The best known music show is without a doubt Top of the Pops, and even though the show was cancelled in 2006, there are still weekly reruns on BBC 4.Most people were surprised that the BBC cancelled the show because i was and still is very popular, there have been speculations though that it may return again.
However this blog is about another iconic and legendary BBC music show,’ The Old Grey whistle test’ It was commissioned by none other then David Attenborough and aired on BBC2 from 1971 to 1988. Unlike Top of the Pops, the whistle test had some more edgier music and catered more for rock fans and focused more on albums then hit singles.
The show hosted many seminal acts of the era, including the first British TV performance of Bob Marley and the Wailers as well as then little-known acts of whom any early footage is now considered precious, such as Billy Joel, Judas Priest (with a long haired Rob Halford), Wishbone Ash, Judee Sill, Heart, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The series was cancelled in the spring of 1987 by Janet Street-Porter, who had been appointed head of Youth Programmes at the BBC. The series ended with a live New Year’s Eve special broadcast through to the early hours of New Year’s Day 1988; material included “Hotel California” by The Eagles, live from 1977, and “Bat Out of Hell” by Meat Loaf.
Many viewers think that the performances were always live but that was always the case, although for the vast majority they were.
On 23 February 2018, the BBC broadcast a special show, hosted by Bob Harris, to mark the 30 years since the legendary series was last broadcast. This live studio show featured music, special guests and rare archive footage. It featured performances from Peter Frampton, Richard Thompson, Albert Lee and others. Bob Harris chatted to Whistle Test alumni, including Dave Stewart, Joan Armatrading, Ian Anderson, Chris Difford and Kiki Dee, as well as fan Danny Baker.
BBC 4 regularly plays old episodes from the show and I am always amazed about the new things I learn. For example I never knew that Elkie Brooks and Robert Palmer were in a band together. The band was called ‘Vinegar Joe’
Whistle Test was also the British television debut of the American glam punk band New York Dolls. Their performance influenced the following punk rock scene such as the Sex Pistols and The Clash as well as alternative bands like R.E.M. and The Smiths and the glam metal scene of the 1980s.
David Johansen was the front man of this line up of the New York Dolls, David had some solo success later on under the name of Buster Pointdexter.
Brinsley Schwarz were a 1970s English pub rock band, named after their guitarist Brinsley Schwarz. They made an appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973.
In case you are wondering who the singer and bass player is, it is Nick Lowe from such hits as “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” and “Cruel to be Kind”
By 1988 it was considered well past it’s sell by date however it was an influence on many music shows that came after such as Later With Jools Holland.
As mentioned earlier Bob Marley had his first appearance on the BBC on the Old Grey Whistle test. This was another thing I hadn’t realized, Peter Tosh was also a member of the Wailers.
It would be great to see a show like the Old Grey whistle Test again on TV, but I don’t think that the same caliber of performers are available nowadays