Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Bye-bye (b)adman

I've ranted posted before about how unhappy I get when a song I love gets co-opted for an advert (Pixies and Violent Femmes sadly inspiring those past posts). You'll be unsurprised to learn it's happened again.

McPunk
The McPunk girl

Whilst on a long journey at the weekend, I was station-surfing in the car and chanced upon What Do I Get? by Buzzcocks, blaring out of Radio X. I'll have some of that, I thought. But my musical happiness, like so many forms of happiness these days, was crushingly short-lived. For the band's second single proper, and 1978 chart debut, has been appropriated by corporate American cow-pedlars McDonald's! Yes, Mc-sodding-Donald's! Pete Shelley's 2½ minute punk paean to loneliness is soundtracking a TV ad, and associated radio spot, in which a callow youth goes to the drive-thru and falls for a McDonald's girl who is an ad-man's idea of alternative, i.e. she has subtle, non-specific tattoos, wears slightly more eye make-up than might be considered average and dyes what little of the hair you can see beneath her uniform baseball cap. You can imagine the scene as a gaggle of modern-day Don Drapers mull over what music says alternative, and yearning, and can be tied in with having to choose which of our new wraps to get at the drive-thru. Of course! 40-year old punk! And we can make the in-store signage and associated press graphics look a bit like the cover for Never Mind The Bollocks, yellow and pink with cut type lettering, even though that's a different band entirely, because kids today won't know, will they? It's all punk, right? And we're so punk!

All of which leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like an unwanted gherkin or a dollop of special sauce. I prefer to reclaim the song, so put all thoughts of garlic mayo wraps from your mind and watch this instead:

And a bonus for you. Remember in 2014 when the cow-pedlars were "celebrating" 40 years in the UK, by allowing users to create their own "40 Together" memory with an online poster generator? Well, I had a McDonald's memory from the 70s and, although it was quite hard to capture the whole story within the prescribed word limit, this is what I came up with. Curiously, it was quickly taken down from their website, but not before I screen-capped it...

Friday, 21 July 2017

Abide with me...

A couple of years ago, I managed to get enough people to pledge to buy a ticket to stage a screening of Pulp Fiction at my local art house cinema. It was in lieu of a birthday party, and seemed like a good way of bringing people from different walks of my life together without the pressure of actually having a party. And it was pretty good! So much so that I'm going to try again this year. Here's how it works.

OurScreen is an initiative that basically lets your crowdsource cinema screenings. You pick a film (from their list - you can't just have anything), select a participating cinema, pick a date and time and pledge to buy the first ticket. Then you advertise it like hell to all your mates, colleagues, family, social media acquaintances, passing strangers, anyone. They can all pledge to buy tickets too. And if the cinema's ticket threshold is reached before a certain deadline, everyone's pledges get taken and the film is screened.

I've learnt a bit about the sort of film I need to choose to get ticket pledges, from a couple of unsuccessful screening attempts, and so this year will be pitching Coen brothers masterpiece The Big Lebowski for your consideration. To reserve your seat, you need to head, pronto, to https://www.ourscreen.com/screening/44060. And remember, the Dude abides.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Getting old, Latin, spoofs and serendipity

I had an email today from the alumni association of the university I studied for my first degree at. This was the header:

It's 25 years since you left

Thanks. Thanks a lot. Way to make me feel old. And thanks especially for the 18pt semi-bold, hot-pink font to emphasise the fact.

This did set a train of thought in motion, however. It started with me wondering whether the Latin alma mater applied only to the first uni studied at, or last, or any/all. So I did what everyone does these days and Googled the phrase. Here, you can too, in case you're doubting me when I say that the phrase is defined as "the university, school, or college that one formerly attended." On that basis, it can be used to described any former seat of learning. And that should have been that. Except...

...except over in the right sidebar of the Google search results page was a suggested related search for "Alma Mater Europaea (university). Number of students: 1,300. President: Felix Unger." And that was what shunted the train of thought onto a branch line. That had to be a spoof, right, some sort of pseudo-university or dodgy certificates-for-cash scam, surely, because Felix Unger was the name of one half of The Odd Couple in Neil Simon's famous play starring Jack Lemmon and Walther Landau, and later made into a TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman! So there surely wasn't a seat of learning with Felix Unger as president, was there? Except of course there is: Austrian Felix Unger is one of the world's leading cardiac surgeons, and performed Europe's first artificial heart transplant in 1986.

Okay, I was content with this quirk of coincidence - that's not the serendipity of this post's title. By now, I was rather more concerned with The Odd Couple - not the film, though that's great. Rather the TV series, which was often repeated during the school holidays of my teens. I used to love it and, curious to see how well it had aged, I hopped over to YouTube and found this. Aside from still being funny, who else should I discover in this clip (from 1974) than one Al Molinaro as a police officer - better known to us all as "Big Al" Delvecchio from Happy Days! No real surprise there though - his was a recurring role. No, no, the real serendipity here was the discovery of a pre-fame, pre-Close Encounters Teri Garr as the insurance clerk. Here, take a look, about 25 seconds in.

And that's not the end of the chance discoveries. Perusing Teri's credits on IMDB, I discovered that in 1969 TV Series It Takes A Thief, Teri played a character called Maggie Philbin! Presumably not this one, from '80s Tomorrow's World:

And that was when the train of thought completely derailed. Feeling rather like Ouroboros, I closed the browser.

Monday, 3 July 2017

It's not quite Judgement Day

You may have read about Inspirobot already. If not, a potted summary would be something like: it's an online artificial intelligence (AI) program that is designed solely to generate the sort of motivational quote-and-image combinations that swamp us at every turn these days. You know the sort of thing, you see them everywhere from conference room walls to social media timelines. A few are good. Most are inane. Some, annoyingly, as just truisms. And some are just plain annoying.

But now, Inspirobot takes things to a new level. One click is all is takes to generate a motivational poster, with a short, snappy phrase and a filtered, 'shopped image to reinforce the message. AI is great, right? The future has arrived, right?

Except AI, at least as implemented here, is all about the "A" and not so much about the "I". Either that or Inspirobot has had some form of existential crisis. Because I had a little play with the AI, and here's what I got back (you can click all the pictures for a full-size view):

Things started off okay... ish. I mean, boring ideas aren't great, are they? So it's okay, if a little too on the nose:

Things took a slight left turn after that. I mean, I imagine a pretty face and a tea would help, but they are far from all you need, surely?

Next up, things took a darker turn, with Inspirobot suggesting crime pays. Or at least is rewarded with cake! All reinforced with a nice light, frothy picture.

And then... Inspirobot then went to a much darker place. All you can say is that it would have been even darker if the two phrases had been the other way around. The picture doesn't help either, raising the question of whether the guy with his hands in his pockets had been disposing of the bodies in that lake...

