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Mike Read: ‘That Was Then… This Is Now! is the new Top of the Pops!’

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Retro Pop Exclusive Interview Mike Read
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New online music show ‘That Was Then… This Is Now!’ is a familiar format for fans of classic ‘Top of the Pops’.

The first series of the programme features an A-list line-up of some of the biggest acts of the 1980s, including Nik Kershaw, Paul Young and Toyah, performing their classic hits alongside more recent releases. 

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Masterminded by legendary Stock Aitken Waterman producer Mike Stock and broadcaster and DJ Mike Read, and presented by Read and Sky TV’s Hayley Palmer, the show was conceived to provide an income for touring artists affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Each hour-long instalment also features catch-up interviews with the acts – all of whom are still producing new music.

We chatted to Mike Read about the inspiration behind the show, why heritage acts are often rejected from mainstream radio and TV and possible future spin-offs for the ‘That Was Then… This Is Now!‘ franchise.

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‘Top of the Pops’ has been absent from our screens for so long – what was the spark behind bringing that format back?

‘Top of the Pops’ hasn’t been on since 2006, would you believe? But on the radio, I’ve been doing this heritage chart because so many artists said to me, ‘You’re playing our new songs but no other radio stations are. They just won’t touch us now.’ There are so many heritage artists making fabulous music that’s not getting played. Why suddenly cut them off? 

I’ve worked with Mike Stock a bit over the years on various things and he said, ‘I love what you’re doing on the radio.’ We thought about doing something heritage-wise on TV, so I went down [to his studio], we had a natter and came up with a title ‘That Was Then… This Is Now!’ 

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Mike said, ‘Well, let’s do it.’ We want it to be really good and we thought it could be a great platform, like a new ‘Top of the Pops’, with an artist playing one of their old hits where you’ll go, ‘Oh, wow. Yeah, of course.’ Then, ‘Hey, they’re still making relevant music now, here is one of their new songs.’ 

Toyah - That Was Then... This Is Now!
Toyah

We created a massive studio. It looks like ‘Top of the Pops’. It’s got the feel, the lighting, the sound, the choreography, the musicians. It looks really, really good.

You’ve got some great acts on the show, like Toyah, The Fizz, Kim Wilde – all of whom are major touring artists. There’s clearly a demand for their music, so why do you think they’re sidelined so much by TV and radio?

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I’ve spoken to so many heritage artists who said, ‘Well, you’re playing our songs, but nobody else is. We don’t know where to go.’ John Lodge from the Moody Blues said to me, ‘I made this album during lockdown and I thought to myself, no one’s going to hear it… Because nobody’s going to play it.’ And that’s somebody whose band has sold multi, multi, multi millions [record sales] – and yet, they are saying, ‘No, we’re not gonna play it.’

The same thing with Limahl when he had a new single [Still in Love] out. He went up to BBC Radio 2 to announce that it was coming out and then they didn’t play it. They wouldn’t put it on the playlist. It was the same with Nik Kershaw. He went on to say, ‘Hey I’ve got my new single From Cloudy Bay to Malibu out,’ and they didn’t play it.

To me, From Cloudy Bay to Malibu is probably Nick’s best single. He’s made some great records in the ‘80s but these guys, they’re as good if not better than the songs they made in the ‘80s. And yet, they’re being ignored. They’re being ignored by people saying, ‘Oh, yeah, we love the song. We love you. We love the song… But we’re not playing it.’ It’s like ordering food that you love and then not eating it – I don’t get it!

Chesney Hawkes - That Was Then... This Is Now!
Chesney Hawkes

‘That Was Then… This Is Now!’ brings all those acts back into the spotlight and it provides them with income which has been lost during the pandemic. How would you like to see the format progress?

The plan is to keep it going! Sometimes, if you have a good idea, it takes a while – especially if it’s a new business model, which it is – for people to catch on. 

People didn’t want to pay for it, but it’s a gig – the bands aren’t playing gigs [during the pandemic], so the whole idea is they profit share. So the bands are making money out of it, which they don’t all the other TV music shows. 

You get an hour’s gig, you can watch it 100 times in the week… You don’t have to drive, you don’t have to queue up, it’s under £10! You’re in the comfort of your own home, you can watch it again and again… And then the next one the next week! 

Hopefully, people get into the way it’s working because, in the current time, we’ve had to reinvent things a bit.

The Fizz - That Was Then... This Is Now!
The Fizz

Is it too early to think about ‘That Was Then… This Is Now!’ spin-off projects? An album of new music from the acts produced by Mike Stock, perhaps?

Ooh I don’t know… Like I said, I pop down to Mike’s once a week and we go through the show and he said, ‘Well, if this works, we can look at other things and other ideas.’ So there may well be spin-offs from it.

There may well be, when things get back to normal, hopefully a ‘That Was Then… This Is Now!’ tour, or something like that. Nothing’s impossible. It just depends on how well it goes, of course, how it works in the current situation.

‘That Was Then… This Is Now!’ is available now on StagePlayer+.

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