Friday, 15 October 2021

Blue Friday: Grey Day

From the third Madness album, 7, this is very different from most of the Nutty Boys fare that had propelled them up the charts to that point, a downbeat tune with depressed lyrics and a video full of anxiety dreams. Note also the pallid make-up, the falling backwards, the manic clown grin... even the trademark nutty conga line sees the seven in identical grey suits, peeling off one at a time to enter identical houses. Was fame losing its sheen for the boys? Did they feel on a treadmill? A commercial product, rather than a band, perhaps? Performing in a shop window might be emblematic of that.

All of which speculation makes it even more interesting to learn that Mike Barson wrote this song in 1978, when the band were still The Invaders, but that it didn't get recorded until 7, three years later. Of corse, what's also interesting about that is how much can change in three short years.

Despite the minor keys, brooding sax and atypical video, Grey Day spent ten weeks in the singles chart and reached a highpoint of #4, such was Madness's power at the time. All together now...

In the morning I awake,
My arms, my legs, my body aches,
The sky outside is wet and grey,
So begins another weary day...

We've all been there, right?

Monday, 11 October 2021

Monday long song: Sunrise

The closing track of Pulp's final studio album, the Scott Walker produced We Love Life, released a scarcely credible twenty years ago this month.

Friday, 8 October 2021

Blue Friday: Anchor

This Friday's blue song came to my attention via the recent equal-parts-gripping-and-frustrating BBC drama Vigil. It's by Novo Amor, about whom I know nothing, and sounds like the sort of song that should be used to soundtrack a car ad, until you look closer at the lyrics and see words like this:

And I hear your ship is comin' in
Your tears a sea for me to swim
And I hear a storm is comin' in
My dear, is it all we've ever been?

Gulp.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Music Assembly: Vesti la Giubba

I love The Untouchables, the Kevin Costner vehicle directed by Brian De Palma, ostensibly telling the tale of how Eliot Ness brought down Al Capone on charges of tax evasion. For all it faults, it is, as critic Pauline Kael once wrote, "like an attempt to visualise the public's collective dream of Chicago gangsters." Andy Garcia is superb in this film too, and of course Robert De Niro got to play Capone, wielding a baseball bat to memorable effect. Billy Drago, as hitman Frank Nitti, is also underappreciated. Even Costner's occasional woodenness can be excused, as it lends Ness a buttoned-up, stoic air. And of course there is Sean Connery's turn as Irish beat cop Jim Malone, for which he won an Oscar, despite criticism of his Scottish Irish accent. Whatever, for my money the film is beautifully shot, excitingly paced, and well acted across the board. It also has a quite brilliant, evocative score from Ennio Morricone - what more could you want?

Of course one piece of music in the film is not by Morricone. Whilst Nitti is off [spoiler alert] killing Malone, Capone is very visibly at the opera - the perfect alibi. Now I have always struggled with opera, and can't imagine that I would ever go to see one in its entirety. But I can appreciate certain pieces, such as that which Capone watches in The Untouchables. The piece is from Pagliacci (literal translation, "Clowns") by Ruggero Leoncavallo, and is called Vesti la Giubba ("Put on the costume"). In the opera, the protagonist Canio, a clown, must prepare to laugh and perform, despite being heartbroken. This dichotomy of emotion suits the Untouchables scene well, as Capone appears tearful watching the opera, whilst joyful at the news of Malone's demise.

Now I don't know if the music has stayed with me just because I love the film, or because I can actually appreciate it standalone, despite my ignorance of, and general ambivalence towards, opera. Either way, here's Vesti la Giubba in its cinematic context...

...and in full.

Monday, 4 October 2021

Where's Captain Kirk?

To which the answer will soon be, in low Earth orbit for all of ten minutes.

It's cool and everything, sure, but I can't help thinking there are better things Jeff Bezos could spend his momey on than sending a rocket-powered phallus into space (just). Our planet is basically screwed, and here he is, jostling for bragging rights with a sorry collection of billionaires, and trying to commercialise space travel. Sigh.

Here's an obvious song, that I love, covered by a band that I also love.

Here's the Spizz Energi original. It's better, isn't it?

Friday, 1 October 2021

Blue Friday: Spectre

All the current hoo-ha about No Time To Die makes this as good a moment as any to revisit that time Radiohead tried to do a Bond theme. Ultimately it was passed over, on the grounds that it was too much of a downer, and Sam Smith got the gig instead. But here's Radiohead's Spectre, cunningly overlaid on the actual title sequence by a smart YouTuber.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Before We Was We

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

Before We Was We by Madness

9/21: Before We Was We by Madness

The blurb: In Before We Was We Madness tell us how they became them. A story of seven originals, whose collective graft, energy and talent took them from the sweaty depths of the Hope and Anchor's basement to the Top of the Pops studio.

In their own words they each look back on shared adventures. Playing music together, riding freight trains, spraying graffiti and stealing records. Walking in one another's footsteps by day and rising up through the city's exploding pub music scene by night. Before We Was We is irreverent, funny and full of character. Just like them.

The review: this is as close as we are likely to get to a collective autobiography of The Nutty Boys, one-time Invaders, Madness. Rather than regular prose, the book comprises recollections from all band members, chronologically ordered and grouped into chapters that follow the magnificent seven from 1970 right through to the release of My Girl, their third single and the point at which they felt they had "made it". And when I say not regular prose, I mean the whole book is in this format:

Before We Was We excerpt

There are pros and cons to this format. It doesn't read with the flow of a more conventional structure, however carefully interwoven the quotes are, but it does allow you to quickly identify seven similar but unique voices, and it does allow you to dip in and out of the book easily.

As for the content, well, it's an enlightening read, and I say this as someone who thought he knew a lot about the band already. Most of it concerns the band members' childhoods, all growing up in and around the same north London streets at a time when bomb sites were still a playground and there were only three channels on TV. What quickly emerges, aside from the basic commonality of being the same age in the same place, is the fractured home lives of the seven - you can quite see how being in a gang, and then a band, would have appealed to them all, the group mentality of it, us against the world...

And then there's the criminality, mostly petty but some not so: theft, mainly. But there are also burgeoning grafitti careers going on here, and jumping freight trains, drugs, breaking into gigs and cinemas... you name it, someone in Madness has probably done it, at some point. Time at her majesty's pleasure too. And yet they emerge from these recollections, not as deplorable figures or requiring sympathy, but as lovable rogues, chancers who have learnt and moved on. Of course that's the joy of autobiography, you get to paint things your own way. But it feels genuine... and it's very readable too, and at least as interesting as the later years in the book when the band are starting to happen, and records are getting made.

