Bold… but risky: can Sounds Like Friday Night fill the void left by Top of the Pops?

There hasn’t been a music show on the BBC since 2006. Presenters Greg James and Dotty explain why now is the right time to launch a new one

Greg James and Dotty on Sounds Like Friday Night

It’s been over 10 years since there was a regular live music show on BBC1, but that’s about to change this Friday.

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With live music performances, interviews and sketches, Sounds Like Friday Night has been described as a mixture of Saturday Night Live and Top of the Pops, with Jason Derulo co-hosting and performing on the first episode alongside appearances from Charlie Puth and Jessie Ware.

Future instalments are set to star Liam Payne, Liam Gallagher and Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl who, as Sounds Like Friday Night presenter and Radio 1 DJ Greg James tells us, filmed a sketch in which he becomes the new voice of BBC1.

“I’m so pleased that the BBC have decided to do this,” Greg explains. “And that they’ve got us to do it.”

The ‘us’ is Greg alongside his co-presenter Dotty, who might not yet be a familiar face on TV but is well known to listeners as the host of Radio 1Xtra’s Breakfast Show.

“It is huge for me,” Dotty tells RadioTimes.com about hosting the show. “And I am really nervous about it, but it’s the best kind of nerves. Not like driving test nerves – everybody hates those.”

Not only is the show a big deal because it’s in the plum primetime slot of 7.30pm on Friday night, but it also comes from the production company behind The Late Late Show with James Corden.

With Sounds Like Friday Night also featuring sketches, Greg is keen to point out that “we want to do our own thing” away from a Carpool Karaoke-style regular segment.

“We don’t want to just emulate and copy everything else,” he says. “And you can’t just do a straightforward ‘here’s five bands’-type of show. It needs to be a bit more dynamic than that.”

From the moment Sounds Like Friday Night was announced it was being compared to Top of the Pops, owing to the fact that this is the first live music show the BBC has aired since the iconic weekly chart show wound down in 2006.

Is the Top of the Pops comparison frustrating? Weighing this brand new concept up against a show that’s iconic, legendary…

“And dead.” interjects Greg.

Greg James and Dotty on Sounds Like Friday Night
Greg James and Dotty on Sounds Like Friday Night (BBC Pictures)

“It doesn’t frustrate me personally,” chips in Dotty. “Simply because anybody who grew up with Top of the Pops will know that even a slight comparison to that is a compliment, especially before our show’s even started.

“It does mean that we have to explain that: no, this actually isn’t Top of the Pops,” she continues. “Apart from the live performance element, it’s a completely different proposition.”

Greg adds: “If you can take anything from that Top of the Pops thing, it’s that it was a talking point. It was an event, and people loved to sit down and watch it.”

Event TV is exactly what the pair are aiming for with Sounds Like Friday Night. Certainly on paper, the prospect of half an hour of live telly starring the likes of Liam Gallagher and Liam Payne sounds like a ratings winner.

But in such a digital age, it does feel like marking a show like this is a something of a leap of faith. When Top of the Pops was in its heyday, there were no other way to watch music videos other than on the TV. Now with YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, vlogs… the list of how people visually consume music and musicians is endless.

Dotty, who agrees that it is “risky” to make such a show, thinks it is about “creating something that you can’t find elsewhere, and that’s where the curation element will come in.

“We can create scenarios and put celebrities or artists in them that you would never find elsewhere,” she explains. “Because there are so many options today, you can get quite overwhelmed, and you end up missing something huge. I think to have 30 minutes of curated content, you can just sit back and enjoy it.”

Alongside international megastars like Jason Derulo, Demi Lovato and Liam Payne, there will also be performances from more niche acts like London Grammar and Loyle Carner. The title music, meanwhile, has been written by Royal Blood.

“A ‘leg up’ is a bit patronising, but we wanted to give a platform to those artists that normally might not get on BBC1,” says Greg, who is passionate about the fact that both ends of the music industry need each other to thrive. “It’s not just about the big names. You can’t have one without the other, I don’t think.

“You need those big sellers to get people to listen to music, and the other way round,” he explains. “There’s a huge problem with festival headliners in 2017. The same bands are headlining because people aren’t given enough time to develop, but that’s because they’re maybe not getting enough exposure, and they’re not getting out to those audiences. Because we’re all sheep. We like a bit of safe sometimes.”

Which brings us to the current state of the charts. One Dance by Drake held the number one spot for 15 weeks in 2016, while Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill and Shape Of You have both been in the top 40 for 41 weeks and counting.

“Everyone’s like, ‘oh well, Ed Sheeran’s got another album. I’ll just listen to that.’” says Greg. “That’s great, but also listen to all the other albums that are out this week. I think that’s the problem. In a busy world, people get a bit overwhelmed. You go ‘I’ll just stick to what I know.

“That single that he’s just released, which was in the charts when his album came out, just because it was being streamed. And then he released it as a single, and it’s back in the charts again. Who the f*** doesn’t have this yet?”

Although there’s no surefire way to rectify that, Greg does believe that when it comes to homogenised TV, commissioners need to be bolder. “Scared, lily-livered commissioners that just go, ‘100 people are giving us shit on Twitter. Cancel it!’ And it’s really terrible that that happens,” he says.

And although both Greg and Dotty aren’t fearing negative reviews of Sounds Like Friday Night, there is one particular bunch of people Dotty is keen to impress.

“I actually texted Greg the other day when I realised that they might watch us on Gogglebox,” she laughs. “I just hope they like it, because that is the review I care about the most. They’re the actual people with no filter!”

“You can’t please everybody all of the time,” offers Greg. “I don’t have a fear of getting a bad review. What’s the point of being scared about a review? There’s plenty more things in this world that will actually kill us.”

Sounds Like Friday Night is produced Fulwell 73 – who also make The Late Late Show – but Dotty says that instead of the association adding pressure and expectation, it “hopefully fills people with confidence”.

“If they can produce things like that and I Am Bolt, which is an incredible film, they are not going to throw together a shoddy bit of work,” she says.

“It’s not daunting at all,” adds Greg. “That was another one of the reasons why I wanted to do it. Because it was a new production company they wanted to prove themselves on BBC1 as well.

“They have got a great reputation for just kind of going, ‘Well, why can’t we make James Corden the biggest presenter in America?’ Everyone thought they couldn’t do it, and they did. They’ve got a great attitude of: ‘Why the f*** not?’

“And why wouldn’t you want to watch some of the biggest artists on a Friday night performing and doing fun stuff?”

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Sounds Like Friday Night starts Friday October 27 at 7.30pm on BBC1.