- 05 Apr 01
Is Plastic Orange Ireland’s Top Of The Pips? JACKIE HAYDEN unpeels RTE’s latest rock show, gets right to the core of its raison-d’être, almost goes bananas, but, er, stops well short of taking the pith.
Whatever complaints Irish bands may hurl at some Irish radio stations for their less than enthusiastic support for local acts, it is unlikely that you will hear quite the same carping about Irish television from even the most vociferous of them.
Apart from the increasing number of Irish videos being shown on The Beat Box, the invaluable efforts of Jo-Maxi and No Disco, the more than occasional infiltration of a rock band onto The Late Late Show and Kenny Live, there is the recent welcome addition of Plastic Orange to the RTE schedule to celebrate.
Some will quite rightly argue that Plastic Orange is obliged to make silk purses out of a sow’s ear of a budget, but so what? Rock music down through the ages has been the province of innovative people producing significant artefacts against the odds.
So take a bow, Anne Roper, Producer and Director of Plastic Orange, Donal Scannell, the show’s researcher and their four-person crew, who have created a new vehicle on which fledgling Irish bands can cut their teeth and another important medium through which the Irish rock public can keep abreast of the continuing stream of emergent new bands.
Despite the low-flying budget, the programme has already acquitted itself respectably in the TAM Ratings and has occasionally even given the higher-profile Beat Box a run for its far bigger budget (You don’t think Ian Dempsey pays for those haircuts himself, do ya?).
According to Roper, the show had its genesis as recently as September of last year when she, a former researcher and presenter, was given the brief to produce a series aimed primarily at sixteen-year-olds and using a mix of bands recorded live, on video and on location.
“We had two weeks to put the whole thing together,” she told Hot Press, “and it’s been such a success that I’ve since been asked to come up with something for further down the line. Dermot Horan, who’s the head of young persons’ programmes in RTE, has been very supportive of Plastic Orange and we’re all really pleased with the feedback we’ve had.”
Scannell is equally encouraged by the growing number of local artists now making their own videos, which, despite the obvious scarcity of Steven Spielberg-scale budgets, have shown that being financially challenged is no drawback to the truly determined and innovative. He cites videos by the likes of Stigma, In Motion and Interference as good enough to be filed in the “Highly Recommended” category.
At his desk in the JMTV quarter of RTE he receives at least two new videos per week by local acts and Scannell’s attitude to broadcasting material by such artists is in sharp contrast to the more negative and mean-spirited of his counterparts in radio. As he pointed out, “On one programme alone we were able to feature six new videos by local acts and the response to that particular show and others suggests that Irish rock fans want to hear more local acts, not less.”
The show’s determined endeavours to showcase at least one new Irish band every week is certainly heartening news indeed, particularly for bands from outside Dublin who have less access to the inner workings of the media and the music industry. There is additional good news in that Roper admits that they consider those who do well on their debut for a second slot.
But it’s important to avoid pigeon-holing Plastic Orange as nothing more than RTE’s token nursery for untried local bands. The roll-call of top Irish acts who have already featured on the show includes Blink, An Emotional Fish, and recent Smithwicks/Hot Press Award winners Aslan, as well as up-and-coming names like The Chill Babies, The Hitchers and the excellent 38SCR who recently scored with their Serious Women cassette album. Visiting overseas bands are also featured when their Irish itinerary can accommodate the tight TV schedule.
The show’s rock’n’roll approach to the recording of live bands during their weekly filming at the Rock Garden has been a useful exercise, particularly for those bands making their debut on TV, although the process is not without its problems as Roper pointed out.
“I believe in taking a little time to explain to them what we’re doing and why we’re doing it in a particular way. Bands don’t like to admit that they might be nervous and we try to get them to concentrate on performing the song while we worry about getting them onto the screen.
“As you would expect, some inexperienced bands make fairly basic mistakes. Some freeze completely, and part of our job is to settle them into what is a daunting experience the first time around. Some simply forget to bring certain essential items. We’ve had some bands forget strings, guitar straps, cymbals and even guitars, but if they’re new to it all it’s understandable,” she says.
Of course I didn’t ask her to name the guilty party (I bet you did – Ed), but there are even reports of one overly-anxious band not showing up at all and sending some more experienced friends in their place, but their secret is safe with the tight-lipped Roper.
Another innovative facet of the show is the light-hearted busking spot which Roper says was introduced to add a touch of spontaneity to the proceedings: anyone who caught their recording of Grant Lee Buffalo busking furiously in the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre may even contend that here is a concept that takes the art of rock performance way beyond the “Unplugged” level!
For the Plastic Orange crew each frantic week begins with filming at the Rock Garden on Monday. Those tapes are then reviewed on the following day with Wednesday given over to editing. In this regard Roper pays fulsome tribute to her editor Mercedes Garvey, coincidentally a classically-trained harpist. On Thursday they record their studio inserts, reviews and so on, and leave all the final dubbing until Friday.
With an eye to the future the producer, who herself has served her sentence in rock bands, would like to incorporate some World Music into the show, perhaps with the intention of avoiding the show becoming ghettoised. But she also would like to use more bands with the same sense of fun and no-nonsense professionalism as Blink and both she and Scannell would like to spend more time making videos with the bands they invite on the show.
As they say: Watch this space.
• Jackie Hayden
• PLASTIC ORANGE is broadcast every Friday at 5.55 p.m. on RTE Network 2 and is scheduled to run until 20th May. Bands wishing to be considered for inclusion during the series should send their videos, demos and records to PLASTIC ORANGE, JMTV, RTE, DUBLIN 4.