That's an interesting point, actually, for out of the twelve years or so covered by this book only the last three cover years when Madness were releasing records. The first nine years cover the formative experiences of the band, literally what made them what they were, and for all that make a fascinating social history of growing up in the Seventies, of being a kid in a London that still felt austere and post-war. On that basis, you don't necessarily have to be a Madness fan, or know much about their music, for this to be an enjoyable read. I hope there will be a follow-up, covering the heights of their early career, band members leaving, the break-up, "The Madness", Madstock and the National Treasure treadmill they're now on; I would certainly buy and read that. But I don't see how it can be more interesting than this.

The bottom line: fascinating look into a time and place that doesn't exist anymore, as much as genuine and engaging autobiography of a much-loved band.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

A Simple Message

Matt "The Hat" James was the drummer in Gene. Not content with that, he has now surprised us all by using lockdown to write and record an album's worth of solo material, the release of which is imminent. Some old collaborators are involved - I think Stephen Street has produced the album, and Gene guitarist Steve Mason has played on four tracks. It certainly sounds a bit like him playing on this teaser track, A Simple Message, previewed by Matt on Soundcloud, but apparently it isn't (so what do I know?).

So there you go: drummer records literate solo album. What do you think?

Monday, 20 September 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Two Tribes

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

Two Tribes

8/21: Two Tribes by Chris Beckett

The blurb: As a historian in the bleak, climate-ravaged twenty-third century, it's Zoe's job to record and archive the past, not to recreate it. But when she comes across the diaries of Harry and Michelle, who lived two hundred years ago, she becomes fascinated by the minutiae of their lives and decides to write a novel about them, filling in the gaps with her own imaginings.

Harry and Michelle meet just after the Brexit referendum when Harry's car breaks down outside a small town in Norfolk. Despite their different backgrounds, and Michelle having voted Leave while Harry voted Remain, they are drawn to each other and begin a relationship.

From her long perspective, the way Zoe sees their world is somewhat different from the way we see it now. Two Tribes becomes a reflection on the way our ideas are shaped by class and social circumstances, and how they change without us even noticing. It explores what divides us and what brings us together. And it asks where we may be headed next.

The review: I've read a bit of Chris Beckett before. He does a nice line in cleverly constructed and very plausible speculative fiction... the slight difference here is that the imagined future serves primarily as a vehicle for examining the mess we are in now. Okay, I suppose you could argue that a lot of speculative fiction does that, inviting you to join the dots between the now and some imagined dystopian hell. But Two Tribes imagines a future historian, looking back at these early years of the 21st Century with an academic detachment, albeit a detachment that falters as she becomes more engrossed in the entwined lives of protagonists Harry and Michelle.

I should also add, to save the time of any readers that aren't interested, that Brexit plays a massive part in this story. Harry and Michelle's romance plays out like a Romeo and Juliet for our times, with Leave and Remain replacing the Montagues and Capulets. So, cards on the table: I voted to remain in the EU. I have also been pretty scathing about the arguments of the average Leave voter, have despaired at the impact of Brexit, and have indulged in a fair amount of "See, I told you so, look at the mess we're in now" hand-rubbing at Leave-voters' expense. So it's a credit to this book, this work of fiction, that it has made me think about how and why so many people came to vote Leave than almost anything else. Don't get me wrong, I still don't forgive Cameron for calling the referendum, and I certainly don't forgive people like Farage, Johnson, Cummings et al for campaigning to leave... but I can understand some of the Leave vote better now. That's something no amount of Guardian articles has managed for me...

There's a timely environmental sub-plot going on here too. An unspecified climate event has occurred sometime between now and historian Zoe's time; it is referred to as The Catastrophe. The fall-out from this is neatly illustrated with a succession of small details: parrots are more common in Zoe's London than pigeons; the preying mantis is a common pest; rising water levels have literally reshaped the country; and constant work on flood defences is essential but poorly-paid work for the slum dwellers of London's shanty towns. The historical perspective also allows incredulity to be expressed about our current way of life: on a number of occasions, Zoe expresses amazement that people in the 21st Century would drive around in personal vehicles that burned 4 or 5 litres of refined oil every hour. The implication is obvious, every time: we're making out own Catastrophe, right now.

There's more going on too - the central theme of Two Tribes seems to be how polarisation leads to separation and division, that when everything is black and white with no shades of grey (and no compromise) then the result will inevitably be conflict. Beckett drops this backstory in neatly, and historian Zoe lays the foundations for a civil war so consuming that not even The Catastrophe can stop it.

On the face of it, this is an easy read: Beckett's prose flows nicely, he creates a compelling and plausible future, and the two storylines (Zoe's, and that of Harry and Michelle) both keep moving forward - the pages keep turning. But it is also an uneasy read, making it all too easy to extrapolate our current situation, politically, socially and environmentally; for this reader, who already thinks that everything is going to hell in a handcart, Two Tribes will linger long in the mind, and prompt many an uncomfortable question whilst it does so.

The bottom line: well-written and all too plausible dystopia, and carefully-constructed, thought-provoking examination of the now, through the imagined lens of history.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Friday, 3 September 2021

Back soon

Technical difficulties

I'm off for a bit, to do this. Wish me luck. I'll see you on the other side.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

More new to NA... Bleach Lab

This, from Bleach Lab, dropped into my inbox today, and the best compliment I can pay is that it sounds a bit like a lost Sundays track, if Harriet (sigh) was singing at the lower end of her register.

The South London band have Stephen Street on production duties, and that has led to some Cranberries comparisons too, of course.

Whatever the influences, this is pretty good, I reckon - you can listen to this and other tracks at bleachlab.bandcamp.com

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Billy Summers

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

Billy Summers

7/21: Billy Summers by Stephen King

The blurb: From legendary storyteller and No. 1 bestseller Stephen King, whose 'restless imagination is a power that cannot be contained' (The New York Times Book Review), comes a thrilling new novel about a good guy in a bad job.

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He's a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he'll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

This spectacular can't-put-it-down novel is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it features one of the most compelling and surprising duos in King fiction, who set out to avenge the crimes of an extraordinarily evil man. It's about love, luck, fate, and a complex hero with one last shot at redemption.

You won't put this story down, and you won't forget Billy.

The review: one side-effect of buying e-books (which a lack of bookshelf space requires me to do these days) rather than their physical equivalent is that you have no sense of the heft of the book. King is no stranger to writing very long novels, but has turned in a few shorter efforts (Elevation, Joyland and Later being recent examples). And I thought this was going to be another, as it very quickly seemed to be coming to a conclusion, ramping up for a classic King denouement. But then I noticed, courtesy of my Kindle's progress bar, that I was only about 30% of the way through. Clearly there was much more to come.

