New Year, Old Rope

radio1me

On 31st December 1966, BBC2 broadcast I Wish I Loved The Human Race… A Year Of Man Alive in which presenter Desmond Wilcox took a “personal look back at twelve months when so many of us failed to communicate”. So in tribute, I’m taking a thoroughly impersonal look back at twelve months of some quite popular things that I’ve written. Starting with…

 

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B.A. In Music

I was asked by the pop culture news and reviews website We Are Cult to review CD reissues of the first couple of albums by long-forgotten post-punk polymath B.A. Robertson; the first time that they have been available in any format since the early eighties, in fact. I really just did this because I’ve always felt he deserved a bit more exposure, given how genuinely ubiquitous and well-liked he was at the time in contrast to his later obscurity, and was surprised by how widely this review caught on. Incidentally, while this review hasn’t found its way into a forthcoming new collection of my writing, there is a bit about good old B.A., and here’s the first of several previews you’ll be getting here…

“When I very first started poking around in charity shops for what a lot of people at the time would have exasperatedly written off as ‘retro stuff’, this album and single – not to mention B.A.’s actual records – were amongst my earliest finds. Hello, Hello was by no means the best track on BBC Children’s TV Themes – hardly surprising when it was up against the sparky and indeed not un-B.A. Robertson-like riffing of the theme from Captain Zep – Space Detective and a sadly truncated edit of the frantic techno-funk opening song from legendarily off-kilter dubbed BBC2 Japanese import Monkey – but it was a half-forgotten theme tune by a half-forgotten artist, and as a consequence it has a huge place in my affections. It’s repetitive and somewhat short on dynamism and nifty pop hooks, but the world would be a much more repetitive and dynamism-deficient place without these sort of fascinating curious from the vaguely remembered past. Also it’s still better than pretty much anything that The Sopwith Camel ever did”

 

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Executive Producer: Belinda Carlisle

Oxide Ghosts is a documentary about the making of Chris Morris’ still-powerful 1996 comedy series Brass Eye, which took an uncompromising look at where news media might conceivably go ‘next’. And sadly, it did. And further. Due to a combination of practical and aesthetic issues, Oxide Ghosts is only being shown in cinemas, with an introduction and question and answer session from original director Michael Cumming; I was lucky enough to attend one of these screenings and was sufficiently inspired to write this review, not least because it had allowed me to take a fresh look at – and become a fan of again – a series that I’ll admit I had got pretty bored of in the intervening years. This feature touches on much more than the content though, looking at how and why I became so disillusioned with it in the first place. And something about Arctic Roll.

 

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Twelve Radio Programmes That Need To Be Given A Proper Release

From my old blog, a run down of twelve radio shows that, despite being huge in their day, are now rarely heard and frankly deserve a little better than that. Although the list does contain the likes of Orbiter X and Patterson, it’s not an exercise in obscurity-mining showing off, and there are well-known shows by the likes of Chris Morris, Lee & Herring, Vivian Stanshall and Kenny Everett that you can’t get hold of in any digital form. There hasn’t even been any kind of a proper release for The Mary Whitehouse Experience, in fact. This was my attempt to try and help change matters, and while we’re all waiting, here’s a little more about me and radio…

“The problem was that getting the opportunity to do so was so difficult that it made queuing overnight at the box office seem like a minor inconvenience. Presumably on account of Pete Waterman’s links with local commercial pop station Radio City, all the tickets were distributed to young pop fans (yeah, pull the other one) who had sent their names in on postcards to be pulled out of the metaphorical hat. Once your name had been pulled out, it was read out on air and you had thirty minutes to phone in and claim your ticket before it went back into the draw. Fortunately for Kylie, my name never was read out, but for that fortnight I surreptitiously carried a very small radio with me wherever I went, covertly listening at the designated times during lessons and even once in an orthodontist’s waiting room. In the process I did get to know Love In An Elevator by Aerosmith much better than I actually wanted to”.

