Sunday, 24 April 2011

Plus... Tubular... Bells (Made From Cardboard Rolls And 'Double-Sided Sticky Tape')

So, track three of Music From BBC Children's Programmes. The Blue Peter theme. And the original orchestral pre-Mike Oldfield one at that. Much as we might prefer to avoid it, and may have spent the previous two posts trying to find ways of doing just that, it's there on the album and is a hurdle that has to be overcome if we want to get to The Electric Kool-Aid (Made By Windy Miller's Cider Press) Acid Test, so let's just get it out of the way and move on.

The Blue Peter theme, as you may already know, is a jaunty re-arrangement of Barnacle Bill, written by Ashworth Hope and definitely not to be confused with the rather off-colour traditional sea shanty of the same name. And similarly not to be confused with the closing theme Drum And Fife, which is apparently an entirely different tune despite sounding almost identical. This version, as used onscreen from 1958 to 1979, was performed by the New Century Orchestra conducted by Sidney Torch, perhaps better known as creator and mainstay of Radio 2's Friday Night Is Music Night. And, well, it sounds pretty much as you remember it, from the opening drum roll to the shrill sign-off. It's jolly but formal strings and woodwind all the way, and as it had its origins in the world of 'proper' orchestral composition, there isn't even a hastily-written weird-out 'middle bit' to enjoy. No, it's just more of the same with occasional variations in conducting emphasis, the only real 'moment' coming with an unexpected oboe 'breakdown' that sounds as if it more rightly belongs behind an early Disney character falling over.

It's nice enough as far as it goes (and later sounded great on CD, but that's another story), and it would be a brave person who suggested that it was anything less than a pleasant and jaunty light orchestral piece, but it just doesn't belong on Music From BBC Children's Programmes. Well, actually, in a literal sense it probably has more claim to be on there than any of the other inclusions. But in a more esoteric and hypothetical sense it's a real fish out of water, redolent of an earlier age of ration books and Calling All Workers and whistling postmen and, well, children's TV of the late fifties (and let's be honest, Blue Peter had done little in the way of modernising since then). Musically and indeed aesthetically it has little in common with the two preceding tracks, nor indeed what else might potentially be found later on in the tracklisting.

Crucially, had this album come out only a couple of years later, it would have featured Mike Oldfield's far more pleasing progged-up Korgtastic rendition, squealing lead guitar and all. Or if it had been Music From ITV Children's Programmes (and oh for such an album to have existed), it would have boasted The Spencer Davis Group's pseudonymous swirly-Hammond Mod-dancefloor-friendly theme song from Magpie. But no, the original Blue Peter theme it had to be, looming up like that weird post-credits zoom in on the Blue Peter boat to remind us that we couldn't have it our own way all the time, and as long as a Reithian pulse was still detectable in the BBC they'd make sure we got our healthy regular dose of improving programming to balance out all that mind-bending stuff about violin-playing robots. Still, it could have been worse. At least it wasn't the brass band rendition of On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at that bookended outward bound Blue Peter spinoff Go With Noakes.

We came looking for something akin to The Walham Green East Wapping Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association appearing on Cheggers Plays Pop. We left, as ever, under the disapproving gaze of those clean-cut youngsters who didn't like that uncouth pop and roll music but knew everything there was to know about getting up at six in the morning to do their bugle practice, recite the Kings and Queens of England in both chronological and dynastic order, and then get to work on the latest Blue Peter 'make'. The effect was somewhat like finding Edwelweiss by Vince Hill in the middle of side one of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (the exact opposite effect, amusingly, to finding (Bring Me) Edelweiss by Edelweiss in the middle of side one of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn), and as we shall find out, this fading of the psychedelic dream would get worse before it would get better.

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