Tuesday, 7 July 2020

My Life in 10 Objects (#4)


In 1977 John Noakes, Blue Peter's most unlikely Action Man, was about to climb Nelson's Column in London's Trafalgar Square - without a safety harness and wearing nothing more than a car coat and a pair of flares. His mission - to help clean pigeon droppings off the statue of Nelson.


I must confess I've been looking for an excuse to show this classic bit of footage for ages. And what better way to shoehorn it in to my blog than to include my actual Blue Peter badge - the one I received as a competition runner-up in 1968, c/w a signed letter from the show's producer, Biddy Baxter. It's been sitting in a 'badge box' (not to be confused with a badger box) full of all my old punk pins - Generation X, Buzzcocks, Radio Stars et al - for donkey's years. So I'm pleased to elevate it, finally, to treasured status. It is my fourth object.

The non-Shep related quote below is taken from Noakes' IMDb page. It's from the commentary he overdubbed on to the film afterwards; as opposed to the ongoing nervous dialogue he's having with his appointed sherpa, and the BBC camera man during his assent (both of whom are also wearing precisely the same amount of PPE as Noakes i.e. bugger all).


"At this level, the plinth on which Nelson stands overhangs the column. I found myself literally hanging from the ladder with nothing at all beneath me."

John Noakes (1934-2017)


Monday, 6 July 2020

My Life in 10 Objects (#3)



If you could say it in words there'd be no reason for mugs
Apparently radiocarbon dating is the most effective way to both accurately date an artefact and to establish the site from which it came; though with fossils, for example, you could still be a few million years out either side.
Thankfully, I think it's safe to say, I can date the 10 objects in this series with a fairly high level of accuracy without the need for such technology.



In the case of today's show and tell I think it's pretty much beyond doubt exactly how old it is, and indeed where it's from: you've just got to look at it. A visit to Tate Modern in the summer of 2004 to see the magnificent Hopper exhibition was the backdrop for a perfect day out in the capital. Ah, train journeys to London; remember them? I can't wait to see John Betjeman at St. Pancras again and tap him on the shoulder.


Vintage 2004
I've written about Hopper hereabouts and in particular Nighthawks so, I hope you don't mind, I'll limit today's missive to concentrate on my purchase from the gift shop at the Tate. Not having a spare £50M about my person that particular day (how remiss of me) I had to content myself with the ubiquitous mug. Which, can I say, is still alive and well (after 16 years) in my kitchen.

At the risk of making me sound like a crazed loner I need to tell you that I only use it on Saturdays and Sundays; coffee only. I have mugs a plenty for use in the week; mainly, though not exclusively, for tea. But not Hopper. Oh no, not Hopper. He's a weekend mug. And a coffee mug. Today's object.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

My Life in 10 Objects (#2)


I love a scarf; I have a bit of a thing for them. From my Tootal silk scarves to the lovely wooly one my daughter-in-law knitted a couple of winters ago, they all sit in an orderly pile* at the bottom of my wardrobe.

Today's object can be found in amongst them. When my pop sadly passed away in 1983 his estate comprised nothing more than a few pound notes stuffed under the mattress and a modest bank book. Doreen, his second wife, was therefore left enough readies to pay the rent for the next couple of months and not a lot else. Before she took his clothes to the charity shop she asked me if there was anything I'd like. Quick as a flash I said 'That scarf' pointing to the coat hooks in the hallway. Pop's favourite scarf - the one he'd worn for years - hung on a peg looking every bit alone as Doreen would be in that already quiet house.

Nearly 40 years later and I wear it every winter. I'm proud to say it's never been washed and I'm sure I can still smell his scent on it.

As a bonus to today's post you can see another object on display here (#2A!); that's right, the vintage coat hanger. This too has been in my procession for more years than I care to remember: liberated by my dad from the Bonnington Hotel in London's West End sometime in the 60s, this hanger, despite having endured  upwards of a dozen house moves, is still holding up; a coat hanger amongst coat hangers!



* For orderly pile, read heap

Friday, 3 July 2020

My Life in 10 Objects (#1)


I've been listening to recent reruns of the excellent Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 Objects. It's a history of humanity through a myriad of man made objects of ancient art, industry, technology, and arms dating back to 9000BC. This amazing programme is presented by Neil McGregor from the British Museum who curates an incredible collection, and pulls in priceless artefacts as diverse as Hoa Hakananai's Easer Island Statue, relics from the Byzantine Empire, Moche warrior pots and a Japanese bronze mirror from the 12th century. A truly epic series broken down into one hundred 15 minute nuggets. Absolutely riveting. I can't recommend it highly enough.

