Friday, May 17, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll Britannia

British rock and roll was a facsimile of American music. Not the real thing but a pale imitation. Jazz artists were trying their best to copy what was happening in the States, and not quite getting it. Early artists such as Tony Crombie and Tommy Steele didn't cut it. Lonnie Donegan had his skiffle, which was fine in its way, but it wasn't rock and roll. The BBC wouldn't play American popular music. The first TV show 6.5 Special was tame.
It was only when Cliff Richard recorded Move It that UK rock and roll began to make some progress. There was more progress with Marty Wilde and, particularly, Billy Fury and then Johnny Kidd. Larry Parnes owned most of the UK artists, including Billy and Marty, but also Vince Eager, Johnny Gentle and Joe Brown. But that was it, until the Beatles and Stones arrived in 1962/3.
This was the verdict of tonight's BBC4's Rock 'n' Roll Britannia, and it was hard to argue with this excellently researched programme. There were plenty of incisive interviews with the likes of Cliff, Marty, Joe, Vince, Bruce Welch, Brian Locking, Clem Cattini, even Cherry Wainer, and some early footage of the Southlanders. Also interviews with members of the Quarrymen (who cares?). There was some footage of Vince Eager at the 2Is show at the Borderline in January, with brief clips of one or two Woodies, including Lee Wilkinson.
Overall, it was a good review of Britain's attempt to take up American rock and roll and the influence of Bill Haley, Elvis, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. Admittedly there were some errors, such as footage from the wrong era and records being played on the wrong labels. But I thought it covered the essential issues. This was a primitive era, with little access to the artists because of the Musicians' Union ban on visiting acts, or the records (other than via Radio Luxembourg). Even Fender guitars were unobtainable.
I first became aware of the music in the late fifties and I knew even then that I was being deprived of the real thing. I loved Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Elvis and other US greats, but it was difficult to hear them, never mind some of the more obscure, and equally brilliant, American artists of the time. Rock and roll was regarded as a passing fad, but we knew that wasn't the case: this was what pop music was all about. It was then and it still is now.


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