Sunday 31 December 2017

Happy new year

I post this on Facebook every new year, but my "friends" list is always too busy having a good time to notice. I love the KROQ live band version of this, but for this night - which used to be the biggest night of the year when The Man Of Cheese and I were knocking about the mean streets of the Bay or the 'bury, but is now so very different - for this night, the original, quiet piano version seems more fitting. See you on the other side.

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Eight Days A Week

Tired of crap Christmas TV? Watch this instead, from 1984 - a regional music review show with a dream panel of George Michael, Morrissey and, er, Tony Blackburn. A wonderful snapshot of the era, in which George is brilliant, Morrissey is brilliant and Tony... not so much. He looks particularly a man out of time, even then, when the panel discuss breakdance movie Breakin'. Also, look out for mention of Status Quo in the wrap at the end, anticipating their farewell tour...33 years ago. That's a long goodbye.

Anyway, whatever reason you watch this for, it's 22 minutes of TV gold.

Monday 25 December 2017

Better in the 80s...

I'm not here, obviously. This is a scheduled post. Not the first time I've mentioned this song, probably not the last either.

Thanks for reading, and commenting, throughout the year. Enjoy your holiday, and may your god go with you.

Sunday 24 December 2017

Abnormal service

I wonder if blogging on Christmas Eve is the equivalent of burying bad news on an otherwise newsworthy day. Nobody's reading this, are they? So on we go.

I've been thinking a lot about normality. What is normal? A normal looking bloke? A normal relationship? A normal job? A normal life?

Take me, for instance. I'm average height and, until quite recently, average weight. I had dark hair once, but now it (or what's left of it - average male pattern baldness) is going grey. I am employed, full-time, in an office-based job that I like but is not my dream career. All very average. There is a Ms New Amusements and we live in a brick house in a semi rural location. So normal. And yet...

And yet.

There are aspects of my life that are so far removed from what you might consider normal. I can barely comprehend them myself, sometimes, so what chance has anyone else got?

Nothing is normal, is it? Or perhaps there are as many varieties of normal as there are people. Or couples. Or families.

Whatever. Bottom line? My life is abnormal. So's yours.

Thursday 21 December 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #10 - if Morrissey covered "The Asylum"...

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.

In the absence of any new suggestions from readers, the tenth contributor to this series is me. My gaff, my rules, so here goes:

I would be intrigued to here Morrissey cover "The Asylum", an album track from depressingly-shortlived Anderson-Butler collaboration The Tears. Here's the original:

Now Steven has a previous conviction for covering Brett and Bernard - here he is, 25 years ago, making an excellent fist of covering early Suede B-side My Insatiable One:

That works, doesn't it? Now, think about the lyrics of The Asylum:

When I hear the men outside my window kicking down my door,
All the megaphones are screaming letters of the law,
Would you walk in through the gate and visit me?
Would you please? In the asylum.

When they're counting out the chemicals and doing daily tasks,
Giving out prescription drugs and putting on their masks,
Would you wander through the ground to visit me?
As they opened up the gates and turned the key.
Would you please? In the asylum.

If they burn my brain away would you understand?
If they try to hold me down would you hold my hand?
Could you stand, stand the asylum?

I reckon that Morrissey would feel right at home, singing this. He's always felt victimised and misunderstood, now more than ever. And there are plenty of people out there (and by there I mean the press and the blogosphere) who think Moz has lost it in recent years. Either way, I think he could make this song his own, a crooned lament to himself. Here's a live rendition of the original, recorded at some festival or other in 2005. Have a listen, and imagine it in Morrissey's hands:

Conclusive proof, I think you'll agree, that Moz would be well suited to The Asylum (insert your own joke here). While I'm at it, I should add that the solitary Tears album, the cleverly titled Here Come The Tears, is worth investigating, even if it suffers from an overly bright production at times.

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 20 December 2017

Clandestine Classic LIV - The Autumn Stone

The fifty-fourth 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, it's time to talk about The Small Faces. As a passionate fan of The Jam, but deprived of anything new by them courtesy of Mr Weller jacking it all in to join his local Council, I started to explore the bands that had influenced Paul. The Who was an obvious touchstone, as were The Kinks. But most of all, I got very into The Small Faces.

