Monthly Archives: April 2017

Show stopping moments from Series 50 of Later … with Jools Holland

Back in October 1992, a new music show crept on to the schedules. In contrast to the hectic, yoof-oriented pop TV of the day, its emphasis was on stripped-back performances that let the music do the talking. Twenty-five years and 50 series on, Later… with Jools Holland is still going strong and providing a much-needed fix of live music on TV.

There was some nice continuity in the seventh episode of the current run, which featured the return of Malian singer Oumou Sangaré – a guest on the first ever series. Naturally, Jools also welcomed back a number of old favourites, including Paul Weller and Goldfrapp. And there was also room for a host of exciting artists making their Later debuts, including three on our list of standout performances from the anniversary series.

With Shape of You still riding high at the top of the singles charts, Ed Sheeran appeared on the second episode of the series and unveiled the song’s stripped-back live version. Using his famous loop pedal to create all the parts himself, the song’s remarkable simplicity is laid bare – but like a good magic trick, it doesn’t lose any of its wonder just because you know how it’s done.

It’s been a while since we heard from former Gossip singer Beth Ditto, so this was a very welcome return from one of the most arresting voices – and presences – in music. Having swapped minimalist disco-punk for a bigger, swampier rock ‘n’ soul sound, Beth roared the gospel clad in a shimmering gold robe.

Blondie’s new album Pollinator is a smart update of their classic pop-punk sound, written in cahoots with many of the artists they’ve influenced (including Sia, Charli XCX and Nick Valensi of The Strokes). For their third Later appearance, Debbie Harry & Co. thrilled the studio audience by pulling out this 1980 No.1, still sounding as fresh as the day it was born.

Nice touch, this – 18-year-old South London rapper Dave begins his song Picture Me, which is about where he sees himself in five years’ time, at the piano before grabbing the mic, walking away from the piano, then returning to it at the end of the track. The BBC Sound of 2017 nominee was making his Jools debut and the response to his performance was huge.

Ariana Grande took to the stage for a solo encore and sang a highly emotional version of Over the Rainbow.

At the very end of Sunday’s One Love Manchester concert, after the big celebrity singalong, Ariana Grande took to the stage for a solo encore and sang a highly emotional version of Over the Rainbow. It was the perfect song for the moment – a song well known to everyone watching, one that speaks to young and old alike, always bringing with it a universe of hope and optimism against a backdrop of yearning. And at that moment, in front of those fans, it reduced both Ariana and her audience (in Old Trafford and watching at home) to tears.

It’s not the first time that this Oscar-winning song has offered hope and consolation to people in extreme circumstances. From the moment it was written, for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, Over the Rainbow took on a significance greater than the moment it was intended to soundtrack. And that’s partly because the duo who wrote it – composer Harold Arlen and lyricist Yip Harburg – had known some fairly hard times themselves.

Yarburg in particular had been born poor in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants. Having worked his way into prosperity in electrical supplies, his business was wiped out by the Great Depression, leaving him with nothing but his wits and a promising sideline in writing. He told the New York Times: “The capitalists saved me in 1929, just as we were worth, oh, about a quarter of a million dollars. Bang! The whole thing blew up. I was left with a pencil and finally had to write for a living… what the Depression was for most people was for me a lifesaver!”

His first hit, Brother Can You Spare a Dime?, was a bittersweet lament from the perspective of a homeless man who can’t find work, but Harburg’s speciality was lyrics that pined for a better tomorrow. “We worked for in our songs a sort of better world, a rainbow world,” he once said. “Now, my generation unfortunately never succeed in making that rainbow world, so we can’t hand it down to you. But we could hand down our songs, which still hang on to hope and laughter… in times of confusion.”

At the time Over the Rainbow was written, that confusion was caused by a huge financial slump, but by the time it came out, families were becoming caught up in World War II. A special recording of the song by Judy Garland and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra was pressed and sent out to American soldiers as a promise of better times to come. She also performed it live for the troops in 1943.

Garland’s version later became an anthem of possibility for LGBT+ people, the “rainbow” in the lyrics matching the multicoloured flag of inclusion flown at Pride marches, and the term “friend of Dorothy” even becoming a knowing reference for gay men. Her frail and trembling voice embodied both the fragility of hope in dark times, and the yearning that something good will eventually happen.

But it’s not just her version that has touched people down the years. Many artists have covered the song, from Willie Nelson to Rufus Wainwright to the cast of Glee, and it’s been used by NASA to awaken their astronauts, who have most certainly gone over the rainbow. The song was also recorded by the choir of Sandy Hook Elementary and Ingrid Michaelson, as a healing moment after the 2012 mass shooting at the school.

