Thursday, 16 August 2018

Rock steady

My favourite Aretha track (and one of many tunes I owe to the High Fidelity soundtrack).

R.I.P.

To age is a sin

"... do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticised and vilified and definitely not played on the radio."

Time flies, doesn't it? Even this is 20 years old. Happy birthday, Madge.

And from 1999...

Monday, 13 August 2018

Manners maketh man

I was in the supermarket yesterday, coming towards the end of my shop. I fancied a bottle of ale for the Sunday evening ahead, and so made my way to the relevant aisle. I stood next to a man in his sixties, who was filling his basket with a fine selection of craft beers. I reached up to take a single bottle - up but not, in my view, across.

"An 'excuse me' wouldn't go amiss," said the other bloke, without turning to look at me.

"I'm sorry?" I replied, not really understanding what he was going on about. He turned to actually look at me then.

"An 'excuse me' wouldn't go amiss," he repeated. Now I was genuinely at a loss as to what I was supposed to have done, and for a moment couldn't think of anything to say, so he carried on. "You reached right across me there, without saying 'excuse me'."

And with that, he turned and walked off before I could even begin to defend myself.

But he wasn't done. From the safety of the far end of the aisle he stopped, turned back to me and called out, "All courtesy is gone!" And then, so was he.

This rankled me, and it's rankled me ever since. Moments before I'd arrived in the beer aisle I passed another shopper just as a punnet of strawberries fell to the floor from his overfull trolley. I immediately bent to pick it up for him, he said "Thanks," and I said "You're welcome." See? I am not a rude person. So the thought that some old boy was going to go straight home from the supermarket and pontificate to his long-suffering wife about the decline of moral standards and the loss of common courtesy, using me as an example, really, really bugged me.

There's only one song to go along with this, isn't there? And I heard it on the radio at the weekend too, which reminded me of how good it is. It's quite fashionable in some quarters to knock Sting, call him pretentious, mock his affectations, all that. He didn't help himself with that album of lute songs either. But I loved The Police and I still have a lot of time for their frontman. I slightly surprised myself by remembering all the lyrics to this too, and had a little radio singalong. Maybe they've stuck with me because they suit my world view, what do you think?

I don't drink coffee I take tea my dear
I like my toast done on one side
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I'm an Englishman in New York

See me walking down Fifth Avenue
A walking cane here at my side
I take it everywhere I walk
I'm an Englishman in New York

I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York
I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York

If "Manners maketh man" as someone said
Then he's the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say

I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York
I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York

Modesty, propriety can lead to notoriety
You could end up as the only one
Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society
At night a candle's brighter than the sun

Takes more than combat gear to make a man
Takes more than a license for a gun
Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can
A gentleman will walk but never run

If "Manners maketh man" as someone said
Then he's the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say

I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York
I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York

So I'm trying hard to suffer ignorance and smile, and keep on being myself. Here's the song.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Not (just) another throwback... about a timeless look

Sharon Tate died 49 years ago today, murdered by members of Charles Manson's family. She was 26.

The thing that stops this being just another throwback Thursday post, keeping the blog ticking over, is the observation that, by the tail-end of the 60s, Sharon had adopted a look that was very 2018. Here are some pictures which, in my inexpert view, look like they could have been taken yesterday. What do you think?

You see, by contrast, this was number one in the UK on 9th August 1969. The song stands up well... the look, not so much. Being timeless is hard.

By the way, normal blogging service will be resumed very soon, i.e. no more "about" posts, Wordless Wednesdays or Throwback Thursdays. Probably.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Infrequency

Back in another life, when I used to sell hi-fi, it was easy to sell an expensive pair of headphones. I'd talk about the audible range of the human ear being 20Hz to 20kHz, then I'd show the aspiring audiophile the headphone stats on the back of the box. "See, with these cheaper makes, that top out at 17k, you won't be able to hear the top end." The Beyer and Sennheiser practically sold themselves.

This morning, I caught two minutes of an excellent kid's TV show called Operation Ouch, in which twin brothers and doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken look at health issues and the human body, in a primary-friendly way. Dr Chris was looking at how the ear works, and why hearing degrades over time. As part of this, he (in his mid to late 30s) went head to head with a 7-yr old in a high frequency test. Dr Chris topped out at 16kHz. The boy was still going strong at 18kHz.

Me? I could just hear 14kHz.

Too many gigs, too many clubs in my youth, and just too darned old (I'm a fair bit older than Dr Chris). If you want to try your own hearing out, there's a good high frequency test that you can depress yourself with at audiocheck.net, although I refer you all to my old man's comments on ageing before you try. And if your hearing is better/younger than mine, don't feel the need to tell me... I probably won't hear you anyway.

Only one song for this, the obvious choice. Don't turn it up too loud.

Great moments in music video history #3a and #3b - Love's Great Adventure and Closer

Personally, I quite like it when a music video steps outside of itself. The first example I can really remember was a past-their-best Ultravox offering up this breather a mere 30 seconds into the video for Love's Great Adventure:

And then there's Closer, from Travis, which I've featured here before. Check this out from around 2:45, with peak outside-ness from 3:06. No points for ID'ing Ben Stiller.

Can you think of any other videos with a pause in the proceedings?

Sunday, 29 July 2018

The King of Parochia

This song is six years old, yet I've only just heard it, because I'm trapped in my own little closed system, my own arrogant little mirrored bubble, of only listening to things I already know I like.

And the worst part of this is, I've always been the same yet, at the same time, have been proud of the breadth of my musical knowledge. What a fraud.

Even this, which I've suddenly discovered, six years after the event, is a predictable "like", with its soft guitar jangle, indie delivery and hint of twee. And really, am I saying I like it, or that I approve of it, with my self-serving sense of unearned, undeserved musical superiority? What a tool.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Latitude 2018 - delicious

It's ten years since I first went to the Latitude Festival, three years since I last went. I've changed a lot in that period, and so has Latitude. I went again this year, just for a day on Sunday. For the first time, my choice of ticket was driven by the undercard, rather than the headliner. How did I get on, in the scorched dust bowl of Henham Park, you might wonder? With the festival app that was so buggy and crash-happy that I forked out a tenner for the programme book instead? Well here, in the manner of my old festival diaries, is what I got up to. All photos can be embiggened with a click.

