Thursday 28 November 2013

You're not The Boss of me


* Born in the USA: 100 %

* Detachable nose: 0 %

* Sharing a bedroom with Ernie: 0 %

* Muppet: 32 %

* Downfall parody: 96 %


* Born in the USA: 100 %

* Detachable nose: 99 %

* Sharing a bedroom with Ernie: 98 %

* Muppet: 100 %

* Downfall parody: 0 %

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Wedding ties

Even if I was three stone lighter I wouldn't be able to get into my wedding suit. Like a lot of my clothes it ended up in a charity shop somewhere - no doubt with the jacket pockets full of confetti. And as for my shoes, I parted company with them at Cockfosters tube station; long story.

But I do still have the tie I wore. As you can see it has a Paul Gauguin reproduction plastered all over it. Most people seemed to like it. Even Jenny's mother. I found it the other day, in a bag of other discarded ties, at the back of my wardrobe. I don't wear ties anymore, save for weddings and funerals. The last time being earlier this year when we said goodbye to Jenny's mother. No, I decided against the Gauguin that day. Though I'm sure Margaret would have smiled had I given it an outing.

Many years later I discovered that Michael Franks had borrowed Gauguin's Two Tahitian Women for his Objects of Desire album cover in 1981 - nine years before we tied the knot (pun intended). Surrounded by the likes of Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Larry Carlton and David Sanborn it's a smooth jazz clssic. But it's still not as good as his Blue Pacific platter from which Long Slow Distance is taken. Jenny and I hope to be renewing our vows next year and this voluptuous tune will definitely be on the playlist.

Michael Franks: Long Slow Distance

Monday 25 November 2013

First, find yourself a 200 foot chimney

Is it any wonder we don't send men to The Moon anymore? Apparently Messrs. Armstrong and Aldrin were told that their chances of coming back were 50-50. Middle management just wouldn't allow that anymore; at least not without a high-vis vest.

Take a look at this clip of Fred Dibnah, wearing his trademark flat cap, climbing a 200 foot chimney with a scaffold board strapped to his back, smoking a fag and half way up calmly announcing 'one false move and it's half a day at the undertakers.'

If the car was invented this week they'd ban driving within a week. Nothing's so sure.

Wednesday 20 November 2013


You can't beat a good theme tune. And Dream Themes know how to nail 'em. It says something about this finely crafted classic that when it's thrashed to within an inch of its life it sounds even better than the original; imagine Frank Bough mashing it up with Pete Townshend in a sweaty club. On the other hand, maybe that's not the best analogy. Anyway, if you like this, see what they've done to BBC News 24 and the snooker.

Monday 18 November 2013

Dropping Bombshells in Belfast

The new resident pianist in The Europa Hotel (pictured moments before the blast)

As I alluded to a couple of weeks ago my cousin Raymond and I have been planning an elaborate family reunion in Northern Ireland where nobody, not even me, knew the full ensemble; you see Ray had invited a 'mystery guest'. Ray doesn't do smug, but this came close. More on that later.

I love reunions, especially when there isn't a wooden box in the corner of the room. I won't bore you with details of people you don't know or talk you through every permutation of photograph that was taken (aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, first cousins three times removed), suffice it to say that Friday night was perfect. Before proceedings got under way proper I met my cousin Adrianne who I'd not clapped eyes on since the scorching summer of 1976. She hadn't changed a bit. I, on the other hand, looked old enough to be her father - and I'm a year younger.

Adrianne and I lay in wait in an adjoining room with the party now getting into full swing. I put a phone call in to Ray's father, my Uncle Aidan, from, he thought, across the Irish Sea: struggling to make himself heard above the hubbub I calmly walked into the party, still talking to him on the phone and straight into his line of vision: Bombshell # 1. After we restarted his heart I casually asked how Adrianne was these days. Her cue to walk through the door: Bombshell # 2. Whilst the Paramedics were working flat out reviving everyone the door bell rang. Auntie Stella. The 'mystery guest': Bombshell # 3. Carnage.

Saturday morning started as every Saturday should with enough bacon and sausages to feed an army washed down by gallons of tea. Ray was holding court in the kitchen basking in the success of the night before knowing that 2013's Party Planner of the Year award would be coming his way.

We left the oldies back at base, many still strapped to ECG machines, whilst us young 'uns ventured forth into Belfast for a few pints of Guinness in The Crown Liquor Saloon. On the train I told Ray I needed to drop into the Europa Hotel. I said I was writing a piece about Europe's most bombed hotel and that the manager had got some old photographs for me to use. He bought it.

