Monday 27 September 2010

Chris Moyles is the new DLT

History finally came full circle this week when, as predicted over a dozen years ago, Chris Moyles of Radio 1 proved that he was the new DLT.

DLT, younger readers may not know, was Dave Lee Travis, a DJ on Radio 1. From being exciting, hip, fashionable and novel in the 1960s (he can be seen here introducing supergroup Cream), he became a Radio 1 star in the 70s and 80s, presenting the Breakfast Show for four years, appearing regularly on Top Of The Pops, and occupying for most of the 80s a popular show on Saturday and Sunday mornings. However by 1993 his cosy and avuncular style (here is a classic clip in happier times) was becoming out-dated and, when the new broom producer Matthew Bannister came in to shake up the station, DLT famously resigned on air.

"....and I really want to put the record straight at this point and I thought you ought to know - changes are being made here which go against my principles and I just cannot agree with them..." were his words, as he stopped the music, had a rant, and left the BBC. The clip is included in this excerpt.

A new wave of DJs came in, some more successful than others, and after a few years of ups and downs, during which Bannister experimented with high brow presenters such as Emma Freud & Nicky Campbell, marmite presenters like Danny Baker and Mark & Lard, and popular if volatile Chris Evans, things settled down by the end of the nineties with a line up of new popular faces, most popular of which was Chris Moyles.

John Peel famously described Moyles as a "DLT-in-waiting", to which Moyles called Peel a "Kenny Everett-in-waiting, because Kenny Everett’s dead and it’s only a matter of time before John pops his clogs".

Now it turns out John Peel was as right about this as he had been about so many other thing. Moyles rants on air for half an hour (here's enough of it to be getting with) about not getting paid. Not quite resigning on air, he does the next best thing, asking to be sacked.

I'm reminded of a very funny sketch, which I can't find on YouTube, from the early Channel 4 series of Armstrong & Miller, where an in-store DJ in a booth in a clothing store does the DLT speech.

In today's Guardian a number of commentators have been asked what they think Moyles should do. Few have been kind. Mark Lawson says "it's Peter Finch in Network", Mike Smith suggests "he has more than crossed the line is a completely sackable offence", and Sybil Ruscoe observes "Chris seems to be suffering from BSS – Breakfast Show Syndrome. Too many 4am starts, dark circles under the eyes, a delusional belief in his own publicity" and recommends "the cure is usually a spell back on a local radio lunchtime show".

As someone who stopped listening to Radio 1 when Mark & Lard left and Chris Moyles took over the breakfast show, it's not my place to comment. But I've never found such self-indulgence and hubris to make good radio. As exemplified by Chris Evans' outburst against an unfortunate Scottish local radio journalist back in 1997 which, if it didn't lose him the Radio 1 Breakfast Show job, should have. (Which I can't find online, maybe someone else can)

Robin Hood live in Nottingham - Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

As part of our performance at the Nottingham Comedy Festival on Saturday, the Socks gave the first performance of a Robin Hood routine. Here, for your pleasure, is its studio version and its live version. It will be interesting to see which is the more popular:

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Kibworth, on the telly

Although everyone knows me as coming from Aberdeen, they're all aware of the fact that I lost my Scottish accent at a very young age. This is because I moved to Leicestershire at the age of three, and from the age of six lived in a village called Kibworth, which is where my parents still reside.

None of which is of the slightest interest to anyone, until tonight when Kibworth becomes the subject of a TV series on BBC4, and my Mum's in it. Hers is possibly not a major role, but the village's is. The show, by Michael Wood, looks at British history as it can be traced through the history of Kibworth itself.

Amazingly I get no mention, neither does our legendary rock band Walter Tottle - surely the greatest musicians ever to pass through Kibworth (except, maybe, Simon Parks who wrote the theme to Van Der Valk, and Gay Bykers On Acid, who did quite well back in the day).

Here, should you need reminding of our brilliance, is the fantastic Walter Tottle in our heyday. Details of the BBC show are here.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Socks on the Pope - Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

A lighthearted tribute on the occasion of the papal visit.

