Top of the flops? The 9 best – and worst – live music TV shows

As new primetime music show Sounds Like Friday Night with Greg James and Dotty begins on BBC1, we look back at those that flickered brightly or died on their feet…

(BBC, TL)

It’s been over 10 years since they treated us to a live music show, but this Friday BBC1 is treating us to Sounds Like Friday Night. Hosted by Radio 1’s Greg James and 1Xtra’s Dotty, this new musical extravaganza promises live performances alongside comedy sketches.

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Will it be a hit or miss? It’s hard to tell: many past live music shows have been raging successes – and many have flopped. Here are the nine most noteworthy cases…

HIT: The Beat Room 1964

In 1964, BBC1 launched Top of the Pops to cater for teenage music-lovers, but when BBC2 arrived a few months later, its own weekly pop show had a studio audience strictly confined to over-18s. The bands all played live – no limp miming here – and high-profile guests included the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye and the Isley Brothers, alongside the Animals, the Kinks and the Pretty Things.

MISS: The Cool Spot 1964

Where better to stage a weekly pop show than on an ice rink? The action came from Nottingham’s Ice Stadium with performers like the Yardbirds, the Spencer Davis Group and Kiki Dee belting out tunes while professional skating champions whirled around the arena, attempting to prove they could interpret this new-fangled pop music just as well as their familiar classical. The coolest of DJs, David Jacobs, was the host and the tongue-twisting strapline, “Television’s new Ice-Discery”, left BBC1 continuity announcers frozen with fear.

MISS: All Systems Freeman! 1968

In BBC1’s replacement for Juke Box Jury, DJ Alan Freeman was the proto video jockey, in his element behind a radio console, headphones clamped to ears, sleeves rolled up, flamboyantly throwing switches and faders as he cued in prerecorded inserts and introduced live studio performances from the likes of Cat Stevens, Alan Price and the Herd. In between, he quizzed guests about the latest record releases. A breathless 25 minutes on Friday evenings.

MISS: The British Rock And Pop Awards 1977

The Brits may be today’s major televised music awards show but it was by no means the first. Back in the 60s, the NME poll-winners’ concerts were covered by ITV, and then in the 70s along came The British Rock and Pop Awards on BBC1, with Kid Jensen and Bob Wellings the unlikely first hosts. Clive James wrote that the event had “the lasting importance of someone breaking wind in the middle of a hurricane”, but it ran until 1984.

HIT: Rock Goes To College 1978

A budget spin-off from The Old Grey Whistle Test, this BBC2 series kept costs low by offering a free concert to educational establishments in return for use of the students’ union hall. AC/DC rocked Essex University and the Cars played the University of Sussex. It seemed an inspired move until the Stranglers hurled abuse at students in Guildford and walked off in protest at “playing to elitist audiences”.

HIT: Alright Now 1979

Although ostensibly a children’s show, hosted initially by Den Hegarty of Darts along with a gang of youngsters from the North East snappily called the Krazy Koffee Bar Kidz, it was rated by bands normally sceptical about music on the box. The Police and Dire Straits were two early performers, and even the normally TV-shy Clash.

MISS: Rebellious Jukebox 1985

Having hit the ground running with The Tube, Jools Holland was soon in demand for other series but not everything before Later worked out so well. This Channel 4 music and sketch show, directed by ex-10cc members Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, cast Holland as manager of the Rebellious Jukebox nightclub. The sounds (UB40, Spandau Ballet…) were fine; the comedy was dire. Two episodes were shown.

HIT: The White Room 1994

When the 90s arrived, the way in which music was presented on TV was under review. This Channel 4 show stripped out fast edits and clever effects and placed artists in the simplest of settings. The purity of the idea appealed to big names: Stevie Wonder, Prince and Bowie all appeared, while Oasis were almost the house band.

By Jeff Evans

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Sounds Like Friday Night Friday is on 7.30pm BBC1