Sunday, 22 August 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee with The Old Grey Whistle Test

Another Sunday, another show and today I feature not an artist or group but a TV show – The BBC’s “Old Grey Whistle Test” – from the 70’s and 80’s.  This show wasn’t on the horizon until Thursday afternoon when I heard (Whispering) Bob Harris on the radio celebrating 40 years since he first broadcast on BBC. 

The Old Grey Whistle Test, which I loved, was the only way of hearing and seeing great live music being played by great, or soon to be great, artists.  Bob Harris was the host of this ground-breaking show.

Bob Harris

I haven’t selected music on the basis of my favourites from all these years ago but by doing what I always do: listening to lots and lots of music on YouTube and whittling down the selections on the simple basis of what appeals to me today.  This was difficult but I’ve got my normal 10 videos for you today plus a 33 sec clip of the intro music.

Now go get your coffee, find a comfy seat and prepare to be transported back to your younger days, if you’re my age or thereabouts, or to your parents’ younger days if you’re much younger than I.   Very few of you will be older than I.


We start with the intro music and any who watched the programme will be transported back immediately

Old Grey Whistle Test Theme

This intro is taken from “Stone Fox Chase” by Area Code 615 and you can hear the entire track one morning this week.

I’ve heard this so often in the last few days and each time I expect the programme to start.



The Year of the Cat                                              Al Stewart

What a piano intro!

What lyrics!

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolour in the rain
Don't bother asking for explanations
She'll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat.



We move on with a group I never chose to listen to …. but perhaps I should have.

A Message to Rudy                                            The Specials

Brilliant.   I’ll need to make up for lost time.



Next up is another great – Sir Bob – but not of the Geldof variety.  Go on, Bob, stir it up!

Stir It Up                                                                The Wailers

In this clip you see the bare studio which was the hallmark of the programme.

Ah! Great!



The programme got it’s name from an Old Tin Pan Alley phrase.  Back in the 40’s and 50’s the music industry had office-blocks full of songwriters.  At the end of each week songs would be played and if the “Old Greys” as the support staff  - cleaners, elevator men - were called could remember the hook of a tune enough to hum or whistle it afterwards then that tune had passed “the old grey whistle test”.



Fourth up is a band I never listened to.  I knew this tune but had no idea who were the performers – sorry.

Reelin’ in the Years                                               Steely Dan

Another bit of catching up for me to do.

One commenter on YouTube said,

“Very hard to play the solos in this song (I believe). I was told that by someone who is in the know.  Pub bands won't touch Steely Dan stuff because it so hard to play.”



We reach the halfway point with a short track.

Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone                Bill Withers

Short but still worth playing.

Guess all of us have felt this.



We’ll have short break for you to top up your coffee, come back briefly to the present before returning to the past.



Right.  Here we go back with a late maestro.

Out on the Western Plain                            Rory Gallagher

A great Leadbelly song and a great rendition from the great Irishman.

A master!  Sadly missed!



My! How limited my outlook was until late last year when I started this show.  Next up is another I missed and whose music is now on my playlist.

Keep On Keepin’ On                                     Curtis Mayfield

Sadly the track is cut short.

Such an apparently simple song but one which moved me greatly.  Thank you, Curtis.



Three songs left and, at last, I’ve got one song I knew well from the past.

A Heart Needs a Home       Richard and Linda Thompson

Unfortunately the audio quality is poor – very hissy – but this can’t hide the quality from this erstwhile married couple.

A gorgeous song with a gorgeous voice leading the vocals.

I agree wholeheartedly with this comment,

“Most underrated guitar player he writes some good songs He's a genius and his ex missus isn’t bad either.”

Richard moved on to largely unknown greatness but Linda simply disappeared …. from my horizons at least.



More music now from a future wife and husband team  - how strange it seems to transpose that phrase.  Shouldn’t but it does.

Help Me Make It Through the Night 
                                   Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson

This recording is from 1972, they married in 1973 but their love is there for all to see.  I don’t know if Kris wrote this for Rita.


Absolutely lovely.



No!  Another show comes to its close and in a way I could never foreseen.

Root Beer Rag                                                         Billy Joel


Absolutely fabulous.


Thank you for sharing this wander back with me.  I’ve had a great time putting the show together.  I did wonder on Thursday how the show would turn out but I should have trusted my intuition: no problems at all. Just sheer magic from beginning to end.


Thanks for listening and making my work so enjoyable.   I’d love to see you pop by next week..


  1. you've done it again, young Calum (I can say that as I am even more ancient than you) another fine show!

    only 9 out of 10 though after you forgot the most electrifying performance seen on WhistleTest


  2. JD I must admit I didn't listen to this video simply because I included Eddi Reader's version last week.

    Had I listened I might well have included it.

    Report card. Good but can do better.

  3. JD I should have said that Tim's version was abs brilliant!

  4. Yes, it was a great programme. Ialso loved Later with Jools Holland.

    The Specials here were special.