Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Beat Room (BBC2) : 5th October 1964

A couple of months ago. BBC4 had an R n'B night... thats Rn'B - Rhythm and Blues in the TRUE sense - not what is passed off as "R n'B" these days which is a pathetic case of labelling and generalising. In amongst some documentaries, they gave an airing of the sole existing edition of "The Beat Room", broadcast on 5th October 1964.

1964 was the year that the BBC finally got hip to Pop Music TV. "Top Of The Pops" had begun on 1st January and was the first time the BBC had a show devoted to the fast moving pop music scene. All earlier shows, including the legendary "6-5 Special" treated pop music rather tamely. For a so called wild rock and roll show, "6-5 Special" was bogged down by rather conservative acts and items many youngsters didn't have time for. Hell... they even had Jon Pertwee on one edition performing skiffle. Jon Pertwee?

Pop music on BBC television had a limited outlet. Occasional acts would guest on variety shows or childrens shows, most notably "Crackerjack". The BBC certainly hoped deep down that this pop music fad would fade away but as the 1960s got underway it was clear it was here to stay. Not that the BBC took any notice until 1963 when Rediffusion unleashed a new pop show aimed at teenagers - the immortal "Ready Steady Go!"

It is easy to forget now just radical "RSG" was and it caused a bit of an uproar since its studio audience were as much a part of the show as the bands and singers it hosted. You saw normal average teenagers, dressed in the latest fashions, casually chewing gum... it was common as muck in some eyes! It was an instant success and as Beatlemania began to grip Britain, the BBC had to try and catch up and compete. In late 1963 they taped a pilot show featuring The Rolling Stones for what would become "Top Of The Pops" and that show went on air at the new year. It was slated to run for 6 weeks but BBC bigwigs saw the shows open ended appeal since it focused on the charts and would mix loud long haired pop groups alongside nice clean well groomed balladeers therefore giving it a wider appeal so families could watch and enjoy the show.

Meanwhile, the BBC began a second channel, BBC2 which to this day is regarded as the "minority" channel. This meant more programmes had to be made and so pop music shows were inevitable. Alongside The Beatles came The Rolling Stones. The Stones were a big name on the London Rn'B scene and once they hit the national consciousness, there came a flood of Rn'B acts all getting recording contracts and packing clubs full. Bands like The Graham Bond Organisation, The Pretty Things, The High Numbers, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and The Yardbirds all began making records and charting. Most of these bands played covers of American material and were always pleased to admit to their influences.

American bluesmen looked at these white British groups with a split opinion. Some were pleased their music was getting exposure whilst others felt angry that British white boys were playing this music since they could not possibly have "the blues". A BBC producer Barry Langford came up with a show that would feature the best British Rn'B acts and give television exposure to various American bluesmen as well, hardly any of whom had ever appeared on British TV before, so right away, "The Beat Room" was set to be a winner.

"The Beat Room" ran for about 6 months during late 1964 into very early 1965. It featured many many acts over the course of its run. What was striking about the show was all the acts had to perform LIVE. TOTP was strictly mimed as was RSG though they had occasional live acts before it went totally live sometime in 1965. Barry Langford had obviously taken note from RSG for he would fill the studio in Shepherds Bush with a crowd of "hip" youngsters who would be seen prominently throughout the show.

Langford came up with a rather radical idea though. The host Pat Campbell would not be seen onscreen. Cambell linked the show with a live voiceover.This was a real refreshing change at the time, so as soon as one song ended, it quickly went straight on to the next without a pause. Barry Langford also came up with another idea that was to change British music TV which I'll get to shortly.

This edition of the show then opened with a new up and coming act - Tom Jones, making his second ever TV appearance. A virtual unknown at this moment in time, Jones was hungry and had everything to prove. 1964 had been a frustrating year for him. He had been signed to Joe Meek who cut a bunch of songs with him but Meek was not seeing eye to eye with Decca Records who wanted Jones on their books and when Jones hit the following year with "Its Not Unusual", Joe Meek took perverse delight in leasing a couple of the tracks he had to Deccas' rivals EMI to cash in on Jones' new found fame.

Jones was just months away from his big breakthrough. Gordon Mills, the manager who got him doing ballads had yet to make his presence felt so here, we get Tom Jones in pure Rn'B rocker mode. Credit where its due, "What I Say" and "Chills and Fever" here are dynamic performances that prove what a great rock vocalist Tom Jones could be when he wanted to be, which after this rarely ever surfaced with priority being given to the MOR side. Jones goes all out barking and hollering away all the while moving as sexually suggestive as he could get away with. It certainly gets the show off to a great start.

The pace changes completely for a rendition of "The Wedding" which was the big current hit for Julie Rogers. It doesn't quite fit into the Rn'B nature of the show being more of a treacly ballad, but it is a fine performance and interesting to hear it live. One can only guess just how much lacquer Julie used on her hair... She faded into oblivion after this and rarely ever heard of again, forever remembered for this song.

Next up is a double whammy by a band who had only recently broken through with a number one smash - The Kinks. Here they begin with that number one, "You Really Got Me" and its a superb fiery romp. The Kinks were one of the unluckiest bands of the 60s. There was no way they could match the hype attached to The Rolling Stones nor the success, mania and acclaim of The Beatles but The Kinks took them both on and recorded some of the very best music of the decade. In my view, their 60s albums from 1966 onwards make the Rolling Stones' albums sound lame, not that anyone actually bought them.

