Monday, 19 December 2011

TOTP 23/12/76 (tx 19/12/11): the last Noel (except he does one of the Christmas shows)

As the first, and in fact only, of our pre-'76 Christmas surprises... Noel's Gas Disco II - This Time It's Warming Milk.

"Hellooo!" Noel jauntily begins, assuming a level of excitement unbecoming. He reminds us there's "just over a day to go", so BBC4 are keeping the timing in some sort of curious order. Steely Dan have crept into the top 30 with Haitian Divorce and are duly noted by a photo that makes them look exactly like the sort of studio workmen they are. We note from the Kursaal Flyers picture that the bloke in the Panama seemingly always wears it - and the guitarist's garland, actually, and the singer seems to have a very rectangular, short at the base and top head. Then David Soul appears at 11 and we spy 1977 hovering in the distance. Speaking of which, Anarchy In The UK was at 38. It didn't get any further as EMI dropped them in the first week of January and withdrew all stock.

Thin Lizzy - Don't Believe A Word
Ah, vintage Lizzy, that'll see us through with their Marshall stacks and the director's fades into green-tinged CSO effects. Phil's rocking the less vintage pink neckerchief/open shirt combination. It's a very studious performance bar Scott Gorham's long haired grinning charm, Brian Robertson refusing to make any sort of rock solo faces which might be why it passes without a single proper shot of his guitar. Couldn't they fit a camera in down that side? That's just bad set design if so. Noel can be seen nodding along on a piano-bedecked stage off to one side as if he understands and afterwards warms up his celebrated powers of prediction; "just been having a shocking argument with those guys cos I think that'll get to number one and they don't think it will. I reckon that'll be about the second number one in January of '77". It peaked at 12. Can you imagine, though, the entertainment of seeing Noel Edmonds having a row with Thin Lizzy? Not least because Noel really didn't want to be getting into a shocking argument with them given Brian Robertson had weeks before broken the leg and collarbone of different men before suffering artery and nerve damage to his hand and being knocked unconscious, both by bottles, in a backstage brawl with another band. So surely he couldn't play if he was that badly off? but clearly that performance was filmed in the same session as Noel's links... I don't know.

Barry Biggs - Sideshow
Not the same as the Chanter Sisters' Sideshow, let's say that first off, but a loping reggae cover of Blue Magic's US hit by Biggs, who for his big showcase has chosen an all pink version of the sort of ruffed outfit being exhibited over on ITV's The Comedians, albeit they'd have other reference points for all pink suits. Must be said, while the organ solo isn't exactly Ansell Collins the orchestra give reggae a better going than they gave Althea & Donna just over a year later, but Biggs without the record's production effects is just a large man with a receding afro and huge bow tie pacing back and forth singing in awkward falsetto. Halfway through, as it's Christmas, the director lets the cameraman plough right through the thick of the audience just like he used to, mowing at least six people down on his way. "Congratulations to Barry" Noel says afterwards for no good reason. It's his job to sing like that.

Status Quo - Wild Side Of Life
A video of very much standard three chord blues rock Quo, even if they don't get down to synchronised guitar neck action at any stage, although there is face to face playing-off and Alan Lancaster sporting the sort of shaggy perm that must have made him the envy of the nation's footballers. Huge, it is. Proper horsehair sofa atop.

