In an age where the BBC’s Later… with Jools Holland is essentially the sole television programme in the UK that promotes the best (and sometimes most obscure) live music, there’s a certain wistfulness for the better days of music shows. Think back to the halcyon days of the 1980s: if the history books are accurate, then you couldn’t channel-hop without landing on a terribly-choreographed performance on Top of the Pops or a beardy live performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test.
Jostling for elbow-room at the top of that particularly musical tree back then was The Tube, which first aired 33 years ago today on what was the then newly-launched Channel 4. Filmed in Newcastle and mostly presented by Paula Yates and Jools Holland (more on him later), the show was a hotbed for the best talent that the decade had to offer: that opening show, for instance, featured The Jam (in their last ever live TV appearance), an interview with Mick Jagger and a performance by local band Toy Dolls.
The Tube prided itself on offering an alternative and slightly-wacky take on the music of the day, but the roster of the bands and artists who played across its 131 episodes is hugely impressive. And so, with the help of our old friend YouTube, we’ve dusted off eight of its best moments for your visual pleasure.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood relax with Jools
The ‘Two Tribes’ five-piece owed a lot to The Tube – they recorded a typically-sordid video for ‘Relax’ in Liverpool’s State Ballroom at the request of the Channel 4 show, which effectively launched their career in the eyes of the stunned British public. They’d play the show a number of times after this first appearance, but it’s the post-video interview with Jools here that is the most glorious piece of viewing. Lead singer Holly Johnson points his (toy) gun at the presenter as he sidles into the view, leading the latter to awkwardly ask a grinning Johnson to “please don’t point that at me.” If only his sit-down interviews on Later… were still like this.
Mark E. Smith preaches the truth
There’s always great value in anything that The Fall’s frontman has to say, which makes this introductory interview prior to the Manchester band’s performance in 1983 an excellent watch. “The problem is bringing stuff out that is comprehensible to the public, which I think we always manage to do,” Smith deadpans. “I don’t have to add frilly bits to my lyrics; I think a lot of [other bands] are, to make it accessible. We’re coming from one end and they’re coming from another end. See, a lot of these groups are trying to be esoteric, experimental, and poppy – and they’re only doing it because there’s no jobs around, and all this business.” Hear, hear Mark.
Madonna mimes, audience looks awkward
The general premise of The Tube was that its artists performed live, but Madonna just wouldn’t play by the rules, would she? Delivering a wonderfully lip-synched version of ‘Holiday’ because, well, singing and completing a jerky dance routine is just a little too much to handle (right?), this clip is a fascinating visual time capsule of how Madonna presented herself in 1983. Additional trivia: this was filmed at the legendary Haçienda club in Manchester.
Iggy Pop is topless, doesn’t mime
Ah, Iggy: always shirtless and yelling, aren’t you? His typically-frenetic performance on The Tube in the show’s first year is particularly memorable for the singer’s ash-gray dye-job.
Bono’s mullet steals the show
U2 can credit The Tube with helping them break the UK – they played their first-ever Top 10 single ‘New Year’s Day’ on the show in 1983, as well as ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ – but of greater interest in viewing the clip today is Bono’s appearance. Were mullets ever cool? Additional trivia: The Edge isn’t wearing a bobble hat!
The Jam try not to let on that they hate all each other
As we’ve already mentioned, the ‘Town Called Malice’ trio played on The Tube‘s first ever show, delivering a barnstorming three-song performance that must’ve made quite an impression on curious viewers tuning in for the first time. But, little did many people know at the time, the band would split up the month after: five months previously, Paul Weller had called a band meeting where he informed drummer Rick Buckler and bassist Bruce Foxton that he’d be disbanding The Jam at the end of 1982. Buckler and Foxton have since gone on record to say how shocked they were at the news, so it’s interesting to watch this performance whilst trying to pick up on the visual clues of the obvious animosity and ill-feeling between the three bandmembers, reduced now simply to fulfilling their contractual and promotional obligations.
Thin Lizzy laugh off their imminent break-up
“Do you see this as a way of exploring new avenues?” asks the wild-haired presenter of Thin Lizzy’s possibly-inebriated Phil Lynott. “Yes… electric avenues. I’m Eddie Grant – if the taxman’s watching, I’m Eddie Grant!” he chuckles. It’s an awkward watch (how often do rockstars play by the general rules of conversation whilst on camera, eh?), and it’s therefore a huge relief when the band are back – or should that be The Boys Are Back – in their on-stage comfort zone, playing their biggest hit rather fantastically.
The Smiths bring down the curtain; Jools gets weird
So you know how Jools presents himself as the mostly-sensible curator of live music on British television – the edgiest he gets these days is when he’s had one too many Bristol Creams whilst filming his annual NYE show and ends up shouting “HOOTENANNY!” one too many times. Well, back in the late ’80s, Jools was actually a bit of a devious character on camera: some have blamed the demise of The Tube on an incident where the bluesman said “be there or be ungroovy, fuckers” during a live trailer for the show, which was of course broadcast well before the watershed. And so, doing the final ever link before The Smiths delivered a typically assured performance (look at how young Johnny Marr is!), Jools – looking a bit pissed, it has to be said – reveals, “There’s one thing that I’ve never done on camera before, and that is kiss a girl.” Shoot your gaze over to co-host Paula Yates, who basically replies: “I don’t want to do it.” But it’s too late – Jools’ tongue is already out. HOOTENANNY!