Monday 31 March 2014

Name that tuber

'Get off my land!'

McCain, the frozen chip giant, are ploughing something of a Beatles furrow with their latest advertising campaign. The privately owned Canadian company is using the iconic Abbey Road image to promote their use of British potatoes. Interestingly, the company was founded in 1957 by Harrison  McCain.  He died in 2004 leaving behind a personal fortune estimated at $ one billion.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Martin Kitcher

Three years ago I wrote a blog about Shandy Bass. Top Deck may have got a mention too. Anyway, in amongst the sackful of letters I got in response to this piece of nonsense was a reply from Martin Kitcher, a Dorset musician, who, it transpires, had written a song about Shandy Bass. I of course replied straight away and said  that I'd love to do a Q&A with him as he seems just the sort of maverick my readership would be interested in. Like I said, that was March 2011. Sorry for the delay Martin.

Your CV looks pretty busy - what do you best?

I think I`m probably best at remembering my way around rock and pop songs, which has not only helped me make the odd penny, but has helped quite a lot of musicians get through the odd gig where they weren't really that sure what was going on. I'm a good prompt! This ability helped me naturally into the production of new material for me and for others.When I was a kid, all of the tunes in my head were self invented, so I guess I learned about music that way too.

You appeared on my radar singing Shandy Bass! What's that all about?

The story of Shandy Bass formed as I was driving my old Renault 5 with my friend Marc Arnold to a gig in Southend. Years prior I'd worked in a factory with a company that had moved down to New Milton (my hometown) with many of their staff from that part of Essex; leaving me with many tales of unseen faces and place names of the town that was now fast approaching. Dying for a beer when we arrived, and all hostelries shut, we settled on Shandy Bass from a chip shop by the sea front. I top decked (sorry) the song later on with an ending that takes me and the listener, hopefully, to my hometown - hence the local references including 'cricket down at Ashley Rec.'

So you think you can write another Waterloo? Or Boom Bang a Bang? Why did you go all Eurovision?

It was a joke that got out of hand, but with so many people around me at the time enjoying it and wanting it do well I just had to roll with it. I did find something that I objected to within the rules of the competition, at about the time we found out that we didn't have a hope, and that clause caused all the publicity. But it all became too much for me to handle. My mate who was acting as my press agent at the time took a lot of the pressure off me, but, alas, whilst we were still toying with ideas - including representing Iceland instead of the UK - I had an accident and broke my back. Not too helpful on fronting my dancers (see below). So that was that really.

Will Dorset go the way of Scotland?

I can see it splitting into East Dorset and West Dorset. But the busiest areas of East Dorset will be English with emphasis on the blue bit of the Union Jack for a very long time to come. But Cornwall will go first.

Is Social Media a big part of your life? When did you last write a letter?

I have always written loads. The internet and its social media was like a prayer answered. I love being in touch with people and, yes, sometimes they do get an actual handwritten letter from me. But I've always had great difficulty holding a pen and modern day keyboards have made things so much easier for people like me - with very busy thought patterns and less physical extremities. I would hate being without social media but it does make me wonder what some people smell like!

Who or what makes you angry?

Any injustice dealt out by bullies against people with less defence. Particularly injustices against disabled people. Although it makes me me seethe, I dont like to impose my beliefs on anyone - a quick word or two in a song is something that I am lucky enough to do and get things out of my system.

What's the strangest gig you've ever played?

That's a book in itself! But here's one: I was booked with the band to play at a kind of Christian festival weekend in the summer - as soon as they'd finished their studying and praying they came to see us play. I didn't know how the heck this would go, but when I saw them all flood in - with so much energy - I realised they were party people. We started with Sit Down by James and then followed seamlessly into Spirit In The Sky. The set then seemed to flow naturally. When we did I`m a Believer the lyrics gradually became hymnal in delivery: 'And then I saw HIS face, now I`m a believer!'

Would you share your bag of sweets with a stranger on a long train journey?

Did do as a kid once. Never again - the sooner I'm off of there the better. I wouldn't really want to share a beer in the buffet car either really these days.

You're in a bar. What do you ask for?

A pint mug with a handle filled with either a 5% very cold lager, a decent real ale or local cider that has seen many apples.

Finally, your iPod is on the blink. It will only store one 3 minute song. What do you put on it?
It`s going to have to be something that I have sought after and failed to hear or find for – well, forever basically. So this would be a track by a band that, I think, was called Aphrodite's Child. It was 1971 and I think it was called Bye-Bye My Friend Goodbye. It's in my head but I've never found it.

