★★ HITS, HYPE AND HUSTLE, BBC FOUR A bean-counter's journey through rock'n'roll
The “insider’s guide to the music business” tag attached to Hits, Hype and Hustle: An Insider's Guide to the Music Business (BBC Four) dangles the carrot of all kinds of clandestine scams being exposed, such as extortionate recording contracts, systematic chart-rigging or Mafia rackets involving cut-out records. Instead, this episode was merely a meander through the history of live performances in rock music.
Our host was John Giddings, a veteran agent and promoter who has worked with almost everyone you can think of, from the Stones and U2 to Genesis, Bowie and Madonna, and currently runs the born-again Isle of Wight festival. Though an expert in his chosen field, Giddings is nobody’s idea of a TV presenter, and his contributions were functional at best. He (or somebody) had rounded up a few rock’n’roll veterans to garnish the proceedings with some on-the-road anecdotes, so we had Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson recalling how somebody had tipped a pint of urine over him one night just as he was going onstage, while Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction had a good old moan about having to perform too many shows on the trot and how exhausting it is to have to keep catching aeroplanes.
The plan was simple: start in the early days of the rock’n’roll business, when tours were shambolic, amateurish affairs and nobody made any money, especially the artists, and work forward chronologically to today’s environment when major tours are organised like the Allied invasion of Europe, only even more expensive and with vastly improved technology. Although rock music has liked to appear anarchic and disdainful of boring business competence, Giddings’s thesis was that only the most hard-boiled professionals will survive, and maximising revenue from touring has become critical now that buying albums has gone out of fashion. We saw him delivering a lecture to Eighties band Big Country on the art of pricing tickets, while Stewart Copeland, who was the drummer with The Police, ridiculed the incompetence of punk bands who often failed to turn up to their own gigs, while Copeland and co conquered America with ruthless time-and-motion precision.
As for the Rolling Stones, they displayed typical financial wiliness by spending the minimum on effects which nonetheless did the job (eg Mick Jagger swinging out over the audience on a common-or-garden rope, or gyrating on a large but very cheap plastic phallus). Anderson recalled the days when Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin toured together and got by with a combined road crew of four, which enabled them to turn a tidy profit. Once Zeppelin hired a private airliner and accumulated a huge entourage, they were to all intents and purposes igniting giant bonfires of tenners.
All of which rather stripped away such romance as there is in stories about bands dragging themselves around the world. Giddings went for a backstage wander around Twickenham Stadium as U2 prepared to play there last summer, and had a chat with Adam Clayton. The bass player. Clayton is an affable chap, but being told yet again about U2’s vast video projection screens and their multiple stages leapfrogging across the Continent was really not that interesting.
The most fun came from veteran funk showmen Earth Wind & Fire, who recalled being humiliatingly blown off the stage by the mighty Funkadelic, which prompted them to go away and dream up a spectacular new live show involving levitation stunts (pictured above) and an exploding pyramid. This proved to be just the ticket, and they even spotted Michael Jackson sitting in the audience taking notes.
“It’s always been about one thing – the joy of the shared experience,” was Giddings’s summing-up of the live music experience. Or for the promoter, the joy of counting his share of the money.