"The whole industry is ready for a shake up": DiS meets music television mogul Malcolm Gerrie
As producer of Channel 4's groundbreaking arts show The Tube before revamping The Brits live coverage in its mid-nineties halcyon years, Malcolm Gerrie is a pivotal figure in music television.
Having started his working life as a school teacher in his native Sunderland, Gerrie's production of The Who's 'Tommy' raised his profile somewhat and after an aborted attempt at starting a regional music television programme in the north-east, it wasn't long before Channel 4 came along asking for his services. After five successful years producing The Tube, Gerrie then went onto work on Wired and The White Room as well as The Brit Awards, The Baftas and Glastonbury Festival.
He's also produced a number of programmes for children's television while setting up his own company, Whizz Kid Entertainment. Earlier last month, he launched his latest venture on Sky Arts. Talks Music sees Gerrie chatting to some of the most influential musicians and artists of this and past generations. Guests scheduled to appear on the first series include Nile Rodgers, Ray Davies, Boy George, Jeff Beck, Giorgio Moroder and Debbie Harry & Chris Stein from Blondie.
In a rare and exclusive interview, Gerrie talks at length about his career, his time on The Tube and The Brits, his objectives for Talks Music and the future of music on television.
DiS: How did you first come to be involved in working with music and television?
Malcolm Gerrie: When I left University I started working at a big comprehensive school in Ryhope, which is a small pit village just outside of Sunderland. I was teaching English and drama there. It was a very progressive school for that part of the country. We had our own radio station and the head was very keen on the arts, and particularly music. One day he came rolling into the staff room with a copy of the latest album he'd just bought, which was the orchestral version of The Who's rock opera Tommy. And he said to me, "Have a listen to this. Maybe it could be our next production?" At first I thought how are we going to do the music from this, because it had Tina Turner on there and a huge orchestra, and he said, "I can do the music if you can do the drama!" So I took it home to listen to, and wrote to Pete Townshend who gave us permission to use all of the rights for nothing. To cut a long story short, we put it on, it was a big success, and The Who actually invited us over to where they were filming the musical. The year after that we did a production called 'Stardust', which was pretty big at the time, and LWT (London Weekend Television) contacted us about doing an hour-long documentary about how we combine music and drama at the school. And the next thing we were on the front cover of the NME!
DiS: What year was this?
Malcolm Gerrie: 'Tommy' was 1974, and 'Stardust' was 1975. The headline in the NME ran, "Was school ever like this?" with all the kids dressed up in their 'Tommy' gear. The guy who directed 'Stardust' was relatively unknown at the time called David Puttnam. Obviously he's since gone on to many bigger and better things. It was David who said to me at the time, "Malcolm, you really should be doing this full time," and he persuaded me to leave. He put me in touch with a wonderful woman who worked at Tyne Tees television up in Newcastle called Andrea Wonfor, who's now sadly no longer with us. So I met with Andrea and we clicked immediately. After a couple of months, I got asked if I'd be interested in becoming a trainee researcher at Tyne Tees for working on Miss North East. The show was called 'Glamour 77'; it was a thing they did every year for the regional heat for what became Miss Great Britain and ultimately Miss World. It was like a dream job. Four times the money I was getting from being a teacher and that really was the beginning. Me and Andrea did a bit of TV presenting for a Saturday morning kids show called 'Saturday Shake Up'. We never took 'Tiswas' up in Newcastle. Tyne Tees always opted out so this was their alternative. And then we did a show called 'Alright Now' which was the first music show I ever produced but sadly was never networked. We had some amazing bands on there. The Pretenders, The Jam, Thin Lizzy and one of only two television performances ever by The Clash, who famously always refused to do Top Of The Pops. You can pick up some of the footage on You Tube but the series itself has never been seen since. It's locked in the vaults of the BFI now I think. There are some historic performances on those tapes, and also an interview with Led Zeppelin's John Bonham just a few weeks before he sadly passed away. It was actually Billy Connolly that did the interview!
