On September 21st, 1971, a music television show called “The Old Grey Whistle Test” aired for the first time in the United Kingdom. The show would go on to become one of the most influential music programs of the 1970s, and its impact on the music industry is still felt today.
“The Old Grey Whistle Test” was created by BBC producer Rowan Ayers and was initially intended as a late-night program for the BBC2 network. The show quickly gained a reputation for showcasing some of the best and most cutting-edge music of the time, with a particular focus on American rock and folk artists.
The popularity of the show was its commitment to Live Performances
It was a pioneering show that focused on showcasing new and emerging musical acts, as well as featuring interviews and live performances from established artists.
“The Old Grey Whistle Test” became so popular with its commitment to showcasing live performances. Many of the artists who appeared on the show would perform in front of a small studio audience, which helped to create an intimate and authentic atmosphere. The show’s producers were also known for their willingness to give up-and-coming artists a chance to perform, which helped to launch the careers of several musicians who went on to become household names.
One of the most famous performances on “The Old Grey Whistle Test” took place on September 21st, 1971. On that night, a little-known singer-songwriter named Jackson Browne appeared on the show to perform a song called “Doctor My Eyes.” Browne’s performance was a revelation, and it helped to launch his career in the UK and around the world.
Browne’s performance on “The Old Grey Whistle Test” was typical of the show’s approach to music. The program was never afraid to take risks, and it was always on the lookout for the next big thing in music. Over the years, the show would feature performances by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and many others.
“The Old Grey Whistle Test” came to an end in 1987, but its legacy lives on. The show helped to introduce many people to new and exciting music, and it played a significant role in shaping the cultural landscape of the 1970s. Today, it is remembered as one of the most important music programs of its time, and its influence can still be felt in the music industry today.
Old Grey Whistle Test Presenters
The show’s presenters were an essential part of its success, and each presenter brought their unique personality and style to the show.
David Attenborough commissioned the program, which was created by Rowan Ayers.
The show’s first presenter was Richard Williams, a music journalist who had previously worked for Melody Maker and The Times. Williams’ knowledgeable and enthusiastic approach made him a popular figure on the show, and he was known for his insightful interviews with musicians.
In 1972, Williams was replaced by ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, a radio DJ who brought new energy to the show. Harris was known for his laid-back style and his ability to connect with the musicians he interviewed. He was also responsible for introducing many American acts to British audiences, including Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and Emmylou Harris.
Bob Harris would become the presenter most associated with the show. Bob was a radio DJ with the nickname, ‘Whispering Bob Harris’, on the account of his low-toned whispering radio voice.
In the mid-1970s, the show’s line-up was expanded to include a rotating cast of presenters, including Annie Nightingale, Mark Ellen, and David Hepworth. Each presenter brought their unique style to the show, and their diverse musical tastes ensured that the show remained fresh and engaging.
Another one of the show’s popular presenters was Andy Kershaw, who joined the show in 1984. Kershaw was a passionate advocate for world music, and he used his platform on the Old Grey Whistle Test to showcase artists from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Kershaw’s enthusiasm for world music helped to popularize the genre in the UK, and his influence can still be felt today.
Other presenters over the years would join the line up including Ian Whitcomb, Annie Nightingale, Andy Kershaw, David Hepworth, Mark Ellen, Richard Skinner, and Ro Newton.
The Old Grey Whistle Test was a groundbreaking show that helped to shape the musical landscape of the UK. Its presenters played a crucial role in the show’s success, and their knowledge, passion, and personality helped to make the show a beloved institution. Today, the show remains a cultural touchstone, and its presenters are remembered as icons of British music television.
Unknowns who became known
Music performances from non-chart artists who became known later on such as Roxy Music, David Bowie, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Roger Daltrey from THE WHO, John Lennon, Dire Straits, Gary Numen. The list is vast all first appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test
The show ran from 1971 to New Year’s 1988 on the late-night BBC 2 slot and rebooted on BBC 4 up to 2018.
The origin of the name, “The Old Greys”
The name seems to arrive from a real term, “The Old Greys” that was given to elderly service people working in the buildings where music writing and publication happened, back from the Tin Pan Alley days in the USA. These people would be exposed to the songs and those who could retain part of the melody or hook whistling or humming it, would be a sign that these tunes were likely to be a success. This was known as passing the “Old Grey Whistle Test”.
Theme tune of the Old Grey Whistle Test “Stone Fox Chase”
Area Code 615 was the name taken from the dialling code for Nashville and used by the country rock band of the same name. The harmonica playing tune “Stone Fox Chase” by Charlie Mccoy is the theme tune of the programme.
Though Stone Fox Chase, would be the bands most recognisable music, the band was made up of largely session players for other music greats of the time.
The Old Grey Whistle Test theme tune
Which bands appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test?
[table id=7 /]