I stopped at this point. And I'd hesitate to call this AI. It's just a random poster generator, surely? For if this is what passes for AI in 2017, to the extent that someone is proud enough of it to put it online for the world to see, we can safely say we are some way away from being enslaved by Skynet.

Anyhoo... if you're bored and have five minutes, why not give Inspirobot a go yourself? You might get something unintentionally funny. Or you might get something a little more sinister...

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Monday, 26 June 2017

A rare find

I was a bit late to the party with Detectorists. It's a comedy drama (or dramedy, or whatever the latest buzzwordy contraction might be) written by, and starring, Mackenzie Crook. Yes, him - forever Gareth from The Office. I'm paraphrasing Wikipedia now, but Detectorists is set in small fictional Essex town of Danebury and concerns the lives, loves and detecting ambitions of Andy and Lance, and the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (or DMDC, as it is known). First shown on BBC4 in 2014, the third and final series is imminent - in readiness, the Beeb are repeating the first two series on Tuesdays, still on BBC4. They've worked through the first series already (though you can still watch two thirds of that on the iPlayer) and series two episode one is on tomorrow.

So why watch, you ask? It's a low-key "drama that leans towards comedy" (Crook's own words), with no laugh track, is ostensibly about metal detecting obsessives ("detectorists!") and is, presumably, tucked away on BBC4 for a reason, right? Wrong! This is a rare blend of gentle, well-observed comedy and precise pathos, which would ordinarily be enough to recommend it on its own. But there's more, because fundamentally the show is about friendship and, in particular, the inverted, forever-young, own-language landscape of best mates. Metal detecting is incidental - the show could equally well be about a chess club or a five-a-side team or motorcycle enthusiasts or old school friends, or anything, just as long as there is something to bring the protagonists together and provide a common bond. For that bond, that special friendship, where you would lie down in traffic for your mate if he asked you to, is what the show is really about, and what elevates it to a higher level. Andy and Lance are best mates, and we get to ride the bow wave of their friendship, and think about our own best mates too.

Here's an example of just why I love this show so much, and it'll also work as a barometer for you: if you like the reason for, and execution of, the fist-bump moment about nineteen seconds into this clip, from series one episode two, then there's a very good chance you'll enjoy the programme as a whole and you'd best get over to the iPlayer quick smart before more episodes expire. If you don't, well, maybe this isn't for you. Either way, there are +4 kudos points on offer if you can ID the source of that lie down in traffic quote I misquoted in the last para without Googling it (clue: it's not from Detectorists).

Thursday, 22 June 2017

(Re)Turning Japanese

I went to a gig on Saturday night. Like most of the (ever-decreasing number) of gigs I go to these days, the crowd was mostly full of people of a certain age. But that's okay, I'm thirty years too old for being down with the kids.

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I went to see The Vapors. Yes, The Vapors, who many of you will remember as the band behind worldwide hit Turning Japanese. Chances are you don't remember much else about them, as nothing else they did achieved the same level of success. So let me fill you in.

Spotted playing in a pub by Bruce Foxton, the Jam bassist and Jam manager John Weller quickly signed the Guildford four-piece, got them a record deal and even got Jam producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven on-board to produce the debut album. And it was no surprise when The Vapors supported Woking's finest on their Setting Sons tour in 1979... so you can see why the "Jam-lite" tag stuck, albeit unfairly in my view.

Their first single, Prisoners, sunk without trace, but Dave Fenton (vocals and guitar), Ed Bazalgette (lead guitar), Steve Smith (bass) and Howard Smith (drums, no relation to Steve) regrouped and came up with Turning Japanese, a top ten hit in the UK (#3 when Going Underground was #1), Canada, New Zealand and Australia (where it hit #1). It even broke into the US top 40, something their manager's band hadn't managed to do. On the back of that, the debut album New Clear Days managed a reasonable showing but - and here's the thing - it should have been so much higher. Because, in my view, it's an absolute classic of the age and genre, a new wave masterpiece, stuffed full of hook-filled, rhythmic early 80s tunes with singalong-able lyrics; songs about love sat alongside songs about the Cold War and nuclear threats (as the punning title suggests), but instead of this creating friction the album is remarkably cohesive, in part due to crisp, consistent production but more because the band themselves were properly tight. I know this is a minority view, but for me New Clear Days remains an essential 80s album, as chock-full of memorable songs that I can still sing along to, word perfectly, as any by The Jam and more so than almost any other band from the first half of that decade.

So you can imagine that I was pretty excited to read that three quarters of the original band had regrouped for a few dates last year (Michael Bowes has replaced Howard Smith on drums) and were touring this year. And even more excited to learn that the tour would bring them within my reach. I had to go. And what can I tell you? The band still seem tight. Dave (a lawyer for the Musicians' Union for most of this century) and Ed (a TV producer whose credits include Doctor Who) have worn well - Ed in particular makes a fine, conversational front-man. Steve looks a bit more like what he is - someone's middle-aged dad - but let's not forget this is a reunion nearly 40 years after the band formed, so what do you expect? What I didn't really expect, but was pleasantly surprised to find, is that the two- and three-part harmonies that characterised many of the tracks from New Clear Days were still present and correct. In fact, the whole band sound live was very pleasingly close to their studio sound - they can still cut it, in other words. And Michael Bowes looked as happy as anyone, smiling non-stop as he pounded away at those drums on a sweltering night.

I repeat, I know I am in the minority with my views on The Vapors. And for the record I am not trying to suggest they should have climbed out of The Jam's shadow, because for my money The Jam eclipse almost everybody. But what I am trying to say is that, with New Clear Days, The Vapors got everything right. It's a near-perfect slice of early 80s new wave, and I urge you to get a copy.

In the meantime, I recorded a couple of videos at the gig. Most people in the crowd whipped their phones out for Turning Japanese but not me - instead, here are two other tracks from New Clear Days, Sixty Second Interval and America. Things to note from these videos: (1) for a venue with so many lights, so few of them were on the band; (2) when Ed says "nothing change does it, really" at the start of America, he's just finished making a comparison between 80s Reagan and contemporary Trump; and (3), check out the 50-something with the snow-white mullet who bounces into view, bottom left, about 40 seconds into America - he was so energetic, and so into every song, he deserves our respect... and not just for maintaining that hair... Anyway, enough rambling from me. To the videos!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

More street art - Adam and Eve get sponsored

More street art/graffiti spotted on the walls of my adopted home town, this time critiquing our corporate-sponsored, modern life. How many logos can you spot?

Other street art posts can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

More street art - make June the end of May

Post-election-inspired street art/graffiti spotted on the walls of my adopted home town. Other street art posts can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Wanderlust... still

I did this once before, and can now offer a tiny incremental update.

Still no sign of those tickets to New Zealand though. Or Russia. Or Antarctica. Or Patagonia. Or... or... or...