'Alright Now' caught the attention of this guy who was setting up a new channel which ultimately became Channel 4 because when we were doing 'Alright Now' there were only three channels - there was no MTV, no Sky TV, no Internet, it was just ITV, BBC1 and BBC2, and it was very hard for any stations in the north of England to get one of their shows broadcast on the network. Even with big names on board, the London companies had everything stitched up and it was a bit of a cartel. So when Channel 4 came along, Jeremy Isaacs who founded the channel wanted everything to be networked, and he seemed to favour shows coming out of the regions. We put a bid in to do a music show which worked out at about six-and-a-half hours over thirteen weeks called 'Jamming', and they really liked the idea. I was over in Sweden at the time doing a special with Abba for a kids show called 'Razzamatazz', which we did manage to get networked. It was easier to get children's TV shows networked because a lot of the big companies didn't care so much about them in so much as they didn't deliver enough advertising revenue. So I got a call from Andrea asking me if I wanted the good news or the bad news. So I immediately thought the worst when she told me the bad news was Channel 4 had rejected 'Jamming'. But then the good news was they wanted a bigger version of it to run for twenty weeks, one hour and forty-five minutes live every Friday starting on November 5th 1982, which became 'The Tube'.
DiS: How did Jools Holland and Paula Yates become presenters of 'The Tube'? Were they your original choices, or did they have to participate in a series of auditions?
Malcolm Gerrie: 'The Tube' was borne out of my frustration with music on television at that time. Because basically, there wasn't much of it, and what there was could best be described as bland. Even 'The Old Grey Whistle Test', which I think started off as a great show, seemed to lose its way a little. They'd somehow missed the whole punk thing. They were still showing people like The Eagles when all this extraordinary game-changing music was happening on our doorsteps. At the time, most music TV shows were either presented by DJs, people like David 'Kid' Jensen, Tony Blackburn or dare I mention his name, Jimmy Saville, or they were very earnest late night arts programmes presented by music journalists. And I just felt that we'd lost the plot a little bit. There was no spark, no energy, no kind of balls even. My favourite music TV show of all time was 'Ready Steady Go' which just had so much energy. They'd feature emerging black artists from the States like Otis Redding for example. So 'The Tube' was basically an attempt to put a bomb under what was the status quo of music on TV. We didn't want traditional presenters, so we put an advert in a magazine called 'The Face' which was like the style bible at that time. It was a fantastic magazine that revolutionized those kind of publications back then. So we just placed a tiny advert in the back that said: Wanted - a face for the space; and then a telephone number, and that was it. There was no mention of television or anything, and we got thousands of applications. So we decided to go around the country auditioning people for a support role in the show. One of the people that showed up at the London auditions was this girl in a full wedding dress. Veil, complete train and all, and I remember it was raining heavily and the poor girl was soaking wet when she got into the audition. Then I remember she lifted her veil and it was Boy George! So it was a he not a she, and he sat down and told us how much he was into music and wanted this job, and we just fell in love with him. He basically got the job within five minutes. He would have been Jools Holland. And as he was leaving, he told us he was in a band as well called Culture Club and left us a cassette tape which I've still got somewhere. It turned out he was going in to see EMI the following week, and they got signed to a record deal which meant he couldn't do the show! Another lad who auditioned was Jarvis Cocker. His mum drove him up to the Newcastle audition from Sheffield. I didn't know at the time because I wasn't in on that particular audition. We had to spread ourselves between the different cities. It was only years later when I was producing Glastonbury Festival for Channel 4 and Jarvis was one of the presenters then that I found out. He said, "Do you remember the first time we met?" and my response was, "I don't know. Was it on 'The White Room' or 'The Brits'? I honestly don't remember." And that's when he told me about auditioning as a presenter for 'The Tube'! Anyway, moving onto Jools Holland, there was a documentary on the BBC about The Police recording their latest album in Montserrat and Jools had the same manager as they did at the time, a guy called Miles Copeland. Jools was kind of between jobs at the time, so Miles got him to present this show and Jools did a very different take on how to present. He was full of life and very irreverent, yet at the same time because he's such an accomplished musician he actually knew what he was talking about. What really caught my imagination was during an interview he did with Andy Summers, who played guitar in The Police, Jools was asking him to demonstrate different styles of playing. So he asked him to play a funk riff in the style of James Brown, which Andy played but it actually turned out to be quite boring. And halfway through it, Jools just leaned over and pulled out Andy's guitar lead which killed the piece stone dead before saying, "I think we've heard quite enough of that!" or words to that effect. And I just thought anybody who's got the bottle to do that is my man, so I rang Miles and asked if Jools would be interested in coming up for a screen test. I'd already met Paula (Yates) because she'd done 'Razzamatazz'. She had a record out, 'These Boots Were Made For Walking', which was a cover of the Nancy Sinatra song. So we wondered what those two would be like working together, and within thirty seconds we knew we'd nailed it. The chemistry was absolutely electric.