I don't need to write a biog for Marriott, Lane, McLagan and Jones, do I, because you're discerning music lovers and know all about them already. I don't need to describe how they quickly went from teen-friendly chart hits written by other people (Whatcha Gonna Do About it, Sha-La-La-La-Lee) to more mature, self-penned material (Tin Soldier, Get Yourself Together), via a commercial high-point that was somewhere in the middle (Itchycoo Park, Lazy Sunday). You know all that. Just like you all know, now, about the influence of the band on Weller, from the early, sawing pop-art guitar work, through to the organ sounds that would permeate late-period Jam and much of The Style Council. Back in the 80s, pre-Internet, the teenage me loved this musical lineage, joining up the dots between songs that I adored and the music that begat them. No great surprise then that my love of The Jam led me to swallow The Small Faces whole.

After the success of 1968's Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake concept album, memorably containing tracks linked by Professor Stanley Unwin and packaged to look like a tobacco tin, the band began work on a fourth studio album, provisionally entitled 1862. But Marriott, like Weller fifteen years later, wanted to move on and tackle new musical challenges, to throw off the shackles of his earlier success. He officially left the band right at the end of 1968, walking off stage during a live New Year's Eve gig with a shout of "I quit!" This left label Immediate with a handful of new and unreleased songs, which they bundled together and released in 1969 as The Autumn Stone. And it's the title track from that rag-tag round-up of odds and ends that I've chosen as the Clandestine Classic to represent The Small Faces.

It's a beautiful, grown-up song, a thousand miles or more away from Sha-La-La-La-Lee and the rest. Lyrically, it's an ode to a lost love, I think. There aren't that many words, actually, for what is, by 60s standards, quite a long song, but the early verses are in praise of a new love ("I was nowhere 'til you changed my mind. Love is sent through being good to you"), whilst later verses suggest that love is gone, or broken ("Tomorrow changes fields of green today. Yesterday is dead, but not my memory"). A good third of the song is, to my untrained ear, a perfect, almost pastoral flute solo. And then there's that slightly mad outro, with what sounds like Jew's harp, sitar and tabla, the combined effect of which always make me think of the Australian Outback, for some reason. Don't ask me why.

There were plenty of other Small Faces tracks I could have chosen for today's classic - my shortlist also had Talk To You, Tin Soldier, Rollin' Over, Red Balloon and The Universal on it. Tin Soldier came really, really close. But as the teenage me started to think more about girls and romance and, inevitably, heartache, it was always The Autumn Stone that I came back to, and its wistful meditation on a special love.

For completeness, I should also mention Gene's excellent cover of this. But even they, brilliant as they were, couldn't improve on the original. Speaking of which, here it is.

You're welcome.

Sunday 17 December 2017

That Was The Year That Was: 2017

You know the drill by now - after all, this is the seventh time I've recapped a year like this (for completists, here's 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011), and by doing so demonstrate just how bloody parochial I've become. I almost didn't bother this year, as I haven't bought many albums or been to many gigs, and I've read even fewer new books, but it's been a good year for television, again, so I'll give it a go and see what happens. You in?

Best album

Low In High School by Morrissey - this has been on permanent rotation in my car since it came out. As musically unpredictable and lyrically extrospective as anything he's ever released.

Honourable mentions: A Kind Revolution by Paul Weller; George Best 30 by The Wedding Present; Welcome, Stranger! by The Blue Aeroplanes; and, filling out the re-issues and anniversary release market that is so big these days, the frankly astounding The Queen Is Dead remastered boxset by The Smiths and the peerless OK Computer OKNOTOK by Radiohead.

Best song

Spent The Day In Bed by Morrissey is the song that has been most sung/whistled/hummed at New Amusements Towers. It's not his finest work, but it has that hooky intro.

Honourable mentions: Rosie Lies by The Holiday Crowd (yes, they do sound a bit Smithsy); Everything Now by Arcade Fire, even if (or maybe, because) it sounds like a lost Simple Minds track from when they were good; and a late entry, Holy Mountain by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.

