Thursday, 29 October 2009

And the Band Played On

As the owner of this blog and bearing in mind its title, it would be seriously remiss of me if I didn’t say a few words on the recently announced retirement of those two cockney sparrows, Chas and Dave, who once regaled us with their cheeky charm but frankly what is there to say?

Instead, I mourn the passing of the singing group that were once the Sugababes. It seems that the last remaining founder member, Keisha Buchanan, has now fled the coop and whether she was pushed or left willingly is not really the issue. What is important now is whether the remaining ‘Babes plus any newcomer really have the right to call themselves the Sugababes with all the global goodwill that goes with that name?

This is a matter that I have touched on before and as yet is still largely unresolved. My contention is this: should any band have the right to use their original name once all founder members have left?

In a recent issue of ‘Record Collector’ there is a page of gig adverts which includes the following; Focus (featuring Thijs van Leer), Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash and The Grounghogs with Tony McPhee. All these are really the thin edge of the wedge as none of them are the original bands but one member plus supporting players. Focus was never Thijs van Leer on his own and without Messrs Akkerman, Ruiter and Van der Linden the Focus name seems a little sullied. I’m not sure who’d want to see Wishbone Ash without Andy Powell (and Upton and Ted Turner come to that) but the name is still being used for commercial gain. It would be interesting to know what a conglomeration of Powell, Upton and T Turner would call themselves?

The case of the Groundhogs is perhaps more acceptable as Tony McPhee was undoubtedly the main man, but I’m sure long time fans of the band would still feel a little short changed without the remaining members.

My feeling is that all bands that do not have a single founding member should be forced by the musicians union to change their name. After all, from a punter’s point of view there is a little matter of the Trades Descriptions Act and the misrepresentation of goods. I dare say that Martin Turner would claim he has done just that by playing under the mantle of ‘Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash’ but I hear the sound of hairs being split. What we need is a decent judicial decision on this point then we can look forward to years of acrimony (see Pink Floyd).

Friday, 23 October 2009

Real Late Starter

I never really like to say what my favourite music is as a) it seems an admission of limiting choice and b) it changes from day to day and year to year but if trapped in a corner and threatened with all manner of unsavoury things, I would be forced to admit that the three areas of interest that have served me well are; Progrock, indie bands and female singers. And if you can find any hybrids of all three please let me know.

The problem with the current female singer market is that it is a touch oversubscribed just at the moment, what with Little Boots, La Roux, Lady Gaga, Florence and the machine, Bat for Lashes and err…Cheryl Cole all vying for attention. So the reappearance of sprightly contender, Nerina Pallot may just be a camel and straws situation if it wasn’t for the fact that she is not just another female singer songwriter.

Pallot’s USP is that she brings a bit of the exotic to the table. Born in London of French and Indian parentage but brought up in the Channel Islands, she has a quirky cosmopolitan aura that I find highly attractive and never more so than on her previous CD, ‘Fires’ back in 2005. So news that her new release ‘The Graduate’ is now available prefaced by the single ‘Real Late Starter’ is still welcome despite the rather crowded market place.

Instead of trying to describe her style, I have constructed a Warminger Pie Chart (pat pending) from which you will note that she marries the manic energy of Alanis Morrisette with the fly-away voice of Joni Mitchell whilst creating some distinctly pop/jazz Steely Dan style pop with a touch of Aimee Mann. Also, she is a talented piano player and I just love it when those who call themselves musicians are just that. Two fingered synth playing doesn’t really count.

I have yet to hear the whole album as it has not yet appeared on Spotify, but if the single is anything to go by it should be another great listen. Some of the new songs are available to hear in ‘work in progress’ mode over on YouTube. This seems to be something that many artists are doing to increase their exposure and which I quite like as it puts the listener in direct touch with the artist rather than waiting for news via third parties.

Check out the kooky video for ‘Real Late Starter’ as it is a real hoot and may touch a nerve for some of us…

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Chance in a Million

Sometimes it seems that the entire history of television can now be bought on DVD, from the great epic dramas to the really silly kids' programmes you used to watch eons ago when the world existed in black and white. But every now and then one particular televisual memory stays just that – a memory. For some unexplained reason and despite the numerous releases of really crap shows, there is always one that stubbornly refuses to emerge.

One of my all time favourite sit-coms was called ‘Chance in a Million’ and starred two actors at the start of their television careers, Simon Callow and Brenda Blethyn. It ran on Channel 4 for three seasons of 6 episodes each between 1984 and 1986 and as far as I know was never repeated nor has it emerged on DVD. Generally there are reasons why DVDs are not released – problems with licensing soundtrack music (‘Moonlighting’ take a bow) or royalty difficulties with acting unions etc – but I suspect in this case it is probably to do with one or other of the stars. Both Callow and Blethyn have moved on to much greater things and I guess that they may not wish to be reminded of their humble sit-com beginnings.

