Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #19: Junior Murvin - Police And Thieves

Proof that even on the smallest stages with a close viewing audience, one person on their own on the TOTP stage can be a very lonely existence. After some uncertain swaying and arm movement, he goes for a proper dance move at 1:31 and takes a few seconds too long to recover. Sorry about the uploaders' extra graphics, it can't be helped.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Friday, 24 June 2011

TOTP 10/6/76 (tx 23/6/11): Tea Party mandate

Odd Twitter #totp comment of last week, which was spotted during the Saturday showing: "do the bbc have any old totp from 1976 that DONT have 'our kid'?" Er, yeah, all of them apart from last week, the Christmas show and possibly one of the lost shows. At least it's not the endless, endless get out clause "this is why punk had to happen". Because obviously Malcolm McLaren was sprung into action solely by JJ Barrie and Mud, and any week now the entire top 30 is going to be overtaken by punk records. There's a distinct air overtaking these shows of nostalgia somehow not being how it used to be, that what was actually showing at a time when Top Of The Pops was another branch of light entertainment, as it was for most of its lifespan, was somehow wrong and it must be the BBC's fault, not yours. Even those who made their name from easy nostalgia are looking on bemusedly. Still, onwards.

Oh yeah, another week off on 6th July, meaning another week of nothing but Alternative Canons.

Anyway, this week's big news - the director has discovered split screen. Noel gets to trial it in the time honoured looking one way/looking back over the other shoulder/into full screen all in real time effect. Before long they'd have invented a way to run tapes back to back and no doubt DLT would soon enough use it to have a conversation with himself.

The Surprise Sisters – Got To Get You Into My Life
I don't know if the recording has this much Philly soul influence - it was produced by Tony Visconti, it says here - or if the BBC orchestra are doing this cover a good service, because the Sisters (the actual Sutcliffe sisters, for the record) don't look the most with-it of vocal acts. Their step-step-step-bend choreography is half-hearted at best and they still manage at one point to visibly get their mike wires tangled, while two of them are wearing dresses that don't exactly flatter their figures and appear to be made out of the purple wrappers from Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Quality Streets. Another one appears to have nearly finished growing a quiff, an unbecoming look in that set-up. Vocally, well, maybe they were merely the Nolans ahead of their optimum time. It doesn't help when a directorial decision means they all end up facing away from camera on the second chorus lead-in, but the die had rather marvellously long been cast when on the first chorus one of the Sisters looks directly down the camera with hand on hip and stern of expression while her colleagues face straight on. After that point she's plainly minding her own business. By the third chorus she's stopped bothering to sing/mime. Our favourite moment comes at this point where the one nearest the camera appears to have been confronted by a sudden, hitherto repressed memory. It's Noel's breakfast show record of the week, somehow.

The Real Thing – You To Me Are Everything
More mismatched wardrobes this week including a ripped T-shirt and a hat with an even wider brim than last time, now of cartoon UFO proportions, but no guitar and everyone more spaced out, in one member's case so he can lead into the start of the lead vocal with some impromptu Pete Townshend windmill air guitar. Maybe he got bored with trying to mime handclaps. Most glaringly, Eddie Amoo is wearing a T-shirt with, possibly picked out in sequins, the legend 'U 2 ME R EVERYTHING'. Somewhere Prince was taking notes.

Dion & The Belmonts – The Wanderer
Noel takes a moment to salute the eclectic nature of that week's chart, mentioning "comedy numbers like JJ Barrie - oop, no, sorry, wash my mouth out, The Wurzels..." Maybe this was a thread carried over from his radio show, because you can't imagine The UK's Favourite DJs were all entirely mad about No Charge any more than those reading this are. Dion, for whom this was a hit first time in 1961 and whose chart rundown shot is a close-up of an album sleeve, is deemed to be representative of "a more nostalgic feel", even though chief retrospective agent Paul Nicholas had by now left the top 30. Dion had in fact tried a Spector-produced comeback the previous year and would release another album in 1976 but presumably his old label fancied a major spoiler. It certainly couldn't be much more spoilt than by the Ruby Flipper treatment, a Patti solo number in a plunging neckline jumpsuit in front of some curtains. The decision to interpret this must have been taken fairly late because Patti doesn't seem to really know what to do and the director is as clueless, breaking out the split screen for an eye close-up, a side of face shot and a longer image of her arm with hand clenching and unclenching in time to the beat. Second go: pursing lips, head and shoulders, seperating of fingers in time. Third attempt: feet close-up, upper face close-up, non-committal moving. By this stage it's looking more likely that Flick was really too busy that week.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – The Boston Tea Party
"Rather appropriate for bicentennial year" suggests Noel, who doesn't seem entirely sure of what's going on. In fairness, neither would Harvey.