Best gig

The Wedding Present performing George Best, in its entirety, at a low-key, intimate venue in Dover. A frantic burn through of songs that have been so important to me for 30 years. Exemplary company, as ever, from The Man Of Cheese in what is fast becoming our annual pilgrimage to Gedge.

Honourable mentions: I was so excited to see The Vapors live, a band that have been important to me even longer than The Wedding Present; The Blue Aeroplanes were also ace, back in January.

Best book

I have read very little new fiction in 2017. Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King wasn't bad. It is certainly very timely, with its subtext of how shitty men are to women.

Honourable mentions: the non-fiction Wedding Present coffee table book Sometimes These Words Just Don't Have To Be Said (and not just because I was a contributor).

Best film

In which I blow my aficionado credentials out of the water. The film I most enjoyed all year was Paddington 2, a joyful slice of movie-making that manages to be both innocent and knowing at the same time. Kids scream with laughter, parents get lumps in their throats or something in their eye... and Hugh Grant has a whale of a time. I genuinely came out of the cinema thinking it was a near-perfect film.

Honourable mentions: until Paddington 2 I thought the subtle brilliance of A Ghost Story had this category sewn up; England Is Mine was flawed but fascinating; Blade Runner 2049 had a lot to live up to, but mostly pulled it off; ditto Trainspotting 2.

Best television

Another fiercely contended category. The award goes to Detectorists, for providing a gentle blend of comedy, drama, and real life pathos. If you still haven't got on this, series 3 is currently iPlayer-able. Hurry!

Honourable mentions: another good year for TV (it's the new film, don't you know?). Inside Number 9, right back at the start of the year, was a dark gem; the BBC's historical three-parter Gunpowder was gripping and educational; Chris Packham's documentary Asperger's and Me was worth an hour of anyone's time; and Lego Masters on Channel 4 proved that it is possible for me to remain interested in a competitive reality talent show format.

Best comedy

The new Mitchell and Webb vehicle Back, on Channel 4, made me laugh out loud more than anything else, all year. A little near the knuckle sometimes, but then what else would you expect? Genius dialogue too.

Honourable mentions: last year's winner, Modern Life Is Goodish continues to be brilliant; Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney continued to highlight their all-too-real black comedy in Catastrophe; in a similar vein, Motherland from the Beeb has also impressed; live, Mark Thomas's Show That Gambles On The Future was excellent, and with bonus pathos too.

Best theatre

Not seen much in the way of live theatre this year, so Slava's Snow Show wins, almost by default. Think what would happen if Andy Kaufman was an East European clown, putting on a Christmas show, and you're in the right ballpark.

Honourable mentions: my sister had a spare ticket to see 42nd Street in the West End, so I stepped in as her +1. It's not my bag at all, but I can appreciate a well put together show, and my sister enjoyed herself, so...

Best blogger

Shock result! For the first time in the history of this category, Andrew Collins doesn't win! No, my blogger of the year is perennial runner-up My Top Ten from Rol, who has really upped his game this year, not least with his Saturday Snapshots series. And what really got Rol over the line was this excellent post about Morrissey - cogent, reasoned and massively readable. Everything a good blog should be.

Honourable mentions: blogging is dying art - a blog is to Twitter as cassettes are to MP3s, sadly. Perma-winner Andrew Collins is still brilliant, with music blog Circles Of Life, his paean to British cinema Digging Your Screen and the excellent "other" blog, Never Knowingly Underwhelmed - he's just been much less active in 2017 than in previous years; The (New) Vinyl Villain from JC continues to be a blogging inspiration; and Sun Dried Sparrows from C provides excellent autobiography and terrific period detail in her blog. Also, if there was an award for blog commenting, C would scoop that.

Person of the year

John Oliver, who not only continues to prove how to make it big in America without becoming an arse, he also continues to tell it like it is about Trump (here's a great example... and another... and another...), and most admirable of all, took Dustin Hoffman to task about alleged past sexual harassment. It wasn't on his show, it wasn't professionally filmed, there was a small audience, and Hoffman was one of several famous faces making up a panel to commemorate a 20-year old film. There was no reason for Oliver to take confront Hoffman... but he did it anyway, because he felt it was the right thing to do. Really, watch it if you haven't already.

