Queens of British Pop, Episode 1 / BBC1
Words Jeremy Allen
A pat on the back for Auntie for commissioning this enlightening and entertaining documentary series, especially when most music coverage on television at the moment is vapid, cashing in on an obsession with seeing lacklustre bands inadvertently promoting rubbish beer and mobile phones. The question goes begging, why so long? Historical music documentaries are almost bound by default to include the usual suspects – The Who, Stones, Hendrix, Beatles – and while two of that list are unavoidably mentioned in passing here, this one-hour film refreshingly focuses on seminal artists of the fairer sex.
During the introduction, narrator Liza Tarbuck asserts that, in recent times, men have lost their voice as the charts have become invaded by innovative and alluring filles. She almost suggests that the pop world has always been an exclusively male domain. Sure, the boys have dominated, but the idea that women have not been able to flourish in chart music is something of a myth, and revisionist in the extreme. Admittedly the road to success may have been strewn with more obstacles, but true geniuses like Dusty Springfield and Kate Bush inevitably surface to the top and always have done. Justifying a series because Amy Winehouse and Girls Aloud have recently sold a lot of records seems a weak excuse for the late arrival of such a celebration, but it’s here now, which is enough vindication in itself, and I’ll say no more about it.
I’d prefer not to be churlish about the choices made in Episode 1, because on the whole I thought they were excellent, though it did seem a shame that Siouxsie Sioux and Marianne Faithfull, whose stories are remarkable and interesting, were allotted the same space as Suzi Quatro. A token American adopted by a British svengali, Quatro was certainly big in the 1970s, but does the fact she was more than adequate playing Fonzie’s girlfriend in //Happy Days// equate the same significance as Kate Bush inventing ambient pop? Each story was told well, if fleetingly, and hopefully the artists will have a cataclysmic effect on the uninitiated watching, who can then seek out the music they were most turned onto.
The contributions made by talking heads were also hit and miss. Lulu tearfully remembering Dusty seemed gratuitous given that there was little context offered other than the fact Springfield was tortured. Mark Radcliffe came across like a slightly out of touch man who may have spent more hours masturbating over Sandie Shaw than listening to her. John Lydon’s childlike wonder when he talked about Kate Bush was unexpectedly delightful, however, and Kate’s brother John Carder Bush, a kind of Nordic overlord from another dimension, did little to enlighten, only amplifying her enigmatic character further. Which is exactly the sort of thing you want.
It’ll certainly be interesting to see how this series progresses and who will be featured, and whether or not today’s artists will stand up to the extraordinary standards set by the innovators in this first slice of a well-made, insightful piece.