Jools Later vs Old Grey Whistle Test

I'm watching last night's Later With Jools Holland. Following my blog last week about Top Of The Pops and how badly TV and the music business need it, I'm looking at this show in the light of how well it represents and promotes popular music. It has been compared to the Old Grey Whistle Test which was, in the 70s and 80s, the grown-up companion programme to the youth-oriented TOTP, but does it compare? Let's look at tonight's Later line-up

Jools Holland - Our host is an amiable musician who everyone loves. He had his biggest pop hits three decades ago. An OGWT equivalent from 1977 would be having the show presented by Perry Como or Bing Crosby.

Manic Street Preachers - Hit band who started 20 years ago and had biggest hits 15 years ago. OGWT 77 equivalent might be The Shadows, Adam Faith or Billy Fury.

Dawn French - Bursts out of 250th episode birthday cake. Rose to fame 25 years ago, comedy peak 10 to 20 years ago. OGWT 77 equivalent would be Joyce Grenfell.

Mark Ronson - Band look very silly (one appears to be challenging Janet Street Porter) but would otherwise not have been out of place on OGWT

Herb Alpert - MOR act & label boss, heyday 42 years ago. OGWT 77 match Al Bowlly/ Eddie Cantor

Queen Amelie - Never heard of her, would go fine on OGWT 77, as would...

Finally Phil Collins sings Blame It On The Sun, a Stevie Wonder hit from 1972 - Where do I start? In Old Grey Whistle Test terms this is Al Jolson singing We'll Meet Again.

In short Jools Holland's Later is largely a history programme, with only a passing relevance to modern popular music. In 1970s terms it bears no resemblance to the Old Grey Whistle Test. OGWT only featured new music, with the main difference between it and TOTP being that acts had to have an album out, rather than just a single. Later adds the criterion that an act's career has to have been over for at least a generation.

It is much closer to another show that some very old people may recall from the 70s, the George Shearing show. Google it. Guy plays piano along with every act, average age 70. Remember where you heard it first.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Socks comic now available from

The Socks first comic, excitingly named The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Comic, first appeared in December 2008 and has sold well in limited edition print runs since. Now it is available to order from Print on Demand company

Full of comic strip adaptations of some favourite Socks sketches including Halloween, Romeo & Juliet, Torchwool, Primarkeval & Life On Mars, the 64 page paperback comic book costs just £3.99 a copy. You can even preview the first 15 pages online:

As an extra novelty, you can even order a hardback version of the book for £12.95 should you fancy a rare deluxe version. The comic is available to anyone, anywhere in the world, and postage rates are on the site. The one disadvantage of Blurb is that postage to the UK costs a flat rate of £3.99 for up to three comics, which makes one copy a little bit pricey (so why not buy three?)

Spread the word and happy reading everyone.

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Top Of The Pops thoughts

In the paper today it is suggested the BBC are looking for a new format for Top Of The Pops. My first thought was, they have one. It's called Top Of The Pops.

I, like many people of my age, was dismayed by the cancellation of TOTP in 2006 and long for its return. It was a major part of my childhood, and went through many changes, but ultimately it was the same basic show. It had the pop music acts of the day into the studio, live or as-live, miming or really playing, and that was the long and short of it. The pop music of the day appeared on TOTP when it was hot, and disappeared when it wasn't.

Since TOTP's demise, I've lost touch with popular music quite badly. This is only to be expected, given my immense age, but it was TOTP as much as anything that kept me up to date. I don't know what acts look like. You forget how much that helps. And I don't know when something's new or old. Given the number of records these days that are both (be they samples, covers or retro, like Crosby Stills Nash & Young tribute act Fleet Foxes).

The music biz needs it, a shop window for their wares on BBC1 every week. What could be better? If an act wants to plug their new single on TV now they have to appear on a breakfast news programme, sing on a dancing shiny-floor contest or pop up on a bloody cookery show. Or, if they're really lucky, they might get a slot on Jools Holland, where they have to compete with acts selected for the previous 70 years of music, and from all over the world, all getting two chances to perform in each show. Statistically that means next to nobody new's ever got a chance of getting on. And if they do, Jools will ruin your record by playing honky bloody tonk bloody piano over the top of it when you least expect.