Fortunately for all concerned, this was not a problem, as Billy Summers barrels along like the very best of King's work - I found it hard to put down, and often lost great chunks of time as I kept telling myself, "Just one more chapter."

I don't have to go into great detail about the plot - the blurb covers that nicely. What I will add is that this book, like so many in the King canon, is also about writing - our hero's cover story is that he is an aspiring novelist whose agent has procured office space for him to work on his book. Office space that just happens to overlook the courthouse steps on which Billy is to shoot a bad man. Since he has time to kill, and to maintain his cover, Billy starts to write, a work of fiction that quickly turn to autobiography. And so we have two stories here - one is the tale of a sniper-for-hire's last job, the other is his backstory. It is hard to say which is most compelling, especially when you learn that Billy's story is of abusive parents, a care home, the army, the Iraq War... and all manner of horrors.

That's an interesting phrase, actually. For whilst horror is the genre that made King the colossal global success that he is, I would say there's a strong case to be made that his best work, certainly in recent years, is not horror per se. This is a straight up-and-down suspensful thriller - there's no genre horror here. Instead, King deals in the many horrors of reality - of bad men that do unspeakable things, of killers, of unjust wars. It will slip under the radar because of its context, but Billy's account of clearing houses in Fallujah is an intense as you might imagine.

Of course, King being King, he can't help himself, in that towards the end of the book action moves to Colorado, and a location that overlooks the site of a hotel that had burnt down, and that was rumoured to be haunted. And there's a painting of some topiary animals, in which the animals appear to move... In some ways this is a nice self-referential touch, and places the book in the wider King universe, but is completely unnecessary and doesn't serve the story at all. And if it's just for Constant Readers like me to have an "a-ha" moment, well, it's too blunt for that. But this is a minor quibble.

What is a slightly bigger quibble, for this reviewer at least, is a leap of faith that King asks the reader to take shortly after the 30% mark that I mentioned earlier. It concerns the coming together of the "compelling and surprising duo" mentioned in the blurb; although King is pretty frank about the unlikelihood of what happens, and uses all the considerable storytelling tricks at his disposal to explain it, the circumstances of the coming together still didn't feel plausible to me. I can't explain more without plot spoilers, but I can say this credibility gap will cost the book a star from my review, and that's a shame because other than that I really enjoyed it, became totally engrossed and, as I've said already, found it hard to put down.

The bottom line: not one but two (maybe even three) stories coalesce in this fine suspenseful thriller, a reminder from the master that real horror lies not in vampires and boogeymen but in the evil that men do.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Monday, 30 August 2021

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Sunday shorts: Lovers Town Revisited

There's a proportion of his fans that think Bill was at his best like this, rough and raw, guitar and voice, singing in his own accent. This is from Life's a Riot with Spy Vs Spy, one of only two Bragg albums to be certified gold for sales. Pop quiz: the other was...? (Answer, old-school magazine style, at the foot of the page...)

A. The other Billy Bragg album to be certified gold for sales is Don't Try This At Home.

Friday, 27 August 2021

Twenty-one in '21: The Nanny State Made Me

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

The Nanny State Made Me

6/21: The Nanny State Made Me by Stuart Maconie

The blurb: It was the spirit of our finest hour, the backbone of our post-war greatness, and it promoted some of the boldest and most brilliant schemes this isle has ever produced: it was the Welfare State, and it made you and I. But now it's under threat, and we need to save it.

In this timely and provocative book, Stuart Maconie tells Britain’s Welfare State story through his own history of growing up as a northern working class boy. What was so bad about properly funded hospitals, decent working conditions and affordable houses? And what was so wrong about student grants, free eye tests and council houses? And where did it all go so wrong? Stuart looks toward Britain’s future, making an emotional case for believing in more than profit and loss; and championing a just, fairer society.

The review: that this book is variously subtitled "In search of a better Britain" and "A Story of Britain and How to Save it" should give you an idea of what it's about. Maconie has taken a good look at modern life in this sceptred isle and decided that it is, in many ways, rubbish, especially compared with how it once was. And here's a heads-up: if you read that last line and immediately think, yes, that's right, then you're probably going to enjoy this book. Equally, if you immediately think, gah, what nonsense, well, this book might change your mind... but probably won't. For whilst it does make a case, does bang the drum for how things could be, it is more a love letter to a Britain recently deceased.

When I was at primary school, we used to watch TV once a week on a big old wooden set that was bolted to the trolley it was wheeled in on. Sometimes there would be a clock on-screen before the programme started, and we'd count down to the start as the second hand swung round; one channel's clock had little circle markers on its face, instead of a second hand, and some boys would pretend to shoot them as they disappeared. But I digress. One such schools programme was entitled How We Used To Live, which centred on late-Victorian families and gave us a primary-friendly dose of modern history in the process. It sticks in the mind, even now. And the reason I mention it here is that Maconie's book is, in many ways, a How We Used To Live for the period of 1945-1979, painting a pleasingly honest (and honestly pleasing) account of the post-war birth of the welfare state, its growth, its benefits and its glories... before coming to the end, or at least the beginning of the end, when a shopkeeper's daughter from Grantham arrived at No. 10 and changed everything.

The book is divided into themed chapters, each looking at an aspect of the nanny state: health, education, public transport, libraries, broadcasting, you get the idea. In each case, Maconie takes a look at how good things got, and how they got there. Inevitably, there is also an examination of how, when and why things went wrong. And, in most cases, there are examples of the silos of the nanny state that are still good despite the seeming best efforts of those in power to ruin them forever: the healthcare practice that is still run as if by a healthcare authority, the bus service that is still in public ownership, the BBC. That these are presented as examples of how it is still possible to do things the right way is uplifting... but they also serve as a warning of what is still there to be lost.

I guess the other interesting aspect of the positives that Maconie tries so hard to leave each chapter with is that they serve as something of a manifesto; shining a light on the best of how public services can still be, domestically and overseas, illuminates how they perhaps should be across the board.

There are some nuggets from this book that will stay with me for a long time: how European state-owned utility companies are running aspects of UK water provision, the profits from which then fund French and German water infrastructure improvements rather than the UK's, is one; the difference in how Norway handled, and spent, the money from its own North Sea oil boom is another. But The Nanny State Made Me isn't a textbook, nor is it really a call to arms - it is more a paean for a world that is probably gone, but lingers on in living memory. The recollections this book prompts - of doctor's surgeries, dusty libraries, the Eleven Plus, of school buses, university grants, British Rail - will probably resonate with you, as they did with me, certainly if you're old enough to remember wooden TV sets being wheeled into classrooms on trolleys. But over and above the nostalgia is an illustration of how things could still be different, better even... and a timely reminder that not all progress is positive.

