BBC Four presents Old Grey Whistle Test Live: For One Night Only, explores the music of Africa and revisits 80s pop

BBC Music and BBC Four have announced three new programmes which will air in the coming months: Old Grey Whistle Test Live: For One Night Only, Africa: A Journey Into Music and The 80s Pop Road Map.

Published: 8 February 2018
Old Grey Whistle Test was such a magical time. I can’t wait to get back in the studio and relive those wonderful memories and introduce some great new performances
— Bob Harris

Old Grey Whistle Test Live: For One Night Only, hosted by Bob Harris, is a live three-hour show with music, special guests and rare archive to mark 30 years since the legendary series was last broadcast. There will be music from Peter Frampton, Richard Thompson and Albert Lee - who all performed on the show. Bob will be speaking to them and other guests, including Dave Stewart, Joan Armatrading, Ian Anderson, Kiki Dee, Chris Difford and Danny Baker, plus singer Mollie Marriott, Pink Floyd animator Ian Emes and Mike Appleton who produced the original series.

Also on BBC Four, Africa: A Journey Into Music explores the music of Mali, Nigeria and South Africa with presenter Rita Ray; and The 80s Pop Road Map (working title) sees Midge Ure and Kim Appleby take to the road to reveal just how this was the most revolutionary musical decade in British pop history.

Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor, BBC Four, says: “In a world of infinite music choice, BBC Four is the home of music on the BBC. I’m delighted to be celebrating one of the innovators of the genre, Old Grey Whistle Test with this one-off special which is sure to reaffirm the series’ legacy.

"Rita Ray’s exploration through Mali, Nigeria and South Africa will bring insight and context to the incredible music from these countries. And Midge Ure and Kim Appleby’s journey round the UK will give a fresh and innovative look at the music from the seminal decade that was the 80s.”


Old Grey Whistle Test Live: For One Night Only

Broadcasting live, Old Grey Whistle Test Live: For One Night Only (9pm-midnight, Friday 23 February) is a celebration of the iconic music television show that aired on the BBC from 1971 to 1988. Presented by Bob Harris, who fronted the series from 1972-1978, and produced by BBC Studios, the show returns to its original home of Television Centre in White City in a recreation of the programme’s early incarnation for a glorious evening of live music performances from some of the show’s favourite musicians.

Bob will be talking to a host of studio guests, from back room staff to musicians who performed on the show and fans who grew up with it. Other former presenters - including Annie Nightingale, Richard Williams, David Hepworth and Andy Kershaw - will also feature, sharing stories of their time on the series. There will be incredible archive footage of some of the best-loved and rarest performances from its extraordinary back catalogue, and during the live programme there will be an online viewer vote for the performance the BBC Four audience would most like to see again.

Bob Harris says: “Old Grey Whistle Test was such a magical time. It produced so many firsts for music television, whilst forging friendships for me that have lasted ever since. I can’t wait to get back in the studio and relive those wonderful memories and introduce some great new performances.”

Old Grey Whistle Test saw the first UK performances from Bob Marley and the Wailers, Dire Straits, New York Dolls, Tom Petty and XTC, as well as classic performances from Blondie, David Bowie, Deep Purple, John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Patti Smith, Queen, R.E.M., The Smiths and Talking Heads.

Caroline Wright, Editor, Entertainment Projects, BBC Studios says: “Old Grey Whistle Test was one of those unique shows that always felt like it was owned by its audience, consistently attracting the biggest and most enduring bands throughout its entire run and often introducing acts to British audiences for the first time. Drawing on the show’s unbelievable back catalogue of wonderful performances and guests, Old Grey Whistle Test Live: For One Night Only will celebrate this legendary series.”

In 2011, BBC Radio 2 celebrated four decades since the series was first broadcast with a 16 part series, Old Grey Whistle Test 40. It is now being broadcast again on Wednesdays (17 January - 2 May, 11pm-midnight). Presented by Bob Harris, each programme looks at one complete series of the original show, with archive recordings alongside both new interviews and exclusively recorded sessions with guests from the featured series. Contributors include Elton John, Stevie Nicks, Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry, Brian May, Joan Armatrading, Chris Rea, Jim Kerr and Paul Weller. Produced by The Whispering Bob Broadcasting Company.

