“Best-loved”? “Greatest”? Later…?

There is a huge cover article in The New Review section of this morning’s Observer newspaper with the come-on line: “Crown Jools: Twenty years of Later… with Jools Holland, TV’s best-loved music show”.

A bit OTT, I’m thinking. But it gets richer. The actual article, headlined “20 years Later…” – the BBC TV programme has been going since 1992, can you believe it – includes a reference to “Britain’s greatest live music show ever”!

Oh dear, here we go again. It’s well established – well it is in my head anyway – that while today’s British newspapers are capable of maintaining pretty high standards when it comes to criticism of certain kinds – let’s take restaurants as an example, shall we? – when it comes to music of the non-classical kind, the writing, the reviewing and certainly the editorial judgment is often well below par.

Now I understand the Observer is struggling in the old finance department, and that it can’t stumble on under-staffed and in the immense shadow of its daily stablemate for ever, but when it stoops to this kind of lame dressing up of a TV preview – what, you didn’t know that a new series of Later… was about to begin? – then it really is doomed.

Come on, Tom Lamont, the author of this piece, and your sub-editors and editors. Let’s just take those words “best-loved” and “greatest” and replace them with the word “only”, shall we?

See where I’m coming from here? Which are the myriad live music shows that are “loved” but not “best-loved”; which are the live music shows which are “great” or even “greater” without being “greatest”?

Sorry? I can’t hear you? Did you mention some?

I have watched many, many episodes of Later… in my time, and, call me a foolish optimist if you will, I have always had my hopes dashed. I have never – and I mean this, NEVER – ever seen anyone whose music I already liked perform on Later... and not turn out to be a mild disappointment. Neither have I been introduced to some new musician on Later… and not found them to be far better subsequently, either on recording or in live performance (and that is live performance in a live performance place, a venue, not a recording studio, with a real audience, not a fake one dotted about with pointless celebrities).

And, while I am about it, when did everyone’s critical faculties so desert them that they can find it acceptable – ever-so-lovable, even – that Mr Holland is able to persevere with his lame “trainee journalist doing his first interview” questions, without having a bucket of cold water thrown over him? So Stevie – or Bjork or Bruce – what were your first influences? Aaaaaggggghhhhh!

Now, I had come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t be too judgmental – that I should try to argue against the natural and spontaneous feeling of disappointment with which I dragged myself off to bed at 12.30am on a Saturday morning. Perhaps, I reasoned, it was just impossible to “do” live non-classical music on the telly. Maybe Later… really was as good as we could reasonably expect it to be.

But about 6 months ago I found a counter-argument. I spent quite a lot of the first half of 2012 watching the US TV series Treme, set in post-Katrina New Orleans and made by some of the people who did The Wire.

There is a lot of music in Treme. Some of it might include actors pretending to be musicians, but an awful lot of it features musicians being musicians, playing their own stuff and in the clubs in New Orleans and New York where they might usually play. I am assuming these are real clubs, but maybe some are constructed as sets for the TV crew. Whether or not they are real doesn’t really alter my argument.

And my argument is this. If the makers of Treme can show live performances by countless New Orleans bands -and some of them, like the Soul Rebels Brass Band have played on Later… – as well as visiting players like Shawn Colvin or John Hiatt – and make it feel real and engaging, exciting and vibrant, spontaneous and intoxicating, and almost as good as actually being there, why can’t Jools Holland and the crew of Later…?

At the risk of sounding like a Tory (heaven forfend!) might it be time for some good old-fashioned competition in the “live music show” area of TV? Maybe if the makers of Later… can’t do better, there are other programme makers out there who can.

I will stop ranting, now, and leave Les McCann and Eddie Harris to add the appropriate response to the claims of “best-loved” and “greatest” as applied by the Observer to Later…

Categories: News

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3 replies

  1. That article, incidentally, contained a neat line about about how Norah Jones had been playing in “a Pizza Express” when she was plucked out of obscurity and put on Later…. A step up it might have been, but I suspect the Pizza Express in question was the one on Dean Street, Soho, not the provincial high street that might have been implied. Not letting the facts get in the way of a good story I suppose.

    Absolutely agree about it being the “only” as opposed to the “greatest”.

    To any BBC or Sky Arts producers who might read this, I would add that you should get yourself down to Jez Nelson’s monthly night at the Cockpit Theatre, which he already records for Radio 3, and try to see if you can stick a few cameras in there — as LWT once did in the 70s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockpit_Theatre,_Marylebone#Music_In_The_Round. That would be worth watching.

  2. Rather than asking where the national competition is to a program like “Later …”, I’d rather see more regional broadcasting of arts and culture. Just one hour a week would be something, to raise the awareness of the range of live music and the vitality of the venues within a region.

    One advantage of regional rather than national programming is that even without an explicit mission to cover less mainstream types of music, the need to fill a regular slot would almost by necessity force such a program to cover a range of different music and venues. I see this in France; I’ve sat and watched on the TV everything from Breton bagpipe orchestras to highlights of Jazz Sous Les Pommiers, all getting airtime simply because they’re local events. By contrast in the UK we’re lucky if a music festival (other than Glastonbury) gets more than 30 seconds on the local news.

  3. Maybe my response is OTT but I was going to post a yep, good point, agree, kind of thing but then I played the Compared to What clip. We used to play this regularly in the Guest Stars nearly 30 years ago and I’m just sitting here in a mild ecstasy of enjoyment. WHAT a groove.
    Thanks Peter.

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