Monday, 27 April 2009

Fact or Fiction Dept.

A few posts ago, I wittered on about 1970s dance favourites Pan’s People and since then I admit to being a bit obsessed with them but never did I expect it to spawn another one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction events. During their heyday in the early 70s, PP appeared weekly on Top of the Pops thus setting themselves up for all manner of spoofs and jolly japes.

One of the most watched television comedies at the time was ‘Porridge’ where in one episode, Ronnie Barker, as jailbird Norman Stanley Fletcher, fantasizes:
"I could call up a couple of birds - those darlings who dance on Top of the Pops, what are they called? Pan's People. There's one special one - beautiful Babs... I don't know what her name is."
Meanwhile, Benny Hill was creating his own spoof, ‘Pam’s People’ comprising himself, Henry McGee, Bob Todd, Jackie Wright and Earl Adair in drag. Monty Python also essayed a male version of the troupe under the dubiously un-PC name of ‘Pan’s Pooves’.

Much later, French and Saunders also added their own parody to the list of pastiches of the unfortunate dancers under the name of ‘Pan’s Indeedy People’. What had the poor girls done to deserve it?

But the point of this post can be found in the popular 1970s TV comedy, The Goodies where frequent reference is made to a er..mature dance troupe known as ‘Pan’s Grannies’. We even get a glance of them terrorising the town with handbags drawn in one episode. But it seems that the real world has struck back. It was recently reported that Dee Dee Wilde, an original member of the real Pan’s People and now 62 years of age has just opened a dance studio for the over 50s. Classes will take place in the village hall of her home town of West Ashdon in Wiltshire – Pan’s Grannies indeed!

Haha! I wonder if they’ll be doing the ‘Monster Mash’ routine complete with costumes and make-up? Of course it’s easy to laugh now, I didn’t have to choreograph over 300 routines, many having been given less than 2 hours to be done, but actually some of them weren’t bad at all. Have a look on Youtube at the routines for the Temptations’ ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’ and Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’. I’m not sure what the production manager was on but the effect of the dance combined with some far-out (man) TV effects is grimly fascinating. Other favs are the 'Laughter in the Rain' routine with plastic macs and the acted 'You're So Vain' - just brilliant!

Yes, indeedy!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Millingtons Still Rock!

Those who are regular readers of these posts will know about my affection for pioneering all-girl band Fanny who rocked the music world between 1969 and 1975. Since those heady times, founder member and lead guitarist June Millington has led an interesting life. Initially, she took a bit of a career break than returned to record ‘Ladies on the Stage’, a disco influenced late 70s album with sister and fellow ex-Fanny bass player, Jean Millington.

In the early 1980s she carved out a solo career for herself and released several albums on her own label then in 1986, with partner Ann Hackler, set up the Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA). This non-profit foundation supports women and girls in music and music-related business such as production and engineering and gives tuition in playing and singing. You can find out more about this worthy enterprise at

As well as all this endeavour, June still finds time to write new music and play in her current band, The Slammin’ Babes which also includes sister Jean on bass.

The latest song to come from the creative talent that is June Millington is one called ‘Terrible Things’ and features June herself on guitar and vocals, Jean on bass and Jean’s son Lee on drums. This is probably the nearest most of us will get to hearing the old Fanny line up but just to hear the Millingtons in full flow is a joy to behold. Age has not diminished their talent and their playing is as solid as ever.

As for Lee, well, lucky boy! Who else do you know that plays in a band with his mum on bass and aunt on lead guitar!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Heroes and Villains

‘The Sweeney’s doing ninety ‘cos they’ve got the word to go
They get a gang of villains in a shed up at Heathrow’

So sang Squeeze in 1979’s ‘Cool for Cats’. What a curiously 1970s word ‘Villain’ is. It speaks of old-fashioned Cops ‘n’ Robbers desperately trying to outwit each other but on the strict basis of an unspoken code of honour. Today’s villains have no such qualms and it seems the Police have taken themselves off to harass motorists.