Sunday:

  • Dylan Moran : Comedy stage. I haven't seen Dylan live before, so I don't know if the whole "doesn't have an act" schtick is an act or, you know, the act, but it doesn't matter because the whole seemingly disjointed, free-associative delivery really works. Moran riffed on the Internet, technology, relationships, gender, giving up alcohol and a whole lot more. Struck a chord.
  • Richard Ayoade in conversation with Mark Kermode : Film and Television arena. I don't mind Kermode, and am a huge fan of Ayoade, so was not going to miss this, even though this was the hottest, most crowded tent I was in the whole festival, so much so that there was a mild rebellion in the audience when the organisers tried to cram even more people in. Mark and Richard discussed the genre classic Roadhouse, Richard's book The Grip Of Film, his film adaptations of Submarine and The Double, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, even The IT Crowd, before opening up for an audience Q&A. This over-ran, and nobody minded in the least.
  • Hannah Peel : BBC Music stage. A cool, breezy tent after the heat of the previous session, but the relaxed atmosphere was spoiled a little by the volume. I don't want to sound like Huey Lewis in Back To The Future but it was just too darned loud, and I put my gig-plugs in. I know, I know. Hannah reaches for a dreamy, ethereal sound, surrounded by a bank of keyboards, with just a drummer to fill out the sound. Name-checking Paul Buchanan and The Blue Nile might give a hint of Hannah's style, but her most effective moment was a cover of Tainted Love accompanied only by a hand-wound music box, playing from a punched card, even if she struggled to hear this over the thump of the main stage. And then, to prove her many talents, Hannah whipped out a violin for her closing track.
  • Reasons to be Cheerful podcast live, with Geoff Lloyd and Ed Miliband : The Speakeasy. After a relaxed and much needed cup of tea and slice of cake from the Greenpeace tent, it was off to see Geoff and Ed attempt to record a live podcast in what used to be called the Literature Arena. Geoff and Ed were beset by technical problems at first, especially with the microphones - Ed tried to compensate for this by geeing the crowd up at every opportunity. But once everything settled down, they brought out their first guest, a scientist called Simon (sorry, I didn't make a note of his surname) to talk about the Anthropocene. Sadly, this was the cue for some in the crowd to bail out. And when Simon pointed out that, because of climate change, the recent heatwave will be common and persistent by 2050, a sunburnt couple in front of me turned to give each other a gurning thumbs-up. This is what we're up against. And the disconcerting facts came thick and fast after that - a estimated three trillion trees have been lost during man's time on the planet; we have produced enough concrete to cover the entire Earth in a layer 2mm thick, and enough plastic to clingfilm the planet. I don't know about reasons to be cheerful, but there were certainly reasons to be thoughtful. As for Ed Miliband ... well, I went to this to see what he was like when he was just being himself, not scripted, not media-schooled, not spun. And you know what? He seems a bit more engaging, more natural, more real. I think this version of Ed would attract more votes than the one that was wheeled out against Cameron.
  • Sleeper : the Obelisk Arena (main stage). For the first time, my choice of which day to attend Latitude was driven, not by the headliner, but by an act lower on the bill because yes, I was very keen to see the reformed and re-energised Sleeper. Like a million other indie boys, I was a little bit in love with Louise Wener back in the mid 90s, and you never forget your first loves, do you? And she and her Sleeperblokes (original guitarist and drummer, Jon and Andy, and new bassist Kieron [ex-Prodigy touring band], plus supplementary guitarist, saxophonist and keyboards) did not disappoint. There were most of the hits from back in the day (Delicious, What Do I Do Now?, Nice Guy Eddie, Inbetweener, Sale Of The Century, and more) plus some interesting covers: a mix of Blondie's Atomic and Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart was particularly ambitious, but well executed. Feeling Peaky seguéd into Lou Reed's Satellite Of Love nicely too, a song that really suits Louise's voice. And yes, I guess I'm still a little bit in love with Louise. Dressed in her Super Her t-shirt, she thought she should tell us, as this was World Cup final day, that she was born on the day England won the World Cup. So yes, she's 52. I'm happy to report that she still bounces the same on stage, though maybe not quite so high. Anyway. Sleeper are recording a new album, funded through PledgeMusic - you can and should back them here.
  • Grace Savage : The Speakeasy. After a quick bite to eat, I made my way back to The Speakeasy and, by virtue of them running late, caught the tail end of Grace Savage. Apparently she has been British beatbox champion four times but, on this evidence, there is more to her than that. She sings original compositions which, although not my cup of tea, were very listenable. Especially since I was sat down, with an actual cup of tea. She also engaged brilliantly with the audience, and had the yoof dancing at the front, no mean achievement in what is basically the book tent. One to watch, I would say, especially if I was 35 years younger.
  • Adam Kay - This Is Going To Hurt : The Speakeasy. It was Adam that I actually came to the Speakeasy to see. Adam was an obs & gynae ("parts and labour") doctor in a large hospital, before a series of events that I won't describe (no spoilers) led him to quit. He has since turned his old reflective learning log into a best-selling book, that shines a light both comedic and tragic on the state of acute care in the NHS, and the pressures on junior doctors. Adam read excerpts from the book, interspersed with comedy medical songs - well-known tunes to which Adam has put funny, medical lyrics. This works well, and he is clearly a talented pianist, if not a great singer. He ended with reading the last entry from that reflective learning log which recounts the tipping point that caused him to walk away, at which point the laughs stopped and Adam began an impassioned defence of junior doctors, and a scathing attack on the politicians who seek to destroy the NHS. This got the biggest cheer of all. I bought his book afterwards, got it signed and shook his hand.
  • Wolf Alice : the Obelisk Arena (main stage). Hanging on to meet Adam Kay made me late for Wolf Alice, so they were well into their stride when I arrived. And man, were they loud! The bass reached inside my chest and reaarranged some organs! Okay, so my hearing is going to hell in a hand-basket, but the subterranean bass emanating from Wolf Alice made me fear for the hearing of the children further forward than me, with no ear-defenders. But anyway. Ellie Rowsell made for an engaging front-woman in her floaty white damsel dress and loosely laced Doc's. The Jumbotrons at either side of the stage also revealed that Ellie was wearing a claddagh ring, but I couldn't remember whether the way she was wearing it meant she was in a relationship or looking for one. Either way, she was on fire, sitting on the edge of the stage for a quieter number, wigging out with the rest of the band for Giant Peach, in this, their first appearance on the main stage having debuted at Latitude five years earlier. Guitarist Joff Oddie worked his way through a series of seemingly identical Fender Jaguars, one of which he throttled rather than played. As Giant Peach faded out into a wall of looping feedback and blue lights, Rowsell picked up sweary bassist Theo Ellis and spun him around - Wolf Alice's work was done. Awesome.
  • Gabrielle Aplin : BBC Music stage. I arrived at the second stage just in time to see Aplin perform her breakout track, the former Christmas ad-soundtracking cover of Frankie's The Power Of Love. It was an undeniably powerful performance, undiminished by familiarity, with Gabrielle spotlit from above. Meaning no disrespect to her more than capable band, this was a hard act to follow - for my money, Aplin is better suited to stripped back, solo songs rather than those with the full band treatment. This was well evidenced on set closer Fool's Love - a perfectly adequate track but it felt like Aplin was stretching, whereas her interpretation of others' songs seemed more relaxed.
  • Rob Kemp - The Elvis Dead : The Speakeasy. Headliners Alt-J weren't ever going to do it for me. I know. I'm an old man, with parochial music taste - you've got me, well done. Anyway, that's how I came to be in The Speakeasy for the end of my day at Latitude, watching comedian Rob Kemp dramatise scenes from The Evil Dead 2, by singing suitably lyric-changed versions of Elvis songs as clips from the movie played on a screen behind him. So "Devil In Disguise" became "Dead Eye In Disguise", and so on. You get the idea. It might sound odd, but it really works, and was very funny. A fine end to a hot, tiring day.