DiS: It would be fair to say 'The Tube' changed the face of music television afterwards, even with the introduction of MTV and the way a lot of its shows' presenters interacted with one another and the viewers at home.
Malcolm Gerrie: The funny thing looking back at when we first started the show in 1982, some of the things which we take for granted now like handheld cameras for instance we had to really fight for back then. The unions had a stranglehold on television at the time. They were very powerful, and so to do something like take a camera off its tripod legs to shoot a music performance was really frowned upon. You weren't allowed to touch a prop or anything because that was a specific role for the person working in props, and so on. We used to shoot a lot of films abroad for 'The Tube'. I remember us going to Jamaica three times, and we had to take this army of people out there with us. Now, we could probably get away with a camera man, assistant producer and a sound engineer, but back in the day it required at least sixteen people. Everybody needed an assistant, a prop man, hair and make-up, electricians, it was very prohibitive. And we broke a lot of those rules. There was quite a bit of blood on the walls in terms of negotiating with the unions, but I'm glad we did because when I look at programmes like 'The Word', 'Network 7' and 'TFI' it created a whole new landscape for them to operate in. They were certainly heady days.
DiS: Looking back, which stands out as your most memorable, or proudest moment of working on 'The Tube'?
Malcolm Gerrie: Showcasing brand new bands. Not just ones who'd just been signed, but also bands who were unsigned. Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Fine Young Cannibals, REM, Madonna's second UK television appearance. The record company wouldn't even pay for Madonna to go to the Hacienda which is where we were filming the show from that evening. I'd seen Madonna play in a little New York club with David Byrne and thought she was amazing, so when I heard she was coming over to the UK to meet Warner Brothers I got in touch with them about putting her on the show. And the response I got - and this is an actual quote - was, "Malcolm, I'm sorry but this girl is a no priority act. If you want her on the show you'll have to pay for her yourself, and her travel to Manchester, hair and make-up, and two backing dancers." Which I did, thank goodness! I remember we invited everybody down from Granada studios to the show, and there's a great shot of the cast of 'Coronation Street' in the front row. Len Fairclough was there! Just completely bonkers. We were constantly told no one would watch it if we put new bands on, and we proved everybody wrong. Frankie Goes To Hollywood performing 'Relax' is the one everybody remembers, but there were stacks of others. And I think the way we used to mix up genres was fantastic. Channel 4 always encouraged us to experiment, so on one of the shows we had Killing Joke sharing the same bill as Cliff Richard. And I remember Cliff standing in the audience with his hands over his ears while Killing Joke soundchecked, and then he turned me straight after and said, "They were really quite good weren't they Malcolm?"
DiS: Why did 'The Tube' come to an end?
Malcolm Gerrie: There were several factors. There was a change of personnel at Channel 4. Mike Boland, who was our commissioning editor left. They got in a new MD who wasn't really interested in music. And budgets were also getting squeezed at Tyne Tees. Andrea Wonfor who was still my boss was getting a rough ride, and saw what had happened with 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' and other music programmes that had just been allowed to fizzle out. I really didn't want that to happen to 'The Tube', and then when Andrea left as well, that was pretty much it. Without her and Mike Boland to support the show there was only one way it was going, so I decided to leave. I wanted to end 'The Tube' on a high, so we went out with a big bang. U2 wrote us a special song which they performed for the last show, and the party went on for three days!
