Last week, I promised that I wouldn’t discuss an album this week, but rather a show about music. This is a show that I would not have ever heard of if it was not for the power of the Internet.
I first found “Lloyd Cole Knew My Father” in the binaries section of Usenet not long after getting broadband at home in 2003. Before I talk about the actual show, a little bit about the state of radio programming.
Most folks my age in the US are not familiar with the genre of proper radio comedy. That type of radio went away here in the US around the time that TV started to take over from radio in terms of attention received from the public. Now, most of our radio is focused on maintaining a good rating in the latest Arbitron statistics, and making money from advertisers – mostly to stay afloat.
This has led, of course, to most AM stations relying upon a cadre of talk (or if you an Aussie, talkback) shows which, for the most part, cater to an audience to the right side of the political spectrum. I have no problem with this personally, as I like to listen to the local talkers in my area, but the national shows aren’t much to my taste anymore.
In fact, if you were to go through the AM dial at night, when all the clear channel (not to be confused with the company) stations are broadcasting at full strength, and the local candles are out for the night, this is a general representation of what you’ll find:
– many stations carrying the Art Bell show (or whomever is hosting it nowadays)
– re-airs of talk shows which had aired earlier that day
– “trucker” shows
– all-news stations giving you the news that you’ve heard ten times already and traffic and weather for someplace hundreds of miles away
– foreign language stations, generally French or Spanish
– sports talk
– the rare live local talk show, featuring either a dyed-in-the-wool veteran or a complete neophyte to the radio
– music – from country to Frank Sinatra to 60s music to current music on Radio Disney
– a few preachers condemning you to Hell for listening to said music
On the FM side, apart from public broadcasters (which are allocated 88-91 MHz) you’ll generally hear a variety of music, from modern country, to hard rock, to the all easy-listening music featuring a song about a monkey that cried.
Certainly, you could say almost the same thing about the state of radio in other countries like the UK, however there is a key difference. There, you have a major public broadcaster which is ingrained in the lives of the people of that country from the beginning to the end of their lives (including at tax time thanks to the licencing fees which are compulsory).
The image of a public broadcaster here in the States is one which has mostly talk shows, some variety programs (like Car Talk, Prairie Home Companion and Whaddya Know?), also the occasional classical music station. However in the UK, the BBC has radio services running the gamut from local radio stations, to national stations with such diverse missions as playing R&B and hip hop (Radio 1) to classical music (Radio 3), talkback and live sport (Radio 5 Live), comedy (Radio 7) and even an Asian Network.
In the first weeks of 2003, the BBC commissioned a program for the country’s most popular radio station – Radio 2 – called “Lloyd Cole Knew My Father”. The show originated as a stage performance put on by the show’s hosts – Andrew Collins, Stuart Maconie and David Quantick – at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2001, adapted into a six-part radio series featuring “real-life actress” Amelia Bullmore and a special musical guest to provide a song each week.
Here, then, is a somewhat short synopsis of each of the episodes:
Episode 1 covers the story of early rock, including the story of how each of them wound up working at the New Musical Express (alternatively, New Morrissey Express or Not Much Erasure). Quantick goes on to ask why people would be enticed into a world of “sex, drugs, travel and free records”; simple – sex, drugs, travel and free records.
We then get a glimpse into a skit where early blues musician Robert Johnson (who is tagged as not having a fruit nickname or a disability) is tempted by the devil to sell his soul so that he can have the ability to improve his musical skills. After a musical interlude by Edwyn Collins, we then move the story along from US rock over to Liverpool, which was, according to them, was Britain’s only port at the time, home of the Titanic, which sank as a result of the lookout laughing at a droll wisecrack by the purser. Anyway, the story of the Beatles is told, including about a performance in Germany, who are out of the story until reunification.
The episode concludes with the story of the NME, including a period where it incorporated “Accordion Times”, followed by why music jounalists are important – they tell you what you should like, otherwise people would all be going around saying “Oh, I like a little bit of everything really”.
Episode 2 covers the world of live music, taking a Picasso-style look at the genre. The discussion starts with a discussion of the NME’s Gig Guide, which was always wrong, but the only thing people bought the magazine for. Included is a story about how in 1986, the news editor inserted a fake listing into the guide, which led to a thousand fans of two very different bands – The Pogues (with fans who wanted blood) and Everything But the Girl (whose fans wanted cappucino and Espidril).