And that was that. Because I didn't stay for every note of the headliner, for once I had no problem getting out of the car-park and was home at a decent time. So what did I make of Latitude 2018? Is it still essential festival fare? Well... yes. I think so. It's a wonderful event, and the multi-media format, embracing books, film, theatre and more, as well as music, makes it stand out. Would I have liked a headliner that I felt compelled to see? Yes, of course. And would I have liked my hearing to be in better shape, to enjoy the louder bands without gig plugs? Again, of course. But I chose a Sunday ticket to see Sleeper, and they exceeded all expectations. I was also keen to get to know Wolf Alice better, and was bowled over by their performance. The bottom line is this - there is something for everyone, every day, at Latitude. It is impossible not to enjoy yourself there.

I'll leave you with a video or three.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

About the Moon

Because I expect a lot of people will be looking up at the Moon, somewhat wistfully, this time next year, I thought I'd get in twelve months early. And besides, it keeps the blog ticking over.

So, for this, the 49th anniversary of the first man on the lunar surface, here's a clip of one great man interviewing another.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

About the fifteenth of July

Guitarists, note how Bill has capo'ed his way half an octave up the neck, allowing him to sing this half an octave lower than normal. Sore throat, or artistic reasons? We shall never know. Either way, love this version.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

The morning after

So it wasn't to be, but well done to Gareth's boys. And they really are boys, in some cases, so young. Anyway, please beat Belgium and at least bring home the third place medal, and maybe a golden boot for Harry. Then (and more importantly) please don't let this be a false dawn - kick on and do well in Euro 2020.

Seems like a good time to play this - re-releases aside, surely New Order's last great single?

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Good luck lads

Number 1 when England lost their Euro '96 semi-final was Killing Me Softly by Fugees (yes, really - Three Lions was number 2 that week).

Number 1 when England lost their Italia '90 semi-final was the double A-side Sacrifice/Healing Hands by Elton John (yes, really - Nessun Dorma was number 2 that week, World In Motion was at 6).

So... here's the number 1 from 30th July 1966, when Jules Rimet really was still gleaming.

Good luck tonight, lads - hope you're not out of time come the final whistle.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

About Wimbledon

An early sporting memory to keep the blog ticking over...

As an aside, if you haven't seen it, Borg McEnroe is a very watchable film, dramatising the events leading up to the 1980 Wimbledon final. And for all the talk of bitter rivalry, fire and ice, and Mac effectively retiring Borg after beating him in the '81 final, it's worth remembering that when John came to get married in 1986, Björn was his best man...

Friday, 6 July 2018

In case it doesn't come home...

...which, given that I rate us the seventh or eighth best team left in the tournament, is entirely feasible ... I mean, tomorrow, we're playing a well-organised, defensive side who have only conceded one goal in the whole tournament thus far, and we haven't scored too much that wasn't from the penalty spot or a deflection, and certainly not against any teams of note ... but anyway, of course it's nice to have something positive to think about, something that isn't Brexit, or an impotent Prime Minister, or perma-tanned balding man-babies with nuclear buttons, or overpopulation, or deforestation, or global warming, or species extinction, or - well, the list goes on. Just try to maintain some objectivity, England, that's all - be hopeful but don't be optimistic. And certainly don't be confident.

And since you probably won't be needing to watch the final on Sunday 15th, you might conceivably be looking for something else to peruse instead. Something a bit gentler, maybe comedic, to lift your post-footy mood, maybe a bit blokey, to blur the edges of the testosterone void the inevitable departure from the World Cup has left. So let me point you towards the hidden gem that is Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing, in which Bob Mortimer (triple heart bypass) and Paul Whitehouse (three stents) discuss life, mortality and cardiac problems, whilst Paul teaches Bob to fish at numerous beautiful locations in the British Isles. Unscripted, unsentimental, somewhat unplanned and very, very watchable. Here's the trailer, which explains the premise better than I.

And a clip from episode 2, in which novice Bob catches a bigger barbel than the experienced Paul.

I should add that you need no great interest in, or love for, fishing to enjoy this. I've been fishing a few times, in my younger day, with The Man Of Cheese, but that's the limit of my knowledge. But I still enjoy this. It's about friendship, you see, and growing older, and seeing the world through a different lens, and still being able to laugh with your mate about everything. And I'm all in favour of that.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #16 - if Black Sabbath covered "Bits And Pieces"...

The sixteenth contributor to this series is C, from the always-excellent Sun Dried Sparrows, and is written with all the thought and detail that makes her blog so compelling. As you will see...

My line of thought started when I saw a clip of the Dave Clark Five doing "Bits And Pieces" on something the other day. Ugh, I hate that song. It really grates. I mean, he’s in bits – he’s in pieces, for Chrissakes, because he’s been dumped -and yet the song is all bouncy and happy and singalong. Maybe it’s just his way of combatting the rejection blues but she went away and left him misery, and that’s the way it will always be, now she says it was just a game but all she’s doin’ is leavin’ him pain. And there they are on "Top Of The Pops" swaying cheerily from side to side like those nodding plastic flower things that go nuts in the sun when you put them on your window sill. (I understand the official term for this item is a Flip Flap. Good to know.) The Dave Clark Five sound, and look, more glad all over than in pieces, bits and pieces.


