David Ackles: On Radio & TV


  David & Janice Ackles on the cover of American Gothic
John Peel's Top Gear session
My first experience of hearing David Ackles - and possibly the first time for many people in the UK - was on the BBC Radio One Sunday afternoon programme, Top Gear, presented by John Peel. At that time,  radio was limited by rules on "needle time", which restricted the number of records that could be played. The Musicians' Union had agreements with the BBC that were intended to protect their members, but instead they led to additional opportunities for work for the many groups and performers that Radio One featured. For the three hour Top Gear programme, four performers would go in to the BBC studios in the week before and each record four tracks. They would be played throughout the programme, alongside vinyl recordings and "needle time" would be satisfied.

So it was that David reported to the BBC Piccadilly studio on Tuesday 1 October, 1968 with two unnamed musicians (organ/harmonium & drums) and laid down several tracks.  He wasn't allowed to bring along the members of Rhinoceros that had recorded the first album with him, but had to use British musicians, because of another example of the power of the MU. It would have been enough of a battle for Bernie Andrews, the Top Gear producer, to get an actual American onto his programme, so he would have found a couple of appropriate British people to accompany David.

And then, on Sunday 27 October, I heard, for the first time, Down River, along with Laissez Faire and When Love is Gone. Interestingly, on the same programme was the Brian Auger Trinity, who played The Road to Cairo.  The two other tracks that were recorded by David on 1 Octeober, Be My Friend and Road to Cairo, were played, along with  a repeat of the other three, on Sunday 24 November. Thus David's work was introduced to the UK.

Of course, the big question has to be: does the BBC still have these recordings? It was quite common in those days to wipe tapes and reuse them, simply because of the cost of tape. The concept of archiving material and even thinking that these recordings would have some value in the future just wasn't there. Even if there are copies of these tracks, members of the public cannot access them. They can only be obtained "for personal use" by the artists themselves or members of their families. It is unlikely that the BBC, even if it has the tapes, would consider issuing a CD David Ackles at the BBC, with only five tracks. Sadly there is no record of him doing any other sessions, although John Peel played  tracks from later albums (and owned them).

There is one further BBC broadcast by David, although I cannot trace any more information on the contents. In 1968 (September 28), David was filmed for the BBC2 Late Night Lineup spin-off, Colour Me Pop, produced and directed by Steve Turner. A recording of one song (audio only) is available here.

David Ackles on YouTube
There's a load of "videos" on YouTube that simply aren't videos at all. They are just a picture (or a few pictures) of an album cover or of David, lifted from the web, and used as images to accompany a music track (or, in two cases, an entire album). I've ploughed through these in the hope of finding some actual material showing David on a TV programme, without much luck. However, some of the more interesting videos are shown below.

A nice visual interpretation of The Road to Cairo.

A somewhat crackly Blue Ribbons given the same treatment.

More crackles, more bleak film: Be My Friend.

Down River interpretted by the same person, Alan Moores.

A wonderful film of Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse dancing in Band Wagon, set to the music of Love's Enough.

Surfing at Sennan Cove in Cornwall set to the brilliant irony of Surf's Down.
Video performances of David's songs by other people

And for something not completely different, The Brian Auger Trinity perform The Road to Cairo on German TV in 2012.

A group called The Rhymes take on Love's Enough, promising that this rough version will be improved upon next time.

Another singer, who can't pronounce David's name but can certainly sing pretty well, does his version of Down River.

Same man, same dress sense - David Albion - does a passable version of The Road to Cairo.

Moss Bliss (guitar & vocal) performs a nice version of Waiting for the Moving Van.

A piano  & vocal version of Road to Cairo by someone nameless and faceless.

Dutch singer Ricky Koole has produced a lovely version of Love's Enough.

And finally, the original Brian Auger Trinity version of The Road to Cairo, performed on Beat Club on German television.
 Elvis Costello's Spectacle, with Sir Elton John   
From 2008, Elvis Costello produced a series of music-based chat shows, where he interviewed a number of well-known personalities about their interests in music. The first programme featured Sir Elton John, and the two musicians talked about, amongst other things, their shared love of David Ackles. After playing a short clip of David performing Road to Cairo (from a source I'd love to have) they talk about David's influence on their music (see below, left). Later in the programme, they honour David with a performance of Down River.
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