Life

TV review: Time for another Nirvana to shake up the consensus

When Nirvana Came to Britain. The band outside the Dalmacia Hotel in Shepherds Bush in 1990. Picture by Martyn Goodacre.
Billy Foley

When Nirvana Came to Britain, BBC iPlayer

It's 30 years since a remarkable band's stand out album was released and it feels like we've come full circle.

Beware of musicians claiming they broke the mould, but Nirvana were genuinely different and the Seattle threesome were appreciated in Britain and Ireland earlier than their native US.

The anniversary of the release of Nevermind has seen a number of television programmes, but this BBC effort is the best of them.

There are interviews with the two surviving members of the band, their UK agent, their tour manager, DJs, fans, music journalists, their stage dancer and even the owner of one of the London hotels they favoured.

Everyone agreed that Nirvana's connection with audiences in these islands at the turn of the decade and the early nineties was special.

Whereas Nirvana were playing to a few dozen in Seattle it was thousands on this side of the Atlantic.

Two appearances at the Reading Festival, in 1991 and 1992, are seen as critical to their anti-establishment credentials but strangely the programme did not feature their performance on the Jonathan Ross television show.

At the time Ross was presenting an anodyne tea time show and Nirvana (“the biggest band in the world”) were booked to play their hit, Lithium.

Rather they performed a two-minute feedback-loaded version of Territorial Pissing before smashing up their kit and walking off.

Watch it now on YouTube and it remains a stunningly powerful performance, although it's probably best remembered for the quick-witted response of a smirking Ross when the camera returned to him.

“Nirvana there, doing the tune we didn't really expect but they told me to tell you, they're available for children's birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.”

Neither did we get a reference to gigs in Dublin, Belfast and Cork in 1991 and 92, but there was film of an equally dismissive performance on Top of the Pops where the band let it be known they were unhappy at being told to lip-sync.

When Nirvana Came to Britain spoke to almost everyone with a role in Nirvana tours at that time, including members of two obscure bands whom Kurt Cobain sought out because he loved their music so much.

At the end of their first Reading Festival appearance Cobain jumps head first into the drum kit, dislocating his shoulder. A juvenile act perhaps, but also a symbol of the band's disdain for the music business.

And in a live appearance on The Word, Kurt opened with a particular memorable tribute to his then girlfriend.

“This was their Sex Pistols moment, because musically, culturally, philosophically, they were a dare to people's minds and their sensibilities,” reckoned one contributor.

Thirty years later it's surely time again for a new Sex Pistols moment to disturb the comfortable and dull consensus about what is respectable and acceptable.

****

Strictly Come Dancing, BBC 1, Saturday

Perhaps television watchers are out on the town on a Saturday night now that most of the coronavirus restrictions have been lifted.

How else to explain the disappointing low audience figures for the opening episode of Strictly 2021.

Seven million viewers is more than most can manage in an entertainment world where children think the TV in the corner of the living room is for watching YouTube on a bigger screen.

But it's still significantly below what the show is used to and the lowest for a launch episode in eleven years.

I'm no expert on the personalities, but I only recognised two of the professionals. Is the clear out connected to falling audiences or are viewers tiring of the glitz after eighteen seasons?

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