God only knows what the BBC is doing with music

God only knows what the BBC is doing with music


norman lebrecht

October 08, 2014

In one of those corporate gestures that either capture the public imagination or fall into a blancmange of embarrassment, the BBC has blazed across all its networks a compilation recording of the Beach Boys hit involving an ill-judged plethora of British performers.

BBC - The Impossible Orchestra


You can watch the compilation here.

The Guardian has entertainingly run down most of the stellar cast-list. We find it musically uninteresting and the corporate hype asphyxiating. Compared to the BBC’s Just a Perfect Day in 1997, this veers more towards blancmange than inspiratio.

Worse, it looks like a Big Brother operation. Until now, only the death of a monarch or the outbreak of war was supposed to broadcast across all networks. Now, the BBC seems prepared to use that prerogative for its own propaganda and the glorification of its damply reorganised executive structure. We fear for the future of music on the BBC.


God Only Knows stars


  • Well, at least their trying to promote the arts. But the message is unclear.

  • Max Schubert says:

    It’s just depressing really that Slipped Disc feels the need to align itself with the Guardian’s patronizing carp about this promo film. It’s like the sour faced clever dick who turns up an event where everyone is just letting their hair down only to be lectured on how naff/brainwashed/gullible they all are.

    Why can’t this be seen as it is? A short rather fantastical film about the general output of BBC music, from pop to jazz to a bit of classical. And why does the classical input have to be a bit of “tokenism”? When popular music has a larger market share then the classical then surely it is perfectly acceptable that classical has less prominence?

    The problem with Slipped Disc’s attitude, in which it “fears” for the future of music on the BBC, is not just it’s doom-laden prophecising from the sidelines but that it entrenches the idea that classical music should be elitist, for a culturally privileged minority and that pop music is somewhat at odds with – and competing against – classical music. Musicians such as Alison Balsom, Nicola Benedetti and Danielle de Niese have put a lot of energy into breaking down these barriers without making an excuse for the demands of classical music so perhaps their presence is more to do with acknowledging their appeal and reach rather than given them a token gesture.

    By the way, a quick google search would reveal that not all the artists featured are British – it’s just lazy journalism not to check and correct assumptions borne of ignorance.

    • Anne says:

      “When popular music has a larger market share then the classical then surely it is perfectly acceptable that classical has less prominence?”

      A couple of thoughts. This is the BBC, funded by a TV tax. Surely public sector broadcasting is supposed to allow freedom from commercial pressures, otherwise, what’s the point?

      Popular has a larger market share at any given moment, but generally speaking, classical’s appeal is spread over a much longer time period. I’d be interested to know how many listeners Beethoven has reached since 1770.

      • Max Schubert says:

        I’m not sure what point you are making. There is nothing in the film to suggest commercial pressures whatsoever. It’s not plugging record company merchandise nor artists concerts.

        Beethoven may have been heard by a great deal more people than many pop singers but his work has been around for hundreds of years. In any case no one – certainly not the BBC – make any claim this is a promo film for their classical music output.

    • SVM says:

      “When popular music has a larger market share then the classical then surely it is perfectly acceptable that classical has less prominence?”

      No, because BBC Radio 3’s public-service remit is to cater for classical music (and a little bit of jazz), intellectual discussion, drama, free thinking, the essay, &c. If I wanted to hear a stupid pop abomination, I would have tuned into R2, R1, 6Music, or one of the plethora of other stations that serve up pop all day. As it was, I switched off my radio about a minute into it, and not knowing (because they were really vague about what the abomination would be) when I should turn it back on to hear the interview with Daniel Hope (which I really did want to hear).

      The BBC has a serious case of double standards, unless it were broadcasting Birtwistle on television without my knowledge… oh wait, they cut the very short Birtwistle piece from the BBC4 broadcast of the NYO BBC Prom, one of the most watched Proms on television (after the First and Last Nights).

      • Max Schubert says:

        Last.time I tuned in there was plenty of classical music on Radio 3 so I don’t see how a 2 minute piece of music promo should could be so offensive and lead to accusations of the BBC trashing it’s remit. Nor how tbis is an example of ‘double standards’.

        It is precisely your self righteous, pompous, exclusive and elitist attitude towards classical music that is so off putting to so many people who feel that people like you treats classicall music as a private members club.