DiS: After 'The Tube' finished you went to work on The Brit Awards. How many years did you spend on that project?
Malcolm Gerrie: I was actually asked to do it twice before but I turned it down both times. I just didn't feel I could really make a difference at that time. Back in the day, the Brit Awards was seen as nothing more than a back slapping party for the music industry, and I worry it's going that way again. They had the disaster of Mick Fleetwood and Samantha Fox presenting the show in 1989, and it became a national joke. The head of Warners, who was also the head of the Brits that year, approached me about revamping the show for television. He asked me if I'd be interested in doing the show if I was given carte blanche to do whatever I wanted, which of course I accepted. I remember going into my first ever Brits meeting with the heads of all these major record companies, and I was seen as some kind of antichrist for suggesting my ideas on changing their event. But the bottom line was, nobody wanted to do the show. Because it was seen as such a joke, it made it difficult to book any credible talent. I really had to work hard to persuade people it was going to be a different kind of show, and I'm forever grateful to those artists that believed in my vision from the start. I remember Peter Gabriel being one who wasn't convinced at first, but then once I'd managed to assure him that it was me and not the record companies who had the final say, came on board. Once we got Peter locked in that was the first piece of the jigsaw. It then meant I could go to other people like Bjork and PJ Harvey and use Peter's name to persuade them to get involved. That really was the start of it all. I was there for eight years, but in the meantime I set up my own company called Initial and basically had the freedom to experiment more than I would've done had I been working for BBC or ITV.
DiS: What was your final year on the Brit Awards?
Malcolm Gerrie: I'm so bad with years! 1998 I think...
DiS: So you were working on the show in 1996 when Jarvis Cocker stormed the stage in disapproval at Michael Jackson's performance of 'Earth Song'?
Malcolm Gerrie: I was indeed! Jarvis was on my watch! That was a story which ended up on the front page of every newspaper in the world. It was an extraordinary sequence of events, extraordinary having Michael Jackson on the show live. With an enormous cast of people, and he'd been rehearsing it for an entire week at Earls Court. He had this massive team of security guards, and even I couldn't get in. I had to get in touch with the chairman of his record company to gain access, and actually threatened to pull the power if they didn't let me in. It was ridiculous. I was the producer of the show and I couldn't see what he was planning to do. And then of course it all went slightly different when Jarvis decided to register his "protest" at what he was watching!
DiS: Why do you think the Brit Awards have become stale again? These past few years the show and indeed many of the winners themselves have been quite forgettable.
Malcolm Gerrie: It's sad. I think there are several issues really. It's now produced by the BPI, so therefore you haven't got that arms-length between the music industry and the television producers any more. They have a vested interest in the show. It would be like Manchester United producing the whole of the Premier League. There's not that impartiality which is crucial for something like an awards show, so you end up with lots of artists just performing their latest song. It's fine if you're there and you've had a few glasses of champagne which very few people have the opportunity to do, but as a viewer I'm not seeing very much imagination coming through at all. As a TV event it isn't a spectacle. There's nothing unique about it, which going back to when I was producing it we had to fight the BPI on getting to agree with. We introduced the idea of these unique collaborations which no one had done previously. Going back again to when we had Bjork and PJ Harvey doing a cover of The Rolling Stones 'Satisfaction', it was absolutely dynamite. It was really explosive, and so later on we did Robbie Williams and Tom Jones, and then when the Eurythmics won the outstanding achievement award I flew Stevie Wonder over to play the harmonica solo on 'There Must Be An Angel'. When I compare the current set-up to its competitors; I watched the EMA awards the other week and there were a lot of fresh ideas on there, I'm just not seeing anything like that with the Brits.
DiS: What is really sad is that the Mercury Prize appears to be heading the same way.
