The Old Grey Whistle Test

From 1971 to 1988, BBC2 decided they’d replace the disco evening programs they’d been running with a rock show featuring live performances by musicians. However, as successful ones were expensive to book, they decided to focus instead on up and coming, underground artists, as an alternative to the mainstream.

Alternative. Hmm.

Why do we give a shit? Click on.

Because The Old Grey Whistle Test served as the sounding board for great music for years, and I wish I could’ve been in England in ’78 to see THIS:

I mean, I watched Ashlee Simpson make an idiot out of herself on SNL. It’s quite upsetting to think that this was once broadcast, and didn’t have to be torn from the harsh, merciless depths of youtube. Make sure you watch both songs. No tantric-yoga-lounge music here;  videos like this are the reason WHY Sting has so much money to waste with the stuff he’s doing these days (though I admit that Christmas album he did last year inspired in part by Italo Calvino was a cool idea.)

Less than a year after forming, too. Damn, The Police were a great band.

The Old Grey Whistle Test (heretofore shortened to OGWT) featured literally the best artists of the time, and is credited (it says so in the video) with helping to introduce reggae to the British masses. Andy Summers probably SAW this performance and figured, “Hey, now THAT’S a sound. I can lift that.”

Haw haw haw.

I’m only half kidding.

Seriously, though, do a little research. The talent pool they managed to find is staggering. Tom Waits, The Specials, Captain Beefheart, The Damned, John Friggin’ Lennon, Long John Baldry, Rory Gallagher… I’m sure there was some crap on there, but man, some of these performances are excellent. The CBC should do a show like this. It’s not like they have anything worth watching after Strombo anyway.

I love videos like this because they show that everyone gets flustered on stage at some point or another. Knopfler flubs a few of the lines and plays a few others more than once. I do something similar every time I play this damn song live. When he finally hits the lick at 4:25, though, it just… man.

If I may be permitted to make an aside, as I was telling one of my students tonight, nobody plays at 100% on stage. You try, but with the stress of lugging all your gear up two flights of stairs, the other bands are all idiots, $6.75 beers, did you forget your keys? Where’s your coat? Then they turn the lights on, and the rest of the bar is washed out into kind of a curtain of shadow and faces, blank and featureless and waiting for you to play, well, nobody’s going to play at 100%. Onstage, you play at 60-80% of how you do in the studio or in your basement, so what you have to do is make sure that your 60% is better than the next guy’s 100%.

Really, I was kind of putting him on, trying to get him to practice a bit more, but there’s some truth in that. I like these live performances more because there’s some warts and some unscripted stuff going on. There’s no cutaway to the audience when someone misses a line or stumbles a bit ‘cuz they’re loaded. And maybe it’s because they just didn’t have the budget for it, but it feels a lot more vital and close to the music’s root.

I’d like to close this entry with a clip detailing one of my favorite songs in the world to play. As I realized this week at the Orleans jam, people have begun to expect it from me in the set. I’m not sure if I like that or not.

Ah well. Lord knows, I can’t change…


One thought on “The Old Grey Whistle Test

  1. (Oh yeah, you have a site!)

    We have OGWT Vol. 1, and about half of the videos are amazing (and somebody probably thinks the other half are amazing, too), but unfortunately the Dire Straits video isn’t on it! =[

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