I only wish I could say the same for this new mini series of my own. My Life in 10 Objects is, I've got to be honest with you, far from riveting. Seriously; I don't even know how I have the temerity to even mention the Director of the British Museum in the same sentence as this cheapskate version of Mr. McGregor's award winning series he took four years to research. But, hey, what are you gonna do?

My life on this planet, such that it is, has seen men walk on the moon, the Beatles, punk rock and more internet porn than you can shake a shitty stick at. So how does a child of the 60s condense nearly six decades of love, life and happiness (mostly) into a clutch of objects that probably wouldn't even fill an average size suitcase? Good question. The items I have chosen are a hotchpotch of the everyday mingled with stuff that I turn to only occasionally but are every bit as poignant/important to me. And no, I haven't got anything in there as mundane as my car (or even my car keys) or my phone or my favourite winter coat; though my list of also rans at the end of the series that didn't quite make the cut will include, I'm sure, all sorts of flotsam and jetsam that help make up my dodgy DNA.

Today's inaugural offering is an item that despite me knowing exactly where in the house it resides, I tend to only seek it out when I allow my mind to wander; specifically when it wanders back to one of my earliest exposures to television. So between Watch with Mother (when I'd be around five) and Doctor Who (I was all of seven when I first encountered Patrick Troughton) came Captain Scarlet. Quite how the colours of all the characters who worked for Spectrum were ever conveyed through the medium of a black and white telly is something of a mystery, but as a very impressionable six year old I'm convinced I could see that Captain Scarlet was indeed wearing a shiny red uniform and that Captain Blue's was, er, blue. It must have had something to do with all the merchandise around at the time - TV21 comics, action figures and the like.

Pride of place in my 1967 bedroom, however, was given over to a Spectrum wallet. Pictured here you van see it came in a striking scarlet livery and, most importantly contained a a driving licence that a full ten years before I got behind the wheel of my Vauxhall Viva, permitted me to drive both a Spectrum Patrol Car (the sporty red one) and a Maximum Security Vehicle (the one you drove whilst facing backwards). I probably wasn't cognisant of the fact that opportunities to drive such vehicles in Kingston upon Hill in the mid-1960s were few and far between; but that didn't shake the notion in my mind that I could walk into a back street petrol station, show my licence to the owner who would then point me in the direction of a dilapidated out building wherein would be parked one of the above mentioned vehicles. Equally important information was contained within this magical document too: a short Bio of each spectrum member beneath a passport style photo. Scarlet, for instance, was actually Paul Metcalfe in real life; not surprisingly he hasn't even been born yet - his date of birth is given as December 17, 2036 in Winchester, England.

Funnily enough I've dug this wallet out more times during the last three months than I have my 'real' wallet; it still contains the same tenner in there and trusty pieces of plastic that I went into lockdown with.
The woman in the spine must have finished that book by now.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Boogie with a Suitcase


I bumped into my friend David yesterday. He was striding towards me wearing a resplendent salmon pink shirt and a rather smart pair of headphones. 'What ya listening to?' I enquired. 'M's first album*' he replied. 'Ah, the one with Pop Muzik on it' I said; though a bit like listing the handful of men who have walked on the moon, we all struggle after Neil Armstrong. 'That's right' he said, 'the first single I bought.' After a couple of  further pleasantries and just before we went our separate ways I asked David if he wouldn't mind telling me in a 100 or so words what he liked about Pop Muzik. 'Leave it with me' he said, before heading up Mansfield Road. This dropped in my inbox last night:

"I was quite mature, musically, for a nine-year-old. Having three older brothers who would not tolerate any teeny-bopper rubbish, the first time I heard Pop Muzik by M it seemed a little frivolous and silly. Yet the more I heard it, the more I liked it. It's got a pounding electronic dance riff behind the commercialist iconography. Ironically, I think it was their performance on Cheggers Plays Pop that convinced me I needed to acquire this little piece of pop history. And so began a growing early record collection that me and my primary school friends could listen to and swap, and progress towards the 1980s… "

David R. Thompson
davidrthompson.info

M - Pop Muzik (1979)


* 'New York-London-Paris-Munich' (It featured David Bowie on handclaps. Seriously, it did)

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Grounds for Separation

I've just re-read Block Buster! by Dave Thompson. As the title would indicate, it's the definitive biography of glam rockers the Sweet; nothing to do with the chain of video shops.

Their rise to teenybopper stardom - and Top of the Pops ubiquity - followed later by (begrudging, often) critical acclaim was far from overnight; yet their demise was comparable with the speed with which Laurel and Hardy's piano came hurtling down those steps in the film 'Music Box'. Though, as you can imagine, not half as funny.

And the reason why they fell from grace with such indecent haste? Two words: Brian Connolly. Sorry, make that three words: Brian Connolly's drinking. In 1974 after releasing Sweet Fanny Adams and being invited by Pete Townshend to support the Who at Charlton Athletic football ground and play in front of 60,000 fans, Connolly went on a bender. A proper bender. Not for the first time he then got into a fight and was badly beaten up, suffering critical bruising to his throat (they really did kick his head in). As a result the tour to support the album (the album that should have been flying off the shelves) was pulled, as was their chance to play in front of the biggest crowd of their career supporting their heroes. The rest of the band weren't happy; to say the least. They seriously considered playing Charlton as a three piece; they even considered getting a replacement for Connolly. But they gave their friend another chance.


Fast forward a couple of years and, after an 18 month lay off from touring, the band sought solace at the Château recording studio on the outskirts of Paris. Armed with a shedload of new songs they recorded their most coherent album to date: In early 1978 Level Headed was promoted massively in the States where they were embarking on a massive tour with hopes of finally 'cracking America'.  With the album's lead single Love is Like Oxygen picking up airplay it was all set fair. However, Connolly's love of the bottle scuppered the band yet again. By now bloated and out of shape (physically and vocally) he was turning up pissed at most of the shows and the tour soon descended into farce. The record company pulled the plug on the remaining dates and the band were flown home in disgrace.

Connolly was kicked out of the band the following year. And with him went any last vestiges of future aspirations the band may have had. The remaining trio of Andy Scott, Steve Priest and Mick Tucker limped on with three wheels on their wagon till the Cherokees finally caught up with them in 1981. Game over.
...

When Andy Scott wrote Love is Like Oxygen it was no secret that he was a huge fan of Hall & Oates. Steve Priest alleges that Scott ripped off their 1975 track Grounds for Separation when writing his lyrics three years later. Scott will no doubt tell you different. The bridge Andy Scott may or may not have liberated comes in at 1:20. I'll let you decide.

Hall & Oates - Grounds for Separation (1975)



The Sweet - Love is Like Oxygen (1978)


Friday, 26 June 2020

Harry & Henry


Hands up if been in lockdown has caused your creative juices to flow? Thought so. With the exception of a couple of friends who are really flying (one of whom is something of a loner at the best of times so has barely noticed the change), this forced incarceration hasn't really kickstarted anyone I know into a frenzy of artistic discovery.
Speaking personally I can't remember the last time I wrote a new song (one that I'd call a keeper, anyway), though that doesn't mean I won't find the right words to hang around the right tune at some point - but I'm not putting any timescale on it; it doesn't work like that for me.
Instead, I'm quite content to borrow from others and learn a couple of covers instead. And it's not as if I've got anywhere to play them at the moment; though maybe a couple of outdoor opportunities may present themselves in the not too distant - we'll just have to wait and see.

So, in no particular order, here are two songs that appeal to me and my pop sensibilities; that and the fact that they're really simple chords and I've been able to arrange them in a key I can sing them in!

I love mavericks; which is why I have a lot of time for Harry Nilsson. Never one to play by the rules - like his good friend John Lennon - Nilsson had many songwriting styles that covered film and TV soundtracks (most notably 'The Point' - later a stage show), personal songs with, ahem, forthright lyrics ('You're Breakin' My Heart' - a damning indictment on his failed second marriage). And he had a good ear for a cover: he recorded an album of Randy Newman songs in 1970 and, of course, 'Without You' - his signature tune written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger. It first appeared on his album Nilsson Schmilsson in 1971 and, when lifted as a single in the December, went to Number One all over the world in early '72. Paul McCartney once said Without You was the killer song of all time. It's a point of view, Paul. Though I prefer this self penned ditty taken from the follow up album Son of Schmilsson.

Nilsson - Lottery Song (1972)


I wrote briefly about Henry Pristman a few weeks ago. Henry was - and indeed still is - a key player in Liverpool's illustrious musical history, as was recently demonstrated on his recent appearance on David Hepworth and Mark Ellen's A Word in Your Attic. His chunky playing CV includes Yachts, It's Immaterial and the Christians, as well as production and writing duties for many others including artists as diverse as Graham Gouldman and Mark Owen. I'd love to do a Q&A with him for this blog, so hopefully that's something that could happen later in the year; I guess it depends if he hears my version of this beautiful song which appeared on his solo album The Chronicles of Modern Life - my second lockdown cover.

Henry Priestman - Grey's the New Blonde (2008)

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Teams

I'm in procession of an I.O.U. A highly prized I.O.U. It entitles the bearer (me) to as many hugs as is deemed necessary post-C19. I'm not sure my calculator has enough 0s to calculate such a number, though I'm sure James and I will be monitoring it closely.
...

In these crazy, crazy times it was, despite a distinct lack of hugging (see above), a shot in the arm to finally see James & Janneke again on Sunday. A diet of phone calls and FaceTiming only goes so far. So breaking bread with them in their lovely garden was, undoubtedly, the highlight of my year so far. 
...

James told me his employer has informed him and the rest of his team that they can expect to be working from home till at least next January. January! (And yet our esteemed government are quite happy to see us traipse back into death pits pubs from July 4th). Sorry, I digress.
A very talented artist on James' team has been secretly drawing his work colleagues during lockdown. This appeared on my Twitter feed yesterday: 

Auditioning for Scooby Doo (James in the green tee shirt)

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Still Fabulous


Not for the first time during this horrendous lockdown period I've found solace in David Hepworth and Mark Ellen's magical A Word in Your Attic show and tell videos. I even borrowed the theme myself recently when on a video call with friends - asking each one of them to share a personal object/heirloom with the rest of us. Highly entertaining.

The latest episode to have found its way onto my radar was musician and comedian Tony de Meur; his band the Fabulous Poodles were always a big hit at Medd Towers, if with not the rest of the record buying public, or even their label at the time, Pye. His story about Don McLean (the singer, not the bloke off Crackerjack) is priceless. So if you've got half an hour to spare - and, let's face it, who hasn't? - take a look (and check out the others while you're there).

Looking back through some of my back issues and I see that I wrote about Tony's band in 2010. In the piece I linked to a fantastic little Lego film of their 1978 smash*, Mirror Star. He and fiddle player Bobby Valentino reprised it last year:

Fabulous Poodles - Mirror Star (2019)



* Criminally, none of their singles ever charted. This from a band that John Peel regularly shouted from the rooftops, and who supported both the Ramones and Tom Petty.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Every Little Helps


Before I go any further I feel I must place on record the fact that I love Liverpool; always have done. And Scousers. You probably already knew that; but, for the avoidance of doubt, I just need to reassure you that I'm posting this video from a place of love. It made me laugh when it landed in my inbox over the weekend, and I'm still laughing now. And, let's be honest, the prevalence of humour has hardly runneth over during during the last three months. OK, that's the caveat out of the way. Here goes:


Monday, 15 June 2020

What I Don't Understand is This

Mrs. Swinburne (English) & Mr. Chaplin (Woodwork)
'I'm not in a good place at the moment; I don't mean mentally, I'm in the UK.' So said a wag on my Twitter feed yesterday. I know how he feels. I'd probably go one step further: I'm not in a good time; I detest 2020 with every fibre of my being. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't that jazzed about 2019, either. Or 2018. Or even 2017. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

I started re-watching The Beiderbecke Affair last night (I've watched it countless times - it's what I do when I want to retreat from the world; I suppose it's my equivalent of going into stasis).
I'm now immersed in a parallel world comprising woodwork teachers and jazz cornet players. Of cubs football matches played on desolate parks watched by characters called Big Al and Little Norm. A world occupied by platinum blondes. And when I've finished the Beiderbecke Affair, I shall move on to the Beiderbecke Tapes and the Beiderbecke connection. Alan Plater's writing is nothing short of perfect and with James Bolam (the laconic Trevor Chaplin) and Barbara Flynn (English teacher cum conservation activist) heading up the cast, you can see why I shall have to be dragged back into 2020 kicking and screaming.

The Beiderbecke Affair (Intro) - ITV, 1985

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Going Dutch


Some sad news reached Medd Towers yesterday: on the phone to my dad - our weekly lockdown catchup - and he told me that a much loved family friend had sadly passed away. Roelof der Nederlanden married my mother's maid of honour in the late 1950s and the couple made their home in Roel's hometown of Hillegom, 25 miles south of Amsterdam. Roel was a gentle man with an infectious smile and a never ending supply of stories.
Although it had been a long time since I'd seen him, I remember fondly the frequent visits he and Margaret (and their daughters Susan and Caroline) would make to the UK and their regular stopovers at my parents' house.
But it's a visit we as a family made to the Netherlands that I particularly remember. It was, I think, 1975 so I would been around 14. The trip was memorable in all sorts of ways. And not just because I discovered chocolate sprinkles on white buttered bread, or Dutch music magazines I couldn't read, or even trips to both Rotterdam and Amsterdam. It goes beyond that. 

