Nowadays, you’ll find the very few surviving BBC television performances by sixties psychedelic acts all over BBC Four at any given moment, whether shoehorned into the endless (and to be fair endlessly fascinating) compilations of musical acts ‘At The BBC’, or wedged into documentaries in between that Piccadilly Circus sign saying ‘L… S… D…’ and Incense And Peppermints playing over footage of sixties ‘unrest’. This wasn’t always the case, though, and many of the pop clips from across the decade that you now probably have to actively go out of your way to avoid hadn’t been seen anywhere since their initial broadcast – most of them live – until BBC2 collected together what was left for the quietly revolutionary ten part series Sounds Of The Sixties late in 1991. The entire run of Sounds Of The Sixties was tremendously exciting, with themed shows covering pop, folk, light entertainment, the blues and plenty more besides; the tantalising glimpses of paisley-shirted characters trying to recreate their live shows from the UFO Club in a tiny studio in front of arm-folded critic types all found their way into the eighth edition, appropriately subtitled Hip To The Trip.
Hip To The Trip had a profound influence on me at the time; hardly surprising, given that it was the first real occasion on which I had seen my two major obsessions – sixties television and sixties pop music – not just presented in conjunction with each other but also with the sort of respect and context that is rarely glimpsed even now. No interminable waffle about how people who didn’t ‘rebelled’ against their parents citing some weird conflation of ‘Flower Power’, That Was The Week That Was and Thunderbirds, just the actual performances with appropriate bits of television presentation framing them. It was, if this isn’t a contradiction in terms, allowing the music and the artists to speak for themselves. It was also allowing the tweedy academic presenters speaking for the music and the artists to speak for themselves, but of them, well, more hereafter. It was also the first occasion on which I had really even seen a couple of my major obsessions full stop. Brief clips of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd in action on television had started to show up in documentaries in the late eighties, but that was literally all they were, inevitably cutting immediately to the same boring men going on about how Hendrix played really loud and chuckle chuckle the ‘chicks’ really dug him and Barrett thought Camberwick Green was a wall or something. This was an opportunity to see those performances as if you had actually been watching them at the time, continuity announcers and all. Over and above all that, it was a equally tantalising glimpse of the strange things that were happening in the name of ‘the arts’ at the very edges of the television schedules at a time when ‘the arts’ were arguably faster moving and more fascinating than at any other. A couple of years after Pink Floyd enjoyed their bemused exchange with Hans Keller, BBC2 were playing host to The Original Peter – which you can read more about here – as if it was the most mundane and everyday programme ever broadcast. None of that made it into the follow-up series Sounds Of The Seventies, let’s just put it that way.
This was originally written simply as an appreciation of Hip To The Trip after catching a repeat of it and realising that none of that excitement – or that interest in the actual context of early television and radio programmes right up to and including the studio walls – had abated. An expanded version of That Sight, Those Sounds…, with much more detail on the actual programmes that these performances came from, was later included in my collection Can’t Help Thinking About Me, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
In this age of seventeen million disc vinyl and CD ultimate deluxe box set editions with every last abandoned take of Within You Without You where George Harrison said ‘Don’t tell him, Pike!’ or something included, it’s difficult to convey just how exciting BBC’s Sounds Of The Sixties seemed back in 1991. Running for ten editions – at a time when it was hard enough to get into and indeed in many cases simply get hold of sixties music in the first place, let alone get to see any television performances by any of the artists (including the really big ones) – it took a thematically-arranged look back through the archives at the BBC’s most interesting pop music performances of that over-eulogised yet also under-eulogised decade, from polite black and white rinky-dink crooning to the proggers and folkies blasting off to the centre of the mind in late night BBC2 colour. Technically, in fact, it took a look back at the most interesting pop music performances that were actually left in the BBC’s archives; inevitably, out of the countless thousands of hours of pop, folk and everything else that found its way onto the small screen between 1960 and 1969, very little had survived from a time when television was seen to have an even shorter shelf life than pop music itself, and despite Sounds Of The Sixties producer David Jeffcock lamenting to Vox Magazine at the time of broadcast that some bands such as The Troggs had simply vanished from the Film And Videotape Library completely, it’s still astonishing that enough had made it through intact to make up ten half hours of such high musical quality, and indeed that so well represented both their era and their genre.
