This article was first published on Louder Than War on 26 September 2012.
Shout to the Top (BBC Radio 2)
Written by Roy Boulter and Louise Wener
Directed by Toby Swift
First aired: 10pm 25 September 2012
Radio 2 broadcast a new drama pilot last night and we tuned in for a listen. Shout to the Top tells the story of a fictional 1980s girl band and is written by a couple of rock veterans.
The seasons have changed. I don’t know whether you noticed?
It is time to hibernate. With skin flushed red from a too hot bath, clean pyjamas, clean sheets; time to snuggle down and turn the radio up against the rain hammering the window.
Shout to the Top is a drama pilot by Roy Boulter (drummer with The Farm) and Louise Wener (formerly frontwoman with Sleeper and more recently a novelist) charting the rise of fictional band The Velveteens. If turned into a radio series it could be a ‘British Glee for an older generation’ (according to Jeff Smith, Head of Music BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music – more from him in a moment).
It follows Beth (Fiona Macrae), Sylvie (Samantha Robinson) and Rain (Hannah Arterton) as they form The Velveteens and go from first gig to first record deal.
It includes covers of contemporary songs (yes, including Shout to the Top) and original tunes produced by Brian Rawlings and Marky Bates.
It’s an hour of perfectly comforting British radio.
Jeff Smith said of the show: “Shout To The Top is a great original British drama for music radio. It is unique and distinctive and I don’t think listeners will hear this kind of show on any other radio station.
“We have some of the best names in the business involved – including two very gifted writers who have come from a pop music background, namely Roy Boulter, formerly of The Farm and Louise Wener from Sleeper.
“In addition to these fantastic names behind-the-scenes we also have the amazing talent on air of Shane Richie and three very talented female leads who act and sing all the dialogue and songs. Considering they are all individual actors it’s incredible how quickly they became the ‘band’.”
As a pilot it skilfully introduces the main characters and offers tantalising glimpses of the deeper issues and back stories which could be explored should it go forward to full production – feminism and gender equality in the music industry, alcohol dependency, and a curious tale about what happened to Rain’s mother.
The performances are strong and the plot paces nicely in the allotted time, dropping in and out of snatches of conversation and interspersing the songs. The cover versions are perfectly passable and the original music is convincing – of the era and no-worse than some of the ‘pop’ around back then (or, indeed, now).
The script clearly benefits from having two writers who have seen the music industry – as it was around the time the play was set in the late ’80s – bringing their own experience to the table. There are nice references to the importance of the music press as well as the focus for most bands of the time on getting a record deal.
This is great companion listening for those autumn evenings when you want to hide from the world and it would be interesting to see where the main story and the individual characters development could go should it be commissioned and the series is produced.
All words by Sarah Lay.