        Your dismissal of 10 Pieces as a ‘gimmick’ is very bizarre. It’s actually a concerted effort by BBC Learning to get as many primary school children engaged with classical music. Those of us who know that young lives can be enriched by music see this as a positive. Your ungenerous and rancorous snobbery entrenched what is so wrong about some people who wish to claim classical music for themselves. This is what is truly abominable. Not a Beach Boys song.

        • Anne says:

          Seems to me that any suggestion that classical music is being sidelined attracts a rude but predictable accusation along the lines of “self righteous, pompous, exclusive and elitist attitude”.

          “Last.time I tuned in there was plenty of classical music on Radio 3”

          Surely the essential point is that only established classical fans are likely to tune into R3. Like much of the BBC’s non-specialised programming, the opportunity to include classical in more mainstream areas is being missed, or replaced by tokenism which serves no useful purpose.

          If people really did believe that the classical world was “self righteous, pompous, exclusive and elitist” it would probably be an improvement because, in reality, many kids are not even aware that classical even exists.

          • Max Schubert says:

            I really don’t think the BBC are “sidelining” classical music. Quite the opposite. Their orchestras in all parts of the Nation do brilliant work, as does Radio 3 and BBC Television. What “SVM” is moaning about is the fact the Radio 3 has been invaded by the “abomination” of pop music for….ooh….two and half minutes? That sort of exclusivity is, indeed, an example of a :self righteous, pompous, exclusive and elitist attitude”. Worse is the dissing of 10 PIECES as a “gimmick”. This is a huge and concentrated effort by the BBC to get young people interested in classical music. With this type of education and enrichment it is hoped that more younger people will tune into Radio 3 and buy tickets for Brahms rather than just pop abominations. But I doubt whether the self appointed custodians of classical music and who should access it and how would approve…

  • KJT Herrick says:

    I like this compilation. Great song, beautiful production, fun to see who’s performing. Thanks, BBC!

  • V. Lind says:

    I thought Brian Wilson looked nervous, pained, confused and Old. I did not recognise him.

  • Nutters says:

    I like the video. As Max says – just take it for what it is. What appears to have been lost here (at least with the classical music brigade) is that this is the single for Children in Need and will raise a lot of money for charity. All my pop music friends love it – and many of them know who Nicola Benedetti, Alison Balsom, Daniele de Niese and Gareth Malone are!

    Such a great song though – though the original version would be my ultimate choice

    • SVM says:

      Children are also in need of good music; not noisy pop abominations and the gimmicky ’10 Pieces’. Your pop-music friends were able to hear what they love on R1 and R2 and elsewhere; why did R3 have to be misappropriated? It is a bit like saying to a Muslim, “we are going to impose an alcohol happy-hour at your mosque as part of a multicultural beer-festival featuring every local place of worship, because all your non-Muslim friends love it”.

      Besides, the BBC is a public-service broadcaster, not a commercial one; it is not really its remit to be raising money, to be honest.

      • Nutters says:

        EEK! This was played on Radio 3! I didn’t realise. I understand what you say but is it really that offensive?

        The BBC raise millions at Children in Need and raise peoples awareness to poverty and abominations all over the world. So this has a huge thumbs up from me.

  • Max Schubert says:

    It’s remit is not to be raising money? Er….

