Archives for posts with tag: britain

TP29 TOTP logoIt may be an age thing combined with the fact that I don’t have any teenage children blasting music from their rooms, but is it getting harder to figure out who is top of the pops these days?

That said, I consider myself to be musically receptive, media conversant and internet savvy, so why has it become so hard? The reality is that we live in a much more complex world when it comes to music appreciation and how it is measured. The days are gone when record sales were everything and the channels through which you could hear music and be informed of its ranking in popularity were few and far between.

Some would argue that it goes further than that and that in fact, the proliferation of media platforms and outlets actually makes the existence of such a ‘chart’ irrelevant. If you like a certain genre of music, say hip-hop or soul, why would you be interested in hearing a chart of which over 50% may not be ‘your thing’.

Such a view insinuates that we only did so before, because we had no choice. Now that we can select from thousands of stations, downloads and sources of streaming audio (some of which have been tailored to our exact specification) – why on TP29 digital musicearth would we dilute the music we like with something else? It’s a notion that I accept and indeed am often guilty of following, but one that I don’t necessarily agree with. In following such a philosophy, how do you get to hear music that is outside your usual comfort zone and just might challenge or excite you? For those of us more mature listeners, it may be we need to be introduced to new artists and styles, but similarly the younger audience might gain inspiration from those immense talents of the past that might otherwise be consigned to history.

TP29 SupremesWe seem to lack a vehicle that can do that at present. From 1963 to 2006 the UK was treated to a weekly TV dose of ‘Top of the Pops’. Millions watched this 30-minute institution. Kids and teens would not be found anywhere other than in front of the TV for that half hour and even their parents would be drawn to it even if only to utter the obligatory ‘tuts’ at the ‘infernal racket’ and administer outrage over what the performers were wearing. It’s true that it belonged to an age where it was (just) possible to keep secrets. Top of the Pops had strict rules – it never played songs that were going down the chart (no matter how famous and powerful the artist) and the only song guaranteed to be heard on the show was the number 1. Everything else was up for grabs and it was a lottery whether your favourite song appeared. I think its fair to say there is nothing like it right now that brings generations together in the living room (or indeed anywhere) to reflect on the music of the day.

So why did it end? Doubtless against fallings ratings and an acceptance of the shift to genre-based music platforms, the BBC gave up the fight. This only happened after innumerous format changes trying to modernise and update the show whilst trying to overshadow the programme’s history of artist’s miming with live performances.

TP29 BowieAs a musician myself, I totally get the backlash against miming. However, I understand why it was done. It was a 30-minute TV show on a tight BBC budget and schedule. They needed to ship artists on and off stage pronto and didn’t have time to set up and record 8-10 live acts every week. We also need to be realistic about this. Not all pop acts are hugely talented beyond the confines of the recording studio and its technology. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the record wasn’t a good one. By making those kinds of artists perform live, it was like whipping the screens away from the Wizard of Oz! I wonder how many classic zany Top of the Pops performances of the 70s and 80s might have never happened if live performance had been enforced. Maybe we needed to view it as entertainment and not as serious concert performance?

So is there an appetite for such a vehicle in today’s diverse yet compartmentalised media world? There are some indications that the answer is ‘yes’. The continued movement from CDs to downloads and ultimately to streaming has shifted the public’s musical interest from albums to individual songs. This has made many musicians despair, but it is in fact reminiscent of the old vinyl days when purchases of the 45 inch single drove the music industry in terms of establishing popularity and increasing TP29 Boy Georgepublicity. Downloads have been included in the chart for some time now and it only seems a matter of time before a means to include streaming is found and implemented. We also live in an era where time has become an important commodity not just professionally, but personally and socially. Yes, I could trawl the Internet and plunder You Tube to make my own assessment of weekly chart activity, but instead I think I would welcome a devoted 30-minute slot that would give me an overview. With ‘on demand’ television I could watch it either in real time if I was that interested or catch it at my own convenience. I’m sure there must be others out there young and old that might feel similarly.

