TV ’77: Scenes From A Televised Punk Revolution
The other day, I was trolling YouTube when it dawned on me that so many of the great moments in punk and new wave were caught on tape…
Maybe it was because the whole thing was inherently media made, or a least media-ready, but there can be no doubt that, unlike most epoch shifting musical moments the punk and new wave experience came to TV ready for its close-up. Still, the most exciting moments, for me, were those initial leaks trickling through the mainstream dam, when established programs began to broadcast the first shaky steps of the new wave. Here’s a few that stand out to me.
I can only imagine what it was like up in the Northern UK in 1976, when those in the Manchester area tuned into a late night Granada TV program called So It Goes (named after the phrase popularized by Kurt Vonnegut) host by the notorious Tony Wilson (who would, a short time later, found Factory Records and The Haçienda nightclub and eventually end up having his life portrayed by Steve Coogan in the film, 24 Hour Party People).
So It Goes, which Wilson co-hosted with Clive James, was the first place that The Sex Pistols ever played on TV, and other guests included Patti Smith, comedian Peter Cook, The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, Siouxsie and The Banshees plus Iggy Pop, whose stage banter, not safe for television, managed to get Wilson’s whole show cancelled. So it goes… Still, by then, the damage had been done, and between July 3, 1976 and December 11, 1977, Wilson managed to present a who’s who of punk, new wave and what we now blanketly call “alternative” artists, in addition to a wider array of non-mainstream guests including Tom Waits, Kevin Ayers, album cover artist Roger Dean, Marianne Faithfull, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Adam West, Be-Bop Deluxe, Soft Machine, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, John Cooper Clarke, Elvis Costello, Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias, Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, Cherry Vanilla, Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, The Tom Robinson Band, Mink DeVille, The Pirates, XTC and Steel Pulse.
After Iggy’s exhortation to “Clap your fucking hands” was clearly audible to the viewers, Granada pulled the plug but years later, in an NME interview from May 1986, Wilson spoke fondly of his “wild” experiment: “Basically,” said Wilson, “I got into it because all the way through the summer of ’77 I would wake up in a sweat, thinking: someone else is going to realize this is great stuff. I can’t believe it’s so wonderful, it’s gotta be on television. I remember going to see the producer Mike Appleton, an absolutely sweet guy, God bless him, and I asked, ‘Why can’t we have more punk bands?’. He said, ‘Because music is about technical excellence, and if they’re technically proficient I’ll put them on’. To this I replied, ‘Mr Appleton, you are completely and utterly wrong’. But that’s what it was like then.”
Who would have guessed that the torch would have been both picked up by, and passed on by, a faded glam rock superstar who was on the comeback trail, unaware that he himself would be dead in three months from a tragic car crash? Yet, Marc Bolan’s Granada summer series, Marc, was both the final hurrah for the T Rex singer and the first taste of British national TV exposure for some of the new breed. The series ran only six weeks, beginning August 24, 1977, and up until Bolan’s death on September 16 (the final episode had been taped nine days prior to the accident). Often appearing slightly high or drunk, Bolan nonetheless was excited to present the new bands like Billy Idol’s Generation X, The Jam and the forgotten Eddie and the Hot Rods. He would also perform a few numbers with T. Rex and a fateful duet with David Bowie where Bolan lost his footing on a mic cable. Bowie, perhaps not fathoming the seriousness of Bolan’s fall, is said to have called out, jokingly, “Could we have a wooden box for Marc [to stand on]?”
Here’s a clip of Marc and Bowie, Marc himself seems out of it, and the number isn’t complete in the clip…
Marc, is somewhat rare over here, but I have heard that some of the T. Rex numbers only were released on DVD in the UK in 2005, and in Japan in 2007.