    The BBC’s over-arching principles which have governed the decisions of the BBC from its outset; is ‘to inform, educate and entertain’, it would be fair to conclude, that even when considering some of the
    BBC’s more controversial charity involvements, that this ‘Reithian trio’ is upheld. The concept of ‘informing’ its audience could be considered justified through providing information of charity
    initiatives and of the work of non-governmental organisations in their entirety. Through adopting charitable initiatives within its content, the BBC is immediately raising awareness of issues around
    the world and in the UK which the public may not have been subjected to otherwise. This concept can also be reflected within the remit of ‘education’, which is the one element of the ‘trio’ which could arguably ‘hold back’ the BBC in terms of competing against its commercial competitors.
    Charity collaborations, as well as raising awareness of those we have the potential to help, can also be viewed as powerful tools in educating the public of customs and values which may be beyond their cultural perimeters. The provision of educational
    material within programming may be seen as a disadvantage in terms of gaining viewers as a result of the influx of non-stimulating and passive entertainment shows which the BBC is required to
    compete against. Therefore the BBC’s knowledge that the implementation of charity appeals within its content can be used as a means of redeeming the fulfilment of its education remit; especially one
    which incorporates a wide demographic audience, could perhaps be inferred as a considerably influential factor in its decision making and willingness to cooperate.
    The BBC are also required to adhere to the third remit of ‘entertainment’ within its programming, and this remit is essential in order ‘to hold their audience shares against commercial broadcastersand hence maintain public and political support for their funding’. This remit is evidently satisfied through the BBC’s wide-scale national appeals such as Comic Relief and Live 8, and it is arguably the entertainment value of these events which makes them so successful and creates such a buzz within the public. What is particularly interesting about the way each of the values has significant resonance within charity appeals, is that it is rare that the BBC is able to create
    programming which can equally satisfy each of these remits through one means. This appears to be especially true within the digital age, whereby broadcasting as an industry is arguably being utilised
    primarily as a means of making money as opposed to serving an audience. This increased amount of content constituting ‘entertainment’ was ‘criticized by central observers for creating a misbalance in
    the co-called ‘Reithian trinity’ of information, education and entertainment’. The adoption of charity appeals, then, could be viewed as a way of the BBC re-establishing this balance.

    Furthermore, it could also be inferred that despite the Reithian trio being considered as more of a ‘discretionary formula’ as a result of the changing definitions of public service
    broadcasting in the twenty-first century, that in fact these three values do still form the basis for the other purposes outlined by the BBC and still retain their role as being the foundations upon which the nature of the BBC is built on.

  • Mike Carter says:

    Yet another elitist BBC bashing comment from Slipped Disc. I grew up with and loved the Beach Boys sound, and while I moved on many years ago to ‘classical’ music – my first love now is Richard Strauss – their music deserved to be heard. It’s interesting to note that one of the performers is Nicola Benedetti. not so long ago she was criticised by Slipped Disc for the fact that her most recent album did not take a stand on the indepenedence issue. Why on earth should it? Let’s have a bit more constructive comment please!

  • Sardis says:

    Max Schubert’s posts rather remind me of the old Griff Rhys Jones sketch parodying ‘Points of View’, the BBC’s readers comment slot. Something like – I would gladly sell my house and all its contents to fund the BBC.
    Seriously though – these ensemble recordings rarely work and in fact are often counter-productive. None of the genres portrayed has enough time to make an impression and the feeling is often ‘So what?’. I fear that this one may indeed be heading for a similar result but I will watch its progress with interest.

    • Max Schubert says:

      Sardis – “So What?” is the best response. It’s a nice pretty short film with a cross section of musicians doing bits and pieces to promote the BBC as a leading provide of music. The invective is that this has been – God forbid!! – allowed to poison the hallowed chambers of Radio 3. Well, the smelling salts have been passed and the pearls have been clutched and I haven’t sold my house

  • Peter says:

    Why is classical music the only genre required to be represented by someone ‘having a go’? i.e. Katie Derham. No other BBC presenters are offered ‘having a go’ at some instrument. OK, classical is a minority part of the BBC output, but take it seriously.

  • Nick says:

    I’m another who enjoyed this compilation! I loved the song when The Beach Boys first brought it out and I Iike this version. It’s fun! I really cannot understand what all the fuss is about!

  • Charles L. says:

    My general reaction to the BBC video, which I saw posted by a few friends on Facebook yesterday was, “huh.” I didn’t feel much either way. Then I watched it with my wife who said, “That was interesting. What’s it for?” I didn’t know.

    And now I just watched the 1997 video that Norman posted. My only reaction was “Huh. Apparently they did the exact same thing 17 years ago. And is that Bono without his sunglasses? I’ve never seen that.”

    So I guess I greet the whole thing with a shrug. I can’t bring myself to feel anything about this. It’s just…. meh.

  • HJP says:

    Brian Wilson is quoted in Nick Kent’s book The Dark Stuff as saying “We were doing witchcraft, trying to make witchcraft music.” This song and video alludes to this. The song kicks in proper after 33 seconds (33 degrees of Masonry). Pharrell with trousers alluding to Masonry descends a stairway comprising 13 notes. We are then confronted with a table alluding to Alice in Wonderland (Alice = a lice = brain parasite Toxoplasma gondii). Elton John with butterflies (Monarch clearing), fallen angel Lorde, etc.