John Christie - Here's To Love
Right at the end of the year Noel pulls out his greatest prediction yet. "If you get tipped for the stardom bit and you're called face of '77 or something, it can be a bit of a lumber, but I'm prepared to lumber this guy because he's come over from Australia, he's had a good '76 but '77 is going to be marvellous for John Christie." Now, I've been trying to work this out as he's not got a Wiki entry and as far as I can tell his most notable release is a 1974 album after he was discovered by Dave Clark (of the Five). He went on to sing and write for Clark's Time musical, and that's about the size of what Google throws up. As you can probably gather, this turned out to be his only UK chart hit, peaking at 24. All this folderol, however, is far from the story, as watching it might explain why he went no further, and give one in the eye to those who thought Elton's appearance a couple of shows back would see the end of chancers at the piano. Already comfortably in a Lidl Gilbert O'Sullivan groove, things start going wrong at the end of the first chorus when, in his white jacket over T-shirt and having already performed through a fixed grin, he sings the last line straight down the camera to his side before jerking his head back and pulling so self-satisfied a smirk, again directly at camera, that it becomes clear that he's not so much channelling Elton as Richard Stilgoe. Much more wobbling his head and entire upper body like his seat is covered in barbed wire and smirking at camera follows before from nowhere a chorus of Auld Lang Syne strikes up at the end of the bridge, which Christie starts miming along to and then gives up on. And just when he starts elongating his notes and you think it's finishing, a drum fill is followed by another round of Auld Lang Syne, an even creepier closed-mouth expression and... the entire audience wandering in in one line behind Christie in the crossed arm Hogmanay celebration singalong style, despite it being eight days ahead of proper time. Not many of them know how to do it or what they're doing. At this stage, especially when he breaks into falsetto over a ludicrously extended coda passage that merely suggests he couldn't think of how to climax the song without all the crashing cymbals, violins, falsetto notes and production weight he could find, you fear it may never end. Even then it fades out. God. Imagine being in the audience that week having to play along to this man's whims.

Stevie Wonder - I Wish
"What a strange thing over my left shoulder" says Noel, who's popped up among the throng only to be surprised by a light. He then manages to come up with another way of introducing Legs & Co without actually introducing Legs & Co. You know that whole thing about how some moments in pop mean as much in our current climate as they did then? "One of the most influential groups of individuals to come to this country. For the very first time, we present the men from the International Monetary Fund." No it isn't, it's Legs & Co in suits, another full covering after the Grandma's Party cameo which brings the mean average of body cover up after the Maid In Heaven skinfest. In which of Flick's fevered imaginings did she see old-school stereotypical City banker's suits - no umbrellas, mark you - as the best interpretation of prime Wonder, unless they were ordered in for a Money Money Money runthrough that was ditched when the video arrived? Actually, they begin with a Charlie Chaplin walk, which may have been the true intention, in which case it's even more inexplicable. Just to add a further layer of end of year madness, there's a screen behind them onto which is projected a seventh dancer, clearly masculine, strutting his own independent disco moves. He even gets a shadowy solo. What's that about? In fact... ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back to Top Of The Pops, albeit in reduced circumstances, your becostumed friend and mine Mr Floyd Pearce! You'll see him a few more times in 1977 and 1978 too.

Paul Nicholas - Grandma's Party
Noel seems to have got distracted by the title. "It'll be the usual thing, stale doughnuts and elderberry wine that tastes like cocoa". That famous Christmas foodstuff, doughnuts. Silver topper this time, plus cane and robe, but no extraneous dancers this time which makes him look a little lost. The cameraman runs over something/somebody before he's even started. That may explain his attempt to cover during the harmonica solo, which involves Nicholas walking out in front of his mike, turning 270 degrees anti-clockwise, then indulging in a few seconds of frantic running on the spot and leg waving before the time honoured pretending to have pulled a muscle gag. Noel suggests he rub himself down with a Radio Times, a classic old school BBC way of, um, quelling lustful thoughts. What does Edmonds think the song's about exactly? Oh, one other thing about this song. After referencing his previous hit - "the bells are ringing and the captain's here" - he suggests - "Mr Sax is swinging from the chandelier". Mr Sax? Would that be one of those who plays reggae like it used to be, and if so has Paul or anyone at the party checked he hasn't merely hung himself out of desperation at what Paul assumed his type to be?