MP’s Travel Map

MP has been to: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Guernsey, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Vatican.
Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

Bottom line? Still not travelled enough.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Feelin' groovy

A proper election fall-out post will follow soon, when I'm not too tired to string a coherent sentence together (that's what you get for staying up all night at my age).

In the meantime, the events of the last 24 hours have left me feeling upbeat, in a way that is very different to the morning after the EU referendum. The post title might lead you to suspect I was about to post some Simon and Garfunkel, but no - instead, here's a well known, incredibly groovy song that always makes me want to dance like I was still young. Play loud, voters! Deee-lovely!

And yes - I may well have had a crush on Lady Miss Kier back in the day...

Thursday, 8 June 2017

X marks the spot

As we speak, polling stations around the country are opening their doors, ready to receive your vote, ready for you to do your duty.

And it is a duty. You don't need me to tell you how politics, and more specifically the political decisions and policy making of whoever gets elected, affects almost every aspect of your daily life. So leave for work a bit early, take an umbrella so the rain can't deter you, and vote.

If you're still unsure of who to vote for (I don't blame you - in my experience, no-one agrees with all the policies of their preferred party), you might be interested in a website that asks you lots of questions and then identifies your party of best fit. There are plenty of these website quizzes out there - I've tried lots and have found isidewith.com to be especially good, and as detailed as you want it to be.

Also, if you live in a constituency where tactical voting might be a factor, and you want to get into some of that, you should definitely take a look at tactical2017.com

Most of all though, please just make sure you vote. If you don't, you abdicate your right to bitch about anything for the next five years... and what will our social media timelines be full of then?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Mixing pop and politics

You might know Andrew Collins from his music and television journalism (NME, The Word, The Guardian), or his excellent biography of Billy Bragg, Still Suitable For Miners. Or, most likely, as that bloke who appeared on TV as a "talking head" a lot in the Nineties and Noughties.

You might not know that he is also a terrific blogger, so much so that he scoops the blogger of the year award in my annual round-ups pretty much every year.

Well now, on his personal blog Never Knowingly Underwhelmed, he's written an important think-piece on the imminent general election. Whatever the colour of your rosette (and especially if you're undecided and/or a first-time, newly registered voter), I urge you to have a read.

And while we're on the subject of the general election, in the unlikely event that you're the one person who hasn't already seen it, here's Cassetteboy vs Theresa May. Enjoy, albeit as a black comedy.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Clandestine Classic LII - Wonderful Woman (live)

The fifty-second post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Continuing my quest to feature the most influential, most pivotal, most important acts in my personal musical history, today I tackle the big one: how to present a clandestine classic from The Smiths? Not only are the majority of my readers already very well acquainted with this particular Salford lads' club but here's a band whose output has been bootlegged, anthologised, re-issued and repackaged to within an inch of its life. Simply, there isn't much out there left to discover. But there are some tracks that get played less than others. And there are some intriguing live versions out of those lesser played tracks, so that's the card I'm playing - stick with me.

Wonderful Woman originally surfaced as the second B-side on the 12" version of the band's second single, This Charming Man. What we didn't know at the time is that it had been first recorded during the aborted sessions for their debut album (and as such would later appear on the Troy Tate Sessions boot). For whatever reason, it didn't make the cut for the eventual, re-recorded eponymous debut album, which is a shame as it would have fit right in.

But what of the song? I seem to recall reading a theory somewhere once that this song is about Morrissey's mother, but I find that unlikely indeed (and I can't find a source for this theory anywhere online). A more straightforward interpretation is that wonderful is sarcastic, since this seems to be about a thoroughly unpleasant woman who has "ice water for blood, neither heart nor spine" and implores Moz, "I’m starved of mirth, let’s go and trip a dwarf." Or maybe she's wonderfully, terribly beguiling, because Morrissey adds "when she calls me, I do not walk, I run." I don't know about you but I can identify with that - she's bad for him, he knows it, but still he can't resist. Steven, I hear you.

Musically, this is cut from the same cloth as Suffer Little Children, with a deceptively simple repeating guitar motif from Johnny over a steady-as-she-goes rhythm section. Oh, and a whisper of plaintive harmonica. Morrissey's vocal delivery is typical of the earlier recordings, in that it's perfectly serviceable yet lacks the confidence of subsequent songs. So why a classic, I hear you ask? Well, there's something uncanny about the end of each chorus, as Johnny changes up, the harmonica kicks in, and Morrissey repeats "her, her, her." It's not hypnotic but it's certainly an ear-worm - you could quite easily loop that little section and leave it playing in the background all evening and get no complaints from me.

You can pick up Wonderful Woman, as it appeared on the B-side of This Charming Man, on the fairly comprehensive The Sound Of The Smiths (deluxe edition) and you can read more about the Troy Tate demos over at the excellent Passions Just Like Mine. But, to paraphrase Chris Tarrant, I don't want to give you those. To maximise the clandestine value of today's classic, instead let's go for a live recording from a gig at The Hacienda dating back to 4th February, 1983. I read somewhere that this was The Smiths' third gig proper, and the first for which a recording exists (albeit with pretty poor sound quality). Also the first as a four-piece (they'd had James Maker on-stage as a dancer prior to this). The night this was recorded I was twelve and a half and didn't know Morrissey existed. Little did I know how much The Smiths would mean to me over the next 30+ years. In a week when Morrissey has taken a lot of flack for comments that even I, a past apologist, struggle to explain away1, I choose instead to remember some music from a band that, for me, was, is and always shall be life-changing.


1. What did Morrissey say about the Manchester bombing? Here. Martin Rossiter's response? Here. For contrast, Moz's subsequent critique of Tory plans to reverse the fox hunting ban, here.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Clandestine Classic LI - Blood Sports (live)

The fifty-first post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Last time I did one of these, I lamented the fact that it's hard to feature the most influential, most pivotal, most important acts in my personal musical history. How, I mused, was it possible to come up with a clandestine classic from The Smiths/The Jam/REM when 90% or more of this blog's readership is already very familiar with The Smiths/The Jam/REM? Not easily. But I did resolve to address this problem in future posts, and that change starts here. For today's post comes from quite early on in the second phase of Paul Weller's career, when his fans were still bellowing for Jam tracks but he was moving on. Yes - tonight Matthew, I will be featuring The Style Council.

The year is 1985. The Style Council are still riding the bow wave of a run of Top 20 singles, are about to release Our Favourite Shop (which will become their only chart-topping album) and have yet to completely deter all their old Mod fans with the arty stuff (The Cappuccino Kid liner notes, fey videos), or sidetrack into Red Wedge territory. It's a good time to be a Councillor. The first single from Our Favourite Shop is chosen, and it's the excellent, rabble-rousing, quite-possible-to-imagine-The-Jam-performing Walls Come Tumbling Down. Everyone is happy.

One of that single's B-sides is today's classic: a lyrical, almost pastoral in places, critique of the lunacy of hunting animals for pleasure, and the hideousness of those who do so, Blood Sports is a song that would do Morrissey proud. As musically apart from its A-side as a B-side can be, here is a song that shows a band at the peak of their powers daring to do something a bit different (again), and not being afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves.