Too glad all over

Thus I started thinking how this song really ought to be a little more maudlin-sounding, surely. Slowed down a little, and played in a minor key. How much would that change it? So, here’s my challenge to you – think of something a teensy bit sad now, and as you start to choke up slightly (sorry), bring the tune and mood of the Funeral March to mind.


Ashes to ashes (not that one)

Okay, once you’ve got that feel, and that general musical vibe going on, try singing these two lines from "Bits And Pieces" at half speed, in the same note pattern as by the Dave Clark Five but much more plaintively. "Since you left me and you said goodbye, all I do is sit and cry." Now, tell me that that couplet in your head, once phrased in this dirge-like manner, doesn’t sound just like Ozzy Osbourne? The limited vocal expression and switching to a minor key would suit him so well, especially with the way the last syllables in each line are elongated into two – bi-iye and cri-iy. It would sound not unlike "Iron Man".


A bit Paranoid

I want, and need, to hear Black Sabbath cover "Bits And Pieces". It would be the perfect fit.

So what do you reckon? A very good argument, I reckon. And how surprised am I to have featured some Chopin on New Amusements? (Answer: not as much as I am to have featured Black Sabbath...)

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Amusecast 8 - something for everyone no-one

You know how it is, you wait months for one of these and then two come along in a matter of weeks... and now with added cross-fading (with some occasions more successful than others).

Anyway, you know the drill - one side of a C90 (ish), and another Moz substitute. Oh, and some ICA-ready Kylie, given how much love there was for her at the start of the month. Oh, and a cover of a much-loved TV theme, for Rol.

Tracklisting

  1. Kylie Minogue - Slow (Chemical Brothers remix)
  2. Mansun - Take It Easy, Chicken
  3. The James Taylor Quartet - Theme from Starsky and Hutch
  4. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Home
  5. Echobelly - Dark Therapy (specially recorded new version)
  6. Codeine Velvet Club - I Am The Resurrection
  7. The Stone Roses - Standing Here
  8. Teenage Fanclub - Everything Flows
  9. Gene - Nice (Let Me Rest demo)

Rather have 'em as a download? Here you go.

All Amusecast posts

Thursday, 28 June 2018

About screen time

One Sunday, when I was about 13 or 14, I spent five and a half hours playing a single game of this, on the way to my personal high score of over 9 million.

Five and a half hours. I seem to recall my Sunday lunch getting cold because, you know, high scores... and my parents understood (on that occasion, at least). There were no warnings about too much screen time in the 80s, beyond a half-hearted "you'll get square eyes"...

Monday, 25 June 2018

About celebrity

For reasons that I haven't been able to identify, but possibly to compete with the boxset-heaviness of commercial streaming services, the Beeb have currently loaded up all thirteen instalments of Ricky Gervais's "how's he going to follow The Office" series Extras. And lucky us, I say. For whilst Ricky will probably never fully escape the long shadows cast by David Brent and Wernham-Hogg, Extras is, for my money, a better piece of work. Love him or loathe him (he is a bit of a Marmite figure), I don't think Gervais has ever written anything better, more insightful, more satirical, more honest, than this scene: Andy Millman's Big Brother soliloquy on the nature of modern celebrity, from the final episode, 2007's feature-length Christmas special.

Friday, 22 June 2018

About CDs

I was genuinely excited when CDs were introduced. Technology and music, two things I have always been passionate about, coming together. What was not to like?

I wasn't one of the vinyl purists who bemoaned the lack of surface noise, the compression, the benefits of analogue. By contrast, as someone whose music collection included an unhealthy amount of cassette tape, I wasn't just ready for the new format, I was desperate for it.

Before I bought the hi-fi featured yesterday, my first CD player was a Philips D6800 portable effort, the size of a fairly substantial hardback book and soon prone to skipping. Having bought that in an Argos sale, I was ready to buy some actual CDs. And my first foray into this shiny new world was at a now-defunct shop with the awful-in-retrospect name of See These CDs. I bought not one, but two, blowing £28 in the process. And these are what I bought. Yes, these are my first CD purchases, photographed on the dining table this morning some 28 years later. Brand new, these two would set me back £12 now...

Both excellent, still. Here's a track from each.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

(Another) Throwback Thursday

My first stab at a proper hi-fi, the Sony XO-D501CDM, brought brand new at a third of retail price (which was £479.99, back in the long hot summer of 1990). Before this, I'd had a little Philips stereo with twin cassette, radio and a very tinny turntable, plus speakers that would almost qualify as bookshelf. But this Sony had a decent turntable, a stereo equalizer, Dolby NR, auto-reverse and... whisper it quietly, a five-disc CD player. Oh, and surprisingly excellent speakers.

I should point out that this isn't my actual XO-D501CDM, I found the pic online. No, my XO-D501CDM was sold to The Man Of Cheese when I upgraded, four years later, to audiophile hi-fi separates, in much the same way that my parents took the Philips off me when I bought the Sony. It did many years of service for The Man Of Cheese, as I recall - indeed, he had it for a lot longer than I did, in the end.

Anyway, maybe it's my age but this is what a stereo should look like, and I wish I still had those speakers. What was your first set-up?

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Amusecast - episode 7

I know, I know, I'm not supposed to be blogging but it seems I can hardly keep away. Besides, I haven't done one of these since January, so... Anyway, you know the drill. One side of a C90. For once, I haven't included any Morrissey - see if you can spot my Moz surrogate(s).

Tracklisting

  1. The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy - Television, The Drug Of A Nation
  2. Cypress Hill - Insane In The Brain
  3. Beastie Boys - Intergalactic
  4. Beck - Devil's Haircut
  5. DNA featuring Suzanne Vega - Tom's Diner
  6. Blur - Popscene
  7. The Strokes - Reptilia
  8. The Libertines - Can't Stand Me Now
  9. The Dears - Lost In The Plot
  10. The Holiday Crowd - While She Waits
  11. The Sundays - Skin And Bones

Rather have that lot as a download? Don't say I don't spoil you.

Monday, 18 June 2018

About referrals... and The Beths

Apologies if you've read about The Beths today already, courtesy of the none-finer blog Plain Or Pan (and if you don't already subscribe to, or at least read, Craig's blog, why not? It is uniformly excellent).

