#BlastfromthePast: Smack the Pony

A comedic DeLorean hop for this week’s #BlastfromthePast this week. In the last two decades, few sketch shows have tickled us quite like Channel 4’s Smack the Pony. Arriving on screens in 1999 – a whole eighteen years ago – and picking up an International Emmy award along the way – Fiona Allen, Doon Mackichan and Sally Phillips gave a silly and at times surreal take on the sketch show format.

Not only was it a ratings and award winner, it also helped launch the careers of the likes of Miranda Hart, Sarah Alexander and Amanda Holden amongst others. Following a well received reunion piece for this year’s Red Nose Day for Comic Relief in March, we’ve gathered together some of our favourite sketches from the show’s original four year run. So here’s to Smack the Pony – a whinnying showcase of British sketch comedy at it’s finest and most eccentric.

WATER BOTTLE WARS

And not since have we been able to look at water cooler tanks in the same way…

SINGING CONTESTS

When you think you sound like Mariah Carey, get upstaged and then feign a papercut rather than admit defeat…

WINDOW CLEANERS WITH BIG…

…well. You’ll see.

THINGS YOU SHOULDN’T TOUCH WHILST BABYSITTING

Mystical weaponry being one of them…

DATING ADS

I really am a byoootiful lay-deh.

YOGURT EATERS

Someone do a Muller advert with Nicole Scherzinger based on this, ad execs of the UK…

PEOPLE WHO LOOK IRISH

They’re everywhere.

AND NOW, A SONG TO CLOSE THIS BLOG POST…

From B*Witched, Shania Twain, Geri Halliwell and Alice Deejay…or is it?

The complete series of Smack the Pony are available to watch on All4.

What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast and I may feature some of your Tweets in next week’s blog!

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#BlastfromthePast: Radio 1’s Official Chart (The Mark Goodier Years)

This week’s blogging DeLorean hop comes via the recent celebrations that it’s 50 years since the BBC Light Programme on the radio was split into two new stations: Radio 1, for a younger audience and Radio 2 for an older one.

As part of these celebrations, weekend before last saw the broadcast on digital radio and iPlayer of Radio 1 Vintage, three days of retrospective programming covering a wealth of highlights, including original breakfast DJ Tony Blackburn hosting a breakfast show with current Radio 1 host Nick Grimshaw, and Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley reunited for a look back at their Evening Session show.

But of course, no retrospective lineup of Radio 1 would have been complete without a look back at probably it’s most widely recognised show: The Official Chart. Hosted by the show’s current host Greg James, he was joined by the show’s longest serving host of that slot by far – Mark Goodier. Having joined Radio 1 in 1987, on aggregate he spent about 10 years counting backwards from 40-1, but it was from 1995 onwards that he did it full time.

Mark’s reappearance also meant that it allowed for this bit of radio gold – both he and Greg counting down that week’s top 40 using the old jingle package from the 90s. And as Popjustice rightly pointed out on Twitter – he’s still got it, hasn’t he?

I said myself on Twitter that even listening to that familiar voice, that was such a huge part of my early pop music loving DNA and childhood Sunday afternoons, and hearing him say things like ‘Down 4 at number 9, CNCO and Little Mix with Reggaton Lento’ elicited some kind of Pavlovian/nostalgic desire to huddle round my radio as if I were 7 again. Because that’s how old I was when I started listening to the Official Chart. In fact, in the YouTube playlist I compiled for today’s blog, the rundown from the very first one I remember listening to is preserved here: 28th April 1996.

By this point, Mark had been doing it for a year, having taken over from Bruno Brookes. It was an interesting moment in time to start following the charts, even as a 7 year old. Take That had just split up, but the Spice Girls were still a few months away from launch, and the likes of Oasis, the Manic Street Preachers and the Bluetones were flying the Britpop flag high, whilst George Michael (then on his ‘Older’ era of his career) and Gina G’s Eurovision smash were top of the charts. Suddenly I was being exposed to this huge variety of music from all genres in a three hour timeslot, far beyond anything in my parents or sisters’ record collections.

It was to be another year – as already documented in this blog – before I became a singles buyer myself full time, and thus started contributing to the weekly singles countdown without even realising (yes, it did take me that long to work out that a visit to Woolworths did result in what happened on the chart that week). But by this point, Sunday afternoons from 4-7pm were entirely my own time, huddled round the nearest mini system I could find to ensure I was tuned in to find out who was number one – and who wasn’t.

Mark’s style of hosting was the one to beat – professional and consummate, a mix of excitement and avuncular, but never at the expense of the records. One of several features his hosting of the show bought in was the sourcing of chart stats from Alan Jones’ weekly commentary for industry bible Music Week.

This was particularly useful for historic chart moments like in March 2001, when Hear’Say, the (short lived) winners of the first ever series of Popstars, learned in a simulcast of the show with ITV that they had scored the fastest selling debut single ever with sales of over half a million copies of debut hit ‘Pure & Simple’ in its first week on sale alone.

If the opportunity was there, Mark would also talk to the act behind that week’s number one single on the phone before their record got played to the nation as the UK’s new chart topper – in my playlist above, there’s a particularly lovely instance of this with Melanie C, on discovering she’d hit number one as a solo artist for a second time with ‘I Turn to You’.

Mark was host at a time when single sales were at an all time high, with a regular turnover of number ones. In 2000, there was 43 to be exact, a record that still hasn’t been topped to this day. But as the 90s gave way to the 00s, new technologies were emerging that would change the way music would be consumed by the majority forever. Single sales and interest in the charts began to take a direct hit as a result.

You can even hear the mild fatigue in Mark’s voice in a clip I’ve included in my playlist from about September 2001, when he realises he’s having to introduce Bob the Builder as the nation’s favourite that week, saying that it had become a ‘news programme with music’. Something was going to have to give, clearly.

In previous years, he’d had his own weekend show, as well as hosting the Breakfast Show and the Evening Session at various points. By this time however, the Official Chart was the only show he was tied to. Mark’s final show came just as the Official Chart celebrated 50 years, on 17th November 2002.

I remember his last show fondly, and it felt like an end of an era for me at that time. My listening to Radio 1’s weekly rundown became less and less after that as the years wore on – only really bothering to tune in when an artist I liked or cared about was charting. Not to mention that the format of the show changed beyond all recognition of what I’d grown up with, as it became increasingly less and less about the chart and more about pumping it with irrelevant rubbish like celebrity gossip and DVD charts, and hosted by a succession of DJs for whom the chart was entirely an afterthought.

In fact, in the fifteen years since Mark left the show, Greg James is probably the one DJ who has been closest to his style of hosting it, even with the reduced timeslot on Friday afternoons from 4-6pm that the top 40 now occupies in the Radio 1 schedule. So it seems quite fitting then, that they hosted the Radio 1 Vintage show together. It was a bit like the passing of a baton to another in radio – and pop music – form.

Here’s then, to Mr Goodier. The fastest and most accurate host of a unique slot of music radio broadcasting.

The Official Chart ‘best of’ show with Greg James and Mark Goodier on Radio 1 Vintage is available to listen to again on BBC iPlayer Radio until 31st October.

What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast and I may feature some of your Tweets in next week’s blog!


#BlastfromthePast: Live and Kicking

Those casting a bleary eye over this morning’s TV schedules today (Saturday, 30th September 2017) may find an unusual creature in amongst all the cookery shows and endless reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond. For the first time in God knows how long, the BBC is bringing mayhem, pop, cartoons and hell even a bit of gunge back to Saturday mornings, with it’s new BBC Two/CBBC series Saturday Mash-Up. Hosted by newcomer Jonny Nelson with BBC 1Xtra DJ Yasmin Evans (and CBBC’s Hacker T Dog), it’s the shot in the arm Saturday morning telly in the UK has needed for some time.