Malcolm Gerrie: In a sense I actually think the Mercury Prize is worse. Nick Grimshaw does a great job on his Radio One show, but he would have been my last choice to host the Mercury Prize. It would be like asking John Peel to present Strictly Come Dancing. It's just not right. And I think on the music side it has become sanitised. There's some fantastic music out there. That's the one thing that never changes, despite what anybody says. And that was the purpose of the Mercury Prize. To give recognition to newer, more innovative artists. And now it appears to have forgotten that mission statement. Again, as a piece of television, I'm not seeing much creativity or original thinking going on in how its presented. The marriage of pictures and music should be fantastic. It's one of those things where one and one can make five or six. But just to stick four cameras in front of a band... I mean, it works on 'Later...', although that show tends to have good weeks and bad weeks as well. The lady who shoots 'Later...' does a wonderful job. I think a lot depends on who's available at the time and who they can get to appear on the show that week. But at least they consistently try to push the envelope and feature new bands alongside a mix of different people, so all credit to them for that.
DiS: It is worrying that since the demise of 'Top Of The Pops', music television in general appears to have lost its way. Why do you think this is? Market forces maybe, the growth of the Internet, or the rise of reality shows such as 'The X Factor' even?
Malcolm Gerrie: I don't think 'The X Factor' has anything to do with it because those kind of shows have been around forever. The likes of 'New Faces' and 'Opportunity Knocks' as far back as the 1970s for example. I think you're spot on about the Internet though. Some of the most exciting new music I'm hearing, and certainly the way artists are marrying music and pictures together, is happening on the worldwide web. That's revolutionised our lives and it's also had a similar impact on music. Although not necessarily to the benefit of major record companies. I've just been singing 'Later...''s praises yet I think as much if not more credit should also go to the BBC for sticking with a show that doesn't get a huge audience. It tends to fluctuate between 300,000 viewers on a poor night to 800,000 on a good one, which for 10pm on BBC2 isn't great, yet it's still going strong after twenty years. The BBC gets a lot of criticism and rightly so in some areas, but all credit to them for supporting and sustaining 'Later...' for such a long period of time. Back in the day viewing figures weren't that big an issue, but now the first thing any producer does when he arrives in the office in a morning is look at the previous evening's ratings. Because we're still in a recession and times are tough, it's all about the ratings and historically music programming doesn't get a massive audience. Even really successful shows like 'The Tube' or 'TFI' rarely broke the million mark. I remember one Friday evening we got 1.5 million viewers for 'The Tube' and that was considered an unbelievably massive result. Nowadays, because the budgets are a lot tighter there's been more of a tendency to pull the rug on music television at the expense of other broadcasters on the network and I think that's really sad. Channel 4 still has the occasional 'Live At Abbey Road' session but they're very few and far between and usually on after midnight which reduces their potential audience considerably. They're all funded by advertisers such as Coca Cola or Mastercard or Lynx which kind of limits how far they can go in terms of pushing boundaries, and I think for a public service broadcaster like Channel 4 that's a crime. I know they're looking at ways to try and redress that, but in terms of priorities you get the feeling music is way, way down near the bottom of the list. I also think a lot of it depends on who's running whichever television channels. If you get someone who's into music - Jeremy Isaacs who started Channel 4 was a huge music fan - then I think it will change. Sadly, at the minute, we're not seeing that. Instead it's all about the bottom line in pounds, shillings and pence. BBC4 were running some fantastic music documentaries not so long back, but the guy who was responsible for all that has left now and moved onto ITV, so whether that continues remains to be seen. What there isn't at the moment is any kind of cutting edge music programme. 'Later...' is very safe, albeit of a high quality. Even when it comes down to televised festival coverage from places like Glastonbury and V, the artists they select to show tend to be very safe. They have the same presenters across most of the festivals that are covered so there's nothing new there either. It's not in a healthy state at all. Once again, it probably needs another hand grenade underneath it all.
DiS: Moving onto your new show, 'Talks Music' which aired for the first time on Sky Arts at the start of November. How did it come about?
