The Beatles? We've bigger fish to fry

Andy Kershaw harks back to the strange world of student gigs

Some people never quite get over youthful glory. Whatever they go on to achieve, nothing will ever seem as great as the time they took a starring role in the university production of Titus Andronicus - those bloody hands! They were so believable! - or when they sang at the end-of-term ball and got a standing ovation for their eight-minute version of "Tainted Love".

Andy Kershaw is one of these people. At the end of the Eighties, Kershaw went to Leeds University, ostensibly to read politics. In fact, he had his heart set on becoming the student union's "entz sec" (this is how you say entertainments secretary if you're middle class and have drunk too much cider) - an ambition that he duly achieved. He did the job for two years, and misses it still. I mean, what's a load of world music compared to the sound of 800 pissed students pogoing on a sticky floor?

Now he has devised a cunning plan to relive those glory days: a series on Radio 4 called School of Rock (Saturdays, 10.30am), in which he traces a half-century of mutual dependence between bands and college campuses. It's hugely enjoyable, and a big reason for this is his touching pride in the years when he got to chat to Ian Dury backstage at the Leeds Refectory. One of his interviewees referred to the Seventies university social secretaries as "gods". Kershaw could not contain his excitement: "I was one mee-self!" he shouted. These days, this world (like every other) is fully corporate: unions employ full-time, non-student "events managers". Kershaw sounded mildly depressed at this news. Still, if it all goes wrong at Radio 3 . . . how much is the salary again?

The other reason why the series is enjoyable, and clever, is the way it casually dishes up a slice of cultural and social history. In the beginning, students were all middle class - so they liked jazz or, at a push, blues. The Beatles are playing Cambridge? Yeah, well, we've got more serious fish to fry (and black polo necks to wear). Then they got into folk. Jacqui McShee of Pentangle played lots of gigs at campuses in the Seventies. The students were all very . . . nice. Some of them even invited the bands back to their pads after hours. "Who wants to go to a student flat?" she said, though it was clear that she had gingerly placed her bottom on more than a few sweaty floor cushions in her time.

Finally, there was rock - or prog rock, to be precise. Pete Townshend said he thought prog rock was an inevitable result of playing to student audiences: they were polite and always paid attention, which meant you could go in for a ten-minute guitar solo and no one would be rude about it. At least, not out loud.

As a companion piece to School of Rock, I suggest Mitch Benn's Crimes Against Music (Radio 4, Tuesdays, 6.30pm). Benn is a comedian who makes up songs that satirise pop stars. For the most recent show, he did a brilliant skit on Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens), singing not "Moonshadow", but "Goonshadow". "They read my mail, they tap my phone,/ They sit in vans outside my home," went the chorus. Also on tour with Mitch is Morrissey. There was a time when I'd have smacked anyone who took the mickey out of Morrissey, but I must be getting old, because when this version of him announced that he'd sacked his band due to the "unworthy" remarks they'd made about Albert Finney's performance in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, my laughter was shamefully loud.

Pick of the week

Liz Kershaw
17 June, 10am, BBC6 Music
Previews Victory for the Comic Muse, the new Divine Comedy album.

The Real World
Tuesdays, 9.30am, Radio 4
Members of enclosed religious orders join the 21st century.

Don’t miss. . .

Bill Viola's Love/Death

Viola has been called "the Rembrandt of the video age". He is a pioneer of video art; in his 2003 work The Passions, shown that year at the National Gallery, actors played out a series of religious tableaux in slow motion.

Love/Death: the Tristan project consists of the backdrops that Viola contributed to the Paris National Opera's 2005 production of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.

"The exhibition is as evocative as a Caravaggio or a Hieronymus Bosch," says the curator Stephanie Camu. Here, Viola takes video art to a new level.

"Love/Death: the Tristan project" is at Haunch of Venison, London W1 (020 7495 5050) from 21 June

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