It thus marks the grand return of the tradition of kid’s TV with a wide appeal on weekend morning television to the masses. Those born before 1998 will be able to remember the format at its height through all number of incarnations. Kids of the 70s will remember Noel Edmonds in his pre-opening red boxes days on Multi Coloured Swap Shop. Kids of the 80s will go all dewy eyed thinking back to the old silver fox himself, Phillip Schofield and Gordon the Gopher on Going Live. And if you, like me, were a kid of the 90s, it was all about Live & Kicking.

Launched in the autumn of 1993 as the natural successor to Going Live, the first presenting line up consisted of the Broom Cupboard’s Andi Peters and Emma Forbes (daughter of Nanette “My hands are still soft as my face” Newman) and the ever witty announcer Mitch. Coming along at the precise moment when the likes of 90s pop legends like Take That and Eternal were at their height (the now manband legends were on the first show performing “Relight My Fire”), and bringing in a mix of cartoons – Nickelodeon’s Rugrats being the most enduring, and a mainstay of virtually all of L&K‘s eight year run – and US imports like Clarissa Explains It All and Sweet Valley High, Live & Kicking quickly became, to quote the show’s famous tagline, the only way to start your weekend.

After three years, Andi and Emma bade the show an emotional farewell, and in their place for the fourth series in 1996, came arguably the show’s golden couple – Zoë Ball and Jamie Theakston. Bringing a bit of rock ‘n roll to those early rises (along with the borderline terrifying Leprechaun puppets Sage and Onion, and Mr Blobby), their series started just as the likes of Spice Girls and Boyzone – who quickly became regular guests on the show – took off, and ratings soared to the two million mark, with the show even picking up a BAFTA along the way.

Also chief among the show’s highlights was the catchphrase ‘Miss It? Miss Out!’ and the infamous jingle for the phone number (0181 811 8181), celebrity guests being interviewed in ‘The Hot Seat’ (who can forget when Peter Andre got severely roasted by one caller that turned the air blue?), and even comedy from ‘swing your pants’ Trevor and Simon (who’d also been on Going Live) and then later, Ben, Jez and Rich.

Also chief in the Zoë and Jamie years were features like Cloud 9 and Blobby’s Office Trolley, two phone based games that occasionally reinforced why the joys of live telly are called that for a very good reason, and a panel review show called Hit Miss or Maybe, where three celebs reviewed the latest music videos via the medium of comedy thumbs up hands on sticks.

As the show got bigger, so did the guests – everyone from Jennifer Saunders to Cher, and even the original king of chat shows Michael Parkinson. And as Zoë juggled her early rises with both L&K and the breakfast show for Radio 1 and became the 90s equivalent of Fearne Cotton, so too did Jamie, hosting that and Top of the Pops become an icon of 90s TV and the gossip rags, even famously dating All Saints’ Natalie Appleton (which made for a thoroughly awkward and sadly not available on YouTube episode when they came on to promote a new single not long after their split. Oops).

By the end of the show’s sixth run in April 1999, Zoë and Jamie were ready to move on. But a solid force of competition, in the shape of ITV’s SMTV Live and CD:UK with Ant & Dec and Cat Deeley, was building up just as they left, meaning the show’s next presenters that September – CBBC’s Steve Wilson and former model and MTV VJ Emma Ledden were on a back foot from the off. Despite forming a good bond, they fell someway behind in the ratings.

Having failed to engage viewers, they were gone within a year, to be replaced by another new presenting line up – The Girlie Show‘s Sarah Cawood, Ortis Deley, Blue Peter‘s Katy Hill and creepola MTV VJ Trey Farley. They halved the viewing figures and interest even further, and a move to a year round slot rather than the traditional September – April run that L&K had operated on from the beginning sealed its fate. The show came to an end in September 2001, featuring a live performance from Steps to mark the end of an era.

Hopefully with Saturday Mash-Up on track to bring back anarchy and anything can happen antics to the young (and not so young), let us all hail Live & Kicking. Solid gold weekend viewing that set the standard for unmissable morning madness.