Or you can wait till Glastonbury comes along, or T4 on the Beach, so you get to plug your new single, but only once your new single's been a big enough hit at the time of the year when people actually buy records, ie the winter and the spring, so that you're famous enough to be invited on a show in the summer, when they don't.

So, Top Of The Pops is vital for those of us desperate to know what acts look like, who hold to the old fashioned notice that TV is a better advertising medium than the radio, and who think live appearances in the studio have a magic that a pop video, which can be seen on MTV and a hundred other channels and online at the drop of a hat, don't. Certainly TOTP specials at Christmas, and TOTP-like shows on ITV, prove popular with viewers. Added to which the broadcaster comes away every week with unique and valuable footage for the archive.

Godammit, no TOTP? Wasn't it a format so successful they franchised it? I've seen the American and German versions of Top of the bloody Pops. How can we not have one?

So, the BBC are asking people for formats, but they're not happy with any of the formats they've been presented with? Did they never watch the programme? Actually, given the fact that the current commissioners are possibly 20 something public schoolkids, no, they probably didn't. Let me fill them in on the 'format' of TOTP.

The format: Pop acts from this week's charts come into the studio and play their current single. We have a rundown of the singles chart. It is presented by.. someone. That's about it for the format. Over the years it has varied:

The music. For most of its run, from 1964 to 2006, the music had to be in that week's singles chart, and had to be going up (for the benefit of the very very young and the very very old, this meant the single had to have sold relatively more copies this week than last). On rare occasions in the 1960s, album tracks were played. In the mid 1990s the format saw quite a radical change whereby records could appear on TOTP in advance of their release. This was a record-pluggers dream and, coinciding as it did with the advent of Britpop, saw certain acts start to dominate. As they were British, this was largely a good thing, though it led to the phenomenon of singles rocketing to the top of the charts immediately on their release, then dropping out of the top twenty a week or so later. (This phenomenon went on to be repeated by Pop Idol / X Factor singles, who now have a near monopoly on the TV-promoted pop market).

The quality of the music has varied widely, as has the quality of its presentation. From the 60s to the 80s, the Musicians Union imposed tight rules on the show, dictating that, if acts could not perform live, then they should mime only to backing tracks that they had recorded themselves at BBC studios, or be backed by a BBC orchestra or band. This led to a lot of performances sounding less good than the record (see Althea & Donna's Uptown Top Ranking, where the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra, possibly not their actual name, fail miserably to sound like a Jamaican groove).

Live performances were variable, sometimes a mess, and miming frequently laughable (although the mileage that's been got from All About Eve's no-show vocals, Status Quo's walking into the drums, Vic Reeves very-drunkenness etc, suggests that's a bonus), but I would argue there's not a TOTP performance that's not valuable in some way. For many acts, especially in the pre pop-video era, their TOTP appearance was the only televisual record of their song's 3 minutes of fame.

The presenters: For most of its 32 years, TOTP was presented by Radio 1 DJs. This served as a perfect symbiosis between the BBC's main TV channel and its pop station and was varied at its peril. In the late 70s pop stars occasionally appeared as guest presenters. Let's just say they weren't all Elton John, and he was only good as a novelty. In the mid 90s the new wave of comedians, including Vic & Bob, Jo Brand and Lee & Herring, all got shots as guest presenters, with some very good results. The turn of the 90s/00s saw a dreadful experiment whereby "professional" TOTP presenters were recruited. They were neither pop stars nor familiar DJs, or what could really be described as personalities, and proved how much of a vital part the previous arrangement had been.

The content: Music and links. At its best TOTP presenters introduced the act, the act played, the presenter introduced the next act, and so it went, with the only break in the rhythm being the chart rundown. Frequently the links were embarrassing, whether a bad gag from Tony Blackburn or Jo Brand, a sexist ogle from DLT or Jimmy Savile, or anything said by the Fearne Cotton ever, but they were rarely allowed enough time to leave a lasting bad memory. And sometimes they were the archive gold we were waiting for (see anything said by John Peel, ever).

The worst messing around with the content came with the Andi Peters revamp of the 00s, when interviews were added. Frank Zappa had described music journalism as "people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read". It is for the best that he was dead before he had to experience Fearne Cotton doing an in-depth piece with 5ive.

