Tag Archives: BBC

Rocks In The Attic #783: Travis – ‘Live At Glastonbury ‘99’ (1999)

RITA#783I can’t help but think that Travis missed the boat. They were actually stood on the boat at one point, and everybody was waving them off. Then they looked behind them, and realised that everybody was waving at Coldplay, who were stood on an even bigger boat, sailing off into mainstream waters.

1999 marked the year of my first Glastonbury, and Travis were crowned the breakthrough performance of the festival. I stood there with thousands of others on the Saturday afternoon as they played the Other Stage. The festival had been dry and sunny so far, but threatening rainclouds started drifting over the fields.

A fortunate bit of serendipity occurred when the heavens opened as the band played their current single, Why Does It Always Rain On Me? The soaked crowd was delighted, as were the BBC executives broadcasting the highlights of the festival, and the music press heralded the band as the champions of the festival. They returned to headline a year later.

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I saw Travis headline in 2000, but I also caught Coldplay, playing the Other Stage at a similar time slot as I had seen Travis the year prior. I already knew a few of Coldplay’s singles – Shiver and Yellow had already been released, and the radio was already playing Trouble in advance of its October release. I bought their debut LP, Parachutes as soon as it was released a few weeks later.

History seemed to repeat itself: Coldplay were labelled the breakthrough performance of the 2000 festival, and they swiftly became the darlings of the music press and BBC Radio. Just like Travis, they returned to headline the next Glastonbury (in 2002, with 2001 being a fallow year).

But over the years, while Coldplay went from strength to strength, becoming a household name for casual music fans and a shortcut for bland, post-Britpop radio-friendly rock, Travis just seemed to…disappear.

Everybody had agreed that The Man Who, Travis’ second studio album that they were touring at the time of their ’99 performance, was a belter. It spent 11 weeks at number 1 in the UK album charts, and sold over 3.5 million copies. But then Coldplay came along and seemed to blow them out of the water, probably while Travis were stood on that boat in the harbour.

Aside from hearing about their drummer breaking his neck diving into a swimming pool, and an out-of-court settlement for ‘borrowing’ the Wonderwall chord progression for Writing To Reach You, I haven’t heard much else from Travis. Their third album, the aptly named The Invisible Band, was the last I heard from them. What happened?

Hit: Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

Hidden Gem: Blue Flashing Light

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Rocks In The Attic #771: Scissor Sisters – ‘Scissor Sisters’ (2004)

RITA#771I’d heard a few of this band’s singles – most probably Laura, Comfortably Numb and Take Your Mama – on BBC Radio 2 (where else?) before I dragged my friend Denise to see them play the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday morning at Glastonbury 2004. I was so glad I did; it was a performance that has really stuck with me, regardless of the direction the band went in after this first album.

The band started playing the opening bars of Take Your Mama, to a huge cheer, before their vocalists hit the stage. The huge screens either side of the stage caught Jake Shears and Ana Matronic walking backstage as they spotted the size of the crowd. They almost fell over each other in shock, which just made the crowd roar even louder. Unfortunately, although the performance is available on YouTube, that particularly joyous moment isn’t captured.

RITA#771aOne of the things I’ve always loved about Glastonbury is that bands don’t always turn up, play their set and leave straightaway. Occasionally, they’ll stay for the whole weekend – particularly if it’s a fresh up-and-coming band enamoured with the festival itself – and you may even catch a glimpse of them walking past you. At some point the next day, I ran into the Scissor Sisters as we both queued up to buy some potato wedges and sour cream from one of the food trucks. Rock and roll!

I lost touch with the band after this record. Their brand of music – half Elton John, half Talking Heads – is perfect radio-friendly single material, and their brilliant collaboration with Elton on I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ from their follow-up album is a prime example of this. They seemed to head towards the pop charts and away from the indie-rock charts, and so I didn’t hear as much from them.

I also lost my job around this time, and so I stopped spending as much time in the car listening to the radio. Maybe I lost touch with the Scissor Sisters because I stopped listening to Radio 2.

Hit: Take Your Mama

Hidden Gem: Mary

Rocks In The Attic #729: Super Furry Animals – ‘SFA At The BBC’ (2018)

RITA#729The Super Furries have finally managed to do what every other British rock band of the last fifty years has done: released an album of their BBC sessions. Still, while it may seem like an establishment move, their execution of the release is very much in line with what you may expect from such a madcap band.

