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.

1989's Strangest Adverts

The eighties and advertising. They went together like an overlong Spitting Image sketch about blokes in Armani suits shovelling 'sherbet' up their noses.

But by the end of the decade, the writing was on the wall for the writing on the wall, and the 'suits' took the opportunity to let their hair down and indulge in a bit of lateral surrealism. How else can you explain the sudden abundance in late 1989 of quite frankly inexplicable (not to mention spectacularly unsuccessful) small screen campaigns that the sort of people who 'did lunch' would never have countenanced even just a year earlier? Adverts like, for example...

Seemingly resistant to all attempts at 'rebranding', Cadbury's (as was) Dairy Box had always been the poor relation of box-sized chocolate assortments, seldom ever bought except by those rummaging around those odd shelves in newsagents' in search of last-minute presents, and seemingly composed of all those chocolates only otherwise seen when superior boxes had to resort to including that slip stating 'occasionally it may be necessary to replace a sweet with one of equally high quality'. Late in 1989, however, someone made a brave attempt at boosting sales with a television campaign, eschewing the exotic thrills and spills associated with Milk Tray and Turkish Delight in favour of a brief generic glimpse of 'romantic' imagery fading into a close-up of the box itself, overlaid with a single line excerpt from Too Busy Thinking 'Bout My Baby, and nothing else. Doubtless it all cost less to make than an actual box of Dairy Box cost to buy.

It can't exactly have been easy thinking up ways to flog stereo televisions on the basis that stereo transmissions would be coming soon but not just yet, which perhaps explains the exceptional oddness of this Toshiba offering. For some reason, they decided that the ideal marketing gambit would be roping in Vivian Stanshall to record a new version of Terry Keeps His Clips On -hardly an instantly recognisable hum-along chart smash - reworded to proclaim "Stereo will be great, ON MY NEW TOSHIBA, but you'll just have to wait, ON MY NEW TOSHIBA, Nicam Stereo, ON MY NEW TOSHIBA, it's digital don't you know... you don't want hisses and fuzzy-wuzzies crawling up your ears... every note you hear, ON MY NEW TOSHIBA, will sound so jolly clear, ON MY NEW TOSHIBA". This was accompanied by a cartoon man with a television head, turning into the iconic 'cor, telly!' likes of David Bellamy and Brains from Thunderbirds, a programme which it must be pointed out was made entirely in mono.

Access, for the benefit of those who have no memory of life before Chip And Pin, was a sort of credit card that designated itself 'Your Flexible Friend', and had previously been best known through a long-running animated campaign in which Access was seen to constantly chide 'Money' (a shapeless blue pound sign) for being unable to afford consumer items it did not have the requisite funds to purchase. At the end of the eighties this was replaced by a new series of ads in which comical 'miming' types found themselves in hilarious cash-depleted situations to the tune of Louis Jordan's Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby? (example: "my restaurant bill caused frustration, I couldn't pay for my crustacean, flexibility, mon plastique ici, does you does or does you don't take Access?"), with 'air piano' provided by animated inanimate objects.

In a belated attempt to cash in on the 'If You See Sid, Tell Him' British Gas ads, Danepak's great idea for promoting their frozen wares as the nineties loomed was with an unfolding mystery that ended up never unfolding, concerning one 'Herbert The Turbot'. The initial ads featured extremely short clips of 'salt of the Earth' types being interviewed about some unseen Kray Twins-type figure who was always good to his mother and that, but who was presumably also wanted for questioning in connection with the loveable roguish murder of Jack 'The Hat' Birdseye. As if to reinforce the overall 'gentleman's thuggish bastard' comedy-menacing tone of the ads, they concluded with 'Herbert The Turbot' being said in a 'comedy' sub-Geordie voice. Thankfully, it never progressed any further than those initial ads.

Sadly not on YouTube, and similarly doomed to failure after one outing, was McVities' high concept campaign to push the bafflingly over-eulogised biscuit ever The Hobnob, capitalising on its thoroughly unwarranted cult status with a dash of vogueish proto-Mr Bean 'comedy of haplessness'. The inaugural ad presented the tale of some unasumming spectacled bloke who failed his driving test by sounding the horn after waiting twenty minutes for the examiner to appear, only to be told that he had broken the Highway Code by doing so. This was neither funny nor strictly logistically accurate, but the narrator still saw fit to award him The Order Of The McVitie's HobNob, which appeared to be a biscuit attached to a medal ribbon, mounted on a silk cushion. Doubtless there were grand plans for some sort of multimedia experience with real life eater-nominated awards, but pleasingly after just one advert it failed just as spectacularly as that bloke failed his driving test.

Resembling nothing less than Blue Remembered Hills gone berzerk on exposure to 'E Numbers, here Golden Wonder were presumably attempting to cash in on the popularity of Walker's Crisps' vastly superior 'Tank' adverts by replacing the comedy schoolboys with fully grown men dressed as comedy schoolboys, notably one played by Roger Walker (in a sort of fame vacuum between being the Roger in 'Rod, Jane &' on Rainbow and Bunny Charlson on Eldorado), who bombed around a schoolroom set intent on swapping a ball of string for a bag of treasured potato snacks.

And finally, it's back to Toshiba for some twaddle with a not-at-all fetishised Japanese factory girl singing a Wartime Morale-raiser-adapted ditty about how she who makes the thing that holds the oil that turns the spring that makes the thingummybob etc etc whilst a sort of panto Anthony Ainley (so, Anthony Ainley then) camps it up on multiple televisions in the background. Yes, your technology was very progressive. But only your technology. But what's unbelievable about that, Tank?

If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots more about stuff you just don't see on television any more in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Strikes! Silver Jubilees! Barnaby!

This bit of pop-cultural political posturing from back in 2007 got one of the angriest responses to anything I've ever written, leading to me quickly pulling the post and deciding there and then that I was going to pursue a less GRR GRR-friendly creative path in future ("What are they on about? You like Ugly Betty, for fuck's sake" - Ben Baker). It's sort of worked, though I do still sometimes find my name mentioned in connection with some pointless campaign to bring back 1976-standard ad break lengths while I'm walking into Starbucks listening to the Glee soundtrack. Not everyone's behind your campaigns just because they like old stuff, people. Anyway, here it is again, hopefully appearing to a more positive reception this time around...

Spangles. Bagpuss. Spacehoppers. Slade. Rainbow. That episode of Grange Hill where Tucker did something. All of these things, and so much more more besides, once seemed so nostalgically evocative, even as early as the mid-eighties (when 'nostalgia' supposedly began and ended with Jonathan Ross saying "cor them toy space rockets eh?"), but more recently have become like popular cultural Kryptonite.

On the one hand, there was the endless parade of clip show talking heads who thought that simply 'remembering' such things was enough to provoke a proustian rush of nostalgia for the days of Sam Tyler arguing with the BBC Schools Diamond, and those ringtone-toting Abba-endorsing ha-ha-Zippy-was-on-teh-drugs retrololz jerks who insist on turning everything into an unfunny 'lewd' observational joke, which was enough to make even the most tolerant and good-humoured enthusiast for all things vaguely Phantom Flan-Flinger-tinged start to think that Noddy Holder was becoming ever so slightly tedious a reference point.

But on the other hand, when some of said enthusiasts started to wave a healthily tongue-in-cheek two fingers in the direction of Space Dust and its ilk, some others took the George Best-autographed ball and ran with it, adopting a militant stance that basically dictated that nobody was allowed to show affection for anything from the past unless they had obtained written permission and had refused to watch a South Bank Show on two people that they weren't interested in discussing a subject that they didn't understand but still got angry about it anyway.