Any thoughts that 1975 was a fallow year for sport (no football World Cup or Olympics) should be dispelled now: it was the year L'Escargot won the Grand National, West Ham beat Fulham in the FA Cup and Jack Nicklaus won the Masters. It was also the inaugural year of the cricket World Cup - West Indies beat the Aussies, since you ask. But all the above pales into insignificance. And I'll tell you why. Set up in our hosts' dining room when we arrived was a wooden board about six feet long and a foot and a half wide, with a kerb a couple of inches high around three of its sides, and a shed load of circular discs. We were bemused. But, after pleasantries were exchanged and a few ground rules explained, the Medds had been introduced to Sjoelen. Such was our passion for the game that every morning for our two week vacation that year the kids would arise bright and early and play Sjoelen till the noise emanating from downstairs woke the adults. We were addicted. Before we came home I persuaded begged my dad to buy our very own board - which, to his eternal credit, he did; but only after acquiring a brand new roof-rack in order to bring the (very long) game back on the ferry - stuck on the vinyl roof of his Hillman Hunter. 
And thus our love affair with this most quirky of games began. A love affair that still thrives to this day, 45 years later. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Sjoelen. 
A lovely footnote to this story is that James' wife Janneke is half dutch and both Janni & her family were quietly shocked that her new husband and in-laws were masters* of the Dutch national game**. A great way to cement Anglo-Dutch relations.


I'm also grateful to Roel for introducing me to the world of stamp collecting. Roel was an inveterate philatelist and his enthusiasm was so contagious I totally 'got it'. Roel mentored me and donated many items form his vast personal collection to get me going - a collection I'm still proud to own. It was after a long lay off from stamps that in 1990 after the birth of James I collected every UK first day cover in his name - which he had delivered up to and including his 18th. birthday.

Rest easy, Roel.



* Sorry, did I say masters? I may be exaggerating a wee bit.
** Of course it isn't. I don't think it is anyway.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

M*A*S*H


Apparently the definition of a novelty song is a comical or nonsensical song, performed principally for its comical effect. OK, it's a point of view. I must 'fess up to owning several exponents of the genre and whist freely admitting they don't exactly pass for high art, the very word novelty is pejorative and as such you'll find no further mention of it here; he said hoity-toitedly. (Although as a kid I remember being a fan of Ed Stewpot Stewart's Radio 1 show and didn't bat an eyelid when Sparky or the Banana Boat Song was played. Every. Sodding. Week).

I've mentioned, I'm sure, Monster Mash before on here. Probably when I was working in the lab; late one night. I won't, therefore, play it again today. Well, not that version version anyway. Here's the thing: if Bobby Pickett's 1962* graveyard smash is a novelty niche record, what the hell is this blistering version of said recording sung in Spanish?

Los Straitjackets - Que Monstruos Son (2013)


You wait 10 years for a novelty record...

Those with a highly tuned ear will have worked out by now that Monster Mash was basically 'Alley Oop' re-badged. Gary Paxton had produced the one-off hit (it certainly caught on in a flash) for the the Hollywood Argyles a couple of years earlier, and saw no reason not to tart it up and give it a monster workout. 

The Hollywood Argyles - Alley Oop (1960)


Bowie completists may or may not know that the Life on Mars line 'Look at Those Cavemen Go' was lifted from Alley Oop. You're welcome.

* Or 1973, depending on your vintage.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Palace Laundry


In June 1972 the Rolling Stones embarked on a sellout stadium tour of the United Stares. Unsurprisingly, the tour was not without its problems. No official album or film of the two month trek exists, though many bootlegs are in circulation, as is the infamous Cocksucker Blues movie which depicts the underbelly of life on the road with the greatest rock and roll band in the world tm.

Renowned photographer Jim Marshall captured many images of the band around this time; not least this stunning shot of Mick seemingly giving priceless advertising for a south London launderette.


Stevie Wonder was the support on the tour and he and his band would often come out at the end for a joint encore.



Rolling Stones & Stevie Wonder - Uptight/Satisfaction (1972)

Friday, 5 June 2020

Are You Ready Steve?


