Monthly Archives: December 2007


Apart from The Peter Serafinowicz Show and late entrant, the endearingly bonkers Space Pirates, the BBC output that gave me the most pleasure this year was a TV programme all about email.

It was called At the End of the Line, and its opening shots showed a man who worked in San Francisco striding down a street in London. He wanted to keep in touch with his office. How was this possible, questioned the voiceover? Well, he simply connected his computer to his phone line, picked up his electronic mail, and acted on it.

So far, so pedestrian, but what made At the End of the Line such an astonishing watch was its transmission date: Monday 14th March, 1983. The computer in question was a pre-Macintosh Apple II, and it was attached to the phone via two sucky cups and a box described by the voiceover as a ‘modulator-demodulator’. It was all very slow. You could see the electronic mail appearing block by block on the screen. But it worked.

I first watched that programme’s series, Making the Most of the Micro, at the age of nine, when I was the proud owner of a Sinclair ZX81. (I’m still the proud owner of one, but it doesn’t see much use these days). The programme’s description of bulletin boards, worldwide libraries searchable from your home computer, and personal electronic mail must have seemed inevitable to me. Computers would all be connected together one day, wouldn’t they. Wouldn’t they?

Almost ten years to the day later, I managed to send my first inter-city email. It’s fair to say I never looked back from there. Fourteen more years down the line, I sat watching At the End of the Line again, for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century. Only this time, I was watching it via a link to a trial service on the BBC’s computers, on a connection running ten thousand times faster than the one shown in the programme. And taking all the computer wizardry for granted.

Predicting future technology’s a tough job. Futurologists such as Ian Pearson and Peter Cochrane are paid well because they appear to have very finely tuned crystal balls. If you want to join their success, just hit on the right, rich seam of technology and extrapolate it into the future.

It sounds easy, but only as long as you know where to look for the right seam to start with.

We Built This Village on a Trad. Arr. Tune

The Imagined Village is one of those ideas that sounds so good on paper, you suspect it’ll be a complete failure in practice. The concept: take musicians as diverse as Billy Bragg (good stuff), half of Waterson:Carthy (good stuff), Transglobal Underground (good st… hey, why isn’t Temple Head on YouTube?), Benjamin Zephaniah, and some bloke called Paul Weller. Get the Afro-Celt Sound System to glue them all together. Shake well in a rehearsal studio for a few weeks. Record album. Tour. And you end up with one English folk-rock supergroup. In theory.

So does it work? It shouldn’t, of course. Adding gifted solo artists to existing line-ups often ends in very bad musical collisions. It should be a sludgy, cumbersome mess.

Except, as you’ve probably guessed, it isn’t. As evidence, Cal enjoyed them so much I’m turning green at the gills. And as further evidence, here’s what they’ve managed to do to Hard Times of Old England:


The Countryside Alliance expects, I suppose,
My support, when they’re marching to bloody Blair’s nose,
But they said not a word when our Post Office closed…

What I really like about their reworking (seriously, have a look at it) of the traditional song is that it’s pretending to be a song about England, when in reality it isn’t just about that country. It’s a song that I’d file in the same category as Capercaillie’s Waiting for the Wheel to Turn, June Tabor’s rendering of Maggie Holland’s A Place Called England, and Steve Eaves’ Afrikaners y Gymru Newydd. It’s a song about a small nation battling against the double-edged sword of globalisation. And it’s all the more powerful for it.

More music tomorrow, probably…