Thanks to Wikipedia, I can report that, in addition to the T. Rex songs, Marc presented The Jam, doing “All Around The World I’ve Been Looking”, The Boomtown Rats (with Bob Geldof) doing “Looking After Number One” Gen X doing “Your Generation” and Eddie and The Hot Rods performing “Do Anything you Want To Do,” in addition to other high profile acts like Bowie (doing “Heroes”), Thin Lizzy, Hawkwind, Bay City Rollers and Roger Taylor of Queen doing a rare solo number.
Over here in North America, a lot of us got our first close up look at the new breed not from The Midnight Special or Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert but from an bushy eyebrowed, chain smoking broadcast news throwback with an irresistible laugh…
TOMORROW – Hosted by TOM SNYDER (NBC TV, USA)
Tomorrow, NBC’s 12:35 time slot precursor to Late Night with David Letterman, debuted in 1973 and ran until 1982, and was something like appointment television for people who had been out at night but were too drunk or stoned to sleep when they got home. And kids like me who just stared in amazement at the unadorned set – there was no audience and no house band – as veteran former newsman Snyder, who often smoked on camera, conducted huffingly guileless conversations (you couldn’t call them interviews, they were too loose and in the moment) with such prominent cultural mavericks Paul McCartney, John Lennon (separately, this was after the Beatles break up), Ayn Rand, Ken Kesey. Through a Marlboro haze, Snyder often played to the technical crew with veiled off-camera, and off colour, in-jokes and the muffled laughter from the wings was a frequent part of ambient soundtrack. Before Snyder left the show, in 1982, he had memorably, an unintentionally, snagged John Lennon’s final TV interview, which was taped and aired in 1975 but re-broadcast shortly after the singer’s assassination in December of 1980. While that was compelling enough, perhaps my most vivid memories of the show were his fascinatingly uncomfortable interviews with folks like John Lydon, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett (with Kim Fowley), The Plasmatics and Paul Weller with The Jam and this bit with The Clash.
One of my prized possessions is the DVD that I have depicted above, The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder: Punk & New Wave, which was released by Shout! Factory a few years back. This 2 disc set presents some of the most exciting moments from the show; the October 1977 punk “round table” with Jett, Fowley and Weller squaring off with more established music scenesters like San Francisco promoter Bill Graham and L.A. rock critic Robert Hillburn, the May 1978 Patti Smith interview where the giggling poet admits that she always wanted a career in comedy.
There’s also the February 1981 appearance by Elvis Costello and the Attractions, promoting their just released Trust album, which was the first time I’d heard “New Lace Sleeves” and “Watch Your Step” (I seem to remember he also did “Shot With His Own Gun” but it’s not on the DVD). There’s also the February 1981 Iggy Pop episode,
the May 1981 show with Wendy O. Williams and her band The Plasmatics, (who, very punkily, blew up an automobile for Tom), the June 1980 show with John Lydon and a practically silent Keith Levene “discussing” PiL.
There’s the September 1981 appearance by The Ramones as well as The Jam‘s 1981 appearance, where they perform “Pretty Green” and “Funeral Pyre”
As a good Canadian boy from Toronto, honourable mention should go to…
THE NEW MUSIC – (Various Hosts, CityTV Canada)
I also remember a local Toronto music show, which later went to all of Canada, called The New Music, which was hosted at various times by Jeanne Beker, John “J.D.” Roberts (now with CNN), Laurie Brown, Daniel Richler, later hosts included filmmaker Avi Lewis (husband of writer Naomi Klein) and George Stroumboulopoulos who currently the host of a popular evening program on CBC. Here’s a segment featuring Devo…
The New Music wasn’t slick at all, in those days, as you can see by this ripped-out-seat-of-the-pants segment with Beker after a riotous performance by The Clash in Toronto (excuse the graphic “Vinyl Kosmo” under Clash manager Cosmo Vinyl.
Toronto people of, ahem, a certain age, will attest to the importance of The New Music for being some of the first TV exposure for not only the most exciting acts from New York and The UK, but from other disparate regions of Canada (this was the first place a Toronto boy like me ever got to see Vancouver punk and new wave acts like D.O.A., The Pointed Sticks and The Payolas, on my homescreen).