  • Old Grey Whistle Test: For One Night Only is a BBC Studios production. The programme is executive produced by Caroline Wright. It was commissioned for BBC Four by Jan Younghusband, Head of Commissioning, Music Television, for Channel Editor Cassian Harrison.

Later this spring, Africa: A Journey Into Music sees DJ and broadcaster Rita Ray travel to Mali, Nigeria and South Africa in search of the ancient traditions and enduring influence of popular music from these three fascinating countries. She explores how much of the music listened to in the west has deep roots and strong connections to the music that comes from the African continent.

In South Africa Rita discovers the extraordinary songs and harmonies that have given the diverse nation a voice abroad. The music has often carried messages about inequality and injustice, particularly during apartheid. Rita meets social campaigner Denis Goldberg, who was imprisoned along with other key members of the anti-apartheid movement, and finds out about the music that kept him going whilst he was incarcerated; plus male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who rose to worldwide prominence after collaborating with Paul Simon in 1986.

In Mali Rita discovers the country’s deep musical culture and the ancient instruments that are the hallmark of their sound, plus the well of talent that has drawn in artists and producers from around the world to collaborate with musicians there. Whilst the country has been rocked by insurgency, leading to a ban on music in some areas, Rita finds a traditional way of life and rich musical heritage that has endured. Rita speaks to Garba Touré, the guitarist from Songhoy Blues, who last year performed at Glastonbury Festival, 6 Music Festival and on BBC Two’s Later 25 with Jools Holland. Formed in the Malian capital Bamako in 2012, the band fuses western influences with Malian melodies.

The series culminates in Nigeria where Rita traces the importance of rhythm in the country’s music and discovers the many different musical styles it has created. Nigeria's extraordinary poly-rhythms have powered styles such as high-life and funk for decades and can still be heard in afrobeat, the current pop genre which has swept the continent and the world. Musician King Sunny Adé, a pioneer of modern world music, tells Rita about the acclaim he received in Europe following the global release of his record, Juju Music, in the early 80s.

Contributors across the three-part series include Sipho Mabuse, Thandiswa Mazwai, Kanyi Mavi, Victor Uwaifo, Orlando Julius Ekemode, Keziah Jones, Nneka (pictured with Rita above), Tamikrest, Sidiki Diabaté and Salif Keita.

Rita says: “Everywhere I travelled on this odyssey I came across new music makers blazing their own trail of irresistible sounds full of swagger and confidence. African music still influences most of the music we listen to, still makes an impact in concert halls and dance floors around the world. Fantastic journey, fantastic music - I am still pinching myself.”

  • Africa: A Journey Into Music is a Sundog Pictures Ltd production. The programme is executive produced by Sam Anthony for Sundog Pictures Ltd. It was commissioned for BBC Four by Jan Younghusband, Head of Commissioning, Music Television for Channel Editor, Cassian Harrison.

The 80s Pop Road Map

The 80s Pop Road Map (working title) comes to BBC Four. For many, the often ridiculed and regularly derided 80s was actually one of the most revolutionary musical decades in British pop history.

In this three-part series, Midge Ure and Kim Appleby are going on a road-trip together around the UK and Ireland to prove it. The series will circumnavigate the country to cover a decade of extraordinary change, and see how different sounds emerged from distinct parts of the nation. Along the way Midge and Kim will meet the musicians who enjoyed unprecedented critical and commercial success all over the world.

Covering everything from the aftermath of punk to Live Aid, the rise of Indie labels, music videos and the birth of British dance music, the series aims to document the rise and rise of British and Irish artists on both sides of the Atlantic and the lasting impact they’ve had on music and popular culture.

Midge Ure says: “The 80’s was a period of huge creativity, great songwriting and massive musical diversity, so to understand why this small country generated so many different musical styles I am embarking on a road trip with the lovely Kim Appleby to catch up with the people who shaped that decade. The people who conceived the looks, styles and sounds that took on the world. The artists themselves."

Kim Appleby says: “I can’t wait to join forces with Midge to prove that 80s pop was revolutionary in musical history. We’ll be visiting every area of the country to chart the change in the British music scene and discovering musical influences across the nation. In the days before streaming services and the ability to hold your entire music library in your pocket, the series promises to be insightful, interesting and rather nostalgic.”

  • The 80s Pop Road Map (w/t) is a True North production for BBC Four. The programme is executive produced by Paul Murray and commissioned for BBC Four by Owen Courtney, Commissioning Executive.