Zal Cleminson doesn't make the most convincing Pierrot clown, does he? The crowd are giving dancing a go but it's far too awkward for any sort of proper feet engagement. For someone noted for theatrical onstage behaviour, much as he's giving it plenty vocally Harvey's body language on the second chorus, regarding those who are throwing themselves into it with a withering eye with arms sternly folded, gives away his uncomfortableness with the idea that this should be flung at the pop kids. Now, you see that thing he's holding up from a holster towards the end?

Archie Bell & The Drells – Soul City Walk
"If you're wondering what he was holding in his hand, that's known as a drell spoon". A what? Furthermore, he's planting props on bands in lieu of proper links? This does sound like the sort of thing Noel might do, in truth. The Drells aren't around this week, maybe fearing damage to their glittery jackets and Northern club night issue frilly shirts if they have to be shoved in suitcases for transit.

Flintlock – Dawn
Described enticingly by Noel as "some gentlemen from Dagenham". In fact the kids would have known them from Thames' children's sketch show You Must Be Joking! and its 1976 follow-up Pauline's Quirkes, making this something of a sortie onto enemy territory as far as youthful telly is concerned. Despite such exposure this was their only top 30 single, and peaking at 30 at that. The reason seems apparent, namely they were a poor screaming tartan-encrusted 15 year old girl's Bay City Rollers with added too much smiling and a sax solo that sounds like a goose being worried. History will remember them. For their namecheck in Half Man Half Biscuit's Everything's AOR, of course.

Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together
It's about this point that Noel stops making sense. "It's a very very long time since we've had an artist on Top Of The Pops from behind the Iron Curtain. In fact I can't remember the last time." Er, yeah. Meanwhile Bryan's got his spiv tache and white suit with bowling shoes on for the semi-famous video clip with ostentatiously lurking Jerry Hall.

Osibisa – Dance The Body Music
Percussion! So much percussion! And band style possibly filched from Sly & the Family Stone. Course, it's unlikely many would have heard African rhythms and call and response like this in Britain at the time. Noel's actually laughing when we come back to him to find he pronounces it Os-sea-bee-ser, but he can't have been that truly enthralled as we see him in the background looking distracted before wandering off to the other side of the cameras, a crane shot revealing just how small that studio audience really is. There's a half empty bottle of wine on the keyboard stand, which may have helped. Noel, when not put off by a mysterious cheer after the applause has died down, tells us they've "just come from that part of the world where they grow little Rolf Harrises". It's called Australia, Noel. We're adults. "No, not the west country..."

The Wurzels – Combine Harvester
Now that's a segue. Repeat of the tractor-aided second studio performance, should you need to know, though Noel feels the need to add a top of his voice "ooh-arr!" just as the vocals start. A cursory exit, but Noel does give a namecheck to our playout Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton, though the edit fades it out right as it hits the chorus.

EDIT NEWS: The full version won't be on iPlayer until Sunday, I think, but it says here it included Slik (keeping to that no third appearance on the edited version rule), Lee Garrett again, Lulu and Philip from Ruby Flipper (obviously all seven got credited at the end despite only three appearing) doing The Continental for whatever reason that was deemed TOTP worthy and the Elton John & Kiki Dee video (no it wasn't, I was working off an inaccurate list).

