So, on with series two. A quick look at the guests suggests that the bookers at least feel the show is into a nice little groove here, with no fewer than three guests making more than one appearance during the series – by way of comparison, only two guests have ever appeared twice in one series of Have I Got News For You during its 44 series, not counting people filling in as guest captains for whatever reason. Still, none of them are on this episode, so instead we get one guest returning from the first series and three newcomers, one of whom seems to have been booked in an attempt to emulate another first series guest.
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and this is the new series of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘With your long blonde hair and your eyes of blue, I declare your latest operation a success, Mr. Jackson’. Each of our team captains is, in his own way, a veritable pop encyclopaedia. One of them’s sponsored by Guinness, and the other has a huge appendix. Please welcome Sean Hughes and Phill Jupitus!”
Still sticking with the format of the previous series, and still introducing each team captain at the start of each episode.
Marie du Santiago – “Sean’s first guest is Marie du Santiago, the guitarist in Sunderland’s Kenickie. They’ve been called the city’s answer to the Spice Girls, which is of course ridiculous; their music’s much better, and their combined age is still younger than Ginger Spice.”
It might seem rather harsh and reductive to suggest that Marie was booked mostly due to the success of her bandmate Lauren Laverne on the final episode of the previous series, but it’s hard to really see it any other way – while Kenickie had gained a reputation for being funny and feisty in interviews, the simple fact of the matter is that Laverne’s performance had been a bit of a starmaking turn, something that had stood out for just how confident and strong it was, and if the show could get a similar performance from one of her bandmates, then it would be to its credit. As it is Marie comes close, being fun and playfully aggressive, but crucially she isn’t quite as funny as Laverne was. Still, it all works, and it’s a shame this was her only appearance.
Mark Little – “Sean’s second guest is actor and comedian Mark Little. He played Joe Mangel in Neighbours, and then spent two years doing the Big Breakfast, with extra sausages by the look of it.”
A strange appearance for Mark Little, who manages to alternate at times between being endearing and loveable and rather irritating. He’s full of energy and has exceptional timing, but he’s never as funny as a comedian should be on the show and at times his bluster comes across more as hot air.
Suggs – “Phill’s first guest is Suggs. Following his last appearance on the show the Madness frontman announced his total requirement from pop quizzes. He spent the last year hosting a pop quiz, and here he is tonight on a pop quiz.”
Suggs becomes the first guest to appear twice, which on one hand seems a strange choice – he was decent but undistinguished on his last appearance – but on the other makes sense – he’s a high profile, well-loved figure. He seems a lot more comfortable here than he did before, and all in all does a decent job.
Shaggy – “Phill’s other guest is Jamaican superstar Shaggy. He took his name from one of the characters in Scooby Doo. He took the name Shaggy because ‘Fat Bird with the Pleated Skirt and the Glasses’ didn’t have the right ring to it.”
Yes, it’s Mr. Boombastic himself – Shaggy seems to have a great time on the show, frequently doubling over in laughter, particularly at some of the more risqué jokes, which he seems somewhat taken aback by, albeit still amused. He has a bit of a tough brief on the show – he spends much of it working against Mark’s impression of his trademark vocal style – and although he doesn’t really contribute a great deal in terms of comedy he does seem like a nice guy who enjoys himself, which is half the battle, really.
With everyone strapped in and ready to go on a new series, Sean’s team kick us off with their take on Hanson’s MMMBop. There’s a bit of gaiety – Mark Little suggests that you can sound like Hanson by sticking your fingers in the corners of your mouth, everyone but Shaggy gives it a go – before Marie gives an approximation of a bit of the lyrics. There’s a cute moment when they’re performing them, as Marie chides Sean and Mark for continuing the ‘fingers in the mouth’ bit instead of joining in, before we move on.
Phill’s team are then given Shabba Ranks, with Mr. Loverman, which I personally feel is funnier when you pronounce it as though it’s a Jewish surname. Mark, wisely, makes Phill and Suggs go first. It’s basically the same as every other playing of this game – various vaguely amusing nonsense phrases, the best of which is ‘You pack your tiddly microphone and trim it with lint’, but all in all not especially amusing. Shaggy then provides the lyrics, albeit in his own indecipherable singing voice, leading Mark to clarify the lyrics in his own Swindonian accent.
