Founded in 1958 by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram, THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP at the BBC was set up to provide “special sound” for radio and TV programmes.
So to celebrate 60 years of THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP in Autumn 2017, members of the pioneering collective held a panel discussion at The British Library prior to an impressive concert at the venue.
As well as using audio stems of the component parts to discuss how Delia Derbyshire constructed the original ‘Dr Who Theme’, Peter Howell (who was at the BBC between 1974–1997) mentioned how ‘The Music Arcade’, an old schools programme which he had made demonstrating the Fairlight CMI to children, had been re-edited by a prankster into a YouTube video entitled ‘How Drum ‘N’ Bass Is Made’.
With the combination of Howell’s well-spoken manner, the varied facial expressions of the children and ‘Lose Control’ by REDPILL painstakingly dropped in, the results are hilarious!
Peter Howell said at The British Library that “equipment can either be our servant or our partner”; he is best known for his 1980 reworking of the ‘Dr Who Theme’ using a Yamaha CS80, ARP Odyssey and vocoder, while he still uses a Yamaha DX7 as his master keyboard during THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP’s various concerts around the world.
The Electricity Club has recently been gaining much enjoyment from a video which brutally satirises TRENT REZNOR and NINE INCH NAILS.
‘This is a Trent Reznor Song’ by FREDDY SCOTT hits the proverbial nail (sorry couldn’t resist it) on the head in deconstructing the various elements that make up a NIN song.
Based around ‘A Copy Of’ from the last NIN album ‘Hesitation Marks’, Scott’s rather hilarious track is structured in such a way that it wickedly pokes fun at many of the trademarks of Reznor’s act – including the “random percussion”, “weird guitar” and several knowing references to their lead singer’s vocal production techniques.
What makes the song so successful is the attention to detail, like the little delays in the verse and the use of the “Weird sound” FX pedal before the song’s bridge. The video itself contains what have now become recognisable tropes in certain NIN promos, the silhouette shot, the creepy sepia dead animal shot and the intercut band performances with Scott perfectly aping Reznor’s stage posture.
Comedian Scott had previously caused a bit of a stir with his RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS aping ‘Abracadabralifornia’, which although semi-fooling some into thinking it was a new Chili’s track, in places actually came across more like a MORRISSEY sound-a-like than lead vocalist Anthony Keidis.
This more recent parody is far more on the money and although there’s been no public reaction from Reznor to the track, what is certain is that you’ll find it hard to get the chorus out of your head…
Altogether now: “This is a Trent Reznor song / Yeah it’s still going on / Seriously it’s the same song / But it’s very awesome!”
A hilarious animation satirising the Château d’Hérouville studio sessions for DAVID BOWIE’s legendary ‘Low’ album has been gaining traction on the internet.
Produced by The Brothers McLeod, the short film captures Bowie, Brian Eno and Tony Visconti recording the album’s lengthy doom laden instrumental ‘Warszawa’ using a witty script and authentic voice characterisations by comedian Adam Buxton, himself no stranger to sending up the music scene via ‘The Adam & Joe Show’.
At West Berlin’s Hansa Studios where the ‘Low’ sessions were being mixed in 1976, the guards in the watch towers in East Berlin could look into the windows of the building! Although named after the Polish capital, ‘Warszawa’ accurately captured the post-war tensions within the divided city without the need for overt lyricism. However, Buxton’s send-up reimagines what Bowie may have had in mind lyrically, insecure in the fact that Eno had totally composed and realised the track!
The animation also accurately highlights Tony Visconti’s often under appreciated role in co-producing ‘Low’ plus the subsequent ‘Berlin Trilogy’ albums ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’; the frustrated New Yorker is seen to be ranting about “doing a lot of co-production, probably more than people think…”, a credit which has frequently been incorrectly attributed to Eno.
But what gives this animation the ultimate credible edge is Buxton’s spot-on Bowie impersonation and his affectionate references to fan trivia.
‘Warszawa’ is available on the album ‘Low’ via EMI Records
Are you a budding music journalist or blogger? There are some simple rules to adhere to 🙂
Based on true events experienced by The Electricity Club from involvement in websites, fanzines and publications over the years, here is a light hearted look at how following some basic steps could help your writing career prosper, either online or in print.