 

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I’ve Heard Of Politics, But This Is Ridiculous

Designed as a launch article for my new swanky and professional website (yes, that’s right, look impressed), this was a bit of a new direction for me, taking a look not just at a creaky old black and white television programme from the height of ‘the sixties’ but also at how and why I came to be so obsessed with it in the first place. Which involved buying a book – which I still have – from a charity shop as a youngster, and causing so much confusion to the staff that I felt like I was about to be ordered to leave for insubordination. This was something of an experiment for me and one that happily paid off; I’ve since written several other pieces in a similar vein, on subjects ranging from the Mysterons theme music to the uselessness of TV Times‘ mid-sixties resident astrologer (some of which you can find on here), and it’s also informed the direction taken by my forthcoming new anthology. Speaking of which…

“People who care about such details might like to know that the charity shop in question was Oxfam on Allerton Road in Liverpool, which in those days was a hazardously piled-up chaos of a shop, also plagued by an unusual stale odour. It was, however, an absolute goldmine if you were looking for Doctor Who tie-in paperbacks, or Sven Hassel novels, or some book called The Adriatic Formula that they always seemed to have at least three copies of. I think you can probably guess which of those three I was actually looking for”.

 

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Can We Hear It Back Now?

Although I’m a huge fan of The Beatles (well, prior to 1968), I’m also a huge fan of sixties pop music in general, the sixties arts scene in general, and, well, things being left bloody well alone. As such, I wasn’t in any real mood to join in with the celebrations over a brand new mix of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and less so when I discovered that Carnival Of Light, a legendary electronic experimental track that they had recorded during the album sessions, was not going to be included with the studio offcuts shoved onto a bonus disc. This, and the flippant dismissive reaction that many met with when they complained about this, led me to look at the extraordinary story behind this unheard oddity, and try and work out as best I could what it might have sounded – and looked – like, ending up arguing very strongly for its immediate release. Or, if you’d prefer…

“It’s never leaked – astonishingly – and very little further information has emerged since then. Which is incredibly frustrating for me as, regardless of whether people on the Internet think it might be any good or not, it’s something that appears to capture the most exciting band of the sixties momentarily in tune with everything that excites me most about the mid-sixties arts scene. Even if it is a load of rubbish – and frankly I think that’s likely to depend on your own musical tastes, and I can’t bloody stand their last couple of albums if you’re going to take that stance – it’s still something that I really, really want to hear. And its seemingly arbitrary omission annoyed me no end”.

 

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Manchester

This was essentially thrown together in a matter of minutes after hearing news reports about the senseless and cowardly bomb attack at Manchester Arena in 2017, aimed at what was primarily a large group of children, guilty of the terrible theological crime of wanting to see Ariana Grande sing a couple of songs. What I did not know at that point was that the victims included Martyn Hett, one of the few ‘Twitter Celebrities’ who had actually purposely and pointedly used the medium as a method of spreading positivity and a joy for life; taking his much-needed voice away made this barbaric and aimless attack seem even more devoid of purpose still. I only ever made one attempt at this short piece and took the deliberate decision to publish it in its raw, unpolished form, originally with typos and repeated words intact. It was a direct and heartfelt tribute to the irrepressible spirit and refusal to be beaten or told what to do of a city that I’m supposed to have some baffling geographical enmity with, but in fact has played host to many of the best concerts, nights out, shopping trips and romantic interludes I have ever had, and to a man who was an unlikely hero figure to me as a teenager (and beyond if I’m honest about it); as such, I felt it had to get straight out as it was with no concessions to slick presentation. That’s what Tony Wilson always did, after all.

 

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Must Be All This Talk Of Witches…

I’d been looking for something to write for Halloween, but had momentarily gone off the idea as everyone’s default approach to this these days seems to be to reach for the grim, the bleak, the horrific and the not-at-all-like-Halloween-as-you-remember-it, then I suddenly remembered this actually quite creepy episode of sixties animation The Herbs and had the idea of putting together something looking at how witches were once a staple, casual and entirely innocent feature of children’s television and pop music. It didn’t quite seem to take off, possibly because everyone genuinely is looking for harder stuff to go with their jack’o’lantern antics, but I’m very fond of it myself.

 

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A Fast Exciting All-Action Game

I really only wrote this look at the ridiculous TV tie-in board games produced by Denys Fisher as a bit of filler intended to plug my books while I was caught up with other work (of which more later), which is why I was particularly surprised when it became one of the most popular features I have ever written. It went viral – and I mean Tweet-liked-by-Karen-Gillan viral – on three separate occasions, became a subject of discussion on Radcliffe And Maconie, and landed me a slot on BBC Radio’s Georgey Tonight, which you can hear here incidentally.

