Between 1970 and the mid-1980s, BBC TV's Old Grey Whistle Test ranked among the most important music shows ever to grace British TV screens - even if it didn't always seem that way at the time. Week after week, host Bob Harris would whisperingly introduce another tiresome West Coast-style singer-songwriter, a circular circus that was only occasionally disrupted by the arrival of something a little more left-field... Otway-Barrett, for example. Ivor Cutler. Rory Gallagher. Roxy Music. The New York Dolls.
Ah, those were the days.
Proof that it was the more fringe-driven talents that gave Whistle Test its appeal has been amply forthcoming via the BBC's own series of OGWT DVD compilations - three volumes to date have restored any number of treasured memories to the screen, to the point where it's now easier to forget how many weeks we sat in front of the television set and simply howled abuse at the thing. This disc, however, brings all those bitter recollections rolling back, as the anonymous compiler leaps not towards the freaks and weirdoes that made the show so magical, but the more grisly "Grown Up" charms that truly represented its raison d'etre: Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Southside Johnny, Paul Butterfield, Alvin Lee, Bad Company, Ry Cooder and Joe Walsh. Can you spell "aaaarrrggghhhh"?
The dependably eccentric
Stackridge, and a flickering of New Waviness, in the form of primal Patti,
David Sylvian's Japan, Annie Lennox's Tourists, the Pretenders and Nina
Hagen (caught, for some reason, in black and white), do save the day somewhat,
while the two Faces numbers at the end of the disc ("Tell Everyone" and
"Sweet Lady Mary") are a joy, even if they weren't actually broadcast
on Whistle Test itself. Overall, though, this collection is more a reminder
of why a lot of people thought the show was crap, than a tribute to its
far-sightedness. Because, quite truthfully, any vision it displayed was
usually an accident. -
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