And so everything fell into a kind of limbo, with poor old Bungle going undiscussed for fear of sparking off a wave of stupidity in both directions... and it's time that we took them back. Reject those false prophets, and reject those false blokes-with-big-sunglasses-on-office-nights-out - let's put lazy uncritical nostalgia back in centre stage, and indeed 'Denim', where it belongs. Starting today, Out On Blue Six officially launches The Humphrey Cushion 'Remember Supermousse' Campaign For Being Allowed To Talk About Spangles Again - watch this space for further developments, and for celebrity endorsements by the likes of Bawrence, Darren Grimley and TV Andrew Collins!

American Pie: Decoded

Don't you just hate American Pie?

No, not those sub-Porky's teen comedy film things (though they're pretty hateful too, now that you come to mention it), but the perpetually busker-endorsed song by Don McLean. Far from being the poignant portrait of post-adolescent disillusionment that it's so often portrayed as, it's actually more like intolerable whingeing from someone who never could quite get over the fact that he grew up and became too old to dance the 'jitterbug' at High School Hops while trying to look at cheerleaders' arses, and resented the fact that all those young upstarts had the temerity to like Bob Dylan and The Byrds instead of Bill Haley And The Comets, like some horrible twisted backwards version of The Wonder Years gone nightmarishly wrong.

The absolute worst thing about it is that, judging from the genuinely heartfelt Vincent, it was written by someone who should have known better (and anyway, if he hated all post-Buddy Holly music so much, why did he bother adding to it himself, especially with such a dreary effort?). Perhaps realising all this, McLean has always refused to discuss the all-too-obvious meanings behind the song's lyrics, recently commenting that "whatever it makes you think about, that's what it means to you". Well, since you put it like that...

A long, long time ago... I can still remember
This is of course just simple scene-setting, with the narrator explaining that though the events in this song took place a long time ago, he can still remember them, like some sort of superpowered Stuart Maconie listening to Back In Denim. Or, if you will, The Incredible String Band's hilariously unimpressive claim to be able to "remember quite well".

How that music used to make me smile
Lily Allen, it would seem, is a key figure in this unfolding story.

And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while

So the narrator was involved in some sort of joint artistic venture with Lily Allen, undertaken with the laudable intention to enrich the lives of the public through the medium of dance.

But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver

Unfortunately, something had gone wrong during the financial negotiations over this project, and the narrator was reduced to supplementing his income with a paper round during the coldest month of the year ("WHICH IS AUGUSTS, HA HA!!1" - Andy Parsons, yesterday).

Bad News on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step

Then things suddenly changed when, while delivering a paper to one particular house, he chanced upon Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson dressed as spoof Heavy Metal stars, and was so struck by this that he vowed to never again further supplement his income by stealing doorsteps and selling them on the black market.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride

Furthermore, the encounter robbed him of his suddenly-not-so-impressive powers of recollection.

But something touched me deep inside
The Day The Music Died

In his confused state, he wandered home and tuned in to Radio 2, where Andrew Collins' hilarious satires of the music industry struck a chord with his recent experiences.

So bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Suddenly freshly motivated by this experience, the narrator recalls Alyson Hannigan at the front door, bidding farewell her real-life husband and fellow star of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Alexis Denisof.

Drove my Chevy to the Levy
But the Levy was dry

Alexis heads off in his car and picks up Chevy Chase, with the intention of meeting 1980s fan rabble-rouser and editor of Doctor Who Bulletin, Gary Levy, for a night of booze-fuelled revelry. However, Levy has decided to go teetotal, thus threatening to scupper their plans.

And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing "this’ll be the day that I die, this’ll be the day that I die"

The day is saved by The Dukes Of Hazzard, who are sitting in a corner drinking a strange concoction of malt liquor and bread, and who are already so inebriated that they are unable to correctly recall world-famous Buddy Holly lyrics.

Did you write The Book Of Love?
For reasons that are not yet clear, the song begins directly addressing William Kotzwinkle, screenwriter for the Michael McKean-starring 1990 romantic comedy The Book Of Love.

And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?

And a similar direct address is made to Richard Dawkins, off of Doctor Who. The answer is, presumably, 'no'.

Do you believe in rock ’n roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?

Time for an unexplained narrative lurch, as the action seems to have relocated to a Gospel Choir-heavy chuch.

And can you teach me how to dance real slow?
Mid-sermon, this new narrator makes the mistake of expressing his yearning to be taught to dance by Bez.

Well, I know that you’re in love with him
Cause I saw you dancing in the gym

Or perhaps it's actually Ricky Hervaid, causing a mass outbreak of 'The Fance'-copying hysteria when his hilarious comedy routine appears on a load of those MTV-friendly monitors in lavishly-appointed gynmnasiums. Bless his chubby little homophobic disablist bastard face.

You both kicked off your shoes
The TV footage inexplicably changes to a clip of Farley 'Jackmaster' Funk's performance of Love Can't Turn Around on Top Of The Pops in 1987, when overexcitable vocalist Darryl Pandy kicked his shoes off into the audience. This causes an outbreak of gym-based shoe-kicking-off, which in turn causes the two jealously-observed lovers to bond further.

Man, I dig those rhythm and blues
Still, you have to admire that crazy young persons' music, what?

I Was A Lonely Teenage Broncin’ Buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck

Dejected, the narrator heads off to see a drive-in movie, drowning his sorrows by paying visual tribute to that episode of Neighbours in which a Carnation-sporting Joe Mangel drove his 'Ute' to a blind date.

But I knew I was out of luck
The Day The Music Died

Oh dear - not even the comic stylings of Andrew Collins can lift his mood!

Now for ten years we’ve been on our own
Battered by life and love, the narrator falls in with a crowd of media-obsessed reactionaries getting angry about nothing, united by their manifesto "GRR GRR EIGHTIES COMPLEAT ROY OF THE ROVERS CD ROM OR SOMETHING".  

And Moss grows fat on a Rolling Stone

Here we explore some of the motivation for their anger; Richard Ayoade, TV's Moss From The IT Crowd, has taken to eating copies of Rolling Stone onstage as part of a routine. Apparently this makes him 'evil'.

But that’s not how it used to be
It is quite rightly pointed out that comedy hasn't always involved Richard Ayoade eating copies of top-selling music magazines. In the eighties, for example, it was more like Phil Cool drinking Citrus Spring.

When The Jester sang for the King and Queen
Or, to use another example, when Seal performed Ye Most Lambentable And Tragicce Ballad Of Hey Nonny No (Also To Be Known As Kiss From A Rose) at one of those Prince's Trust concert things they don't do any more.

In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
As the heating had broken in the venue and the stage area had become uncomfortably chilly, Seal approached The Manic Street Preachers (who were there to perform ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart) backstage and asked to borrow their lead singer's coat. As he was already sporting a ridiculous 'terrorist'-style balaclava, he was only too happy to oblige.

And a voice that came from You And Me
Tragically for Seal, the temperature is still sufficiently cold to reduce his singing voice to a croak akin to the loud child-scaring caw of Crow from You And Me. His career concludes shortly thereafter.

Oh, and while The King was looking down
The Jester stole his thorny crown

A complex allusion to the fickleness of fame, illustrated by the ironic tale of how Alias The Jester overtook King Greenfingers in the bid to become the most iconic fleetingly vogueish children's cartoon of the eighties that nobody now remembers.

The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned

Though it's often difficult to interpret the cryptic allusions, American Pie is clearly not a song about the death of the innocence of the rock'n'roll era and the dark side of the myth of 'The Sixties', but rather about being bored in Britain in the eighties. This, for example, is a clear reference to top controversial judge, Judge Pickles. Bet that Mary Whitehouse Experience are sharpening their satirical claws right now! "'s no wonder he reached that verdict when you consider how he got to the courtroom: 'Sorry I'm late everyone, I was travelling by British Rail...'".