Released in limited numbers by Strangetown Records, and through pledgemusic.com, the packaging is just awesome. The 4xLP box-set (£85) I managed to secure was initially available as a run of 400, while an even-more limited 5xLP set was available in a run of just 100. Thankfully, this was sold out in seconds – I wouldn’t have been happy with paying a further £115 for three additional tracks. Buyer’s remorse is a very real thing in the world of record collecting.

RITA#729bThe outer-box and individual record sleeves take their design from the Golden Retriever Yeti stage-suits that the band wore on stage, with a lock of the stage-suit hair included in a hand-numbered envelope within. The 5xLP set goes one further and includes some of the Yeti hair actually pressed into the fifth disc. I guess that’s where the extra £115 went.

Despite selling out within minutes, Strangetown Records announced a second pressing of a further 500 copies of the 4xLP set. This led to a lot of complaints on social media, from buyers who were understandably a little miffed at paying for something that turned out not to be as limited as they were originally led to believe. Without apologising, Strangetown issued a response:

It has come to our attention that there needs to be clarity on the 2nd press of the SFA at the BBC box set. There is no difference between the first and second editions so if anyone is unhappy at the thought of owning a boxset that isn’t ltd to 400 copies then we are happy to issue a refund.

While I’m not too precious about owning something that exists in limited numbers or not, it does annoy me that they didn’t press more copies to begin with. There’s obviously a demand for it. They could have pressed thousands and still probably sold out; and pressing in smaller numbers just adds to the horribly negative ‘have / have not’ climate of record collecting. It’s also annoying to shell out for it in the run up to Christmas, when you think that hesitation will be punished.

The eight BBC sessions presented here take place between 1996 and 2001, covering the period between Fuzzy Logic and Rings Around The World, and were taken from a mixture of Steve Lamaq and Jo Whiley’s Evening Sessions, and sessions recorded for Mark Radcliff and John Peel. Not a band known for doing covers, it’s a rare treat to hear them covering a fairly respectable version of the Beach Boys’ Warmth Of The Sun, with this song chosen as they’re one of the only bands that they could all agree on.

The eighth and final side comes from Peel Acres itself, the Suffolk home of John Peel and his wife. As somebody whose musical interests were as weird and wide-ranging as the Super Furries, it’s fitting that Peel’s Brummie drawl is the last voice you hear after the final song:

If you come back again, which would obviously be wonderful if you did, we’ll move the football machine, and er, so there’s a bit more room. That would be handy, wouldn’t it, if we were to do that? Or perhaps we’d build an extension. <sings> BUILD AN EXTENSION! Er, but thanks very much for coming anyway, it’s been a real treat. All the best.

Hit: Something For The Weekend

Hidden Gem: Some Things Come From Nothing

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Rocks In The Attic #720: David Bowie – ‘Glastonbury 2000’ (2000)

RITA#720The year 2000. My second Glastonbury festival, aged 21.

My friend Vini came with me this year, and we got the train down from Manchester to Somerset. All of the other years I’ve been to the festival, from 1999 to 2007, I’ve driven. It was just the two of us heading down this year, but we were set to meet up with friends in the same area of the site we had camped the prior year.

The trip down to the South West was quite quiet as we were travelling down on the Wednesday morning, as the music and the festival doesn’t really kick off until the Friday morning. The only bit of the journey that slowed us down was a small queue at the Castle Cary station to wait for the shuttle bus to the festival grounds. It didn’t matter; the sun was out in force.

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Vini and I circa 2000

We got to the campgrounds and met up with my friends from University, Robbie and Natalie, and various other people they’d travelled with. We pitched our tents by the perimeter fence, between the Other Stage field and the Dance Tent field.  I seem to remember the year 2000 as being one of the last years before they started to curb down on campfires, so Thursday night found us stocking up on firewood.

2000 was the also the last year before the dreaded security fence went up, so it was probably the last Glastonbury with any ounce of anarchy in it. From the following year, it all got a bit safer, a bit more middle-class, a bit more Radio 2.

