Saturday, November 22, 2008

Now, That's What I Call 1983: Let the past be, Michael Grade

Isn't a lavish celebration of the anniversary of a compilation album pushing the idea of 'a very special birthday' a little far, even for ITV? Regardless, they spun the 'useless female presenter' wheel, selected Denise Van Outen, and threw a show to mark the 25th anniversary of the first Now That's What I Call Music compilation. On television.

To be fair to ITV, they did at least invite back original artists to do their songs - normally, they'd have got Jamie Cullum and the Sugababes to have a crack at Hey You The Rocksteady Crew. But the format was still a bit of a puzzle - you might have thought that the obvious thing would have been to have 25 songs from across the years, but instead they stuck with 1983. Then, though, they selected 'the best songs from the year' rather than songs which appeared on Now 1 - which, given that there was just the one Now in 1983, released for the Christmas market, you might have thought would have represented the same thing.

True, there was a little crossover, but what are we supposed to make of the songs that were apparently good enough for ITV but not for Now? Particularly Nick Heyward, who turned up last night to do Whistle Down The Wind. Or "Nick Heyward (unless Boy George gets back to us)", as he will now be known. Whistle Down The Wind is a cracking song - and Heyward's performance was a delight - but it's hardly a song that screams 1983, is it? It would be a long production meeting at Crimewatch before they selected that song to soundtrack a particularly brutal crime from 25 years ago in order to jog people's memories.

Heyward also exhibited one of the problems of bringing back old men to sing pop hits - the high bits now lay far beyond them, in the blue-remembered hills of the teenage falsetto. It was a problem Tony Hadley had, too - it's surprising how much the line "listening to Marvin all night long" loses its impact when delivered gruffly. It's clear Hadley doesn't listen to Marvin all night long any more; I'd wager the only time he's awake past A Book At Bedtime is if his bladder calls for attention following one reckless Horlicks too many.

Hadley was there representing the entire Spandau Ballet clan - "named after a prison and a dance" guffawed Denise, "no, not Strangeways Hokey Cokey...". Actually, it might have been Wormword Scrubs Can Can - my ears welded over as soon as my brain detected the possibility someone had scripted a gag for her. Ali Campbell was also there taking a solo role for his entire band who hates him now; when Red Red Wine faded out earlier than he was expected he pressed on looking confused and a little afraid. Understandably, given what happened when his old backing group suddenly stopped supporting him altogether.

Hadley and Campbell were both shoved together at the end, as if to make it easy for the producers to edit down a version which featured just the original bands doing their songs. Perhaps the biggest coup in this respect was the reunited KajaGooGoo doing Too Shy. It was fitting for KajaGooGoo to be there, as not only was Too Shy on Now 1, but they also featured as the post-split KajaGooGoo and with one of Limahl's solo effort, so where better than a celebration of Now for the band to show they're back together, old differences settled?

Well, perhaps they're settled: Limahl seemed a little too determined to stamp his personality over the song by buggering about with it, as if he'd somehow got into his contract that he can do whatever the fuck he wants and nobody can stop him this time. Consequently, the performance was rubbish:

Paul Young's reading of his song, however, was flawless and spookily identical to the record. You might suspect that he was miming to the original track, but given how red in the face he went when insisting that he wasn't saying that he didn't love us, either he's spent the last couple of decades on a diet of goose fat and chocolate and now even opening and closing his mouth is enough to put a strain on his heart, or he was actually singing.

Nik Kershaw looked like a man who really shouldn't have let those snoods go to charity - frighteningly, for a man who I used to really want to see cross-dress (it would have gone lovely with his eyes), he's now turned into the spit of Gary Glitter.

The most obvious missing element from the celebration was the no-show of Howard Jones' former interpretative chum Jed. New Song without someone miming out literal chains for the bit about throwing off your mental chains? It's just not right, is it?

Apparently, Jed would have liked to have come on the show, but sadly the invisible cage he is being held in proved too difficult for him to get out of in time to attend.

You know what made the evening, though? The audience, glumly clapping through songs that they once took painkillers and cider to chase from their heads. It's almost as if the last thing anyone wants right now is to be reminded how grindingly miserable a time of rising unemployment and economic malaise actually is.