I’m far from being a 1980s throwback, and neither am I a heritage music fan. I love exploring new music and discovering new things. But always against a context of going back and remembering how I felt in the 1970s and 1980s as a young explorer, at a time when music was less accessible instantly. A lot came from swapping albums with your mates, but many of the discoveries were on TV and Radio.
Youtube is great for re-experiencing this sort of thing, obviously, and provides access to masses of dodgy VHS transfers. It’s always delightful when something new turns up.
But the real treasures are locked away beyond our grasp in the archives, and this is something I resent increasingly as time goes on. It’s maybe understandable for commercial TV archives, but in the case of the BBC in particular we paid for this stuff to be made, and we’re not allowed even to know what they hold, beyond a bit of information in a catalogue of clips for licencing that was available online if you knew where to look but which is now owned by Getty Images and difficult to interrogate.
It’s not just Prefab Sprout either. Masses of material is locked away. Some of it can’t even be shown ever for fear that Jimmy Savile’s face is glimpsed, heaven forfend. Now it’s not quite as simple as the BBC prohibiting access, because there are complex questions of copyright and financing. I know having spoken to them that many of the archivists would love a public access scheme, but for those of us who are aging, there is the question of whether any of it will manage to make its way out in our lifetimes. France, with the INA archive, have managed this after all, so it’s not as if it’s impossible.
I would love to see Prefab Sprout on the Roland Rat show, or their first appearance on Look North in 1984. I’d pay money for it gladly. But unless I have a personal connection to the show there is no way it’s coming out, and even if I do it’s expensive. Incidentally should anyone read this who has some sort of connection (not just about being in an audience, you have to be featured or in the production crew) with a BBC Prefab Sprout appearance, get in touch, please.
Anyway, just to underline the wealth of what is available but prohibited, here’s a 20 second fair use clip of something totally wonderful. The BBC Bristol RPM programme included an enormous amount of musical content: local Bristol bands generally, lots of XTC, and much else besides. And because they could run more or less autonomously they sent crews to film concerts everywhere. One of these was the May 1984 concert at the Manchester Hacienda by Prefab Sprout, for which 3 songs were broadcast: “Don’t Sing”, “Walk On” and “Couldn’t Bear to be Special”. Here is some of the latter, which included Virginia Astley on keyboards, and the young and cocky Paddy owning the stage.
Enjoy, and get angry. Because I can’t post or link or otherwise give you access to the remainder of this.