"You Really Got Me" really was a bolt out the blue. No record had ever sounded like THAT before. Dave Davies' simple riff played through a defaced amp sounded out of this world and they came up with what many regard as the first true Heavy Metal record. It certainly had a major impact on rock in general, not that they ever really got the credit for it.

At this point, Ray Davies had yet to blossom into the introspective observant witty songwriter that he became. That was over a year away and at this point The Kinks repertoire consisted of a handful of original songs and various Rn'B covers and here they perform a fascinating version of "Got Love If You Want It" in which we see Ray Davies was already a dynamic and charismatic performer, strutting away rather moodily during the songs quieter sections, bursting into manic life as the band explode! Its a great performance and certainly leaves an impression...

Which is more than can be said for Wayne Gibson and The Dynamic Sounds. It so happens they were the resident band on the show and of all the acts in this edition they are the least convincing. I get the impression they were more of a ballady band simply cashing in on Rn'B. Their rendition of "Bread and Butter" isn't awful but its not great either and they look a little TOO clean cut and groomed. The thought of a second song, a cover of "A Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" is distinctly unappealing... however...

Its at this very moment that "The Beat Girls" burst onto the screen! Here was Barry Langford's other interesting idea - a girl dance troupe. Though hardly a new idea having girl troupes dancing to music, a ploy used a lot in variety shows to kill time and allow the main performers to get changed, here was the birth of another legend of British Television history - Pans People. The girls all wear matching outfits with their names emblazoned across their chests and frug away manically as Gibson and his band play the song. Gibson doesn't really get a look in here - the focus is entirely on the girls. It looks terribly dated now, but for its time, stuff like this was acceptable and regular until the PC Brigade deemed stuff like this "sexist". Johnnie Stewart the TOTP producer was obviously watching for in 1965 he introduced "The Go Jos" who evolved from the Beat Girls and would be required to dance and interpret records for acts unable to appear on the show. They in turn later evolved into Pans People who of course became legends.

Meanwhile throughout this show, we get regular sightings and cutaways of the audience dancing away. Like the existing RSG footage, its these cutaways that actually provide the most fun. You see quite a few waving and posing at the cameras - the "Hello Mum!" types, amused by the fact they are on TV. You also get an interesting taste of the current fashions and dances, haircuts and the like. Great period charm.

Next up is the late great John Lee Hooker, already by then regarded as a veteran American bluesman and in some peoples eyes the definitive bluesman. Here he is backed by a young British band called The Groundhogs who often performed with Hooker when he appeared in the UK during the 60s though the 'Hogs themselves were to find success in their own right as the decade ended. Hooker performs 2 songs - the immortal "Boom Boom" and "I'm Leaving". Its very raw and exciting though "I'm Leaving" does become rather repetitive due to it being rather long and going round and round in the same groove with no changes. Hookers' set would had been the one all the bands would had been paying attention to. Its a great snapshot of Hooker at this point in time and a valuable slice of archive footage.

Closing the show are The Syndicats. They were a band signed with Joe Meek and with him released 3 superb singles. The B'side of their final single "On The Horizon" released a year after this show is a real classic - the extraordinary "Crawdaddy Simone" which features Ray Fenwick playing quite possibly the most manic guitar solos heard on disc up to that time. Therefore The Syndicats are cult legends. Theres also the fact that their original guitarist found worldwide fame a few years later...

4 or 5 years before Yes came into being, The Syndicats featured the teenage Steve Howe on guitar and its fascinating seeing him in this footage playing straightforward Rn'B instead of the artier complex stuff he did with Yes. The Syndicats look rather cool and their lead singer sports a very trendy mod haircut for its time and era.

Their performance is for me, the highlight of this show. Its very manic and exciting and in yer face. They do a medley of Bo Diddley stuff thats simply sublime. They then go into their forthcoming single "Howlin' For My Baby" which makes interesting comparison to the Joe Meek production. That featured Meeks' famous tack piano getting a hammering whereas here those parts are played on an organ. Sadly the song is not complete and the closing credits scroll over part of it as well as having Pat Campbell wrapping the show up and inviting viewers to return "next week" and so the show ends.

One dearly wishes that one could see the following weeks' show - or any other episodes but the BBC ended up wiping the entire lot, including a 90 minute one off new year special for which The Kinks made a return appearance. The shows were not broadcast live and were recorded a few days in advance meaning that the BBC certainly videotaped them all but quite likely never bothered to make telerecordings of most and so we are left with this sole example. At least they did preserve a good one... a lot of shows which were wiped may have one or two examples left but generally its regarded they weren't the better shows. Sadly, it appears the BBC 4 repeat was edited... there was another song by Julie Rogers that ended up being chopped out.

Its a very enjoyable show and what I find sad about it apart from whats been lost is that this format is not used today. To have a music TV show without an onscreen host or onscreen captions is refreshing. It simply lets the music and audience through their dance and dress do all the talking. None of your "Later With Jools Holland" sycophantic drivel where Jools has to natter with some acts, guest with them (oh look at me, I'm playing with the legendary Dr John! Thank God Mark E.Smith put Jools in his place telling him "you ain;t playing your bloody piano with us mate!") and feature only acts signed to corporate labels and predictable ones at that. Just try and imagine that show without Jools onscreen just doing brief voiceovers, no interviews, no archive clips and no chummy backslapping... just the music. It sure would be more bearable to watch!

No comments: