Power of the popster: Iggy still thrills. Photo: Soren Andersson/AFP/Getty Images
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Snap, crackle and Pop: the eloquence of Iggy

Antonia Quirke on radio.

Iggy Pop Show; John Peel Lecture
BBC Radio 6 Music

“I always hated radio,” gnarrs Iggy Pop, giving this year’s John Peel Lecture on Radio 6 Music (13 October, 7pm). “And all the jerks that pushed that shit music into my tender mind . . .” He sounds, as he always does, on some level amused, as though telling a slow-reveal gag, and the voice is so familiarly low that each vowel sounds exotic. As he warms to his theme – about the various (financial, ethical) challenges facing the musician in the era of free music – the striking phrases accumulate: “Not everybody is meant to be big. Not everybody big is good”; “I only ever wanted the money because it was symbolic of love.”

But then Pop was always great at lines. Who could forget the Stooges lyric “Now I’m gonna be twenty-two/I say oh my and a boo-hoo”? And, because of his delivery – this deeply Poppian, beguiled tone – he manages to situate both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones somewhat witheringly as “white entertainment from the parent culture” yet at the same time make them sound completely gorgeous and vital. As tones go, it is almost impossible to strike, but something Pop also managed with ease in the second of his new run of regular 6 Music shows this week (19 October, 4pm) with an ingenious little monologue about British v American spiders.

But then he is that rare thing: a public figure who has managed to stage his intelligence from the very start of his career – it has always been part of his act – and to keep that going convincingly. Usually when someone is described, as Pop often is, as “shrewd” and “smart” it turns out that they are not. He has also managed to evolve his onstage character – naked, tanned, anciently gnarled – into something approaching conceptual art without becoming Alice Cooper, who sits around talking about “Alice” and likes to play golf.

Iggy Pop knows – just as Little Richard knew (and, to a certain extent, the ankle-wobbling Elvis) – that an onstage persona works properly only if you are actually 100 per cent Little Richard or Elvis, too. So every time Pop strips off (again) and you find yourself thinking (again): “Is that brilliant? Or just an idea of rock’n’roll?” you settle on the former, with gratitude. A thrill still comes off him. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why Britain and Germany aren't natural enemies

BBC/ ITV Cradle Ltd/Matt Squire
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Is Danny Baker a “bona fide genius”? Not in his new show

The clichéd decade: Cradle to Grave and Danny and the Human Zoo reviewed.

I’m not qualified to rule on whether or not Danny Baker is, as the newspapers insist, a “bona fide genius”; I gave up listening to the ever more blokeish BBC Radio 5 Live a while ago, and I’m too young to remember the supposedly fantastic pieces he delivered to the NME back in the day (I read that they were even more amazing than those of Tony Parsons, which is saying something, isn’t it?). But I can tell you this: his new autobiographical comedy series, Cradle to Grave (Thursdays, BBC2, 9pm), displays no evidence at all of his talents, brilliant or otherwise. Anecdotes that just peter out. Jokes that fail to hit home. Misplaced nostalgia. Honestly, what’s the point? If you want 1974 – and quite a lot of us seem to, if the performance of Jeremy Corbyn is anything to judge by – you’d be better off treating yourself to a box set of the eternally satisfying Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?.

The series, co-written with Jeff Pope, is based on Baker’s memoir Going to Sea in a Sieve. It’s 1974, and Danny (Laurie Kynaston) is a randy teenager who still lives at home in good old Bermondsey with his ducking and diving docker dad, Fred, aka Spud (Peter Kay), his kindly mum, Bet (Lucy Speed), and his older sister, Sharon (Alice Sykes). A voice-over tells us, in effect, to forget all about the nasty old three-day week and to consider instead the warmth of lovely south-east London. How decent its people are, how eager to try out newfangled consumer goods such as the continental quilts Spud has pilfered and which now fill the hall of his tiny house like clouds. (Correct: he’s basically Del Boy, minus the Robin Reliant, the cocktail bar and, fatally, the workmanlike jokes.)

The denizens of Bermondsey are not, you understand, quite ready for the new world. In this part of London, bomb sites remain, merrily sprouting buddleia and pink willow herb; men are men and women are women. Spud is horrified to discover that his daughter’s new boyfriend wears – wait for it – white plimsolls, though not quite so horrified as Danny is to find a stranger’s ­penis flapping exuberantly against his cheek when he goes up west to see Hair (needless to say, our Danny was in search of naked girls, not sweaty blokes). If you find this kind of thing funny and (I can hardly bear to write the words) “heart-warming”, then you have seven weeks of bliss ahead. Who knows? Perhaps the characters will go on to debate the virtues of the various flavours of Old English Spangles. But I can’t believe that many people will be so easily pleased. Those who are old enough to remember the Seventies will know that the best of the decade’s own comedy was ten times more sophisticated than this, and those who aren’t – those who have never had anything other than a duvet on their bed, and can locate a naked female or even a flapping male member with just one tap of their mobile – will simply watch something altogether more grown-up on Netflix.

Kascion Franklin (centre) on BBC1. Photo: BBC/RED

Unfathomable BBC scheduling (is it having some kind of John Whittingdale-induced nervous breakdown?) treated us to two doses of 1974 as the summer limped to an end. The second loving spoonful came in the form of Danny and the Human Zoo (31 August, BBC1, 9pm), an almost-biopic drama in which Lenny Henry told the story of his painful start in comedy.

My TV critic colleagues have all been most respectful but, lovely as Kascion Franklin’s performance in the lead role was, I couldn’t altogether get with the show. Unlike Baker, Henry certainly wiped the Vaseline from the lens: his version of the Seventies was clear-eyed, particularly in the matter of racism. But his tendency as a writer is to tell rather than show, which becomes wearying, and the narrative he offered us – success on the New Faces talent show, followed by the self-loathing that came of joining the Black and White Minstrels – wasn’t exactly unfamiliar. An unscrupulous manager with bad hair; parents who think their son should get a “proper” job but are secretly oh-so-proud; Mud’s “Tiger Feet” and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” on the soundtrack: such TV clichés really should be illegal by now.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses