Tonight BBC4 showed an edition of the Old Grey Whistle Test in its entirety. Presumably it was there to tie in with the John Cooper Clark documentary that was on immediately beforehand and doesn’t, unfortunately, mean they are going to do what they are doing with TOTP and show them all again in order.
It was a real revelation because individual performances from the OGWT are always cropping up all over the place, notably in various retrospective compilation shows like Guitar Heroes at the BBC, but it is a long time since I’d seen a complete one. I had forgotten how good it was, especially in its Annie Nightingale/Whispering Bob heyday. Whereas the weekly ritual viewing of old TOTP involves a lot of fast-forwarding because so much is either dross or was on two weeks before, or both, the OGWT was something to savour.It started off with Siouxsie & the Banshees and immediately you came across one of the great attributes of the programme: two songs in a row from the same act. I could have done without the Cars bit to be honest, but the rest was all fascinating in one way or another. Even the links – all those concert posters behind AN, including the one just over her left shoulder promoting Spizz Oil as support for the Banshees.
The Steely Dan film was bizarre. Why did they have someone who looked and acted like a frontman singer? Donald Fagen was doing all the lead vocals obviously, so they basically had a stunt double lead singer who just did backing vocals and banged a tambourine.
John Cooper Clark was hypnotic. I once saw him perform live three times over a weekend, and would happily have seen him more if I could.
The finale was splendid though; Mick Jagger with Peter Tosh. During that performance I realised that Freddie Starr’s Mick Jagger impersonation was not the unsubtle slapstick that I always thought. It was actually understated if anything.
Surely it is time for the Beeb to start showing one OGWT a week, starting as far back as they can. It would be far more rewarding than the TOTP re-runs – but keep them too, for the sake of nostalgia and for the odd classic performance like Doctor Feelgood last week.