Friday 27 March 2015

Clandestine Classic XL - Bivouac

In The Red by The Panic Brothers
The fortieth post (count 'em!) 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.

I haven't done one of these for a while. By definition, it's getting harder and harder to think of songs that fit all the criteria - I have to think it's terrific but at the same time the chances of you being familiar with the song have to be low. A tough balancing act to get right but one I think, with today's offering, I've nailed. You haven't heard of The Panic Brothers, have you? Right, good. Let's press on then.

Not actually brothers, Reg Meuross and Richard Morton were, by the mid Eighties, a couple of ex-punks with a penchant for close, Everly-style harmonies and humourous lyrics. The humour was often, though not always, misleading, as these lyrics frequently dealt with the preoccupations of the poor in Thatcher's Britain: being on the dole, being in debt, struggling to pay the rent on a fleapit, dodging the repo man, that kind of thing. When I first saw The Panic Brothers, they had just released their 1987 album In The Red and were supporting Lenny Henry on his stand-up tour. As I recall, the other support act were the excellent Mint Juleps. On the strength of going to see Lenny live at Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre with a couple of mates, I asked for In The Red for my birthday. In those pre-Internet days, this would not have been an easy find, but my big brother duly delivered. He was heavily into Crass at the time, God help him, and apparently the guy behind the counter at Richard's Records (now extinct, sadly - the shop, not the guy) remarked to my brother that this wasn't his usual kind of thing. "It's for my little brother," enabled my bro to maintain his record-shop reputation.

Anyway, today's Classic. I could have chosen any of the tracks from In The Red, such is the uniformly high quality of the songs, the wit and guile of the lyrics, and of course the excellence of those post-punk Everly harmonies. It's a great album, short and sharp (most of the tracks are in the two to three minute range). But I've chosen the song that is most embedded in my memory, whose lyrics I can still sing in their entirety despite not having played In The Red for more years than I care to mention. It's Bivouac, an ode to living in a dump and barely being able to afford even that. Yes, it's funny but to dismiss the Panics as a novelty or comedy act is so far off the mark. This is as much a political song as it is humourous and, sadly, the themes that made this relevant in the Eighties still apply today.

Post-Panic, Reg went on to establish himself as a highly-regarded folk act, whilst Richard pursued comedy and was a founder member of the Comedy Store’s topical Cutting Edge show. For me though, they will always be better together, so imagine my delight on discovering The Panic Brothers reunited for a handful of gigs last year, and apparently have more dates planned this year. They're on Twitter too, if that's your bag. Best of all, they've re-released the tracks from In The Red, with a couple of bonus extras, on shiny CD. You can, and should, buy it here.

As for me, I'll hang on to my vinyl Panic, and leave you with Bivouac, courtesy of YouTube. Enjoy.

Footnote (1): Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, which is quite possible, I'm pretty sure that Richard Morton, post-Panic, appeared on the Royal Variety Performance and did a song entitled Daddy Was A Sperm Bank, He Came On My Account. Possibly not his finest hour.

Footnote (2): Like Ant and Dec, Reg and Rich always (well, not quite always, but nearly) stand the same way around, Reg on the left, Rich on the right, as you look at them. A bit like me and The Man Of Cheese when we're playing a quiz or fruit machine... The exception, for Rich and Reg, is the sleeve art for In The Red.

Thursday 5 March 2015

It must be fun to write headlines

I would very much like to see Misery on stage. I even think Bruce Willis could make a good fist of Paul Sheldon.

See what they did there?

Whatever you think of this though, you can surely only admire the Guardian's headline writers...?

Tuesday 3 March 2015

The third quarter

For reasons I won't bore you with, we are in the market for a second car. It's a pain, especially as we had taken a conscious decision in 2009 to be a one-car family. But needs must. The bottom line is that we're looking for something relatively cheap to buy, cheap to run and yet capable, should the need arise, of reliably making the occasional 300-mile round trip.

Mrs Amusements also wants the car to be "fun". As small-engined boxes for three grand often are, naturally.

Finding a car that fits the bill is proving tremendously difficult but that's not your concern, and the only reason I mention the subject is as an excuse to relate the following. I'd stopped to browse the forecourt of a local car dealer. Within a minute of my arrival, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared. With lit cigarette in hand. Minus one point straight away for that, but nevertheless I listened to his spiel. I explained what I was looking for and he steered me around what he thought met the criteria. When we came to a tidy but unremarkable Vauxhall Agila, Johnny Salesman said:

"These are very popular with middle-aged drivers because you sit a little higher up."

Am I to infer then that he viewed me as middle-aged? Now I had a cap on, because it was raining, and so he couldn't see how bald I am. In fact, the only obvious clue to my being the age I am (44, since you ask) is the amount of grey in my beard. Yet he, who I would estimate to be in his early sixties, placed me in the middle aged bracket without hesitation.

I was a little taken aback by this, and needless to say I won't be buying a car from him (quite apart from the age quip and the smoking throughout his pitch, he was oleaginous and his cars were over-priced). Bottom line though is I guess he's right. Wikipedia has a stab at defining middle age as:

"...around the third quarter of the average life span of human beings..."

Now bear with me whilst I get a bit boring: average life expectancy is a complex beast - it's no good just Googling it. You need to take into account the year you were born, the region you were born and live in, ethnicity, a whole host of factors. So let's keep it simple. Let's just say I can expect to live to 70. The third quarter of my life would begin at 35. Similarly, an age of 80 would imply the onset of middle age at 40. So, working backwards, to not be middle aged I would have to expect to live to 90... and even then, middle age would officially begin at my next birthday.

In other words, however much I kid myself, I'm getting old. I take some small measure of comfort in the fact that you are too.

Later that day, I found what I thought was a potential candidate in the great second car hunt: small, cheap to buy, cheap to run, a nice shade of blue, a few frivolous fripperies to lighten up the mere experience of being in the car. Daring to get excited at the prospect of finally ending the interminable search, I pointed it out to Mrs Amusements on the Auto Trader website.

"It's alright," she said, "except for the colour."

"What's wrong with the colour?" I asked.

"It's old-man-blue," came the reply.

Quod erat demonstrandum.