Sean and Marie start with Spandau Ballet’s True. Marie’s part is good, but Sean’s bit… well, it sounds like the song, I’ll give it that. It doesn’t seem to be done in time with Marie at all, but together they manage to give over what could be described as an easily-assembled jigsaw of the song. Mark Little doesn’t get it, nor does Phill, but an exasperated-sounding Suggs leaps in with the correct answer.
The fun continues with a very good rendition of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. Mark Little’s tactics mostly consist of shouting out famously Australian artists, so the song gets passed over to Phill, who gets it right.
Finally, Marie gives us the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, while Sean recreates the video by walking along shoving his castmates. Again, Mark’s not on the ball, and it’s passed over to Phill to collect the points.
Phill and Shaggy then give us their rendition of Rose Royce’s Car Wash. It’s a pretty good version, although Suggs is surely helped by having watched Shaun Williamson belt it out in his face for the past year. Either way, he gets it right.
Moving on, we get Superstition by Stevie Wonder. It’s OK – Shaggy doesn’t quite get the riff right, but it’s close enough and Suggs gets it anyway.
We wrap the round up with Govinda by Kula Shaker – proceed directly to ‘Proof That It’s 1997’ section of review – and it’s not half-bad, that aural magic that Phill and Shaggy are parlaying for us. Suggs was lucky enough to have avoided Kula Shaker, though, as it seems was the whole of Sean’s team.
The Connections Round, as it will later be known, becomes a staple of the show, usually as the opening round, where it often rotates with various other games that essentially deal in trivia about musicians. It’s basically a blank slate of a game, giving the panellists two artists and asking them to make jokes about them, and as such represents the increasing shift towards the show being dominated by amusing chatter.
The first pair of unlikely bedfellows is Def Leppard and the Wedding Present, thrown before Sean’s team. Sean gets a good joke in that could, in truth, be reworked for just about any playing of this game, before they quickly settle on the fact that it will, in all likelihood, involve missing body parts, and although they don’t quite get the specifics regarding the Wedding Present this is enough for Mark to give them the correct point – Def Leppard’s drummer Rick Allen famously lost his arm, while the Weddoes for a time featured one-legged bassist Darren Belk.
Phill’s team then get the Housemartins – the video for Happy Hour, featuring a young Phill Jupitus, which surprisingly passes without mention – and New Kids on the Block. There are a few jokes to be had, mostly about the Housemartins’ home of Hull, before Phill guesses that it involves prison, with Mark clarifying that both have had members jailed for arson – the Housemartins’ Hughie Whitaker and the New Kids’ Donnie Wahlberg.
Phill’s team are tasked with identifying Suzi Quatro’s guitarist (and ex-husband, fact fans) Len Tuckey. The line up is “one, who’s at least 48 Crash, two, who was born to be wild but some time ago, three, a real vintage biker, four, hopelessly underdressed for a Silk Sash Bash, or five, perhaps less black leather and more Imperial Leather.” Suggs reckons it to be number four, Shaggy, having never heard of Suzi Quatro, and Phill defer to his wisdom, and lo and behold they are rewarded with wonders and trinkets beyond their wildest imagination, or points or whatever.
Sean’s team then get Sally Carr of Middle of the Road, and don’t blame me for the fact that you now have Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep in your head, with a line-up consisting of “number one, sadly tonight not wearing that odd laced-up garment, number two, who looks chirpy chirpy, number three, who is in no way cheap cheap, number four, a classy chassis but is she the real Carr, or number five, nothing middle of the road there”. None of the team recognises her, but they guess number two based on body language and they’re on the money.
This round now feels like it’s in transition somewhat – while it was played at breakneck speed with no time for jokes in the first series, here there’s more comedy and, truthfully, more fuck-ups, even if Mark Lamarr is still delivering the lines as fast as he can. Phill’s team dither over two consecutive questions to such an extent that Mark bemoans what a slow quickfire round it is, while Sean’s team seemingly dither just as much but somehow manage to catch up and force a draw, mostly through Marie’s answers.