I think this is what you're looking for Martin. Demis Roussos, Vangelis and some other fella in what looks like a Bee Gees outtake.

Thanks very much John - good questions. Hope you're OK and this is fun for your readers!

You're very welcome Martin.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Get Back (to Leeds)

A Hard Day's Night may not be my favourite film of all-time, but it's certainly in the top two. If my VHS copy and subsequent DVD had stat counters on them they would probably conclude that I'd spent half my waking hours watching this timeless classic.

And here's the thing - I've never seen it at the pictures. I've only ever seen it on the box.

But that's all about to change. A Hard Day's Night is 50 this year and it's coming to Leeds, of all places. For one night only, Tuesday 29 April, it will be showing at the Cottage Road Cinema in Headingley - and I've just bought four tickets. I've got my eye on that poster too.

Saturday 22 March 2014


Tom was on hand at The Medd Gallery yesterday overseeing the hanging of his picture. As the title of Sonia Rollo's 'Lady Marmalade' etching would indicate, it's not actually him. But he does do that stretchy thing every morning when he wakes up.

Anyone wondering, like we were in the pub last night, just how many more ginger toms there are compared to their female counterparts - here's the answer and the science behind it.

We're going to see Martin Taylor next week at The Early Music Centre in York. We've seen him numerous times - he made my 50 odd gigs recently. Here he is performing Ginger with fellow stalwart Martin Simpson.

A big thank you to Phil Friend - Honorary Curator at The Medd Gallery.

Friday 21 March 2014

Bayswater Blues - Chapter 1

It was Saturday morning when I first noticed him. It was early, early for me anyway - about half past ten. I was just coming out of Hyde Park, opposite The Albert Hall, as he was running in.
How am you?’ And with that he sped past me into the park. How am you? Was he foreign? Was he a bit dim? I don't know, but he was wearing a tee shirt that made me laugh. Not out loud, just inwardly. Something I hadn’t done much of recently. Picked out in white on his black shirt was the slogan ‘What You Talkin’ Bout Willis?’
He was there again the following Monday. I was taking Blue for her morning constitution, just coming around the north side of the Serpentine, when I saw him about fifty yards away. Within seconds he was passing me on the right hand side, half on the path, half on the grass.
In it to win it lad.’ In it to win it? How am you? What was he trying to tell me? Again, his shirt brought a smile to my face. This one bore the strap line ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?’ What indeed? And was he Bob, or was he Terry?
Tuesday was the same, same time and tee shirt, but Wednesday was a no show.
Looks like he’s stood us up’ I said to the dog. Oh God, I’m talking to the dog.
Walking back to the flat I made sure Blue was back on the lead, crossed over the Bayswater Road and spent the next twenty minutes re-running old Likely Lads episodes in my head. My favourite was always the one where the pair were holed up in a Church trying desperately to avoid the England score before the TV highlights were shown later that night.
With the dog lead and a pint of milk in one hand I fished my keys out of pocket with the other and let myself back in the flat. I live alone. If you don’t count the dog and the two cats, that is. I’ve lived here five years. In fact it’ll be  five years to the day in a couple of weeks. I know this because I moved in on my 35th birthday.