And while Lennon read a book of Marx
Tim Lennon, the Just Seventeen photoshoot-favoured model who professed to like "rave music like Nirvana", thumbs through a biography of Hazard-hitmaker Richard Marx.

The quartet practiced in the park
While on his way to see forgotten early nineties indie no-hit wonders Candyland performing in Liverpool's non-famous Calderstones Park, as part of some Granada TV-sponsored 'mini-festival'.

And we sang Dirges In The Dark
The Day The Music Died

This week, Andrew Collins introduces an hilarious and timely Bruce Springsteen parody.

Helter Skelter in a summer swelter
A coded message to Charles Manson. About Charles Manson.

The Byrds flew off with a fallout shelter
Back to the eighties, and production work on top nuclear melodrama Threads is famously halted when a sixties pop group attempting a revival tour steal a key part of the scenery and smuggle it onto an aeroplane.

Eight Miles High and Falling fast
Finally we find out what the Lily Allen collaboration would have been - a speeded-up medley of minor hits by Cathy Dennis and The Byrds.

It landed foul on the grass
The players tried for a forward pass

Overwhelmed by eighties ennui, the narrator opts for a boredom-relieving game of Match Day on the ZX Spectrum, but falls foul of the bug that causes the ball to permanently disappear when it lands on a certain area of pixilated 'grass'.

With The Jester on the sidelines in a cast
Further Spectrum-related woe ensues when the computer crashes, and a graphic of Alias The Jester from his own game briefly appears mashed in with that black screen before it says '(C) 1982 Sinclair Research Limited'.

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While the Sergeants played a marching tune

That'll be those 'drugs', wheeled out to accompany the unecessary overblown twentieth anniversary celebrations of the release of Captain Rutter's Only Darts Club Band. Skin up, 'Dinners'!

We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance
Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield

Graham Bright MP tables a motion to outlaw 'raves', while Tim Lennon sobs into his Richard Marx book. This is 'meaningful', this bit.

Do you recall what was revealed?
The Day The Music Died

Andrew Collins does some of those wacky spoof music news headlines.

Oh, and there we were all in one place
The narrator then recalls his days as part of 'Rubber Bucket', the large ad-hoc choir of squatters assembled to record the protest song We Are All Living In One Place at the behest of - yikes! - Gary Glitter. 'Uncle' says: "Commission x 8!".  

A generation Lost In Space
While his peers start camping around in front of painted backdrops yelping "In-deed! Spare me the barb, major!" and being unconvincingly spooked by unconvincing owl-esque aliens.

With no time left to start again
He realises the song sounds pretty bloody stupid thus far, but with this amount of lyrics set down already, not to mention a potentially angry blogger who's spent hours on it up to this point, starting all over again might not really be good for his health.

So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack flash sat on a candlestick

So he opts to start talking about currently popular topics instead. For example, the Top TV Bisexual antics of Top TV Bisexual John Barrowman.

Cause fire is the devil’s only friend
Or Facebook, and in particular the fact that Satan has his own personal page, but the only person who will accept his Friend Request is 'Fire'.

And as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage

Oh, hang on - Barrowman's latest stage musical has been invaded by a dystopian rapper protesting about his lack of representation in the genre, and the audience are not happy about it...

No angel born in hell
Could break that Satan’s spell

...while David Boreanaz also refuses to add The Horned One as a friend...

And as the flames climbed high into the night to light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight The Day The Music Died

...still, it's time for Andrew Collins - required listening in Hell!

I met a girl who sang the blues
Just like TV's 'Oops On Mars, It Was All A Dream!(TM). The narrator comes to, and realises that while he's been hallucinating all of the above, Lily Allen and her 'crew' have packed up and left. Stumbling out of the studio in a daze, he chances upon Amy Winehouse/Katie Melua/Joss Stone/One Of Those.

And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away

Recalling Martyn Lewis' bizarre lambasting of the BBC for concentrating on 'Bad' News, he asks for some more upbeat examples of current affairs as a way of cheering up. Amy/Katy/Joss/One Of is not impressed.

I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

So, just like Sam Tyler, he seeks out the record shop he used to frequent, but none of their equipment will work while he's in there. Which is a spooky motif that can be conveniently forgotten about when the rubbish ending is bolted on.

And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed

Dystopian Rap's own Graffiti Poet takes his unique brand of nude lyricism to the streets - the public respond as might be expected.

But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken

In his last gasp of confusion before keeling over, the narrator wonders why the church bells are no longer 'talking' to him. Then they go all wobbly and warped sounding, like that church that was amusingly revealed to employ a hidden tape recorder rather than real bells when the tape wore out.

And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The Day The Music Died

And The Holy Trinity go on a weekend break to Devon for a spot of Andrew Collins-listening. THE END.

You Can't Judge A Videtalker By Its Blurb

Sometimes, when you start poking around in the increasingly daunting 'Drafts' folder (well, it's technically not a folder, but you get the point) and its seemingly endless roll call of unfinished and long-abandoned post ideas, it's surprising what you can find in there. For example, I've just stumbled across this long-forgotten doodle in the margin with the gobbledygook title You Can't Judge A Videtalker By Its Blurb (actually taken from Patsy Kensit-starring Nadsat-esque-spouting eighties Children's ITV sci-fi comedy Luna), which appears to have been driving towards making some kind of point about so-called 'Video Nasties'. It would have started, it seems, with a memory-searing childhood visit to the local video shop, with its sensory-assault-launching wall full of uncertified low-budget horror films with alarming cover art:

"One of these was of course the famously revolting cover to Cannibal Holocaust, so ridiculously over-the-top and retina-assaultingly rendered that it almost crosses a line into acceptability. The others that really seared themselves into my mind, however, were ones that you don't hear so much about now. The woman-grabbing photo on the cover of Don't Answer The Phone, for example, which made me feel in nauseous in a way I didn't really understand at the time, or the more traditional Granada Horror Film Slot Continuity Slide-style iconography of White Cannibal Queen, which it has to be admitted was not a million miles away from the 'Scary Picture' in Look Around You. Above all of these in the sleepless night stakes, however, was the priest cowering behind a giant crucifix on the cover of The Bogeyman. What's that? You've never heard of The Bogeyman? Well, that's hardly surprising. It came and went in cinemas with apparently nobody even noticing, and if it wasn't for its very brief spell at the top of the rental charts back at the dawn of home video, it's likely nobody would ever have noticed it; even when the tabloids were scrabbling around for a reader-enraging list of depravities in leading 'Nasties', all they could find to remark upon in this lower-rung post-Exorcist Hollywood underachiever was a telekinetically-driven scissor attack. It's about as dreary as early eighties mainstream attempts at doing mid-budget horror got, and that's no mean feat, especially when it's up against the likes of Dead And Buried. Yes, I did eventually actually see The Bogeyman, when I was a good deal older and indeed a good deal more interested in the obscurer corners of popular culture (oh, alright, rubbishy old films), and was quite surprised to find that it didn't exactly match up to the quakes of terror that had reverberated outwards from that hapless rental shop shelf"

Then there was a gap and the following fragment:

"So you can't judge a book by its cover but you can judge the idea by signifiers[...] the same way that I can make a fairly informed judgement about Lark Rise To Candleford or the eighteen millionth series of Shooting Stars"

...and that was it. Whatever point it was driving towards is now lost to posterity, alongside whatever would have gone in the blank posts headed 'Song 2 b-sides' and 'Adam Diment book in charity shop'. I did briefly consider reworking it into something about how, despite what people being paid to write columns with an eye on their next TV outing might say, it's perfectly acceptable to be opposed to the fundamental idea of Benefits Street without needing to watch it to form a value judgement about its actual content, but despite having a corking title (Can You Tell Me How To Get, How To Get Rid Of Benefits Street?) this was abandoned when Phil Norman did his superlative piece on much the same subject, and anyway, loads of people were sobbing "boo hoo hoo your opinions is giving me earrrrr infection can't you stop having opinions do more about Hardly Hare please ps i should win stuff by watching", so that was that, really, and 'malcolm tucker rant?' would never find its way into this post. Apart from just there of course.