But what about musical villains? Assuming the same ancient code of honour where all parties have a sense of values, my guess is that ‘villains’ would be represented by all those albums that you bought in good faith because they were the accepted standard of the time only to find years later that they are really quite nasty pieces of work. I’ve got quite a few of those.

One that looms large in my collection is ‘Keep Your Distance’ by Curiosity Killed The Cat. In 1987 CKTC were the bees’ knees probably based on the fact that leader Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot wore that ridiculous fisherman’s cap backwards so that it resembled a beret. I remember they spent a vast amount of time guesting on TV’s ‘The Tube’ during the time when Paula Yates was a compere – funny that. Anyway, they had a good press and I bought the album and must’ve played it a few times but frankly I can’t recall any of it. It obviously palled very quickly and now sits forlorn in the ‘did I really buy that?’ category.

Another prime example is ‘The Big Lad in the Windmill’ by proto-proggers, It Bites. This one is from 1986 so there must be something about the late 80s that didn’t agree with me. I think I was thrashing around trying to find stuff to like between the New Romantics/Electro-pop of the early 1980s and the Trance/Shoegazers of the early 1990s – and failing. I believe that It Bites reformed about 10 years ago and still functions to this day. Eek!

Nowadays these ‘villains’ are a bit of an embarrassment. There they rest in my collection unplayed and unloved and only there at all because I can never bring myself to get rid of anything. One day perhaps I’ll feel strong enough to have a spring clean and send them to a good home but it’s a bit like divorce in that you always feel guilty that in some way it was your own fault. Perhaps it was.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Return of Spandau Ballet

GOLD! Duh duh da da da da da dar...You’re indestructible, ALWAYS BELIEVING!

Guess what? Following in the dainty footsteps of just about the entire music industry excluding the Rolling Stones who never split in the first place, Spandau Ballet have put aside their differences and reformed to create more, art. In true poptastic style they chose to announce this little venture, a series of UK dates starting in the autumn, from the deck of HMS Belfast, currently moored in the Thames near London Bridge. Quite why, no one knows. Excuse me if I’m not overcome with expectation but the Spandaus were never one of my favourite New Romantics, I was always more of a Duran Duran man myself so count me out when the tickets go on sale.

That’s always assuming they haven’t split up again before the tour actually starts. After all, their history is splattered with internal strife, musical differences, court cases and general fallings out so the possibility is not outrageous. Nevertheless, for the time being, it seems that time has healed all and Tony Hadley, the acting Kemp brothers and the other two are bestest mates again. Would you believe it? Yes, it’s...TRUE, da da etc.

Seeing as the Durannies are fresh from their own reunion a few years back perhaps we could see a New Romantic Revival tour, assuming Boy George can get early Parole. Either that or they’d have to do the whole show from Newmarket Clink in a Johnny Cash sort of way. Wonder if they allow girls’ blouses in there?

In retrospect, what a strange period the early 1980s was. Perhaps it was a direct reaction to the ‘ugliness’ of the preceding punk years but dressing with abandoned flamboyance was always destined to be frowned upon in future annuals of the history of pop. Personally, I was always more interested in the continuance of the New Wave as exemplified by XTC and the emergence of electro-pop as essayed by Human league, Depeche Mode and early Eurythmics so didn’t have much time for this lot.

Still, rifling through my LP collection I see that I actually own a copy of their ‘Parade’ album from 1984 which has neither ‘Gold’ nor ‘True’ on it, but does have ‘Only When You Leave’ as its opener, the sort of tune decorators whistle tunelessly whilst painting your spare bedroom. No wonder I don’t really remember them with any fondness. Sorry guys.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Branscombe and Me

Oh Lord! Fate has a way of catching you unawares, ripping your insides out and leaving you to sort out the mess and that’s what happened to me. Part of my recent inheritance comprises two rather tatty leather bound albums containing beautifully corner-mounted and annotated black and white photographs. I had been vaguely aware that these existed but have not seen them in the flesh since I was very small. They contain images of my smiling and carefree parents from their wedding in 1953 up until my birth a few years later and a little beyond. Each picture has a little caption inscribed on the black page in my mother’s copper plate handwriting giving locations dates and wry comments (she would’ve made a great blogger had she not died of cancer in 1971).

