Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The Raw Sessions: how to make a hames of a simple idea

The idea behind The Raw Sessions, the new music show on RTE 2, is quite smart. Take a couple of Irish bands, stick them in a recording studio for a 12 hour session and film them writing and recording a …

Mon, May 18, 2009, 09:55


The idea behind The Raw Sessions, the new music show on RTE 2, is quite smart. Take a couple of Irish bands, stick them in a recording studio for a 12 hour session and film them writing and recording a song from scratch. It’s a task which has faced every single band who have ever existed since man/woman first picked up a lute, plucked those strings and rhymed “moon” with “June”.

But the execution of this relatively simple idea? Oh boy…

Let’s start with the TV reasons why The Raw Sessions just doesn’t work. The presenter is not great, doesn’t really seem to have much of a clue about the acts or where they’re coming from and doesn’t demonstrate much empathy with them. The editing is geared towards catching inane quotes like “if all these Irish bands were in different parts of the world, they’d be the biggest bands in the world” (the lead singer from Sweet Jane was the poor misfortunate who came up with that Pearl of the Week) than focusing on the blood, sweat and tears of being in a band. The preambles are way too long (it took the entire first half of the show to introduce the two acts, Sweet Jane and R.S.A.G.) and are about capturing the “personality” of the acts rather than footage of the acts actually performing and working on new songs, which, after all, is supposed to be the show’s USP.

If the above were the only reasons why The Raw Sessions makes a hames of a very simple idea, it wouldn’t be too bad. We have been here many times with good ideas gone bad on Irish TV. But the real “fail” kicker comes at the end of the first show and you click what’s going on. After watching Sweet Jane and RSAG work on and perform their new song, the viewer is then asked to vote on which act should progress to a second round. Cue collective groan around the nation (or that small part of the nation who watched the show either on TV or on RTE’s rather fine new iPlayer) – yep, we’re in You’re A Star/The All-Ireland Talent Show territory here, folks

Why does nearly every show on RTE these days involve this sort of interactive bull? Of course, I do realise that a voting process has become part and parcel of the modern TV lexicon. In fact, I’m waiting for the day to come when viewers are asked if Eileen Dunne should wear a pink or a black jacket when she is reading the news (calls and texts cost 50 cent, though the cost of calls from mobiles may vary, check with your service provider).

But it’s questionable if a niche show like The Raw Sessions, which is never going to gain a huge audience in the first place because of its broadcast slot, really needs this sort of add-on. In fact, such voting probably handicaps the show in the eyes of its potential audience. Then again, RTE’s entertainment moguls generally go ga-ga for lowest common denominator interactivity of this sort. The brains behind this department don’t appear willing to air any music show (well, bar The Last Broadcast) unless there is some sort of interactive element built into the mix. It’s as if they went to a conference in 2003, heard the word “interactive” and get a thrill every time they can shoehorn texts or voting onto a show.

Of course, there is also a revenue consideration. Leaving aside the fact that the show is sponsored – and a huge number of companies are also thanked on a splash screen at the end of the show – the texts will probably bring in some cash to help cover the overheads. Each “vote” for an act on The Raw Sessions costs a euro. For this, the viewers get to download the track in question and the act knows this download counts towards the Irish charts. And the act will be getting a share of those euro. Right?

Well, no – or so it seems. According to a post by one of the acts on Thumped.com, the acts don’t actually see a cent from this euro. In fact, per Sweet Jane’s rep, the rights to the song belong to the production company and RTE for a year. Is this a rights grab I see before me or is someone getting the wrong end of the stick?

A show like The Raw Sessions would work far better and be more useful to the audience and act without this inane battle of the bands-style voting nonsense. Why not just focus on the act and the song and leave it at that? What’s the point in setting it up as a competition? The press release says that the top three acts will “perform at a live event where one of them will be named Sony Ericsson Artist of The Year”, which is another completely different kettle of soundchecks. There is, as every music fan knows, a huge difference between recording a song in studio and performing that song on a stage in front of an audience. Isn’t the whole point of this show to look at the creative side of an act writing and recording? Or is the show trying to be all things to all commissioning editors by adding this live element at the end? Is that why there are a couple of seconds footage of talking heads in the mix as well? Did this show start out as a very simple idea and then, at commitee stage, morph into the current camel?

The Raw Sessions wasn’t only the music TV show I saw over the weekend. This, incredibly, is the 34th season of Later…With Jools Holland. The formula has not changed all that much during those 34 seasons. You have a bunch of bands from every genre imaginable performing in a TV studio in front of an audience who may or may not have drink taken. There are usually a couple of performances to take away with you afterwards – the New York Dolls, Asher Roth and Little Boots were excellent last week. The show has always been presented by Julian Miles Holland, who also plays some boogie-woogie piano on the side when he thinks a song needs it. There’s some banter, but the eating and drinking is provided by the bands simply playing their songs. See, there are times when you don’t have to mess with a simple idea.

(Episode One of The Raw Sessions can be viewed here)