Better still, Sounds Of The Sixties didn’t just stop at the pop performances, and also threw in stray bits of ancient continuity, interesting snippets from the surrounding shows, and clips from the likes of Dee Time and Play School just to give a flavour of the time; again, all of it the sort of material that you never really got the opportunity to see anywhere else in those days. And these were pretty exciting times to be giving a flavour of, especially if you had a keen interest in that there ‘psychedelic’ music that was all the rage later in the decade. As the series went by, there were more and more tantalising hints of the gathering swirly purple-and-orange storm; Brian Jones discovering another planet in the middle of The Last Time, Bob Dylan doing moody and introspective in front of a big photo of some houses, Tim Buckley yodelling “Camber-amber-amberwick Greeeeen” through a cloud of dry ice, Julie Driscoll fixing the Top Of The Pops cameras with a spaced-out glittery stare, and The Move whipping up the audience with an infectiously energetic of Fire Brigade in Carnaby Street finery that would have had Dodo from Doctor Who seething with envy. Oh and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick And Titch jabbering away in a nonsense invented language if you’re not one of those planks who splits hairs about what’s ‘allowed’ psychedelia or not. When that storm finally hit, in the eighth edition – appropriately subtitled Hip To The Trip – it was like having your mind blown by an acid flashback a quarter of a century after the event.
So yes, it might be difficult to convey just how exciting – or indeed reality-transcending – Hip To The Trip was back in 1991, but in the mind-expanding spirit of the times we’re going to be having a go anyway. So grab one pill that makes you larger, or, if raining, one pill that makes you small, as we feel inclined to blow your mind…
Following the opening titles and their actually quite imaginative use of feet walking backwards and forwards in constantly evolving sixties fashions (and a dog for some reason), it’s straight over to the BBC ‘watch strap’ clock, and an announcer pausing for what seems like an absolute ice age before telling us that the time is almost eleven minutes past eleven, and that at approximately eleven forty two – ten minutes later than published in Radio Times – there’s a chance to see recorded extracts from today’s solemn opening of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool. But first… The Look Of The Week.
It’s at this point that the screen fills up with a familiar face in extreme close-up, intently intoning ‘ba-boomba tch-tchhhhhhh’ into a microphone whilst the studio lights flash wildly in and out. As the camera pulls out, he’s joined by an ominous organ tone and the rest of the now visible band making bird and jungle noises, and suddenly going absolutely full throttle on their assorted instruments for a good eight seconds before an almighty crash from a gong. You could be forgiven for not noticing the show’s title scrolling across the front. “That sight, those sounds”, as the reassuring visage of presenter Robert Robinson informs us, “were made by The Pink Floyd, a pop group who took over Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday night, for the entertainment they called Games For May; of them more hereafter”, all of it delivered in the same endearing tone of affected interest that he would adopt whenever the ‘Extreme Close-Up Photo’ round in Ask The Family featured such technologically dazzling devices as “a… video… re-corder, a device that allows you to record the output of one television channel whilst watching the output of another… whatever will they think of next!”. The Large Hadron Particle Collider. That’s what they thought of next.
This is indeed a very early appearance by ‘The’ Pink Floyd, giving unsuspecting listeners a quick top-of-the-show blast of Pow R. Toc H., and what was really astonishing for unsuspecting viewers too young to remember the sixties was that the aforementioned extreme close-up face belonged to Syd Barrett, the enigmatic and reclusive original frontman and driving force behind the band, who famously walked away from the entire music scene at the end of the decade and never did anything public ever again. Barrett was someone who at that point, even to obsessive fans of the band, was little more than a name and the odd artistically blurry photo on a handful of album covers, and yet here he was, moving, singing and playing as if we’d discovered some parapsychic pathway into the past straight out of the lyrics of Chapter 24. But of him, of Pink Floyd, and indeed of The Look Of The Week itself, more hereafter. We’ve got a couple of other bands to get through first, whilst Robert Robinson has an interview with Christopher Isherwood, whose new novel A Meeting By The River was due to be published at the end of the month, and a report on a retrospective exhibition of the work of Dame Laura Knight that was set to open at the Upper Grosvenor Galleries the following week to attend to. But are we going to see any of this?
