In 1978 deep down in her pocket Judy found 50p (p? what’s p?).
10 years earlier Irish money was pre-decimal so 10 bob is what Judy would have found then.
And although a year after finding 50p the Irish Pound was to break with sterling and float independently as the currency curiously known as the Punt, it was still pounds and pence in Judy’s pocket right up until four and a half years ago and the switch to Euro and Cent.
Did you ever think that Little Judy would be unable to find 50p pieces however deep in her pocket, before she would be unable to watch Top of the Pops?
After 42 years, the BBC has now cancelled Top of the Pops, a programme older than Irish access to British television for most people. When The Boomtown Rats reached number one in the British charts with Rat-Trap in 1978, and thereby being the final act on TOTP that week, it was celebrated in Ireland like an International win (talking soccer, Midwesterners).
This was a time when Bono was an upstart with dreams of World Domination nobody gave a moment’s credance to (except Fran of course), so all the U2 copycats, and relentless unimaginative pseudo-Celtic soul music was yet to follow. The Rats were big. And there wasn’t much else out there on the international stage.
Geldof, Johhny Fingers, Pete Briquette, and the boys were so big they then couldn’t play in Ireland, because such popularity meant there would be riots at the gigs (obviously), and therefore insurance against riots was needed but prohibitive. You didn’t just have to leave Ireland to be successful, in the tradition of Joyce and Beckett; if you actually became successful you couldn’t come home.
Rat-Trap was a significant early Irish number one in the British Charts, and the first New Wave number one, but it was a Dublin song. And watching Britain’s Top of the Pops in the 1970s was a Dublin experience (in an Irish context) - Dublin having recently being converted to multi-channel land by cable from communal aerials. The great bonus (if you liked television) to this was that when satellite television became available many years later, everybody already had cable - they just didn’t call it that.
Little Judy trying to watch Top of the Pops was a lyric that every Irish teenager in multi-channel land didn’t just relate to - it felt personalized because it was fantastically ordinary and you didn’t mention TV programmes in pop songs.
But of course the best thing about this Irish bunch of misfits playing Top of the Pops when they reached number one, was their ending of months of various number ones from Grease the movie, and the Rats celebration of that fact by starting the song holding pictures of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, before ripping them up. You can see a little video of this here.
This was a lot funnier than Sinead and the Pope years later, but still caused a major reaction of shock, such was the power of the BBC’s flagship music programme. On the other side of this Irish music celebration however, you’ll rarely find an Irish person reminisce happily about the embarassment of a nation when Foster & Allen went over to London and performed A Bunch of Thyme on TOTP while dressed up as two leprechauns.
Through most of the eighties Yellow Pearl by Phil Lynott was used as the theme music, and in the pre-Tiger years of massive unemployment and emigration, such moments of perceived Irish success made some Irish people happy - which seems comical and sad now.
Cool as Philo was though, Yellow Pearl surely wasn’t as good as Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin (even if they did use somebody else’s version) that it replaced.
Not least because it was mostly mimed, Top of the Pops yields a million memories for most Irish people over a certain age, including its place on Christmas Day viewing for many families.
The reasons for its cancellation are given as its inabilty to compete with 24-hour music channels, but as video and video channels and shows have been with us for over twenty years, it’s more likely the demise of the Single Charts and the changes in music distribution that have finally finished TOTP
A year after the British charts officially included downloads into its compilation, it’s a pity the BBC can’t retain TOTP by coming up with something that would embrace the world of MP3s, MySpace, Songbird, YouTube, Podcasts, Ringtones, etc.
You watch, one day Little Judy will find Top of the Pops deep down in her pocket. Deep deep down, as East 17 might’ve said.