On the off-chance that choosing a B-side still isn't enough to make this song clandestine enough for you, let's feature a live rendition. The video featured here is a clip from an 80's television programme called Worldwise, in which the band are introduced (and later interviewed) by Sarah Greene. Weller gets away with singing the line "Who gets a hard-on with blood on their hands?" too, which must have given someone at the Beeb kittens. Some might say Mick's keyboard solo is a bit "of its time", and that's generous, but he's trying to emulate a different sound, the pan-pipe sound of the recorded version. Anyway, give them a break and instead concentrate on the lyrics, Weller's delivery and, at a time when he wasn't playing much guitar, watch those chords - easy to play and tailor-made to be adopted by the cause... (except it wasn't - a shame).

There are a plethora of greatest hits and compilations from TSC out there, but choose carefully. If you want to pick up the studio version of Blood Sports you can find it on The Collection (choose even more carefully here, as there are several compilations called The Collection or variations thereon) or Here's Some That Got Away, both of which are excellent, and both of which also feature The Ghosts Of Dachau, a slice of haunting brilliance that I almost chose for today's classic. Or why not just treat yourself, and splash out on The Complete Adventures box set, a steal at under £30.

Until then, here's that live TV performance from 1985. Who'd have thought, 32 years later and in a supposedly more enlightened time, that this subject would still be an issue, with Theresa's shade of blue looking to repeal the foxhunting ban? In that context, it would be nice to see Paul reprise this at his live shows this year. On that note, over to Sarah Greene.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Europe. It's like a different country or something... IV

Now I knew they were making a comeback, but I didn't know it was in chocolate form.

As seen (and eaten - it's like an Aero-Wispa hybrid) in Amsterdam.

All posts in this very occasional series.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Blogger's Lament (or, proof that it's a good job I don't often write poems)

I don't know why I write this blog,
I'm really at a loss.
The hit count's low, the comments few;
The Web don't give a toss.

A guest post here, a retweet there,
But not much to delight in.
Maybe I should bin the lot
And do some proper writing.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Amusecast - episode 5

Haven't done one of these for a while, forgot how much fun it can be. You know the drill - one side of a C90...

Tracklisting:

  1. The Feelies - It's Only Life
  2. Elvis Costello - Beyond Belief
  3. British Sea Power - The Lonely
  4. Suede - I Can't Give Her What She Wants
  5. KT Tunstall - Beauty Of Uncertainty
  6. Dubstar - St Swithin's Day
  7. The Stone Roses - Fools Gold
  8. Gene - Does He Have A Name?
  9. Morrissey - We'll Let You Know

If you like the sound of that lot, here's the download.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Have you seen this book?

I'm considering going to a gig later in the year at the Hammersmith Apollo. I can't remember when I last went there, so I thought I'd refamiliarise myself with the venue by taking a quick look on Google Maps and firing up Streetview. Nothing unusual in that.

As I was scrolling around the venue, a seated figure caught my eye - here she is:

And more specifically, the book she was reading when the Google Maps car drove by caught my eye - here's a closer look:

  

See, I think I should know what this book is, but I can't for the life of me place it. Now I don't want to morph into Dave Gorman or anything, and turn this into a Google-based adventure, but does anyone have any ideas what this book is? Answers on a postcard to the usual address (by which I mean, in the comments below). Cheers.

If you want a closer look, here's a link to the Google Maps Streetview.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Some thoughts on Record "Store" Day

I'm in this queue but don't bother looking, you can't see me

I have mixed feelings about Record Store Day. Firstly, let's all pretend that my biggest bugbear isn't the fact that I go to records shops, not record stores, so why isn't it Record Shop Day? I get that it's a global thing, by which I mean American, but honestly this linguistic aberration irks me - it's right up there with talking about television in terms of seasons rather than series.

But as I said earlier, let's all pretend I have some proper concerns about RSD, rather than quirks that make me sound a bit precious. So my first real concern is that why isn't every day Record Store Day? Especially as we are regularly being told how sales of vinyl are on the up and up. Sure, when RSD started ten years ago the benevolent aim of giving these shops a boost was never more needed. But is that still the case?

Secondly, and this is addressed to everyone in an RSD queue who only goes to a physical record shop once a year, in the words of Not The Nine O'Clock News Songs of Praise sketch, "where were you bastards then?" If this was football, you'd be a part-time supporter! At least the guy half a dozen queue places ahead of me, who looked like he hadn't been near a record shop for thirty years, and who wanted "Springsteen, The Who, The Beatles and U2" (read from his laser-printed A4 list) only got Springsteen - the rest were in such limited numbers at the shop in question, and had long since been snapped up.

Thirdly, I've got nothing against avid record collectors at the front of the queue with their want-lists. I'm an avid record collector, and have been for more than thirty years. But to those people at the front of the queue with long want-lists that have since all ended up on Ebay at a hefty mark-up, well, sod you. That's not really in the spirit, is it? (Although a small crumb of comfort comes from the comedy of reading the media's surprise that this is happening - The Independent seemed to think it particularly newsworthy. In other news, they have also confirmed the Pope's Catholicism and bears' woods-based toilet habits).

So, I know how cantankerous I sound. These reasons, however petty and curmudgeonly, are why I have forsaken RSD in years gone by, even when there has been vinyl on offer that I would be interested in. But this year, I had to go. There was a new Smiths 7-inch, you see. Albert Finney on the cover. Two rare tracks (a demo of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and the Drone Studios version of Rubber Ring). Even a run-out groove inscription ("Trump will kill America"). I had to have it. Which is how I came to be queueing outside a record shop at ten to eight in the morning last Saturday, in the cold. It's a small record shop, Soundclash, and was operating a strict one-out-one-in policy, so I didn't actually get in the door until twenty five to ten. I was anticipating disappointment, and so had my back-up choice ready - The Wedding Present's Home Internationals e.p. And when I finally got to the counter, five minutes later, I was pleasantly surprised to find both (four copies of The Smiths 7" were left, but I bagged the last one of three copies Soundclash had got of The Weddoes). I didn't even baulk at the price (call me old-fashioned but I think £12 for a single is a bit steep, as is £17 for a 12"); I went away £29 poorer but immeasurably richer in terms of my own record collection.

Of course, later than evening I couldn't help but check Ebay - The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was going for £35 and Home Internationals for £30. From the intact cellophane on the listing photographs, the sellers hadn't even had a listen. Heathens.

Success!

Friday, 21 April 2017

I used to write software... II

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... well, 13 years ago and 150 miles away, but you get the idea... I learnt to translate my classic Visual Basic programming skills to VB.Net. The specific task of personal interest that I used to teach myself was solving sudoku puzzles, as these were just starting to gain popularity in the UK back then.

