I must admit to paying little, make that no, attention to Top of the Pops since it was removed from the air last year. Yet it still exists, sort of, as a kind of publicly-funded brand extension.
So why am I watching this recording of TOTP2? Well, it is mainly down to a press release received earlier in the week entitled ‘How Queer – Fire Engines on TOTP2.’ Yes, these Fire Engines – Henderson, Slade, Burn & Main – a short-lived band from Edinburgh circa 1980.They were never known to have unduly troubled the chart compilers (although the sales of ‘Big Gold Dream’ would have easily found them in the top 5 these days) and hardly TV regulars at the time. The footage came, apparently, from a long forgotten show called ‘Riverside.’
The context here is key. With the exception of the Kaiser Chiefs doing a spot of product placement for their new album in the studio and an Arctic Monkeys’ video, the nature of the show is one of faintly ridiculous nostalgia. It would appear that the BBC archives are not raided for the best performances (or perhaps they have used them all up) but for a ragtag of items that could not be more musically disconnected if they tried. Hence we have Genesis performing ‘Follow You, Follow Me’ with a relatively hirsute Phil overcompensating in the front man’s role since his elevation from the drum kit. It is damning with faint praise to hail this actually o.k. pop song as one of his finest ever works.
A glimpse of Elton John’s ‘Kiss The Bride’ recalls a period when Reg had hair, bad teeth, big glasses and was married. Those around in 83 may have been justified in thinking that his career was on its last legs. Unfortunately, Live Aid, Princess Di and a hair weave put paid to such optimistic predictions.
Yet even Elton is outdone in the nonsense stakes by Marillion. Fish, sports tartan trousers and a six-fister (official unit of measurement of the mullet) while using some hand scrawled lyrics on a flip chart, ‘Don’t Look Back’ style, in a vain attempt to convince us that ‘Lavender Blue’ is, in fact, poetry. A double-headed guitar only adds to the unintended comedy value.
If this is embedded in the eighties, then so is the incongruous clip of the Waterboys’ ‘Glastonbury Song.’ It is all superfluous backing vocals, big keyboards and Mike Scott in a red beret hiding surplus hair. Unfortunately, this would be vaguely forgivable (after all he has made some good records) if it were recorded in the said decade. It was 1993.
So in these surroundings Fire Engines, musically lean and physically (cod liver) oiled, are timeless and transcendent. They have been gigging occasionally in recent years and their limited back catalogue has been reactivated by Domino (in the first instance where the band own the rights) and presumably the highest bidder (in the other where they don’t). Their some-time label mates, Arctic Monkeys, have never looked so ordinary by comparison. Queer, indeed.