In this age of YouTube, Deluxe Edition reissues with bonus DVDs, and endless round-the-clock repeats of Top Of The Pops 2, it's difficult to convey just how exciting BBC's Sounds Of The Sixties seemed back in 1991. Running for ten editions - at a time when it was hard enough to get into and indeed in many cases simply get hold of sixties music in the first place, let alone any TV performances by any artists (including the really big ones) - it took a thematically-arranged look back through the archives at the BBC's most interesting pop music performances of that over-eulogised yet also under-eulogised decade, from polite black and white pre-Beatle rinky-dink crooning to the proggers and folkies blasting off to the centre of the mind in golorious Technicolour. Technically, in fact, it took a look back at the most interesting pop music performances that were actually left in the BBC's archives; inevitably, out of the countless thousands of hours of pop, folk and everything else that found its way onto the small screen between 1960 and 1969, very little had survived from a time when TV was seen to have an even shorter shelf life than pop music, and despite the series producer David Jeffcock lamenting to Vox Magazine at the time of broadcast that some bands such as The Troggs had simply vanished from the Film And Videotape Library completely, it's still amazing that enough had made it through intact to make up ten half hours of such high musical quality, and indeed that so well represented both their era and their genre.
Better still, Sounds Of The Sixties didn't just stop at the pop performances, and also threw in stray bits of ancient continuity, interesting snippets from the surrounding shows, and clips from things like Dee Time and Play School just to give a flavour of the time; again, all of it material that you never really got the opportunity to see anywhere else in those days. And these were pretty exciting times to be giving a flavour of, especially if you had a keen interest in that there 'psychedelic' music that was all the rage later in the decade. As the chronologically advancing instalments went by, there were more and more tantalising hints of the gathering swirly purple-and-orange storm; Brian Jones discovering another planet in the middle of The Last Time, Bob Dylan doing moody and introspective in front of a big photo of some houses, Tim Buckley yodelling "Camber-amber-amberwick Greeeeen" through a cloud of dry ice, Julie Driscoll fixing the Top Of The Pops cameras with a spaced-out glittery stare, and The Move whipping up the audience with an energetic smash-and-grab performance of Fire Brigade. Oh and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick And Titch jabbering away in a nonsense invented language if you're not one of those prats who splits hairs about what's 'allowed' psychedelia. And when that storm finally hit, in the eighth edition - appropriately subtitled Hip To The Trip - it was like having your mind blown by an acid flashback a quarter of a century after the event.
So yes, it might be difficult to convey just how exciting - or indeed reality-transcending - Hip To The Trip was back in 1991, but in the mind-expanding spirit of the times we're going to be having a go anyway. So grab one pill that makes you larger, or, if raining, one pill that makes you small, as we feel inclined to blow your mind...
Following the opening titles and their actually quite imaginative use of feet walking backwards and forwards in constantly evolving sixties fashions (and, erm, a dog for some reason), it's straight over to the trusty old BBC 'watch strap' clock, and an announcer pausing for what seems like an absolute ice age before telling us that the time is almost eleven minutes past eleven, and that at approximately eleven forty two - ten minutes later than published in Radio Times - there's a chance to see recorded extracts from today's solemn opening of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool (which, coincidentally enough, a friend's father appeared in... but that's another story). But first... The Look Of The Week.
It's at this point that the screen fills up with a familiar face in extreme close-up, intently intoning 'ba-boomba tch-tchhhhhhh' into a microphone whilst the studio lights flash wildly in and out. As the camera pulls out, he's joined by an ominous organ tone and the rest of the now visible band making bird and jungle noises, and suddenly going absolutely full throttle on their assorted instruments for a good eight seconds before an almighty crash from a gong. You could be forgiven for not noticing the show's title scrolling across the front. "That sight, those sounds", as the reassuringly smug visage of presenter Robert Robinson informs us, "were made by The Pink Floyd, a pop group who took over Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday night, for the entertainment they called Games For May; of them more hereafter", all of it delivered in the same endearing tone of affected interest that he would adopt whenever the 'Extreme Close-Up Photo' round in Ask The Family featured such technologically dazzling devices as "a... video... re-corder, a device that allows you to record television programmes and watch them at some later time... whatever will they think of next!". The Large Hadron Particle Collider. That's what they thought of next, pal.