Unknown to him, and the rest of them, I'd arranged for the Number One Son and his fair maiden to come over from Manchester and join us on the Saturday. And, after a quick call to the Europa, what better way to 'introduce' him, he being a musician, than for him to swap places with the resident pianist in the Piano Lounge and be playing when we all walked in; it went like clockwork. Ray was in bits: Bombshell # 4. Wipe out.

Thinking of organising a party? My rates are very reasonable.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Claire Martin

She's rather fond of Jelly Babies you know

Claire Martin has been delighting jazz audiences for over twenty years. Her sideboard must be creaking under the weight of all the trinkets she's won in that time, not least the six Best Vocalist awards bagged at the prestigious annual Jazz Awards. Backed by an an impressive back catalogue, her distinctive delivery and superb choice of material have kept her at the forefront of the jazz scene on both sides of the Atlantic. Claire also presents Jazz Line Up on Radio 3 where she gets to play her favourite records and meet her idols.

Claire took the time earlier this week to answer a few probing questions:

I remember seeing you at a jazz club in Sheffield one Sunday lunchtime around the time your first album, The Waiting Game, was released; but where and when was your first paid engagement?

'Blimey, that was a long time ago! I guess my first real paid gig was when I turned professional at the age of nineteen and sang with the house band in a hotel in Bournemouth called The Savoy. Sadly not half as glam as The Savoy in London! I worked 6 nights for £150 a week, £50 of that went on rent!'

Jim Mullen was in your band that day – as he has been for a long time. You and Jim work really well together. Any plans to record an album with just the two of you?

'I keep thinking that we must do a duet album. As you know, Jim is a master musician and would be marvellous in this setting. One day it will happen...! 

Claire Martin with Jim Mullen - Gettin' High (1998)

 You've been with your record company, Linn, right from the get go. What's so good about them?

'Linn are incredibly supportive in many ways and most importantly they give me full artistic control. They pride themselves on the sound quality of all their records and have never said no to any of my mad ideas over the years. They are small but perfectly formed and have recently gained much more distribution worldwide.'

You recorded Help! with Noel Gallagher on guitar: was he the perfect gentleman? And what do you look for in a song that makes you want to record it?

Paul Stacey the producer of the Perfect Alibi album was working with Oasis at the time and told me about Noel playing Help! as a slow song at his gigs. I was intrigued to give it a go and was really thrilled that Noel agreed to do the session. However, on my way to the studio I got caught up in the most horrific traffic jam in Brixton and JUST as I arrived he had left. He did leave me a plectrum though and apparently said "give this to the girl singer". Song lyrics reach me first, but I am listening for good harmony and form too. Sometimes great jazz tunes are over too quickly, so I like a bit more structure.
Claire Martin - Help! (1999)

 You're a Brighton Bird these days: can you see the sea from where you live?

'I used to be able to from my old house if I hung my head out of the very top window and looked right! Oblique views I think is the term! Now I am up by the Sussex Downs which are more green than blue. I love Brighton and it’s the best move I ever made.'

Do you like touring? How many gigs do you clock up a year?

'If the tour is well planned and not too gruelling then, yes, being on the road can be fun. Since I became a mum I’m less likely to agree to longer than a week on the road at a time. I did take my daughter to New York last year as the engagement was for 3 weeks. It’s a privilege to be a musician and a joy to do something that you love, but most musicians would agree that the travel aspect is a killer. Only a few weeks ago I drove 7 hours to get to the gig as traffic was horrendous on the M25. To get to a gig north of London on a Friday, it’s best to set off after breakfast! Ideally I’d like to do 4-6 gigs a month, sometimes that happens but other times it’s either feast or famine. This week I'm doing 5 gigs but the week after I’m doing none at all.'

What's it like working at the BBC?

'This is a dream gig for me and has saved my bacon over the last thirteen years. I’ve met and interviewed some of my heroes (Brecker, Metheny, Previn) and have been able to keep my finger on the pulse of the jazz scene easily as I’m sent so much new material, magazines, special invites etc. It’s a joy and I’m really really lucky to be part of the Radio 3 family.'

Have you got a favourite jazz club?

'Yes, the 606 club in Chelsea. Many a night has been spent watching world class music, hanging with my mates and eating great food. Steve Rubie the owner is a legend. I’ve been most proud of the charity events we have put on their thanks to Steve. We have raised thousands through the generosity of the club members. A GREAT JAZZ CLUB.'