1 Research your questions for an interview
This will help you not to ask the same stuff that’s been printed over and over during the past however many years! And try to be a little more original than “when’s the DVD coming out?”, “how did you meet?” and “are you coming to the US?”
2 Being a fan does not give you entitlement to interview the band…
…so DO NOT complain to the editor, especially if someone with greater experience of the band has been given the assignment. No-one gets star interview at the start of their writing career… pay your dues and earn a good reputation first!
3 If your interview pitch is for a fan site of that particular band, then you are less likely to be granted an interview
This is because in the eyes of the PR, the end result would be rather preaching to the converted.
4 But if you do get the opportunity, don’t let your enthusiasm get the better of you when interviewing a band you are a fan of
You may want to know about how they came up with that obscure B-side, but don’t be so nerdy and confrontational in your questions when interviewing that they refuse to let the transcript go public afterwards!
5 Be polite in your line of questioning
An abrasive manner does not help… it is a musician you are interviewing, NOT the President of the United States
6 DO NOT ask the artist their favourite colour…
…or whether they prefer Spangles or Opal Fruits, you are not writing for Jackie!
7 You can’t know everything but if you are unsure of a band’s history and have to insert obvious questions into your interview to pad your own knowledge for the rest of the chat, then DO NOT leave those questions in the finished interview
There is nothing worse than a clueless hack with a bloated sense of ego!
8 Quote the present line-up and correct names…
…so, just to clarify, there has been no member of DEPECHE MODE called Alan Fletcher or anyone called Patrick Humphreys in OMD!
9 Ensure you spell the artist’s name correctly…
…so it is not Gary Newman, Paul Humphries or China Crises! And if the artist is male, do not use the female spelling!
10 Make sure you know what were the band line-ups for each album and era…
…so after the interview, DO NOT ask two members of the current line-up to sign a copy of the band’s debut single that they didn’t play on!
11 Try to remember why the drummer got ousted from the band before publishing a completely wrong version of events…
This is especially important when the story has been quoted in at least two official publications plus numerous magazines back in the day! If you are unsure, then it is best to say nothing!
12 Get your basic facts right!
There is nothing worse than schoolboy errors to dampen your credibility, Google and Discogs are your friends.
13 You’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts
Be aware of the distinction and learn to listen to experts because they are so-called for a reason. So just to clarify! GARY NUMAN’s appearance at Manchester Apollo in 1979… it were NOT a TUBEWAY ARMY concert! 😉
14 Understand when something is being said to you “off the record”
Not everything said is for publication so learn to be discreet when appropriate. This will help the artist establish a trustworthy professional relationship with you for the future.
15 Try not to keep going back to the band’s 1979’s debut LP…
…especially as it is 2014 and the band have just released their new album!
16 Just because you did a questionable recording on your mate’s portastudio back in 1991 does not mean you and the artist are kindred spirits – try to keep on topic!
So try NOT to tell the band HOW to be creative…in your opinion! The artist is not your new best buddy just because the PR arranged for you to have 20 minutes backstage!
17 Switch off your phone!
It is basic good manners if you are not using your phone to at least have it on silent when face-to-face interviewing, attending press conferences or chatting to someone live on stage in front of an audience… so be alert. And if invited to a film premiere, DO NOT arrive late; that will cause enough problems when you take your seat but there is also the distinct possibility of your phone going off ‘Trigger Happy TV’ style during the key death scene… DOH! TOO LATE!!
18 DO NOT take so long over arranging an interview and writing up the transcript that during the process, one of the original band members dies!
Deadlines are there for a reason but it is a bit unfortunate when a member of the band passes away before publication! But be sensitive as the interview will look an opportunistic cash-in if it goes out too soon afterwards.
19 DO NOT slag off the record label boss or PR of the band you are trying to get an interview with
Your comments may be witty but it will not help your cause, what with biting the hand that feeds and all that! It’s best not to take it personally when an interview pitch doesn’t come off… the band and the record label DO NOT owe it you no matter how long you have been a fan!