The show’s very first tie-breaker, I think there’ll be a few more along the way, until eventually they just give up and let some episodes be a draw, as if anyone cares either way. The team are shown a clip of Earth, Wind & Fire performing Boogie Wonderland, and after some clever misdirection by Mark, are asked how many people were onstage during the clip. Phill’s team say 11, while Sean’s team, underestimating the size of your average disco band, guesses 9. The correct answer is 14 (presumably this was the stripped-down, no-frills version of Earth, Wind & Fire) so Phill’s team is the closest and wins.
We get the same closing spiel as was used in the first series, but beginning here it’s appended with an extra little joke, in this case “…I’ve been Mark Lamarr, and it’s a dirty job. Good night.” Tiny little baby steps.
How Good Is The Script?
- The Good: There’s a pretty good joke about Donna Summer’s I Feel Love.
- The Bad: There’s a pretty obvious joke about Stevie Wonder, which Mark himself seems rightly contemptuous of.
- Overall: It’s not the best you’ll ever hear, but it’s hardly an embarrassment.
Proof That It’s 1997
- Marie’s appearance dates the show to the limited time when members of Kenickie other than Lauren Laverne were seen as enough of a draw to be booked to appear on TV, and while Mark Little continues to perform he was much more prominent in 1997 than he is now, having just left the Big Breakfast.
- The pop quiz that Mark mentions Suggs hosting was Channel 5’s Night Fever, a disco-themed pop quiz which was more karaoke-oriented than the quiz format of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and which I seem to recall hazily from my youth (my Mum liked it) often featured Shaun Williamson dancing on the desks while belting out Rose Royce and the like. It was also around this time that he was a team captain on A Question of Pop, the Question of Sport to this show’s They Think It’s All Over.
- Phill’s fantasy of a duet between Nick Cave and Barbara Windsor was almost certainly inspired by the hit duets that Mr Cave had enjoyed with Kylie Minogue and PJ Harvey shortly before this episode.
- Yes, Kula Shaker. You can go back and read the rest of the review now.
- Sean looks particularly scruffy in this episode, unkempt and unshaven. He keeps this look for a few episodes.
- It’s hardly unexpected, but Shaggy’s speaking voice is almost comically different from his singing voice.
- It’s only briefly hinted at, but Mark Lamarr famously had a heated argument with Shabba Ranks when the artist formerly known as Saul Lovermann appeared on the Word. Considering the bile that ends up being directed at later Lamarr-nemeses like Chris Moyles, the jokes about him are surprisingly restrained.
- I was umming and ahhing over whether to put this under ‘Proof That It’s 1997’ or not, but I’ll put it here – you’d almost certainly never get questions about the Housemartins or the Wedding Present these days, even though both are fairly well-remembered bands with cult followings who had some chart success, more so in the Housemartins’ case, admittedly. This probably says more about the show in its present state and its faith in its audience than it does about this particular episode, though.
- Marie becomes the first guest to complain about questions being about music from before her time during the Identity Parade round – that round in particular will draw a few complaints along such lines over the years. Additionally, Mark Lamarr chides Mark Little for seemingly planning to go down the route of shouting the singer’s name and hoping they’ll look over, something which I think was only done once in the first series but is already being treated as an obvious, done-to-death idea, while the ladies in the line-up appear to have pre-planned a trick whereby they all go to step forward before the real Sally Carr steps forward; number five’s feint is particularly convoluted.
- Mark Lamarr is technically right when he tries to give Suggs the clue to a Specials song during Next Lines that ‘you were on the same label as them,’ although Madness only released one single on 2 Tone and had the bulk of their success on Stiff Records.
A pretty strong start to the second series, with an episode that feels more energetic and rowdier than many that came before and which seems to be a close approximation of the image the show wanted to project at this time. It’s rarely outstanding but the regulars are all on form, there’s a good guest appearance from Marie and in Shaggy a guest who’s prepared to take his lumps and laugh along with them. All in all, a good effort.