Inside The Infinite Misery Jumper
It just goes to show how much the internet has changed the world in such a short space of time. Back in 1997, I was what can only be described as a rabid Chris Morris fan, and more to the point not just one who was already aware of the burgeoning online fan community (and indeed had taken part in the Channel 4 messageboard pitched battle when the original transmission of Brass Eye was cancelled late in 1996) but even knew that Morris had been in talks with Radio 1 about a new show, and yet the first that I really knew about Blue Jam was when a friend phoned me up the day before the first episode went out, telling me that they had unexpectedly heard a preview clip on The Evening Session. Nowadays, of course, it would have been hashtagged to within an inch of nanomolecular implosion before the first episode had even been written (Sundays, 10:30pm, BBC2).
Quite what I might have been expecting from this new late night music-based show is something that I genuinely cannot recall; all that anyone really knew for certain was that while promoting Brass Eye earlier in the year (because, of course, he 'doesn't do interviews'), Morris had dropped some fairly substantial hints that he both wanted to go back to radio and wanted to do something completely different. Yet even then - coming as it did after three intensive years of some of the most startling and provocative comedy ever produced, characterised by full-on in-your-face attacks on all aspects of the media which for a time at least gave the feeling that change really was in the air, and which crucially included his own previous Radio 1 DJ show, which remains the most genuinely 'dangerous' radio ever broadcast - few can really have predicted just how different it would prove to be. Of course, I did later find out what his motivations for this were, and indeed how it was very nearly a very different kind of show altogether, but I'm afraid you're just going to have to read my book about Radio 1 comedy Fun At One to find that out.
And so it was that I tuned in to Radio 1 at midnight on 14th November 1997, as eager to just find out what was going on as I was to hear some new comedy, and it's no exaggeration to say that what I did hear had a significant impact on me. From the meaningless new-age-isms of the murmured intro and the hilariously disturbing opening monologue (in which Morris even seemed to be poking fun at his own work) onwards, the surreal, disorientating material which veered between shock and silliness with the frequency of a Warp Records bassline pulled you in and refused to let go. The combination of ambient dance music, Loungecore, exotic sixties pop and spectral laid-back indie that sat behind it, looped together so effectively that it was often difficult to determine when one track had finished and another had started, proved equally irresistible to someone who'd already been drawn sideways in that direction after Britpop had reneged on its original wit and verve. The overall effect was as if a melancholic beat poet had gatecrashed a late-night local radio 'Love Zone' armed with a scratched copy of the Andrew Weatherall remix of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and it really doesn't get much better than that.
That first show carried the presumably few listeners along on a pulsating soundwave of Bjork, Stereolab, Bomb The Bass, The Chemical Brothers, Ivor Cutler, The KLF, Brigitte Bardot, an interview about American 'baby fighting' pageants, a sting about Steve Lamacq trying to shake hands with an elephant, and Morris somehow persuading some hapless individual who had complained about a TV show to judge whether Mother Theresa or Mother Theresa II would be a more suitable role model for youngsters. By the time that it washed the listeners back out into reality with a replay of the intro and an extract from the Eraserhead soundtrack (and, almost like blowing a raspberry at the end, a fragment of REM's worst single to date), something really had changed. And it wasn't the sort of change that Brass Eye had left you anticipating, either. It was an astonishing and total reinvention for someone whose name had been utterly indivisible from news-based satire only days previously, and achieved with the least fanfare imaginable. As amusingly creakily archaic as this sentence may read now, I spent the next evening running off cassette copies which I then forced into the hands of unsuspecting friends on Saturday night, who probably all thought I'd gone mad. But people HAD to hear it.
And the astonishment didn't stop there. Over the next couple of weeks came four further equally strong shows and a sixth that, only fifteen minutes in, was faded out and replaced with a repeat of the first one when it went into a thoroughly disrespectful re-edit of The Archbishop Of Canterbury's speech about The Princess Of Wales (again, if you want the full straight-from-the-horse's-mouth account of what actually happened there, you'll be wanting Fun At One). Amazingly, a full half year after that surreal couple of weeks, it still felt shocking that someone was prepared to be less than solemn and reverent about it in public. More amazingly still, Chris Morris had somehow managed to land himself in just as much hot water as ever while playing some fairly exclusionary records in the small hours of the morning. It's when you remember incidents like that you can understand why people still cling to this strange notion of him being a tireless fearless right-on crusader for something or other where nobody's actually sure what it is but whatever it is it's the satire that had to be made and no mistake down with the Daily Mail etc etc.
Of course, it couldn't last, and after three series of small-hours hilarity - Speedking Hawking, Bowie's Romantic Dinners, the Rothko monologue, "are they YOUR birds??", Fucking Noddy and his car, Michael Alexander St. John's Club News and so many others, and that's before we've even got anywhere near the over-lauded 'dark' material - and sublime music, the TV transfer followed and was inevitably a boringly literal comedown for anyone who'd been hooked by the radio version and indeed had spent long hours trying to figure out how in the name of sanity they could do a visual version in the first place. Ahead would lie several serious differences of opinion with the work of someone whom I'd once been such a rabid fan of, but that's another story and in any case, maybe that's the exact same point that he was trying to make with that bit of REM back in the very first show.
Anyway, the whole point of this is to say that Blue Jam is being given a hopefully more or less intact repeat run by Radio 4 Extra starting tonight - its first repeat anywhere, in fact - and you really ought to give it a listen if you're even vaguely interested in comedy or music. Oh and by the way, that loop under the first 'Doctor' sketch is from Le Madrague by Brigitte Bardot.
You can get Fun At One in paperback here or as an eBook here.