Honourable mentions: Elon Musk, for driving affordable space travel forward, disrupting received wisdom about missions to Mars, turning the production of decent electric cars into a race, delivering battery tech solutions to real-world problems... forget the slightly cringey hype of the Elon fanboys and concentrate on what he is achieving; and Sir David Attenborough who, on top of everything else he continues to achieve, presided over episode seven of Blue Planet II, the most must-watch episode of another astounding series.

Tool of the year

Trump, of course. How a man with such a tiny dick (according to Melania) can be such a massive cock continues to boggle the mind, and fuck up the world.

Honourable mentions: Boris, Farage, all the usual suspects ... what a depressing year 2017 has been.

And that's it. The year is nearly over, thank Christ. At least we have all got used to weekly celebrity deaths this year. Even so, there's been a lot in 2017 to loathe... but what have you loved?

Footnote: yes, I consciously deferred this post until it was 17.12.17 12.17 - you should pity me, really...

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Better than it has any right to be

According to Wikipedia, the combined age of Debbie Harry and Joan Jett is 131, so this collaboration, from Blondie's latest album Pollinator, proves that age need not be a barrier to cranking out a decent tune. To further put this age thing into context, I could add that Debbie is only four years younger than my mum, who mostly cranks out cups of tea, nice roast dinners, and the occasional trip to her GP. I expect your mum is much the same.

The video is terrific too: dynamic, funny and thought-provoking. There's a lot going on in the detail, and it rewards repeated viewing.

Sunday 10 December 2017

Happiness still isn't easy

Back in 2013 I wrote twice (here and here) about Alex Quick's book 102 Free Things To Do - inspiring ideas for a better life and how I intended to try the suggestions therein to see if life did indeed get better. At the last update, I identified 34 that I had already done (green), five that I would never do (red)...and the other 63 were up for grabs. Anyway, here's an update - newly done are bold:

  1. Go out and look at the stars
  2. Keep a diary - but only one sentence a day
  3. Meter your energy use with a smart meter
  4. Give up your car
  5. Get up earlier
  6. Sketch your relatives - it's better than photos
  7. Treasure your precious human body
  8. Go on an archeological dig
  9. Write a letter to your future self
  10. Don't confuse affluence with well-being
  11. Memorise a poem
  12. Ask a child for advice
  13. Take part in a police line-up
  14. Give up craving for recognition (and be admired for it)
  15. Notice when things have improved
  16. Go on holiday without leaving your bedroom
  17. Practice random acts of kindness (and, if time permits, senseless acts of beauty)
  18. Climb a mountain
  19. Turn your house into a restaurant
  20. Start a film society
  21. Remember that making mistakes is part of being human
  22. See the sun rise and set on a single summer's day
  23. Get fit without joining a gym
  24. Sit still until you see wildlife emerge
  25. Contact a friend you haven't spoken to for years
  26. Go cloud-spotting
  27. Learn to meditate
  28. Volunteer for something
  29. Spend a day and night in a forest
  30. Cherish older people
  31. Reconsider your career
  32. Enlarge your comfort zone
  33. Achieve your ideal weight
  34. Learn how to talk to strangers in public
  35. Visit Project Gutenberg
  36. Gather a meal from the wild
  37. Learn another language
  38. Invent a language
  39. Pretend you are a valet for humanity
  40. Go busking
  41. Start a book in which to record things that have really, really made you laugh
  42. Go somewhere outdoors that is very silent
  43. Make Christmas presents for your whole family one year
  44. Give something up
  45. Cheer up lonely men in public places
  46. Swap your CDs
  47. Adopt or invent a personal motto
  48. Support your local eccentric
  49. Become a freegan
  50. Swim in the sea
  51. Get to know your neighbours
  1. Act without expecting anything back
  2. Deliver meals on wheels
  3. Look for glue
  4. Send a message in a bottle
  5. Have an eco-friendly bonfire
  6. Attempt a world record
  7. Walk in the rain
  8. Give away free trees
  9. Do a sponsored parachute/bungee jump
  10. Perform
  11. Cycle 100 miles in a day
  12. Serenade someone
  13. Reflect on something you're grateful for
  14. Cook and eat a nine-course meal
  15. Write a love letter
  16. Create a lair
  17. Notice beauty
  18. Let go of emotional pain
  19. Write down your parents' or grandparents' stories
  20. Look at your day-to-day concerns from the point of view of five years from now
  21. Fan the flames of desire
  22. Contemplate imperfection and impermanence as forms of beauty
  23. Join a gardening scheme where only your labour is required
  24. Laugh in the face of death
  25. Train your memory
  26. Accept the full catastrophe
  27. Write the first sentence of a novel
  28. Cherish solitude (Sister Wendy does)
  29. Get your friends to sponsor you to go to Spain and celebrate La Tomatina
  30. Embarrass your children/teenagers
  31. Work a room
  32. Confront people politely
  33. Learn a trick
  34. Be a representative of your country, in your country
  35. Try lucid dreaming
  36. Come to terms with ageing
  37. Be a bookcrosser
  38. Teach a child something fun
  39. Make your gratitude less perfunctory
  40. Give away your superfluous possessions
  41. Grow huge sunflowers
  42. Smile
  43. Go bell-ringing
  44. Form a debating club
  45. Take your shoes off and walk in the dew on a sunny morning
  46. Dress up
  47. Give up your TV
  48. Be 'Lord' for a day
  49. Write fewer emails and more letters
  50. Don't expect that things will be different in Tenerife
  51. Find out what's happening near you and join in