Malcolm Gerrie: It was an American director, a guy called Jeff Wurtz who came up with the idea. He's spent the last eighteen years working on 'Inside The Actors Studio', which has won several awards, and they had every major Hollywood actor, actress, producer and director on that show. Everyone from Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro to Meryl Streep and George Clooney has appeared on the show, you name it. He wanted to do a show that had some of the values of 'Inside The Actors Studio' but for music. He talked the idea through with several independent television companies, and my company Whizz Kid Entertainment managed to win the tender. The first hurdle we had to overcome was getting a broadcaster, so I met with the head of Sky Arts who said he was desperate to do as much music as he could, which was a lovely breath of fresh air. So we screen tested some presenters and Sky Arts came back and rejected them all. But then my Managing Director said they had an idea; why don't I present the show?!?
DiS: How did you feel about that?
Malcolm Gerrie: I had very mixed feelings about it to begin with. But then I thought if I say no, we're not going to get the commission. At the same time I had to think about whether I needed the extra stress. I'm running a company now and we've already got lots of other shows coming up. But if I don't, I knew it was something I'd live to regret for a long time so decided to take one for the team, so to speak.
DiS: Was that the first time you'd presented a show on television since doing children's television before 'The Tube' started?
Malcolm Gerrie: Yes. It was the first time I'd presented a TV show since 1980. I had to get match fit pretty damn quick!
DiS: It must have been quite daunting to start with?
Malcolm Gerrie: It was. There was no audition or training as such. I was blessed as it happens because the first person I had to interview was Nile Rodgers, and he is a gift for any interviewer. He couldn't talk very much about it, but at the time he was in London working with Daft Punk on what would become one of the biggest tracks of the year. I've known Nile for a long time so I asked if he'd like to be a guest on the show, and he agreed to do it and ended up talking for nearly four hours in front of an audience of music students from different colleges all round London. He brought his famous hitmaker guitar with him, and at every point he was talking about one of the big songs he'd worked on like 'Le Freak' or 'Let's Dance'. Then he'd demonstrate on the guitar the craft and musicology of how it came about. How he created that amazing sound. He made me feel so at ease, it was a really wonderful experience. He's an absolute treasure. What he's done for music is extraordinary. Everything he touches turns to gold.
DiS: You've got an impressive array of big names coming up on the show, people like Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, Ray Davies, Jeff Beck and Blondie's Debbie Harry & Chris Stein amongst others. Was it a difficult process organising their appearances? Were the artists and their labels co-operative?
Malcolm Gerrie: It was like a dream to be honest. Some of the people I knew already, like Jeff Beck for instance. Jeff very rarely does interviews. He doesn't do TV that much to be honest. He's actually working with Brian Wilson at the moment. I persuaded Jeff to do the theme music for 'The Tube' many years ago. I had another Geordie, Trevor Horn, produce it. In fact, we had five or six different versions of the theme music and Jeff did every one of them. When I was running my company called Initial we did a big drama called 'Frankie's House' and I got Jeff to do the soundtrack to that, which ended winning a BAFTA that year for 'Best Soundtrack'. So we became friends, but I honestly never thought he'd agree to do an interview as I know he hates doing them and he's very shy. After I asked him, he invited me down to his house and we got through three bottles of rosé and he didn't mention the show at all. So I thought this is obviously bad news. He's got me down here to soften the blow. Anyway, we were having a lovely night and I think by the time we'd finished the third bottle I built up the courage to ask him outright if he'd do the show, and he said, "Do you honestly think I'd drag you all the way down here just to say no? Let's pop open another bottle of rosé, of course I'm gonna do it!" And he was just brilliant. We filmed him in Abbey Road studios, and he did a rather poignant tribute to George Martin. He played 'A Day In The Life', and in the studio next door unbeknown to any of us was Giles Martin, George's son, who's also a producer. He then talked about why the Fender Stratocaster was so special to him before moving seamlessly into a version of 'Little Wing' by Jimi Hendrix, which I didn't know he was gonna do, so we put it in the show. You could hear the jaws in the audience hitting the floor. It was just beautiful. It helped with some of the artists I knew. We've actually got a long list of people wanting to do the show, and we've just booked Giorgio Moroder to appear on the last show of the series. He's a genius. The man who invented disco and did some wonderful soundtracks like 'Scarface', 'Midnight Express' and 'Metropolis'.