What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast and I may feature some of your Tweets in next week’s blog!

#CrazyStupidPlaylist: Louise

90s and 00s pop fans the land over (present writer included) jumped for joy last week when one of its biggest names, Louise Redknapp, announced her return to music after a break of almost 15 years, with a (now sold out) comeback show scheduled for London in December.

Perfecting the fine art of ‘pulling a Zayn/Camila’ in a time before they were even out of nappies, Louise left the R&B/soul girl group Eternal in 1995 after a string of hits and a million selling album. But it was a risk that paid off handsomely, as she went onto score three smash hit albums, and twelve UK top 10 singles to her name.

So as one of the 90s original pop pin ups gears up for her long awaited return, here’s our playlist of some of her best moments to date…

1. STAY (1993)

It’s not for nothing that Eternal were considered one of Britain’s finest girl groups of the 90s. Their powerful blend of harmonies and streetwise beats with a nod to the ‘New Jack swing’ era of US R&B made them a huge hit here and across Europe. Their debut hit ‘Stay’ kicked off their phenomenal success that lasted even beyond Louise’s departure.

2. NAKED (1996)

Louise launched her solo ventures in the autumn of 1995 with two pleasant but modestly charting singles, ‘Light of My Life’ (#8) and ‘In Walked Love’ (#16). But it was in June the following year that she sent pulses racing with the saucy, Madonna-esque title track of her debut album, scoring an immediate top 5 smash.

3. LET’S GO ROUND AGAIN (1997)

Following the platinum selling success of ‘Naked’, Louise’s second solo album ‘Woman in Me’ appeared a year later to great success. The album’s biggest single was its second release, a cover of the Average White Band’s 1980s disco hit, bringing it bang up to date for the dancefloors of the 90s and Louise to another top 10 smash.

4. 2 FACED (2000)

Complete with a spoken word intro that has now passed into pop legend (‘Hi girls – HIIII LOUISE!!!’), Louise returned at the dawn of the new millennium after a two year break with her third album ‘Elbow Beach’. A funky, sassy kiss off to superficial haters, ‘2 Faced’ gave her her biggest hit to date by reaching the top 3 in July 2000.

5. STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU (2001)

Released to promote her greatest hits album, Louise took on another well known pop classic – this time, the Stealers’ Wheel smash from 1973 – complete with a video that made a tongue in cheek nod to the film Reservoir Dogs that utilised the original version. Stuff what the purists may think – this is a great version of a great song.

    #BlastfromthePast: A1

    Again, I’ve been somewhat slack with weekly trips in my blogging DeLorean. Rest assured, even with Strictly live blogs returning next Saturday, things are back to normal where #BlastfromthePast is concerned. Ready or not, here comes today’s one…

    As a pop kid at heart, there is a place in it – and a fond one at that – for a good old fashioned boyband. By which I mean outlandish hairdos and outfits, tight harmonies, powerful pop choruses, and an epic dance routine or two. 

    In fact, it was for these reasons at the turn of the millennium, whilst watching CD:UK or Top of the Pops, or busting some moves *NSYNC would be proud of at school discos (see below photographic proof), that I had a burning but secret desire to be in a boyband.

    *NSYNC were one such boyband that fuelled that desire. Five were almost certainly another. But so too, for 11/12 year old me, were Ben Adams, Mark Read, Christian Ingebrigtsen and Paul Marazzi – better known, like the motorway running between North London and Scotland, and the steak sauce before them, as A1.

    Formed by the same management team who bought us Steps, if you picked up a copy of Smash Hits or watched Saturday morning kids TV with any kind of regularity around 1999 or 2000, there is a chance you’d have seen them – but mostly Ben – winking back at you from the TV screen or magazine pages.

    Not only going for the dance routine and matching outfit jugular, whilst also having a strong hand in writing many of their hits, the excellent likes of ‘Be the First to Believe’ and ‘Ready or Not’ ticked all the boyband boxes neatly and quickly raced their way up in to the UK top 10 in 1999.

