From Iggy Pop to The Smiths: The best performances on ‘The Tube’
It’s fair to say that media has changed a fair bit since The Tube, Channel 4’s youth and music television show first aired. In the eighties, the show became essential viewing for any well-respected adolescent who was keen on being disrespectful as it persevered to bring you the cutting edge of new music. Largely, through a cobbled-together magazine format, the programme can claim to have achieved that.
In an age when you’re far more likely to watch a film on your phone while sitting on the lavatory then get in position for a scheduled TV programme, especially on a late-night viewing, shows such as The Tube have fallen by the wayside. A weekly show is now just too slow for the changing pace of music but, looking at the some of the best performances, you can see how desperately missed such a show like this is.
“It threw a lot of the rules of TV out of the window in a natural, spontaneous way,” says The Tube‘s host Jools Holland. “It wasn’t fake. We all thought we’d do one series and that would be it. None of us realised it was going to be such a success.” When it first burst on to our screens in 1982, The Tube provided a unique experience.
“Music shows up to that point had been very earnest. We knocked the earnestness out of it,” says Holland. Previous music shows like The Old Grey Whistle Test and even So It Goes had always had a seriousness that underlined everything. It meant the shows not only offered an elitist view on any new band but, by the fun-loving 1980s, they were incredibly unfashionable. Enter The Tube on the newly launched Channel 4.
Filmed on Tyneside the show welcomed host Holland and the late Paula Yates to take over a youth-focused magazine show all about new music. At the time it was a ground-breaking move. For that reason, the show became a hotbed of talent from the decade welcoming everyone from Frankie Goes To Hollywood to The Jam.
With over 131 episodes in the can, the list of artists who have performed on the show is impressive, to say the least. So we thought we’d put in some legwork for you and bring you the six defining moments of The Tube, the generation-defining TV show.
The Tube’s best moments:
The Jam give The Tube it’s debut before disbanding
The Jam would be the first musical guests of The Tube‘s illustrious run and sees the band playing through a trio of songs with some serious gusto. Weller is clearly in his element as he hogs the spotlight of the performance.
Little did the audience know that Weller had already told drummer Rick Buckler and bassist Bruce Foxton five months earlier that he would be breaking up the band. What we see below is some of the final moments the group would share on stage—but that doesn’t take away from the fiery energy.
Iggy Pop sings ‘Sweet Sixteen’
There’s something truly special about Iggy Pop. The rocker has been making us smile and retch in equal measure for decades and in 1982 he was yet another shirtless and ash-haired punk genius.
He performs a scintillating rendition of ‘Sweet Sixteen’ from his seminal album Lust For Life and, unlike a lot of music TV shows at the time would allow, he sings live. And really, when all is said and done, shouldn’t all musicians be able to turn it on for a show? We think so and so does Iggy.
The Fall and Mark E. Smith tell it how it is
Mark E. Smith, the and great singer of The Fall, had a way with words, or perhaps more accurately, facial expressions, that always has us wanting more. That probably wasn’t how Paula Yates felt, however, as the singer was interviewed before performing with his band.
Accompanied by Brix Smith, Smith is jolted by a question from Yates that asks if The Fall are “self-indulgent” and his eyes flicker that a shark on the hunt. “The problem is bringing stuff out that is comprehensible to the public, which I think we always manage to do,” Smith says.
“I don’t have to add frilly bits to my lyrics; I think a lot of [other bands] are, to make it accessible. We’re coming from one end and they’re coming from another end. See, a lot of these groups are trying to be esoteric, experimental, and poppy – and they’re only doing it because there’s no jobs around, and all this business.”
“Don’t point that at me” Frankie Goes To Hollywood make their name
You can thank The Tube for bringing Frankie Goes To Hollywood into the mainstream after the Channel 4 show greenlit a deliberately debauched performance of ‘Relax’, even accompanied by a cheeky link from Holland and Yates.
The video below stunned the British public and saw hundreds of complaints. However, the real piece of joy comes from lead singer Holly Johnson pointing a toy gun at Holland as the host says, “please don’t point that at me,” for a piece of TV gold.
Nick Cave covers Johnny Cash in ’86
This one is a very special performance from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds in promotion of their then-new album Kicking Against The Pricks. Cave takes to the youth TV show’s stage to perform a quite astounding rendition of ‘The Singer’ that has rarely been unearthed.
The group were promoting their recently released covers album, a record we’d consider to be one of the best covers albums of all time. They arrived at the Tyneside studios with a version of Johnny Cash and Charlie Daniels’ song ‘The Singer’ in their hands and thunder in their eyes.
After a slightly nonsensical introduction that offered up information on a former altercation with the NYPD that Cave had endured and included a reference to “goths rolling their graves”, the host soon gets out of the way and lets the band deliver a quite astounding performance. With Cave playing the undeniably watchable protagonist to a tee, you can get a sense of how the band quickly asserted their cult following.
R.E.M. make their UK TV debut
Having made a ripple of acclaim flow out across the pond, a new American band were given their first UK television appearance on the acclaimed music show ‘The Tube’—that band was Michael Stipe’s R.E.M and they would go on to give a career-defining performance.
R.E.M were ready to make the newly found glistening stage their own when they were invited for a three-song slot in 1983. The band would take two numbers from their Murmu album, ‘Radio Free Europe’ and ‘Talk About The Passion’, Stipe and the group would also give a sneak peek of the upcoming 1984 album Reckoning with new track ‘So. Central Rain’.
It culminated in an extraordinary performance in the bubbling creativity of Britain. In 1983, the nation was still reeling from the dissolution of punk and was struggling to find their new sound. R.E.M’s arrival alongside indie acts like The Cure and The Smiths would herald a new age of alternative rock and roll. No longer flash and fashion orientated—R.E.M offered something new and heartfelt.
The Cramps radiate acidic rockabilly
In 1986 there weren’t many bands who pushed the envelope as intently as the surf-acid-rockabilly of The Cramps. Fronted by Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, the group had toured the UK and left every venue in tatters.
When they took to the stage of The Tube it was likely the first time much of the audience had ever seen the band. What an introduction as the group power through their set with the demonic glee that would endear them to so many hearts.
The Smiths let The Tube take a bow
On the final episode of The Tube the show had one badge of honour pinned to its chest, it had been the first TV show to give Morrissey, Johnny Marr and The Smiths the stage to share their music. By doing so, the show had carved out a niche and a large chunk of credibility. It seemed fitting then that (allegedly) after a blunder from Jools Holland, the final ever show would welcome the band back to the stage.
Holland had said “be there or be ungroovy, fuckers” during a live promo before the watershed and had seen the show get canned because of it. He would worsen his crimes with an incredibly awkward final link for the programme. Looking back it’s hard not to wince, then Morrissey appears in all his eighties glory to sing ‘Sheila Take A Bow’ and the show is done.