We then catalog the world of a novice, or tyro, journalist’s first reviews – the first review they go at it whole hog, including headlamp and large notepad; the second, a cigarette pack and some scribbling, to David recounting how he reviewed 3 concerts in one week having only listened to three songs – all by Elton John. Stuart then mentions his review of Jefferson Starship in 1989 at the Reading Festival, where he attended the festival but left before the band actually came on stage, made a comment in the magazine about Grace Slyck (who had left the band 2-1/2 years prior), but kept his job because the editor didn’t bother to read the result.
After a discussion of passes and being on the guest list (which, surprisingly, is not like you would expect), we have the first of two I-Spy guides, this to the dressing room of a headline band. Included on the list of items you may find are aggressive student posters advising that you should not flush the toilet, the brother of a band member who has a demo, here ya go mate, and a slim girl with a poster.
Edwyn Collins performs Graciously and then we’re led into a discussion of roadies and their language; here is a quick guide to their language:
All the following mean “unload”: load out, load in, tear down, derig. However, de rigeur means “compulsory”.
Now, we go onto the tour bus (which sounds like a Robin Reliant), and another I-Spy guide, featuring 2 18-year-old girls who aren’t dressed for Chicago in November and a video collection featuring “This is Spinal Tap”, the scariest pr0n film you’ve ever seen and a film about a boy’s sexual awakening in Canada in fall.
The last important thing to take from this episode is the difference between US and British live albums – US live albums have some moron whooping during the quiet parts.
Episode 3 takes a look at the one item, which if it did not exist, we would have a music industry.
After a segment where a game of “musical genre joke tennis” is played, we then have a discussion of what is and what is not allowed in the blues. Good places to have the blues include the porch and a southbound train; bad places include wine and cheese parties and Guildford. The true origins of Rock ‘n’ Roll are then revealed as just the blues having been stolen from Unwell Cantaloupe Jackson’s porch when he went to answer the phone in rural Tennessee. Unfortunately for him, his woman who done gone left him on the southbound train wasn’t calling. It was Staybrite Windows, who were in the area offering free, no-obligation estimates.
The musical interlude is provided by Roddy Frame, who is courageous enough to sing in his own accent – something you never see happening with British rockstars, who all aim to sound as American as possible. However, we do hear what famous songs might sound like if Sting and Robert Palmer actually sung in their native dialects. It’s not pretty 😉
There are a couple of other types of songs that deserve mention – instrumentals and rap. Instrumentals are just songs which have had the desperately poor lyrics removed, for example Telstar by the Tornadoes which had an unknown B-side featuring the famous lyrics “Telstar / Telstar / Telstar / Telstaaaar”, and Popcorn by Hot Butter, where the lyrics are, not surprisingly, “popcorn popcorn popcorn pop…popcorn popcorn popcorn pop .. corn”. It is one of the best moments in the series, if you ask me.
As far as rap songs are concerned, if it is a rapper crossing over to traditional music, that works out well, but as dramatized by Amelia, if it were the other way around, i.e. Dido doing a rap song, it wouldn’t turn out as well. Just an aside, Robbie Williams’ “Rock DJ” is labeled as “bloody awful” by David.
In Episode 4, we take a look at the world of the rock star and the pop star. It is said that a pop star, dressed by a “mad gay man called a stylist” and a village idiot or simpleton might be easy to confuse. Luckily for us, a cut-out-and-keep guide to separating them. Two key elements:
Interview technique: The popstar says “I love being in a pop group, dancin’ singin’ and rehearsin'” while the village idiot just says “I drink the rainwater off of rose bushes”.
Fashion: The popstar comments – “I have these Nikes which aren’t even out in the UK yet, and my dress is a custom Versace” and the village idiot observes that “my smock says potatoes on it. Only backwards”.
We then have a discussion of the rock star – including the ultimate star, Keith (or Keif, as if using all 5 letters would take away from valuable illusionist time) Richards, who annoys Mick Jagger to no end. Mick’s nightmare, according to them, is to wake up one day to find an overweight Mrs. Jagger next to him complaining that he has to get up and get breakfast ready for their guests.
The last type of star is the Diva. Diva is, apparently, Italian for “crazy” (actually I think it’s just the feminine version of Divo, which I believe stands for god, but don’t quote me on that). Divas make outrageous demands and then balk at them when someone comes to fulfill those demands; the example given is Mariah Carey being delivered a parcel of 1003 puppies; she begrudgingly signs the package, then exclaims “1003! Get them out of here!”
