TUNE IN/TURN ON

Music TV in the 70s & 80s.

Some TV programmes can numb the viewer into searching for the remote. But for me music shows were about tuning in rather than turning over. Broadcast from Newcastle was live music show The Tube who were undoubtably the top dogs leaving in their wake a dusty Old Grey Whistle Test.

Where the velvet tones of Bob Harris whispered on what was essentially an album show in the 70s – the BBC’s Whistle Test provided a much needed alternative to chart shows. Up on the bridge in the ‘80s, Annie Nightingale, then Andy Kershaw and team, fired more passion and energy into the show before it sunk in ’88.

The Tube was produced off the back of Tyne Tees music and youth shows Alright Now and Check it Out. The first band to play live was Sunderland punks, The Toy Dolls, and the first show was 5th November 1982 presented by Jools Holland and Paula Yeats.

The Tube co-presenter Gary James interviewing John Peel on the Marc Bolan special in 1983.

In an interview for this blog former presenter Gary James talked about that first night…

‘I was one of the original co-presenters from Series 1. None of us on the presenter side, perhaps with the exception of Jools and Paula who breezed through it all without a care in the world, could have had any idea that the show would be as seminal as it was.

We certainly knew we were part of the ‘new wave’ and that we didn’t want to be all BBC and Top of the Pops-ish. It was all live, pre-watershed national networked TV and no second chances’.

Even when setbacks happened, the Tube squad were able to show a strength in depth and capture the now.

Back in August 2019 I spoke with author and TV producer Chris Phipps…..

I joined in ’82 as a booker and became Assistant Producer from ’85-’87. A band on the first show that I booked didn’t happen. The Who’s p.a. system got stuck in Mexico or somewhere. Producer Malcolm Gerrie knew Paul Wellers father and got The Jam to do it.

In a way I’m glad that he did because The Jam playing their last TV gig ever, said this is what The Tube is all about – that was then, this is now and off we go’.

Before the show finally checked out in ’87, an appearance raised the profile of a band and record companies came calling. From the same interview with Chris Phipps, he confirmed that…

‘Fine Young Cannibals got signed, The Proclaimers got signed. and there was a time when the Tube crew went to Liverpool to film Dead or Alive but they weren’t around. Someone in the pub told them to go round the corner to another pub where there is a band rehearsing. ‘You might be interested in them‘ he said.

It was Frankie Goes to Hollywood’.

You know what happened next. A triple smash of huge number one hit singles Relax, Two Tribes and The Power of Love plus a number 1 album Welcome to the Pleasuredome produced by Durham born Trevor Horn. Shoulda’ had a t shirt made – Frankie Made in Liverpool via the North East.

Chris Cowey and co-presenter Lynn Spencer interviewing P.I.L. on Tyne Tees programme Check it Out.

Sunderland born Chris Cowey is now a successful TV director & producer with a CV including The Tube, The White Room & Top of the Pops. Back in ‘79 when he was a teenage presenter sharpening his skills on Tyne Tees programme Check it Out, he interviewed punk band Public Image Limited, featuring a confrontational ex-Pistol Johnny Rotten (Lydon). He spoke about it on the blog in October 2019…

The infamous P.I.L chat was a real baptism of fire. My memory is that the band got themselves ‘relaxed’ by the time the studio session started, and they were ready to do their usual argumentative schtick.

The whole pantomime was their way of getting themselves noticed and being in the press, which sells records. The point of the interview was that they’d just brought out their Metal Box album.

Anyway, everyone won, they sold records, the Check It Out show was on the map, and I did about seven series of it’.

Top of the Pops chart show was broadcast at prime time on the BBC to millions of viewers, and some acts considered it a privilege to appear on the programme. But during summer ’79 one band who weren’t impressed was South Shields punks Angelic Upstarts. In an interview in 2013 vocalist Mensi Mensforth told me…

‘We were on once. It was like, nothing. There was no atmosphere. The only good thing was I sang live. They wanted us to mime but I wouldn’t, so that was something’.

Guitarist, Mond Cowie added I remember we did ‘Teenage Warning’ it went in around number 29 on the chart. It was a horrible cold studio with four stages in it. There was only 20-30 people there. It was like playing a big warehouse. It was horrible really, not a nice experience’.

Bands would pop up on Saturday morning kids shows like Tiswas and get huge exposure to new audiences. Gillan, Iron Maiden, The Clash and even Lemmy from Motorhead – who received a pie splat from the phantom flinger –couldn’t turn down an interview with the gorgeous presenter Sally James.

North East based broadcaster & producer Ian Ravendale worked on the weekend kids show Get Fresh

 Most guests came up to Carlisle the night before so I’d take them out. People like Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible from The Damned. We’d go into the music pubs and clubs around Carlisle and people would love seeing them there. Rat got up a few times to play with some local bands’.

The Young Ones with Ade Edmondson (left) and Rik Mayall (right).

A music slot was also available in the running order of alternative comedy show The Young Ones featuring Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. The programme was broadcast for two series in ’82 and ’84. Nine Below Zero, Madness and Dexys Midnight Runners were some of the bands that played in the first series.

Ace of Spades by Motorhead kicked off the second series broadcast on 8 May. The Damned, Amazulu and Madness again featured on the second, but sadly, last series.

Talking of Motorhead, the band started a UK tour in autumn ‘79. In between live dates a Top of the Pops appearance was booked to air the new single Bomber which was in the charts. The show was broadcast 6 December.

The band already had form on the programme. Their first appearance was in October ’78 with Louie, Louie. The following singles Overkill and Leavin’ Here, provided dirty, loud, no compromise rock n roll, opposed to the chicken feed pop that was on show most weeks. Motorhead had once again been brought into the nations living rooms.

The weekly chart show and kids TV wasn’t their target audience, but this was prime time exposure providing a welcome boost to record sales – and fear not Motorheadbangers, set lists on the Bomber tour have them opening the gig with the intensely majestic Overkill – their reputation for leaving a stain on the soul of everyone that came within one thousand yards was still intact.

Gary Alikivi  January 2021.

Links to interviews:

Chris Phipps:

NAMEDROPPER – in conversation with freelance author/TV producer Chris Phipps | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

Chris Cowey:

DIRECT ACTION – with TV/Media director & producer Chris Cowey. | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

Angelic Upstarts:

 THE BUTCHERS OF BOLINGBROKE – Pigs, Gigs and Prisons with Angelic Upstarts | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

Ian Ravendale:

WRITING ON THE WALL – in conversation with North East music journalist, broadcaster & producer Ian Ravendale | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

Gary James:

GET IT ON – with Gary James former presenter of Music TV’s Top Dogs, THE TUBE | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

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