Thursday, 18 September 2008

Save The BBC.

Funded through a poll tax (why aren’t people taking to the streets to object about this one – even the blind only get a couple of quid off, and the deaf, who can’t use radio at all get nothing off!) the BBC has a tough job of providing public service broadcasting, and trying to appease the general population, being socially responsible and unbiased, and keeping to a remit of entertaining and informing, within the budget given by the licence fee.

The BBC’s purpose is:

To enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.

Nice and broad and woolly, but succinct and accurate. However – there are a few things that worry me about them. Back in the day, the BBC was quite happy to give us 2 TV channels, and 5 radio stations. They charged us a licence fee, and all was well.

Along comes digital, and the BBC thinks – hey – people can have hundreds of TV channels and radio stations – lets chop up our services and give people more choice. Thus we end up with 7 TV stations, and 9 or more radio stations (I can’t be bothered to count them).

We’ve always had local variations – hundreds of radio stations, and local sections on the core stations too. Very useful for traffic info, and local news is a vital part of any society.

Of course, with digital, they can’t be local any more, so there are 4 (I believe) BBC regions, 1 for each of the countries of the UK.

The wonderful BBC website came along, and became the most trusted news and information service in the country – aided by the BBCs remit not to have adverts. The worldwide brand meant services sprang up around the world, either charging for content by subscription on cable networks, or providing service with adverts. I’m the first to say I don’t want my licence fee paying for some ex-pat to watch eastenders.

Recently the BBC asked for a well above inflation rise in the licence fee, and even threatened that some of the services might be cut if they didn’t receive the extra cash. I’m wondering if the government asked “why did you provide such a lot of extra services? Were you assuming you’d get more money?”

One thing the BBC can do – is take a chance, and make a fortune out of it. The BBC took a dodgy US show and turned it into Robot Wars – selling the format and the shows round the world at enormous profit. Every Attenborough documentary series sells enormously on DVD, and the quality of general programming is the envy of the world – hence their willingness to pay for it themselves.

Yet the BBC still seems to be in a bit of a mess – complaining of a lack of funds, and threatening cuts. Some of the cuts are sensible, moving out of London is a good move – saves them about 10k per employee in staff alone, let alone office space! They’ve stopped paying for movies – except in special occasions, when the public demands them (Christmas, and Ben Hur at Easter I guess).

They don’t bother paying a great deal for football, and on a personal note – I’m glad they have what they do have, as I’m the sort of footy fan who will watch it if its on, but not want to pay a fortune for games of which I have little interest. Some of their staff are on enormous salaries – Jonathon Ross, Chris Moyles, Terry Wogan to name a few – but they’ll be included in my big plans later. Some programmes cost a fortune to import, and much as I love Heroes – I don’t think the BBC should be paying 400k an episode or whatever it was…

How to fix the BBC:

1 – Sell Radio 1 and Radio 2. Both would be viable businesses, and any advertiser would love to get their message across to them, and pay top dollar for the opportunity. In addition – the BBC should use its power and size in this respect to refuse to pay artists for playing their records – it should be the other way round. It would not surprise me to find this already happens – there can be no other reason for Radio 1 playing “the Feeling” 19 times a day.

2 – Bring our correspondents home. The latest News promotions on the BBC are selling the fact that they have about 30 people permanently stationed around the world ready to bring the stories when they happen. Fantastic - but what about the 364 days a year when Indonesia isn’t being bombed? What is this poor girl with the mic and the suit doing there the rest of the time? Not to mention the camera man, director, and goodness knows who else… how about we just pay whoever happens to be out there for a local news company for their report – as and when we need it? Alan Johnson would never have been kidnapped if he’d been standing in front of a TV screen in a Bristol studio, watching Reuters’ footage of men with AK47s telling us about it from the safety of the UK. I’ll agree that a conference call isn’t as good as a face to face meeting, but it is certainly cheaper, easier, and hey – we have the technology.