So, now 43 done, and a reduction to only three nevers... So am I happier?

No. But not being happier is not the same as being sadder, or even sad. And I am different. That's the important thing here, I think.

Are you happy? What makes that so?

Friday 8 December 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #9 - if Billy Bragg covered "Half A Person"...

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.

Ninth guest contributor is long-time reader (longest, actually) and oldest, best mate, The Man Of Cheese. We discussed this over several pints (okay, and some vodka too), so apologies to TMOC if I've missed something, but here's the gist. And if you think this is also just a good excuse for me to post loads of Smiths songs, well, what's wrong with that? Anyway, The Man Of Cheese brilliantly suggests:

What about Billy Bragg covering Half A Person by The Smiths? Here's the original, recorded in the autumn of 1986 and first released in January 1987, as the b-side to Shoplifters Of The World Unite:

Now Billy has previous convictions for covering The Smiths - here's some early, straight-bat takes on Jeane and Ask, and a slightly later, slightly more nuanced interpretation of Never Had No-one Ever:

So Bill is clearly a Smiths fan, and demonstrably adept a delivering a cover version of them. What would he make of Half A Person's lyrical content? Now there was a time (mid- to late-Nineties) when Billy seemed a bit reluctant to sing his own older songs, on the basis that he no longer felt he could identify with them. How could he, by then a happily married, content man in his mid to late thirties, sing A New England or The Man In The Iron Mask with the same feeling, he argued (to unconvinced and slightly disappointed gig crowds)? Instead, he tried to work around this by updating the lyrics of some songs, to better fit him as he was then. So perhaps, just perhaps, instead of singing "Sixteen, clumsy and shy", he could change to "Sixty, clumsy and shy" ... because, incredibly, Uncle Bill will hit the big Six-O in twelve days time. Although applying for a vacancy as a back-scrubber at the YWCA as a 60-year old man might be lyrically problematic. But could an older Billy carry off the youthful heartache of Half A Person? I think so. Take a look at this much more recent interpretation of Jeane, and compare it to the earlier cover:

I think this shows that Bragg The Elder is more suited to a slower, more personal slice of Morrissey/Marr than ever. What do you think?

Thank you, The Man Of Cheese. As a fellow fan of both the acts in question, I predictably think this is a fantastic suggestion. I very much enjoyed some YouTube me-time choosing these embeds too.

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.

Friday 1 December 2017

Hear even more different Christmas music this year...

Last year, and in 2015, I threw together an alternative music advent calendar. It seemed quite popular, so I've tried to repeat the trick, this time with a little help in the form of suggestions from other bloggers... anyway, here's the patent-pending, minutes-in-the-making 2017 New Amusements advent calendar...