Monday, May 29

Now that isn’t what I call music television

Helen Parton laments the decline of a suitable TV outlet for today’s burgeoning music scene

Considering the dynamism of the music business as a whole at the moment – northern whippersnappers t’Arctic Monkeys on the verge of taking America, mad death metallers Lordi kicking Eurovision into touch and tracks being downloaded quicker than Janet Jackson can whip out a nipple, why then is its representation on terrestrial television such a damp squib?
Like an awkward teenager nobody really wants to make any effort with, Top of the Pops (BBC2 Sunday 7pm) is still hanging around at the fag end of the weekend at officially THE MOST DEPRESSING TIME EVER. These days, the show is presided over by Fearne Cotton, the Beeb’s Davina-McCall-in-waiting, chirpily signalling the death knell for this musical institution. Week after week now seems to consist of former boy band soloists doing some R&B pap, Euro pop hits using samples from bad 80s ballads (most recently First Time by Robin Beck!) and Gnarls Barkley doing their Crazy thing, and in the process becoming perilously close to 2006’s answer to Bryan Adams or Wet Wet Wet in terms of No1 spot hogging. Last time I tuned in they had even roped in gardener Diarmund Garvin to co-host, presumably hoping for a bit of chemistry in manner of Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence on that famous episode of The Tube.
Aaaah, The Tube , revered by music lovers almost as much as Captain Beefheart and the ratio to people who go on about it compared to people who have actually experienced it is probably about the same too. But it did spawn Jules Holland, who’s still in the post pub slot on BBC2 with his Later With… show . Still the worst interviewer on television, still the only person who thinks boogie-woogie impromptu jams are a good idea and still no clue about which word to emphasise in band names but still one of the better music shows around. Granted you couldn’t get more of a mixed bag were you to place Stevie Wonder in charge of the sweets section in Woollies but, hey! Some weeks will be bumper episodes, chock full of Franz Ferdinands, Snow Patrols, Martha Wainwrights, Zutons et al. Other weeks though it’s miserably slim pickings - Interchangeable Bearded Jazz Musician in A Trilby and warbling oldies like Paul bloody Simon, presumably waiting until Rick Rubin comes a calling to sprinkle some breakthrough magic as he has done with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. And will someone please tell Jules that everyone flicks over when the world musicians come on and that it is as tokenisitic as the jazz nominee in the Mercury Music Prize. Ithangyew.
Other pretenders to the throne – Orange Playlist, Popworld - have become victims of their own success as original presenters leave to go on to bigger, if not necessarily better, things. Newest kid on the musical block is The Album Chart Show (Fridays and Saturdays, midnight-ish Channel 4). This has all the essential ingredients of a good music show – annoying presenter, live music, reasonably good choice of acts but it is too knowing: without that unwittingly maverick quality Top of the Pops used to have in spades – where else would you have Bing Crosby and David Bowie duetting, a picture of Jocky Wilson for Dexy’s performing ‘Jackie Wilson Says’ or JayZ performing with the chorus line from Annie? Move over Stuart Maconie, maybe it’s time for me to give up music TV viewing and take my place as a voxpop on a retro-mentary instead.

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