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Popular Music and Television in Britain ed. by Ian Inglis (review)
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Popular music and television are intimately connected. The two have been bound into each other’s narratives since their roughly contiguous emergence in the post-war era as twin nodes of a new kind of culture that sought, at its best, to be inclusive, representative and democratic. This has been the case in Britain as much as it has in other centres of Western culture, such as America or Australia. The dynamism of this relationship was amply demonstrated most recently by the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, where, in the former’s Closing Ceremony, for example, British popular music served as the narrative thread binding together hyperactive and often televisually-mediated representations of British culture of the past fifty or so years. Popular music also played an almost equally important, if less explicitly binding and centred, narratological role in the other three Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Popular Music and Television in Britain, edited by Ian Inglis and published as part of the Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series, attempts to map some of the contours of this symbiotic relationship between popular music and television. As Inglis points out in the Introduction, British television has been ‘a principal source of contact between audiences and performers’, which actively seeks ‘to incorporate, organise and distribute information about, and images of, popular music’ (2). Given the symbiosis just mentioned, it is surprising, according to Inglis, that ‘there have been relatively few concentrated investigations of the relationship between music and TV’ (2). With the notable exceptions of this journal and of various monographs on the subject, the ‘dynamic connection’ (1) between television and music has inspired only what Inglis describes as a ‘somewhat sparse academic literature’ (2). This book, then, attempts to counter such academic sparseness, explicitly seeking to provide an ‘initial version’ of an ‘analysis of the opportunities and reciprocities that exist between the two mediums’ (2).

In this aim, it is more than successful. Its four parts cover, in turn, historical aspects of popular music on television and constructions of popular music history through television; significant television performances and discrete performers’ relationships with television; the use and place of popular music in specific comedy and drama programmes; and regional aspects of televisual presentations of popular music. As is so often the case in edited books of this nature, the thematic demarcations of its constituent parts do not quite hold in practice. Peter Mills and Rupa Huq’s respective chapters, for example, could reasonably be incorporated into both Parts I and II, whilst Richard Mills’ illuminating history of ATV’s Revolver, which succinctly conveys the tension between ‘meaning’ and ‘manipulation’ (153) both in this postmodern programme and post-punk more generally, could conceivably be placed into Parts I, II or III (it’s in the latter). However, the broad scope set out by the four parts is more than adequate as an organising principle, allowing the book to integrate a wide range of subjects, issues and approaches, such that it ends up providing a wealth of valuable information and insights, distributed across what are in the main concise, perceptive and often theoretically sophisticated chapters.

What I felt was lacking was any sustained coverage of the commercially dominant modes of televisual representation and organisation of popular music in the twenty-first century, the cluster of reality and variety shows centring on the X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and Strictly Come Dancing. These shows, with their huge viewing figures and their almost total reliance on music as a mediator and engine of dramatic tension, would surely have merited extensive analysis. As it is, apart from a few passing mentions and the inclusion of a rather naïve quotation on the subject from Paul Morley (15), they are absent.

Another key area that is underexplored in this book is ‘the re-modelling’, as described by Inglis, of television watching as a domestic activity which has taken place in the twenty-first century (7). The emergence of high-definition digital programming and digital recording technologies, and the (re)invention of television-type viewing with the migration of televisual content to web platforms such as the iPlayer and the emergence of sites like YouTube – the latter of which...

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