20 DO NOT pitch for a brief interview and then make it go on for hours…
…especially when you are not actually a journalist but a wanabee posing as a hack in order to pass your own frankly awful music onto the band!
21 Stick to the quoted interview timings…
…so do not spend most of that time doing the talking while the interviewee only gets to say an occasional “yes”, “no” and “correct”. The world does not want to read your inane chit-chat. Remember that! So keep on topic!
22 If the artist pins you to the wall while he pours out his life story, try to bring them back to the point, you are not their agony aunt
Ask how they are to be polite. But if the said artist is known for having various problems with dependency and all that lark, it maybe best to just head straight to the interview. And definitely DO NOT ask a recovering alcoholic if he’d like a rum and coke!
23 Make sure your equipment is fully working and capable of recording before starting the interview
An hour of hissing white noise doesn’t make for good article! Ensure the dictaphone is fully operational and that the batteries are new. Insert batteries into the device BEFORE you turn up to do the interview.
24 If the editor gets in touch to find out if the interview they have arranged for you has gone ok, then have the decency to reply and let them know
The editor has spent a lot of time to co-ordinate arrangements for you, so they should not have to contact the PR to find out! Appreciate that they have given you a platform.
25 DO NOT ask the editor to put up a sound file of the interview under the guise of it being cool…
…because the real reason is that you are too lazy to transcribe and edit it!
26 DO NOT say you are from a ‘quality web publication’ when all you are really going to do is post the interview on your Facebook page…
You will be found out! If you are pitching for an interview, the PR needs to know you have a valid platform for it.
27 DO NOT accept a review pass and then not review the gig…
There is no such thing as being able to “blag free tickets”. As unbelievable it may seem, there is usually a reason why the majority of the people are on the guest list! And if the band do list you and give you time for a chat at the aftershow, at least have the decency to thank them.
28 DO NOT attempt to review a gig having never bothered to attend…
…it does show!
29 No-one wants to know the keyboard player scratched their nose in a gig review!
No, seriously, they don’t!
30 DO NOT attempt a gig review where your partner and best mate also get their say
People want to know whether the band played their first single and a lesser known album track plus whether they were any good. They DO NOT want to see a three way conversation about who has seen the band most! And people are NOT interested in what the journey to the venue was like either!
31 DO NOT submit the gig review a month after the gig has happened
People have short memories – it’s past!
32 Try to refrain from the use of ‘professional photographic material’ that in the main features the blurry back of someone’s head!
A good photo is a good photo whether it is taken with an SLR or a Canon Ixus50… focus, compose, tone and crop! And no, blurred photos DO NOT add atmosphere! But also ensure there are no infringed copyrights if the photograph incorporates the band’s light show 😉
33 Be aware female artists in particular can be very sensitive about the way they look in photos
Even the most attractive ladies can have a bad hair day or appear to look half asleep when snapped at the wrong moment. And shooting upwards only exaggerates double chins on even the leanest of souls. You are not doing an artist any favours by posting these photos. Think about whether the photo is actually good or not!
34 Be realistic about what you can achieve
Flaunt your abilities but also know your limitations… less can mean more! So it is best not suggest doing a monthly column for a publication when you can barely meet the deadlines for the one article per quarter you are doing at the moment!
35 DO NOT keep missing deadlines…
When an interview is to plug a show or tour, it helps to submit the transcript BEFORE the event takes place! And if you miss deadlines once too often, the editor will eventually have enough! To do it with one publication can be unfortunate but with two!!!??
36 Just because you write for an 80s fixated publication doesn’t mean you have to drop that decade into EVERYTHING you do
Ok, you have a distinct market but try NOT to barrel roll all your subjects into a single niche. This is particularly inappropriate when asking an act about “their 80s heyday” when in fact, their heyday was actually between 1974-79!!
37 DO NOT keep using the term ’80s’ as a description for music when the editor has actually told you several times not to!
There is more than one way to say how a song with a synthesizer sounds!
38 Posting up Soundcloud files on your blog and going “This is a song, now here’s another…” is NOT journalism
Neither is cutting and pasting a press release word-for-word!
39 DO NOT cut and paste from another blog’s article…
…because you will be found out eventually!