Ah, would that we were. Instead, it’s time for another familiar voice – albeit a more relaxed and nasal one – promising us “an assault on the senses, an LSD trip without drugs, flashing strobe lights, spermatazoic colour…”; you’ve probably figured out by now that this is none other than Alan Whicker, and this was from when Whicker’s World touched down in San Francisco in 1967 to see what all this crazy far-out mind-bending Summer Of Love was all about, and believe it or not, he’s taking in a Grateful Dead concert as part of his research. Depending on which side of the Kaleidoscope UK/Kaleidoscope US side of the fence you’re inclined to fall on, you could be forgiven for thinking that, while certainly a fascinating piece of archive footage, this is hardly going to be an interesting or exciting way in which to open this compilation. Well, not quite open, but you get the point.
To some, The Grateful Dead are the definitive example of how America got psychedelia wrong, what with their twenty thousand year guitar solos, tedious ‘on the bus or off the bus’ posturing (it’s hard to call it ‘political’ when it never seemed to involve any actual definable policies), questionable taste in… well, they seemed to be clothes, and endless songs about being hassled by ‘the pigs’ and/or by ‘chicks’ about ‘bread’, all of which seemed a million miles away from the imaginative speaker-rattling short sharp shocks of fuzz guitar and swirly organ that the likes of 13th Floor Elevators and Chocolate Watchband had been snarling out only about eighteen months earlier, let alone the intricately-arranged mod-shirted folky jazzy rambles through Music Hall and Edward Lear that Traffic, The Small Faces and others were merrily indulging in over here. On top of that, they went on to do an horrendous mangling of the theme from The Twilight Zone, a piece of music that it should not be possible to ruin but which they somehow managed to render not so much der ner ner ner as aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Even so, this footage is actually really, really good. Captured in sense-walloping technicolour, Jerry and his interchangeable-looking chums hurtle through first album opener The Golden Road To Unlimited Devotion whilst their legendary light show flares blisteringly all over everyone’s field of vision. Admittedly way too much of this is projected onto crash-zooms in on their gallery of inexcusable facial hair, but during the wild and mercifully brief guitar solo there’s some astonishing footage of a strobe-lit hippychick dancing in the audience with a visibly expanded mind. There’s even a couple of stray shots of the ‘backroom boys’ flipping sheets of cellophane in coloured water to create the jaw-dropping visuals. What’s more – and quite astonishingly – this all takes place in a little under two minutes. Bet they kept it going for several hours when Alan wasn’t around to keep an eye on them, though.
Then it’s back into black and white and in what is rapidly becoming a running theme for this episode, there’s yet another intrusion by a smartly-dressed establishment ‘square’. Yes, it’s classical composer Sir William Walton, brought onto the BBC’s short-lived Pythons-and-Goodies-in-waiting-festooned youth magazine show Twice A Fortnight to discuss lord alone knows what, but shown here introducing an imminent performance by The Who, who in a neat coincidence were managed by his godson Kit Lambert. After a cringe-inducing 10–O’Clock–Live-gone-even-wronger moment when he’s asked what he thinks of young persons’ pop music and affects to give a bewildered down-with-the-kids answer that even Robert Robinson would have considered a tad insincere (which also involves singing a bit of a dreadful-sounding song on the grounds that it has the word ‘who’ in it), he’s asked if he ‘approves’ of his godson’s ‘activities’. “Well I don’t know what they are!”, Sir William retorts to audience hysteria. It’s… best to leave that there.
