Bookended by live footage of The Beatles Pop Gear is a big screen Top Of The Pops style showcase for a handful of British beat groups and solo performers of the 60s. This fab compendium is a game of two halves with renditions of hits from the previous year (1964) followed by, after an intermission featuring some groovy female dancers, the same bands debuting newer material.
The 60s, if you can remember them then you weren't there, or so the saying goes. Thankfully for teenagers of that decade and fans of the era Optimum have dusted off Pop Gear from the vaults and released it in pristine condition on DVD. Apart from the opening and closing footage it's a studio set affair consisting of lip-synched performances. Your host for the evening is the inimitable Jimmy Savile, on hand to provide the links in his own wacky style with his trademark cigar. It's a shame he couldn't fix it for a few of the performers though as, apart from the likes of The Animals (who perform two classic numbers) and The Spencer Davis Group, most of the artists didn't have long-lasting careers. But there are some gems on offer such as The Honeycombs, well known at the time for having a female drummer, and songstress Billie Davis. There's even room for Matt Monro, a slightly incongruous choice perhaps, although his star rose thanks to singing the theme to 007's second big screen adventure, From Russia With Love.
In an age before the pop video became a standard part of the music business telly shows like Ready Steady Go! gave audiences the chance to see their favourite acts and Pop Gear apes that style, albeit minus the studio audience. Given an international cinema release also helped promote and capitalise on the so-called British Invasion of the mid-sixties. The fact that all those assembled mime allows for more freedom in the staging of the performances and there's some neat camerawork and frankly off the wall sets that perfectly capture the era – is that a giant xylophone Herman's Hermits are performing on? Indeed, these visual distractions are necessary considering that some of the groups aren't exactly camera friendly. Although having said that many are on their best behaviour, booted and suited and even bowing at the end of their performances.
If you turned on tuned in and dropped out in the 60s then this will be a fun nostalgia trip, and lovers of 60s music will find that Pop Gear offers a worthwhile snapshot of the Beat movement featuring a mix of household names and one hit wonders that drifted into obscurity, such is the fickle nature of the pop world then as now. The music is a mixed bag but the good certainly outweighs the bad and most fans will enjoy many of the 23 songs on offer. One minor gripe, it's a shame that Optimum decided against the seemingly natural choice of breaking down the chapters by each song.