First things first. Let me explain about the dog. She’s not mine. I’m just looking after her for a couple of weeks. I must be mad. Looking after a dog in Bayswater; well at least I’ve got the Park. But the dog is only the tip of this iceberg. Becca (more of whom later…a whole lot more I promise you) said she’d be no trouble. That’s easy for her to say; but you try walking and feeding (and clearing up after) a greyhound in central London. Bert and Ernie are no trouble at all: they come and go as they please courtesy of the cat flap and if they could use a tin-opener wouldn’t need me at all.
I stuck the milk in the fridge and toyed with the idea of making coffee. But then I looked up at the kitchen clock and decided that as the pubs had been open ten minutes it would be rude not to have a proper drink.
Drinking this early in the day didn’t use to be part of my normal routine. But, since Becca left, things aren’t normal and I don’t have a routine. Blue and I made our way to The Lord Alfred. It’s a ten-minute walk from the flat and, with it being tucked away behind the shops, it’s never busy, nor is it frequented by office knobs; they tend not to venture past the wine bar on the corner.
Walking in the Alfred I always get the feeling that I’m coming back to some spiritual home, and then that feeling gives way to a wave of guilt and self loathing; but then the whole thing passes and it’s business as usual.
Pint of London Pride and a double scotch when you’ve got a minute Bill’ I yell to mien host at the other end of the bar who appears to be persuading, without much success, Angie not to leave his employ and succumb to the allure of the wine bar 'round the proverbial corner.
‘…I’ll up your money to eight quid an hour and I’ll pay for your cab home’.
Ten and you’ve got yourself a deal.’
Nine’ and that’s my final offer’ replied Bill, now with a serious sweat on his brow.'
Alright Scrooge. But I’m out of that door ten minutes after you shout last orders. The last few weeks I’ve still been washing glasses at midnight’
Knowing that he couldn’t afford to loose the pub’s one and only asset Bill acquiesced and, with a wave of his hand, walked down the bar and started pulling my pint.
You’re early today Richard’.
The sun will have passed the yard arm somewhere on the planet Bill and that’s good enough for me. And anyway, the dog likes it here.’ I was being serious: Blue shuffled under my bar stool and nodded off within seconds; when we’re back at the flat she paces the room and scratches at the front door. I think she’s missing Becca; tell me about it.
If I had more customers like you Richard I’d be a rich man’.
You are a rich man’.
I won’t be for much longer if I pay all my staff Premiership wages for playing in the Fourth Division.’
With that Angie came back from the cellar and whispered loudly enough into Bill’s ear so that she knew I’d hear - ‘You know that without your star player this team would be relegated out of the league.’
Bill, knowing he was beaten, laughed and made his way to the office. Just as he reached the door he shouted over to me.
You don’t know Group 4’s number do you Richard? I need them to deliver Angie’s wages on Friday!'
He’s right’ she said, ‘It is early. Even for you. Still no word?’
Well, as she’s technically left me, I’m not expecting her to ring’.
I know, but surely she’s coming back for Blue’.
I’ll probably get a second hand message from her sister. In fact I don’t know why she didn’t dump the mongrel on her. In fact I don’t even know why she got the bloody thing in the first place. We never talked about having a dog and yet two days after walking out on me she’s bought a bloody whippet’.
It’s a greyhound’ Angie corrected me.
Whatever it is, it’s nothing more than a four legged shit making machine’ and with that off my chest I downed my scotch in one and took the head of my London Pride. I then felt sorry for the mutt curled up under my stool and tickled her ears. It struck me that it wasn’t a very fair swap. I lose the girl of my dreams and six weeks later I’m babysitting her dog while she’s lying on a beach somewhere.
Another Pride, Ange, and whatever you’re having’. I figured on having a couple more before going home and typing up some invoices; I call myself a translator, Spanish mainly, but most of my time these days is spent with spotty kids trying to get them ready for GCSEs. I used to get a lot of commercial work with overseas clients who wanted everything from sex guides to gun manuals translating. But I take whatever I can these days. After Becca left I just can’t think straight.
Angie pours my pint, graciously turns down my offer of a drink and reaches up to switch the TV on. From where I’m sitting I get a grandstand view of the top of her thong peeking over her jeans; for a split second my mind races into X-rated territory but I’m soon shaken out of my reverie when the news channel up on the screen cuts away to a familiar face and the reporter thrusts a microphone in his face.
The smug looking newshound asks: ‘So a great victory today, you must be delighted’.
I am indeed. It just goes to prove that you’ve got to be in it to win it’.
It’s the man in the park!’ I yell. Angie looks over, as do a couple of punters at the other end of the bar.’ It’s him’ I say and, obviously, she’s none the wiser. ‘It’s the loony jogger!’
How do you know him then, love?’
I see him in the Park and he talks to me in code. Turn it up Ange, let’s see what he’s been up to.’
‘…I can’t believe it. I’ve finally got the law on my side. It means I’ve now got regular access to my kids.’ The guy then starts choking up and with that the interviewer hands back to the studio. Angie turns the sound down and starts conducting her own interview.
If he’s a mate of yours why have you never brought him in here and introduced me: he’d keep my bed warm on a winter’s night’.
Two things Ange: One, I don’t know his name, he runs past me at a rate of knots shouting something barely intelligible and two - you’re a married woman. Wouldn’t your fella object if you brought home a six foot two hot water bottle?’
A girl can dream, can’t she?’
I decided that if I had another one I’d be there for the rest of the day. But if I left now I could grab a bite to eat and get an early edition of the Standard and see if I could put a name to the likely lad in the Park. I was proud of myself, I went for Plan B. Maybe I’m not quite an alcoholic yet.

Me and the dog stepped out of the pub, squinted in the daylight, only to be greeted by another all too often downpour. Tempting as it was to do an about turn and return to my still warm bar stool I decided that I really was hungry and, anyway, The Alfred hasn’t served food since 1982; if Bill ever offers you a pie, check the sell by date. We ran to the kebab shop on the corner, and I mean ran - after all, Blue is a greyhound. I put my order in for a ‘shish with everything’ and while it was being constructed I nipped to the newsagent next door for a paper.
I found him on page five. His name was Dave Goulden and, along with a group of other ‘Distant Dads', he’s been fighting for the right to have fair and unrestricted access to his children after he and his wife divorced eighteen months ago. Just as I was scanning further down the story a big dollop of chilli sauce ran off my kebab and totally obliterated half of page five.
Now I knew his name I wasn’t quite sure if having this piece of information helped me any; yeah, I’d be able to shout ‘Morning Dave’ as he charged past me in the park. But it wouldn’t bring Becca back.

OK, I guess it’s time to fill you in on this woman who walked out on me and whose face I still expect to see next to me every morning I wake up. And, if I haven’t had at least three cups of strong coffee before I leave the flat, I still think I see her in tube stations, sandwich bars and pubs all over town.
Rebecca Jane Harrison-Flowers is what it says on her passport. For some reason she was never comfortable taking on my surname when we married, hence the double barrel bit, and rarely uses it; at work or on utility bills she’s Rebecca Flowers. To friends she’s just Becca. To me she’s a gaping hole in my life that, as things stand, I don’t think I’ll ever get over. 

Tuesday 18 March 2014


Sher-oo! Cilla's third solo album from 1968
If anyone was going to play Cilla Black in a biopic then Sheridan Smith (below left) probably ticks more boxes than most. However, the transformation into Cilla, seemingly, took nothing more than a red wig and a pair of false teeth. How the story of Liverpool's First Lady is told hinges not just on young Sheridan's ability to keep her dentures in when mimicking Cilla's Mersey Tunnel of a voice, but trying to capture the sense of innocence that, despite much revisionism, existed throughout much of the the 1960s.

From hatcheck girl at The Cavern to having a lorra lorra fun on Blind Date I'm sure we'll learn as much as Cilla wants us to learn and, in keeping with most dramas of the genre, any gaps will no doubt be filled courtesy of some mild latitude with the facts.

Despite having a decent set of pipes on her I'm guessing that Smith won't actually be belting out the tunes herself, chances are she'll be miming to a selection of Cilla's formidable EMI 45s.

Monday 17 March 2014

Group hug?

Fans of Notts County don't see a lot of good times. It's mainly thin, not much thick. If it wasn't for the self deprecating humour of the fans there would be a lot of jumpers throwing themselves off Trent Bridge right now.

I've never been a fan of the pre-match huddle; as the wag who sat a couple of seats from the Number One Son last Saturday said - 'You've had ALL week.' Precisely. And now the manager says he's baffled as to where it's all gone wrong this season. He's baffled? What does he do all week?

In addition to the legendary Wheelbarrow Song The Kop now sing 'The football league is upside down' to the tune of When the Saints. Priceless.

I think it's time to lose the group hug.

Saturday 15 March 2014

Fat Paul & Lord Netherbourne

Listening to The Archers is a lot like listening to Beatles albums: FAB for the most part but sooner or later you know the ubiquitous Ringo track will pop up and knock you off your perch; in the case of The Archers it's called the Sunday episode - all light and no heat.

And it's getting worse, Sunday night episodes are now just as likely to happen on a Wednesday. Or a Friday. Added to which the scriptwriters have gone off piste with virtually every character in Ambridge. Words are being put in their mouths by school leaver scribblers who wouldn't know a pint of Shires from a bottle of WKD.

I can think of only two characters that have escaped this recent bout of silliness: Lord Netherbourne, godfather to posh Caroline and all round benefactor, has about as much to say as the sultry, yet dumb, Marina in Stingray. Likewise, Eddie Grundy's longstanding cowboy builder mate Fat Paul has also sworn a vow of silence - thus ensuring that he can never knowingly contradict himself or commit glaring continuity errors.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Kingston Communication Breakdown

Billed as a night featuring Stanley Brinks and The Wave Pictures, we beat a path last Friday to the New Adelphi in Kingston upon Hull - the city famous for its Spiders from Mars and white telephone boxes. What we didn't realise, despite the wording on the poster (a textbook case of poor communication), was that The Wave Pictures wouldn't be playing as such, they would just be the backing band for the night; no matter, I enjoyed it immensely. They did loads of quirky stuff like this:

As a former Hully Gully I have to confess this was my first visit to The Adelphi. It stands at the end of a row of terraces and is, essentially, two houses knocked together with a bar at one end and a stage at the other. But it has a certain charm and some decent hand-pulls too. I'll definitely go back.

