Has the BBC finally woken up to rock music?
Something is happening at the BBC.
They've finally decided that there are people who (adopts whispering, conspiratorial tone) actually play musical instruments in non-classical environments. No chamber music. No huge Mahlerian orchestras. No woodwind and strings. LOUD ROCK MUSIC! BLARING POP MUSIC! And there's going to be a TV programme to teach it to you, called "Rockschool", starting on Tuesday November 1, 6.10pm, BBC2. And so on for eight weeks.
What's come over the so-called British Broadcasting Corporation? "There's never been a series like it on television in this country," producer Chris Lent told One Two in a world exclusive interview.
"I was tempted initially, half-seriously, to call the series 'Twenty Years Too Late'. It took a while to get through to the BBC that there was even a need for this sort of series, that there'd be people interested in it, that it would perform any useful service. That's the sort of thinking you have to deal with."
However, "Rockschool" won't be covering keyboards — just guitar, bass and drums. It's aimed at giving tuition, tips and advice to people who want to play, or play better. That means you, right? But no keyboards?
"You'd be surprised how few keyboard players we seem to have come into contact with," Chris assured us. "We went round to a lot of rock workshops, places which offered tuition facilities, and just talked to kids. The received wisdom that it's all cheap synths is almost a passing phase. And the other reason we were a bit hesitant to include keyboards in this first series — we'll probably do them later — is that there are so many developments. Given the time-scale we're working to, by the time the series goes out it'd be obsolete as far as the gear is concerned."
And so back to the studio. Where there'll be three presenters giving out stuff on the trio of instruments covered by "Rockschool": Deirdre Cartwright for guitar (she's been with Painted Lady and Tour de Force); Henry Thomas on electric bass (Henry's with Morrisey-Mullen at the moment); and Geoff Nicholls for drums (at some time with GT Moore's Reggae Guitars and now into reggae drums).
And so back to the VT machines. Interspersed with The Presenters will be filmed interviews with and demos by such famed personages as Andy Gill, John Taylor, Neil Murray, Dennis Bovell, the inevitable Sly And Robbie (filmed, in case you're interested, while recording with someone called Bob Dylan), Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, Larry Graham, and so on.
"The series falls into two broad areas," amplified Lent. "The first three programmes deal with hardware, how to get the sounds from your equipment, improving your gear, moving on from that to more general techniques. From programme four onwards we start looking at specific styles: from blues-based things to heavy rock, going on to funk, disco and jazz-rock, and then reggae."
The last programme was still being sorted out when we spoke — there seemed some possibility of an open discussion (an invited audience will lurk at the edges of each programme), but other options were being considered, including a summing-up of the various themes covered throughout the series.
The "Rockschool" team will be running off a free booklet to back up the series, and within you should find basic information on equipment and instruments, contact addresses of information centres, and a "personal account of the process of putting a band together, written by a 19-year-old".
They're also working on a full-blown book that "won't cost more than a fiver" and, in true BBC fashion, might just be ready "in time for the repeats".
If all this sounds a little separatist, Chris stressed to One Two that the emphasis of the series would in fact be on the importance of playing together and getting instruments and players interacting.
"We'll be continually emphasizing that it's almost what you don't play that's important in a group," said Lent.
And what you don't play is keyboards — not in this series.