24/04/2019

Top of the Pops 19 Apr 1984


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Singers: "Freeeee, Nelson Mandela. Freeeee. Freeeee. Free, free, free Nelson Mandeeeeelaa." Peter Powell: "Hi and welcome to a live transmission of Top of the Pops! It's absolutely packed! We've got Queen and also Thompson Twins!" Gary Davies: "We've got Blancmange and err [waves hand] we've got Nick Kershaw. We've got great music. Stick around. First though, to get us under way, the err Special AKA."

Top of the Pops time slip: Last time on BBC4 it was 29th March. Suddenly it's 19th April. What happened? The strike by Scenic Services workers came to a head on 4th April after 12 weeks of disruption. The BBC's policy had been to keep live programmes going and accept disruption to recorded ones, which might account for the escalation of live editions of Top of the Pops since the move to the smaller emergency strike studio; four out of six shows This policy changed at the start of April when striking workers were sacked and staff at Television Centre walked out in sympathy. BBC1 went off the air for 24 hours on Thursday 5th April but the union did not have the resources for a prolonged strike and the dispute came quickly to an end. BBC4 skipped Top of the Pops' triumphant return to its ancestral seat (studio TC8) for more prosaic reasons (D*v* L** Tr*v*s) and suddenly it's Maundy Thursday 1984.




[29] The Special AKA: Free Nelson Mandela. The cut from the opening titles to The Special AKA singers is surprisingly jarring. I'm so used to the standard format that it seems wrong when the hosts don't immediately appear. It's a sad reflection of recent history that I assumed the whole opening was removed in order to allow this episode to be broadcast on BBC4. Actually it's just that the introduction to Free Nelson Mandela is structured in a way that allows Michael Hurll to play around a bit. Although Gary Davies appears thrown by the pressure of welcoming viewers to the show before the song starts.

Now Top of the Pops is back in a bigger studio all the bits of set have been put back in the right place. Unfortunately there's no room for the big colour projector so, in a step backwards, we get the return of the black and white Eidophor screen.

I'm a little surprised that such an overtly political song doesn't seem to have been the subject of any controversy, we're only 12 weeks out from the banning of Relax, but that seems to represent the wider contemporary view at the time that releasing Nelson Mandela and ending apartheid were just matters of common sense*. Unsurprisingly the song was banned in South Africa.

[2] Thompson Twins: You Take Me Up. On video: in a quarry with heavy machinery. I'm not sure about the line "I know what it means to work hard on machines/It's a labour of love." It sounds like Thompson Twins are trying to chat up the Cyberleader from Doctor Who.

[15] Blancmange: Don’t Tell Me. The real story is going on behind the band. Stage right, as the song starts, is a man who is keeps hopping on and off the rostrum leading into the scaffolding behind Blancmange. He appears to be talking to a woman and judging by his body language he's trying to persuade her to move a bit further into the area behind the band (mind you at one point he bends over double and seems to be looking at the floor, so maybe she's just told him he's dropped some money). The man is dancing too unselfconsciously to be a member of the audience, so presumably he's one of the cheerleaders. He's got something written on the front and back of his jumper; digital analysis reveals it to be the gnomic sentence "Flesh and Steel 84". Any ideas? It seems unlikely to be a reference to the Flying Lizards 1984 b-side to Sex Machine.

[5] Queen: I Want To Break Free. The video.

[26] The Bluebells: I'm Falling. The Bluebells look a little lost on stage. There's only three of them and they're all crammed together on one side. In fact they're virtually standing in single file. The singer and the guitarist do such a good job of obscuring the drummer for the first 45 seconds of the song that you could believe they were a duo. Finally, the drummer stands up in a desperate attempt to be seen. It's too late mate, you kept looking away from the camera when you got nice close-ups. Standing up won't help.

[25] Nik Kershaw: Dancing Girls. Back in 2014 Nik Kershaw revealed (to use newspaper speak) to the Daily Telegraph that four of his songs had made him millions. You won't be surprised to discover that this isn't one of the four he named. There's no point in bringing on the dancing girls if you're playing them this synthesised cacophony.

[19] OMD: Locomotion. "Everybody's doing a brand-new dance now." Disappointingly this isn't a cover version of the 1962 Little Eva smash. That's called The Loco-Motion, the hyphen is vital. Towards the end of the song Andy McCluskey manages to dislodge the microphone with his nose and it tumbles into the audience. He tosses the now unnecessary stand to one side and finishes the song like a pro.

[1] Lionel Richie: Hello. Peter Powell has got Gary Davies a present for Easter. "A real Easter bunny!" The resulting fake-snogging is the sort of thing people point at 35 years later. Channel 4, I'm available to shriek and shake my head in mock horror the next time you're doing a series of It Was Alright in the 1980s. There's a song from Words and Pictures called Magic E which makes it sound like they're singing about drugs! I can't believe your researchers missed it!

[11] Kool & The Gang: (When You Say You Love Somebody) In The Heart. Gary Davies is operating a catch and release policy. His Easter Bunny can be seen walking towards the front of stage in the wide shots. Peter Powell quickly disappears backstage but Gary Davies isn't clear on the protocol for live shows so he's visible, bopping uncomfortably in front of the Top of the Pops neon logo until the fade to black.

Performance of the Week: This is where things get complicated. For the 19/03/1984 edition it was The Special AKA, with the Thompson Twins a close second. This week, The Special AKA are again clearly the best band in the studio so by the power vested in me by God and man I'm retrospectively changing my mind.

Performance of the Week 29/03/1984: Thompson Twins: You Take Me Up.

Performance of the Week 19/04/1984: The Special AKA: Free Nelson Mandela

*A blog about Top of the Pops isn't really the place to go into the subject but there are several interesting articles on the internet about Margaret Thatcher's opposition to apartheid. Yes, she rejected placing economic sanctions on South Africa but she also wrote to President PW Botha "I continue to believe, as I have said to you before, that the release of Nelson Mandela would have more impact than almost any single action you could undertake." https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/10/margaret-thatcher-apartheid-mandela  In summary then: people are complicated.




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