Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Mark, King of Rockabilly, Mark

I can't pretend I listened to every single edition of Mark Lamarr's BBC Radio 2 show Shake Rattle and Roll - too much non-Carl Perkins rockabilly for me - but I am very sorry indeed to see it go.

Last night I listened to the final edition, which will be accessible for a week on the Radio 2 website here. He has circulated an email about his resignation, readable in full at the end of this post, but towards the end of last night's show he acknowledged that Shake Rattle and Roll had a "tiny but dedicated" audience, with the clear implication that the BBC were no longer able to tolerate the "tiny" part of that. Er, isn't that rather the point of the BBC?

It is a great pity, not only because of his presenting style (the true voice of an enthusiast) but because there sure won't be much chance of hearing almost any of the tracks he played anywhere else on the Beeb - the odd Bo Diddley number, perhaps, on Paul Jones' blues show, but that's about it.

Last night was all listener requests, and the final track was an inspired choice as a sign-off, one which I knew well but never, ever imagined I would hear on national radio ... well, never anywhere but there, and a final, fine example of his tradition of playing a doo wop number as a closer.

Last Ride by the Dukes, a 1956 Imperial recording unreleased at the time, is the final track on a very well programmed compilation of New Orleans doo wop issued in the mid eighties entitled Lost Dreams, after another song, and it does most of the things I want a doo wop record to do. It's not really a ballad - as Bruce Woolf says, it's mid tempo - but it gives you that spooky, ethereal thrill that you get from recordings like the Diablos' superlative The Wind (also played in last night's show) or Vernon Green and the Phantoms' Sweet Breeze. It seems to be about embracing death, and there is much howling, but it doesn't seem played for laughs. It seems very well produced, well recorded and clear - ie this isn't some piece of inspired amateurishness - with a beautiful spot of piano, perfectly in keeping with the atmosphere, in the middle. And as with all good doo wop, there is a ridiculousness about it if you care to stand back a pace or two, but if you engage with it, the sense of its being overblown disappears and you are in that world of delicious fear.

It's too obscure to have been posted on youtube, so either find yourself a copy of the LP (above) whence it came, or listen to Mark Lamarr's last ride while you still can. It will be available until next Tuesday night, so hurry. And then Shake Rattle and Roll will vanish from the airwaves and the net: Lost Dreams indeed.

Incidentally, if any Shake Rattle and Roll fans happen to be reading this, a desperate plea: did anyone make a copy of the 30th November show? It is no longer accessible on the BBC website, and I realised too late, as in last night (as I said, I can't pretend I listened to every show), that he played my request - You Have Two (I Have None) by the Orchids that night.

Early in November he had asked for suggestions for a show about doo wop records which hadn't been issued at the time - and the Orchids' recording, discovered in the early nineties, has to be one of the best. I've already written about it at length in an earlier blog entry, here. And a real expert, Robert Pruter, agrees, calling it a "minor masterpiece [which] represents the highest level of doo wop creativity", if you'd care to glance over his highly recommended book Chicago Doo Wop.

Mark Lamarr's email:

It's with enormous regret that I have to announce that I'll be leaving Radio 2 at the end of the year, presumably for good. Obviously this means the end of Shake Rattle and Roll.

After having spent 12 years at the station and having done thousand of hours of shows, it has become obvious to me that my services are rather a thorn in the side of the current bosses, so I'm off of my own accord before it becomes someone else's decision. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who's ever listened to the show, and particularly those who took part in the various petitions to have it reinstated a few years ago. I hope I never let you down.

I worked hard from show one to try and make a varied and entertaining show (i.e not just rockabilly, which I plainly love despite the rather bizarre misconception that I don't), and while I'm fully aware that not everyone appreciated or agreed with my choices, (that's the very nature of a broadcast), I'm sure that even my harshest critics understand and believe that my motives were always pure and good intentioned. I may not have played your favourite record, I may even have played records you hated, but every time I pressed play on the CD player it was because I believed that selection would bring delight to some of you. And I'll bet it did.

I only joined Radio 2 for ten shows; in the last 4 years alone I've played over 1400 different tunes on Shake Rattle and Roll! There's a whole generation that's been exposed to the music we love because of the show (I know this for a fact, they write to me every week) and that is thanks to the BBC.

Radio 2 itself is going through one of its 'popular' phases at the moment, but things do change. There absolutely should be a Rock and Roll show on national radio, and I think everyone who wants one should get in touch with the bosses and the BBC trust. You do pay their wages after all.

It certainly won't be me hosting it, but I'm not asking for sympathy, or praise, or another job. To have hosted a Rock and Roll show on national radio for 12 years is a mighty fine thing to look back on. In the meantime, don't forget Radio 2 is just one option and there are many fine and varied shows on internet stations all over the country, all over the world. They desperately need your support and you desperately need their shows.
          Mark Lamarr

Guardian article about Mark Lamarr's resignation by John Plunkett here

Postscript, 27/1/11: Many thanks to Tom Pontefract, who today has very kindly sent me a copy of the edition of Shake, Rattle and Roll which included my request - seems I was the only listener who bothered to nominate an unissued fifties track, which audibly miffed Lamarr. But then again, how many stone classics of the doowop genre were never issued at the time? Food for thought, as a former colleague used to say ...

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