Friday, 15 September 2017

Oliver!: Marcia Griffiths - Closer to You (28 March 1992)



I've focused so much of my attention on John Peel's radio programmes over late 1991/early 1992, that I have been somewhat slapdash when it comes to other opportunities to appreciate him.  I still haven't listened to any of 6Music's current retrospective series The Evolution of John Peel, partially because I fear that it will just end up being a greatest hits collection through the decades - though I will pull myself together and listen to it soon.  Perhaps even more unforgivably, I've been equally tardy when it's come to watching him on BBC Four's repeats of Top of the Pops.  This damns me heavily because when BBC Four kicked off the run, back in 2011, with the announcement that they were going to start with shows from 1976, my initial reaction was "Bloody hell, it'll be 6 years before they get to Peel hosting it!"  In the event, once episodes that had either been wiped or hosted by Jimmy Savile or Dave Lee Travis were skipped past, they reached Peel's 1982 return within 5 years.  He had co-hosted the show on one fateful occasion in early 1968, and, by his own admission, did a terrible job of it - forgetting who Amen Corner were at one point.  But after a mere 14 years, he was back and I was keen to see the repeat of his first, well second, appearance on the programme, especially considering that the opening sequence of him introducing Theatre of Hate was one of the first Peel related clips I remember seeing on YouTube, some 11 years ago.  Peel acquitted himself well - there were tracks I was pleased to see and others that were completely new to me including a band clearly put together to try and cash in on Shakin' Stevens popularity.  At the end of it, I was pleased to see that Peel was finally on the Top of the Pops list and looked forward to catching his Rhythm Pals act with David Jensen once they got to 1983.  I think I caught one more of Peel's 1982 TotP shows before they were suddenly in 1983 and he was paired with Jensen.
They hosted the show 13 times that year but I only caught two of them, which is silly considering that I would have been watching the show as a curious 7 year old at the time, and the original broadcasts would have been my first awareness of Peel in any form, beyond possibly hearing snippets of his show on the radio I used to play at bedtime when I was even younger (that's a story for another time, I expect).  Now the Pops repeats have got to 1984 and aware that Jensen moved from Radio 1 to Capital Radio - to Peel's great sadness - and subsequently off Top of the Pops as a result, I made great efforts to catch their last few shows together.  The Rhythm Pals were essentially Top of the Pops version of Morecambe and Wise, with Peel free to engage in whimsy and gently absurd piss-taking, while Jensen could guide things back to Earth, with a"What can you do?" air about him in regards to his sidekick.  Their affection for each other, and enjoyment in hosting the show was obvious, despite the fact that their natural radio environment was, to varying degrees, some way removed from the neon and party balloons environment in which they hosted the show.  For all that, it's worth remembering that regardless of how frivolous or dour, depending on the approach producers took with the show, its great strength was that the credible would follow the cheesy without comment - it was an open house to pop and popular music, and the likes of The Clash and The Arctic Monkeys lessened themselves by not appearing on it.  In terms of 1984 pop music, I often think that one reason why the early appearances of The Smiths on the show are so fondly remembered is the fact they would either be following or leading on to Black Lace.  Right up to its dying day, I always regarded the Top of the Pops studio as simultaneously the most exciting/naffest place in the world.  It clearly had something about it, just look what it did to Danny Baker.

One feature of the TotPs I've seen with Peel in them is a performance of a record described either by himself or Jensen as "coming up through the clubs".  Four years on this would invariably mean an acid house or techno record, but in 1984, it was usually something that attempted to meld together Hi-NRG beat with soul vocal. Exhibits from the time, cued in by Peel include I'll Be Around by Terri Wells and the stone cold classic High Energy by Evelyn Thomas.  Such records seemed pertinent when we bring ourselves back to Peel broadcasting in the middle of the night from a Radio 1 studio, eight years after he was taking the piss on prime time BBC 1. A record like Closer to You seems closer in tone to those Top of the Pops club classics, even though its much more laidback and fuses dancehall with lovers rock.  Such an expression of unadulterated sweetness and love always seemed vaguely shocking on a Peel playlist, as though he decided to aurally airfreshen his airwaves for a moment after all the expected rock, racket and rave.  But as BBC Four have shown us, there were plenty of occasions when Peel found himself engulfed in "sweet" music.  He was just better at picking out the nuggets amidst the chintz than many others.  And Marcia Griffiths' voice was pure gold.

The video is of someone playing a record, which I appreciate is a bit unsatisying, though good for the   ear heart.  The record plays twice, but is around 3:40 in duration. There are other versions which include toasting by Buju Banton.  If you find it visually dull, then enjoy the best clip I've seen from Peel's '84 shows so far, featuring Zoo, the final dancing troupe used by Top of the Pops in order to boost a rather dull Pointer Sisters video for their terrific track, Automatic.  Sadly, no videos from the programme include Peel's hilarious attempts at robotic dancing at the end.



Videos courtesy of 777SKA (Griffiths) and memorylane1980s (Pointer Sisters).

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