The bottom line: very readable, very honest and unashamedly nailing Maconie's colours to the mast in appreciation of the welfare state, the book manages to avoid mawkish nostalgia whilst still reflecting on what Britain used to do well for its people, and offers hints at how it could still be done if there was only the will.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Blue Friday: All I Want

Such Small Hands featuring Melanie's day-job boss, David...

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Sunday shorts: Why Don't We Do It In The Road?

Their (in)famous retreat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi wasn't just about spiritualism, you know. Apparently, whilst on that trip, McCartney saw some monkeys going at it in the road, oblivious to the world passing by them. Hence, this song. Apparently.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Paul, the magpie

Paul Weller has always worn his influences proudly, a collection of badges that would adorn any parka or scooter. And he's never been afraid to borrow heavily from them either. Witness the descending guitar intro to The Changingman, for example, and then have a listen to 10538 Overture by ELO (themselves riffing on late-period Beatles, but that's for another post). How about the opening notes of Bullrush? Not a million miles away from Tin Soldier, is it, by Weller's ultimate touchstone, The Small Faces. And as for Start's Taxman-lite bassline, well, that probably wasn't all Bruce's own work, that's all I'm saying.

There are countless other examples, no doubt. When it comes to music the man is a fan, a historian, a curator, an aficionado ... and a magpie. Not just sonically either - sometimes, a turn of phrase must catch his ear. I've often wondered if the title from his piano-led ballad You Do Something To Me was plucked from this otherwise-unheralded early Kinks offering, a non-album B-side from 1964 that didn't even chart (just before they hit the big time with their next single...)

Anyway, you can bet that Paul heard this, and squirrelled it away in his music-fan's memory, maybe thinking, "Hmm, that's a good line." Or maybe it's subconscious? Either way, here's the very different source material.

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Everything has to change

Sorry (not sorry) to have to keep banging on about this kind of stuff, especially when I suspect I am preaching to the converted already... but everything about our way of life is going to have to change, if our children and grandchildren are going to have any kind of life.

If the video from the BBC embedded below doesn't work, here's a link to the story as well: BBC News - Images show decline of California's 'life source'

Monday, 16 August 2021

Monday long song: I Am The Resurrection

Forget the nonsense spewing out of Ian Brown lately, and instead remember him and his bandmates like this.

For me, this song will always evoke the jukebox in The Cherry Tree pub, where The Man Of Cheese and I would go pound halves and take it in turns to choose songs. On the jukebox in question, all songs by The Smiths and Morrissey had been scrubbed out in black marker, because the landlord was not a fan - an early example of cancel culture, perhaps? Anyway, I would usually put this song on as my last choice, partly because it is bloody great (especially from the 3:40 mark onwards) but also because, at 8:12 on the jukebox version, it was good value for money too.

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Sunday shorts: Love You More

Wakey wakey! Play loud!

Blimey, the charts must have been good in 1978, these brilliant 109 seconds only got to number 34.

Friday, 13 August 2021

Blue Friday: Blue Flashing Light

The hidden bonus track on their bajillion-selling second album The Man Who, this is an angry, painful and ultimately fatal tale of domestic abuse from Travis. You know, lovely, friendly, safe, why-does-it-always-rain-on-me Travis. Don't believe me? Here's the second verse as an example.

Call me a name and I'll hit you again.
You're a slut, you're a bitch, you're a whore.
Talk to your daddy in that tone of voice,
There's a belt hanging over the door.
So you run to your room
And you hide in your room,
Thinking how you could settle the score...

It doesn't end well. Here's the song.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Music Assembly: Night on Bald Mountain

Night on Bald Mountain was a 1867 tone poem, whatever that is, by 19th Century Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. I like the idea that, somewhere out there, another composer labours unsuccessfully under the name of Boastful Mussorgsky, but let's not get sidetracked. Mussorgsky's work was not a success, and was never performed publicly during his lifetime... which makes what happened next more surprising. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov re-arranged Bald Mountain in 1886, five years after Mussorgsky's death, and it is that arrangement that subsequently became very successful. Fast-forward 54 years and the Rimsky-Korsakov mix was soundtracking the scary bits in Disney's Fantasia.

And you might think that was where I first knowlingly heard today's piece, but you'd be wrong. Instead, I have Maxell and Pete Murphy of Bauhaus fame to thank to introducing me to Night on Bald Mountain (RK remix).

Here it is in context...

...and in full (albeit in two parts), courtesy of the House of Mouse.

Monday, 9 August 2021

Monday long song: Bewitched

It's Monday morning. What better reason do you need to drop 6+ minutes of 2010-era Wedding Present in your ears. This is a live radio session recording too; I spoil you, I know.

Sunday, 8 August 2021

Sunday shorts: Vaseline

What could that naughty Justine Frischmann be singing about?

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind (and rain) blows

The New Amusements clan is off on its holidays soon. I've just checked Dark Sky for the forecast at our destination, and it shows a pretty clean sweep of umbrella icons for the duration of our stay. So there's only one song to play in response, isn't there, and it's this, another long-term occupant of my YouTube Watch Later list.

Rain were an guitar band from Liverpool in the late 80s and early 90s. If they'd come along a couple of years later, in the wake of Oasis, let's say, they might have been huge. As it is they, like neighbouring band The Real People, never really got out of second gear. Their debut album, A Taste of Rain, garnered mild controversy for its arresting cover (which was like this but without the carefully placed sticker), but at least also gave rise to a couple of singles, Lemonstone Desired, and this, A Taste of Rain.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Music Assembly: An Ending (Ascent)

An Ending (Ascent) was written by the ambient musician's ambient musician, Brian Eno, recorded by him, his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois, and released in 1983. It was part of the Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks album that accompanied a narration-free homage to NASA's lunar programme Apollo (later retitled For All Mankind). Now I didn't see that documentary, nor did I buy the album. My first exposure to the track probably came in Danny Boyle's genre-reinventing masterwork 28 Days Later, though it has also been used in Traffic and Drive. Having said all that, I think the usage that made me file away a mental note to blog this tune when the right series came along was probably Clarkson-era Top Gear. Regardless, whenever and wherever I first heard it, this remains a piece of sublime beauty.

Here it is in a couple of contexts...

...and in full.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Later never comes...

If I spot something interesting on YouTube but don't have the time to watch it properly, I usually add it to my "Watch Later" list and think, yeah, I'll get back to that.

