is going to be on live performance and making sure there is a national platform for the best new acts; it would be naïve to reject the needs of the fully-rounded and cultured music fan. If we just had a show that did live sets and nothing else; its appeal would be one-dimensional. The magazine aspect of the show would be a delicate balance. One would not want something tabloid-like or trashy: neither would it be wise to have a snooty or austere show that had a sense of elitism. It could be on BBC 2 or BBC 4 but, when it gains traction and popularity, a natural shift to BBC 1 would seem the best option. That transition does not have to come at the expense of the show’s identity and ethos. It would retain its gnarliness and ensure its tattoos were being sported boldly – none of this three-washes-and-its-faded henna stuff!
Getting the right host is a crucial consideration. It need not be a single name – maybe a duo (one could be studio-based, in London; the other, perhaps, over in Manchester?!) would do just as well. The aim is to broaden the demographic reach and include every age. There would be some controversy and spit to the show – nothing that alienated younger viewers, though. The desire is to get that much-watch music T.V. show that recalls the days of MTV and Top of the Pops. I know we cannot return to the past and create the same sensations as the 1980s and 1990s, for example. What everyone wants is an accompaniment to the music T.V. shows we have right now. Three shows – unless I am missing an obvious one – is hardly a ‘crowd’. It would be great to have something on the screens that encompassed the best radio stations/shows with older-days music television; link it with the modern pace of life and bring in a mix of technology-advance and classic-nostalgia. Putting the live element up-front and central means those who cannot afford to see a hot new band perform can see them from the comfort of their home. Whilst the experience is not exactly the same as going to a gig; that is, in a good way, a good thing.
Artists who appear on the show would not find that T.V. light too alluring and seductive: the chance to get your music out to home-based audiences and uninitiated ears is a definite bonus! I cannot pitch a show directly to the BBC – they do not take submissions from individuals – but, one suspects, there is a production company out there who could coherently and effectively do so on my/everyone’s behalf. There is that endless desire for a show that nods to the best days of music television and gives it a modern lick of paint. 2018 is a year where music needs to listen to voices that are going unsatisfied and silent. A great T.V. show could, actually, help tackle issues surrounding music right now – venues struggling; sexism and inequality; whether streaming and digital music is better and more important than vinyl and traditional forms. I would love to see it happen. The show would not cost a lot and good work alongside those already on the market. I like Sounds Like Friday Night and fills it does what it needs to perfectly – with two great presenters helming it! If we added a younger brother/sister to the cot; worked with T.V. and radio stations and devised something that would be popular and long-lasting (getting any kinks sorted along the way) then I believe, if all goes well; it – whatever the show is called! – could last as long as…
IN THIS PHOTO: Bob Harris, on the set of The Old Grey Whistle Test/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC/Getty Images
THE Old Grey Whistle Test.