Ready, steady, ramble
The presenter wears cords; the camera stays still; the programme starts at 10pm. Martin Kelner on The White Room, Channel 4's mould-breaking pop show
Monday 06 March 1995
There will be no interesting crotch-level shots of bass guitarists, no sudden camera swoops into gangs of pre-pubescent groovers. Above all, wherever and whenever the weekend starts for pop fans, it is safe to assume that Saturday night at 10pm on Channel 4 is not it.
So how does the network expect to attract an audience to this mould-breaker? What might just swing it is the inspired choice as frontman of Radio One's Mark Radcliffe, who is no stranger to lost causes. One of Mark's first jobs on local radio in Manchester was presenting an indie music show, which was shunted off to summer Saturday afternoons when there was no soccer to fill the airwaves. "It was a unique combination of indie music and Lancashire cricket scores," says Mark. "A winning formula, I think you'll agree."
Now, with his late show on Radio One, Mark appears once more to be performing the improbable in luring to the network thirty- and fortysomethings and bright grammar school kids, for whom the charmlessness of some of Mark's colleagues, and the mere thought of Chris Evans's relentless cheerleading, would normally be an invitation to take their custom elsewhere.
What makes Mark's show unmissable is not just the juxtaposition of disparate items - "living legends and scruffy gets with guitars", as he says in the promo for The White Room - but the spurious train-spotter links he finds between them, a process he somehow manages to deconstruct while he is actually doing it.
One night Mark starts his show with "Let's Spend the Night Together" by the Rolling Stones followed by "Damaged Goods" by Gang of Four. "That's the 1978 debut from Gang of Four, formed at Leeds University," he says, "And in fact their early art work featured Leeds Town Hall which is where Queen started their first major tour supporting Mott the Hoople in 1973, the same year I went to see David Bowie at the Manchester Hard Rock and he kicked off the set with "Let's Spend the Night Together", which we started with tonight, which is about as tortuous a link as it's possible to compose... and, fascinatingly enough, the legendary Manchester Hard Rock venue is now the Old Trafford branch of B & Q, and there are times when you could swear the odd ghostly riff from Mick Ronson's guitar comes echoing from vinyl floor-coverings. You know, it's just past the mixer taps..." And so on.
All this is delivered at breakneck speed in a kind of Mancunian rant: "Of course, it was the height of glam, so the problem was deciding what to wear. I toyed with the idea of my mum's knee-length boots and my sister's fun-fur bomber jacket, I thought about my gran's Lurex cardigan and loads of make-up, but in the end I plumped for a pair of ill-fitting corduroys and a Shetland pullover, which strangely enough is pretty much what I'm wearing now. In fact it's pretty much all I've ever worn in my whole life - even in my school rock band. I came across a photo the other day and there were three blokes in bomber jackets, and me looking like I'd been mistakenly caught in the picture whilst collecting library fines."
Mark's self-confessed resemblance to a librarian should be perfect for a show aiming to strip the artifices of TV from the presentation of pop music. Malcolm Gerrie, editor of The White Room, also seems to have adopted the quirky music policy of Mark's radio show. The first programme includes Stevie Wonder and Skunk Anansie, described as anarchic squawkers.
As the producer of The Tube, Gerrie has a sharp eye for presenters. It is he who can probably be held responsible for inventing Paula Yates and Jools Holland, although, since his latest star has managed two years at Radio One without "getting into big shorts and asking for a big Cleethorpes cheer", there seems to be little immediate prospect of Mark's career path taking in an interview on the Big Breakfast bed with Tom Cruise.
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