My "Watch Later" list currently has 119 videos in it, so it's clearly time to start trimming that down... in other words, let's park the same videos here instead, and we can all watch them properly, right?

In a two-for-one deal, here's Pete Townshend and Paul Weller rehearsing for a duet, and then the live performance that followed, each video interesting for its own reasons.

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Latitude... or Cinch presents a test event

Latitude sign
It's thirteen years since I first went to the Latitude Festival, three years since I last went. A lot has changed in that period, and Latitude didn't happen last year for obvious reasons. It was back for 2021 though, as a government-approved test event... which meant full capacity, no face masks and no social distancing! All of which felt a bit weird, if I'm honest. Latitude has changed a bit too, I think - it is still a multi-disciplinary festival, but music dominates more than ever - that's a shame, much as I love the music, because the variety of content is what has always made Latitude so special. It's got bigger too - when I first went, capacity was a little over 20,000; it's 40,000 now. And sponsorship? Since when did Latitude become "Cinch presents Latitude"? As in, Cinch the used car retailer whose ads are fronted by the distressingly ubiquitous Rylan Clark-Neal... to the extent that his made-up face gurned down at the main stage crowd from the jumbotrons between acts? I guess it is progress, but it, like the loss of some non-music stages, jarred with me. What has progressed well is the festival app: when I last went, in 2018, the app was terrible and a physical programme was still an essential purchase; this year, I still bought a programme but didn't use it once - the app was near perfect. Other changes? Well, for the first time since 2009, Mrs New Amusements came with me... and for the first time ever Master New Amusements came too. This would change the festival experience in several ways, some foreseen, some surprising. But anyway, enough general rambling: here, in the manner of my old festival diaries, is what I got up to. All crappy photos can be embiggened with a click.

Friday:

  • The Kids' Area. After the long trek in from the day ticket car park, proving our COVID test status (proof of two jabs for adults, negative lateral flow test for kids), getting our wristbands and finally getting onto the main site, our first stop was lunch by the waterside and the Kids' Area, mainly to get Master NA (who still wasn't sure what to expect) on-board with the whole idea of a festival. The Kids' Area has loads of great activities for the younger festival goer, but we were a bit disappointed to see that some were fully-booked by 1pm, not just for Friday but for the whole weekend. Still, there was a tent set up with a variety of musical instruments for kids to try, so Master NA and I sat down and had a guitar jam, which was nice.
  • The Trailer Park. Next we worked our way up to the Trailer Park, a wooded area that was home to an assembly of steam-punk sculpture; I particularly like Carantula, a small hatchback that had been given eight legs and loomed large over visitors to this area. There was also live performance, though we arrived just as a seemingly very popular act ended.
  • Esther Freud : The Listening Post. The fact that there are no longer separate book and poetry tents was slightly offset by the size of the sole replacement, The Listening Post - so big, in fact, that only the most popular authors will fill it, I'd say. It wasn't full for Esther, which is a shame as she spoke well about her latest novel I Couldn't Love You More and her writing process.
  • Jessica Fostekew : Comedy Arena. Whilst the rest of the New Amusements clan had a bit of a breather, I popped into the Comedy Arena to see who was on, and it was Jessica. She had a nice routine about gender stereotypes, on how "to grow a pair" (of balls) is to be strong, and how "to be a pussy" is to be weak. She also took aim at Boris Johnson, guaranteeing a good reaction from the left-leaning, liberal Latitude crowd. And on meditation, Jessica offered the line, "If you've got time for meditation, you're not the one who needs meditation," which, at the time, I felt was worthy of noting down.
  • Colin Macleod
    Colin Macleod : Sunrise Arena. Colin is a part-time crofter, part-time singer/songwriter from Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He and his band trade in an agreeable, if slightly unremarkable, brand of Celtic folk rock, maybe with a twist of Americana; unremarkable maybe, but perfect for mid-afternoon in the woods. A lot of the songs seem to have isolation or separation as their theme, not surprising given Colin's remote home and lifestyle. An affable, easy-going frontman, at one point Colin quipped "I've been stuck on an island for two years," to which someone in the audience, as quick as a flash, replied, "So have we."
  • Before Breakfast
    Before Breakfast : BBC Music Introducing Stage. One of the best things about Latitude, or indeed any large festival, is the joy of a serendipitous find. Example: after Colin, we wandered up to the In The Woods area (where I found the best, and cheapest, cup of tea I had all day) and the adjacent BBC Introducing stage, where Sheffield's Before Breakfast were on. Not your average girl band, Before Breakfast feature voice, piano, cello and bass. Close vocal harmonies are clearly important to their sound, as is the strength and performance instincts of their lead singer, Gina. Brush My Hair (and tell me that you love me) seems a very representative track, if you're interested.
  • The Snuts
    The Snuts : The Sunrise Arena. NA Minor and I headed back to the Sunrise Arena next, to take in The Snuts. I'd heard a fair bit about them, mostly from the periodical emails I get from Parlophone, but I was completely unfamiliar with their music <<insert traditional comment about being old and parochial here>>. And what a great surprise they served up! Their lively sound, light show and between-songs interaction (especially from fast-talking frontman Jack Cochrane) all suggest they could, perhaps should have been playing a bigger stage. Whatever, the Sunrise Arena was rammed for this. Definitely worth further investigation, I shall be starting with their chart-topping debut album WL (which apparently stands for West Lothian, from whence they come). This was my personal performance highlight.
  • Women's Prize for Fiction : The Listening Post. We then scooted back to rejoin Mrs NA in the book tent, where a panel session on the Women's Prize for Fiction was in full flow. We'd missed a fair bit of this, obviously, but as an aspiring author I still found the later questions on writing process to be interesting, as well as the book recommendations.
  • Stephen Fretwell
    Stephen Fretwell : The Sunrise Arena. I was really keen to see Stephen, and I wasn't alone - the Sunrise Arena was even more packed than it had been for The Snuts. I think, judging by their reaction, that most of the crowd were long-time fans too. One man and an acoustic guitar is a lot to fill an arena, even one as compact as Sunrise, but Fretwell was equal to the task. Run, familiar to even non-fans thanks to Gavin & Stacey, provided a bit of audience singalong, whilst calls from the audience for the sublime Emily and New York were both granted. Ironic, really, that Stephen apologised for dropping the f-bomb between songs, mindful of kids in the audience, and then ended with New York, with its "Fuck what they say..." chorus. Long-time readers may even recall that I made New York a Clandestine Classic, back in the day, so I was especially glad to hear that get an airing. I may have had a bit of a moment.
  • Secret Artists live podcast : The Listening Post. I left the clan getting henna patterns done and went off to see John Osborne, but got there early enough to catch the tail-end of Annie McGrath doing her Secret Artists podcast live. The gist of this seemed to be that Annie would be in conversation with a guest - in this case, comedian Sophie Duker - whilst they both painted their interpretation of a given title or theme. What I saw of this was fun. Probably not fun enough to make me subscribe to the podcast, but fun nonetheless.
  • John Osbourne : The Listening Post. I've read two of John's books, Radio Head and The Newsagent's Window, and enjoyed both (especially the latter, which is Dave Gorman-esque, in a good way), but he was reading poetry at Latitude, dipping into his previous collection No One Cares About Your New Thing and promoting his new collection, Supermarket Love Stories, in which the poems are aisle-themed. He's excellent, funny, insightful, self-deprecating. I met him briefly afterwards, to buy a copy of No One Cares... and was pleased to see poet Luke Wright emerge from somewhere to give him a hug, before turning to then greet and hug comedian Mark Watson, who just happened to be strolling by. Oh, the author's life I will never lead...
  • Mabel
    Mabel : The Obelisk Arena. I'll be honest, before this I was sceptical - had Mabel done enough, I wondered, to warrant being the penultimate act on the main stage? Would she even be anywhere, I uncharitably hypothesised, if she was not Neneh Cherry's daughter? Well, I still think those are valid questions, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. We were only there as a nod to Master NA's youth, and it's telling that the Latitude crowd noise was more of a scream than a roar, but Mabel put on a really dynamic, lively show, augmented by a well-drilled dance troupe. And she can really sing too, even if it was sometimes a bit Beyonce-lite for my taste. She finished with her bigest hits (ahem, as far as I know), Tick Tock and finally, with confetti canons unleashed, Don't Call Me Up; even parochial old dinosaur me was able to join in with the chorus for that.
  • Wolf Alice
    Wolf Alice : The Obelisk Arena. And so we came to the reason I had bought day tickets for Friday rather than over the weekend. I had seen Wolf Alice play the same stage three years ago, but here they were headlining, and with a new, more mature album to promote. I was excited. Unfortunately, the rest of our little party were less enthralled, finding the band too loud and a bit too strident. Also, NA Minor was starting to flag - it had been a long day on our feet, and we'd covered a lot of ground. The bottom line is that we moved on after twenty minutes, just as Ellie and the band were starting to get on to the new material. What I can tell you is that the new song I heard was darker, slower, less strident... very promising.
  • Hot Chip
    Hot Chip : BBC Sounds Stage. I remember when this used to the BBC 6Music stage ...grumble, grumble, old, old, progress, progress... Anyway, I hoped that a blast of Putney's finest, and the spectacle of a large crowd bobbing up and down in a giant tent, would reinvigorate the New Amusements ensemble. It didn't, sadly, and we lasted a song and a half, which is a shame because the band looked to be warming up nicely. NA Minor is not even at high school yet though, and this was a step too far for him, on a long day - he didn't want the crowd, or the volume, or the chest-vibrating bass. We bailed out, and like the good dad I am I didn't even moan about it. Not aloud, anyway.