40 Quotes for a feature from archive press coverage are acceptable, but DO NOT pad your article out with them
People might rightly accuse you of laziness and you will get yourself into greater hot water if you try to imply the quotes are recent.
41 An album review should read like a story, not a shopping list…
…so “this is a fast one, this is a slow one, this one sounds like Simple Minds, this one is the most electronic… it’s the album of the year” does not count as a review!
42 Ensure you have indeed distinguished correctly between the guitar and what is actually the synth solo
It does help to know what instruments sound like… and not all instruments made of brass are trumpets! And make sure you can tell your tape recorders from your drum machines…
43 DO NOT spend a year slagging off a whole genre of music – and then post gushing praise on one band that’s part of that genre simply on the basis that they’re the most successful band in a particular territory!
It’s very inconsistent! What you did there… the public sees it!
44 DO NOT complain to the editor about the acts being covered by the publication when you are less than doing your bit for the cause…
…this is especially inappropriate when the editor has offered a platform for you to feature one of your favourite bands, but you have been too lazy to write about them!
45 DO NOT have a go at the editor for not covering an event that you’re not prepared to go yourself
The editor’s decision is final – always. DO NOT think you know their publication best… you are a cog of a far bigger machine!
46 Learn how to use “there” and “their”
Plus “its” and it’s”, and “your” and “you’re”…
47 DO NOT dress like a tramp when rocking up to an event that prides itself on dressing well
This is particularly important if you’re pitching for an interview and advance of the album. First impressions DO count! And if you do get an advance of the album, DO NOT go on about it on Facebook!
48 A 10,000 word article on a one hit wonder is pushing it a bit
You may think they are the great lost act of their generation but the public probably doesn’t… this is likely to be WHY they are a one hit wonder!
49 DO NOT invent a new feature series for the publication without consulting the editor first…
It doesn’t matter how much you think that lost one hit wonder needs another platform to gain more recognition…
50 When the editor says you can exceed the word count of 1000, they actually mean maybe another 50 – 100 words…
…so a 4,000 synopsis is NOT acceptable! Edit and edit again!
51 DO NOT, under any circumstances, leak samples from the new album that have been supplied to you for review purposes only!
You will be hung and you will NEVER get an interview or a review pass for the band concerned again… EVER!
52 DO NOT announce you have an interview with a famous artist on your social networks and poll people for possible questions to use in the interview
The impression you will give is that you are actually bragging and have no intention of using the polled questions. OR, you are clueless and therefore, have no idea what to ask your subject!
53 Actually, maybe it’s best NOT to say that you are interviewing a famous artist before it’s happened at all…
…because you will look a bit of an idiot if it doesn’t come off for whatever reason!
54 Emotion, personification, setting the scene and alliteration with imagery…
…it’s what they teach Primary school pupils in creative writing; aspiring adult journalists could do a lot worse than to try some of the same.
55 Other blogs and publications are available
People DO NOT have to read what you write, so DO NOT complain when they don’t! 😉
Text by Chi Ming Lai and Ian Ferguson
16th April 2014, updated 21st August 2015
‘Look Around You’ was a BBC2 comedy series which parodied vintage schools TV programmes like ‘Experiment’ and shows such as ‘Tomorrow’s World’ which showcased new advances in science and technology.
In its heyday, ‘Tomorrow’s World’ featured a number of musical items, famously introducing the Moog Modular in 1969 and KRAFTWERK in 1975.
There were later also items on the Fairlight CMI and an in-studio piece with producer Stephen J Lipson demonstrating the Synclavier during an ACT recording session with Claudia Brücken.
‘Look Around You’ and its first series of eight 10-minute shorts was shown in 2002 while a second series of six 30-minute episodes broadcast in 2005. The first programme in Series 2 was entitled ‘Music 2000’ and featured a synth enthusiast named Synthesizer Patel, played by Glaswegian actor Sanjeev Kohli, brother of stand-up comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli.
The inventor of the Easitone ‘Play-In-A-Day’ 50, Synthesizer Patel discusses the amazing possibilities of the synthesizer but bemoans its inability to recreate the sound of the bassoon; this was to become a running gag throughout the series.
