The first episode of this new BBC series was, as I previously noted, a combination of brilliant archive footage, so-so research and muddled theorising. This second installment hung together much better, though. There was a clear narrative arc as it explored the evolution of theatrical or art rock from the light shows of the Velvets at the Factory and the Floyd at the UFO through to the latter’s monstrous shows built around The Wall concept album. Along the way, Bowie as Ziggy, Roxy Music and Gabriel-era Genesis were given a good airing. The programme was well-structured, and made a lot more sense than the previous week’s. It was also refreshing in that it approached these bands from a different angle – giving as equal prominence to their theatricality as to their music. On the face of it, Genesis and the Velvet Underground make unlikely bedfellows, but in this context it made perfect sense. And it meant that we weren’t made to endure Yes or ELP which can only be a good thing!
There were some nice touches too, including the observation that Barrett-era Floyd and Peter Gabriel both shared a lyrical interest in exploring the more sinister aspects behind the whimsy of English suburban life. Gabriel’s assertion that “Supper’s Ready” numbered fifties children’s show Bill and Ben among its biggest influences was funny, but also rang oddly true.
The archive footage was top notch, even though a lot of it was grainy super eight footage of questionable quality. It was used well, and was all worth seeing. The script was a little clunky at times, and the writers still occasionally find it impossible to resist a grand sweeping statement of dubious veracity. The Floyd were painted as single-handedly inventing music to trip by which must have been news to the acid casualties of mid sixties Haight-Ashbury. These cringeworthy moments were kept to a minimum this week, though.
The highlight for me was the extremely grainy footage of a totally spaced-out looking Syd singing “Jugband Blues” – John Harris’s comment that if you want to know what madness is like then listen to that song wasn’t too far off the mark.