It’s hardly controversial to point out that music TV is in a desperate state right now. Top Of The Pops and Popworld are never coming back. MTV despises music, and has long been the home of dreck like I Just Want My Pants Back.
Sure, the BBC have become adept at exploiting their phenomenal archive – BBC4 at the weekend is a thing of beardy wonder, though it’s weirdly obsessed with the ’70s – and music documentaries are enjoying a golden age, as evidenced recently by Queen: Days Of Our Lives and the I’m In A Boy/Girl Band series.
But all that stuff caters to the tastes of oldies. Where does new music get a look in? This isn’t just about live performance. There’s no mainstream TV outlet for music video either, so artists and directors are forced to turn to the web for exposure. Hence the explosion in wacky, bum-baring ‘NSFW’ videos, which are good for generating Facebook Likes, but not especially good for the long-term health of the medium.
All of which means that the music TV shows that do still exist are more important than ever. Sorry, did I say ‘shows’? I meant show. These days, Later… With Jools Holland is the last man standing. Its fortieth series kicked off last night, boasting a line-up including Paul Weller, The Maccabees, Willis Earl Beal, Blue Nile frontman Paul Buchanan, and “Brazilian sensation” Céu. And, hoo boy, what a white-knuckle thrill-ride it wasn’t.
This is a show in parlous need of a shake-up. The format is so well-worn it’s self-parodic. You always know what you’re going to get. Cult icon on the comeback trail? Check. Token indie band? Check. Random gamelan-playing troupe who let’s be honest no-one has heard of, or will ever hear of again? All present and correct – same time next week? And let’s not even start on the choogly-woogly jam sessions. Oh, Lord, the jam sessions.
Then there’s Jools himself, who’s these days less a master of ceremonies, more a sort of overly-solicitous Victorian butler, fussing round the edges of a formal dinner party. It’s a cliche to say he’s terrible at interviewing people… but come on. He’s been doing it long enough, and enough people have pointed out how agonisingly awkward it always is. Isn’t it time that portion of the show was just cut?
What Later needs is a willingness to experiment, a looser format (how about a behind-the-scenes ‘green room’ element, Jonathan Ross-style?), and an acknowledgement that music isn’t the sole preserve of Mojo-reading £50 man. It’s become the Downton Abbey of music TV, a dinosaur-ish anachronism, still good for whinging over post-pub while flicking through channels, but far from essential viewing.
I’m not saying it should be scrapped. What’s the alternative? A self-consciously youth-targeted show? You just know it would be presented by Reggie Yates, feature Skrillex and Rizzle Kicks, and make you want to chisel your eyes out of their sockets with embarrassment. No, Later… is an institution. It deserves a measure of respect. The highlights will provide BBC4 archive fodder for decades to come. But Christ is it set in its ways. Someone give it a blast of energy, please.