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)

FIGHT AMONGST YOURSELVES – interview with Neil Thompson from The Carpettes

When did you first get interested in music ? When I was a kid I loved listening to records and watching singers like Billy Fury and Joe Brown on TV. I had my first single when I was 2 – and I also saw my first gig when I was 2, which was Billy Fury at Sunderland Odeon in March 1962. By the time I was 11 I had about 150 singles in my collection.

I saw The Kinks at Sunderland Empire in 1969 and that was the start of me going to gigs in the North East – Led Zep at Newcastle City Hall, Queen at Sunderland Locarno, Sabbath, Genesis, Lizzy, Budgie, Nazareth, absolutely loved them all.

When was your first gig in a band ? My first gig playing in a band was as a drummer. We were called Brown Sugar and it was on the 22nd November 1974 at Newbottle Church Hall, County Durham.

We played Chuck Berry and Rolling Stones songs to kids that wanted Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath – we went down terrible. When we finished the vicar locked us in the back room cos they were banging on the door wanting to beat us up.

I played drums in that band for another four gigs and in the meantime started playing guitar/vocals in another band. We were doing Status Quo/Thin Lizzy covers and I played nine gigs with that band. The last one was my first pub gig at the Sunderland Royalty in March ‘77.

By this time I was getting into the punk scene and one night I was in The White Lion in Houghton, County Durham and George was there – bassist from Brown Sugar. We hadn’t seen each other for a good while and first thing he said was ‘Have you got the Ramones album’. I said I did, so he said ‘Well do you wanna be in a punk band then’. The problem was that I was a drummer, but he’d seen one of the gigs where I played guitar and sang and thought I was good enough. We did our first gig as The Carpettes in June 1977.

What was your first experience in a recording studio ? We did our first recording at Impulse in Wallsend that was in the summer of ‘77.  The demo is available on The Early Years, a CD released in 1997 on Overground Records.

Did you support any name bands ?  While we were living in the North East we gigged with Penetration, Punishment of Luxury and Angelic Upstarts. We also supported The Vibrators at Redcar Coatham Bowl. Among all this we played one gig in London at Leytonstone Red Lion in March ‘78 supporting The Leyton Buzzards. This was the only time, thank goodness, that I was spat at during a gig.

(The Carpettes released six singles and two albums from 1977 to 1980 including a 4 track EP in 1977 & ‘Small Wonder’ 7” both on the Small Wonder label. Two albums, Frustration Paradise & Fight Amongst Yourselves on Beggars Banquet).

How did signing with those labels come about ? We were on the Small Wonder label while we were living in the North East. That came about when we answered an advert in the Sounds music weekly for new bands and they liked us.

Me and the bassist, George, moved down to London in October 1978 and found a new drummer. But it was like starting from scratch when we moved down there but we signed to Beggar’s Banquet in June 1979. We stayed there until 1981 then moved back up North.

Did you appear on TV or radio ? We were on tour with The Inmates at the time and had to cancel one of the gigs at London to travel up to Manchester to record The Old Grey Whistle Test. They’d already played a track from the album on a previous show. The other band that was on was The Blues Band.

Did you have any high points in the band ? I don’t know about high or low points – all I know is that we got better and better as we gigged. Our new drummer, Tim Wilder, was a really solid drummer, he was from Oxford but he’d been a student at Newcastle University and was the drummer in The Young Bucks while living up North.

I loved going to The Marquee to watch bands but I didn’t really enjoy playing there to be honest. We did six supports there and they were hard work – there was always a ‘Come on then, impress us’ in the air !

We played four nights in November ‘79 with The Lurkers during their residency there. Each gig would have punks sitting on the stage with their backs to us and every now and then one would look around and stare at you – and then turn back around. I much preferred London gigs like The Hope ‘n’ Anchor and The Nashville.

By the very last gig for The Carpettes in June 1981 we were a really tight live act with four years gigging experience – you can’t beat live experience for getting better on stage. It’s no good sitting in the bedroom playing guitar – not gonna get you anywhere.

One story to tell is that one of our first gigs was supporting Penetration at Newcastle University in November ‘77 – and we were terrible ! It was far too early to be playing gigs like that but we supported them again at Middlesbrough Rock Garden in August ‘78 and went down a storm.

Have you any road stories ?  In 1980 we went to Italy three times and Holland once, and we also did a short UK tour supporting The Inmates. That UK tour was probably the best two weeks of my life. I was twenty years old, travelling around the country playing music and when we arrived at the venue all the equipment would already be set up by the roadies – heaven!

What are you doing now ? Well I’ve spent most of my life down London. I was in my own band called The Only Alternative – all my ideas and songs which was a bit selfish. But we had some laughs for a couple of years between the summer of ‘84 to the summer of ’86. We released an album in 1985 on the Midnight Music label.

Then with the 20th anniversary of punk happening in 1996 I got both bands back together, well sort of with different line-ups. Both bands gigged on and off until the end of 2003. During this time The Only Alternative recorded two more albums and two singles. I played drums on all of these recordings – as well as being the singer. The Carpettes released a single in 2002 and an album in 2003.

At the moment I have a three piece band called The Alternative Carpettes which play some of my songs from The Carpettes with some Only Alternative ones thrown in.

What does music mean to you ? Music means everything to me. All my life has revolved around music. I love all sorts of music. I love orchestral music like Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. Love the ‘30s and ‘40s swing bands like Basie and Ellington. Rock ‘n’ roll, country, rhythm and blues of the ‘50s. I have a radio show playing ‘50s music every day.

I also love punk, metal, indie, 78’s, cassettes, records, CD’s.  I love it all. I don’t like TV or read books – my whole life is music!

Check out The Carpettes from this 1980 episode of the Old Grey Whistle Test.

https://youtu.be/LvUt7yeAepw

Interview by Gary Alikivi  May 2020.