Quirkiest world records held by British musicians

This year’s BBC Music Day (Thursday 15 June) is about the power of music, and included among the many events taking place are attempts to break music records. In Bradford, 800 children will gather in the City Park to try and beat the current world record for Bamboo Tamboo (a form of music created by hitting a bamboo stick on the ground, which originates from the carnival traditions of the Caribbean). And in Portsmouth, over a thousand children will join together at the city’s Guildhall Square, with the aim of breaking the world record for the world’s largest djembe drumming ensemble.

To provide some inspiration for those taking part, here’s a list of some of the UK’s quirkiest musical record-holders, from artists playing underwater or in freezing temperatures, to being broadcast in space or coming up with the longest album title ever. A record-breaking drum roll, please…

Katie Melua performs in the bottom of one of the four shafts of the Statoil Troll A Platform gas rig in the North Sea

Singer-songwriter Katie Melua had to undergo survival training and extensive medical tests before she was given the go-ahead to play the world’s deepest underwater concert back in 2006. Melua then flew from Norway to the Statoil Troll A gas rig in the North Sea, where she and her band performed a show 303 metres below sea level. “This was definitely the most surreal gig I have ever done,” said Melua at the time, who played in front of 20 rig workers as well as an official Guinness World Records adjudicator. “It took nine minutes to go from the main part of the gas platform down to the bottom of the shaft in a lift. Giving a concert to the workers there was something really extraordinary and an occasion that I will remember all my life.”

As you’d expect, The Beatles’ record-breaking exploits are impressive. The Fab Four have had more UK No.1 albums than anyone else (15), and more UK No.1 singles than any other British artist (their 17 chart-toppers are only surpassed by Elvis Presley’s 21); in 2001, the Guinness Book of Records declared them the best-selling group of all time (by that point, they’d reportedly sold over one billion discs and tapes worldwide). But they’ve got some more unusual records under their belts, too. In 2005, Paul McCartney became the first musician to broadcast a concert to outer space after his show in Anaheim, California was transmitted to two astronauts at the International Space Station, floating some 220 miles above Earth. NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russia’s Valery Tokarev were treated to a performance of The Beatles’ Good Day Sunshine, as well as McCartney’s solo track English Tea. “That was simply magnificent,” McArthur told the singer. “We consider you an explorer just as we are.”

40 photos that prove the 80s were the best decade

Set your calculator watches for 1980 and join us on a trip deep into the BBC’s picture archives – the realms of Top of the Pops, Saturday Superstore and many a striking photoshoot.

This was the era of voguish shoulderpads, voluminous hairstyles and smouldering stares, all heralding a daring new streak of ostentation. For the fans, it was a gift of dress-up glamour that brought escape from the humdrum. Embracing the rapid rise of a new electronic era, it played with the concept of the high gloss, semi-synthetic human.

Those who rode the crest of the New Wave, glittered in the discotheques or found love with the New Romantics – we salute you.

Kelly Marie

Spandex – check. Lipgloss – check. Here’s Scottish singer Kelly Marie, who scored a No.1 hit in 1980 with disco track Feels Like I’m In Love. Hear it on Sara Cox’s Sounds of the 80s playlist.

Toto Coelo

Kaleidoscopic quintet Toto Coelo savaged the charts in 1982 with I Eat Cannibals, a love-hungry number (sample lyric: “Intake, home bake, you’re the icing on the cake / Full up, can’t stop, dicing on a chop chop”) that would sadly prove to be their only hit.

Central Line

This distinctive disco-funk combo went by the name Central Line, and that magnificent instrument by the name “the serpent” – a distant relative of the tuba. Hear them on Craig Charles’ The Funk & Soul Years – 1981.

Kajagoogoo

After depleting global stocks of hairspray, Leighton Buzzard boys Kajagoogoo strike a pose in the Top of the Pops studio, 1983. Too Shy, the band’s biggest hit, features on our TOTP: The Story of 1983 playlist.

Break Machine

The sweatband – perhaps the definitive item of 80s headwear. Here it’s sported in style by US rap trio Break Machine, pictured backstage on Top of the Pops, 1984. Hear them on Sara Cox’s Sound of the 80s playlist.

Dolly Dots

Although never big in the UK, Dutch girl group Dolly Dots enjoyed such success across Europe that they even had a TV series and film (Dutch Treat) to their name. Fact fans: Anita Heilker (front middle) is the voice of the Dutch Donald Duck.

Bananarama

They said It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It), and Bananarama have been doing it since 1979, albeit with a couple of line-up shuffles. Here they’re pictured in 1985 on the Kenny Everett Television Show, shortly before Venus went No.1 worldwide. Find out more about their recent reunion.

S’Express

Acid house outfit S’Express perform Mantra for a State of Mind on Top of the Pops in 1989. Can you guess why they appear in our 10 strange quirks in pop songs you won’t be able to unhear?

Bauhaus

Just look at those cheekbones. Post-punk quartet Bauhaus, pictured here in 1983, can be heard on Stuart Maconie’s magnificent Freaky Tracks To Hear Before You Die playlist.