 

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London’s So Nice Back In Your Seamless Rhymes

Another spot of musical detective work as I tried to figure out how the ‘Single Version’ of For Tomorrow, a track from Blur’s much-delayed and reshuffled second album, came to be exactly identical to the ‘Album Version’, and where the mysterious and expensive-sounding ‘Visit To Primrose Hill Extended Version’ fitted into all this. Which is all a lot more exciting than it sounds, honest. And if you want more proof of that…

“In the words of a band from not all that long ago but whose legacy had been seemingly blasted away by the wave of noise emanating from America, Nirvana and their ilk said nothing to me about my life. Although I can’t say I feel especially any more well disposed toward Stone Temple Pilots or Pearl Jam, I can now look at or indeed listen to Nirvana as a band who, while clearly not my cup of tea, made some amazing music and in many ways changed popular culture forever; in fact I would even concede that this was almost on the same scale and to the same extent as The Beatles. Back then, however, they were the enemy, with their studiedly undisciplined sound, negative and suicide-fetishing lyrics (something I have never felt especially comfortable with), and above all messy hair and appallingly dilapidated footwear getting right up the nose of a sixties-fixated neo-Mod who had somehow taken a detour into ‘indie’ by circumstance. Worse still, everyone of every pop cultural persuasion – not just the grungers – seemed to have suddenly started worshipping all things American from Beverly Hills 90210 to Pop Tarts. What was there for a disaffected youngster to do apart from sulk? Well, go even more defiantly into the world of polo shirts and Dunlop Green Flash and start arguing about The Kinks and Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons to anyone saying “you should listen to this, it’s Rage Against The Machine, it’s good”.

 

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One Pill Makes You Gerald Harper

The ‘drug party’ episode of late sixties/early seventies ITV light drama Hadleigh is one of those television shows that it seemed that only I had actually seen, and which a lot of people doubted the existence of whenever I mentioned it. Yet it’s all too vividly monochromatically psychedelically real, and this is an account not just of its surprisingly strong and realistic contents, but of the rather odd circumstances in which I originally saw it. Although they aren’t quite as odd as this…

It’s difficult now to convey just how huge and yet genuinely guilty a thrill late-night cable television was in its early days. With its seemingly inexhaustible on-demand supply of arcane, exotic, obscene and tedious programming – most of it all of that at once – it was like someone had turned Channel 4 up to eleven, and in an era of relatively few and relatively small moral panics, nobody was actually trying to stop you from seeing it. Yes, we all knew it was drivel and yes we all knew it would lead to bad places both artistically and culturally, but not one of us could stop watching. I don’t think any anecdote better encapsulates this than the fact that, having gone home with someone after a night DJing one late August night in 1997 and waiting for her to finish a cigarette in the back yard, I turned on the television to see a newsflash reporting that Diana and Dodi had been involved in a serious car accident in Paris, and immediately turned over to watch Lancelot Link Secret Chimp on Paramount Comedy”.

 

 

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Radio 1 Vintage

Well, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what an absolute triumph Radio 1’s weekend-long celebration of its 50th Anniversary was, packed full of genuine highlights from the archives and fascinating interviews with the presenters who were actually there, celebrated and uncelebrated alike. I’m still honoured to have played a part in its success and had an absolute blast working on it – well it wasn’t really work, let’s be honest! – and here’s to more similar and similarly high quality ventures in the future. The pop-up station isn’t online any more, but you can hear some of my contributions to the documentaries here. Including…

As Chris Morris rarely does interviews about his own work, this posed something of a problem when I was working on a documentary about the station’s comedy shows for the pop-up archive station Radio 1 Vintage. The upshot of this lack of representative voices was that I ended up doing the lion’s share of the talking about Blue Jam. I doubt that I would have believed that if you’d told me it would happen back on that November night in 1997. Though apparently I still sounded every bit as excited”.

 

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Looks Unfamiliar

And last but by no means least, the podcast that I started more or less because I felt like having a bit of a laugh with Phil Catterall about stuff that only he remembered has gone from strength to strength – with a couple of them clocking up well over a thousand listens – and there are more exciting guests lined up for the New Year. You can download them all from here. Not can, should. Go on!

 

Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of old articles with a new twist (and some brand new ones too), will follow in early 2018.

 

© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.

 

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