DiS: When is the last show of the series broadcast?
Malcolm Gerrie: It goes out in the second week of January. Whether he'll be the last one in the run I don't know but he's the last one for us to film anyway.
DiS: Are there plans underway for a second series?
Malcolm Gerrie: The ratings have been great so far. The Tony Bennett show which we did this week was the highest rated show on Sky Arts. The response to the series has been better than we could ever have imagined. Hopefully if that continues we'll get the opportunity to do another series.
DiS: Do you not find it slightly disconcerting that you've had to go to Sky Arts rather than one of the more traditional terrestrial channels?
Malcolm Gerrie: No, because I think the landscape's changed so much now. My youngest son is someone I'd describe as being completely channel agnostic. He doesn't care about BBC1 or ITV1. He'll just go to wherever he wants to watch something. It's a sad reflection in that aspect whereby terrestrial channels aren't showcasing more music, and when they do it's bland and safe. So all credit to Sky Arts for being the only channel that's genuinely committed to music and the arts. And they're prepared to take risks. There was a risk in me not being an established presenter, a risk in whether we'd get the artists we wanted, or whether it would be the usual people doing the promo rounds because they have a new record out. It's disheartening. You see the same people pop up on Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton, Alan Carr, The One Show, Lorraine. They do the whole circuit and then they're gone. Jeff Beck had nothing to promote when he came on the show. The Daft Punk album wasn't even out when Nile Rodgers came on. The other thing about Sky Arts is it's become a very credible home for artists. With shows like 'Classic Albums', they know it's more than just an outlet for holding up their latest CD and asking Joe Public to go out and buy it.
DiS: Where do you see music television in the future? Do you think shows like 'Talks Music' can revolutionise music television going forwards?
Malcolm Gerrie: No, sadly not. I think 'Talks Music' is of a type. It's basically a chat show. The intention with the format was never to break down any walls. What excites me - and what we didn't have back in 1982 when 'The Tube' was born - is the marriage of the Internet and terrestrial television is where the real electricity begins. I did a webcast via You Tube and Google for U2 that was linked to Twitter, and Bono suggested running the Twitter feed on 360 degree screen that surrounded them, so while they were playing you could see the messages people were sending. So you could see what people's reactions were there and then, and at one point Bono did a Muslim prayer, which was a pretty brave thing to do, and then tweets started coming in from North Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq, which was great. And then we started getting all these tweets from China, because Bono had made reference to the lack of civil liberties over there; a typical provocative gesture from him I guess; but then all of a sudden the screen went blank as if Twitter had been completely cut off. And at that point it felt like something had occurred purely due to the marriage of music and the Internet, and Universal approached us afterwards about making it into a TV show. Ideally, what should have happened is that show should have been on the web and TV at the same time, and then you would have seen some real sparks flying.
DiS: Can you see the music industry ever embracing the Internet to that extent?
Malcolm Gerrie: The music industry missed a massive opportunity with the birth of the Internet. Rather than waste all of its energy, time and money trying to sue then close down Napster, what they should have done is take a step back and realise this was a real chance to gain a bigger audience and bought Napster instead. It was a pointless waste of resource because while they were hellbent on closing Napster down another twelve sites like that sprung up. And now you've got millions. Same with iTunes. The genius of Steve Jobs in recognising that here was a way for selling music to a global audience and at the same time compiling a database that could tell who was buying what records, where and when they were buying them, what age they were. iTunes knew in one fell swoop what consumers buying patterns were and therefore could market its products in that way while record companies were still trying to sue and shut down all these exciting portals that were emerging. It was sad to watch. I remember going into a record company a few years ago when Top Of The Pops was in its last few months with a new programme idea called The iChart. My proposal was to link music television with the Internet and they looked at me like I was mad, and one of the industry people asked me to leave the building for suggesting they hook up with an Internet company. The ironic thing is now, the official charts are a combination of download and physical sales.
DiS: It's no coincidence that the high exposure afforded by music television in the 1980s and 1990s saw a rise in record sales, which makes it even more baffling why the music industry is reluctant to embrace both television and the internet, especially in the current climate.
