Unsigned UK – York TV 2005 – Producer, Director. (concept and name © Ed Torsney)

A six part pilot-series I produced and directed in 2005. I conceived the program format whilst working as production manager at York TV – a local terrestrial broadcast TV station that enjoyed a brief and colourful life in York 2004 – 2005.  The station had two remits – to train as many unemployed people as possible in TV production and TX; and to produce 24 hours of TV – 365 days a year – with no production funding – sounds like an impossible task? Believe me, I have never worked so hard in my life – you think you understand stress until you haven’t slept for a month because you’re up all night scheduling and editing programs and ad breaks for the next morning and it’s 2 minutes before a live news broadcast with no presenter and because you’re the only one in the building with a smart shirt on – guess what – take out your chewing gum – you’re going on air!! I wouldn’t change that year for anything – it was magical, sublime and completely changed the lives of everyone involved, forever. And to top it all – we did it, we broadcast uninterrupted for over a year!!!!!!

Because we relied on a constant rolling stream of trainees for all production work at the station (with only 2 paid production posts: mine and the tech manager) I had to come up with a vehicle, a programme format that I could use which could keep the trainees interested and around which I could build a Level 2 NVQ course – so they could leave witha nationally recognised qualification for all their hard work – that’s when I invented Unsigned UK – it was the perfect idea and really captured the essence of excitement that made the station tick for that fateful year.

The idea was simple enough – I wanted to give air-time to this huge, untapped cultural resource that was bubbling under the surface of main-stream entertainment – the antithesis of the X Factor generation – the real, the true talent of UK culture: The dedicated bands of musicians and misfits, ill defined and chorus, that struggle daily in towns and villages across the country to be heard above the deafening drone of the mainstream, the real cultural innovators who strive to give something precious to the world – the bands that the record companies never heard, the great Unsigned UK.

But we had no money – no budget, nothing, not a penny… this would have to be paid for in blind faith if it was ever going to happen at all and we would need favours…lots of favours. So we put the word out, got on the phones, sent emails out, filled the internet notice boards with calls for demos – we would consider anything if they were willing to come to York and do the show for free.

Amazingly though, the response was absolutely overwhelming, we received hundreds of demos – the poor postman was dropping off three sacks full of CDs every day for weeks – and the quality of the music was just incredible – it took us over a month to choose the final 24 bands that would make up the six part pilot series, but we still didn’t have a venue to film in. I had worked out that it would take three days round the clock work, shooting 2 half-hour shows a day on 5 cameras and with only a week to go before production began I approached a local night club and pleaded with them to let us have the club for free for three days and nights midweek – in return for free promotion on the TV station – and (praise the lord) they agreed!!

24 bands is a lot of people and a lot of vans full of bass drums, amps, guitars, keyboards, cases of beer and groupies – what a sight when every one of them arrived in the nightclub car park that sunny day in August 2004! The clip above is just a taster of what we achieved that summer – and I hope in future to develop the idea with a mainstream TV channel or such like – but what we did was much more than make a pilot series for TV: for a few special days in summer in the UK over 150 musicians, 30 volunteers/trainees along with me, John Greatwood, Paul Wells, Jude Knight, Simon Scholes, Encoder Dave, Helen Lewis and countless others actually LIVED THE DREAM.

Here’s to the great Unsigned UK, the unforgettable York TV and the many wonderful people who kept it real and came together to champion the real culture of the UK. I’m up for doing it again sometime – any takers? ; )

Ed

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