Liverpool Express - Every Man Must Have A Dream
Again, so much airtime for a band nobody now remembers, even if Noel makes time to claim the song is "really growing on me so quickly it isn't true". At least they're costumed in the festive spirit with singer Billy Kinsley, seen at first in the middle of a kaleidoscopic image, in a huge woollen scarf and the pianist sporting a Santa outfit, suggesting he won the short straw draw backstage. Kinsley, it turns out, is wearing a baggy all-red outfit, which may well have been the best he could muster in a hurry. The guitarist is playing a twelve-string but only the top half. At the end out of nowhere arrives a crescendo drowning the thing in strings, timpani and a huge horn crescendo, which seems a little like the coward's way towards grandiosity when the rest of the song is built on so little. "Horribly overacted at the end but what a fabulous song" remarks Noel, which causes some background ruffling. Yeah, Noel, you show 'em!

Mike Oldfield - Portsmouth
No ribbons, gifts or parrot in the video. Instead some lithe young women do a Morris dance routine that's not that far from the meat of Legs & Co's, in Oldfield's huge studio as he sits impassively by playing bodhran. And acoustic guitar. And tambourine. And accordion. And kettle drums. Alright, Mike, you're a multi-instrumentalist, we get it. Look like you're having fun at least.

Johnny Mathis - When A Child Is Born
Deep in the heart of the plastic potted jungle Johnny, your Christmas number one hitmaker, gets out his director's chair, hums along with the music for what seems like minutes to start and eventually tells of how everyone will feel great upon the Second Coming. With meaning, too. The new number one is back luck for the girl at the end who's holding a Showaddywaddy album, who when we first see the final link is dancing with Noel to an undanceable song ("thank you for the dance" "That's OK!" No, of course she never seemed comfortable). The woman to Noel's other side holding a cracker is less lucky, but both of them fall victim to a hasty director when they start singing happy birthday to Noel, who would have been 28 (yes, really) the day before, and hence the day of recording. We don't even hear them get to the end of the first line. Instead it's Jethro Tull audio and a kaleidoscope pan shot of the lights, the old style credits sequence we've not seen for a while. Meanwhile John Christie is back in the dressing room imagining all the glory and wonders sure now to come his way in 1977.

1976 Christmas Day tomorrow!

16 comments:

Mikey said...

And after 13 years, I believe this was the final regular edition (ie excluding the Christmas specials) of the Pops to be produced by its creator Johnnie Stewart

Matra Rancho said...

I rather hoped at the end of Auld Lang Syne we'd pan slowly to the end of the line and Noel would be Joing In. Sadly, no. But congratulations to Barry.

Arthur Nibble said...

A bit of a turkey, this show. Some good points, but negated somewhat by that cane twiddler and Liverpool Expresszzzz. Still, even I wasn’t fully prepared for the jawdropping spectacle of The Face Of ’77 (Trade Mark).

Interesting to see another pack of double openers at the start (remember “Jailbreak”?). Just how long would it have taken to wash and dry Scott Gorham’s hair?

Was it me, or was the second verse of Barry Biggs’s biggest edited out? Still, great song, and Baz gets my congrats too. Pink is the new yellow!

What a weird link after the Quo by Noel – “Wild Side Of life? Status Quo? Yes?” I was expecting him to follow that with “Marvellous, isn’t it? Hmmm? Jumpers for goalposts!”

If Legs and Co were going to do Chaplin, where were the canes? Couldn’t Paul Nicholas have brought a job lot with him? Shouldn’t that shadowy dancer have been dressed like a duck or a jockey?

I told you Flick went down the wrong route with ‘Portsmouth’! For all Mike’s prowess, no woodwind on display in the vid. Maybe he should have given Jesse Green’s newly redundant mate a call to see if he could busk it.

I wonder how many of St. Andrews’ Chorale were spitting feathers at year’s end? Their version of what was originally ‘Cloud 99’ becomes a minor hit (missed on this run due to their performance being wiped) and barely six months later a version with words added becomes the Christmas biggie. Tsk!