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #17: Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - New England

Don't worry, Jonathan has spent most of his career making the unwary this baffled. There's a very definite pregnant pause after they finish.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #16: Farley Jackmaster Funk - Love Can't Turn Around

An early chance to see how TOTP coped with the house music influx, a full year before Ibiza was discovered, and a showcase, described as "life changing" by journalist Joe Muggs, for vocalist Daryl Pandy, who died on the 10th. From 2:26 you'll see how much he's going for it, something you'll notice gets next to no audience response leading him to have to start shouting at them. By the end he's so exhausted himself he has to have a little lie down.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Going badly

From BBC2's much recalled TV Hell theme night of 1992, John Peel runs through the best of the worst, I assure you nowhere near as familiar then as they are now. How unfortunately prescient the link at 2:50 in part three now seems.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

TOTP 3/6/76 (tx 13/6/11): here comes the summer

This repeat run is evidently proving so successful BBC4 have to keep moving it around to give other programmes a chance. No messing about for Tone, a fade from a spotlight into his face and small medallion, a simple "hello and welcome" and we're off. Incidentally James & Bobby Purify never appeared in the TOTP studio, perhaps because their label was worried about their cardboard selves getting damaged in transatlatic transit.

The G Band – Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
The G Band? They did it by themselves, the leader was not present, Tony confirming they've "changed their name since Gary Glitter retired, of course". Glitter would, needless to say, go on to have another five top 40 singles, though none in the rest of this year, so on that score he kept his promise. Fair to say that without the leader's influence the Glittermen have come a little unstuck. For starters they've decided one drummer is enough, though whether the displaced sticksman the one with a Panama hat or the one in what seems to be a judo top with wings wielding a banjo isn't clear. Their idea of stage decoration for something that manages to neither be one style (glam) or another (MOR) is two totem poles, one seemingly painted as a parrot, and small fake cacti. This wasn't a hit. They never had one again, so ruining the reputation of the Glitter Band.

Dolly Parton – Jolene
Clearly too many lights for anything but a US country show and too much taffeta for TOTP styling. Someone seems to be trying to grow a full garden out of window boxes behind Dolly, even though that's clearly not the local fauna of Nashville.

New Edition – Sunshine Saturday
No, not the Bobby Brown one. Tony has two girls with him, Trish and Jackie by name, and it's as if he isn't thinking of informing an audience 35 years into the future as he refers to their appearing "a lot of times on television last year" and "the theme music to a particular show I'm going to tell you about in a moment". In fact they were Mike Batt's studio band, Chris Spedding and all, allied to the resident dancers from Seaside Special, the BBC1 prime time ratings killer for which this was that theme, in which a big top would be transported to a Torbay-level seaside town for a variety showcase typically involving Dana, Mike & Bernie Winters, dog obedience-based humour and Tony Monopoly. Getting some of the 'band' to introduce the rest of the 'band' is a new one, so it's no wonder the audience don't know where to look. In fact, not only are they in the studio, they're also out on the road doing the same routine. A man who looks the embodiment of the 70s pub singer right down to the dark glasses and is wearing white trousers so tight you can, as they say, see his religion sings about how he can't wait for the evening sun over still photos of the dankest, murkiest British (Brighton?) pier, people not so much lapping up the experience as there out of force of expediency. Meanwhile back on location our man is missing coconuts, performing with circus elephants at their back and perform some sort of pushing-based routine on a bus. Then we see lifeboats leaving massive wakes followed by water skiiers and powerboats, all under those same leaden skies that would go on to make Triangle such a glamorous hit. It looks like variety as decreed by communists. You are having fun. You are having fun. You are having fun. Seaside Special is back June 17th. You will have fun.

Gallagher & Lyle – Heart On My Sleeve
Ruby Flipper time, and the timeshare continues as it's just the four this week against a supposed moonlit sky with some very flimsy... are they meant to be palm trees? The choreography this time: walk around in unison a bit like the Monkees, twirl occasionally, then pair off in the middle for a bit and ballroom. It doesn't help that there's no discernible groove to dance to, but if the boys could get through TVC15 the thinking evidently was they could get through anything. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn Cherry's involved and giving it the little eyebrows to camera given half a chance. They will also not be surprised to hear Tony call them Ruby Slipper and make a reference to David Hamilton.

Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town
It's Mr Thin Lizzy! This is pretty much where the withering goes on hold trumped by the weight of subsequent status, except to say that to the oft seen and clearly not TOTP as-live footage of the song footage of the audience hoofing nervously has been added. One girl is being gently moved by the hips by the arms of her boyfriend behind her, aware the camera is closing in on them and desperately not wanting to show that she wants this to stop as she only came in case Mud were on again.

Our Kid – You Just Might See Me Cry
Now this is what we can do. "Two of them are 12, two are 15" Tony approvingly states. You couldn't get away easily with using that age group for pop purposes now, even on Britain's Got Talent. An apposite comparison as Our Kid won the viewers' vote for New Faces about six weeks earlier, beating "Paul and Avis, young brother and older sister, singers and guitarists from Walsall; Chris North and Jill from Norwich, a speciality magic act; Johnny Hammond, a comedian and singer from the North-East; Simone, a singer from Exeter; and Cops, a five-man group." Hammond actually won the panel vote and has since been described as "the best stand up comic of our time" and "the comedian’s comedian, ahead of his time and completely unaware of his talent". By Chubby Brown and Jim Davidson respectively, it should be stressed. Our Kid, meanwhile, seem conflicted about whether they're meant to be a British teen soul sensation, though the orchestra might have given them an undue push in that direction, or are so laden with variety club cheese they should have cut out the middleman and book a lifetime's worth of Seaside Specials now to appeal to the mothers. In fact they pretty much did the latter, a horde of promotion for this single and summer season runs, and before long they'd worked far more days than they were supposed to under local authority rules and couldn't promote their follow-ups. By their big tie knots and lapel roses were we forced to judge them.

The Rolling Stones – Fool To Cry
The same studio-live footage that's been on the full version a couple of times and has got no less ponderous in the interim.

JJ Barrie – No Charge
Yeah, we sent it to number one. TOTP repay us with another studio performance with all the smarm elan of a used car salesman, a really marauding camera dolly and, to add spice, some intercut pictures of children from Pears Soap boxes. Maybe he was promised them for next time if it went to number one. At the end, a different boy smiles. Barrie never had another hit, despite recording with Brian Clough (or, more accurately, Clough recording over him). Here's Tammy Wynette's even sappier version, and here's Billy Connolly's. Chris White's Natural Rhythm plays out the light scan, and we're all back next Thursday wherever in time we are.

EDIT NEWS: Perhaps confirming our suspicions that no song will be allowed on these edits more than twice unless it went to number one, Cliff and - that girl will be happy - Mud hit the cutting room floor.

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #15: Ian Brown - My Star

Brown's first solo single. The BBC really did receive complaints about their treatment of eggs. I meanwhile can't work out what instrument they're meant to represent. Mellotron?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #14: Eels - Novocaine For The Soul

Though not Eels' greatest BBC moment - that'd be their National Lottery Live appearance - it's hard to top this as an example of something you're surprised someone didn't come up with earlier. Note how it takes the audience a moment to realise what's going on at the end. Subtitles too.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #13: Laurie Anderson - O Superman

We've already seen on this blog how the dancing was likely to head rapidly freeform when Flick was given a song with no discernible groove. Imagine what her response must have been, then, when given pop's most famous avant-garde beat poem to choreograph Zoo round for the Christmas show, particular as it had a perfectly serviceable video already. Linking out, John Peel, who was of course hammering this at the time (though it's said Noel Edmonds, of all people, was the one to take it to the daytime record buyers) makes a frankly wrong prediction. In introduction, watch for David Van Day's comedy umbrage at Peter Powell, which as anyone who's seen the Bucks Fizz Trouble At The Top will appreciate was probably not far short of actual umbrage.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #12: Belle & Sebastian - Legal Man

