I’m not entirely sure when I first watched Never Mind the Buzzcocks. I was seven when it started, and while it’s not inconceivable that I may have watched it on and off from the beginning I suppose it’s more likely that I started a couple of years into its run. I was quite interested in older music as a child – not necessarily classic rock, but the CDs my Mum had with ‘the greatest hits of 1973’ on them, all the Dr. Hook and Leo Sayer a young and impressionable boy could ask for. Couple that with a cheeky sense of humour and you had a show that, while hardly a cornerstone of my youthful existence, became something I would regularly tune into for cheap kicks.
Once I started to follow music a bit more closely in my early teens I started to watch the show more closely. I would buy Kerrang! – hey, I was young – and they would enthuse that, say, Dave Mustaine or Sebastian Bach would be on, and although I wasn’t really sure who these people were, it seemed that if they were good enough to be in Kerrang! then surely I should pay attention? Plus, Bill Bailey was on the show by this point, and to a young boy who had been struck by Harry Hill’s fantastic Channel 4 series of the late 1990s he was as close as I had come to discovering a similar unhinged surrealism, and the show as a whole had become increasingly cynical, which is bound to appeal to any teenager but particularly a socially maladjusted one with a subscription to Kerrang!
I finally gave up on the show at some time in my mid-to-late teens. While it’s probably not something that’s ‘cool’ to admit to, I quite liked Mark Lamarr, and when he was replaced with Simon Amstell I was disappointed – Amstell often seemed proud of how little he knew about music beyond the pop charts (my youthful self was particularly annoyed when he cheerfully admitted to having no clue who the Fall were), seemed overly reliant on gimmicks and cheap and obvious jokes and, most of all, just wasn’t funny to me. When Bill Bailey was replaced by Noel Fielding, someone I already knew I disliked, I gave up on the show altogether. Oh well, we’d had a good run.
At some point around 2009 I discovered that VH1 were repeating episodes from around ten years earlier and began to watch them, initially out of curiosity, and then eventually simply for pleasure. It was, essentially, a pure, unfiltered nostalgia rush. None of the condensed ‘I Heart the…’ rubbish, these were shows that reflected a bygone age because they were from a bygone age, shows that were intended to be disposable, cheap entertainment and yet were being shown ten years later. You could dispute the humour content of some of them – I’m personally of the opinion that it’s usually at least serviceable, and at times is very good – but you can’t deny that to an amateur pop culture historian it’s fascinating at times.
These days, new episodes just pass me by. A sense of nostalgia means I can’t really judge whether the show is better or worse than it has ever been, but I know that when I have watched more recent episodes I don’t feel engaged by it. That may say more about me than it does the show, mind. But I’ve found myself watching episodes on YouTube quite often. Almost the entire series seems to be online, or at least almost every Mark Lamarr-era episode is.
Now, the idea of a blog dedicated to looking at every Never Mind the Buzzcocks episode from the beginning may seem sad. Actually, scratch that – it is sad. What appeals to me, though, is the sheer perversity of analysing what is meant to be disposable entertainment several years on. Some of it will be looking at the way the show reflects its times, some of it will be looking at the way the show develops and falls into rhythms that have helped to sustain it over its 17 year and counting history and some of it will be looking at how it passes through different tones and moods as, more than any other long running panel show, I feel Never Mind the Buzzcocks has frequently changed down the years, not just in terms of personnel but in terms of the style of humour. Perhaps it’s apt for a show about music to follow trends and reinvent itself every few years?
I will be covering the show an episode at a time, picking apart each round, looking for the beginning of trends, jokes that are ‘of their time’, appraising the performances of panellists, basically being anal about everything. If, as some are fond of saying, dissecting a joke is like dissecting a frog, in that you learn a lot but the joke/frog dies, then I am about to wade into a pond with a satchel of scalpels chucking them about willy-nilly. As well as this I will have regular features such as ‘Proof That This is 1996’ (or whatever year), ‘How Good Is the Script?’ and ‘Other Observations’, all fairly self-explanatory, I think.
It’s going to be a fun ride, I think. Yes, there’ll be bad jokes. There’ll be plenty of tortured set-ups, several unfunny, repetitious rounds, and far more appearances by members of Kenickie than you thought was humanly possible. There should be, though, some laughs, some memories and who knows, maybe you’ll learn something. That’s unlikely, but you never know.