Anyway, The Beths hail from New Zealand and, to my mind, sound a bit like Sleeper would have sounded if Louise Wener sang in a slightly higher register (and with a Kiwi accent). Or, Craig describes them thus: "Mercurial, quicksilver guitar riffs are tight and taut, wrapped around the melodies as snug as a straightjacket, the only sloppiness on show being intended rather than unavoidable." See, I told you he's an ace blogger.

Since I can't top that, and anyway am supposed to be taking a break from blogging, I'll leave it there and just share the title track from The Beths' forthcoming album, Future Me Hates You, instead. Enjoy.

Friday, 15 June 2018

About Jim Rockford

As Julius Caesar might say if he was around in this online age, "I found, I liked, I shared." From another televisual staple of my youth, a great (and distinctive) device for characterising the protagonist...

Thursday, 14 June 2018

About Robbie

So, another World Cup post, already. Sorry.

Young Robert Williams of Blighty performed at the opening ceremony, and look what he did with his backing band's drum kit:

Yes, that's an attempt at "RW" in Russia's Cyrillic alphabet. But I did Russian at school, and can tell you that Я is pronounced "yar" (and is the Russian for "I") and that Щ, far from being a W, is actually pronounced "shch" (like in Ashchurch or fresh cheese, as we were taught).

So what Rob is actually saying to the watching Russian masses is yarshch. Nice work

Of course, his actual initials would prove harder in Russian, especially for the rest of the world watching on TV. The Russian R is actually П. And W? Russian doesn't even have a W. So maybe he should have approximated to Robbie Villiams, with a Russian V which is В. In other words, his drum kit should look like:

But I guess that doesn't say, "Hey, Robbie's in Russia" to a global audience in quite the same way.

Enjoy the footy, kids.

About the World Cup

Unless you are Tommy, and deprived of all your senses, you cannot fail to have noticed that the World Cup starts today. Or, as Harry Kane clarified in his first press conference after being named captain, "the biggest competition in the world." Brilliant. Our nation's sporting leader comprehends the meaning of the words "world" and "cup". How can we fail?

Speaking of hubris, "Scotland 78: A Love Story" is available on the iPlayer for another 22 days, and is worth an hour of anyone's time, assuming anyone is interested in either the beautiful game or how we used to live. It also includes this goal, beloved of Renton in Trainspotting:

As for this year's cup, I've got Belgium in one sweepstake (woohoo) and Egypt in another (er, get fit, Mo Salah...)

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

About Charlize

I know it's unlikely but in my head the wonderful Charlize Theron has turned her back on the film-star life and is now growing tomatoes in Yorkshire for Waitrose...

Friday, 8 June 2018

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

About the sincerest form of flattery

Gavin may be heavily influenced by a certain Sir William Bragg of Barking. This may even border on a pastiche of Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards. But I don't care, I still love it. And hey, it keeps the blog ticking over...

Friday, 1 June 2018

Fifty? And other pauses for thought...

I haven't been blogging much of late but I can't let this pass: Kylie Minogue turned 50 on Monday.

I'll just that let sink in. It doesn't seem possible, does it? Mainly because if you're about my age, i.e. you were at secondary school in the era of peak Neighbours, you probably feel, as I do, that you've sort of grown up with Kylie. Okay, so she's wearing better than most of us, and has achieved more than most of us too, but you get what I'm saying, right? And so to acknowledge that she, the perennial sweetheart, the eternal fantasy girl next door, is not just a woman but a middle-aged woman now embarking on her sixth decade, well, that is also to acknowledge that we (by which I mean I) am getting old too.

Time is short, and I've wasted a lot of it lately, not least on lazy blog posts (a bit like this one) that amounted to little more than a couple of trite paragraphs and a YouTube embed. Yet at the same time, I would tell anyone who cared to ask (and ask they still do, though decreasingly) that my fiction writing would be going great guns if only I had more time. Hence a bit of a rethink all round at New Amusements Towers... time to get busy livin'. And, for what it's worth, I have been writing, these past few weeks.

But back to Kylie. I'm no great fan of her music, aside from one or two tracks, and am fairly ambivalent about her acting, I've just always been a fan of her. At various times in my life she has been a poster on my wall (this one, seemingly now quite rare), an early mobile phone wallpaper (this pic), and a memorable gig in a now sadly defunct venue, tickets bought by an ex who got tired of me referring to Kylie as "the future wife". The ex is long, long gone... but Kylie, she's always been around. And now she's 50 and promoting an album that I won't buy called Golden (presumably because that's what a 50th anniversary is). As ever, I found the singles to be inoffensive but not something I would choose to listen to, ordinarily. But then, one evening, I heard Jo Whiley play this album track, and I rather liked it. You might too.

And check out the changes with this GIFfy Instagram post which, if nothing else, keeps the blog ticking over...

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Throwback Thursday

The best Walkman I ever owned. And still own. The Sony WM-DD33 is brilliant, not only in terms of sound but also for keeping the blog ticking over...

Saturday, 19 May 2018

About royals and weddings

The picture quality isn't the best but, regardless, I'll just leave this here.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Around all our necks

Look, I know I'm taking a bit of time off active blogging at the moment, but I saw this today and had to share it. I'll be brief.

The perils of our plastic planet are finally, and rightly, big news at the moment. People are waking up to the fact that, if we carry on like we are, we'll all be literally swimming in the stuff before we know it. Last weekend, a leading (if awful) national newspaper had Kirsty Allsopp on the front page of their colour supplement, launching a campaign to get us all to reduce our consumption of plastics. And that's fine, as far as it goes. I've nothing against Kirsty Allsopp (apart from her taste in newspapers). But this is much harder hitting than a picture of Kirsty tearing a hole in a plastic bag.

Sorry if it's hard to watch in places, but we all need to see this. Besides, it's less than four minutes long, so humour me.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Ticking over

Another staple from my childhood, always watched however often repeated. This is the episode I remember in adulthood, 40-odd years later, so I was delighted to find it on YouTube. It's like M.C. Escher took a temp job with DePatie-Freleng. And so many sight gags - oh, the bit where he falls down the stairs... Plus that incidental music (unlike the main theme, not the work of Henry Mancini but one Walter Greene)...

Seldom does anything I post here get read or commented on unless it's music-related but humour me, this is worth six minutes of anyone's time. Plus it keeps the blog ticking over, so...

