Sunday 24 July 2016

An update is required... are visits to somewhere in Africa, somewhere in South America and maybe, Putin permitting, Russia.

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Welcome Milwaukee visitors

If you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you're around my age. There's also a good chance that you grew up watching programmes like Happy Days on television and, later, Mork and Mindy. And even if you didn't catch them first time around, because the dearth of child-friendly programming led to endless repeats, you'll have seen them repeated many, many times (note: repeat, not re-run. Just like it's series, not season. That's how we do things here (and note: we do things, we don't roll. Unless pushed downhill)).

Anyway, back on track. Chances are your playground was full of boys going "Aaaayyyy" like the Fonz, maybe saying "Sit on it!" and, later, "Nanoo nanoo" and "Mork calling Orson." In later life, you may even have described something as "jumping the shark". All of these idioms have entered your life from these shows, so if you watched them, and maybe Laverne and Shirley too (which I enjoyed, even though it didn't make the trans-Atlantic crossing quite so fluently), you'll be sad to learn that the creator of all these great programmes, Garry Marshall, has died. Did you know that he also wrote for the excellent TV version of The Odd Couple? And went on to direct Julia-Roberts-powered blockbusters Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride? Learn all this and more from a fine obit, courtesy of the BBC.

All that classic TV... guess I'd better embed some videos. The obvious choice for most people blogging or tweeting about this will be something involving the Fonz and Happy Days, perhaps riffing on how this is a sad day. Or maybe some Mork and Mindy, showcasing the late lamented Robin Williams. I loved both these shows. But because I try to do different with this sorry excuse for a blog, here's the equally classic title sequence from Laverne and Shirley (ring any bells now?), followed by the excellent and affectionate parody of same from Wayne's World.

Monday 11 July 2016

Clandestine Classic XLVII - Dover Beach

The forty-seventh 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.

Today's song was a serendipitous find for me. I bought an album on a whim because I had a massive crush on the lead singer. Don't judge me - I was in my mid-teens. But what do you think about when I say "Bangles" to you? Manic Monday, I expect. Walk Like An Egyptian, quite possibly. Eternal Flame, too. Maybe you'd trot out your Bangles pop quiz fact about Manic Monday being written for them, under an alias, by Prince. All fine, and perfectly understandable. But before all that commercial success, there was another story and another kind of band. The Bangs, formed by Susanna Hoffs and sisters Vikki and Debbi Peterson, were a spiky post-punk trio with a penchant for harmony-led Sixties music. When guitarist Michael Steele joined she brought a whole lot of crunchy guitar riffs with her, and the band changed their name to the slightly more straightforward Bangles, a name that still played on their femininity but in a less double-entendre-prone way.

Commercial success was still a little way off though. Early EPs performed unspectacularly, and their debut LP, from which today's clandestine classic is drawn, hardly fared better. Released in 1984, All Over The Place showcased the prototype Bangles sound and style perfectly, with Rickenbacker guitars chiming over four-part harmonies and just a little bit of an edge... you know, the sort of edge that later gets sanded off by record labels in the quest for mainstream success. But this LP, together with appearances on TV shows like Rock and Roll Alternative (and let's now forget, this is the kind of show that R.E.M. were also doing at the time), led to the band supporting Heart and Huey Lewis and the News, and catching Prince's eye/ear. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today's classic is a perfect example of that 1984 sound and style I was rambling about. There are big, crunchy, open chords and deceptively simple riffs, even a nice solo. And even, once, the merest trace of feedback. It's not Eternal sodding Flame, is it? Vocally, it's a case of harmonies, harmonies, harmonies. I'm trying to think of another four-piece band who all sing and whose voices mesh as well, in the same greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts way, and I can only really think of Queen. That's high praise.

Lyrically, the song seems to me to be about lost love, specifically lost through bereavement. Witness the second verse: "Late last night you cried and I couldn't come to you. But on the other side, you and I, inseparable and walking." Okay, so it's not Morrissey, but it's not girl-band pap either. Anyway, I don't know if the ladies have been to Dover, probably not since it's hardly famous for its unremarkable beach, but since those words are not even mentioned in the lyrics, who cares? Maybe the lost love of the song chucked themselves off the rather-more-famous white cliffs. Who knows? If I ever meet Susanna, I'll ask her.

You can pick up All Over The Place on Amazon, and you really should because it's far better than you'd expect. Nothing will prise my vinyl copy away. In the meantime, here is today's clandestine classic. Enjoy.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

"Thank you for reaching out with us"

I'll write about the referendum soon, when I can decide what, if anything, I can add to the existing conversation. I may write about Top Gear sometime too, and the Euros, and Wimbledon, and lots of other exciting things. Soon. Maybe. But in the meantime, let me return to the subject of live support chats on websites. I've been here before, but having tried to engage my mobile operator on the subject of a new phone at the weekend, it's time to go there again.

Backstory: I will soon qualify for a free handset upgrade. I like a smaller smartphone, because it fits in my pocket better, and have a long-standing brand preference for Sony. According to their website, my provider has just stopped selling the smaller Sony models I like. On the basis that, in years gone by, the provider has retained limited stock of discontinued models, or had open-box/refurbished handsets available, I thought I'd chance my arm. The black text is the honest-to-God transcript of the live support chat I had on my provider's website at the weekend - I've added comments in red to show you why I hate live support chats.

12:13Info:Thank you for choosing to chat with us. An agent will be with you shortly.
12:13Info:Hello, you are now chatting with Charles. How can I help?
12:13Charles:Hi Martin!Easy with the exclaiming there, mate.
12:14Charles:How are you doing?Fine until you used a Joey-from-Friends pick-up line on me.
12:14Martin:Hi. Is there any way to get either the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact or Z5 Compact from you? Other smartphones are so big and unpocketfriendly.Admittedly, I hate myself for typing 'unpocketfriendly'. This is what trying to play the live support chat game does to me.
12:16Charles:Thank you for reaching out with us Martin.WT actual F?
12:16Charles:The Sony Xperia Z3 is out of stock due to popular demand however we have many handsets that you might fancy of.Hmm, I asked about the Z3 Compact, not the Z3. Let's see if I can make that clearer without being patronising.
12:17Martin:Indeed. However, I was specifically looking for either the Z3 Compact or Z5 Compact because they are compact.Damn. I was patronising...
12:18Charles:What specification of Xperia Z3 do you love most Martin?...but it's water off Charles's back.
12:19Martin:The small size. Not the Z3 but the Z3 Compact - it's a different model.Okay, polite but clear.
12:21Charles:Great! Can I interest you with other mobile handset that has a small size too.What's great? The fact that you've finally twigged the compact phone thing?
12:22Martin:For example?This is me humouring Charles. If that's his real name.
12:24Charles:Our Apple iPhone 5s has a 4 inches screen display. How's that sound Martin?
12:25Martin:It's sounds appalling, I dislike Apple products in general and the iPhone in particular. Sorry Charles!My own fault for not saying "I want another Sony." But how do you like my exclaiming?
12:27Charles:No problem Martin. What brand do you love aside from Xperia compact Martin?Stop over using my name....
12:30Charles:Are you still there Martin?No, I've gone, but have left the chat window open in my browser because I am a child...
12:32Charles:Thank you for chatting with me today. We value your feedback, please take a moment to complete our customer satisfaction survey at the end of the chat. Thanks and have a good day!...and I really doubt you want my feedback on this.
12:32Info:Thank you for chatting with us.

I'll write some grown-up and interesting blog posts soon, I promise (although my fingers are crossed behind my back...)