After the musical interlude, once again by Roddy Frame, we finish with a guide on how not to interview Lou Reed, a right curmudgeon. Some tips – don’t correct him, get the names of his famous mates wrong, treat the interview as an interlude in a TV game show (where Lou loses out on a lovely speedboat), take advantage of his hotel room, including using his toilet and ask questions whilst using it; have only one question and keep going back to it, or end the interview with a large bearhug of Lou.
With Episode 5, we take a look at the music industry, including the story of over-manicured and, surprisingly, gay pop singer George Michael’s wish to remove himself from his contract with CBS when they were purchased by Sony, along with how Prince, when he was known as that strange symbol, put “SLAVE” on his forehead.
We then have the history of the record industry (or, as we Americans say it “recerd”), which apparently started in a backwater general store in Kentucky which sold wax cylinders out the back, to the modern era with the mega-conglomerates such as Time Warner, Pew Pew & Barney McGrew and Sony (Japanese for “Remember Pearl Harbor?” – not really ;)).
The next subject of discussion was the
Crayola payola scandal and how Alan Freed was made an example, or pastie patsy when he was brought down for being the recipient of payola.
Music in this episode comes from Ian McNabb. After that, we have a glimpse into the growth (and death) of a band, including all the courses they take at various universities, books they read and how they proclaim that they will not be taken advantage of by some unscrupulous manager.
Nevertheless, they get a manager and follows this general “family tree” (with no thanks to Google incidentally) – Alan Olderbloke (who gets them gigs in Dullich, but nothing else because he can’t cross rivers); Jimmy Tourjacket (the first proper manager who gets them demo tapes, and a record deal); Leon C. Yankbastard III (a fat American who’s managed everyone, who then goes on to take the band’s money); The Band (who are bad at managing even after five albums and many tours, getting dropped by their record company); Reg Death (the band’s drug dealer who doesn’t get the band any gigs); and, lastly, the break-up (out of money and cursed with the can’t-cross-rivers disease).
In another skit, we take a glimpse into a meeting between Hitler and Goebbels, where Goebbels advises Hitler to go onto some reality TV shows, such as “I’m a Dictator, Get Me Out of Here”.
The episode ends with how a band gets into a support role on tour. It’s not the dream of Thom Yorke calling you up and saying that they’ll pay you £1,000,000, pick you up and make full arrangements. The reality is that support bands usually have to pay the headliner to be a part of the tour, featuring a phone call from the manager of Mr. Big Band and the Headliners, who has to cut the call short because Hitler’s on What Not to Wear.
In the final episode, number 6, we take a final look at the world of music, including a discussion of the life of the pop group. According to the trio, although Take That were the hottest thing going a few years before, nobody can remember anyone from the band – Alan something (Amelia does name all the members though); they’ve been replaced twice over by Boyzone and Westlife.
Pop groups are not real groups – they’re just manufactured, ordinary people who need to take advantage of their fame now – do the drugs, have fun with the “night-ladies” and buy fast cars before you go down a road that ends in death.
Next is a look at the band on tour, including the tour manager who speaks a variety of languages, all at once, the per diem (the one piece of Latin any group will know), and the difference between a truck stop and a Motorway Service Station (truck stops have hats that say “Keep America Free! Kill a Liberal”, Motorway Service Stations have barley sugars in a tin with a west country terrier on the front.
Another skit takes us into the world of Kraftwerk, imagining our wold as wild dreams; it’s a very funny bit, trust me. Ian McNabb performs as the special musical guest, including doing an imitation of Bob Dylan. That is followed by a look at festivals including a clip about an Acid brownout that went around at Woodstock, and how David and Andrew reviewed the 1991 Glastonbury Festival, on their own. It would have worked well, if it weren’t for one of them drinking a lot of alcohol…
The series ends like any music magazine – with a generalization of the letters page. There are 5 types of letters – 1) Optimistic and Lazy Student, 2) Mad Person, 3) Lonely Hearts, 4) Cheery Foreigner, 5) The Letter of Complaint (most popular).
Why you should listen to it
If you’re a music fan, you will love this irreverent look at the world of music, with stories about many main figures over the history of the genre (all of which are true, but the lawyers have advised them to say that none of them are true).
The show was taped in front of a live audience, so you have the unscripted moments, such as whenever U2 is referred to as “80s band U2” leading to a laugh in the audience. There are also a lot of skits that are performed by the crew, some of which I’ve detailed above, but there are some true gems out there that I haven’t.
I rediscovered this series when I was going through items to listen to while walking, and I have listened to it quite a few times and find it quite addicting to listen to, so much so that I can recite bits of the show, a la Monty Python.