September, 2009

The Beatles Reissued

Today marks the day that The Beatles complete catalogue is re-issed on CD (and quite possibly digitally – but we’ll find out later).
The original CDs were – seemingly – fairly rushed affairs and during the intervening years, technology has marched on, and many less famous classic albums have had the remastering process applied.
For some it’s a simple affair with just a bit of tidying up at the outer edges, but I know full-well that the master recordings were pulled out for this release, and a start-from-fresh policy was adopted.
The albums will largely be available on the high-street for about £10.99 (and a pound less on Amazon et al) which also seems remarkably reasonable for individual titles. I’ve long moaned about the fact that Beatles albums were way over-priced. While just about any other major artist got the “Nice Price” treatment, The Beatles remained more expensive than just about any other back catalogue titles out there.
They remained that expensive because they could get away with it. Clearly there’s still not another musical act that can claim to be as big.
As a consequence, until very recently, I’d never bought a Beatles album. I do own a copy of Sgt. Pepper, bought around the 40th anniversary a year or so ago. It was also around this time that the albums dropped to around the ten pound level on the high street. But by then we all knew the remasters were coming.
I do have some Beatles on vinyl though, courtesy of my parents collection (including, I think, the mono version of Sgt. Pepper).
So will I be rushing out to buy my copies of the re-issues today?
Er, no.
Why not? Because “troubled” EMI still seems to be trying too hard to gouge fans with its pricing.
A few years ago, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds got the remastering treatment too. Since albums from the sixties and seventies tended to be quite short, coming in at around half an hour or so, it was quite possible, on the remastered disc, to fit both stereo and mono versions of Pet Sounds. I’m happy with that.
And that’s not a solitary exception. There are other classic albums that exist in both formats on the same disc.
I suspect that most people will just want the stereo editions of the albums and will settle for that boxset – albeit at a price which almost negates any savings from buying the albums seperately (of course, there are extras only to be found in the box). But the mono versions come in their own seperate boxset purely designed to hit collectors and the purist. It’s the same as George Lucas and his various versions of the original Star Wars trilogy. I refuse to be suckered.
Some fans are a bit miffed that SACD versions of the albums haven’t been made available – or DVD Audio or Blu-Ray. “Love” was released in such a format a couple of years ago, and high-end classical music is regularly released in SACD format. It’ll play fine in a regular CD player, but if you have the appropriate hi-fi gear, you can benefit from surround sound versions. With Love that was fine, but I accept it’s questionable whether or not surround sound should be applied to albums that were only ever designed to mastered in – at best – stereo.
Then there’s the attendant hype. We’ve had a Beatles day on Radio 2, and another on BBC2. My own employer has been playing albums in full in the evenings (we do this regularly anyway though), and there’s the video game. Finally, for some reason it’ll be amazing news if Beatles tracks are available via iTunes. That announcement either will or won’t come later today. Quite why it’s so important isn’t clear. If you want the albums – go and buy them. They’re in the shops after all!
But I won’t be buying today, thanks very much. I appreciate the lots of work has gone into these CDs – but they’re still too pricey as a set for me. I could just pick up some of the individual titles, but then perhaps post Christmas the boxset will be down to a more palatable price?
We’ll see.

All Change At Radio 2

So the news that we all sort-of knew was going to happen anyway, has come to pass. Following a “BBC insider” having a chat with the Mail on Sunday over the weekend, El Tel has announced to his listeners that – yes – it is true. He’ll soon be departing his weekday breakfast show, and will be replaced by Chris Evans who currently presents drivetime.
That leaves drive on Radio 2 free, and although at time of writing nothing’s been confirmed, Mayo has been on Twitter: “You really would think I would have had the common decency to tell you what’s happening wouldn’t you?”
I think we can be reasonably sure that he’ll take the drivetime show. He doesn’t want to move to Salford where all the main 5 Live presenters will be required to broadcast from (seemingly) in a year or two’s time. This, then, is the obvious move.
From my personal listening perspective, I’ll be thoroughly disappointed by this. Mayo is a fine broadcaster – one of the best in the country really. And speech radio really works for him. He can move effortlessly between politics, breaking news (he was on-air for the September 11 attacks – I know as I was listening during a car journey), entertainment and books.
Indeed I’d suggest that his show is one of the best in any medium for an author to get on to promote a new book.
While I don’t doubt that many of these features will follow through to Radio 2, it’s a music station, and unless it takes a fantastically different path, then Mayo will do less talking, have fewer guests and will play more records. My “Daily Mayo” podcast won’t be the same.
Of course there will be someone replacing Mayo, and while stalwarts of the station like Phil Williams and Richard Bacon have sat in for Mayo, perhaps the smart money should be on Mark Radcliffe?
But back to breakfast. How will a Terry Wogan audience adapt to Chris Evans? Wogan’s audience of very nearly 8m comes from just 7.30 to 9.30 (compared with say, Moyles’ 3.5 hours).
Evans, meanwhile has 5.4m listeners between 17.00 and 19.00. But the average age of his audience is a little younger at 49 compared with 53 for Wogan. Averages are fine, but they don’t tell the whole story. Wogan currently gets 46.5% of his listeners from the 55+ age group, but interestingly 53.0% of the listening that he gets is from this age goup.
In other words, Wogan’s older audience listens longer.
Compare that with Evans. 34.1% of his audience is aged 55+, but they account for just 33.8% of all listening.
In other words Evans has fewer older listeners who listen for shorter time periods.
Wogan is 71 and Evans is 43.
This means that when Evans starts on breakfast in January 2010:
– Older listeners will desert Evans who’s not to their taste
– Younger listeners will start listening to Evans (possibly coming from Radio 1 or even commercial radio)
– Both of the above
Media commentator Ray Snoddy suggested on Twitter that “Replacing Wogan with Chris Evans must be part of a very cunning plan to give commercial radio a break. Beeb not going for ratings any more.”
But I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as all that. While Radio 2 might lose listeners as older ones stop listening, they’re unlikely to drift towards any commercial services; there just aren’t any that really target 55+ – Smooth, Classic FM or LBC being perhaps, the exceptions.
And some commercial stations will surely lose out as younger listeners perhaps start listening to Evans again (This will probably Richard Park even angrier. He wants to roll Jamie and Harriet out across the Heart network but isn’t allowed to. I’m not sure where that says to all the current Heart local breakfast DJs…).
One thing is clear from all of this: Chris Moyles’ celebrations about being the longest running Radio 1 breakfast show host are being somewhat overshadowed!
As ever, these are my person views, and do not represent those of my employer.