Surely Jethro Tull weren’t too scary to be relegated to the end credits! Apparently, Ian Anderson’s now a mega-wealthy, hard nosed, uncompromising smoked salmon magnate. Something like half the salmon farmed for Crimbo ends up lining Scary Squire’s pocket – financially, you understand, otherwise he’d need huge waterproof pockets.

Chris Barratt said...

One of the better shows of late I thought - the only real turkey was John Christie... and maybe Paul Bastard Nicholas too - entertaining to a degree but incredibly lame even by 1976 standards. The Lizzy/Biggs/Quo triple whammy takes some beating in comparison to what we have see from 1976 thus far.

Stephen said...

Really enjoyed this episode - Lizzy! Biggs! Quo (and I've always loved Liverpool Express)!

Not even Paul Bastard Nicholas (I now officially despise him and his bleeding bowler and cane) could spoil things.

Legs And Company (to give them their Edmonds-approved pronunciation)'s routine was possibly even more bat-shit crazy than their Jaws one.

Roll on Xmas!

Steve Williams said...

Johnnie Stewart certainly knew how to pack out a programme, nine songs and a lengthy playout, and none of them seemed massively cut down. That Quo video was clearly filmed straight after the Mystery Song video, I think they were even wearing the same outfits.

I Wish is such an ace song you'd think it would be impossible to cock up a routine to it, but Legs had a good go. The disguises and complete lack of any close-ups is emphasising, I think, the lack of personality of Legs and Co so far, apart from Pauline's rictus grin they don't seem to be making much of a splash as individuals. Even now when I see Legs and Co routines from years into their stint I find it hard to tell them apart (especially when Lulu changes her hair to something that looks exactly like Gill's). I know Ruby Flipper's routines probably had too much personality, but this might be a bit far in the other direction.

The interrupted Happy Birthday was great. Ring Out Solstice Bells sounded a bit wonky, like they'd stored their copy too close to the radiator.

Angelo Gravity said...

I loved that Liverpool Express song ~ a true forgotten gem. Its also very John Lennon - it wouldn't have looked out of place on his Walls and Bridges album from a couple of years earlier. In fact it probably would have been the best track on it!

I remember very clearly the Johnny Mathis performance - the talking bit always made me cringe and it still does just as much. But its nice to have a proper Xmas number one.

And p.s. ~ Grandma's Party rules!

Simon said...

If anyone has time and inclination, could they check the YouTube uploads of Lizzy and Biggs against the iPlayer version because I'm not sure the former was as long as it should be and someone else says there was a large part but out of the latter. Then again, they kept the whole outro in and going on YouTube timings and associated guesswork the whole show originally ran to time.

I think I owe Richard Stilgoe an apology, the pianist he most takes after is of course the character Pete Baikie did in Absolutely.

dunkiep said...

Loved the legs & co routine. Did anyone notice something fall on Paul Nicholas towards the end of his song? Gobbed on from above by a musically literate lighting rigger, perhaps?
My 4 year old thinks Ian Anderson is 'a bit scary' and won't watch him. History repeating itself!

Simon said...

Something else occurring to me late on - for a very strong period in its development there's not been a lot of reggae on the show before Biggs.

Noax said...

Good to have Noel back, he was on good form here and a bit feisty - maybe a few birthday drinks had already been downed by this point?

Thin Lizzy - The only thing I can really say here is - "Not 'arf!". Great opener.

Barry Biggs - Now, I love this song but there are 3 problems here :

1) The 2nd verse has been edited out (presumably not by BBC4 as I recorded the early hours repeat) and bizarrely the song is now in exactly the form I first heard it on K-Tel's "Hit Action" album. Some tracks have been edited...etc etc

2) The production is bloody awful. There even seems to be a missing note just as Barry is about to hit the first chorus which seems to throw him.

3) The ace "Bzzzeeooowww Bzzzeooowww Bzzzzyyyzzzyyyzzzzoooww" noises have gone to be replaced by a pathetic keyboard.

