SOTS: Just in time


I’m still a little bit suspicious about what’s happening to my only weekly radio programme Sounds of the Sixties. Tim Rice has thanked us all for our forebearance… no, actually kindness, in listening to him this last three months when he’s been sitting in for Brian Matthews, but it’s all over and our old chum will be back next Saturday.

Or will he? Next Saturday is going to be a compilation programme, made up of Brian’s favourite moments from his twenty-seven years on the show, so not actually a new episode, so we’re going to have to wait until at least a fortnight from now to see if things are going back to that Edenic state of yore.

I don’t know what the last three months have done to the show’s audience figures but, from the point of view of a sixteen year veteran, it’s come close to rocking my loyalty to SOTS. It’s not only been Rice’s jerky presentation, with the gaps between sentences coming every half dozen words or so, instead of only when the full stop appears on his script. A lot of it has been his insistence on describing everything as fantastic, brilliant, wonderful, indiscriminately and with no audible conviction to suggest that he actually believes what he’s saying.

There was a perfect example in the first half of the show, in the ‘Loose Connections’ feature, with Dusty Springfield, Gene Pitney and Petula Clark. All three were obscure songs, of which I’d only previously heard the Dusty track, and the connection was the clever and subtle one that each song was a commercial flop in the middle of a run of big hits. Such things always fascinate me: one of my ways of educating myself about Sixties music in the early Seventies were Simon Frith’s Rock Files books, listing chart successes act by act. These gave the impression of bands having unbroken success, but of course they presented a distorted picture by excluding the ones that didn’t chart at all.

But because these songs were, by definition, flops, Rice had to assure his listeners that they were great songs, absolutely wonderful, these artists never cut a track that wasn’t aural perfection, as if he was afraid that someone might get offended by the playing of a track that hadn’t been a hit. I mean, dammit, there’s only Pet still around to listen: Dusty and Gene won’t care.

So here’s hoping for a return to better things, but I remain unconvinced. Whilst I’ll relax and enjoy two hours of Brian’s warm tones, even that won’t set off the fact that this was yet another Sounds of that bit of the Early Sixties that Phil Swern is obsessed with only he denies it, ha ha. Even the newest feature drags the programme even further back: Fifties in the Sixties, covers of prominent Fifties tracks.

Still, no more Tim Rice. Saturdays will automatically improve. I hope.

Another Saturday and Sweet SOTS


I’m three-quarters of the way through another Sounds of the Sixties, being presented by Tim Rice in the ongoing absence of Brian Matthews, and it’s time to admit that I’m not enjoying it.

It’s nothing to do with my frequent complaint about Producer Phil Swern’s predeliction for pre-Beatles music, in fact I’m hardly registering the music at all, and that’s the problem. Tim Rice is irritating the hell out of me.

Now Brian Matthews could sometimes talk at length, especially when giving details about obscure bands and singers, but his was a comfortable voice. You automatically listened, and it never felt as if time was a factor. Tim Rice can’t do that. he’s talky, disjointed, his sentences are badly constructed and his tone is full of unnatural and irregular emphases. Where Brian Matthews’ voice directed you to what he was saying, Tim Rice directs you to how he’s saying it. It sounds like he’s going on and on, that he’s overwhelming the air-time, inverting the balance of importance between voice and music.

And he’s so clumsy, especially when it comes to the transition from one record to another, always marked by a pause that inserts itself into the air: dead air that grates far more than it should.

I’m not enjoying Sounds of the Sixties and it disturbs me that Rice is no longer sitting in. He’s just not a natural broadcaster, and we’ve been spoiled by our old mate. I’ve been listening to Sounds of the Sixties for over a decade and a half, and I’m starting to imagine a Saturday without it.

SOTS and Tim Rice


It’s thirty-five minutes into the latest edition of Sounds of the Sixties, presented by Tim Rice in the ongoing absence of our old mate, Brian Matthew. But something’s different. Rice introduced the programme by telling us who he is, but for the first time didn’t mention that he was sitting in. And this far into the show, there hesn’t been a single mention of dear old Brian.

It’s still ‘sits in’ on the SOTS website, but people, I think we’re going to have to prepare ourselves for the inevitable. It’s not the same, and it shouldn’t be Tim Rice if and when the handover becomes permanent, because he’s too stilted and unconvincing, and without Brian, the music’s less involving. But the era is over, I fear.

UPDATE. No mention in the entire programme, just a see you next time at the end. I fear.

SOTS on a Saturday


I’m listening to Sounds of the Sixties at the moment, as I’ve invariably done on Saturday mornings for the last fifteen years or so. I’ve said things in the past about the decline in quality of the programme since the change of Producer in 2008 and, whilst there no longer seem to be the same degree of pre-Beatles dominated shows, and the practice of ending the show with big band stuff every week has been long abandoned, it’s not the attraction it used to be. But it’s still Saturday morning, and a comfortable introduction, and I still never miss it if I can help it.

Today, however, and for the next few weeks, we do not have our old mate Brian Matthew presenting. Brian is feeling ‘under the weather’ and in his place we have Tim Rice, who has dome this sort of thing before.

Given that Matthew is now 88, and has just become BBC Radio’s oldest regularly scheduled broadcaster, this isn’t a surprise. Indeed, I confess that I detected a bit of a tremor in his voice last weekend, as if his voice was weak already. But it’s an unpleasant reminder that the show depends so heavily on his voice, its even, avuncular, knowledgeable, enveloping, smoky tones, to create an atmosphere that’s at least as vital as the music.

Matthew is a consummate professional, relaxed and natural. Tim Rice isn’t a broadcaster of that level. He’s stiff and stilted, without any flow of words, the rhythm of each sentence broken by brief but noticeable pauses every six or seven words. And besides, he doesn’t sound like Brian Matthews, and Sounds of the Sixties doesn’t sound like Sounds of the Sixties.

So for all my gripes about the programme, I want to wish our old mate well, and see him back as soon as possible. Because without him, and he can’t go on forever, much as we might wish it, and we’re reminded of the dreadful toll 2016 has taken by the announcement this morning of Fidel Castro’s death, only two years older than Brian Matthew, without Brian, the programme stops being compulsive listening. Saturdays would change.

Good health, Mr Matthew. Hurry back.