Monday, January 15, 2007

Whistle Test

Caught up with some of my musical past when I taped a set of compilations from the Old Grey Whistle Test screened recently. For those who can't remember, OGWT was a pioneer of providing an opportunity for bands to play their music on TV. Back in the days of only 3 TV channels, you could stay up late and watch even album tracks being performed (if your TV could get BBC2!) The only other place for regular music was Top of The Pops, which focussed on singles which were climbing up the charts. Apart from that, there was the occasional special 'In Concert', or a few arty programmes and some oddities like Colour Me Pop.

OGWT also had a minimalist set - like bare TV studio walls and the band's PA equipment. You even sometimes saw cameras and lights, which was almost unheard of. I remember it from about 1977 onwards when they even had some films from bands playing live in the US and sometimes a studio audience. Usually it was just the presenters and production team.

On seeing the really early stuff (pre-Bob Harris) I realised that the 'live' performances were limited, probably by budget to the band singing and limited playing to a backing track. Fairport Convention's drummer wore a t-shirt with 'miming' on it. Later they got enough gear so it was all live in contrast to the lip-synching TOTP.

It all looks dated now (although the Arctic Monkeys revisited the idea in their 'Bet you look Good...' video, which again was played live in a basic studio). The Tube moved things on a generation, and we now have 'Later', but I have a soft spot for OGWT. Music on TV probably wouldn't be the same without it, and it's got an amazing artist listing in the archives.

For some reason I remember one of the later shows, which I watched after seeing Neil Young at the NEC (about 1983). 'The Last film I ever saw' by Kissing the Pink was featured, as was 'The Message' by Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five - probably the first hip-hop ever on telly.

Now, where's that Wishbone Ash album...
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