And that was that. Because we set off on the long walk back to the car park nice and early, we even beat the traditional queue of departing day-ticketers, so that was a bonus. But what to make of Latitude 2021? Seventeen months since my last gig, it felt great to be there, even if a little surreal to be amongst such a large crowd of people, and with not a face mask in sight. COVID did have an impact though, with some acts having to cancel at the last minute: Fontaines D.C. and Arlo Parks both had to scrub from the Saturday line-up, after positive test results.

Also, I bristled somewhat at the inevitable commercialisation and sponsorship that is creeping into this, my favourite festival, and the inevitable attendant mainstreaming of the line-up... but it's still a grand day out, even though I didn't get to see everything I would have liked: I didn't see any theatre or film shows, for example, and missing the bulk of both Wolf Alice and Hot Chip seems wasteful at best. Going with my family made it a very different festival experience... my last four visits have been alone, and that's great for seeing exactly what you want to see, but it does make it hard to share the experience. This was better, much better. Master NA proclaimed it a brilliant day. I hope we are all there next year.

Wolf Alice at Latitude 2021
Wide shot of Obelisk Arena headliners Wolf Alice

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Sounds familiar

Remember around the New Year, when I was trying, with very little success, to purge some CDs from my collection? Well, I came across a number of magazine cover-mounted CDs, and a whole load of subscriber-only discs from when I was joined at the hip with Q magazine. These were always a mixed bag, but nearly always had one or two gems on. Anyway, on listening again to these CDs (for the first time in 10+ years, in some cases), one or two tracks stood out enough for me to research them online. Here's one such: Naked in the City Again was side 1, track 1 on Hot Hot Heat's 2002 debut album Make Up the Breakdown. And it's alright, listen:

Now I don't know much abou Hot Hot Heat other than that: (a) they came from Vancouver; and (b) they had a not-so-good name. But something about this track stuck with me - not that it's life-changingly brilliant, but that is sort of reminded me of something else... something I couldn't immediately put my finger on. It came to me eventually though: Burning with Optimism's Flames is a track from my favourite XTC album, Black Sea. And whilst not exactly a template for Naked in the City Again, there's certainly something in the tempo, the rhythms and the vocal delivery, especially during the verses and middle eight. See what you think...

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Monochrome

Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon's surface 52 years ago today, at 2:36 AM GMT... about now, in other words. Still boggles my mind that we havn't been back for fifty years. Anyway, that's all the excuse I need for a bit of The Sundays, and the voice of Harriet Wheeler. From their third album, this recalls Harrier's memory of staying up as a child to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. Lovely, isn't it?

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Catching up / emptying boxes

Had a weekend of tidying up and sorting through old boxes of paperwork here at NA Towers. All kinds of interesting ephemera came to light. One such object was a museum brochure, advertising the forthcoming exhibitions and events for Summer 2007 (yes, I'm a hoarder). I'd hung on to it because I really liked the photograph on the front cover, which was lifted from a touring exhibition of contemporary photography from the Victoria & Albert Museum, due to arrive that May. It's untitled and was shot by Corinne Day, for Vogue. Here it is.

Corinne Day's untitled photograph of Kate Moss, for the Vogue fashion story 'Under Exposed', 1993

Now, as you might expect, I have no interest in Vogue magazine, or fashion shoots; I don't have an especial interest in Kate Moss either. But blimey, this photograph struck me (beguiled me, perhaps), enough to hang on to the aforementioned museum brochure for, what, fourteen years, all the time thinking, I must do something with that picture, sometime.