By now well into their equally short-lived psychedelic phase, with moptops and paisley neckerchieves to the fore, The Who thunder through controversial-for-the-wrong-reasons rumbling ode to long-distance possessiveness I Can See For Miles, courtesy of a series of quick-cutting shaky zoom close-ups which even Keith Moon can’t keep pace with that bear the unmistakeable hallmarks of early rock directing genius Tony Palmer, in front of a huge photographic blow-up of Charles De Gaulle because ‘satire’. He won’t be doing THAT again. Yet even despite the frequent offlocks that plague the visuals and a splurgy moment of self-varispeeding audio courtesy of the pretty knackered Telerecording that this edition presumably accidentally survives on, it’s still easy to see what an exciting performance this was and just what a thrill it must have been to catch sight of one of those all-too-rare glimpses of pop music on television during pop music’s most exciting decade, especially when they were as energetically and imaginatively rendered as this.
Then – you guessed it – it’s straight over to yet another tweedy old stick, and one who courtesy of this unearthed footage is possibly more well-known now than he might well have ended up otherwise. Amongst many other broadcasting and journalistic gigs, ranging from serious intellectual discussions to football punditry, Hans Keller was the resident music critic on BBC1’s The Look Of The Week, which was to all intents and purposes a spin-off from BBC2’s nightly critical hoedown Late Night Line-Up, aimed at bringing ‘the arts’ to an audience that might not normally have noticed them tucked away there. As such, Keller usually got to verbally joust with classical musicians, theatre impresarios and heavyweight jazzers, with The Look Of The Week‘s interactions with the pop scene – barely regarded even as a part of the ‘arts’ at that point – rarely venturing beyond the odd bit of opinionating from rent-a-viewpoint Russell Brand of his day Mick Jagger. But this was a time when the more popular side of the arts and the more arty side of pop music were nudging ever closer together, and the production team responsible for The Look Of The Week had previously given airtime to all manner of cautiously critically-endorsed popsters and indeed were about to shoot a pilot for BBC2 which featured The Chambers Brothers threatening to make BBC Presentation Studio B disappear in on itself in a fuzz guitar-ravaged psychedelic blur. So when one of those artier outfits took over a noted classical venue for an event that was supposed to get the audience to listen rather than dance, it was inevitable that they would end up covering it in some way.
In amongst said audience, attempting to listen to an early version of something called The Bicycle Song whilst being bombarded with bubbles and daffodils, was Hans Keller, and he wasn’t quite what you’d call impressed. Holding a cigarette aloft he presages their appearance on the show thusly:
“The Pink Floyd – you’re going to hear them in a minute and I do not want to prejudice you. Hear them and see them first and we’ll talk about them afterwards but four quick points I want to make before you hear them. The first is that what you heard at the beginning, that short bit, those few seconds, are really all I can hear in them, which is to say to my mind, there is continuous repetition and proportionally they are a bit boring. My second point is that they are terribly loud. You couldn’t quite hear because, of course, it isn’t as loud from your sets as it is here in the studio or as it was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday” – “I will ask them about that when we come to talk” he adds as if asking them if they’d mind stepping outside for a moment – “my third point is that perhaps I am a little bit too much of a musician to appreciate them. And the reason why that – why I say that – is that four, they have an audience, and people who have an audience ought to be heard. Perhaps it is my fault that I don’t appreciate them”.
With a tilt of his head in the direction of the other end of the studio, it’s over to some blobby amorphous light patterns and a spaceman voice intoning obscure intergalactic facts, and Pink Floyd delivering an astonishing performance of celestial travelogue Astonomy Domine, then still some months from making its first public appearance on their debut album; to early fans of the band, this must have been as exciting as the likes of Blur, Suede and The Stone Roses giving an airing to ‘new’ tunes on The Look Of The Week‘s late-night cultural progeny was by the time this showed up again on Sounds Of The Sixties. It’s also the best surviving indication of what the original line-up sounded like live, the most accurate record of their famed but ephemeral light show (and yes, Barrett is playing his mirror-disc Telecaster, adding to the visual cacophony), and above all that it’s simply a thrilling performance of a terrific song. And that’s not all.
