(*Justin Sullivan, New Model Army appearing on The Tube )
When I was in my early teens I watched any programme that featured Dexys. This almost always meant watching them mime yet again through their version Jackie Wilson Said, months after it had dropped out of the charts. I don’t think any single was as heavily plugged on British TV. In fact by the end of 1982, I was beginning to get a bit bored with watching Dexys on TV, but out loyalty and and hope that it might be a new song, I continued. One day a school friend told me that they were appearing on new Channel 4 programme The Tube. Dutifully I watched and this time was different. No Jackie Wilson Said (ok , they were plugging the not particularly good follow up Let’s Get This Straight) and this time they were playing a live mini-set. This seemed like quite a revolutionary idea for a music programme at the time . Within a year I’d started watching The Tube almost weekly and carried on until it ended 1987.
I’ve recently been indulging in Tube nostalgia with a bit of prompting from Channel 4’s recent Rewind The Tube documentary. This is I think the second documentary on The Tube, allowing me to reminisce misty-eyed about my discovery of “alternative music”.Could I possibly find anything to complain about here? Of course I can! Neither documentary seems to be about programme I actually watched.
The first doc way back in the 90s was terrible. Watching this you’d think The Tube was just Top Of The Pops with worse production values and dodgy sound. The emphasis of this and the Best Of The Tube clips series that followed, was on the succession of big names that appeared probably in order to pick up some extra street cred, and the odd new act that went onto bigger things – ie Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Madonna, Twisted Sister (ok, perhaps they didn’t get a mention after all). This wasn’t why I watched.
The new documentary was much better, looking at The Tube’s provocative moments and it’s role giving a mouthpiece to people outside the mainstream media . Or occasionally not , as in the case of the striking miner craftily smuggled on stage playing tambourine for the Redskins who found his mike wasn’t working when he attempted to deliver his speech. The documentary gave a fair bit of space to this incident , from the points of view of both the producers and the striking miner. The miner was apparently called Norman Strike. Really?
The documentary was also good when it came to the irreverent approach of the presenters, which was a lot of the fun as a teenager. It certainly didn’t seem like anything else on TV at the time, and the young Jools Holland seemed to my impressionable mind to be the coolest person on TV. It was a very long time ago!
But parts of this documentary grated again. There was some brief coverage of comedy punks Toy Dolls who opened the first episode,. “Remember them?…Me neither” sneered Tim Healey narrator. Wanker. And were Frankie Goes To Hollywood really “the freakiest band of the 80s”. Were they even the freakiest band to appear on The Tube? Freakier than Foetus, Psychic TV, or even Soft Cell? In short it overlooked the best thing about The Tube, that it regularly gave national teatime coverage alternative bands that had no hope or even intention of appearing on Top Of The Pops. Add to that bands appeared to be able to play whatever they wanted. Some were there to plug the new single, a lot of them didn’t bother. The audiences unlike other music programmes just seemed to do what they wanted whether that was an outbreak of mass pogoing or standing around looking bored. In other words it was like an actual club gig – if you had actual club gigs that included Killing Joke and Cliff Richard on the same bill. So as the documentaries are basically wrong as usual I thought I’d post a few performances that stick in my mind
DEXYS – THERE,THERE MY DEAR (1982)
Not alternative, in fact at the peak of their mainstream success, but I don’t care. Dexys took the opportunity to do a barely recognisable reworked version of an old hit, a version that despite being in effect a new song, they never released. Of course…
KILLING JOKE – EIGHTIES (1983)
Performing Eighties almost a year before they released it as a single (the lyrics are different). This was definitely one thing that planted a punky seed in my mind.
GUN CLUB – MOONLIGHT MOTEL (1984)
On Friday teatime you could discover bands like this that you had no previous awareness of. It only took me about 25 years to follow up this discovery, but there you go.
THE CRAMPS – WHAT’S INSIDE A GIRL? (1986)
Not a band I really got into in the end, but this seemed great at the time. Not to mention the angry-of-Tunbridge-Wells types who appeared on the Right To Reply programme the following week to complain about The Cramps…well, just to complain about them. After which presenter said “make up your own mind” and showed a clip of the performance! I looked for this on youtube as well, but no success.