2a – Shut down news 24. What does this give us that Sky News and ITN’s 24 hour news doesn’t give us. Why do we even need 24 hour news anyway? I’ll admit a lot happens round the world, but why not just repeat the one o’clock news (on the red button) until the 6 o’clock news kicks in and we get an update. If anything massive happens (Royal deaths, war declared, prime minister caught in cupboard with chancellor) they’ll switch off BBC1 and put it on there anyway! Remember when George Best was dying? He took about a week to go, but there wasn’t anything else happening (other than civil war in Africa, gun crime in America, drug running in south America I could go on…) so we had a whole week of “George Best is dying” followed by “George Best is still dying” and “George Best is at death’s door” so when they finally added the second date to his name it was a relief that the tedium was over!

3 – Sell Eastenders. Just palm it off to the highest bidder out of ITV, channel 4 and channel 5. They won’t put it on sky, ‘cos that would be depriving the poor of their fix of people with worse lives than theirs, but there is a fortune to be made, and it isn’t surely in the BBC’s remit to keep top rated shows. Sell it on, and use the cash and the airtime to do something educational or entertaining. Like it says in their “purpose”. It’s worked with Neighbours – no-one misses out, BBC saves cash.

4 – While we are there – sell anything that gets popular. Dr Who, Top Gear, Robin “bloody stick it in the sheriff’s neck and deal with it” Hood, could be made to the high standards of the beeb and by the beeb – then sold at a profit every time. Same with shows like Jonathan Ross. I’ll watch them - adverts or no adverts, or even better – tape them and fast forward through the adverts like everyone else does.

5 – Start charging for non TV/radio output. I love going to the recordings of Radio shows, - I saw (heared?) Arabella Weir interview Paul Whitehouse a while ago. Yes – I’ll be doing them a favour by helping out with their laughter track, but I’ll be the winner, as I’ll get the equivalent of a £10 comedy show for nothing. Charge a fiver a time, and you are sorted. I’ll still go, they’ll make cash. They don’t seem to do competitions any more, so why not sell tickets to the intimate Red Hot Chilli Peppers gig in Maida Vaile? Oh – because I already privatised Radio 1 earlier.

6 – Put adverts on BBC3 and BBC4. They’ve given us these channels out of the goodness of their hearts have they? They must be mad. Get them paid for. Same programmes – same proofing ground for new talent and ideas, and more money for paying for those ideas.

So there you have it. A simple solution – and I didn’t even have to cut jobs, relocate families (except the ones living in Columbia, who might appreciate it), or prevent any of the fine programming being unavailable to anyone with a TV set and a radio, for nothing.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Ash - 1977 - Live at the Roundhouse.

I’m about 8.

I like Adam and the Ants. A babysitter brings her make up box, and for about 15 minutes before bed, I am Adam. Lipstick stripes on my cheek and everything.

I'm about 16.

I was very late getting into music. by this time, I have about 5 tapes, Kylie, Bros, Michael Jackson, and Hits 8 or some such compilation (it counts as 2) and a couple of 7inch singles. One of them is Alice Cooper's "Poison". Another is my dads, so doesn't count. I know my friends at school are into music, but I don't bother to ask them about it. I know Alf like Genesis (he's a drummer) and I remember Andy has all sorts of things written on his rucksack about Ned’s atomic dustbin, the levellers and EMF.

Music for me at this time is what I hear on top of the pops, recording the charts (being careful to press pause before the talking starts) and reading the reviews (but still not bothering to seek out the music deliberately) on teletext.
CDs are something other people can afford.

I'm 17.

Two of the girls seem devastated at the news that Kurt is dead. I have no idea who Kurt is. Even when I find out, I am mystified as to why it matters. They are in tears. Probably about 2 weeks later I get Nevermind (I’ve graduated to CD) and it becomes my angry music (replacing the aforementioned Alice cooper). I somehow get into Extreme, driving my girlfriend to my first proper gig (in Hammersmith) and falling asleep in a little chef car park on the way back, because falling asleep while driving is not a good way to keep a girlfriend. Living in rural Dorset, the choice of places to go to concerts was limited. My parents would point out that they took Martyn and I to see Status Quo prior to this, but that was their gig. (I still loved it though).

I'm 17 and a half.

It is the height of the Blur/Oasis battle of Britpop, and I'm throwing the same girlfriend out of the front of a moshpit at blur's showbar gig, while the crowd go worryingly wild to Girls and Boys. (This gig gets top billing in Alex James' autobiography as his homecoming gig. it is an "I was there" moment for me.)