As they finish, Syd Barrett and Roger Waters politely set down their guitars and walk slowly over to some of those taller-sitting-down-than-standing-up stools favoured by the likes of Bernard Levin for a bit of a natter with Hans Keller. He opens by confrontationally asking them why it all has to be so ‘terribly loud’, pointing out that he ‘grew up with the string quartet’ and as a consequence finds this kind of volume unbearable. Waters and Barrett – both visibly cracking up – can only meekly offer that they like it that way, that they didn’t grow up with the string quartet, and that it doesn’t sound terribly loud to them, with Keller obliterating the latter two arguments but accepting that they see it as important to their art; often mistaken for a bit of stuffy pomposity, this is actually the prelude to a much longer interview in which the waspish and mischievous Keller – the nearest thing that the high arts ever had to a loose cannon, and whose notorious antics included broadcasting a fake documentary about a fictitious composer (which you can hear more about here) to see who fell for it and refusing to appear on ‘daytime music station’ Radio 3 – expresses some considerable sympathy for their attempts to present pop music in a more considered format, not least when he hears about the hostility that they have encountered from both dancehall audiences and broadsheet columnists. If you want to know more about that, and the background to Pink Floyd’s appearance on The Look Of The Week in general, there’s a huge piece about it in my book Well At Least It’s Free.
What’s more astonishing still is that, for the first few years of their career at least, this appearance was about as highbrow and arty as the reclusive seventies high-concept stadium-fillers got. There was no such thing as ‘rock’ music at that point, and like everyone else making records from Craig Douglas to The Waltham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association, Pink Floyd spent much of their time trudging around Children’s Television and Light Entertainment shows in the hope of drumming up a few extra single sales. Much of it long since wiped, so we should be grateful that The Look Of The Week was seen as that bit more ‘prestigious’.
Presumably Keller’s reappearance fulfilled the starchy old geezer quota on this occasion too, as it’s straight from that abrupt mid-interview edit into an all-too-mind-numbingly familiar quasi-religious organ motif. One that is redolent of the prehistoric ancestry of overwrought X Factor histrionics and twee advert girly acoustic cover versions, and indeed of wishing that the opening would stop being seventeen thousand hours long and that we could just get on with enjoying the comedy antics of Kevin Arnold with some actual proper decent music plastered all over them to boot. Yes, it’s Joe Cocker And The Grease Band with their bewilderingly popular, and frankly unnecessary in the first place, caterwauled mangling of With A Little Help From My Friends. ‘Surely he can’t be serious?’, many of you are possibly thinking right now. ‘Isn’t it the definitive reading of a Lennon and McCartney classic?’. Well no, it’s not, and I am, and here are five reasons why. Firstly, it has all but obliterated the hot-off-the-presses top ten cover by psychedelically-jacketed scamps The Young Idea from pop history, which may not be that exciting or interesting but they deserve a bit better than that. Secondly, it was clearly an attempt to emulate the dazzling time-distortion cover of You Keep Me Hangin’ On by Vanilla Fudge, yet somehow contrived to omit any of the tongue-in-cheek theatricality, sinister mock-sitar splurges and Motown-goes-paranoid extended riffing on the staccato bits that had made that into an actually rather good record in the first place; avowed Vanilla Fudge fan Kevin Arnold would NOT have approved. Thirdly, it’s in the risible position of having inspired a parody version – Bill Oddie’s meticulously appropriated reading of On Ilkla Moor Baht’ ‘At – that is both more likeable and more tuneful than the target of its lampoonery. Fourthly, the backing so impressed some hard-hitting Current Affairs dullard at Granada that The Grease Band were invited to perform a spot of pompous instrumental waffling to worship the news by, subsequently afforded the appropriately cursory title Jam For World In Action. Finally, it was also covered around this time by Pinky And Perky, who did not subsequently see fit to inflict Up Where We Belong on the general populace.
So, is there anything worth saying about this fairly straightforward performance of the ridiculously overextended song? Well, it comes from an edition of How It Is, the BBC’s countercultural chat show oddity presented by the unlikely triumvirate of Richard Neville, Angela Huth and John Peel with music from chunky-jumpered shouters about spitting in a cup or something The Spinners, which miraculously appears to have survived on its original videotape… oh, you mean about the actual performance? Do we have to? Oh alright then, if you insist. There’s a lot of ‘earnest’ face-pulling and some pretend ‘exhaustion’ at the end, but none of it really goes anywhere, and despite using the exact same Tony Palmer-helmed visual template as The Who only twelve months previously (albeit with less Charles De Gaulle), and despite the band and indeed Ol’ Painty Can Cocker himself certainly displaying an impressive degree of musical muscle, it just doesn’t seem to have any of the excitement. This, really, was the moment where ‘rock’ parted ways from ‘pop’.