Anyway, yes, this is a very early appearance by 'The' Pink Floyd, giving unsuspecting listeners a quick top-of-the-show blast of Pow. R Toc. H, and what was really astonishing for unsuspecting viewers too young to remember the sixties was that the aforementioned extreme close-up face belonged to Syd Barrett, the enigmatic and reclusive original frontman and driving force behind the band, who famously walked away from the entire music scene at the end of the decade and never did anything public ever again. He was someone who at that point, even to obsessive fans of the band, was little more than a name and the odd artistically blurry photo on a handful of album covers, and yet here he was, moving, singing and playing as if we'd discovered some mental pathway into the past straight out of the lyrics of Chapter 24. But of him, of Pink Floyd, and indeed of The Look Of The Week itself, more hereafter. We've got a couple of other bands to get through first, whilst the combover-toting polymath back-announcing their micro-performance has an interview with Christopher Isherwood, whose new novel A Meeting By The River was due to be published at the end of the month, and a report on a retrospective exhibition of the work of Dame Laura Knight that was set to open at the Upper Grosvenor Galleries the following week. But are we going to see any of this?
Ah, would that we were. Instead, it's time for another familiar voice - albeit a more modest and indeed more nasal one - promising us "an assault on the senses, an LSD trip without drugs, flashing strobe lights, spermatazoic colour...". He may not have seen fit to add "the stupid moustache, the old fashioned glasses", but you've probably figured out by now anyway that this is none other than Alan Whicker, from when his benchmark-setting travelogue Whicker's World touched down in San Francisco in 1967 to see what all this crazy far-out mind-bending Summer Of Love was all about, and believe it or not, he's taking in a Grateful Dead concert as part of his research. Depending on which side of the Kaleidoscope UK/Kaleidoscope US side of the fence you're inclined to fall on, you could be forgiven for thinking that, while certainly a fascinating piece of archive footage, this is hardly going to be an interesting or exciting way in which to open this compilation. Well, not quite open, but you get the point.
To some, The Grateful Dead are the definitive example of how America got psychedelia wrong, with their twenty thousand year guitar solos, tedious 'on the bus or off the bus' posturing (it's hard to call it 'political' when it never seemed to involve any actual definable policies), questionable taste in... well, they seemed to be clothes, and endless songs about being hassled by 'the pigs' and/or by 'chicks' about 'bread', all of which seemed a million miles away from the imaginative speaker-rattling short sharp shocks of fuzz guitar and swirly organ that their fellow countrymen likes of 13th Floor Elevators and Chocolate Watchband had been snarling out only about eighteen months earlier, let alone the intricately-arranged mod-shirted folky jazzy rambles through Music Hall and Edward Lear that Traffic, The Small Faces and others were merrily indulging in over here. Plus they went on to do an horrendous mangling of the theme from The Twilight Zone, a piece of music that it should not be possible to ruin but which they somehow managed to render not so much der ner ner ner as aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
And yet, this footage is actually really, really good. Captured in sense-walloping technicolour on That Film, Jerry and his interchangable-looking chums hurtle through first album opener The Golden Road To Unlimited Devotion whilst their legendary light show flares blisteringly all over everyone's field of vision. Admittedly way too much of this is projected onto crash-zooms in on their gallery of inexcusable facial hair, but during the wild and mercifully brief guitar solo there's some astonishing footage of a strobe-lit hippychick dancing in the audience with a visibly expanded mind. There's even a couple of stray shots of the 'backroom boys' flipping sheets of cellophane in coloured water to create the jaw-dropping visuals. What's more - and quite astonishingly - this all takes place in a little under two minutes. Bet they kept it going for several hours when Alan wasn't around to keep an eye on them, though.
Then it's back into black and white and in what is rapidly becoming a running theme for this episode, there's yet another intrusion by a smartly-dressed establishment 'square'. Yes, it's classical composer Sir William Walton, brought onto the BBC's short-lived Future Pythons And Goodies-festooned youth magazine show Twice A Fortnight to discuss lord alone knows what, but shown here introducing an imminent performance by The Who, who in a neat coincidence were managed by his godson Kit Lambert. After a cringe-inducing 10-O'Clock-Live-gone-even-wronger moment when he's asked what he thinks of young persons' pop music and affects to give a bewildered down-with-the-kids answer that even Robert Robinson would have considered a tad insincere (which also involves singing a bit of a dreadful-sounding song on the grounds that it has the word 'who' in it), he's asked if he 'approves' of his godson's 'activities'. "Well I don't know what they are!", Sir William retorts to audience hysteria. It's... best to leave that there.