Other bits of the format that everyone remembers as being set in stone that weren't really so fixed included the chart rundown and the theme music. A scour through YouTube reveals that, in the 1960s, there were seasons with no theme tune, a variety of theme tunes and title sequences that only lasted a few months, with the famous Whole Lotta Love theme running through most of the 1970s, being revived in the 2000s, the rest of the time having themes changing every 5 years or so, some less memorable than others. Theme tune was nice, but largely irrelevant. Logo even more or less so.

The chart rundown used to appear at the beginning of the show in the 60s and early 70s, with the number 1 being revealed before the first act had played. A missed goal of a format glitch that no-one even noticed until the programme had been running for 52 weeks a year for 7 years. Through its heydays the singles chart rundown lasted about a minute, culminating in the playing of the Number One at the close of the show. In the 00s there was an attempt to supplement the singles chart with other charts, such as albums and even games, and it is the case that the singles chart as was will never quite regain its status in the music business. But something like it, which represents what's hot and what's not in new music, will.

So, any or all of the above are what constitute Top Of The Pops. Am I the only person who thinks it could, and should, come back to mainstream TV? What, I wonder, are the arguments against it?

Here is how the Socks feel about it all:

Sunday 5 September 2010

Socks tour - first 90 minute show shock horror

With Edinburgh (ie the Fringe) less than a week behind us, I've just got the first tour date under my belt and it was a good one, involving a brief return to Edinburgh (ie the city which is, need I remind you, eternal and must not be used as a byeword for August's working holiday as so many London comics do).

(The above clip is from our Edinburgh run, with a piece of material which stayed in the show for a week before I realised it wasn't working. We still managed to overrun every night even after it was cut)

And the first touring show, Aberdeen's Lemon Tree, was a revelation in that it was the Socks' first attempt to play a 90 minute show. Before now they've simply taken the hour long Edinburgh show and toured that, but tonight we played two 45 minute sets with an interval. This was made up of the recent On The Telly show as the first half (minus Biopic and Dingaling, neither of which made the cut) and Goes To Hollywood as the second half (with Xmas Paedo routine held over from On The Telly, no Casablanca, no Swine Flu, no Australian films, no cross-channel TV).

And it worked brilliantly. The slightly better songs of Hollywood (Earth Song, Facebook, the 3 Songs and Sweary Poppins) build marvellously after the OK songs of Telly (Vuvuzela, Always A B, and Walk On Wild Side which appears in Telly but originated in Hollywood)... and I suddenly realise how interesting this isn't, sorry.

The revelation was the interval, during which I was able to sell t-shirts and comics. Every single comic went (I foolishly only brought 6 on the train) and all but 2 t-shirts (only one one of each size, the others will have to go to the website). If that pattern is repeated, with the Socks remembering to plug the t-shirts before the break, we could have found a new way to make money. Before now, any chance to sell t-shirts has been after the show, by which time I'm so busy clearing up and the crowd are so busy going home that there's rarely been a chance to do anything with merchandise. (Picture me rubbing my hands together like a Dickensian moneylender, you have the picture).

With typical prescience I'd left my travel planning late (I blame Edinburgh) so the train had become cheaper than the plane (£160.70 return, if you're interested) which meant 9 and a half hours up on Friday, 10 and a quarter hours back on Saturday, during which I read The Picture of Dorian Gray, two Sherlock Holmes stories (Red Headed League & Bohemian Scandal), an Edgar Allan Poe story, a good bit of Romeo & Juliet, and the start of a couple of other books, all on the iPod thanks to Classics2Go, plus the Guardian and Private Eye cover to cover. There are worse ways to spend two days. Two days which are more than paid for by a well attended (over 100) gig on a doorsplit. Plus shirts.

Monday sees the first of two London shows, at the Leicester Square Theatre, and a potential attendee has already been told it's sold out (though my email from the venue suggests there are 10 seats left, so hopefully everyone will get in and be happy). It'll be a second attempt at the 90 minute show, so let's hope the crowd haven't seen Hollywood already, fingers crossed.

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