Here's what I wrote about my noddy sudoku solver (and generator) at the time:

I wrote [this] mainly as an exercise in codifying logic - could I code the way I solve sudoku? The answer, for the most part, was yes, and this will solve all but the most diabolically fiendish sudoku...

The object of sudoku is to fill a 9x9 grid so that every row, column and 3x3 box contains the digits 1 through 9. Sounds easy, can be very hard (and addictive)! Anyway, this application lets you keep track of your progress by storing the grid contents, and helps you by showing available values for each grid square. It'll even generate a near-endless supply of new puzzles! And yes, I am aware that if you choose to generate a really hard sudoku, you might end up with one of the few that this program cannot solve programmatically... For the most part though, if you get really stuck, there are 'Hint' and 'Solve' buttons that will help you out.

Again, I failed to finish this quite as I'd like, in so much as there are some sudoku that are too hard for it to solve, and it only supports 9x9 puzzles. Other than that, it's okay, I think. Whatever, I'm starting to mothball the old website this was previously publicly available on, so I'm making it available here instead, for posterity: its own little software cemetery.

Anyway, enough history. Here's the download if you actually want to give it a spin. To install: unzip the download (try 7-Zip in the unlikely event you need help with that), run the MSI, accept all the defaults. Job done.

Oh, and in the even more unlikely event that you use this enough to need support, well, you could ask in the comments below this post. If I can remember, I'll try to help. No promises, mind.

I used to write software... I

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... well, 18 years ago and 180 miles away, but you get the idea... I taught myself Visual Basic. One of best ways of learning a new programming language, I have found, is to give yourself a specific task to complete using that language (and here's the key bit, as it's where the motivation comes from) that is of personal interest. Now I've written websites since 1997 - these days I mostly just use Blogger or Wordpress but back then I hand-coded all my HTML, CSS and JavaScript using Notepad. And yes, that was a bit frustrating at times. So my specific task of personal interest was to build a website editor, using Visual Basic. Markup Processor was the result.

Here's what I wrote about it when I released it out into the wild, way back when:

Markup Processor is a powerful html/script editor written expressly for me! But maybe you'll find it useful too... from beginners, intermediate to professional web builders, Markup Processor is a web editing tool for anyone creating web sites or authoring scripts. Markup Processor is a fast, lightweight product months in the making but please bear in mind it has been designed to do just what I want... no-one else! In other words, please feel free to suggest changes but I have the final say on what makes it into the product, okay?

Markup Processor's rich feature set includes: customizable syntax highlighting; flexible edit pane; support for (S)HTML documents, Perl, ASP, Cascading Style Sheets, Javascript, VBScript and Java; integrated page previewing (if MS Internet Explorer™ is installed); page viewing in external browser; split editing pane (edit different sections of a document at the same time); code compression; integration of HTML Tidy: spell checking (if MS Word™ is installed); access to integrated HTML and CSS reference files; 'power bar' includes code wizards and frequently used code snippets; 'side bar' includes double-clickable tag and special character lists; integrated Javascripts; and loads more besides...

Best of all, Markup Processor is lightweight, and loads a lot quicker than many comparable programs. I never did finish it though, so it's only fair to also mention the shortfalls: for a start, there's no tag completion, a feature I'd really want if I was starting this from scratch. The biggest omission though is the lack of word wrapping, but if you can live without that, Markup Processor is a handy bit of kit. I use it all the time... but then I would, wouldn't I?

As I said then, it never got finished quite as I'd like. And looking back, I regret making it insert HTML tags in uppercase rather than lower - whatever happened to standards compliance?! But never mind. I'm starting to mothball the old website this was previously publicly available on, so I'm making it available here instead, for posterity: its own little software cemetery.

Anyway, enough history. Here's the download if you actually want to give it a spin. To install: unzip the download (try 7-Zip in the unlikely event you need help with that), run the MSI, accept all the defaults. Job done.

Oh, and in the even more unlikely event that you use this enough to need support, well, you could ask in the comments below this post. If I can remember, I'll try to help. No promises, mind.

Who's No. 1?

I once tried to get The Who a UK number one single. Actually, I tried twice... and failed twice. I won't be trying again - people just aren't interested. Because I'm retiring the website that hosted these campaigns, such as they were, this post is an archive, more for me than you, of what little did actually happen... Sadly, the one thing I was most proud of (getting the first campaign in The Guardian's Guide weekend supplement) was never online to link to, so you'll have to trust me that it really happened... similarly, a lot of the links that follow have themselves been retired. Lucky this post is just an aide memoire for me then, eh?

Press and media coverage of the 2010 campaign

Examiner.com (US news digest) | The Who Nederland (Dutch blog)

Press and media coverage of the 2009 campaign

Uncut Magazine | Planet Rock | Rock Radio | Soft Rock Classics show (listen to an MP3 of the interview on this show) | Helpless Dancer blog | Futuro 88.9 (Chilean radio) | Classic 21 (Belgian radio) | Examiner.com (US news digest) | The Who Nederland (Dutch blog) | Absolute Radio music news | Jachiche's Absolute Radio blog | Who's Who (tribute band) blog post

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

"However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light." And a charger.

Last month's post about the touring Stanley Kubrick exhibition got quite a lot of love, so I should probably add that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has produced a companion app for the exhibition, and it's excellent, choc-full of hi-res images, film facts and general Kubrick curios. I'd recommend it, if you have any interest in the man or his filmed output. And even if you don't (because you should, really you should).

The Kubrick App in the Google Play store...

...and on iTunes, for those in the Apple corps

And whilst we're all on a Kubrick kick, I also found this little video interesting, featuring a conversation between Stanley and physicist-writer Jeremy Bernstein recorded in 1966. It gives a great insight into how he got started and how determined he was. Hopefully it also gives a kick to anyone creative who feels that they can't, for whatever reason, do that one thing that they yearn to do. You can, if you want to enough. Here's the interview:

Monday, 3 April 2017

This one is dedicated to...

...my disintegrating body. My knees and ankles haven't quite come to pieces in my hand, but I have forgotten what normal used to feel like.

Here are some lyrics too, which include a few excellent metaphors for the disjoint between perception and reality, how things were and how they are.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Kubrick on tour

Long-time readers of this blog will know I am a huge fan of the late Stanley Kubrick. Naturally, I very much want to see the Stanley Kubrick exhibition that is touring the museums of the world (currently in Mexico, I think).

When it lands in the UK (assuming it does, at some point), you'll see me there. But until then, we can content ourselves with this.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Carnage

I'm not a vegan. I'm not even vegetarian. You'd think that if The Smiths couldn't persuade me, nothing will, and maybe you'd be right.