The episode featured a ‘Top of the Pops’ styled introduction, even using Phil Lynott’s 1981 theme tune ‘Yellow Pearl’ for added authenticity to its period set piece. There was also a song contest in the episode where songs for the imagined futureworld such as ‘Machadaynu’, ‘Theoretical Physicist’ and ‘The Rapping Song’ were entered.
Sending up the straight laced but almost patronising nature of programmes of that era, ‘Look Around You’ also featured another musical item on the boîte diabolique which was a box at the top of a piano scale that housed “the 19 forbidden notes”.
Although Sanjeev Kohli only appeared briefly as Synthesizer Patel, he became a cult figure within the electronic music community.
An eyewitness reported that when Kohli went to see Thomas Dolby play a gig at the Glasgow Film Theatre and met the synth pioneer afterwards, Dolby was so excited that he asked to have a photo taken with Kohli! Meanwhile, Hannah Peel and Helen Marnie are among his Twitter followers.
So please remember the best piece of advice from Synthesizer Patel… activate the burglar alarms on your synths “because crime’s so bloody bad and these b*stards, they steal your synthesizers!”
Sanjeev Kohli kindly took time out from a busy schedule to answer a few questions from The Electricity Club about Synthesizer Patel.
How was the character conceived?
You would have to ask the writers / producers / stars Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz.
All I know is that they auditioned quite a few people for it, so I was incredibly chuffed to get the part. ‘Look Around You’ Series 1 was outstanding, beautifully observed and wonderfully absurd – in fact I had bought the DVD about a week before I got the call for the audition. I would have called it fate, but I don’t believe in that sh*t.
Were you a fan of synthesizers before this and what synth bands did you like?
I do play the keyboards a bit. Very badly. Bruno Martelli ruined synths for many of my generation. I got a Yamaha for my 20th birthday which my kids play on now. And yes it has a bossanova function, which is GREAT for dinner parties. My big hero was Jon Lord from Deep Purple – mainly for his Hammond work, but he unveiled a Moog around 1973. In terms of Synth Bands, I would plump for Depeche Mode, OMD, Kraftwerk and Moroder. And, of course, Giraffe. Word of advice to OMD; if you want to make an impact on the whatever generation, change your name to Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Gark.
What inspired Synthesizer Patel’s obsession with bassoons and alarms?
Again, you’d have to ask Robert and Peter. I think maybe they’d seen an oblique reference to it in a documentary. As in a guy who actually took steps against synth theft. (I may have got this completely wrong. I inadvertently started that whole ‘Bob Holness was Marilyn Manson’ thing, which was actually a misheard conversation)
Do you actually have a favourite synthesizer?
I couldn’t be more of a synth interloper, but I’m going to say the Minimoog. Three oscillators? I think so!
Synthesizer Patel only ever appeared on a few occasions. When did you realise he had become a bit of a cult hero?
When the band WILCO namechecked him in a song ‘You Never Know’ and then asked me to join them on stage in character at the Royal Festival Hall. Doesn’t get any better than that. They even sourced me a keytar, which keyboard player Mikael Jorgensen ‘Tronned up’ with fluorescent tape. I fired imaginary laser beams from the neck of the keytar into the audience… 90% of whom, I explained to the band, probably had no idea who Synthesiser Patel was and thought I was either care in the community or a genuine alien.
What happened when you met Thomas Dolby?
Went to see him performing in Glasgow. Great gig. Bought a CD from him in the foyer. A lovely, friendly fella. Naturally he had no idea who I was.
Do you think the Synthesizer Patel character could have evolved? What do you think he would be doing in 2014?
He would constantly be trying to make futuristic music, but because of the great technological leaps in the last 10 years, he would find this harder and harder. By this point his music would only be futuristic by about a week. He would also still be trying to make gaseous music – an ongoing project – while still gigging in the Bedfordshire area with his band ATTACK SUSTAIN DECAY RELEASE.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Sanjeev Kohli
Special thanks also to Ian Ferguson
’Look Around You’ Complete BBC Series 1 and Complete BBC Series 2 are available on DVD via 2 Entertain Video