You've won many many awards over the years. Which one would you run into a burning building to rescue?

'I’m still in shock that I received an OBE for my services to jazz in 2011. Especially when there are people like Steve Rubie out there. I thought at first it was a hoax! I took my mum and dad to the Palace and we had a terrific day out and a very boozy lunch in Soho afterwards with my husband and brother. I guess I’d run back in for my medal just so I could prove it was true!'

Who do you most admire as an artist and which album could you not live without?

'That’s tough! I have so much admiration for so many jazz singers – all for different reasons. I’d have to say that Carmen McRae is my number one. Her artistry is second to none and I’m still learning every time I listen to her, she is an inspiration. The album ‘Bittersweet’ is as good as it gets.'  

And finally...

Sinatra or Bennett?

'Sinatra - just'

Liquorice Allsorts or Jelly Babies?

'Jelly Babies - no contest!'

Indian food or Italian?

'Indian - had killer curry last night'

Beer or wine?

'WINE!!!!!!!!!!! (red)'  

Cinema or DVD Box Set?

'Cinema - life's too short for box sets'

Thank you Claire.

Monday 11 November 2013

Taking a Flyer

Exhibit 'A'
Also Exhibit 'A'
In November 1977 Graham Parker was criss-crossing the UK promoting his Stick to Me album; you may remember the advertising space his record company took out in all the weekly music rags - Sounds, NME, Melody Maker etc. What you may not remember is that the following month The Next Band, a none too shabby power trio, were playing Grantham Guildhall; I doubt very much that you'll have heard of them, but I think you'll recognise the flyer I liberated that night. As far as I'm aware Next were not in any way related to Mr. Parker, but they obviously took a shine to his artwork.

Saturday 9 November 2013

A Spot of Bother

A Spot of Bother © Robin Dale

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of James Moffat who, under the pseudonym Richard Allen, wrote several infamous youth culture novels - published by New English Library (which became a Hodder & Stoughton imprint in 1981). Always gritty, often right wing and loaded with sex and violence they served as a bluffers guide to early 1970s counter culture. With titles like Boot Boys, Skinhead and Suedehead they were devoured by males of a certain age. His style has been borrowed by many subsequent writers, not least John King; his Headhunters, England Away and Football Factory trilogy explores similar themes.

Friday 8 November 2013

Jock & Margaret

Jock and Margaret, 1947

Jock and Margaret: they make a fine couple don't they? Just don't ask me who they are. Or where they come from*. Or, indeed, what became of them.

I rescued them from a flea market a couple of years ago. They were living in a discarded photograph album at the bottom of a cardboard box. I couldn't believe that anyone (let alone family) could throw away such a delightful book of memories: all the photos are individually mounted and most have a little byline underneath with dates and locations - the album begins in September 1945 ('Taken in Exeter') and concludes with the photograph below ('The gang at Marske') dated August 1951.

I'd like to think that Jock and Margaret are still with us (I'm guessing they'd both be in their late 80s if they are) but even if they aren't I hope they both had great lives.

Margaret (2nd from right) with the gang

* Though I have a feeling they may have been from the Midlesborough/Redcar area

Wednesday 6 November 2013


Gardening in the Rain: an excerpt taken from The Daily Telegraph's website. Stay Dry - Get some wet weather kit. A waterproof hat with a rim allows more movement than a hood. Wellies are fine for most garden duties, but, for carrying heavy items or digging, walking boots offer more protection. For quick dashes it's worth keeping a pair of plastic clogs by the back door.

In her article Liz Dobbs makes no mention of gnome etiquette;  we must assume, therefore, that leaving garden gnomes out in all weathers is discretional.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Bake Off

Mr. Murphy
* Camberwick Green parking permit: 98 %
* Faithful to his wife: 100 %
* Selling delicious walnut cakes for 5 shillings: 100 %
* Brian Cant voice-over: 100 %
* National Treasure: 96 %
* Flour supplied by Windy Miller: 100 %
* Baker Man: 99 %

Mr. Hollywood

 * Camberwick Green parking permit: 0 %
 * Faithful to his wife: 2 %
 * Selling delicious walnut cakes for 5 shillings: 1 %
 * Brian Cant voice-over: 0 %
 * National Treasure: 3 %
 * Flour supplied by Windy Miller: 0 %
 * Baker Man: 10 %