Some Recent TV

A Bank Holiday weekend ahead of the start of the Autumn TV season, saw a few new series start or return, and a couple of one-offs.
Framed was by Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of such films as Millions. What I suspected, but which I didn’t gain from the credits, was that this was based on a novel. Not only that, but it was an older children’s novel.
So my first question is why this programme went out at 8.30pm meaning that it didn’t end until 10pm when surely in many households, younger children will have had to go to bed? It didn’t really address “adult themes” and could quite easily have played at 4.00pm in the afternoon. The real reason is that soap operas dictate early evening schedules, and there isn’t room before 8.30pm for a 90 minute drama, since Monday is Eastenders’ night. In which case, Sunday evening might have been more suitable.
Incidentally, every time a soap introduces an additional episode of
The tale itself was desperately silly with a plumbing disaster at the National Gallery requiring all the masterpieces be transported to the same Welsh mountain mine that they’d been stored in during WWII. That’s fine. I don’t mind silly.
But what I did feel a little uneasy about was the casting. I’ve no problem with either Trevor “Shoestring” Eve or Eve “Torchwood” Myles who are both excellent actors. But when the former is 58 and the latter 31, I find it harder to believe in a budding romance between the two. Older men with younger women are common on TV – you just don’t tend to see the reverse.
As I say, the story was silly, but fun. And it was a perfectly good family drama. But slightly miscast, and badly scheduled.
Over on BBC2, Tim Samuels (nope – no idea), was investigating the business of porn. In particular he was looking at the profits that are being made, and in particular the cash being made by otherwise respectable companies. This was quite legitimate with most mobile companies, the majority of hotel chains and the credit card companies making significant profits from porn despite projecting strong values in company statements.
The documentary ended with a disturbing section shot in Ghana, where we’re told, the effects of unfettered porn was leading to some serious social problems.
But the programme had problems too. Samuels kept showing up on-set at porn shoots like so many porn documentaries before him. While sometimes the interviews with the actors were a little disturbing (lack of condoms and doing things they frankly don’t want to do), there was a certain leeriness in his presence. And for some reason, the producers adopted a pathetic device for reading out statements from the various blue-chip companies who profit from “adult entertainment”, by employer porn stars to read out the statements in their underwear. This felt like having your cake and eating it.
Over on Channel 4, the end of Big Brother is nigh – both for this series, and forever (at least on this channel). Yet a couple of new series did start this weekend. Scrapheap Challenge, the long-running series about making things returned. Except that it has clearly had its budget cut significantly (something that Paul O’Grady is not willing to accept). So instead of Robert Llewellyn or Lisa Rogers, we have Dick Strawbridge who first came to light on this show. And there’s no scrapyard or 12 hour builds now. Instead teams build at home, and then come together for the competition at the end. This has the effect of lessening the emphasis on the build itself, and spending more time on the competition at the end. Three teams compete for the chance to take on a presenters’ team.
Some of this is fine. I think the actual competing at the end was often the most entertaining part of Scrapheap. But the savings are obvious on-screen with limited coverage now of the build, and even the graphics explaining the science behind the technology being notably lower quality than in previous years.
Channel 4 also debuted a series called Atlantic Covoys which examined, in detail, what happened across the Atlantic during WWII as convoys were created and U-Boats attacked. It did a good job covering ground that, while not altogether new (there was an episode of World at War devoted to this very subject, for example), still merited this programme. There’s also been a previous BBC series that covered the whole Battle of the Atlantic, but this series is concentrating – so far at least – on the merchant seamen.
Next week’s episode looks at the effect of Bletchley Park cracking the cyphers that the U-Boats used (a favourite subject of mine, I must admit).
I just wish C4 wouldn’t hide away quality like this at 6.45pm on a Sunday evening. They’re scared stupid to put serious documentaries like this at 8pm or 9pm.