Anyway, there was no conclusion planned out in the original half-post apart from the word 'conclusion', so let's just leave it there. I wonder who the real cannibals are?

Well Firstly The House Of Lords, Then On To The Brit Awards...

It's safe to say that I've never exactly got on with the Brit Awards. To an ordinary music-buying member of the public, it's never looked like anything other than a shallow, empty excuse for the people who sell the music to get together and show off about how great they think they are for selling it, under the pretence of celebrating the artistic achievements of musicians they clearly couldn't give a flying fuck about. If you're reading this and fuming in disagreement, well then, do something about it. It's your bloody ceremony.

In fairness, bombastic television presentation and bewildering levels of tabloid excitement aside, the actual ceremony itself is something that it's always been easy to avoid. As indeed have the actual awards and accolades that it doles out; any victory-related excitement and braggadocio soon fades and it's a fair bet that even fans of Brit recipients would be hard pushed to tell you how many they've won and what for. Meanwhile in some cases - naming no Simply Reds - the presence of that pompous stuffy emblem and a flash proudly proclaiming an album to be the work of a 'Brits Nominee' only seems to amplify the waves of tedium and laughability pulsating outwards from the rapidly Charity Shop-bound CD. It's a bit like, well, all of those other high-profile media awards which grab endless acres of column inches without ever having the slightest impact on your own personal reading, viewing or listening habits.

What's harder to avoid, however, is the constant nagging awareness at the back of your mind that The Brits exists. True, it's hardly The Great Satan, or even The Big Victor, and it's not even really the lingering bastion of Thatcherism that some try to make it out to be, but in symbolic and totemistic terms it's a troubling reminder that there's an entire industry out there that if it had its way would happily do away with anything you're remotely interested in, and churn out kerching-friendly bland music for bland people for ever more. Let us not forget that the Brits-approved music world is something that X Factor and its ilk are actually an alternative to.

It's hardly surprising, then, that over the years there have been a couple of high profile attempts at rocking the Brits boat, but even that has now been effectively streamlined and locked-down into a managed, controllable, headline-friendly and 100% safe form of 'controversy' that doesn't reflect badly on anyone involved with the ceremony itself. Adele got a bit mardy! Liam Gallagher was drunk! A dance music DJ had 'words' with an old rocker! And other entirely surprising things you weren't expecting at all! None of which - conveniently - involve anything other than a surly malcontent refusing to play along and spoiling it all for everyone who works very hard behind the scenes to make the Brit Awards the great success story that it is. Even as far back as the Mick Fleetwood/Samantha Fox-hosting debacle in 1989, there was a conscious attempt to blame it on the two admittedly ill-suited hosts (and it's worth pointing out here that La Fox had been doing live TV and radio for several years by that point without any comparable disasters; Fleetwood however should have stuck to being remixed by Arthur Baker) rather than whoever cued in the wrong guests, set up the stage back to front, or gave the green light to the whole thing in the first place. Only the year before, of course, production shortcomings had led to Andrew Lloyd Weber's meaningless speech about nothing (or at least nothing to do with anything or anyone apart from himself) overrunning so badly that there wasn't time for Rick Astley to collect his 'gong' for Single Of The Year, with a mysterious hair-mousse bloke in an expensive suit virtually snatching it away from the presenters before a sharp cut to The Who doing a not particularly exciting show-closer. Doesn't get mentioned quite so often, that.

Even the few brief but incendiary moments of subversion that did get through have been deftly swept under the carpet and are kept as far apart from official Brits history as possible. If you want evidence of this, look no further than the fact that no less than three attempts to upload videos to go with this post to YouTube have resulted in an immediate takedown due to a 'Copyright Claim' from the BPI, whereas endless clips of fucking Dido et al graciously accepting awards remain online ad infinitum. Well, yah boo sucks to that. We're going to be celebrating the incidents that The Brits would rather forget, but which are the only moments anyone else remembers, whether the BPI likes it or not. This, in a very real sense, is Television Freedom...

1992, and unlikely million-selling dance music duo The KLF are named Best British Group - albeit jointly with the depressingly inevitable Simply Red - and are booked to open The Brits at the exact moment they decide to jack in the musical project that's got out of their control and return to their quieter former existence as artists and writers. Instead of the expected pyrotechnic-laden big production number of the sort the band have become known for, the 'suits' get a lone flashing police light and a frantic thrash-metal version of 3am Eternal, ending with Bill Drummond firing some very loud blanks at an audience who probably considered U2 to be a little on the raucuous and unkempt side. Confused silence and close-ups of sour-faced women in expensive dresses ensue.

The following year, a rare outbreak of criticism over the event's predictabler-than-predictable beige-hued line-up from traditionally supportive tabloid pop columnists sees up and coming indie sexuality-straddlers Suede added to the bill at the last minute. Realising they are not going to win any friends at the event whatever they do, Brett and company up the musical abrasiveness and discomfort-occasioning homo-hetero-erotic posturing to a truly remarkable degree, scaring the audience into even less applause than you'd find at a Rebekah Brooks-led Pro-Horsemeat Rally with an address about the future of libraries from Terry Deary. Still, it's not like anyone remembers Tasmin Archer's performance, is it?

1996, and the one you've all been waiting for, as Jarvis Cocker famously pulls the rug from under Michael Jackson's innocence-proving-beyond-all-doubt Christ allegory spectacular through the medium of walking briskly across the stage whilst dressed as the 'Bionic' one off The Boy Who Won The Pools. To be honest, despite being more exciting, hilarious, and generally part of the all-too-brief Brass Eye-era 'something might change because of this' feeling that people were actually trying to start a quiet revolution from the inside, in a way it's not quite as subversive as the other two, as pretty much everyone who wasn't an insanity-fuelled Jackson fan came down heavily on Jarvis' side and applauded it as A Good Thing. Still, it was a truly thrilling moment, and without question Britpop's single greatest achievement, made all the more surreally enjoyable by the crowd cheering wildly when Jarvis appears as though they thought he was about to launch into a duet with Jacko, and by the ensuing press statement which claimed "Michael Jackson respects Pulp as artists". I'd love to know what his favourite track off Freaks was.

Meanwhile, we won't be mentioning Chumbawumba throwing a bucket of water over John Prescott, as it was a feeble and inappropriately-targeted publicity-courting gesture seemingly undertaken to prove that great revolutionary Chris Tarrant did not die in vain.

Why, you may be wondering, did all of these incidents take place so close to each other in the early nineties? Well, that was a time when the Brit-orientated side of the music industry thought that it could bring the troublesome 'alternative' sector's house into some sort of order and get it to play by their rules - anyone else remember the hideous British Music Weekend events? - but found that it still had enough fire in its heart to resent and reject such moves. Even Kingmaker, who were hardly ideological firebrands, released a single expressing their desire to 'bomb' the Brit Awards, admittedly in the days before the authorities would take such a statement too seriously and the right-on brigade would take it literally. A couple of years later, of course, Noel Gallagher and company were only too happy to play along with the mainstream's overtures, which led us into the even bigger mess we're in today.

So when James Corden hosts this year's bash on the 19th, instead of watching it go and listen to whatever you actually want to listen to. Something. Anything. Even Something/Anything, if you fancy a bit of seventies AOR. After all, in the words of another early nineties Brit-snubber, "don't be told who to like/it's your right/it's your choice to choose who to listen to..."

Just as long as you don't choose Kula Shaker.