So here I am, doing something, albeit the something in question is just me parking a photograph I like and commenting on the fact that I'm a hoarder who squirrels things away, just in case.

To flesh this post out a bit, here are some links:
Corinne Day | The Vogue feature in full | A blog post on how the shoot was (probably) lit | The photo at the V&A

There, I've done something with it. Guess I can (reluctuantly) put the brochure in the recycling bin now...

Monday, 19 July 2021

More new to NA... and I'm not dead yet

I don't hear much new that I like. I know... parochial, yadda yadda... dinosaur, yadda yadda... guilty as charged, on all counts.

But I'm not dead yet. Heard this on the radio, and quite liked it. Not sure how it will stand up to repeated plays, mind, being so lacking in variations. But now and again... yeah, I think this is alright. I don't know anything about Snapped Ankles. I do know that the rhythm of this, when it starts up, makes me think briefly of Love Missile F1-11 by Sigue Sigue Sputnik, albeit it in a different key.

Anyway, here's the song; just don't overplay it...

Friday, 16 July 2021

Blue Friday: Seasick, Yet Still Docked (cover)

I seem to be developing a habit of posting about songs by He Who Shall Not Be Named, without writing about him. Here's another.

I dont think Alain Whyte gets the credit he deserves. He was Steven's chief (though not exclusive) songwriting partner and lead guitarist from 1991 to 2007, far longer than one John Maher. In that time, he was responsible for large swathes of solo career highpoints Vauxhall and I and Your Arsenal, as well as the comeback albums You Are The Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors.

In researching this post, I also just learnt the surprising fact that Alain has also written with Kelis, Cheryl Cole, the Black Eyed Peas, Chris Brown, will.i.am and Madonna! Who knew?

Anyway, Alain has a YouTube channel on which he features new original material, as well as one-man-and-his-guitar versions of his old boss's songs. It's definitely worth exploring, especially if you're able to separate SPM from his music. Here's one such song, beautifully played (guitarists, if you're like me you'll enjoy the left-hand being in shot throughout). Seasick, Yet Still Docked is a lament for the unloved/unloveable, and gets me every time. "Wish I knew the way to attract the one I love ... there is no way."

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Music Assembly: Gayane ballet suite (adagio)

Hitachi CED player
In about 1983, I won a competition in Look-In magazine. The prize was a CED player and two excellent films: Logan's Run and 2001: Space Odyssey. Not a bad haul for a 12-year old, and a pretty mature selection of films. Being a sci-fi fan, I had already read Arthur C. Clarke's novel of 2001 and, if memory serves, had seen Kubrick's film once on television. But this gave me my first chance to watch, and re-watch, Stanley's masterwork on demand.

A quick point of order on CED players: Capacitance Electronic Discs were analogue video discs that were played not with a laser, but with a stylus! Essentially, they were very high capacity records. They were also a short-lived format, overtaken by VHS and Betamax somewhere between their invention (1964) and actually hitting the market as a consumer product (1981). These discs couldn't be handled - they came in a rigid plastic sleeve, which you inserted whole into the player, whereupon the disc would be extracted and you could withdraw the sleeve. I can still hear the droning noise of it all loading up. I think I may still have the player somewhere, along with the films and a CED of Goldfinger that I picked up later. I hope I do, anyway, it's probably quite collectable now. But I digress: back to 2001.

Although Kubrick had commissioned a score from composer Alex North (who had previously worked on both Spartacus and Dr Strangelove), he later rejected it in favour of the temporary soundtrack he had assembled himself from existing classical pieces. Stanley subsequently explained this choice in an interview, saying, "However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time?" Ouch! But anyway, Kubrick's soundtrack is how I first came to hear the adagio from Aram Khachaturian's Gayane ballet suite. Used in the film to great effect, this achingly sad piece perfectly reflects the isolation and loneliness, the separation of a long space flight. So perfectly, in fact, that it was later referenced in the soundtrack to Aliens, to reflect a similar mood.

There are other more famous pieces in the 2001 soundtrack; indeed, the use of Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra has become iconic, a shorthand pop-culture reference and oft-parodied. Likewise, the inclusion of Ligeti's choral works brought a whole new audience to that composer's work, a fact that certainly softened his initial displeasure to his music being used in an edited, modified form. But, for me, the haunting, contemplative strings of Khachaturian's adagio bring the film to mind as much, if not more, than all of the rest. It is simply beautiful.

Here it is in context...

...and in full.

Monday, 12 July 2021

Would you want to come home?

After the football last night, I drafted a post on the boorish bigots, flag-shaggers, thugs, boo-boys and, most of all, out-and-out racists who somehow feel legitimised by national football success, and how their actions make it so hard for me and countless others to fully support England during a major tournament - how it is easier to feel shame, embarrassed to be English. I also vented about the politicians who, by their action or inaction, enable such behaviour. I was quite angry. Because even though I knew, I just knew what the narrative would be on social media after the penalty shoot-out, I was still incensed (and depressed) to see it play out in real time. The conclusion of the post was, if you were football, would you want to come home? To this?

I've deleted my rant, though, because I prefer to focus on the positive, or try, at least. For here is a manager, a progressive patriot, who knows what it's like to win and lose in an England shirt, who has shown faith in the young stars in his team, who gave the nation something to feel good about after a bleak eighteen months of COVID. And here is a young squad (average age at the start of the tournament: 24.8) seemingly unburdened by the failures of the past, ready and willing to take a stand on things that matter, ready to be a team rather than just a collection of individuals. Ready to stand up and be counted. Ready, for example, to step forward and take the fifth, must-score penalty at the end of a shootout, at the tender age of 19.

Despite the ignorant minority, I will be hoping that England make it to the World Cup next year, and do well. I will be hoping they progress far enough in the tournament to give us something to feel positive about again, because god knows we need that. But most of all I'll be hoping that the slogan that ends this closing montage from the BBC, as it has ended every programme of their coverage, still rings true and still holds firm. Hate won't win.

Monday long song(s): The Doors

I've been on a bit of a Doors jag lately. It started with seeing a few #NowPlaying tweets from a virtual friend, which led me to rewatching the Oliver Stone biopic from 1991, starring Val Kilmer. Like many a Stone film, it's prone to a bit of mythologising but, like many a Stone film, it's also very watchable.

Anyway, I've had lots of Doors music ear-worming around my head ever since. I've also been recalling the double-CD Very Best of The Doors that I played to death in my early twenties. I maintain that there is still no better soundtrack to a late-night solo car journey, especially when you are in your early twenties. I've also been musing on what has made the music endure: is it the out-there Lizard King shaman Morrison, or the musicianship of his bandmates? Or their serendipitous symbiosis?

