First Old Grey Whistle Test
The 21st of September 1971 AD
The differences with Top of the Pops couldn’t have been more obvious: no dancing audience; no poorly rehearsed miming; and no appallingly unfunny funny links: Old Grey Whistle Test hit the British airwaves on BBC2 on September 21 1971, though given the line-up it was with more of a whimper than a bang. Appearances by US band America and Teeside’s favourite singer-songwriter Lesley Duncan didn’t immediately say ‘rock institution.’
Rather than Whispering Bob Harris, forever (in some minds) associated with Whistle Test, the first show had Richard Williams of Melody Maker presenting, a thoughtful student of rock and over the years a wonderful writer on that topic and others. But elements that made the programme stand out and stick in the memory were there: the bare studio, with set-backs as the background to the acts; the Star-kicker logo; and the harmonica-based Stone Fox Chase by Area Code 615 as the theme music.
Before the programme’s run ended everyone who was anyone in rock, and many who would have liked to be so, appeared on the show: Roxy Music panned by Harris; Elton John ; Led Zeppelin; John Martyn; The Faces; Yes; Al Stewart... It was a breath of fresh air, intelligent, varied and, thanks to the clever use of ancient cartoons, visually as well as aurally entertaining.
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