‘POP ROT! CALL A HALT NOW!’ screamed the Melody Maker on November 8th. Of course it was too late. It had probably been too late for years, but by June 1958 the game was absolutely up ‘ ITV launched its music show Oh Boy! and pop in Britain went multimedia. By the end of ’59 British teen stars, handsome boys whose take on rock was just as pretty, were hitting #1 regularly. Before them came Lord Rockingham.
Oh Boy! was not the start of British music TV. That was 6-5 Special on the BBC, launched in 1957 and off the air within six months of its rival’s first broadcast. Its remit took in skiffle and the Melody Maker-approved trad jazz, and the sole notable thing about its house band seems to be that Jon Pertwee played in it. But Oh Boy! focussed on the new pop thing and its house band were Lord Rockingham’s XI, a mixed-race, mixed-gender eleven-piece which included jazzman Benny Green on sax ‘ he wore shades on the show because he was embarrassed to be playing rock and roll. Which was perhaps a mistake, since if ‘Hoots Mon’ was anything to go his new band were white hot.
Let’s rewind three years to ‘Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White’, the last big band instrumental to top the charts and a useful point of comparison to ‘Hoots Mon’. That record kicks off with a thrilling horn line but then sidesteps into a polite dance workout. ‘Hoots Mon’ has a superficially similar structure. But what the newer record twigs is that you don’t have to stay polite ‘ you can keep raising the energy levels, thickening the mix, adding more and more elements until the record is jumping off the player. You also ‘ and it’s no surprise that a band of cynical jazzbos worked this one out ‘ don’t have to be sophisticated either. If your audience are going mad on the floor they don’t necessarily want complexity or suavity: they might just want to go madder.
The first 5 seconds of ‘Hoots Mon’ are gobsmackingly dumb and wonderful ‘ the horns blaring, the organ sounding like it’s been stabbed, the rest of the band setting up a kind of snarling hum like a gang of lairy Buddhists. And once the main riff’s got going all these things recur – plus handclaps, shout-outs and the ‘Hoots Mon!’ chant that gives the record its title-cum-gimmick. It’s proper musicians having a laugh who sound for a moment like cavemen having a go. It’s a calculated, compressed party. It’s a great record.
(In his 100 Un-Guilty Pleasures, which every Popular reader should enjoy, Marcello pegs the XI as the 6-5 Special band, not the Oh Boy! one. Every other source I’ve found suggests this is wrong, plus Oh Boy! fits my narrative better! But Marcello knows his historical stuff, and the same man ‘ Jack Good ‘ was behind both shows, so it may well be that some musicians went over to ITV with him. Not, sadly, Jon Pertwee.)