Not all heroes wear capes. But mine do. (And I still have several scrapbooks* to prove it). Although we never met**, Steve Priest and I did, in the late 90s, exchange many emails: in 1997 we were both on the brand new AOL and, for reasons that escape me now, we would regularly have real time chitchats - me in the UK, Steve in California - where he'd been living since the 80s.

The Caped Crusader (second from the right)


Between 1972 and 1974 Steve and his three amigos*** were rarely off our TV screens; their tub-thumping glam anthems are the very touchstone of this blog (see the bar on the LHS of this blog if you don't believe me) and as such made the Sweet a household name; Thursday nights in the early 70s - when Top of the Pops was in its pomp - saw the majority of British teenagers glued to their sofas for the best part of 40 minutes whilst at the same time wishing their parents would just bugger off and let them soak up these glam(orous) sights and sounds alone.
Steve Priest  (1948-2020)

And that's how I want to remember Steve who sadly passed away yesterday: the clutch of singles (and blistering B sides)& string of albums his band made in just a handful of years are the very building blocks the rest of my record collection was built on.

* I found half a dozen scrapbooks at my dad's just before lockdown - all full to the gunnels of Sweet photos and cuttings. After lockdown I'll try and post some extracts on here.
** Unlike Brian Connolly. Here is the link to my infamous Brian Connolly story.
*** Brian Connolly (1945-1997)
Mick Tucker (1947-2002)
Andy Scott (1949-)


Thursday, 4 June 2020

Banger

Rotterdam 2020 - Iceland: Douze Points

In the overall scheme of things the fact that a cheesy talent show due to be held in the Netherlands had to be cancelled is neither here nor there. With worldwide deaths pushing half a million it's nothing more than a mere annoyance that our lives have temporarily been put on hold; if you're still this side of the grass you can count yourself as one of the lucky ones. Also, as Brits we've probably had our fill of European vote based shenanigans.

However, had Eurovision 2020 taken place in Rotterdam last month then, in my humble opinion, I think it would have been a one horse race. I say this purely because the Iceland entry was a banger. It would have been both the judges and viewers 12 pointer and wiped the floor with any and all Boom-Bang-a-Bangs in its wake. No ifs. No buts. No maybes.


Daõi - Think About Things (2020)

Monday, 1 June 2020

Shall I compare thee to Hitler?


Oh boy, where to start? After witnessing the unfolding horrors in Minneapolis (and now in countless other major cities in the U.S.), I predict that it's only a matter of time until we see what is happening in America mirrored on this side of the Atlantic. Anyone who thinks that Trump's attack on black people, journalists, anti-fascists (ANTIFA, eh?) and anyone else who gets in his way will not be adopted in the very near future by our despicable bunch of bigoted Tory Trump sycophants is, I'm afraid, sadly deluded.
And like most bullies, when the going gets tough the tough (yeah, right) go into hiding: yesterday the most vile, morally weak, egotistical president ever to have held high office was last seen taking refuge in a bunker beneath the White House whilst upstairs the lights were extinguished. Sound familiar? 

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Taking the Fifth


You wait ten years for a post about flutes...

In the world of Fifth Beatles - I imagine it to be like a low rent Stella Street where Pete Best and Brian Epstein run the corner shop and Billy Preston mans the laundromat - its inhabitants are all tenuously linked (some more than others) to the four lads from Liverpool who shook the world. And the Fifth Beatle (of which there are more than you care to think), by inference, each played his or her (small) part in the shaking.
Anyway, about those flutes. Ever wondered who played the beautiful flute solo on John Lennon's You've Got to Hide Your Love Away? As pub quiz questions go it is quite niche, but the answer is Johnny Scott. Whilst this may not qualify him fully for Fifth Beatle status - maybe Sixth? - I bet it's a story that's enchanted the grandchildren over the intervening years.


Scott was - and indeed still is - a respected jazz musician, arranger and composer of many film scores. In the mid 1960s he found himself working with many acts on the EMI roster at Abbey Road and did a lot of work with George Martin (another early occupant of Fifth Avenue) - which is how he got sucked into the Beatles orbit.
At the behest of Martin he laid down a tenor flute in the spaces in Lennon's vocal track and an additional alto part played an octave higher. Hearing cover versions without the flute just don't sound right to me.

Before I go, I just want to leave you with one of my all time favourite Beatles quotes. And, before you ask, it's not delivered by a Beatle. It's actually a Dandy Nichols line quite early on in the Help movie: waving to the Fab Four as they get out of their chauffeured limo and walk to their respective front doors, Nichols says to her friend about how fame hasn't changed them: "And still the same as they was before they was." 

