Dispensing with even the thin fictional frames of Rock! Rock! Rock! or Just for Fun, this Britpop musical is a string of Top of the Pops-style performances, introduced by TotP regular Jimmy Savile, with artists miming enthusiastically to their singles on minimalist but striking sets. It’s book-ended by valuable newsreel footage of the Beatles playing live, desperately trying to be heard over screaming, ecstatic girls – though, despite later complaints, the Fab Four plainly egg their fans on with all those high-pitched ‘ooo-ooo-oooh’ wails in ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Twist and Shout’. Between these numbers are a run of pop performers who aren’t the Beatles, but had hits in 1964. Possibly, the producers envisioned making one of these films every year; it’s a shame that they didn’t.
Directed by Frederic Goode, of the underrated vampire film Hand of Night, and imaginatively shot in widescreen by Geoffrey Unsworth, Pop Gear showcases classic and the cringeworthy with equal abandon – though why prematurely middle-aged Matt Monroe gets more songs (three) than anyone else is frankly a mystery. Some of these well-spoken, clean-cut kids have been listening to Chuck Berry or Delta Blues, but they are almost absurdly well turned-out in suits and ties: the most radical fashion statement comes from Alan Price, who leaves his jacket unbuttoned as he pumps away at the keyboard while Eric Burdon belts out ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Among the most striking personalities are the few women in British pop at the time – huge-voiced teenager Billie Davis (‘Whatcha Gonna Do’) and energetic drummer Honey Lantree of The Honeycombs (‘Have I the Right’). Lantree is one of the few musicians who seems actually to be playing (it’s hard to mime drumming) and shows more attack than the lads carting their unplugged guitars around.
Standout songs include ‘Little Children’ (Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas), ‘I’m Into Something Good’ (Herman’s Hermits), ‘World Without Love’ (Peter and Gordon – with Peter looking like the original Austin Powers), ‘Tobacco Road’ (The Nashville Teens) and ‘Black Girl’ (The Four Pennies). Savile gets his intros and segues over quickly, but still manages to exhude that insufferability which has been a signature throughout a long, long career*. A few dance numbers are included, one featuring an actual (light-skinned) black girl among the gold-trousered ensemble – her presence emphasises the total whitebreadedness of everyone else in sight.
*these notes were written back when I just hated Savile for his work – before all the other stuff came out.