    But it was only a year later, with the release of their second album ‘The A List’, when they covered a-Ha’s 1985 smash ‘Take on Me’ as its first single, that they went one better than the original, by taking it all the way to number one that September, and geniusly recreating it’s flying cyber space video at that year’s Smash Hits Poll Winners Party (video is in the below playlist). 

    They then quickly followed up with the actually brilliant ‘Same Old Brand New You’, also reaching the top of the charts a mere ten weeks later, leading to their picking up of the ‘Best British Breakthrough’ award at the 2001 BRIT awards.

    And then a hush descended in their camp when, following a mall signing in South East Asia, where several of their fans were crushed in a stampede, they understandably took almost a year to follow up this incredible success they’d enjoyed to that point. When they came back in January 2002, they did so with arguably one of the greatest boyband songs, or pop songs generally, ever made: ‘Caught in the Middle’.

    Eschewing the dance routines and matching outfits that had bought them success on their first two albums for instruments and a more pop rock sound, it quite simply is the sort of song that had Take That released it as their comeback single c.2006 would’ve been hailed a classic. Alas the ‘Make it Good’ album that followed it failed to find an audience willing to accept that this was A1, but reinvented.

    Following Paul’s shock departure from the fold that year, the remaining trio of Ben, Mark and Christian announced they were splitting for the foreseeable future. All three released solo material and or produced for others – Ben notably worked with Alexandra Burke and Har Mar Superstar, Mark with Westlife and Olly Murs – in the intervening four years, before, following Ben’s star turn on Celebrity Big Brother in 2009, they reunited – albeit in Christian’s native Norway.

    Originally only planned to be for one single release – the brilliantly anthemic ‘Take You Home’ – for the Norwegian version of Red Nose Day, and a tour, the response they got was of Take That levels, leading to their two albums, 2010’s ‘Waiting for Daylight’ (from which the title track was a single, all blissful and yet heartbreaking) and 2012’s ‘Rediscovered’ coming out to huge success. Both are on Spotify and are well worth investigating.

    They were last seen properly on our shores taking part in the second series of The Big Reunion for ITV2 in 2014, but they still gig regularly together. Ben’s also currently touring in a stage version of Flashdance with last year’s Strictly pro champ Joanne Clifton, whilst Christian is busy with releasing solo music back in Norway, and Mark is also dabbling with work with former Strictly pros as he is touring shortly as music provider for a new show starring Kristina Rhianoff and Tristan McManus.

    For now though, here’s to this week’s #BlastfromthePast, A1. A first class boyband who did exactly what they said on the tin.

    What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast and I may feature some of your Tweets in next week’s blog!

    A #CrazyStupidPlaylist Special: 20 Years of the Spice Girls (Part 1 – Their Greatest Hits)

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    Picture the scene exactly 20 years ago, in July 1996. Pop has never mattered the least in such a long time. Take That have split, and neither Gary Barlow nor Robbie Williams are yet emerging with viable solo prospects. Oasis and Blur, the two heavyweights of Britpop, are the main games in town. And Peter Andre is flashing his giant man chest all over the shop in the video for ‘Mysterious Girl’. Hardly cause for celebration, is it? But behold, what is plastered across the back of that fortnight’s copy of the much loved pop bible, Smash Hits:10509600_790185421022249_302676545059108279_n

    And girl power, did well, come at us. And not just at the UK, but the rest of the world too. In the 90s, the Spice Girls became an unstoppable force, as Ginger, Posh, Baby, Sporty and Scary stomped their way to worldwide domination, with number one hits on every continent (including nine in the UK – a record for a girl group), record sales of over 50 million, BRITs and MTV awards, a smash box office movie, sponsorship deals aplenty and America conquered into the bargain too. They achieved more in their short time together than most bands manage in 10 years, with some of the most glorious, unapologetic pop music since ABBA, delivered with a sisterly touch.