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

When the familiar is unfamiliar...

Here's Vicario en un TutĂș by the unexpectedly excellent Mexrrissey. It took a bit of getting used to, not just for this boy but the whole crowd, I'd say. But by halfway through their La Raina esta muerta set everyone was won over and the crowd were singing along, albeit in English rather than Spanish.

The band rotated instruments quite a bit (can't think of many bands where the lead guitarist also plays the drums), and shared vocal duties. Here, keyboard player Ceci Bastida took to the mic.

Mexrrissey: the -rrissey it's still uncontroversial to like. See them if you get the chance.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Some May Day serendipity

Surprising what you find when you're looking for something else... for instance, this YouTube clip, which nicely illustrates three things:

  1. Why a good proportion of people took against its host
  2. That, because of or despite Evans, TFI was a unique piece of television, and is much missed
  3. And mostly, that Louise Wener was, is and ever shall be lovely, and an indie boy's dream

Happy May Day to you.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Don't call this a comeback

So, Abba have recorded some new material, Here's a clip from BBC News discussing it, that'll make you either warm to Lizo Mzimba more or want to give him a shake:

Anyhow, the news that two new Abba songs have been recorded will fill fans with joy. The news that they are embarking on an "avatar tour" (i.e. no actual embarking will be required) will do likewise. Critics and music snobs will sneer, deriding both as a cynical cash-in and pouring scorn on the music, labelling it kitsch, or lame, or clichéd, or all of the above. I won't be going to the avatar tour, but I will be listening out for those two new songs. They really had something, those four: Benny and Björn knew their way around a tune better than just about anyone, and Agnetha and Frida's harmonies, oft-imitated but seldom bettered, still sound fresh. Everyone knows and loves (even openly, or grudgingly) break-up masterclass The Winner Takes It All, but from 1976 (i.e. before they started actually breaking up with each other), here's another slice of melodic heartbreak that you might not be so familiar with. (Note how Agnetha is clearly straining to hear the start of the backing track for this mimed performance on Polish TV - she doesn't want to miss her cue, Gene Pitney style.)

P.S. The title for this post comes Mama Said Knock You Out, from the none-less-Abba LL Cool J. That's a good song too.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Helter ... Skelton

Last month, I sat down to watch a bit of biennial charity panjandrum Sport Relief on the Beeb. I was particularly keen to watch the celebrity boxing, as they hadn't run that for a good while.

The men's bout was between retired pro footballer Wayne Bridge and a reality star I'd never heard of (Spencer Matthews), and was a proper tear-up. Matthews had boxed before, and it showed, but Bridge was stronger, had trained harder and was much, much fitter. He was a clear and deserving winner.

The second women's bout was between Hannah Spearitt (yes, her out of S Club 7) and Vanessa White (yes, her out of The Saturdays). There wasn't too much in that, to be honest, though you might argue that youth told, with White the clear winner. Neither looked like much of a boxer but they gave it a good go, and hey, getting hit in the face for charity - fair play to them both.

But the first women's bout, between former Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton and another reality star, Camilla Thurlow, was, like the men's bout, a proper contest. Both women had clearly trained hard and it showed, in terms of basic technique and also cardiovascular fitness. But only one looked like a boxer, in terms of how she moved and, in particular, how she snapped out an excellent jab. It will have come as no surprise to anyone who remembered Helen's past Sport Relief endeavours (solo kayaking the length of the Amazon, and setting a load of records in the process, and tightrope-walking between the towers of Battersea Power Station) to see Skelton triumph in clear and unanimous fashion. She was, it must be said, pretty awesome.

And my point with all this? Just like, last month, I started (and then couldn't stop) deliberately mis-singing the lyrics of Soft Cell's Bedsitter, now I'm re-writing the chorus of an old Beatles number. All together now, Helen Skelton, bah dah dah dah da-da-dah, Helen Skelton....

Donate to Sport Relief here, if you like.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Overlooked

Unfairly but understandably, Cinerama were often overlooked by a large proportion of Wedding Present fans who just wanted Gedge to get back to doing what he's always done best - laying kitchen sink heartbreak over jangly guitars. For a long time, I was part of that large proportion; I could appreciate the Cinerama recordings but I pined for what had gone before.

Eventually, I came to realise that Gedge was still doing what he did best - the kitchen sink heartbreak - but was just painting it on a different musical canvas.

Don't get me wrong, I will always choose TWP over Cinerama, but that doesn't mean the latter isn't great. I mean - just have a listen to this:

Increase the amount of Cinerama in your life here.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #15 - if Liam Gallagher covered "Arnold Layne"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...(please)...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

In the continued absence of any new suggestions from readers, the fifteenth contributor to this series is me, again. Sorry. With pre-emptive apologies to Rol for the Oasis content...

After hearing it used over the closing credits of an episode of Electric Dreams, I went looking for the full version of Octopus by Syd Barrett and ended up listening to a fair bit of early Pink Floyd too. This, as regular readers might have already guessed, is not my usual bag. But it did occur to me, whilst listening to the Floyd's debut single, that it might be well suited to someone else who isn't my usual bag either. From 1967, here's Arnold Layne by Pink Floyd, written by the crazy diamond himself, Syd Barrett.


Not pictured: inflatable pigs, marching hammers

Now I'm no fan of the mono-browed Mancunian chancer but is is just me that can imagine Liam Gallagher, in full on "sunshiiiiine" mode, singing about Arnold Layne (or Layyyyyyne, perhaps)?


Sunshine boy

And the lyrics ("Moonshine, washing line" and "See through, baby blue") would fit well, I think, with the moon, June and coffee spoons approach of a Liam lyric (or an unassisted Liam lyric, at least).


Moon, June, coffee spoon

So hear I am, advocating a cover by someone I don't much like, of a unrepresentative track by a band I'm not fussed about. Surprise! But I think it would work. What about you?

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good (he said, modestly)? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Friday, 20 April 2018

The prof's off

I'm not an Arsenal fan but my old man's a Gooner, so I always look out for their results and want them to do well. They're currently sixth (albeit a distant sixth) in the Premier League, and into the semi-final of the Europa League (which offers a route back into the lucrative Champions' League for the winner). But all that, and 22 years of service, is not enough to save Arsène Wenger who, I have just read, will be leaving the Gunners at the end of the season, a year before his contract is due to end.

