Guide to British Music of the 1960s

September 2020

Book Review

Ready Steady Go! by Andy Neill

Ready Steady Go! was the music TV programme that defined the 1960s and set the standards for music television for many years. Anyone who was anyone appeared on the show and many artists founds that a Ready Steady Go! appearance had a major impact on their careers. Furthermore, the show was instrumental in introducing many visiting American artists to a UK audience. Although it only lasted a few years, far shorter than Top of the Pops, the programme has acquired near-legendary status.

As "coffee table" books go this is full-strength caffeine. Its 260 pages have numerous photographs and there is a wealth of material to read. The text consists of new and archive interviews with those who appeared on the show and those who made the show. The exception is presenter Cathy McGowan who keeps a lower profile today. Several music shows had preceded Ready Steady Go! None of these had quite the same impact. Andy Neill's book makes it clear what was different about this show. They key point is that it as very much in touch with its audience. Vicki Wickham and other members of the team would be out in the clubs, checking out was new and trending and delivering this to the audience. This was not a show created by faceless men in suits. They also realised that their audience, predominantly teenagers, were interested in more than music. Fashion and the latest dances went alongside the music and came as a complete package. In McGowan they may not have had the most "professional" presenter but she became a style icon and was very much in tune with the audience. The lead dancers would be out in the clubs during the week, picking up new dances and demonstrating them on the show.

The weekend starts here. Ready Steady Go! was transmitted live on Friday evening when everyone was home from school or work. It prepared everyone for the weekend with new sounds and dances. Many artists made their TV debut on the show as it was home to emerging talent as much as established acts. The Beatles, the Stones and the Who were regulars. Manfred Mann provided theme tunes with 5-4-3-2-1 which was written for the show and Hubble Bubble Toil & Trouble. Always ahead of the curve Ready Steady Go! was instrumental in breaking artists from overseas particularly the Tamla Motown sound whose artists had a whole show given over to them, presented by Dusty Springfield.

The book is full of fun anecdotes such as when the Small Faces made their debut and Eric Burdon introduced them as the New Faces! Pete Townshend remarked on seeing them in the studio that the Byrds cannot play!

Ready Steady Go! set a new standard for music television that has been much copied since although no programme has had the same lasting impact as the original. It did not aim to be slick. Cameras were often in shot or they bumped into audience members dancing as they moved around. Artists would make their way to the stage through the audience. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg came across an interesting trick when the Who were performing Anyway Anyhow Anywhere. He found he could switch in and out of zoom and this treatment suited the song perfectly. Fortunately this clip survives and can be seen in the film Quadrophenia as well as in The Kids are Alright.

Unfortunately, much of Ready Steady Go! was not saved although Dave Clark (of the Dave Clark 5) did acquire some footage that was released on video some time ago. Other clips appear on YouTube though some are 1960s clips not from Ready Steady Go! Consequently, this is the best available record of the era-defining show. This is Swinging London in a book. There is an incredible amount of detail that shows just how much research has been undertaken. Every episode is detailed with the running order and there are so many interviews. A fascinating read.

Published: 4 September 2020


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