November 20th 1973

“Borrowed Live Man. Man on Old Grey Stoker’s Vest – smart!”

“Live Man” must refer to the “Live at Padget Rooms, Penarth” album, a three track concert recording which, in retrospect, has been described by some as the sound of Man at their musical peak.

Not by me though. The album never stuck with me over the years, mainly because the entire second side – an extensive jazz-rock 20+ minute jam called “H.Samuel” – never sat that comfortably with me. It seemed just too…. well, random and unstructured.

If I’d listened to the album again 6 or 7 years later it may have made more sense as I suspect “the drugs would have worked”, if you get my drift? But to this chemically-bereft teenager it sounded a bit of a bloomin’ mess.

It’s a shame I never bought the album rather than just tape it. Not only was it was budget-priced but it was issued in a very strictly limited edition of just 8000 copies. An eBay success story could well have been in my future?!

I have threatened to write at some length about The Old Grey Whistle Test (for that is what I mean when I say Old Grey Stoker’s Vest) before without having actually done so. Perhaps now is the time?!…

OGWT was perhaps THE most influential music TV show of the seventies in Britain. It was certainly the only ‘serious’ music show to feature acts from outside the mainstream or Top 30 chart arenas.

I would lose count trying to list the bands or artists I initially encountered on OGWT, but a few who did and who subsequently became lifetime favourites include Be Bop Deluxe, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Tom Waits, Little Feat and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. (All links to their early OGWT performances)

As the commentary on Volume 1 of the OGWT DVD series confirms, the shows early performances were filmed in what was, essentially, a corridor at the BBC TV Centre. The space measured just 30 x 20 feet, there was rarely an audience (other than the crew), and everything was usually filmed by union cameramen with no experience of musical acts. The combination of all these things usually resulted in under-rehearsed and quite raw performances, most of which have become classic TV ephemera in their own right. (See above)

In addition to live (a few mimed) performances, the presenters would also hold small uninhibited interviews with a few acts, as well as playing album tracks with an accompanying ‘weird/trippy’ cartoon video.

OGWT’s most celebrated and legendary presenter was the laid back Bob Harris whose broadcasting style is to speak extremely lightly, resulting in many viewers having to turn up their TV’s volume whenever he was on. He was eventually monikered “Whispering Bob” and was often parodied and impersonated in many comedy skits.

Here he is interviewing (a strangely reserved) Keith Moon about The Who’s drummer’s (thankfully, only) solo album “Two Sides of the Moon”.

Recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, Bob (under the auspices of his own “Whispering Bob Broadcasting Company”) remains heavily involved in the music business and still produces and presents one-off specials for BBC Radio including the recent “Maple Leaf Revolution” (about Canadian music) and “The Sandy Denny Story

Bob (quietly) presented OGWT from 1972 until 1978, which pretty much represent my seminal years in music, so I owe him – and the programme – a lot for what came later in my life. Thank you Bob!

The show’s theme tune was a harmonica-driven track called “Stone Fox Chase” by Nashville band Area Code 615 whose only other claim to fame is that several members backed up Bob Dylan on his albums “Blonde on Blonde” and “Nashville Skyline”.

If you’re wondering about the show’s name, it’s weird that the derivation has little to do with the music played by Bob & Co. It’s a vintage ‘Tin Pan Alley‘ phrase from the 40’s. When a label got its first pressing of a record they would play it to the building’s elderly doormen (who were known as “greys”). If the doormen could subsequently whistle the tune after just one listen, the song was said to have passed…yep, you’ve guessed it… “the old grey whistle test”

I doubt this evening’s Man performance had much to whistle along with?!

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