PLEASE tell me this is on again in a better version!

Status Quo - My favourite Quo song, not really sure why but it is. Perhaps because it mentions 'Honky Tonk Angels'

John Christie - I'll have to watch this again. The start was so boring that I forwarded through until I caught the Auld Lang Syne routine, but even on x12 I could tell he was bloody awful. Who was that other piano player from the 70s who only ever turned up on variety shows - was it Jess Conrad? He did all that throw the head back nonsense as well.

Stevie Wonder / Legs & Co - A bit weird this. Apart from the routine for Portsmouth I haven't been impressed so far. I presume they were dressed as Chaplin but god knows why.

Paul Nicholas - Bored now. Where's the Christmas hat?

Liverpool Express - See, they've made an effort. Even if their song is very, very boring.

Mike Oldfield - The vid fooled my other half - she asked which one Mike was. Maybe it was the luxurious facial hair hiding his features. Miserable git though isn't he? I seem to remember when he reworked the Blue Peter theme and was on the programme seemingly every week that he wasn't much cheerier then.

Johnny Mathis - I don't care if it's not cool, I like this. Ah, the days when things weren't hyped to Christmas Number One (and I'm not just giving X-Factor a dig here, as the BBC have spent the last fortnight relentlessly giving free airtime to that Military Choir thing)

Jethro Tull - Well, I'd rather have heard the audience's Happy Birthday song to Noel frankly!

I'm looking forward to the 2 Xmas shows now!

Arthur Nibble said...

Noax, I think the piano player you're thinking of was Russ Conway. Jess Conrad was a 50's / 60's singer who featured greatly on Kenny Everett's 'World Worst Record' LP. Jess is still doing the rounds - I saw him in panto last year singing "I've Got A Feeling"... a real collision of worlds!

Actually, thinking about it, there've been quite a few nauseating pianists - Liberace, Bobby Crush, Richard Clayderman, Richard Stilgoe (tin hat on for the last one). The best pianist was Les Dawson, hitting the wrong notes with wonderful precision.

Noax said...

Arthur - Yes of course, it won't have been Jess Conrad. I certainly wasn't thinking of Russ Conway though - suspect it might have been Bobby Crush I had in mind actually.

wilberforce said...

john christie - a deadringer for sleb hairdresser and ex-mr lulu john frieda...?

Bobby Morrow said...

Have just had to pick my tits off the floor as John Christie has blown them off! What a staggeringly awful song/performance/early Princess Diana haircut. And what a perfect end to 1976 TOTPs with all it's 'special' moments. JC is up there with Glamourpuss, Sun Fighter and the sisters that were Chanter and Surprise. It's things like this that make my day.

Good show this weeks and SO diverse! That Liverpool Express song (which I have no memory of) would have been better without that Simon May-esque lead vocal, but was still a triumph.

Loved show-off grumpy-guts Mike Oldfield's 'video'. How short was what song? Barely worth setting the camera up...

Paul Bastard Nicholas beneath contempt once more. I'd love to get hold of that cane of his and help him out with a few 'moves'. So similar to Dancing With The Captain the writers should have sued themselves. Thank God PBN's time is almost at an end...

Bamaboogiewoogie said...

I love the Ian Anderson clone trying to get in Noel's way when he's introducing Legs and Co. The battle of the beards.

Talking of Legs and Co I think the connection between I Wish and Charlie Chaplin is that Flick thinks the song is about looking back to the days of silent movies expect it isn't, Stevie was born in 1950 not 1920.

But I Love the fact that I Wish is a contender for a Christmas song as it contains the line "Then my only worry was for Christmas what would be my toy".

That Liverpool Express (or Lex as they would eventually call themselves when the hits dried up - NB soon) song was so close to John Lennon's Imagine I'm surprised he didn't sue. But perhaps as he had gone into 'retirement' at this point perhaps they thought it was safe.