Monday, February 24, 2014

bakerman is baking bread

I caught an episode of Danny Baker's Rockin' Decades a week or two ago on BBC4, always a good place for the occasional unexpected item of interest. This one focused on the 1990s, this being apparently the third in a series, the first two of which featured, you'll be surprised to hear, the 1970s and the 1980s.

The 1990s was really "my" decade in terms of music, by which I mean the decade where I really got my horizons broadened and got exposed to some genuinely interesting and quirky (and in some cases, utterly unlistenable) stuff. Well, actually that period would include the very tail-end of the 1980s as well, which just illustrates the slightly contrived nature of carving things up into separate decades, not to mention the focus on "rock" rather than "pop", as if that really means anything, and the insistence on restricting the discussion to just British bands. But, well, you've got to impose some structure on an idea that presumably started life as Danny and some mates just chewing the fat down the pub.

Even those who find Danny Baker less irritating than I do would probably have to concede that he's never found a TV format that really worked - he's good on the radio where he can just hog the mic for a couple of hours and ramble on about whatever takes his fancy, but on TV you tend to be a bit more constrained by programme structure and length. And the format of Rockin' Decades only sort of works - the ostensibly unscripted chatty bits are fine, but there's an awkward gear-change every time Baker leans forward to deliver an obviously scripted interjection (usually introducing a clip) across his guests and straight to camera. And you can almost smell his resentment at having to let anyone else talk, given that that's time during which he has to stop talking.

The guests were fine, generally, both Josie Long and Alexis Petridis seeming genuinely enthused by being able to give their personal obsessions (with David Devant & His Spirit Wife and Earl Brutus respectively) an airing. Louise Wener had the least to say, so I should probably just observe that she is still quite foxy even though she's inevitably a bit more mumsy-looking these days, and that while Sleeper weren't all that great you should probably have Inbetweener and Sale Of The Century even if you don't have anything else.

The programme skipped across a couple of my favourite British 90s albums a bit quickly for my liking - Primal Scream's Screamadelica was passed over slightly sniffily as a shameless bit of dance-rock bandwagon-jumping and My Bloody Valentine were mentioned in complimentary terms but then passed over for a bit about Chapterhouse, of all people. And they never (to my knowledge) mentioned Teenage Fanclub at all - Grand Prix would be in my top five British albums of the 90s without a doubt.

The only thing that got my hackles up a bit was the section right at the end where everyone was asked to nominate an album - Alexis Petridis nominated Oasis' Be Here Now, which was a sort of archly ironic non-choice, and Josie Long had a Belle & Sebastian album which I suppose is fine if you like that sort of thing - I wouldn't have chosen either but they at least conformed to the programme's stated inclusion criteria. However - Louise Wener chose Garbage's first album, which is good, and which I own, but which is surely at least 90% American. I mean, yes, Shirley Manson is Scottish, but the rest of the band are American, and the album was recorded and produced in the US. Worse, Danny Baker chose XTC's Oranges And Lemons - nothing wrong with it, and they are at least definitely British, but it was released in 1989! And he must have known this, because a) he's supposed to be generally knowledgeable about music but also b) it must have been staring him in the face from the back of the vinyl LP he was holding up! If you're going to have rules, however arbitrary, then have enough respect for your audience to adhere to them, otherwise you'll just look like you're taking the piss.

Sadly none of the three programmes in the mini-series is now available on iPlayer, but here are a few YouTube clips from the 1990s edition.

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