Thankfully, we’re parting ways with Joe and The Grease Band there too, courtesy of an ancient BBC Globe and one of Ronnie Hazelhurst’s very much of-their-time B-B-C! stings, and yet another well-tailored well-spoken chap is on hand to amplify those far-out psychedelic vibes. This is Broadway’s own Leonard Bernstein, and he’s appearing on television to respond to claims that he attempted to prevent a cover of one of his West Side Story show-stoppers from being released in America, in a version which he reportedly felt had been turned into ‘an anti-American dirge’. “The Nice, you say? I haven’t heard of them”, he offers with the same level of confidently affable deniability that had us all resting assured that Rupert Murdoch really did know nothing about any morally dubious journalistic practices within his organisation and there were no further questions to be asked.
In fairness, even an outspoken social progressive like Bernstein would have had problems with allowing one of his compositions – and a sarcastically trampled-over furious instrumental reading of it at that – to be associated with the sort of wild proto-pranksterist japery that The Nice had got up to in the name of drawing attention to their contentious pop waxing. No adherents of the American Dream, the band had promoted the single’s release with adverts featuring portraits of the freshly-assassinated Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, whilst madcap keyboard player Keith Emerson had taken to interspersing his energetic runs up and down the ivories with displays of stars’n’stripes-burning and demonstrations of natty knife-throwing skills in the direction of images of ‘Uncle Sam’. It’s also not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that the ever-astute Andrew Loog Oldham might have at the very least exaggerated the situation with the aim of getting a bit of press coverage for and sympathy towards his charges, but obviously that would just be a wild guess based on, well, pretty much everything he ever did really.
Happily this musical and sociocultural two-fingeredness, knife-hurlage and all, was captured for the ages in another performance on How It Is, which even more surprisingly also seems to survive on the original videotape. Aside from the somewhat side-letting-down fact that the closing monologue has to be impact-lackingly delivered by one of the band rather than by P.P. Arnold’s son (this would have gone out way past his bedtime, after all), this is a dynamic performance by a band who seem determined to continually leap into every last millimetre of space on the makeshift stage; indeed, at one point Emerson elects to use his Hammond Organ as a vaulting horse, producing a thrilling rattling judder that gives some credence to the stories that many leading music stores refused to service his Hammond due to general aghastness at his ungentlemanly treatment of it. What’s more, all of this is yet again rendered in glorious Palmer-O-Vision, producing an effect that would likely have left the average viewer feeling seasick. As they reach their frantic and furious conclusion behind the show’s closing caption, it’s hard not to feel some sort of yearning for a time when something like this would literally have been the very last bit of television of the day.
Then there’s a bit more of Sir William, telling us all that popular beat music is jolly good in his opinion and let’s have more of it please hurrah, then getting embarrassed when the hippy-heavy audience cross-leggedly applaud him, before one last bit of videotape, which was famously – or at least famously to those who know about these things – illicitly saved by a BBC engineer who just couldn’t bring himself to destroy it. This is half of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s infamous appearance on Happening For Lulu – the second half of it, where they played about twelve seconds of Hey Joe before going off-script with an impromptu free-form take on Sunshine Of Your Love, throwing the producer’s timesheet and the host’s presentational links into disarray, would appear two weeks later in the final edition of Sounds Of The Sixties – with the trio giving a robust rendition of Voodoo Child (Slight Return). As with Pink Floyd, it’s difficult these days to comprehend that Hendrix – more normally sighted in his later ‘being less interesting at festivals’ phase – once did the rounds of television and radio (seriously, the amount of sessions he recorded for Radio 1 alone is astonishing) like any other pop hopeful, and this is something that it’s even more difficult still to comprehend when you hear this overpowering blast of elastic white noise with a bit of singing over the top issuing from a sparse and doubtless sparsely-equipped Light Entertainment studio setup. What’s more, his cheeky grin to camera makes you realise that the line “I didn’t mean to take up all your sweet time, I’ll get right back one of the days” was actually intended as a joke about the extended soloing that preceded it. Who knows how many other similar musical gags from supposedly earnest and humourless rockers have been lost to the ages through the loss of so many early television shows.
