Saturday, 25 July 2015

Morecambe, Wise and Nathan



Last night's BBC 2 repeat of Episode Seven of The Perfect Morecambe and Wise, a compilation series drawing on their time with both the Beeb and ATV, prompted this repost of an extract from The Laughtermakers by David Nathan, a book very influential in my life.

In the chapter entitled Mixed Doubles, mostly about Morecambe and Wise, Nathan writes about being present when the very first sketch in last night's episode, which can be viewed on BBC iplayer here until August 24th, was recorded.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Rock 'n' Roll America Episode Three (BBC 4 documentary series)


The final episode of the BBC's Rock 'n' Roll America was delayed by almost an hour - blame the corporation's decision to persist with live coverage of a golfing event - but it proved worth the wait.

I did wonder, initially, whether the need to cover all the many offshoots of rock'n'roll in this final programme meant that we might only be scratching the surface, but that was a misunderstanding of what the series is trying to do. There may have been more genres to be covered than in earlier episodes but once again the programme makers did a pretty of good job of selecting key moments and remarks which conveyed the essence of a range of styles without losing a sense of the bigger picture.

Which, in this episode, was rock'n'roll's transition into various strands of pop, for good and ill, followed by the impact of the Beatles on a moribund US chart.

We started with the main figures "missing in action" - through death, religion, the army or scandal.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Rock 'n' Roll America Episode Two (BBC 4 documentary series)


Episode Two of Rock 'n' Roll America follows the pattern of the first programme: well-chosen clips, interviews with surviving key players and sidemen, the whole a canny mix of the story's essentials and some illuminating extra details along the way for those who already know the basics. At present it can only be seen on in the UK on BBC iplayer here, but if it makes its way to the US it is well worth watching.

Incidentally, of the sidemen interviewed in the first two episodes there seems to have been a disproportionate number of drummers. Do they tend to be the survivors of rock'n'roll? I suppose having a regular workout as part of your job doesn't hurt in the longevity stakes.

By coincidence, a film about Ginger Baker (not quite new but presented as such in Alan Yentob's Imagine series) had been shown a few days earlier. After all those jokes about the supposed slowness of drummers (in the wit department) could it be that they are now having the last laugh, or at least the last word?

The focus in this episode is on the major stars once rock'n'roll was established as a force: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. The Elvis Presley material, and the business of his singing Hound Dog to an actual canine on the Steve Allen Show, will already be familiar to most readers, although it does mean something to hear directly from drummer DJ Fontana that Elvis really didn't want to do it and as a result "didn't like Steve till the day he died."

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Spaniels # 2

The previous post was a bit convoluted so I am going to add something today which will, I hope, be clearer. In the meantime I have been rereading Richard G Carter's book on the Spaniels, which can be recommended. It's not necessarily superbly written throughout, but where it scores is that there is a degree of frankness about it which made me wonder at times whether it was wise for the group to embark upon it - at least if they were expecting a PR job.

But I'm glad they did, because you really are taken into the heart of things. Although the book was published in 1994 it ends before they have gone to London, so presumably the MS was completed around 1991. There is a lot of optimism and hope from the various members at the end, though I couldn't say precisely how much success the group had in later years. Group members seem to assume they're on the verge of a huge breakthrough - or at least are entertaining the possibility - and that finally they will get the money and acclaim which is their due. Whatever level of success they did enjoy I don't think it matched up to their expectations.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Spaniels


After seeing the current version of the Spaniels in the BBC's Rock 'n' Roll America I resolved to find out a bit more about the group's various lineups. The above is a videocap from the programme; all I can say for certain is that Billy Shelton is on the far left.

From my memory of Richard G Carter's biography of the Spaniels there were two main lineups of the group which recorded on Vee Jay, and the original members were more instinctive singers than the Mk II version. It was the originals who were reunited in the 1990s and whom I saw perform in London.

Detailed information about personnel changes can be found online in Unca Marvy's R&B Notebooks, an invaluable resource for the doo wop fan. His page about the Spaniels, based on interviews with Pookie Hudson, can be read in its entirety here. Pookie's first group was formed in 1949 at Roosevelt Junior High in Gary, Indiana, when he was fifteen. Billy Shelton was a member of this, though the group which were to become the Spaniels were a separate entity:

Monday, 6 July 2015

All You Need Is Love (Tony Palmer's documentary series)


Having mentioned Tony Palmer's pioneering 1970s series All You Need Is Love, a history of the many strands of popular music, in the previous post here is a review I wrote at the time of its first DVD release in 2008.
I saw the original series when in my teens and have seen many, many documentaries on myriad aspects of popular music since then. So is this worth buying? The answer has to be a resounding yes: the original film material and the range of authorities Tony Palmer gathered together for this mammoth 70s project mean that it remains a vivid account of the genres which coalesced into rock.
Yes, some sections feel a little dull, and the quality of the film transfer doesn't help in the immediacy stakes, but Palmer has two big things going for him: recognised experts in their fields (eg Sondheim on musicals; Lyttleton on swing) wrote the scripts which became the basis of each programme and - crucially - interviewees are given ample time to talk. You get the likes of Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Caesar discussing their own songs, and there's even a bizarre turn from Phil Spector (who appears to be singing his hits in the style of Bob Dylan). Whatever the outcome, Palmer would have deserved our heartfelt thanks simply for the foresight to do something on this scale while the names involved were still around, if occasionally frail.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Rock 'n' Roll America (BBC 4 documentary series)


Just watched Episode One of the new BBC 4 series Rock 'n' Roll America, which will be available on BBC iplayer for a month (for those in the UK, anyway).

It was a particularly clear and effective retelling of what has become an oft-told tale, with enough freshness in the detail to mean that it can serve equally well as an introduction to the social roots of rock'n'roll and as a reminder of the music's importance for those who have read the books and seen the other documentaries. Archive clips seemed to have been very carefully selected and, crucially, the programme's length meant a decent chunk of time was devoted to the consideration of the contributions of key individuals. Each episode (this was the first of three) is an hour long, though the pace never seemed to flag in this debut show.


The great strength of the programme was the way in which the social background to this upsurge of a new kind of music was firmly sketched in.