But I've been watching Simon Amstell's Carnage on the BBC iPlayer, and it's really got me thinking. I'm not going to lecture - how can I, given my current omnivorous status - and besides, one reason Amstell's film works so well is that the imagined future perspective makes a powerful point without preaching. Instead, here's a trailer, a review from the invariably-excellent Mark Kermode, and some links to the programme. Have a watch (skip the trailer and review if time is tight) and then, like I am, have a bit of a think. Maybe have a bit of a change, even if only by few degrees rather than 180; after all, an end has a start.

Simon Amstell: Carnage - programme website - watch on iPlayer

Friday, 24 March 2017

Be cynical if you like...

... be cynical about television as charity, charity as television and "celebs" getting involved to promote their own careers. Be cynical about where the money goes, how it gets spent and who gets paid what. Be cynical about Comic Relief, Sport Relief, this relief, that relief, Children In Need and the short-lived, now defunct Thames Telethon1 of my youth. Be cynical about the button-pushing videos that get shown over and over again in the course of the evening ahead.

But...

(and it's a bit but)

...don't let that stop you donating. The net effect is worthy enough to gloss over even the cynicism of a bitter old git like me who has had, basically, a pretty shitty day today, all told. Yes, I sort of despise myself for vaguely looking forward to the video trailered below... but I've still donated. Hope you do too.

1. The Thames Telethon was actually a thing, wasn't it, in the 80s? I haven't just imagined it, have I?

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

You'll like this... not a lot, but...

Saw this guy doing close-up magic at an event last weekend. All I can say is, even though cynical me was looking for the tricks and the slight of hand throughout, I couldn't pick any. I know a lot of this is prop-based, and that there is slight of hand going on, plus distraction techniques, but even so... this is a testament, not to any magical powers, but to the power of practice.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Clandestine Classic L - Sleep With Me

The (...drumroll...) fiftieth (hooray!) post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

The obvious problem with writing a series like this is that it is very hard to feature some of the most influential, most pivotal, more important acts in my personal musical history. How do I come up with a clandestine classic from The Smiths, for example, when 90% or more of this blog's readership is already very, very familiar with The Smiths' output? Ditto Morrissey solo. Ditto The Jam, The Style Council and solo Weller. Ditto REM. This is something I'll be looking to remedy in future posts (assuming this blog limps on), as it's important to me that the aforementioned all feature. And whilst I have managed to get Blur, Pixies, Gene, Travis, Pulp and The Wedding Present in, there are other important acts for me (Radiohead, Billy Bragg, Suede, The Blue Aeroplanes, The Small Faces, The Who and The Kinks) who are also notable by their absence. This became very apparent when I was preparing an index of all the tracks that have featured as clandestine classics thus far, in readiness for this, the landmark (!) fiftieth post in the series.

So a change is coming, of sorts. But not yet. For today's classic is by an artist you probably don't know, from an album you probably haven't heard, and a time (1990) that seems almost unimagineably long ago, despite feeling like yesterday in so many ways. 1990... a time when the great indie hopes of the mid-80s had collapsed under the weight of Stock-Aitken-Waterman chart dominance. C86 was long gone, done. The Smiths had left the building. Madchester and grunge had yet to bring hope to the indie kids. Blur and Suede had yet to pave the way for Britpop proper. Aside from the first Stone Roses' album, it was, generally speaking, a pretty fallow time musically.

Not for me though... in October 89 I went to university. A new city, a diverse campus, living in halls with new people from an array of countries, there was so much to experience, new music included. And then, in January 1990, a new person arrived on our hall for the remaining six months of that academic year. She was from the US, a crucial couple of years older than me and, if I'm honest, quite unlike anyone I'd ever met before (and seldom since). Maybe it was because we both had that six month deadline hanging over our friendship from the start or maybe it was simply that we clicked on a level that was unprecedented for us both, I think; whatever the reason, it very quickly became apparent that we were cut from the same cloth. A link was formed that persists even now, and a crucial part of that link, of that effortless commonality, was music. She introduced me to a lot of new music, primarily American, I reciprocated, on behalf of the UK, and there were some bands and artists that we already had in common. One such artist was the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg. Imagine our delight, then, on learning that he would be appearing on campus that May. In my cash-strapped first year, it was the only gig ticket I bought - that's how important it was for me to go.

Billy was touring to promote his new mini-album, The Internationale, still his most consistently and overtly political release in a lifetime of political releases, and worth picking up for the title track alone, let alone the brilliance of The Marching Song Of The Covert Battalions and the heart-rending My Youngest Son Came Home Today. But I digress; brilliant though he is (and was that night, especially), we're not here to talk about Uncle Bill. As I recall, there were two support acts that night - a band puntastically called The Coal Porters (which featured Sid Griffin), and a solo singer-songwriter with nothing but a guitar with which to promote her own mini-album. Caroline Trettine had, like nearly everyone from Bristol who'd ever held a guitar, previously featured in The Blue Aeroplanes but was now ploughing a solo furrow. Her debut album, Be A Devil (pictured above), had been released on Billy's short-lived Utility record label, and here she was to promote it.

On the album, Caroline is occasionally augmented by fellow Blue Aeroplanes-alumnus Ian Kearey but that night she played alone. Her voice soared faultlessly over a delicate acoustic finger-picking style and an uncommon hush feel over the venue. She was captivating, and a lot of copies of Be A Devil got sold on the merchandise stall that night.

I could have picked any of the tracks from Be A Devil, as they are all excellent, but I've gone for Sleep With Me. It's beautiful, heartfelt, intimate, direct - it presses a button somewhere in my chest. What never ceases to amaze me is that Caroline wrote this song, I once read somewhere, when she was just fifteen. What were you doing when you were that age? I know what I was doing, and it wasn't as good as this.

When I wrote about the gig some time ago, in my top ten gigs post, I gushed slightly by saying "support was great too, from Caroline Trettine, with whom I sort of fell in love for the duration of her twenty minute set." Hyperbole, maybe, but that button in my chest was pushed so hard, it never quite sprung back to its original position.

If you can hunt down a copy of Be A Devil, you should - you won't regret it. You can stream it from Amazon here, if that's your thing. I have it on Utility CD, which is pretty hard to find these days, so lucky me. But in the meantime, here's today's clandestine classic - it's so old/obscure/niche I had to resort to Myspace to find an embeddable version. I know, Myspace! Who even knew that was still a thing. In fact, hurry up and listen whilst it is still a thing...

Monday, 6 March 2017

New to NA

I wrote about IDestroy in passing last month. Well, they have a double A-side coming out this month which you can preview on Soundcloud right now. If I could embed it, I would, but I can't, so here's a link:

soundcloud.com/idestroy/sets/annie-98-double-a-side

Now I know I'm not their target market, but to me this sounds like equal parts PJ Harvey, Pretenders and Elastica, if performed by three women from Bristol in their mid-twenties. It's great, I think. You might like it too.

Plus, they're touring as well. Get yourself a ticket...

Memory card housekeeping - II

Another old pic from another old camera phone (Sony Ericsson C510).