This makes me sad for a number of reasons; firstly, I don't like to see anyone who is competent and successful and long-serving be rewarded with the sack; secondly, Arsène brought a philosophy and a style of play to English football that was much needed, and subsequently much imitated; thirdly, this poly-lingual and deep-thinking man also brought some culture and intelligence to the domestic game, a game where most players and pundits struggle with adverbs; and finally, Piers Morgan wanted Wenger out, which is always a reason for wanting him to stay, in my book.

No-one comes to this blog for sports reportage, so I'll keep this brief and (somehow) try to limit the footy content, but here are some clips for Arsène (and my dad). I think, like Man U after Fergie left, Arsenal can expect things to get worse before they start to get better.

Monday, 16 April 2018

About the cold earth

Since you ask, Frank...

Resisting the temptation to write about Syria, and Trump's playground posturing, because, well ... there's enough coverage of that already.

So instead, I'm going to pretend I'm on Room 101 and the always-excellent Frank Skinner is asking me what I'd condemn. And so, in no particular order and with as little exposition as possible, these are some things I could do without:

  • People applauding themselves on television shows
  • Saying "I'm good" when asked how they are, instead of "I'm well" or "I'm fine" or something else less linguistically shoddy (I do this myself sometimes, and ratchet up my self-loathing every time)
  • Tattoos. Enough with tattoos. It'll be no good asking the NHS for laser removal in twenty years time.
  • Hugs that are not hugs

To continue the Room 101 theme, here's Frank talking to Richard Ayoade, just because.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #14 - if Morrissey covered "Perfect"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Our fourteenth contributor is Rigid Digit, who suggests an entirely plausible cover with an even more plausible backstory. Rigid Digit writes:

Wanting to re-live the early 90s, and to wind up Boz Boorer, and not content with knackering (or improving upon, depends which day it is) The Jam's That's Entertainment, Professional Grump and Wind Up Merchant calls Mark E Nevin back to his band.


The least knackered version I could find

Aware that Nevin has been trying to distance himself from his biggest hit, Moz walks into the studio and announces: "We're doing Perfect, and I've locked the door so no-one is leaving".


Nevin's biggest hit

27 takes later, a damn near perfect Billy Fury intoned, heavy rock-a-billy-on-speed version is complete.


Rockabilly Moz

Now that is excellent. Morrissey, in the unlikely event that you're reading this (I know, hold on to your sides), go and cover this, right now! All together now, "I don't want half-hearted love affairs." Perfect, indeed.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Together in Electric Dreams

In the wake of Black Mirror's success, TV stations the world over scrambled for their own dystopian and/or speculative fiction series. Something to become the next boxset must-see. No doubt some of these series hit the mark. Others, like Netflix's Electric Dreams, ought to have done but somehow didn't. The pedigree - all based on Philip K. Dick stories - was there but something was amiss (and not just the abysmal title sequence, which feels like something that any half-decent 90s show would have rejected). I've watched a fair few of them (though not all, far from it), and can confirm that it's very hit and miss. A recurring problem seems to be that they are reaching for big stories, big messages, yet all in 60 minutes. Or 48, once you allow for adverts.

But there is one episode you must watch. It's from the first series (I will not call is Season 1) and stars Timothy Spall as downtrodden rail worker Ed. Called "The Commuter", it is set in present-day small-town England (Woking, as it goes) and ... well, I don't want give anything away but it is utterly excellent, managing to convey something quite powerful about love, loss, family, fear and fatherhood. Oh, and an ambiguous ending to boot. Yes, all in 48 minutes.

If you only watch one episode of Electric Dreams, make it this one. It's available right now, free and gratis, on Channel 4's catch-up service All4, right here. Hurry.

Fantasy Cover Version #13 - if Roger Whittaker covered "Supersonic"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Thirteenth guest Cassidy suggests something here that, at first, I thought might be an elaborate April Fool but then he sent it on the 31st March... and besides, once you start hearing this, it works its way into your head and becomes not just plausible but credible. See what you think. Cassidy writes:

This may be a little too close to FCV #12 but here goes... Many years ago, in the early days of Oasis, I was playing Supersonic on guitar.

When it came to the post chorus guitar riff instead of playing it on the guitar I started to whistle it. This immediately took me back to my childhood and the sound of Roger Whittaker's whistling.

And so for the next couple of hours I was Roger, singing, playing and whistling a variety of early Oasis songs. But none of them matched the magic of Supersonic. So that is my suggestion for FCV, Roger Whittaker covering Supersonic by Oasis.

As someone who appreciates a good whistle, this works for me. How about you? And thanks, Cassidy.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #12 - if Roy Orbison covered "Some Candy Talking"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Twelfth guest contributor Davy, from the late lamented blog The Ghost Of Electricity. I should explain that the excellent suggestion is Davy's - the waffly, explanatory wrap around it is mine. Davy's suggestion is this:

What if Roy Orbison covered The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Some Candy Talking". Here's the original..

For starters, how easy is it to imagine The Big O strumming those opening bars on a big old Gretsch? Pretty easy, I reckon. Then throw in the fact that his mid-90s album Covers clearly demonstrates an affinity for reinterpreting others' material, and the evidence is mounting. And if that wasn't enough, consider his rather more famous cover (yes, I know it was originally written for him, but who recorded it first, Roy or Cyndi?) of a more contemporary song, I Drove All Night:

Clock that "uh-huh, yeah" at about 28 seconds in and tell me you can't imagine Roy delivering Jim Reid's words? And while you're at it, tell me those ascending chords wouldn't suit him down to the ground, as would the classic four chord structure. Tailor-made for The Big O.

Works for me, Davy. After all, it's clearly a song that lends itself to a decent cover version, as ably demonstrated by Richard Hawley.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Good guys, bad guys, plausibility, likeability

Television, the drug of a nation. And with on-demand services like iPlayer, which is how I watch the vast majority of my television these days, the next hit is never more than a couple of clicks away.

I want to talk about three programmes that I've watched this year, all loosely bracketed in the crime/thriller genre.

The first is Strike, the Beeb's adaptation of J. K. Rowling's foray into adult fiction (as Robert Galbraith). If you're unfamiliar, these stories concern ex military policeman Cormoran Strike who, after losing a leg on a tour of duty, sets up as a private investigator. He takes on a temp to help with admin and she ends up becoming his sidekick. He's rugged and a bit maverick and, no doubt, flutters the hearts of a few ladies. She's bright and funny and pretty, and all the rest. There's a bit of a will they/won't they subtext, even though she's engaged to be married to someone the polar opposite of Strike. Oh, and did I mention Cormoran's dad was a bona fide rock star?