How We Used To Blog: Saint Etienne And Watch With Mother At The Queen Elizabeth Hall

Tim Worthington's Newsround is actually my sixth blog, or seventh if you count the collaborative trivia site TATP (which is now available in handy book form from here). As the whole point has always been about learning and improving, these earlier attempts have all long since been taken offline, with the better posts either reused on here (such as the series of album reviews from The Memorex Years), or else recycled in various books. As for the others, sometimes they just aren't worth dwelling on. Or worse still are That Thing About Puppets. But just occasionally, there's a good idea worth revisiting. Such as the story of how I found myself writing a programme for the benefit of an unlikely venue full of punters clamouring to see a dusty old BBC children's show...

Back in 2007, the ever-fabulous pop band Saint Etienne were artists in residence at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, and one of the events they staged was based around the BBC's long-forgotten Watch With Mother series Joe. Having seen and enjoyed a number of pieces I had written about Joe and various other similar shows of its era, they invited me to put together a short booklet of viewing notes to accompany the evening's entertainment. Needless to say, given that it involved working with one of my favourite bands and was taking place in the same venue where Pink Floyd held their infamous 'Games For May' (which you can read more about here), I jumped at the chance.

Anyway, here's how I wrote about it on the blog that I had at the time:

“Turntable Cafe is a monthly event held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall by current artists-in-residence Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne in association with the fashion label Agnes B. Previous Turntable Cafes have been based around such esoteric subjects as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Joe Meek, and this one concentrated on the BBC's long-running Watch With Mother slot, and in particular a long-forgotten and frequently overlooked show named Joe. Having provided some text for the accompanying booklet, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend (and big thanks are due here to Andrew Hinton, who asked me if I'd be interested in contributing in the first place) what turned out to be a very enjoyable evening.

First up was a screening of two episodes of Joe, and one apiece of Fingerbobs and Bod. Although both shows have been available on DVD for several years now, it was still quite a 'new' experience to see them played in front of a large audience, and to hear the genuine howls of laughter at the trademark surreally comic touches of producer Michael Cole. The two episodes of Joe hailed from the original black and white version of the show, which has not been seen since 1970, and - despite the unintentionally uncomfortable nature of some of the 'ethnic' accents - made for quite fascinating viewing, not least on account of the arresting children's-storybook-illustrations-meet-gritty-urban-realism visual style, and the unexpectedly groovy jazz score (which, it was later revealed, was played in live while the episodes were being recorded).

This was followed by a lively panel discussion featuring Joan Hickson (the artist who created Joe), Alison Prince (writer of Joe and also later Trumpton), Alan Rogers (animator of Bod), and Emily Firmin, daughter of prolific animator Peter Firmin and better known to most viewers as the little girl of the same name in the sepia photographs that bookended each episode of Bagpuss). Hickson and Prince proved a fantastically entertaining double act, reminiscing with the right balance between wit and vitriol about the BBC's strange decision-making process and the complaints that their show generated, while Rogers raised some interesting points about the changing nature of animation techniques and the philosophical influences that informed Bod. Emily didn't really get to say very much, sadly, although she did chime in with some interesting backup details to issues raised by the other panelists, as well as sharing some childhood memories of seeing her father and Oliver Postgate at work on their numerous shows, and revealing that she herself now works as an artist.

Finally, the evening was rounded off by a DJ set from Martin Green, the junk-shop scouring genius behind such compilations as The Sound Gallery, Bistro Erotica Italia, Cool Yule, Resurrection: The Bible Of Amplified Heavenly Grooves, and the fantastic The Sound Spectrum, who played a combination of musical items from such shows as Mary Mungo & Midge, Joe, Play Away, Chigley and many more besides.

The brilliant thing about this kind of event is that even if you're the person who wrote the accompanying 'sleevenote' blurb, you can still find out something new about the subject, and in this case it was the fact that there was apparently a Music From Joe EP released by Decca in 1966, which contained six cuts from Laurie Steele's superb score such as Joe And The Jukebox and Joe So Sad. So if any kind person reading could possibly oblige with some sort of a copy...”

I did soon manage to find a copy of Music From Joe, which was rather fortunate as around the same time I was also trying to use the blog to smoke out copies of the LP based on Alan Bennett's On The Margin (which was immediately reissued on CD), obscure VHS-only release Alexei Sayle's Pirate Video (which was immediately leaked on a torrent site), and long-lost Bob Dylan-starring BBC play Madhouse On Castle Street (pffffffffhtht). Nowadays, of course, you don't often have to make any similar appeals for rare material as most of it's out there somewhere. Though if anyone has access to any episodes of Bizzy Lizzy or Rubovia...

Anyway, if you're wondering about the full programme from the Turntable Cafe event, you can now find a PDF of it here. If you want to read more about Saint Etienne, then you might be interested in my book Higher Than The Sun. If you want to read more about Joe... well, more about that soon. And if you're wondering about all those old blog posts, mind your own business. Nosey swine.

Let's Have A Look At What You Could Have Watched...

There seems to be a bit of a downer on big brash Light Entertainment stylings these days. It's a shame, but it's probably down to a number of insurmountable factors; swanky new computerised show-off technology doing away with ropey animation and schmaltzy sub-Hazlehurst brass, the fact that all mainstream presenters these days seem to have gone to some sort of 'Presenting School' where they learn everything about cue lines and camera angles and how to hit your 'mark' but have every last shred of personality drilled out of them (that's if they ever had a personality in the first place, which in most cases is debatable), the need for talent shows with a huge amount of spin-off merchandise riding on them to make themselves appear bombastic and Earth-stopping rather than a bit of frivolous fun, and above all those legions of killjoy miseryguts that appear to think that anything that isn't worthy or educative or deeply politicised is somehow inherently A Bad Thing, as though the only way to combat the unstoppable globalist expansion of Simon Cowell (a process that is probably as literal as it is metaphorical) is by being a miserable bastard who, if they had their own way, would replace all Saturday night television with a repeat of Threads introduced by Thom Yorke and Tortoise from Pipkins. See, this is what happens when everyone decides buying a twenty year old single with swearing in it - rather than, say, something inoffensive but brand new - is an effective form of protest against, erm, what the majority of other people like whether you like it or not. Still, I'm sure Zack De La Rocha was heartened to know he'd made his point about institutionalised police racism in Hispanic neighbourhoods so effectively.

Anyway, the fact of the matter is that there wasn't actually anything wrong with big brash Light Entertainment stylings in the first place, and time was when they were just part of the televisual furniture. Everyone accepted them and nobody - apart from a few broadsheet columnists ironically angling for their own slot on Did You See? - really much minded them. You had your Tumbledown, your Edge Of Darkness and your The All-New Alternative Comedy Barstard Show (Tune In, Maggie!) exactly where they should have been, while earlier in the evening you had Paul Daniels gamely trying to pass off vacant-looking contestants standing in silence whilst a descending timer bleeped obliviously away as something approaching coherency, all of it smothered in big glittery sets, tacky gold lettering and silly trumpet flourish theme tunes - and we've not even started on the equally gaudy and jaunty trailers for the evening's viewing showcasing those exact same more serious offerings only with inappropriate music and a chummy voiceover - and nobody exactly started calling for the dismantling of state apparatus. Even world-class moaner Michael Parkinson seemingly wouldn't be without his comfy sofas and ridiculous theme tunes.

Whether the end result involved Peter Egan making his weekly appearance on Wogan, Colin Baker attempting to plug Doctor Who via a bit of comic chicanery with Roland Rat, or that ridiculous continuity slide for The Bill featuring Bob Cryer in front of rolling clouds, the world was a slightly jollier place when television was treated as a big showbiz party that you had to wade through in order to get to your worthier stuff; nowadays that's basically all been condensed into John Barrowman, and it's not as if there's some thing with James Burke frowning at a suspension bridge waiting on the other side of him. Anyway, before this starts to look uncomfortably like a major league sulk about the 'golden age' of television - which it isn't, and anyway, my own personal belief that the 'golden age' was the late eighties and involved anything but 'quality' programming would cause most archive TV bores to head for a desert island on a raft made of box sets - let's have a bit of a celebration of the days when you'd invariably switch on the set to be confronted with a ludicrous low-concept game show with opening titles made for about three pence (which, in some cases, still cost slightly more than some of the prizes) and accompanied by what sounded like outtakes from High Havoc by Corduroy. Yes, it's The Five Greatest Game Show Intros Of All Time...!