EXIF metadata suggests this was taken in December 2011, which seems possible. I seem to recall it was from some exhibition or another on the Southbank. but if you're going to ask me where exactly or who the artist was, I'm going to come up short.

Sorry about that.


It's not the first day of summer either, but at least it's sunny out...

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

For a limited time only

Three years ago, I started another blog. Let me explain why.

During the 1990s, BBC Radio 1 ran an annual mini-festival called Sound City (not to be confused with Liverpool Sound City or the Dave Grohl movie – if it wasn’t branded “Radio 1” then it’s not relevant here). The idea was that every year they would occupy a series of venues in the city of choice, and broadcast gigs live every evening. I used to tape (look it up, kids) some of these gigs off the radio, despite the fact that home taping was killing music. And occasionally tracks from various Sound City gigs would make their way onto magazine cover-mounted CDs or tapes.

Anyway, the purpose of the new blog was to pull together various recordings and other memorabilia from those gigs, highlighting the quality and, if truth be told, ignoring any dross. I only started doing this after trying to find a track from Sound City 1993 online and being unable to – it was twenty years ago, after all, and how many people were digitising live radio broadcasts back then?

The trouble was, I featured a Manics track, and got DMCA'ed. Thinking I was smart, I moved the whole shebang from Blogger to Wordpress ... and promptly got DMCA'ed again, for the same live Manics track. Realising corporate behemoths have the resources to be smarter than me, I mothballed the whole lot.

Except I don't want to deprive the Internet of that one track I couldn't find anywhere else online (The Frank And Walters doing an acoustic cover of The Vapors' Turning Japanese - I eventually found my old taped recording and ripped it), or any of the other gems I found. So, for now at least, The Sound City Sessions is back up, minus that Manics track and the songs I'd sourced from Grooveshark, which has since ceased operations (a shame, as I had found some Pulp, Oasis and, er, Jamiroquai live tracks on there).

I won't be adding anything new (unless something exceptional turns up) but for now, assuming the DMCA police don't get upset again, the Sound City Sessions blog is back up for your listening pleasure at:

https://soundcitysessions.wordpress.com/

Here's a sneak preview of the sort of thing you'll find there:

And the limited time only bit? I'm thinking of re-mothballing it all again this time next week. So hurry, hurry, hurry...

Monday, 20 February 2017

Especially for you

We've gone from The Cardigans and James Brown, to singing this together in the car. I don't need an excuse to play it but if I did, today's the day.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

(Re-) Introducing the band

By my reckoning, The Blue Aeroplanes formed in 1981. Their first album followed in 1984. They flirted with success around the time of their most famous album, Swagger, were buddies with REM, and released a Paul Simon cover in a blatant chart position chase. They nearly made it ... but not quite. Their brand of art-rock has perhaps always been a bit too "art" for some and not enough "rock". Labels came and went. Most critically, I think, vocalist and band kingpin Gerard Langley's spoken-word delivery may have held them back a little, despite being their USP. It's hard to sing along with a singer who doesn't sing, if you get my meaning.

Now I should counter these criticisms by saying that I am a massive fan, and have been since buying their World View Blue e.p. as an undergrad in 1990. I own an unhealthy number of their records, some now quite valuable if the resale values on Amazon are to be believed. I've been to Aeroplanes gigs where the stage has groaned under the weight of guitarists (sometimes co-opted from the supports acts) and the manic dance moves of Wojtek Dmochowski (the pre-Bez Bez, if you like, but much more energetic). This is a band I have loved. And they're still, I'm happy to report, plugging away, as the picture of their latest album, Welcome, Stranger!, illustrates above. Not only that, they've just recently completed a tour in support of the album that was anything but a nostalgia exercise.

So how does a band that is knocking on 36 years old keep going and stay fresh? That is the question.

Bec Jevons, more than holding her own on the Blue Aeroplanes front line
The answer seems to be in having a transfer policy. Now the number of people that have been in The Blue Aeroplanes at one time or another is something of a running joke. If you come from Bristol and play the guitar, there's a good chance you've been in the band. Indeed, the band themselves play to this joke with a t-shirt on their merchandise stall that poses the question: "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of The Blue Aeroplanes?" On a more serious note, the band also maintain a line-up history on their website which is comprehensive if not necessarily complete. Anyway, a certain turnover seems to have kept things fresh. Yes, Gerard and Wojtek are ever-present, but every other slot is up for grabs. In HR speak, there is churn. And this is a good thing. It means new ideas, new styles, new sounds are always coming into the mix. In turn, this means that, well into their fourth decade, the band still sound fresh.

The latest round of churn has also introduced a bit of youth into the mix, in the shape of Bec Jevons. In a band comprising lots of men of a certain age, she stands out, being in her mid twenties. She brings youth, vitality, energy and, most importantly, a real rock presence to live performance. Clearly honed in her other band, all-woman trio IDestroy, Bec has a stagecraft that belies her relative youth. Crucially, she also brings a bit of power to The Blue Aeroplanes, moving them back towards the "rock" end of the art-rock spectrum - personally, I think it is no coincidence that her involvement has coincided with The Blue Aeroplanes making their most accessible album in many a moon.

Chatting to Bec after a recent Aeroplanes gig, she's clearly loving her involvement with the band, and can't wait to start on the next album. She seemed very enthusiastic, genuinely lovely and happy to talk to fans. She signed my IDestroy CD too, which was nice. But I digress. What I should be saying is this: check out Welcome, Stranger! - it's excellent - have a listen to IDestroy, and keep an eye on Bec Jevons - the music business is a capricious world but if there's any justice, she'll go very far indeed.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

If not now, when?

I had half an idea for, well, at least a blog post, maybe something longer. The idea was essentially "these are all the reasons the human race is screwed." I know, cheery. I was going to group my theories and supporting evidence into five broad categories: climate change (cause and effects); extreme politics (plenty of that going round at the moment); the Earth as a closed system; conflicting belief systems; and the daddy of them all, the theme that underpins all others, spiralling global over-population.

I've been marshalling my thoughts on this for a while, which in part explains why there have been fewer blog posts in general lately, here and elsewhere. However, the more prep I've done on this the more three things have become evident: firstly, it will be a grim old read; secondly, very few people will read it all, or even at all; and third, it will have no effect - not a blind bit of difference

So I've put it on hold. But I did have an alternative thought. Let's just say I believe the comfortable, modern, point-and-click world of convenience and plenty that we currently have will be gone soon, for one reason or another. And when I say soon, maybe I don't mean in my lifetime or that of the next generation, but maybe the one after that. It's another grim thought ...

... so an alternate perspective might be to grasp the nettle, do that thing you always wanted to do. Take a chance. Have a go. That boy/girl* you've loved from afar for years? (* delete as applicable) Tell him/her how you feel. That instrument you've always wished you could play? Take lessons. That novel you've had kicking around on a USB stick for years? Submit it to agents and competitions.