Very much understandably, the band who didn't so much as send most of their members to the ceremony when they won a Brit have the air of people who never expected to be asked to appear on prime-time television. As a result the female chorus, who you'd imagine might have made the matching effort, are in whatever they turned up in (Isobel Campbell always dressed like that) and their only concessions to staging are some flowers and their mate in a gorilla costume. The director nearly misses him too. Luckily, what Stuart Murdoch lacks in miming ability he makes up for in fluid movement.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #11: Orbital - Chime

Thing is, Phil and Paul Hartnoll didn't usually have to do a lot live to get this track going, and with the equipment meaning the dancer friend of someone from FFRR not being able to move from one corner of the set. Paul: "We wanted to play live but Top Of The Pops insisted that we mime. However, when they provided us with flashy keyboard stands we sent them away and got trestle tables from the canteen. In our minds, flashy keyboard stands just wasn't us. We were used to performing on tables at the backs of pubs and we just had to set things up the way we knew... She looked bored, we looked embarrassed and Top Of The Pops said 'We'll never have them back again.' As it happens, they did, but only once the staff had been replaced by people who'd forgotten they would never have us back again!"

Sunday, 5 June 2011

"Beautiful Babs... dunno what her name is"

To mark Flick Colby's untimely passing, a posting of the This Is Your Life appearance of perhaps the most famous of her proteges, Babs Lord (now Powell), who since leaving Pan's People in 1975 has taken part in the BT Global Yacht Challenge, trekked to the Arctic and climbed Kilimanjaro all for charity. Of the original six, taking Babs as one, four more appear - Ruth Pearson at 6:50, then Flick turns up at eight minutes with Dee Dee, Louise and the later arrival and increasingly omnipresent Cherry. Jimmy Saville is on just after that, as expected.

Friday, 3 June 2011

TOTP 27/5/76 (tx 2/6/11): Flipper's folly

ALERT! ALERT! As we well know by now trusting the advance listings is a fool's errand, but we're fairly confident in saying that because Cardiff Singer Of The World takes up that slot every other day that week, the next TOTP will be on MONDAY 13th at 7.30pm, with repeats in the usual Thursday and Saturday loose slots. No idea which weeks. Knowing BBC4, it'll be the one they've just missed out.

Also, to cover next week's fallow period there'll be a new Alternative Canon nomination every weekday. Suggestions through the usual channels.

So, after many references to the odd decision to skip a week we know exists, BBC4 decide to show it anyway. They just don't think of us in such circumstances. This'll be Jimmy Saville's first appearance on the show since New Year's Day, and to celebrate the CSO people have found a way to black out his head for the opening gag. You know in Smashie & Nicey: End Of An Era where they demonstrate the fun they had hosting the Populous? This bit? It's among the most realistic bits Enfield and Whitehouse came up with.

Special mention from the countdown this week for Mud, one of whom turned in for the publicity shot in a jacket adorned with the male symbol in rhinestones. Stay classy.

Heavy Metal Kids – She’s No Angel
Inevitably given the year, people have been only too keen to mention that (insert name of least favourite act on any given TOTP) must be the reason punk happened. Punk wasn't quite happening yet - at least one of the three weekly music papers hadn't even mentioned the Sex Pistols yet, and we don't get a punk single of any recognised stripe until late October - but we're not seeing a lot of the guitar music that prefigured it either. Thin Lizzy will be along before long, Queen had been and gone, but pub rock was hived off to the Old Grey Whistle Test while heavy metal's stirrings weren't yet for wider consumption, Black Sabbath past their peak, NWOBHM still in early beta testing. Heavy Metal Kids weren't all that heavy metal either, but they've been watching closely. Too closely, as if future Auf Weidersehen Pet actor Gary Holton's stage demeanour is anything to go by they knew the Alice Cooper School's Out performance, an umbrella replacing the fencing sword. Then he starts singing, a bit like Steve Harley, and it turns out to be a meat and potatoes pub rock Faces. The keyboard player borrows the Bon Jovi style a decade early and has a range of cock-o-the-walk struts and stances all lost because we can only see his top half behind a band banner. Holton eventually tries to get the audience going, and that's where he gets cut off.