    Now, as today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of their debut single that started it all, and with ‘Spiceworld: The Exhibition’ curated by fan and Guinness World Record holding artist Liz West on my agenda to visit this month at Watford Coliseum, today I begin a two part look back at their incredible legacy on pop with two specially curated Spotify playlists from myself, as we celebrate the music of five normal, loud and in-yer-face girls who taught the world how to zig-a-zig-aah…

    1. ‘WANNABE’
    (1996, from the album ‘Spice’, Highest UK chart position: #1)

    Well, I couldn’t not start this playlist without it, could I? Not before or since (with the possible exception of Girls Aloud’s “Sound of the Underground”) has there been a more arresting, manifesto setting debut single from a girl group. Written by the girls in half an hour with Richard Stannard and Matt Rowe, who would go onto write and produce this and many of their biggest hits, when they signed with Virgin Records in late 1995, they were absolutely adamant it had to be their first single. Executives weren’t convinced, but took the gamble nonetheless, and complete with a madcap, unscripted video, seeing them gatecrash a bohemian party at St Pancra’s Grand Hotel in London, the world instantly wanted to be their lover and get with their friends.

    2. ‘SAY YOU’LL BE THERE’
    (1996, from the album ‘Spice’, Highest UK chart position: #1)

    Even for all its worldwide chart trajectories, sales and ubiquity, ‘Wannabe’ was one of those records that could very easily have been a one hit wonder in a year, and indeed decade, full of them – ‘Macarena’, anyone? Exactly – but ‘Say You’ll Be There’ proved that the lightning bolt struck twice. A cool but cute R&B styled pop gem, coupled with a visually impressive video set in the Mojave desert with the girls re-imagined as space vixen B-movie characters a la ‘Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’, it too flew to number one upon release in October 1996 and established the Spices as bonafide pop giants.

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    3. ‘2 BECOME 1’

    (1996, from the album ‘Spice’, Highest UK chart position: #1)

    If there’s one type of single that the Spice Girls were always surprisingly really good at, it was their slower numbers, and this, their first of three consecutive Christmas chart toppers, was the finest example in their canon. Crisp, heart warming production and stunning vocal turns from all the girls – but in particular Emma Bunton, who shines the brightest of all in her pre-chorus verses on this single – even now when December rolls around, it doesn’t feel like December until we’ve heard the girls seductively crooning ‘Wanna make love to ya baby’…

    4. ‘STOP’

    (1998, from the album ‘Spiceworld’, Highest UK chart position: #2)

    I remember clearly two days in 1998 – one of which we’ll get onto in a second, but this being the other. Namely, the Sunday when Mark Goodier was running down the new top 40 on BBC Radio 1, and the shock amongst all that the Spices had, for the first time in seven single releases, failed to make the UK number one spot (the record that did beat them, a hard hitting dance rework of Run DMC’s “It’s Like That” by top DJ Jason Nevins, went onto spend 6 weeks at the top and sell over a million copies). Shame then, that this misfortune happened to easily one of their best singles for me. Complete with an iconic hand jive dance routine mimicked at school discos for the rest of the years following, “Stop” was an endearing and catchy pastiche of Motown flavoured pop, right down to the Supremes inspired ad libs on the second verse.

    5. ‘VIVA FOREVER’

    (1998, from the album ‘Spiceworld’, Highest UK chart position: #1)

    So the other memorable day from 1998? Ah yes, that would be 31st May, when, following a no-show appearance at the Helsinki date of their world tour and the BBC National Lottery show, Geri Halliwell had announced that she was packing up Ginger’s platform shoes and walking away from the group that made her a household name. What followed with almost impeccable timing, as the remaining four girls continued their world tour around the arenas and stadiums of America over the summer of that year, was a genuinely moving and heartbreaking, almost “Bright Eyes” esque ode to a fleeting Mediterranean romance, and indeed, to a Ginger snapping away from the Spice.