Friday, 22 May 2020

Oval Room


The world was a very different place back in 1984; although maybe not as different as we'd like to think. Everything changes, and yet nothing changes. Plus ça change; take your pick.
So, cop a lad of this - written 36 years ago by maverick folk singer Blaze Foley, it's a withering attack on the 40th. president of the United States, one Ronald Reagan. But when I listen to it all I see is the present incumbent of the White House...

In his oval room, in his rockin’ chair,

He’s the president, but I don’t care.

He’s a business man, he got business ties.

He got dollar signs in both his eyes
.
Got a big airplane, take him everywhere.

Got his limousine, when he get there.

Everywhere he goes, make the people mad.

Makes the poor man beg, and the rich man glad.

Blaze Foley - Oval Room

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Flute Loop


Being neither young nor hip, I don't generally do shout-outs. If I mention you on my blog there's every chance you either sent me a telegram or maybe there was an urgent SOS on Radio 4 appealing for my whereabouts.

That said, this brace of tunes is dedicated to George. George, I know, enjoys flutes and, indeed, flautistry. I can get on board with that - 
I too have a penchant for flute players/flautists/flutists/fluters and even flutenists. One of my favouritist flutenists is Herbie Mann. If I had to condense Herbie Mann into a five word sentence I think I'd say: "He wrote Comin' Home Baby." Anyway, he's Flautist 2/2. Flautist 1/2 is unknown; that is to say he/she is nothing but a borrowed sample; from where I know not. But it's a four second loop* that runs through one of my Saturday night kitchen floor fillers like a stick of rock.


Rinôçérôse - It's Time to Go Now (2002)


And here is the artist formerly known as Herbert J Solomon (1930-2003). I have many albums by this fella and never tire of listening to him. Mann straddled so many genres of music I'm almost tempted to use the word groundbreaking when I talk about him; almost, but not quite - what kind of blog do you think this is for heaven's sake? Suffice it to say that he out-Stoned the Stones with his 1974 version of Bitch and even got a real life Rolling Stone* to play guitar on it.

Herbie Mann - Memphis Underground (1968)



* A flute loop, if you will.
** Recorded in '73, Mick Taylor was still with the firm at the time.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Who Would Live in a House Like This?


Lockdown has brought out the voyeur in us all: don't tell me you haven't muted your microphone, turned off the camera and had a good old gawp at your Zoom roommates' (Zoommates?) taste in decor; it's not just me. Is it?
OK, moving swiftly on. Rolling Stone magazine has been a fly on the wall in some of our most beloved rock star gaffs during these strange times. Watching the venerable Nick Lowe in his natural habitat* is a pure joy - all 14 minutes of it. The music aside**, I particularly like the cushions. And the stylish magazine rack. Oh, and the dog's called Larry btw. I, too, read a lot.

Nick Lowe: Lockdown 2020



* Brentford, west London
** How good is young Roy on the brushes?

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

In an Ideal World...


My lockdown listen of the last seven days features one of rock and roll's unsung heroes: Henry Priestman - born in Hull, raised in Liverpool - is one of life's good guys. He's enjoyed a multi faceted career, but is probably best known for being one of the Christians - the 80s/90s combo featuring the three Christian* brothers, Garry, Roger and Russell. Devotees of David Hepworth and Mark Ellen's Word in Your Ear podcasts will be aware that a spin-off video version 'A Word in Your Attic' has been open for business throughout the lockdown, inviting guests to join them via their Webcams in a delightful show and tell format that I've found absolutely riveting. Henry Priestman's episode can be found here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Indeed I would strongly urge anyone contemplating a life laundry to give it a coat of looking at.

As they should this equally beguiling piece of footage: Henry himself has been recording his own lockdown sessions in his garden shed. Here he is performing a beautiful arrangement of Ideal World - with a little help from his (socially distancing) friends.


Henry Priestman - Ideal World (2020)


* Onomasticians can rest easy - for the record, Priestman's middle name is Christian.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

What Were They Thinking?

?!
When celebrities or people off the telly lend their name to a product, its chances of success are supposedly elevated to 'can't fail' status. It at least gives it a leg up; think Brut, think Cinzano. Though probably best not to think Cookstown Sausages.

In the world of compilation albums it's a slightly different dynamic. Curating a bunch of tunes and putting them in the right order shouldn't be that difficult. After all, most of us have been doing it since we were kids, right? Mixtapes for girlfriends/boyfriends: tasteful, not too cheesy; niche, not too obscure. Our much pored over C90s were a surefire1 way to win over that girl you were always overawed by. How hard can it be, we thought. Hmm, maybe some of us found it more difficult than others; like this lunkhead for instance.

However, in the age of the DJ Set, every label under the sun is putting out bespoke compilations lovingly pieced together by all and sundry2. I've got some corkers in amongst my collection, handpicked by the likes of Lemon Jelly, Faithless and Nightmares on Wax. Only last week I was banging on about these fellas. impeccable tunes, impeccable running order, impeccable artwork. Definitely worth the admission money and an hour of your time any day of the week.
But if early seventies proggy folk noodlings don't float your boat, then maybe the chaps pictured here are more to your liking: if soul deep cuts & Blue Note jazz are your thing then actor Martin Freeman and record label impresario Eddie Pillar's crate-digging should bring any Saturday night to life. Or gently ease you into your Sunday morning, depending.

Again, great tunes, great running order. But, the artwork. Man alive, those sleeves! What were they thinking? When two self proclaimed mods of a certain age decide to put themselves on the front cover, then trying to recreate a tacky 1972 Kays Catalogue photoshoot is never a good look. What were they thinking?

Bobby Womack - How Could You Break My Heart? (1979)


1. I'm kidding. When hormones are involved, there is no such thing as surefire - no matter how many mixtapes you bring to the table.

2.  File Bob Dylan under 'all and sundry' at your peril; in the world of celebrity endorsed albums - these are the benchmark.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Boffins


Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs - often referred to as 'the boffins from Saint Etienne' - have, in their time, curated and presided over some of the finest conceptual compilation albums you're ever likely to come across; drawing heavily on material from the very foothills of the 1970s is their stock in trade, and none the worse for that.

English Weather, from 2017, is no exception: when all things psychedelic gradually gave way to the prog movement at the arse end of the 60s a new sound was evoked, creating a rich seam that Stanley and Wiggs have mined for much of this collection. Stretched over four sides of vinyl it's very Autumnal, and, yes, very English. And I particularly like the accompanying artwork. Go on, treat yourself. 


Alan Parker & Alan Hawkshaw - Evening Shade (1971)

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

When I'm a Hundred & Sixty Four

I read the news today, oh boy. This press cutting appeared on my Twitter feed yesterday: a Beatles fan born in 1856. That's right, 1856!

I know it's from the Daily Mail, but back in 1964 the Mail was an esteemed organ yet to succumb to right wing fake news.

As I was asked yesterday, what do we think John Turner - a contemporary of Tchaikovsky - made of Revolver? Tomorrow Never Knows must have melted his head.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Are You Sitting Comfortably?


One of my many lockdown cultural casualties has been a pair of tickets for Megson on their latest tour.  Despite their UK jaunt kicking off in good faith it inevitably fell by the wayside after only a handful of shows. I'm sure you too have missed out on pre-booked, pre-arranged gigs or parties, birthday celebrations, weddings, christenings, holidays - the list is endless. 

I'd been particularly looking forward to this one as not only would it have been the first time I'd seen them, but it was going to be in a local village hall and very much an intimate and unplugged affair; just the sort of gig in fact that, going forward, will probably come out of quarantine first - any thoughts post lockdown of 'business as usual' for concert halls, theatres, rock venues and arenas is nothing more than wishful thinking. Think tiny rooms above pubs and small stages in coffe shops - this will probably be the 'new normal' for quite some time to come. It may not be to McCartney or Madonna's liking, but it'll suit Megson just fine.

Anyway, on the plus side, and, let's face it, we're all looking for silver linings during these unprecedented times, Megson, like a lot of other  artists, have been doing live streaming gigs from their house. Being a husband and wife combo means it's quite easy to facilitate; no matter how close Mick & Keef, or Bonio and Mr. The Edge are, I think the Stones and U2 may struggle with this particular business model.

I caught Stu and Debbie's home gig last week, and was bowled over by it. It was a revelation. And very uplifting. Who knew you could have so much fun in your living room? Though, in stark contrast, here they are in a more subdued mood.

 Megson - Are You Sitting Comfortably (2019)


Finally, just a brief note to those who not only read and comment on my diatribes, but anyone who is writing a blog in these most difficult of times.  Instead of bottling it up I know a lot of you find it cathartic to 'get it onto the page'. It may just be a knee jerk reaction to a specific event or series of events, it may well be premeditated and recorded for a retrospective look back when all this craziness is over; if indeed it ever will be. And that's another thing - we're deluding ourselves if we think a reset button is going to be pushed and we spring back to where we were before. That will not be happening. But, I digress. I just want to say - Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep staying strong.