People started breaking into the festival on the Wednesday night. There was still a fence at this point – but it was still quite easy to get over, and wasn’t anywhere near the height of the megafence that went up by the time of the next festival two years later (2001 was a ‘fallow’ year for the festival).

By the Thursday night, the fence had been damaged near where our tents were pitched, and people were starting to spill into the grounds. By the time we woke up on the Friday morning, the fence had been completely breached, pushed aside, and people were just walking in. The security staff had given up trying to stop them, it was just too hard. The organisers sold 100,000 tickets, but it’s estimated that a further 150,000 entered without tickets.

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As a result of the increased numbers, the infrastructure of the festival started to break down. Toilets and litter started to build up, and lawlessness was in the air. At one point, as Vini and I queued up at a food truck, two gypsy teenagers got into a fight next to us. Well, I say fight, it was more like one aggressive gypsy was battering another gypsy, who wasn’t keen on being battered.

Vini’s tent got broken into at one point, and Natalie woke up to an intruder in the middle of the night. We would laugh at this whenever she brought it up in subsequent years – ‘Do you remember that year I woke up and this guy was on top of me going through my stuff?’ – and I’d jokingly apologise.

I saw lots of great bands that year, as I did every other year at Glastonbury: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Bluetones, Dark Star, Muse, Idlewild, the Chemical Brothers, Ocean Colour Scene, the Wailers, Live, Death In Vegas, the Dandy Warhols, Coldplay, Robert Plant’s band Prior Of Brion, and many, many others. Vini swears to this day that we saw one-time James Bond George Lazenby there, introducing Ladysmith Black Mambazo on stage, but I don’t remember that at all. It sounds like the makings of a fever dream.

By the time Sunday night rolls around at Glastonbury, I’ve usually had enough. Festival fatigue kicks in, sometimes with disastrous consequences – and I hate to think about the time I chose to miss Muse headline in 2004. In 2000 though, I was excited to see Bowie play; energy levels were high. This was the first time he had played the festival since its second year in 1971, so it felt like the festival and the artist were somehow coming full circle.

At that time, I wasn’t too much of a Bowie fan. I adored Hunky Dory and The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. But aside from a couple of other singles, I could take or leave everything else. I had heard that his live shows could be quite abstract affairs too, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. His last tour had been in 1997, promoting Earthling, but apart from a 50th Birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in that same year, he had only sporadically playing the hits throughout the decade.

Surely he wouldn’t do a greatest hits set on his return to Glastonbury. Would he?

RITA#720dHe walked onto stage to the opening bars of Wild Is The Wind from 1976’s Station To Station –starting a lifelong love affair with that song for me. So far, so deep-cut. He looked beautiful, with a long elfin coat and flowing blonde hair.

Then he played China Girl and Changes. Was this just an attempt to get the audience onside before he started playing Tin Machine b-sides?

Another Station To Station track was up next – Stay. The second of three Station To Station tracks played, with the title track being the third. This was undoubtedly to showcase the guitar playing of Earl Slick who had played on that album and was among the band at Worthy Farm that night. Perhaps this was the start of the setlist slipping into the esoteric?

Life On Mars?, Absolute Beginners, Ashes To Ashes and Golden Years left little doubt that Bowie was in fact doing a greatest hits set. Amazing.

Vini and I had been performing a cover of Ziggy Stardust in our band at the time, and while I thought it was unlikely Bowie would play the song, Vini was hopeful. “Nah,” I said. “He doesn’t do it anymore.” He hadn’t played it regularly in his set since 1990, although the excellent www.setlist.fm shows that he had played the song in a warm-up show in New York, nine days prior to Glastonbury.

Bowie finished the main set with Under Pressure, but despite all the big hits I was hearing, I was still sure I wouldn’t be hearing my favourite song of his. The band left the stage, and returned five minutes later for the encore. “It’s gonna be Ziggy Stardust!” Vini proclaimed. And BLLLLLLAAAAAAANNNNNNNGGG – it was!

Hands shooting up in the air, hugging, huge grins. Wow. We were ecstatic.

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My one blurry photo of Bowie on stage

Since Bowie’s passing in 2016, the Glastonbury set has taken on an almost mythic status. It was a watershed moment for the festival and its presence on the BBC. From that year, it became almost expected for the big headlining slot to be broadcast live on television (even the decision to show the Bowie set ruffled a few feathers at the Beeb).