Winner Takes All

As the dullard who's uploaded the only version of the 'proper' Telly Addicts opening titles currently on YouTube has disabled embedding, and there's no sign of the demented Ask The Family one with the zoinging sitars and 'alternative therapy' playing card things (well, apart from at the start of the Not The Nine O'Clock News parody), it's straight on to this Tarbuck-fronted Tote-riffing Friday evening mainstay, featuring a procession of flying abrupt one-word questions running the full gamut of none-more-seventies fonts, before giving way to what appears to be Tarby alternately undergoing the rigours of a 'trip' in a mid-sixties movie and auditioning for the opening titles of Doctor Who via the medium of the weird-out bits from Jamie And The Magic Torch. Mind you, that shuffling Samba-tinged backing-from-an-unfinished-Middle-Of-The-Road-single politeness isn't a patch on the later electroed-up session singers chirruping 'Winner! Takes! All'.

Odd One Out

Starts with some desperately unconvincing 'computer' effects and 'radiation' klaxon-esque blippering which is about the most un-Hazlehurst thing unimaginable, but what we're really wanting is the overliteral nonsense that follows, in which - courtesy of some publicity stills hacked out with a blunt pair of scissors - we're shown Paul Daniels looking utterly befuddled, then halfway there, then finally spotting the odd one out, all of it cut to the rhythm of one of Ronnie H's classic 'you can sing the title of the show to it' gambits, complete with trademark mental overstuffed cadence at the end.

Play Your Cards Right

A strobing card-derived high-speed countdown that probably wouldn't be allowed under Health & Safety regulations now, followed by what appear to be spinning plates of those old-skool varieties of Jacob's Club where nobody can remember what the flavour was, all of it accompanied by music so banal, repetitive and minimal that it almost comes right the way back out the other side again into Krautrockland. And surely oversized playing cards are more at home in the opening titles of a supernatural anthology series? Note also how Brucie is too preoccupied with 'skirt' to strike his trademark pose.


Chunky bullion-evoking gold lettering, a load of stray casino-themed close-up film trims from a long-forgotten attempt at jumping on the James Bond bandwagon, and Radio 2 circa 1972's idea of a funked-out dancefloor smash. Sadly cuts off before we get to see Fred Dinenage being spectacularly rude to the contestants.

Bob's Full House

Flying numbers, spinning cylindrical electronic bingo card on a spangly blue backdrop, five identical passport photos of Yer Monkhouse, and a belting edge-of-the-seat theme tune adhering strictly to that oh-so-eighties rule of the strings taking over the melody from the brass – what more fitting a way could there be to introduce the greatest game show ever? Well, apart from Telly Addicts, that is.

If you've enjoyed this article, you may enjoy Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

This Is Sadcore

Given how much genre-defining debate (translation: a couple of people mused over whether it should really be called 'UK Funk' or something) was kickstarted by the post about so-called 'Pigeon Street Soul', it's high time that we took a look at another unnamed, unformed and singularly unimportant non-existent musical genre that doesn't particularly warrant celebrating in any way, shape or form, and which most of the alleged participants probably didn't even realise was a genre. This time: Sadcore.

Yes, Sadcore. Or, in other words, that curious strain of early-to-mid-nineties post-'rave' dance music wherein blue-hued chunky piano motifs vied for space with bawling full-throated vowel-expanding mono-monickered Eurodisco vocalists who constantly sounded on the verge of crying, and lyrics pondering great existential posers in the sort of vocabulary more normally to be found on greetings cards, which were not so much sung as they were stretched out on a rack. And, what's more, have more recently given rise to Wikipedia entries that stretch out coverage of their one or two stray hits to give the decade-straddling illusion of a career roughly equatable to that of Iggy Pop.

If you want to get all allegorical about it, then in some ways Sadcore represented the 'comedown' after the great big early-nineties-long ecstasy-fulled warehouse party of chart-hogging upbeat Balaeric anthemry, with the wailing divas, crowd noises, children's TV samples and blissed-out programming giving way to soul-searching and moody tonality. Their songs were the aural equivalent of a bloke catching an early Sunday morning bus home whilst still in his raving gear, with an expression that suggested he had 'seen' the philosophical burden of humanity in the middle of a mist of steam, dry ice and bleeping techno sounds. It needs a name, and Sadcore is as good a name as any.

And if you've still no idea what any of this is all about, here's a couple of defining examples of the genre. Yes, it is a genre now. Stop arguing.

Haddaway - Life

More widely celebrated for his equally existentally-probing debut hit What Is Love?, Haddaway really came to his own on this less well remembered follow-up smash, which explored his philosophical ponderings on the subject of 'life' (which, in case you were wondering, 'will never be the same' and 'keeps changing'), complete with allegorical video-based 'artificial intelligence' shenanigans. As if that wasn't enough, he then went on to score two more equally Diderot-riffing top ten hits - emotion-versus-logic ballad I Miss You, which he somehow contrived to perform on Top Of The Pops whilst apparently dressed as Duane Dibley, and mind expansion-endorsement Rock My Heart, perhaps best remembered for its opening syllable being approximately eight million decibels louder than the rest of the song.

Gloworm - Carry Me Home

Alternately bawled and murmured conjecture on the shifting and evolving nature of identity, relationships, vocation, domesticity and, erm, 'smog', the posited lateral response to all of these transitory societal strata being that the narrator should, for some reason, be carried home. The nearest that Sadcore has to a national anthem. Gloworm's only other hit, lest we forget, was I Lift My Cup, which with true zen pan-perceptualism strove to reiterate that he lifts it 'up'.

MC Sar & The Real McCoy - Another Night

A plea for openness and inter-gender discourse set to a not-particularly subtle rewrite of the theme from Van Der Valk, fronted by a man occupying a none-more-early-nineties facial middle ground between Kevin Day and The Bloke Out Of Therapy?. Note cunning deployment in video of those old Sadcore 'meaning'-depicting standbys, out-of-context silent movie footage and 'being on' a television. Best experienced as accompanied by a technical breakdown on long forgotten cable music channel The Box that somehow contrives to cause the upper and lower halves of his face to switch positions.

By the mid-nineties, it was all over bar the shouting - the actual literal shouting if we're taking latterday Sadcore standard Ecuador! by Sash into account - and Eurodance had curtailed its spiritual quest in favour of Whigfield trying to find increasingly ridiculous ways of sneaking filth past the censor's radar. Further along this upward trajectory lay The Party Animals... but that's another contrived fictitious genre.

If you've enjoyed this article, you can find plenty more not very much like it in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Pigeon Street Soul

It occurred to me recently that there isn't a proper genre name for early eighties UK pop-soul. You know, the sort that was festooned with synth drums, modal chord changes and 'squiggly' synths, as performed on Top Of The Pops by style-conscious vocalists in white gloves and 'cool' sunglasses with neon bits on them, while one of the backing band mimed on an instrument that wasn't actually audible on the record, and some balloons fell on them. Some sources out there seem to suggest 'jazz-funk' as a viable candidate, but that doesn't really nail down anything about its sound, style or indeed sunglasses, and could theoretically apply to anyone from Herbie Hancock to Level 42 via Curiosity Killed The Cat, Carmel and that band Ant Jones off Grange Hill had in that baffling Pop Pirates film. So it's time to do something about it.