But I digress. They did plenty of terrific short songs, of course, but weren't shy of letting the tape run on a bit too. Here's a five-song playlist of long songs for your Monday that clocks in at a whole side of C90. Enjoy.

And as a little bonus, here's a scene from the aforementioned film in which Morrison discovers that Andy Warhol is, in fact, George McFly.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Sunday shorts: Hold Me

This, the "mini" version of the song, is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Blue Friday: Philadelphia

With all due respect to Bruce's excellent offering from the same film, I think the 1993 Oscar for best original song went slightly astray. Here's the eye-moistening Philadephia by Neil Young.

If you need an extra lump in your throat today, here it is in context, soundtracking the closing scenes of the film.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

The Unewsual IX - outstanding from Denmark

Their footballers may be out, despite Kasper Schmeichel's heroics, but there's more to Denmark than bacon and Lego.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Music Assembly: The Liberty Bell

When I was at school, Wednesday's assembly was always the music assembly. Quite apart from being later in the morning than other days, for timetabling reasons, it also meant that 650 boys got to listen to classical music once a week. Our unfortunately-named (but who shall remain nameless) camp music teacher would take to the stage, bang on for a bit about the composer, or Glyndebourne, or some such, then introduce a piece of classical music which we would more often than not endure, before staff notices and an assistant head boy announcing that the detention list would be "up by break" and that "all boys should check to see if they are on it."

At this point, I should add that I loved my school - it gave me an enviable education, seven fantastic years, and my best friend.

That said, music assembly would invariably be terribly dull. The aforementioned Wednesday timetabling anomaly as least meant that the music would be playing at 11am so, boys being boys and this being the mid-80s i.e. peak-Casio, some would amuse themselves by ensuring their watches' hourly chime would go off during whatever classical piece was being played. I know, I know... and when the camp music teacher later read a piece from a Glyndebourne programme reminding the audience to switch off any digital alarms, well, that only made it worse, of course. What can I say, it was a different time - a different, wonderful time.

Anyway, all this serves to introduce a new and very occasional series in which I'll introduce a piece of classical music and, since I know very little about that subject, the context by which I came to know the piece. To kick off the first Music Assembly, I'm going to draw on the most memorable actual music assembly from my schooldays, in which there was a guest presenter: one of the French teachers. I won't name him either - let's just call him Board-Rubber. He had been my form tutor in my first year at the school, was still my French teacher, and I thought he was excellent. Board-Rubber took to the stage to give a dry and straight-faced introduction to The Liberty Bell, explaining that it was written by John Phillip Sousa at the tail-end of the 19th Century. Perhaps he also spoke briefly about the bell that gave the march its name, I don't recall exactly. I do recall that it was an uncharacteristically serious presentation. All of which changed as his speech concluded, and with a nod to the sound booth stage-right to cue the music, Board-Rubber pivoted on his heel and marched off in an elastic-limbed silly walk that would make Cleese proud. Here is The Liberty Bell in context...

...and in full.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

What was on your wall?

Recently, I have begun the slow process of scanning and digitising a box of old slide photographs. A lot of them are pretty duff - I had a cheap Halina point-and-push at the time - but there are one or two that shine out of the gloom, tiny windows into a long-forgotten past. One such photo showed me in my teenage bedroom, apparently celebrating a birthday and displaying a haul of presents. And I've got to tell you, reader, it was like time travel. A t-shirt that I used to love but had forgotten owning; having lots of hair; and that bedroom, a small box that I had to share with the airing cupboard, but mine, my space. I've been scrutinising that photo carefully, the details pinging vivid memories. I've particularly enjoyed looking at what I had on the wall or, to be more precise, the side of the airing cupboard. Blu-Tac was my friend, as I built a collage of images, posters, postcards and cuttings to cover the white gloss, and seeing it all again ... well, it's quite the Proustian rush.

Example: in the early 80s, I was a regular reader of Starburst magazine. It was a pre-Internet window into what was happening in the world of science-fiction and fantasy, and I'm very pleased to see it's still going. Anyway, I had clearly kept those magazines, and plundered a couple of pull-out reproduction film posters, for I had these on my late-80s bedroom wall, in amongst the collage:

I quite enjoyed Invasion of the Body Snatchers (though, at the risk of being called a heathen, I much prefer the 1978 remake with Donald Sutherland and, teen swoon, Brooke Adams). I hadn't (and still haven't) seen Attack of the 50ft Woman ... I think teenage me just liked the idea of a giant, scantily-clad woman with impossibly long legs on his bedroom wall. Don't judge me.

So can you remember what was on your wall? Care to share?

Important footnote: aside from the 1978 version, other remakes of Invasion should be avoided like the plague. I suspect the Daryl Hannah-powered remake of Attack should also be avoided.

Friday, 2 July 2021

Blue Friday: a Nowhere Fast two-fer

Double bonus. Two songs about going nowhere fast, and proof that songs can be blue without being slow/quiet/minor-key.

 

Yes, the Gedge number has been a previous Sunday short. Oh well, too late now, repeating myself. Anyway... which idea of going nowhere fast do you prefer?

And because I spoil you, here's God, sorry, Johnny teaching us how to play the latter:

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Why is it so hard to get by?

I don't know, Jez from Doves, but good question, well asked.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

A potentially expensive new hobby

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a keen (but very amateur) road cyclist (think sportives, not races), and that later this year I will be cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats in nine days. Well, as part of getting my kit together for that, and to help with fundraising, I designed myself a custom cycling jersey for the event; it arrived last week, and I am pleased to report that I'm very happy with the result.

So much so that I got to thinking... I could put literally anything on a jersey. Anything! This could be the solution to not being able to find many jerseys that I like. Designs like these, for example:

Yes, I did put the Reception Records rose logo on the sleeve of the George Best jersey. And yes, that is the vinyl run-out etching message "The Impotence of Being Ernest" on the sleeve of the Hatful of Hollow jersey.

I could get carried away with this, I really could. There are so many album sleeves, book covers and film posters that would make great jerseys. But these aren't cheap. They are custom-printed one-offs and ship to the UK from Germany. I could very quickly spend a lot of money...

...or I could just take orders?

Monday, 28 June 2021

Manic

A recent Instagram post from everybody's favourite Bangle and 80s crush, Susanna Hoffs <<insert obligatory sigh here>> who, in case anyone has forgotten, was born on January 17th, 1959. That's right, maths fans, Susanna is 62, and must have some kind of a portrait in her attic, I reckon.