Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Someone's Being Menaced By An Out-Of-Control Studio Campfire, My Lord, Kum Ba Yah

Well, the previous post has unintentionally inspired something of an online debate, with much 'trending' taking place over whether the closing theme of Blue Peter actually is titled Drum And Fife or not. Wikipedia says yes, 100% Mike Oldfield Super-Best Discography says no, and YouTube says 'blue peter drum and bass', which is hardly exactly helping matters. Can anyone provide the definitive answer? Answers, as ever, on a postcard. Though preferably to here and not to Blue Peter, BBC Television Centre, Wood Lane, London W12 7RJ.

What there can be no debate about, however, is the identity of the piece of music that the Blue Peter theme was bolted onto. As we have seen, it was customary for each track of Music From BBC Children's Programmes to be made up of several shorter tracks segued together. In the absence of Drum And Fife[CITATION NEEDED], which they presumably couldn't agree on the name of even at the time, and with Blue Peter presenters generally discouraged from following the bad example set by Magpie's Mick Robertson and his second division Glam Rock effort Roller Coaster Rock (not a 13th Floor Elevators cover, sadly), there was nothing obvious to pad Barnacle Bill out to track length with and so BBC Records And Tapes had to scour their archives for something tenuously suitable, eventually opting for a version of Kum Ba Yah credited to 'The Girl Guides'.

A bit of background is needed here. BBC Records And Tapes were an eccentric outfit at the best of times, but in their first couple of years of operation they apparently compiled their output by cutting up a copy of the Radio Times, throwing the pieces up in the air and picking the first five words that landed as the basis for an album title. Hence alongside the more expected fare like Jackanory story albums, Marty Feldman sketch collections and BBC Radiophonic Workshop shenanigans, you'd get the likes of Sir Peter Ustinov Says: How To See Jupiter Through A Telescope, Whither Paraguay? A Musical Journey In Speech and Sound Effects No. 874: Steam Train Buffet Cars Of Old Shropshire, none of which are quite as much of an exaggeration as you might be thinking. And yes, there was a Test Card album, but more on that later. Needless to say, they would pile any passing musical ensemble into a recording studio, and so it was that this non-location specific collection of 'Girl Guides', under the supervision of one Hettie Smith, came to record an album's worth of campfire standards (other intriguing-sounding numbers including Hol' Yo' Han', Mr Banjo, the unfortunate psych-alluding juxtaposition of The Brownie Song and Images And Reflections, and Tingalayo, better known to erstwhile viewers of the BBC schools' programme Music Time as that peculiar song about a donkey that eats with a knife and fork), released in 1971 as Singing Along With The Girl Guides with a disturbing cover depicting a terrifying mutant Guide.

And how did it end up on here? Well, presumably as part of the 'improving' remit, Blue Peter was always given to allowing members of the Guiding and Scouting movements to demonstrate their 'gang show' antics in the studio, most infamously resulting in a shower of Guides being menaced live on air by an out-of-control campfire (while, hilariously, singing If You're Happy And You Know It), so the link kind of writes itself. Sadly there's no crackling flame effect (from BBC Sound Effects No. 87663?) to enhance this performance, just a terminally dreary performance of a terminally dreary song, rendered in that 'ghostly' looming-from-out-of-nowhere style much beloved of The Cliff Adams Singers on Sing Something Simple.

Of course, there's a whole subgenre now devoted to the unexpectedly spooky and spectral folky Ghost Box-style sounds of the throwaway background music of yesteryear, which presumably accounts for the otherwise bafflingly inflated sums Singing Along With The Girl Guides now changes hands for. But spooky and spectral folky is not what we're looking for here, let alone jaunty orchestral nauticisms, and the time-honoured Greek Chorus that is Blue Peter has once again succeeded in intrusively disrupting an hallucinogenic vista that should be backward sitars and the shopkeeper from Mr Benn as far as the eye can see. But wait... is that the sound of the cavalry in the distance, galloping up on a 'Tricy-bus'???

No comments:

Post a Comment