By now well into their equally short-lived psychedelic phase, with moptops and paisley neckerchieves to the fore, The Who thunder through controversial-for-the-wrong-reasons rumbling ode to long-distance possessiveness I Can See For Miles, courtesy of a series of quick-cutting shaky zoom close-ups which even Keith Moon can't keep pace with that bear the unmistakeable hallmarks of early rock directing genius Tony Palmer, and in front of a huge photographic blow-up of Charles De Gaulle because 'satire'. He won't be doing THAT again. Yet even despite the frequent Doctor Who And The Tomb Of The Cybermen-style offlocks that plague the visuals and a splurgy moment of self-varispeeding audio courtesy of the pretty knackered Telerecording that this edition presumably accidentally survives on, it's still easy to see what an exciting performance this was and just what a thrill it must have been to catch sight of one of those all-too-rare glimpses of pop music on TV during pop music's most exciting decade, especially when they were as energetically and imaginatively rendered as this.
Then, yes, you guessed it, it's straight over to yet another tweedy old stick, and one who courtesy of this unearthed footage is possibly more well-known now than he might well have ended up otherwise. Amongst many other broadcasting and journalistic gigs, ranging from serious intellectual discussions to football punditry, Hans Keller was the resident music critic on The Look Of The Week, which was to all intents and purposes a spin-off from BBC2's proto-Parsons nightly critical chinwag Late Night Line-Up, aimed at bringing 'the arts' to an audience that might not normally have noticed them tucked away there. As such, Keller usually got to verbally joust with classical musicians, theatre impresarios and heavyweight jazzers, with The Look Of The Week's interactions with the pop scene - barely regarded even as a part of the 'arts' at that point - rarely venturing beyond the odd bit of opinionating from rent-a-viewpoint Russell Brand of his day Mick Jagger. But this was a time when the more populist side of the arts and the more arty side of pop music were nudging ever closer together, and the production team responsible for The Look Of The Week had previously given airtime to all manner of cautiously critically-endorsed popsters and indeed were about to shoot a pilot for BBC2 which featured The Chambers Brothers threatening to make BBC Presentation Studio B disappear in on itself in a fuzz guitar-ravaged psychedelic blur. So when one of those artier outfits took over a noted classical venue for an event that was supposed to get the audience to listen rather than dance, it was inevitable that they would end up covering it in some way.
In amongst said audience at said mixed-media performance, attempting to listen to an early version of something called The Bicycle Song whilst being bombarded with bubbles and daffodils, was Hans Keller, and he wasn't quite what you'd call impressed. Holding a cigarette aloft he presages their appearance on the show thusly:
“The Pink Floyd – you’re going to hear them in a minute and I do not want to prejudice you. Hear them and see them first and we’ll talk about them afterwards but four quick points I want to make before you hear them. The first is that what you heard at the beginning, that short bit, those few seconds, are really all I can hear in them, which is to say to my mind, there is continuous repetition and proportionally they are a bit boring. My second point is that they are terribly loud. You couldn’t quite hear because, of course, it isn’t as loud from your sets as it is here in the studio or as it was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday" - "I will ask them about that when we come to talk" he adds as if asking them if they'd mind stepping outside for a moment - "my third point is that perhaps I am a little bit too much of a musician to appreciate them. And the reason why that – why I say that – is that four, they have an audience, and people who have an audience ought to be heard. Perhaps it is my fault that I don’t appreciate them”.
And with a tilt of his head in the direction of the other end of the studio, it's over to some blobby amorphous light patterns and a spaceman voice intoning obscure intergalactic facts, and Pink Floyd delivering an astonishing performance of celestial travelogue Astonomy Domine, then still some months from making its first public appearance on their debut album; to early fans of the band, this must have been as exciting as the likes of Blur, Suede and The Stone Roses giving an airing to 'new' tunes on The Look Of The Week's late-night cultural progeny was by the time this showed up again on Sounds Of The Sixties. It's also the best surviving indication of what the original line-up sounded like live, the most accurate record of their famed but ephemeral light show (and yes, Barrett is playing his mirror-disc Telecaster, adding to the visual cacophony), and above all that it's simply a thrilling performance of a terrific song. And that's not all.