Like all good genres, and indeed all bad ones, it needs a label that evokes the sound and the era in equal measure. Something that says both Roland synths and Latin percussion with a side order of what-time's-Tales-Of-The-Gold-Monkey-On?. Problem is, most of the immediately obvious suggestions just won't do. 'Post-Threads Soul' is at apocalyptic odds with the upbeat nature of the music, and conjures up worrying images of Jaki Graham scarpering from armed guards with a pilfered box of Prawn Cocktail flavour crisps. 'Deeleybopper Soul' really points more towards the zany Radio 1 DJs who introduced the records, and in any case it's probably illegal to mention them by now. Short-lived soft drink inspired 'Quatro Soul' almost nails it with the hint of sophistication and indeed suggestion of vague post-New Romantic influence, but would also allow bastard Five Star in through the back door, and that's not happening on my watch.

So the only sensible name left to give it is 'Pigeon Street Soul', in honour of a TV show that not only fits the timeframe perfectly, but also had a theme tune more or less cut from the same musical cloth. Arguably with slightly more sophisticated lyrics too. Incidentally, if anyone has a copy of the full-length version of the Pigeon Street theme as was very nearly released as a single by BBC Records And Tapes but then wasn't, please do get in touch.

Anyway, if we're inventing a genre, then we at least need to take a look at some of the key examples of it.

Imagination - Just An Illusion

Leee John, the man who inspired a million unfunny sketch show parody songs about how he'd 'forgotten half my trousers', and indeed a million unamused-for-different-reasons letters to Points Of View on much the same subject, with a handclap and slap bass-heavy ode to backing singers 'symbolically' appearing and then disappearing, and a video set in a Haunted House that, on closer inspection, seems small enough for him to have just jumped out of if he was that unnerved. Extra points for the none-more-genre-defining freeze-frame that lingers just slightly too long.

Junior - Mama Used To Say

Squiggly synth-dominated musical call-to-arms that was to Pigeon Street Soul what Purple Haze was to 1967, bafflingly illustrated here with Simon In The Land Of Chalk Drawings-inspired antics that caused much excitement to younger siblings when the video showed up on Top Of The Pops. All-conquering credentials more than confirmed by its subsequent retooling as the theme for TV-am's summer holidays stand-in for 'computer'-based Saturday Morning hoedown Data Run, Summer Run.

Linx - So This Is Romance

David Grant and company with their other hit, hitting all the right cultural touchstones with a bit of ‘prop’-based performance involving waving a letter around when it gets mentioned in the lyrics, the comic mugging to the camera of the other dinner-jacketed band members, and the bloke who has apparently been employed simply to stand at the back doing a weird stiff-legged hopping-from-one-foot-to-the-other dance that makes him appear constantly on the verge of falling over. And - AND - there's Simon Bates doing a trademark 'emotional' intro!

Joboxers - Just Got Lucky

New-fangled 'Boxerbeat' as touted by a band who dressed like they were looking to have a 'word' with Pogo Patterson at the end of an episode of Grange Hill, and a song that can have entire offices punching the air when it makes an unexpected appearance on Radio 2. Look out Pogo, they've got a 'cartie'!

Sunderland Are Back In The First Division

Back when Stewart Lee and Richard Herring had their own show on BBC Radio 1 (and if you didn't know they'd ever had one, then you can read all about it in my history of comedy on Radio 1, Fun At One), they were very fond of playing an amusingly cheap and unenthusiastic cover of Mah Nah Mah Nah - discovered on a cassette of 'Top TV Themes' given to them by Harry Hill and Al Murray, who in turn had found it in a motorway service station - as performed by what they described as 'a bored bloke holding his nose'. Their main stated reason for playing the track was to try and discover who the uncredited performers actually were - partly so they could be paid the PRS royalties they were due, and partly so they could ask them why they did it. Sadly, no further evidence was ever forthcoming.

And this is true of so many of those cheap and unenthusiastic albums you'll find in motorway service stations, or indeed clogging up the dustier corners of the dustier charity shops, especially if they're vinyl collections of 'Love Themes' that you've never heard of with a girl with too much eye make up on the cover. Just like those trapped-in-pop-culture-amber seventies lovelies, the musicians involved in the quick and opportunistic projects were nameless, faceless hacks who quite audibly did it for the money, and for the most part they really are worth leaving to gather yet more dust. Tepid collections of cover versions, dismal re-recordings by one member of the original band, promotional singles for local industrial smoothing firms where you can't work out what in Earth they were hoping to promote and who they were hoping to promote it to, they're all pretty much deserving of their anonymity. But just occasionally you'll stumble across something that almost performs a full circle of banality and hopelessness and ends up strangely fascinating; like that cover of Mah Nah Mah Nah, like Last Action Heroes - Themes From 18 Of The Greatest Action Movies by The Starlight Orchestra & Singers, and like Sunderland Are Back In The First Division by Fine Art.

This is, as you're no doubt already aware, a football record. But it's not any old football record. It's a disproportionately triumphant celebration of an event that's by definition underscored by underachievement, set to none-more-eighties keyboard-derived orchestral swirls and 'flattened' synth sounds a la Love And Pride by King - especially amusing when they pick out those eleven 'football' notes - and bearing all the hallmarks of having been conceived and created by somebody's friend who's 'good with music'. It also has lyrics that raise statement of fact to an art form, as well as a verse that bafflingly advises the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool that on returning to the first division, Sunderland will be, erm, 'there to welcome you'. It's also insanely catchy in a shamelessly futile manner. But you'll find absolutely no information about it out there, other than the fact it apparently dates from the 1979/80 season (though even that's debatable, given it doesn't sound like it does), that the b-side was Gannin To Roker Park by Ronnie Roker & The Black Cats which appears to have been an even earlier recycled effort, and... nope, nothing else. Not even what label it was on, nor even any indication of whether 'Ronnie Roker' might have actually been seventies top ten hit writer and The Adventures Of Rupert Bear/Pipkins-theme-penner extraordinaire Ron Roker (and the a-side does bear some similarities to certain of his compositions). There was an American punk band called Fine Art, but chances are it might not have been them.

Of course, every region has their own long and bewildering history of locally-relevant ludicrous football records - anyone else recall that 'woah-ah-oh/woah-ah-oh/Liverpool/are never gonna stop' thing? - but Sunderland Are Back In The First Division seems to have developed a Mackem-transcending level of cult popularity. Look on Google and you'll see endless amused mentions of it on football forums along with several by avowed fan of the song David Baddiel, who has often referenced his delight in 'the sheer straightforwardness' of the title, and indeed once played it back when he and Rob Newman had their own Radio 1 show (and if you didn't know that they did, you'll be wanting Fun At One again). But nobody upon nobody seems to know anything about its background, its writers or its performers, or indeed why they did it. If it's in any first division of anything at all, it's the first division of records that nobody has a clue about the background of.

Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1 is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Jake And Quips

Originally written for the much-missed 'Magazine Of Elderly British Comedy' Kettering, this overview of the career of droll singer-songwriter Jake Thackray was in the running for Not On Your Telly - where it would have appeared alongside the similarly Kettering-sourced piece on Well At Least It's British - until the very last minute. The rather unusual reason for its non-appearance is that this is a drastically cut down version of what was originally a much longer overview of his career, which has somehow gone missing somewhere along the line; a bit of a longshot but if anyone reading has got that version, could you let me know? Cheers.

Born in Pickering, North Yorkshire in 1938, Jake Thackray originally had an academic career in mind, and after graduating from Durham University spent four years teaching in France. There he became a fan of of ‘Chanson’, the musical tradition exemplified by such performers as Jacques Brel, Barbara and his personal favourite George Brassens. On returning to Yorkshire in 1964, he took up the guitar as little more than a hobby, composing his own songs to relieve the monotony of practising. This hobby soon proved to have a more practical purpose, as he found it a useful tool in getting his students to pay attention, and his compositional skills quickly moved beyond the level of the ‘singing schoolteacher’.