There is also something unique about artists having to ‘perform’ their song on TV in a less controlled environment than their highly produced music video. There is scope for improvisation, the unexpected and perhaps the occasional but entertaining mistake. Just watch the occasional vintage Top of the Pops 2 repeated on BBC4 featuring some of the most famous artists of the last 50 years. It “re-humanises” our favorite pop stars and perhaps fills the void we have tried to occupy with now tiresome talent shows.

TP29 - OllyThere have been some recent changes to the official chart, which take effect from July 2015. Instead of the new UK chart being announced on a Sunday, it will now be unveiled on a Friday. This corresponds with a global music industry-wide agreement that new releases will be made on Fridays. BBC Radio 1 which is the ‘home’ of the official chart rundown has already moved its corresponding longstanding show from Sundays to drive time on Fridays to match the change. However, there are murmurs about how the new timing might work perfectly for an accompanying Friday night TV show that would bring highlights of the new chart to your widescreen or indeed iPad!

So is there hope for a resurrected Top of the Pops? The skeptics will say its time has passed, but then… isn’t that what they said about Doctor Who?

Fingers crossed ‘Pop-Pickers’.

TP

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TP28 sun worshipperThis was my opening line to the taxi driver who collected me from my house this morning to take me to the railway station.

Against the backdrop of a blue sky and sun streaming through the windscreen, he paused momentarily as if processing my comment, before collapsing into laughter and stalling the car. Apparently, the pause was a result of shock from the rare event of a passenger actually being pleasant in the morning. However, he got exactly what I was saying.

This week, in mid-April 2015, we lucky inhabitants of England had our first taste of summer. Temperatures made it consistently into the 20’s (Celsius) and sunshine has abounded for two whole days! I know, I know, it hardly sounds exciting to those of you reading this in other countries which are not climate challenged, but trust me it’s a big deal over here!

TP28 - ice creamIt isn’t just a matter of the British weather obsession, although it certainly does give us something to talk about. The sunshine actually changes people. Along with the radical switch to summer wardrobes in the certain knowledge that this attire will be woefully inadequate in just a couple of days when temperatures plunge again, there are smiles as well as sunglasses everywhere. Even the nagging freight train of Election campaigning from predictable politicians with nothing new to say, cannot bring us down.

For these two days the people of Britain will rejoice even though we know in our heart of hearts that:

  • A subset of people will still be wearing flip-flops next week when it’s 10 degrees and raining
  • We will be planning barbeques for the weekend in the face of every single legitimate source of weather information telling us that this will be all over way before then and that they will be correct
  • Our sudden desire to holiday in the UK this year instead of our usual excursion to the Spanish islands is as short-lived as this break in the clouds
  • A 99 ice cream cone for lunch is not sustainable as midday nutrition
  • Work is not like primary school and unlike your teacher, your boss is unlikely to suggest that you and your colleagues take your chairs outside and work in a circle on the nearest playing field or park.

TP28 last chance parkI popped out for a sandwich at lunchtime and stood in an extra long queue in Marks and Spencer (given the world and his wife have established this as the Mecca of picnic food purveyors) and spotted a gentleman in his 50’s standing outside, quite still, face up, eyes closed. He was in the midst of a bustling crowd of people, still as a statue, as if in those minutes of stillness, he could somehow absorb the sunshine like a sponge and carry it with him for the rest of the day. I couldn’t help thinking that his ultraviolet flooded meditation might be brought to a sudden and unpleasant conclusion by a distracted woman loosely carrying an iced mocha-chino and not looking where she was going, but the collision was narrowly averted. Such are the lengths to which we will go to try and capture this rare and precious commodity.

So was this a different country? Yes. At least until tomorrow. Then we will steel ourselves against the grey skies and dream of when the next sun-soaked 8 hours will come. Next week or next year?

Perhaps that’s what makes us who we are.

TP

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