Have a go. Go on. Try. Try to be that version of yourself you wish you were, that best version of yourself. Strive to be your best. We're in humanity's geriatric phase right NOW - dementia will follow soon enough. So if not now, when?

Friday, 3 February 2017

Tosh I've Learnt Today - II

Listening to Radio 4 this morning, specifically a discussion around the apparent shortage of lettuce, courgettes and broccoli, I heard reference to the British Leafy Salad Association. Now I don't know about you but I had never previously imagined such an organisation might exist, but it really is very much a thing, look.

If their primary aim is really to increase UK consumption of leafy salads, they're up against it though as we all know ... you don't win friends with salad ...

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Great unnoticed headlines of our time - II

Another corker, courtesy of BBC Business news:

Here's the story to go with it which, whilst good, can never quite live up to that headline. I also feel compelled to say "No bacon shortage - denied!" because I am old and still think Wayne's World is a comedy classic.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Sleeve art arithmetic

Not too long ago, JC over at the excellent New Vinyl Villain wrote about Product 2378, a Telstar Records indie complilation album from 1990. It was a typically good post about a truly excellent compilation, but JC rightly asked a lot of questions about it, notably how Telstar managed to assemble such an excellent selection of tracks in the first place, how they managed to release it given the paucity of their normal output and, most of all, what the hell was going on with the sleeve art?

Now I had a copy of Product 2378 on cassette, inevitably plucked from the Woolworths bargain bin for 99p. If you've read the track listing on JC's blog post you'll know that was quite a bargain. But still, about that sleeve art. It's always bothered me too.

And then, last week, it all came together for me. Someone, somewhere at Telstar, was a real indie kid. Take the sleeve art from The Chesterfield's 1987 debut album, Kettle:

...add the polychromatic effects (and palette) briefly fashionable following the success of New Order's 1989 album Technique:

...and you get the sleeve for Product 2378.

c + no = p (perhaps) or t(k)=2378 (perhaps not). Feel sorry for me, because this is the sort of thing that pushes my buttons.

Still none the wiser on that title though. Unless "PRODUCT 2378" was supposed to evoke the FAC and FACT numbers of Factory Records output. FACT 250 was Joy Division's Substance, for example. I know, it's not much of a theory but it's the best I've got, and in my mind, at least, fits nicely with the idea of that lone indie kid at Telstar being told to go away and come up with something...

Friday, 27 January 2017

Clandestine Classic XLIX - Ask Johnny Dee

The forty-ninth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Last time I did a Clandestine Classic, I bemoaned the fact that the series had fallen into something of a rut, along the lines of always asking, "What do you think about when I say <insert band name here> to you?", after which I'll rattle through the obvious choices for that band and then pull a rabbit out of the hat. I bemoaned it, and then I went ahead and did it again. Shame on me. So it's back to basics, this time, as I try to wrap some personal narrative around the chosen song. Here goes.

We have to dial the clock back for this one, to the latter half of 1988 and the beginning of 1989. I was in the upper sixth of a selective boys' grammar school, and worked at weekends in the lighting department of a now-defunct high street department store. Surprisingly, for someone who had, two years earlier, described the concept of having a girlfriend as "a hypothetical situation" (much to the amusement of my mates), I had not only discovered girls but they too had discovered me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I was any kind of gigolo, quite the opposite, I was still painfully shy and socially awkward. But I'd had a couple of girlfriends of varying durations and seriousness. The situation was no longer hypothetical.

And then... then, there was Jay. That's not her real name, by the way; even though only one person who knew me back then reads this blog, I still think it's important to preserve anonymity. Jay was in the lower sixth at the neighbouring (and affiliated) selective girls' grammar school, and worked in the restaurant at the same high street department store. She was also painfully shy but, crucially for bringing us together, she was friends with the girls my mates were going out with. She was also ferociously intelligent, funny and, most attractive of all, just a bit different. For context, this was the age of peak Neighbours, when boys tried to look like Scott and Mike whilst girls tried to look like Charlene and (not so) Plain Jane Super Brain. Jay didn't try to look like anybody. She stood out from her classmates by not trying to emulate fashion, not overdoing the make-up in a horrible 80s way, not slavishly emulating the fashions of the day. She was a fully fledged individual at the age of seventeen which, looking back, was quite something.

Jay also had terrific taste in music. When most of her classmates were interested in standard chart fare, if interested at all, the only chart Jay was interested in was the indie chart. And so it was that, as friends tried to get us together and we edged around actually going out, she introduced me to a band she adored, The Chesterfields. I somehow hadn't heard of them at all at the time and, even now, had to fall back on Wikipedia to remind myself that they came from Somerset and that, although often referred to as a C86 band, they weren't actually on the landmark NME cassette. They were, if memory serves, part of the short-lived "twee" sound; with hindsight, they sounded like a lo-fi hybrid of The Housemartins, The Smiths and early REM, with a West Country accent. Today's Classic is their fourth single and indie chart highpoint (number four!), Ask Johnny Dee, from 1987. It also appeared on their debut album, the splendidly titled Kettle.

You can probably tell from the way I've written this post that there wasn't a happy ending to the story of Jay and I. She really liked me, and I liked her too but, for whatever reason, I didn't appreciate her enough. Actually, "for whatever reason" is not strictly true. I think I was just a typical eighteen year old, one whose mates all had conventionally pretty girlfriends, and I didn't want to commit to Jay in case someone else came along. That's pretty terrible, I know. But not nearly as bad as how I treated Jay at, and immediately after, one particular party - I'll spare you the details (by which I mean I'll spare my own shame) but I was a royal git to her, heartless. She deserved much, much better.

Ten-plus years later, we were once again both working for the same company, this time a US-owned corporate behemoth. We worked at the same (huge) site, but in different divisions - our paths would never normally cross, though I did see her once, from a distance across a large atrium. She looked great, of course, still a bit quirky, a little different to everyone else, but generally great. I don't know whether she saw me or not. Probably not. But she was in the company email address book, so I penned a carefully worded message to gently say hello (our first communication since that party, pretty much) and to start to suggest that I knew I had been a git, and to say sorry. She read the email, I know that much (I put a read receipt on it) but she didn't reply. A year or so later, she left the company, and that was that.

Except last year I spotted her again, in the social media timeline of a mate's wife. Jay's married now, it seems, with kids, and looks the picture of happiness. Still a little quirky, a little different from the crowd, as far as you can tell from a timeline. I thought, very briefly, of sending another message but didn't when I realised that I was in danger of turning into Rob from High Fidelity. I also asked myself whose benefit I would be apologising for, hers or mine? The answer, dear reader, does not reflect well on me. I stepped away for the keyboard.

You can pick up today's Classic on The Chesterfield's exhaustive best of compilation Electric Guitars In Their Heart, if lo-fi 80s twee is your bag. It was my bag too, for a short while a long time ago.

In the meantime, and with all apologies, this one's for Jay.