It was whilst leafing through the pages labelled ‘Honeymoon 1953’ that I found it, a picture of my parents sitting outside an inn, my father looking youthfully skinny and darkly handsome and my mother, radiantly blonde in one of her endless supply of 1950s dresses. The background building is classically ancient in a very English sort of way but it was the shape of the thatched roofs over prominent bays that began to stir a distant memory. The photograph was labelled ‘Branscombe’, a small town on the south coast, and suddenly it clicked. I rushed to where my own photos are stored and started rifling through them. Eventually I found it, a colour photograph taken by me in 1988 of the very same building almost from the same angle. The thatched roofs and matching thatched ‘umbrellas’ over the tables on the forecourt were unmistakeable. The place looked no different from one image to the other even though they were taken 35 years apart. The truth was; I’d stayed there as well.

The realisation struck me deep in my soul. I had stayed a night in the very same inn where my parents had honeymooned before I was even a twinkle and I’d never even realised. Spooky, but family connections run deep. In the 1980s, being young free and single, I and a friend had occasionally had a ‘road trip’ to wherever the road took us and it was during one of these merry jaunts that we had stayed at what now turns out to be the Mason’s Arms in Branscombe.

Guiltily, I remember overdoing the beers that night and feeling much the worse for wear the next day at breakfast. I trust my parents’ experience wasn’t quite so debauched, but sadly I’ll never know.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Amanda Marshall

It seems that I have a natural affinity for Canadian artists. This revelation hit me squarely between the eyes when my iPod shuffle mode brought forth one of my favourite songs, ‘Shades of Grey’ by Canadian singer/songwriter, Amanda Marshall and it got me thinking.

I suppose that my first conscious exposure to Canadian culture was Anne Murray’s ‘Snowbird’ nearly 40 years ago. I remember it clearly because my school-friend, Terry, bought the single and it had an eye-poppingly lurid red and orange label. As an aside, it is such a shame that today’s generation have missed out on proper record labels – they were such fun, and so memorable. Anyway, since then I have followed the careers of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Martha and the Muffins, Alanis Morissette and latterly, Allison Crowe. And that’s not to mention a passing interest in Shania Twain, Bryan Adams, BTO, Leonard Cohen, Avril Lavigne, Crash Test Dummies and others too numerous to list here. It seems they are everywhere.

But back to Amanda Marshall. ‘Shades of Grey’ is a song I heard playing in a Virgin Megastore (when such things existed) several years ago and liked it enough to buy the album. Written by Marshall and guitarist Eric Basilian, it is a mid-tempo ballad backed by a mildly trip-hop drum pattern and chiming guitar figures and showcases Amanda’s rich contralto. The song itself contains some fascinatingly enigmatic lyrics. Try this, for example:
‘When my grandmother held me for the very first time
She thanked God that I looked like my Daddy
And I never quite knew just what she meant
But I knew she was a little too happy’
Is this autobiographical? Only Amanda knows but it gives the whole song a dark centre hinting at adultery and shogun weddings.

Also of interest is the guitar solo towards the end which owes much to the extensive use of the wah-wah pedal and sounds exactly like the sort of solo you could imagine Jimi Hendrix providing as a ‘guest guitarist’ in his senior years assuming he was still around to do so. Because of this, it has a slightly melancholic feel to it which complements the lyrical sentiments perfectly. The album from which it comes ‘Tuesday’s Child’ is generally very good indeed although, as usual, I have failed to follow this up and buy her more recent releases but then if I did this consistently for all artists I’d be penniless by now. Nevertheless, if they are anything like ‘Tuesday’s Child’, they are probably worth recommending.