JJ Barrie – No Charge
Also, much as we'd like to believe it, punk didn't happen as a reaction to sappy country hits. Barrie's in the studio again, not that it makes much difference, and he's got a backing 'singer' in overlaid half-light. Song is still awful.

The Wurzels – Combine Harvester
Should mention while the miracle of editing is helping Jim make audience members disappear that he's wearing a yellow vest with the show name on and decorated in the sort of glitter usually only found in school art departments. His hands must have been covered in Gloy for hours afterwards. There's a lot of going over old ground this week, literally in this case as there's a tractor on stage and the non-singers are sitting on the bonnet. A tractor is not a combine harvester, but that's BBC urbanites for you. Jim's on stage before the end so he can make the Wurzels disappear and the woman he vanished "to Birmingham" return in their stead. You know, we never would have imagined Noel Edmonds out of the then current presenting roster would be the musically inclined one, but such are the wiles of entertainment. Maybe he was just trying too hard.

Archie Bell and the Drells – Soul City Walk
Full bib and tucker on film. It's no fun writing this when it's a proper disco outfit, Gamble & Huff proteges in this case, with a fine record because as well as it being easier to critique shite, such outfits expect to put on a showbiz glitz performance so don't look out of place or attempting to fit in, from where we draw humour.

Mac & Katie Kissoon – The Two Of Us
Actually Gerald and Katherine Farthing. There you go. Katie is mixed up a lot higher than her brother here, so much so that by the break he's having to break out a few shimmies given he's practically inaudible. So is Jim's link, which is a shame as he goes right round the houses and doesn't actually properly name the mystery man standing to his right. Looking unimpressed by disco and/or this man he's expected to converse with, and less than two months after Tony Blackburn had deemed him untraceable, it's Hank Mizell, and all he has to share after such a long period of infamy is that his next single would be called Kangaroo Rock. Not cashing in at all, then. Seamlessly Jim then switches to holding up an album sleeve and inviting us to guess who it is on the cover.

David Bowie – TVC15
Somewhat spoiling the event, it's clearly David Bowie. Mind you, being after Station To Station it's possible people had forgotten what he actually looked like. After the girls got their turn last week it's the three men with one woman on screens at the back of the set and... well now.

That's been put up in the last 24 hours, that video, as the only previously available version was unembeddable. And a good thing too, as with one possible exception we'll post next week this was the most freeform Top Of The Pops dancing surely ever got. TVC15 is a pretty groove-free thing and thus pretty difficult to get a collective dance routine together to at short notice. This is apparently how Flick Colby, given a tribute in the link preceding the show, should be remembered. Basically it's three men, one dressed as a jockey, on a stylised living room set-ette making shapes on furniture, standing on their head and rolling around to the melodies in their heads. It does genuinely fade out at that stage, by the way, all possibilities already exhausted.

The Bellamy Brothers – Let Your Love Flow
The same face-off with acoustics as shown at least once already.

The Real Thing – You To Me Are Everything
At least Jim's interacting with the audience, getting the studio's bluffest youth to make the introduction (Jim: "Ooooh! Didn't catch him out!") Notable even among his wildly differently dressed colleagues Eddy Amoo sports an open yellow shirt and the world's largest brimmed Panama hat. Such distractions don't get to Jim, as he appears on the fringe of shot during the second chorus lining people up for his next link, his body language suggesting that he's always like that. His four friends, by the way, are wearing matching striped tops and massive Bay City Rollers tartan scarves tied around their necks, and one of the girls is wearing ludicrously high waisted trousers.

ABBA – Fernando
"At number one, dear friends, of course, Fernando. Abba. How are you. See you later." If you like, Jim. Their last week at the top. Literally, their fire was burning out. Why did they always play this when they had a perfectly good studio performance they only ever showed once? Afterwards Jim has a handful of friends encircling him, there's some playing with another hat and Wigan Casino favourite The Flasher by Mistura soundtracks the British Market Research Bureau's namecheck. More at a later date with some week's show or other.

EDIT NEWS: Ruby Flipper do Melba Moore's This Is It with podiums and streamers, and that Gladys Knight & the Pips performance again. See, they could repeat studio appearances when they fancied.