As they finish, Syd Barrett and Roger Waters politely set down their guitars and walk slowly over to some of those taller-sitting-down-than-standing-up stools as favoured by the likes of Bernard Levin, for a bit of a natter with Hans Keller. He opens by confrontationally asking them why it all has to be so 'terribly loud', pointing out that he 'grew up with the string quartet' and as a consequence finds this kind of volume unbearable. Waters and Barrett - both visibly cracking up - can only meekly offer that they like it that way, that they didn't grow up with the string quartet, and that it doesn't sound terribly loud to them, with Keller obliterating the latter two arguments but accepting that they see it as important to their art; often mistaken for a bit of stuffy pomposity, this is actually the prelude to a much longer interview in which the waspish and mischevious Keller - the nearest thing that the high arts ever had to a loose cannon, and whose notorious antics included broadcasting a fake documentary about a fictitious composer to see who fell for it and refusing to appear on 'daytime music station' Radio 3 - expresses some considerable sympathy for their attempts to present pop music in a more considered format, not least when he hears about the hostility that they have encountered from both dancehall audiences and broadsheet columnists. If you want to know more about that, and the background to the show in general, there's a huge piece about it in my book Well At Least It's Free. What's more astonishing still is that, for the first few years of their career at least, this appearance was about as highbrow and arty as the reclusive seventies high-concept stadium-fillers got. There was no such thing as 'rock' music at that point, and like everyone else making records from Craig Douglas to The Waltham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association, Pink Floyd spent much of their time trudging around Children's TV and Light Entertainment shows in the hope of drumming up a few extra sales. Much of it long since wiped, so we should be grateful that The Look Of The Week was seen as that bit more 'prestigious'.
So, is there anything worth saying about this fairly straightforward TV performance of the overextended song? Well, it comes from an edition of How It Is, the BBC's countercultural chat show oddity presented by the unlikely triumvirate of Richard Neville, Angela Huth and John Peel with music from chunky-jumpered shouters about spitting in a cup or something The Spinners, which miraculously appears to have survived on its original videotape... oh, you mean about the actual performance? Do we have to? Oh alright then, if you insist. There's a lot of 'earnest' face-pulling and some pretend 'exhaustion' at the end, but none of it really goes anywhere, and despite using the exact same Tony Palmer-helmed visual template as The Who only twelve months previously (albeit with less Charles De Gaulle), and despite the band and indeed Ol' Painty Can Cocker himself certainly displaying an impressive degree of musical muscle, it just doesn't seem to have any of the excitement. This, really, was the moment where 'rock' parted ways from 'pop'.
Thankfully, we're parting ways with Joe and The Grease Band there too, courtesy of an hilariously primitive-looking BBC Globe and one of Ronnie Hazelhurst's very much of-their-time B-B-C! stings, and yet another well-tailored well-spoken chap is on hand to amplify those far-out psychedelic vibes. This is Broadway's own Leonard Bernstein, apparently having loaned his hair from Humpty from Play School, and he's appearing on television to respond to claims that he attempted to prevent a cover of one of his West Side Story show-stoppers from being released in America, in a version which he reportedly felt had been turned into 'an anti-American dirge'. "The Nice, you say? I haven't heard of them", he offers with the same level of confidently affable deniability that had us all resting assured that Rupert Murdoch really did know nothing about any morally dubious journalistic practices within his organisation and there were no further questions to be asked.
In fairness, even an outspoken social progressive like Bernstein would have had problems with allowing one of his compositions - and a sarcastically trampled-over furious instrumental reading of it at that - to be associated with the sort of wild proto-Pranksterist japery that The Nice had got up to in the name of promoting their contentious pop waxing. No adherents of the American Dream, the band had promoted the single's release with adverts featuring portraits of the freshly-assassinated Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, whilst madcap keyboard player Keith Emerson had taken to interspersing his energetic runs up and down the ivories with displays of stars'n'stripes-burning and demonstrations of natty knife-throwing skills in the direction of images of 'Uncle Sam'. It's also not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that the ever-astute Andrew Loog Oldham might have at the very least exaggerated the situation with the aim of getting a bit of press coverage for and sympathy towards his charges, but who knows on that score.
Happily, all of this musical and sociocultural two-fingeredness, knife-hurlage and all, was captured for the ages in another performance on How It Is, which even more surprisingly also seems to survive on the original videotape. Aside from the somewhat side-letting-down fact that the closing monologue has to be impact-lackingly delivered by one of the band rather than by P.P. Arnold's son (this would have gone out way past his bedtime, after all), this is a dynamic performance by a band who seem determined to continually leap into every last millimetre of space on the makeshift stage; indeed, at one point Emerson elects to use his Hammond Organ as a vaulting horse, producing a thrilling Quark Goes Berserk And Explodes-style judder that gives some credence to the stories that many leading music stores refused to service his Hammond due to general aghastness at his ungentlemanly treatment of it. And what's more, all of this is yet again rendered in glorious Palmer-O-Vision, producing an effect that would likely have left the average viewer feeling seasick. As they reach their frantic and furious conclusion behind the show's closing caption, it's hard not to feel some sort of yearning for the days when something like this would literally have been the very last bit of television of the day.