I would never see Bowie in concert again. His heart attack on stage in 2004 led to a change in priorities, and big tours were taken off the agenda. I’m so glad I saw him when I did. It turned me into a Bowie fan, and I started to go back and listen to the albums I hadn’t heard before. There isn’t a period of Bowie’s career I don’t love now. He’s the ultimate artist with something for everybody.

Hit: ‘Heroes’

Hidden Gem: Wild Is The Wind

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Rocks In The Attic #698: Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits’ (1972)

RITA#698Put something happy on next, my kids said. I can’t blame them. Making them listen to Jerry Goldmsith’s Alien score first thing on a sunny Saturday morning doesn’t exactly scream golden childhood memory.

Who doesn’t like Simon & Garfunkel? Surely it’s impossible to like their brand of impossibly cheerful folk-pop. They should pipe this album into the waiting rooms of psychiatrists and mental institutions. I predict the world suicide rate would drop off a cliff overnight.

RITA#698aSpeaking of Simon & Garfunkel, I’ve finally got around to finishing the excellent BBC comedy Detectorists, written and directed by Mackenzie Crook. Two of my favourite characters are the antagonists played by the always excellent Simon Farnaby and the wonderfully underplayed Paul Casar. The recurring joke that the pair look like a poor man’s Simon & Garfunkel is one of my favourite things in the show, and it’s a shame – although completely understandable – that Crook won’t be bringing it back for a fourth series.

Hit: Mrs. Robinson

Hidden Gem: America

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Rocks In The Attic #672: Various Artists – ‘More Pennies From Heaven (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#672.jpgI think I might be reincarnated from some 1930’s Big Band musician or something; this kind of music really resonates with me for some reason. I always get the same feeling of intense familiarity when I hear Hang Out The Stars In Indiana from the Withnail & I soundtrack.

Either that, or I was asleep in my cot while my Mum & Dad watched this show after I was born in 1978. That sounds more believable I guess, with the old-timey music seeping into my DNA as they watched Bob Hoskins on the telly.

Hit: Cheek To Cheek – Lew Stone & His Band

Hidden Gem: Down Sunnyside Lane – Jack Payne & His BBC Dance Orchestra

Rocks In The Attic #506: Various Artists – ‘The Sounds Of Time A Dramatisation In Sound Of The Years 1934-1949’ (1957)

RITA#506I love records like this; time-capsules from another era. Back when this was released in 1957, the only way for a household to have such a recording was on a vinyl record. Television was still in its infancy, and video wouldn’t see mainstream acceptance for another twenty years.

It’s easy then to imagine the whole household gathering around the record player to listen to this recording. It’s nice to picture that kind of shared experience. One day, I might try and sit my daughters down and force them to listen to this. I’ll be lucky if they don’t roll their eyes and ask me to turn the boring talking off.

This record is full of famous moments, essentially the history of the Second World War, bookended by a couple of years either side. There isn’t a great deal of light relief, but it’s all fascinating stuff; some of it well-known, some of it new to my ears.

One of the podcasts I listen to regularly is Desert Island Discs, a slimmed-down version of the Radio 4 broadcast. It’s essentially the same as what is transmitted live, except that the songs are shortened quite drastically for copyright reasons. A couple of years ago, one of the “castaways”, the novelist Vikram Seth, chose as one of his discs a recording of a Nightingale singing as a wartime bombing raid passes overhead. It’s a fantastic recording, the purity of the birdsong contrasting completely with the ominous drones of the bombers. I was so happy to find that a short clip of the recording is included on this record.

The story behind the Nightingale and bombers is worth sharing also. Every May, the BBC would record birdsong for live transmission. On the day in question – May 19th, 1942 – a quick-thinking engineer pulled the plug on the transmission, believing that the sound of the bombers could potentially forewarn German forces of the impending attack. A full recording exists, with the 197 bombers recorded on their way to Mannheim, and only 186 recorded on their return.

Hit: “Oh the humanity…” – The giant airship Hindenburg bursts into flames at Lakehurst, New Jersey, May 6th, 1937

Hidden Gem: Nightingale in a Surrey wood matches its voice against the drone of a thousand bombers striking at Germany