I’m 18

Getting into music properly now. Plenty of Britpop, a bit of techno, Orbital, The Prodigy. I take photos at the Prodigy’s gig in Bournemouth. Fat of the Land tour – they are at the top of their game, and I touch Maxim Reality’s sweaty back.

I'm 18 and a half.

Young enough and old enough for the half to be important. I'm working a summer job at Salisbury hospital doing gardening. Not the last time I did manual labour for money, but the only time I stuck it our for more than a morning before walking out for my lunch break and never coming back (call me a snob, but people with degrees in Biochemistry should not be stacking shelves in Tesco. I think the fact that I earn 5 times what I was getting then by sitting on my butt all day shows who was right about that one). I have a walkman (remember them?) Think an iPod with only enough room for one album on it, and there was about a one in 10 chance that it would destroy its own music collection without warning if your pinch roller was a bit sticky.

My walkman is special though. No - not special like the poor souls who shuffled about in the bit of the hospital I was working in. the bit where I felt slightly uneasy when one of the crocodile of patients recognised me, called me by my name, and I later realised I'd worked with him the last summer, selling furniture at the Game Fair. "What happened to you?" I naively asked. "Oh, you know" he muttered. I didn't know. I still can't remember his name.

My walkman has a radio. CDs are something other people can afford. I listen to Radio 1. Simon Mayo has done the golden hour (always featuring Arrested Development - was he on their payroll?) and the daytime show is starting.

Guitars. Drums. It may well have been Jo Wiley introducing Ash, and she mentions that their album is out soon, called 1977 as that is when they were born, they are about to learn their A level results. So am I.

Girl From Mars belts onto my headphones. The sun is shining, I’m sitting on a wall, clipping a bush with secateurs, and a band made up of kids like me (or so I wished) are on the radio, singing about the girl they knew and still think of (ringing any bells – see my previous entries!) I’d been playing guitar for a while, I’d sung songs I’d written myself with Alf on drums, but these guys were doing it, and doing it well.

Girl From Mars got heavy rotation, and it was a massive boost to my day when it came on the radio. Looking at the chart of the year for `1995, it is dominated by Robson and Jerome, Celine Dion, Take That, Simply Red and Michael Jackson. Blur are there at 10, with Country House, but hearing a good song maybe twice a day on radio 1 was worth it, and Girl From Mars became the anthem of my Summer.

On arrival at university, I found myself in a house with 4 blokes of my age, who mostly (apart from Chris, and his continuous rotation of Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”) had great taste in music. I also found myself with a bit of money (I was one of the last recipients of the Student Grant, and the parents were good to me too), and Ash’s 1977 album – on tape (£4.50 on the day of release! Awesome!) Had to be done.

When you are young, and you’re music collection fits on a single shelf, you get to know it intimately. I can still sing Michael Jackson’s Bad in its entirety all the way through – every word and “hee heeee!!!” Extreme’s Pornograffiti visits once in a while like an old friend. Ash’s 1977 was similar, although not on such heavy playback, but the chance to hear them play it in full, 12 years later, had to be done.

Back to a 3 piece, after losing their 2nd guitarist, Ash’s last album didn’t do well. Put it this way, Lisa and I have all their albums, except that one. Free All Angels was probably the last album we bought 2 copies of, unsure at the time of our level of commitment. However – last Friday night, they were rejuvenated, as was the whole of the Roundhouse. We may all be 30(ish) now, but there is nothing like seeing your favourite band of your teenage years, playing their best album, like it was 1995 all over again.

I’m old enough to want to sit down for a gig these days, and Lisa is short enough to want to see too, so the balcony at the venue suits us fine, but if I could have swapped places with anyone in the seething mass of sweaty bodies below us, feeling and acting 13 years younger, 13 years more care free, and 13 years more happy to sit for 45 minutes on the Northern Line, stinking of BO and spilled beer, I would have done like a shot. Then I’d have worried about the wife getting elbowed in the head, and it wouldn’t have been such fun. Some responsibilities never change.

Oh – and they had Stormtroopers too. Cool.