Though informed by the works of Brel and Brassens, Thackray's lyrical preoccupations were more concerned with humorous quirks of misfortune, depicting a stylised Yorkshire of hapless boozers, luckless swindlers, philosophising handymen and corrupt (in all senses of the word) officials. All human life could be found in his songs, caught up in wry tales of torrid romances, rueful rivalries and minor brushes with the law, in an idiosyncratic lyrical style crammed with implausible rhymes, poetic descriptions, deft deployment of ‘long’ words and slang, and puns both intellectual and awful.

Performances at local folk clubs followed, and with singer-songwriters very much in vogue on television, Thackray soon began making regular appearances on the likes of The Frost Report and On The Braden Beat. Able to compose suitably topical numbers, or at least fit one of his existing songs to a current concern with a bit of introductory chat, he quickly became a favourite with viewers, leading to interest from EMI Records.

In April 1967, Jake Thackray visited Abbey Road's Studio 2 to record over twenty songs for a prospective debut album. Sensing commercial potential, EMI pushed for the songs to be re-recorded with full orchestral backing. These new album sessions took place in August, with accompaniment from bandleaders Roger Webb and Geoff Love, and the results were released in November as The Last Will And Testament Of Jake Thackray.

The album opens with one of his best-known numbers, Lah-Di-Dah, in which a groom-to-be solemnly promises to be nice to his horrendous in-laws-to-be at the forthcoming wedding. Elsewhere we meet a loathesome cactus, ride a "clumsy and cumbersome, rumbustious" Country Bus, and witness a frantic love affair conducted at a Jumble Sale. Personal Column speculates on the real life stories behind the nameless individuals offering and seeking 'services', The Statues joins two now-sober individuals trying to explain to a judge why they were seen to drunkenly assault a statue of Sir Robert Walpole (something to do with defending the honour of a nearby female effigy), and the title track - a close relative of Brel's Funeral Tango – urges mourners to get the mourning out of the way then "let carousals begin". The release of the album was closely followed by a Christmas single, Remember Bethlehem/Joseph, the b-side a touching tribute to someone Thackray felt had been unfairly overlooked by composers of Christmas carols

Released in July 1969, Jake's Progress abandoned the orchestration in favour of a more sympathetic approach courtesy of what would become his regular recording band - guitarist Ike Isaacs, bassist Frank Clarke and pianist Frank Horrox. This perfectly suited a more laid-back and introspective set of songs than his debut; half of the album is made up of love songs, whether they concern tragic passion (One-Eyed Isaac), unlikely romances (The Blacksmith And The Toffee Maker), the thrill of dating (Salvation Army Girl), letters to Agony Aunts (Worried Brown Eyes), or female inscrutability (Sophie). Elsewhere, it's business as usual; Grandad and The Nurse are added to the gallery of exasperating rogues, The Hole sees a man's innocent jabbing of his finger into a gap in a wall escalate into a media circus, Family Tree lewdly rampages through "the prancing phantoms and ghosts of my rude forefathers", and The Castleford Ladies’ Magic Circle is as faintly sinister as it is wryly amusing.

By the spring of 1970, Thackray was back in the studio with a full orchestra to record some of his more topical numbers. This album was never issued, for reasons that are not entirely clear; this is a shame, as these abandoned sessions included some of his finest songs, the most arresting (sorry) being The Policeman's Jig. A witty yet vitriolic response to recent clampdowns on ‘obscenity’, in particular the trial of the editors of Oz magazine, for all its clever lyrical gambits ("a masterpiece comes in Right Handy"), there's a real indignance to the lyrics, which not only accuse the Police directly of dubious motives for their interest in ‘pornography’ and tacitly of taking backhanders from the owners of grubby sex shops, but also punningly labels them 'wankers'. Even all this time later it still packs a punch, possibly explaining EMI's apparent uneasiness with the album.

Live Performance, recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in November 1970 and released the following March, was the perfect context for his music, with the strident solo performances bolstered by inter-song wit and a rowdy audience. As well as the expected favourites, the set also included a handful of new numbers, some of them (notably Leopold Alcocks and The Lodger) drawn from the abandoned 1970 sessions.

In keeping with the musical mood of the times, 1972’s Bantam Cock is Thackray’s most coherent ‘album’; this is reflected in the loose jazzy style, verging at times on a primitive kind of funk. In keeping with this, the lyrics draw largely on the grubbier corners of life, from the sexually insatiable avian of the title track to the delightfully coarse tale of Isabel, who gets her kicks from intercourse up against national monuments. Bleak in an altogether different way is Old Molly Metcalfe, a haunting number about a lonely shepherdess based around a peculiar traditional sheep-counting chant. On the more upbeat side come Brother Gorilla, a translation of Brassens’ Le Gorille in which a judge fresh from handing out death sentences comes a cropper at the hands of an amorous ape, and Sister Josephine, a ‘right funny nun’ who might just be an escaped convict in disguise.

Coinciding with a stint as a regular on That’s Life!, 1977’s On Again! On Again! noticeably favours ruminations on particular topics over the usual comic narratives. The title track is an appropriately extended rant about nagging; some have labelled the song misogynistic, a charge that’s hard to refute as that’s the basic point (and wryly noted as such in the lyrics), but when you’ve got lyrics like “on again, on again, on again ‘till the entire congregation passed out and the vicar passed on and the choirboys passed through puberty” it’s clearly a rant with tongue very much in cheek. Other highlights include the poignant The Hair Of The Widow Of Bridlington, a two fingered salute to The Brigadier, and a re-recording of Joseph.

Jake Thackray & Songs was recorded live late in 1980, in tandem with a BBC2 series of the same name. The album is mostly composed of old favourites, with several lengthy monologues and a handful of new songs. The Bull warns against trusting anyone in a position of authority, from world leaders all the way down to "those well-known men, so overglorified, there's one of them here and his name's on the poster outside", while The Remembrance - barely 'comic' in any sense of the word - is a grim chronicle of futile wartime gestures, like Wilfred Owen with a sense of humour. Ending "a couple of shakes before we got killed in the war", it’s lent extra poignancy by the fact that it was effectively the last that the general public heard of Jake Thackray.

Unassuming funnymen with guitars fell rather suddenly from favour in the early eighties, with even big names having to either reinvent their act (Jasper Carrott) or else virtually disappear from television altogether (Mike Harding, Val Doonican and Roger Whittaker to name but a few). Tired of the rigours of touring and dogged by financial troubles, Thackray opted to retire from music to concentrate on a career as a newspaper columnist. Increasingly religious and happy to live a quiet life, Jake Thackray died in 2002, having not performed publically for over a decade.

The Last Will And Testament Of Jake Thackray urged all concerned to get cracking with a “roll the carpet right back” kind of a shindig and that “if the coppers come around, well, tell them the party's mine”. Though the police have yet to get involved, that’s basically what Jake Thackray’s fans have done. For many years, only a single compilation of his work was available, until a group of fans obtained permission from EMI to release a privately-pressed second compilation. This paved the way for a full re-release of his EMI material in 2006, including the two shelved albums, tons of rare and previously unreleased tracks, and the Live Performance show in its entirety.

It’s impossible to bracket Jake Thackray as either a comedian or a folk singer; he was both and so much more, and his music has much to offer even the most desperately humourless Fairport Convention fan, not to mention all those comedy enthusiasts who never quite ‘got’ where the jokes were with Nick Drake.

If you're interested in Sixties Satire, then you might also enjoy this piece on That Was The Week That Was.

Not On Your Telly, a book collecting some of my articles on the archive television we never get to see, is available in paperback here or as an eBook here.