Then right at the end there’s one last bit of Hans Keller, summing up Pink Floyd’s efforts – and by association, those of anyone flying the same psychedelic flag, including all of the acts in this compilation (even Joe Cocker, probably) – as “a little bit of a regression to childhood, but then again, why not?”; again much misunderstood, his comments basically both hone in on one of the musical movement’s key artistic imperatives, and benignly suggest that it has its place, even if that place isn’t anywhere near him and his peers in their suits and ties. More to the point, it is more or less the exact same as the average rock critic’s summation of the subject. As the end credits play out to Something In The Air by Thunderclap Newman, and a series of Now That’s What I Call Music-esque Top Pop Facts about the artists combined with original pop-art design tickets for recordings of the likes of Braden’s Week, It Strikes A Chord, Frost Over England, Roger Whittaker’s Whistle Stop, Jazz At The Maltings and Ooh La La!, maybe it’s worth reflecting for a second on the preponderance of tweedy intellectuals showing up between clips. In their own variously begrudging ways, they exemplify a moment when the intellectual great and good began to realise that, contrary to what everyone else outside its target audience was thinking, this pop music business was not going to go away, and was in fact permeating so far into everyday life that they should probably start thinking about redefining their analytical boundaries to allow for it. From The Times‘ controversial nomination of Lennon and McCartney as Composers Of The Year onwards, those clever clogs types were the first to latch on to the idea of treating popular beat music as a valid art form in its own right and don’t let any plank of a columnist tell you otherwise. Anyway, if it hadn’t have been for that early begrudging, none of this stuff would be around now to shoehorn into compilation shows. Simple as that.
Of course, since Sounds Of The Sixties was first broadcast – I say ‘first’ because it regularly shows up on BBC Four, albeit hamfistedly edited to remove any glimpses of since-discredited scrawny old bastards – a lot more of ‘this stuff’ has turned up, including one of Pink Floyd’s Top Of The Pops appearances; though there’s still no sign of the poor old Troggs. Nobody’s seen fit to revisit the series with any of this newly-rediscovered material, though, as it would be a bit like trying to reinvent the wheel; by very nature of its wide and easy availability, it’s impossible to make the same sort of impact with this material as you could back when most of it hadn’t been seen since broadcast. As for Hip To The Trip itself, it’s still a fascinating, and compellingly assembled, experience, though surprisingly less for its dazzling and disorientating visuals as for the now totally alien mechanics of how these shows were metaphorically and literally put together, all of them made to be shown once without a single thought that anyone might be even remotely interested half a century later. It’s also an effective barometer of just how quickly everything was changing in those days, and with the post-credits trailer pointing to a whole new universe of full colour performances by the likes of Frank Zappa and The Small Faces, and some of the earlier ones painting just as evocative a picture of their own particular corner of the decade, perhaps it might be worth taking another look at a few more of them…
Buy A Book!
You can find an extended version of That Sight, Those Sounds… with much more detail on the background to the actual featured programmes in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. Preferably with an Alan Whicker-style narration.
Desert Island Dylan is a look at The Madhouse On Castle Street, a long lost BBC television play starring Bob Dylan; you can find it here.
When The Levity Breaks is a feature looking at how the supposed sixties rock bores were sometimes up for a bit more of a laugh than the history books like to admit; you can find it here.
The Wind Cries Mickey Murphy is a feature looking at what Jimi Hendrix might actually have been watching when he wrote The Wind Cries Mary; you can find it here.
There’s more about Hans Keller – and the infamous hoax he pulled on BBC Third Programme listeners about a fictitious composer – in the Looks Unfamiliar here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.