Friday 7 March 2014

Voices off

Ian Skelly: not a shock jock
I only found out today that Stuart Maconie has been sitting in all week on the 6 Music Breakfast Show. Between eight and nine this morning I can't tell you how pleasant it was to be listening to a presenter who wasn't going through the gurning Dave Double Decks routine. The informed chat between records is, to me, anyway, every bit as important as the music itself.

The reason, I guess, that I wasn't aware of this bout of depping is that normally I listen to either Radio 3 or Radio 4 with my Rice Krispies and can't abide shouty voices and indie drivel in the morning. But even on Radio 3 I have to be careful. When Ian Skelly recently took over the reins and provided cover at breakfast time it was a joy to hear a genuinely knowledgable voice who wasn't reading from an idiot board and genuinely cared about the pieces he was playing.

It's for these reasons I can only listen to Today when Evan Davis is at the helm. His voice is the voice of calm. The voice of reason.

The BBC may well see Shaun Keaveny, Clemency Burton-Hill and Sarah Montague as the future of their respective stations, 6 Music, Radio 3 and Radio 4. But it's not a future I want to be part of.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Beer Drinkers & Hellraisers

Not for the first time a rock and roll band have jumped aboard the real ale bandwagon and put their name on a pump clip or a shiny bottle label. Last month the Quo launched Piledriver - a 4.3 % ABV no nonsense amber ale named after their no nonsense 1972 album of the same name. It follows on the heels of Iron Maiden's Trooper and Elbow's Build a Rocket Boys; fine beers both.

Little Willy (# 4 June 1972)  RCA 2225
Wig Wam Bam (# 4 September 1972) RCA 2260
Hell Raiser (# 2 May 1973)  RCA 2357
Fox On The Run (# 2 March 1975) RCA 2524
But spare a thought for The Sweet, a band who are no strangers to this blog. Seemingly, and without their knowledge, their back catalogue is being plundered in the name of beer. And if you don't believe me, check out, in order of release (that's the single, not the beer) Little Willy, Wig Wam Bam, Hell Raiser and Fox On The Run.

They've just had Wig Wam Bam on in my local. I don't know anything about the other three, though two of them at least look like US imports. It can only be a matter of time until Block Buster! and The Ballroom Blitz make their way in to a hostelry near you. Speaking of Ballroom Blitz...

Tuesday 4 March 2014


When it comes to impressions I'm about as good as Mike Yarwood. No matter who Yarwood did it was always a halfway house between Eddie Waring and Robin Day.

But I do derive a lot of pleasure from saying 'She's not me mam, she's my PA' in an out of breath stab at Johnny Vegas. That and shouting 'Tower of Power' in a generic Northern Irish accent. I tend to do both of these while parked up at traffic lights.

And I now have a third to complete my trilogy. Apropos of nothing I will just blurt out 'Shanghai' in a William Hague voice and spread it out over at least half a dozen syllables.

Childish, I know. But as John Lennon once said, whatever gets you through the night.

Saturday 1 March 2014

Traumneustartversuch (trawm - noy - shtarht - fair - zooch)

Ever thought, 'There should be a German word for that'? Well, now there is.

That's the premise of Schottenfreude, Ben Schotts's excellent new tome - German words for the human condition. The header of this blog being the (usually futile) attempt to return to the plot of a dream after having being woken. Broken down into its German compound construction: DREAM - RESTART - EXPERIMENT. As someone who dreams a lot, and vividly, I've been looking for years for a word to define the very thing I would love to be able to do, but can't.

Here's another one: Eisenbahnscheinbewegung (eye - zen - bahn - shine - beh - veh - goong) - The false sensation of movement when, looking out from a stationary train, you see another train depart. RAILWAY - ILLUSION - MOTION.

Great, aren't they? I can't recommend this book highly enough. So if you want to know the phrase for the urge to turn and glare at a bad driver you've just overtaken or the pressure to make small talk with people you interact with every day, this miscellany has got your name written all over it.