Then there's a bit more of Sir William, telling us all that popular beat music is jolly good in his opinion and let's have more of it please hurrah, then getting embarrassed when the hippy-heavy audience cross-leggedly applaud him, before one last bit of videotape, which was famously - or at least famously to those who know about these things - illicitly saved by a BBC engineer who just couldn't bring himself to destroy it. This is half of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's infamous appearance on Happening For Lulu - the second, where they played about twelve seconds of Hey Joe before going off-script with an impromptu free-form take on Sunshine Of Your Love, throwing the producer's timesheet and the host's presentational links into disarray, would appear two weeks later in the final edition of Sounds Of The Sixties - wherein the trio give a robust rendition of Voodoo Child (Slight Return). Like with Pink Floyd, it's difficult these days to comprehend that Hendrix - more normally sighted in his later 'being less interesting at festivals' phase - once did the rounds of TV and radio (seriously, the amount of sessions he recorded for Radio 1 alone is astonishing) like any other pop hopeful, and this is something that it's even harder still to comprehend when you hear this overpowering blast of elastic white noise with a bit of singing over the top issuing from a sparse and doubtless sparsely-equipped Light Entertainment studio setup. What's more, his cheeky grin to camera makes you realise that the line "I didn't mean to take up all your sweet time, I'll get right back one of the days" was actually intended as a joke about the extended soloing that preceded it. Who knows how many other similar musical gags from supposedly earnest and humourless rockers have been lost to the ages through the loss of so many early television shows.
Then right at the end there's one last bit of Hans Keller, summing up Pink Floyd's efforts - and by association, those of anyone flying the same psychedelic flag, including all of the acts in this compilation - as "a little bit of a regression to childhood, but then again, why not?"; again much misunderstood, his comments basically both hone in on one of the musical movement's key artistic imperatives, and benignly suggest that it has its place, even if that place isn't anywhere near him and his peers in their suits and ties. More to the point, it is more or less the exact same as what the average rock critic invariably has to say on the subject. And as the end credits play out to Something In The Air by Thunderclap Newman, and a series of Now That's What I Call Music-esque Top Pop Facts about the artists combined with original pop-art design tickets for recordings of the likes of Braden's Week, It Strikes A Chord, Frost Over England, Roger Whittaker's Whistle Stop, Jazz At The Maltings and some no-me-neither thing called Ooh La La!, maybe it's worth reflecting for a second on the preponderance of tweedy intellectuals showing up between clips. In their own variously begrudging ways, they exemplify a moment when the intellectual great and good began to realise that, contrary to what everyone else outside its target audience was thinking, this pop music business was not going to go away, and was in fact permeating so far into everyday life that they should probably start thinking about redefining their analytical boundaries to allow it. From The Times' controversial nomination of Lennon and McCartney as Composers Of The Year onwards, those clever clogs types were the first to latch on to the idea of treating popular beat music as a valid art form in its own right and don't let any plank of a columnist tell you otherwise. And, anyway, if it hadn't have been for that early begrudging, none of this stuff would be around now to shoehorn into compilation shows. Simple as that.
Of course, since Sounds Of The Sixties first went out - I say 'first' because it regularly shows up on BBC4, albeit hamfistedly edited to remove any glimpses of since-discredited scrawny old bastards - a lot more of 'this stuff' has turned up, including one of Pink Floyd's Top Of The Pops appearances (though there's still no sign of the poor old Troggs). Nobody's seen fit to revisit the series with any of this newly-rediscovered material, though, as it would be a bit like trying to reinvent the wheel; by very nature of its wide and easy availability, it's impossible to make the same sort of impact with this material as you could back when most of it hadn't been seen since broadcast. As for Hip To The Trip itself, it's still a fascinating, and compellingly assembled, experience, though surprisingly less for its dazzling and disorientating visuals as for the now totally alien mechanics of how these shows were metaphorically and literally put together, all of them made to be shown once without a single thought that anyone might be even remotely interested half a century later. It's also an effective barometer of just how quickly things were changing in those days, and with the post-credits trailer pointing to a whole new universe of full colour performances by the likes of Frank Zappa and The Small Faces, and some of the earlier ones painting just as evocative a picture of their own particular corner of the decade, perhaps it might be worth taking another look at a few more of them...