Malcolm Gerrie: There needs to be some form of progressive thinking at the highest level, and also people that are prepared to take a few risks. Some of the people that run independent labels like Beggars Banquet and Rough Trade continue to operate on their own terms. Though how much power they have is debatable. The industry needs a Chris Blackwell, who started up Island Records, someone capable of kicking it into shape. Lucian Grange who runs Universal could be that person, but unfortunately he's now based on the West Coast of America and running the biggest label in the world, so I don't think he's got much time on his hands. It needs somebody to rip it up and start again. People seem to fall into two camps. They either get very threatened and intimidated and depressed and frightened by the speed of change, or they get extremely excited and motivated and see the opportunities that now lie there. Unfortunately, there are more in the first camp then there are in the second one. There is a new conservatism which we're seeing in broadcasters and major record labels and it's sad. The whole industry is ready for a shake up.
DiS: Finally, are there any new artists who've caught your eyes and ears recently?
Malcolm Gerrie: How long have you got? There are so many terrific artists out there. What's quite joyful is when you've followed an act from their early days and see them break through. I'm loathe to mention individual names because I think it's unfair but I remember the first time I heard a demo by the Arctic Monkeys and feeling the same level of excitement as I did first hearing REM or Frankie Goes To Hollywood thirty years earlier. It just sounded so incredibly fresh. Of all the artists around at the moment it would be wrong to select just one. The Mercury Prize kind of touched on a couple, but for me the real excitement comes from artists who haven't necessarily been signed. I get tapes and downloads sent to me every day, and the thrill you get from hearing someone brand new that blows you away is unbelievable. For me it's the ultimate thrill. A lot of the best new music I'm hearing at the minute is coming from places where you'd least expect it. It's coming out of the regions. I know I'm biased because I'm a Geordie but for me a lot of the best music I've heard has come from outside of London.
DiS: Do you still think it's important for artists to relocate to London in order to take that next step on the ladder? Even in the age of the Internet, that still seems to be the case by and large barring one or two obvious exceptions.
Malcolm Gerrie: Yes and no. The Internet has definitely changed things for the better. The A&R departments of both major and independent labels are now glued to the web. A big part of their job is to trawl the Internet. The great thing about all of the online music portals - Drowned In Sound included - is that it's possible for artists to get their music out there directly in a way that could never be done before. Previously it was a case of placing a cassette in an envelope and leaving it on the reception desk at Polydor, Island or any other record label you'd care to name. Or sending it in by post only for it to end up in the cardboard box along with the other 200,000 demos received that week. So from that aspect, the Internet has made a world of difference. Unfortunately, a lot of the power in the industry still has its roots within the M25, and not just the record labels but also the web companies as well. Therefore, artists still have to go to London at some point if they want to further themselves. I remember talking to Laura Mvula about this quite recently and she was telling me how long it took just to gain access to the people responsible for making all the big decisions. It was obviously quite frustrating. And I think what people don't realise is some of these "new" artists have actually been around for a while.
DiS: She was playing in Birmingham for years before she got discovered.
Malcolm Gerrie: That's where I first saw her. Emeli Sande's another one. She was a backing singer for years. Access has got better thanks to the Internet, but then the other problem there is everybody's now got access, which then makes the competition much steeper as well.
DiS: It's almost like trying to find that golden needle in a haystack.
Malcolm Gerrie: It really is, and trawling through the web can take hours. Your day just disappears like that. Before you know where you are it's midnight, and you've only just brushed the tip of the iceberg. Great talent will usually find a way through. I'm of the optimistic school that if there is someone out there that's a brilliant guitarist, or has a voice like Amy Winehouse or Adele they'll get through in the end. You can go on You Tube now and find somebody that has the potential to lift the hairs on the back of your neck, and they're probably based in Hartlepool or South Shields or Blackpool. No one's heard of them and they're trying to get a deal. There is an element of luck involved but it also takes a lot of hard work. As David Byrne said, it's the same as it ever was.
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