In other words, it's slightly nonsense. Now don't get me wrong, I watched both parts of this story, as I watched the previous series last year. And its not because I've read the books (I haven't) or that I'm a rabid Rowling fan (I'm not). But here's the thing - although the whole premise stretches plausibility to the limit, it's an enjoyable show. In fact, it feels like the sort of show that used to get made in the 80s, you know, that was a bit far fetched but that didn't matter because ultimately the good guys all come out on top and manage to look good on screen in the process. Despite the attempts at grittiness (and this is a post-watershed programme, if that still means anything), you know what you're going to get when you sit down to watch Strike. It's not plausible, but it wins because it is likeable.

Compare this to recent four-parter Collateral, on BBC2. With its star-studded cast (Carey Mulligan, John Simm, Nicola Walker, Billie Piper) and lauded writer (David Hare), this looked a sure thing before it even hit the screen. It's people-trafficking plot could not have been more timely, nor could its many sub-plots (political parties and the media, asylum seekers and detention centres, church attitudes to homosexuality, and more - they squeezed a lot into four hours). It ought to have been brilliant, it really ought. And yet... and yet. Did I mention that DI Kate Glaspie (Mulligan) used to be an elite athlete? And not just any old discipline, oh no, but a more niche event - she was a pole vaulter whose career, you guessed it, ended in a very public failure and humiliation. At this, my plausibility sense was already tingling. But worse was to come, for this was a(nother) gritty drama, and so, of course, Glaspie said "fuck" a lot. And I didn't buy it. That word, coming forcefully out of Mulligan's mouth, just didn't work. It felt like a stretch for credibility, a grasp at authenticity, yet each time it happened I felt like Mulligan had never sworn in her life before. Remember that time, at school, when kids decided that swearing a lot made themselves seem hard/cool? That's what this felt like, every time. Oh, and did I mention this is Glaspie's first big case? And she's pregnant?

Of course, Collateral was still a fine drama, and I watched all four episodes in their entirety. But it wasn't great and, as far as I could tell, generated no water-cooler discussions in the workplace. And part of the reason, I think, is that it was hard to root for anyone, even the heroes. Pretty much everyone in the programme was flawed and most, with the possible exception of Nicola Walker's vicar, strayed the wrong side of likeable too often. So well made, yes, well acted (for the most part, though reluctantly I must add that the normally excellent Mulligan seemed on autopilot to this reviewer), and with a multi-layered plot, this was decent television. But it didn't feel plausible and was hard to like. A shame, I think.

All of which brings us to the third programme in this little tryptich. McMafia told the story of Alex Godman, Russian born but raised in Britain, devoted family man, loving partner to English rose Rebecca, and successful city banker. A conventional good guy. Yet when his uncle was murdered by Russian gangsters, Alex risked everything in his quest for vengeance: his business, his family, his fiancée... Over the course of eight tense episodes (and it was a tension that rarely let up), Alex left his legitimate life behind, crossed line after line (sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally) and became the thing he reviled ... and this was deftly handled by creators Hossein Amini and James Watkins. Alex's metamorphosis from good guy to bad guy was gradual and understandable such that, even at the end, when that change was complete, you stilled root for him - you still wanted him to succeed. An anti-hero is still a hero, after all.

The plot, and numerous sub-plots, again felt timely and relevant. Russians who exploited the fall of the Soviet Union to get rich quickly by any means now bestriding the globe, to all intents and purposes as legitimate businessman, all the while running multi-million dollar criminal enterprises? That seemed plausible to me. Ordering hits on ex-pat Russians living new lives in the West? That seemed pretty plausible too. Corruption between Russian police, politicians and gangsters? Plausible. In fact, it all felt nailed on - a drama for our times. And all with a hero who treads the line between good and bad, yet remains likeable.

These programmes have all been good. All from the BBC too - aren't we lucky to have it? And if it sounds like I didn't enjoy Collateral, and re-reading this I can see how it might, well, let me clarify and say that is was good. But scriptwriters, take note for that crime/thriller project you're drafting: make it plausible, or likeable, or (preferably) both. Because, to summarise: implausible but likeable Strike, that's one to watch again, next time it's on, either repeats or a new series; implausible and unlikeable Collateral, whilst good, was consigned to BBC2 for a reason, despite all those star names (and scheduled against another John Simm drama on ITV); and plausible, likeable McMafia? That's one for the boxset collection.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Brexitland

The recent news that Soft Cell are to reunite for one night only at the O2 (or that they require a pension top-up, some might say), has given me cause to dig out their out career retrospective, Memorabilia. And it's terrific, of course - you forget how great they were.

Slight problem - I can't get Bedsitter out of my head now, except that some part of my subconscious that has been saturated by too much political coverage for the last two years insists on substituting the word Brexitland into the chorus. All together now:

Dancing, laughing, drinking, loving. And now I'm all alone in Brexitland, my only home...

Which might be funny if I wasn't such a Remainer...

Great video too - love the underground shots at the start, the London streets, the coin-op phone box, the bottle of Quink ink (Royal Blue, of course). How we used to live, etc.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Great moments in music video history #2 - Smack My Bitch Up (NSFW)

The second in a very occasional series, and my first post in 13+ years of blogging to require a NSFW warning (hence posting it at the weekend when, presumably, most of you aren't at work).

Today's great moment in music video history is the obvious one, coming, as it does, from the promo to accompany The Prodigy's 1997 single Smack My Bitch Up. It got to number eight in the UK chart and, aside from Firestarter, was their only single to crack the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. So it must have been doing something right. For me, it's not their finest hour but the video... well, even 21 years down the line, it's a powerful four and a half minutes of anyone's time. Sex, drugs, violence and a terribly messed-up protagonist, this has all of that. And it's still sufficiently shocking, a generation later, to be hard to find on YouTube. No doubt it violates their terms of service, or some such. Thank goodness for Vimeo, then.

In the very unlikely event that there is someone out there reading this who doesn't know the big reveal, I won't spoil it by saying what happens at 4m20s, other than that the video rewards a second watch, to spot all the clues. But I repeat, NSFW. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Pow!

Fine and dandy, indeed. Not what I was hoping to find, when I went Googling, but how could I not post it?

Anyway, this is all the excuse I need for...