But that is a shame, for ‘Chance in a Million’ was a wonderfully off-the-wall comedy, brilliantly acted by the two protagonists and they should be proud of it. Callow plays Tom Chance, an eccentric bachelor, given to speaking in unfinished clauses rather than sentences who is dogged by coincidence. If anything is highly unlikely to happen then it is certain to happen to him and he is frequently the victim of improbable circumstances. The local police have given up arresting him for crimes he appears to have committed and he fears for any woman he becomes involved with in case his ‘affliction’ rubs off on her – until a chance meeting with Alison Little, played by Blethyn, an on-the-shelf librarian who falls for him.

She is keen for their friendship to develop into something more intimate and part of the comedy involves his being largely oblivious of her seduction attempts. Eventually, however, they do marry in the final episode despite the inevitable catalogue of disasters which threaten to curtail the event. Brenda Blethyn has never been better than in her portrayal of the slightly naïve yet love-torn Alison. Her stoic acceptance of the chaos that surrounds them and matter-of-fact delivery of some of the funniest lines in the script really is worth seeing.

The scripts were written by Andrew Norriss (who later wrote the Brittas Empire) and Richard Fegen and in retrospect lay the foundations for the quirky humour used later by David Renwick in ‘One Foot in the Grave’.

However, it seems there is a God, because several episodes have appeared on YouTube and I have just spent a delightful few hours watching them for the first time in nearly 25 years. And yes, they are still utterly bonkers and I love ‘em.

A brief glimpse - Tom has accidentally picked up the loot from a bank robbery. Now read on...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Too Young to Rock 'n' Roll

Ever thought what the basic difference between men and women is? Women have a tendency to lie about their age. And it’s usually on the optimistic side. Now me – I rather wish I was a bit older than I am, say another ten years. That means I would’ve been born in the mid 1940s and thus would’ve been aware of the rising of rock ‘n’ roll and lived the whole experience in real time from day one. I really envy those who are currently in their sixties and who were lucky enough to do just that. As it is, my consciousness began in about 1962 just as the Beatles were bursting through and although I recall everything that followed, I missed out on the whole Rock ‘n’ Roll thing of the 50s.

Because I love pop music so much, I’m rather sad that I’m just too young to remember the real birth of the youth culture explosion that shook the 1950s to its core. As a result of my newly assumed age, I would’ve been in the school system throughout the 50s and into the 60s, when all those seminal records from Elvis, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and the rest were being made. Then, in 1964, one of the best years in rock ever, I would’ve transferred to higher education (hopefully). Imagine being at college during the mid-sixties in swinging London when the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks etc were in their pomp and Carnaby Street did it’s best to make you look a dedicated follower of fashion. Sort of.

It would also have meant that I would be in gainful employment by the late 1960s and in a position to buy up all those fabulous classic albums of the late 60s and early 1970s – ones that I could only ever dream about and finger the covers of at the time. Of course, it would also mean that I would’ve probably been too old to really appreciate punk when it appeared in the late 1970s and the Brit-pop revival of the 1990s would’ve irritated the hell out of me in my advanced years but I’ll take all that in exchange for a first-hand experience of everything rock has achieved in 50 odd years.

Of course, the other reason why I wish I was 10 years older is that I would expect to be retired by now on a healthy pension and have nothing to do all day but play my old vinyl and grumble that today’s bands are not a patch on those of my youth.

What?...Oh, I do that already.

Monday, 5 October 2009

What Value a Music Collection?

What is your worst nightmare? Nuclear war? Trapped in a dark basement full of spiders? Going blind? Or is it the one where you’re naked and….well, never mind. High up on the list of my darkest moments would be losing my entire music collection comprising as it does, not just LPs, CDs, Downloads and Cassettes but all those bootlegs and collectors’ items like rare versions, acetates and picture sleeves that have been lovingly assembled over the years. Well, that’s what going to happen to Radio DJ and TV personality, Mike Read.

Read has just been declared bankrupt for the umpteenth time since his heyday in the 1980s and as a consequence must sell his entire collection comprising approximately 120,000 items in the hope that it will raise £1M. Like John Peel, a large part of his residence is given over to storing all this stuff and now it’s got to go. I have no truck with Read, but I have to sympathise with his plight even though my own collection is less than one percent the size of his. To lose my collection would be like cutting off my own arm.

It is a part of me that has grown over 40 years of my life. It has become a diary of events, cataloguing the social history of not just me but society as a whole. Sixties protest, the summer of love, punk, the eighties boom years and the rise of technology are all represented in musical form. All my choices are laid bare from the inspired to the downright silly although admittedly some of the latter have been expunged from the record over the years.

Anyone looking my collection would have a pretty good insight into me as a person and this is why it is so difficult to part company with it and why I will clutch it to me until the day I die. I have no idea how Mike Read feels about it but I would guess that he is pretty devastated. But who will buy it? It’s a bit like buying someone else’s shoes – they’ll never quite fit and will mean nothing to them in the long term. No doubt most bids will come from the asset stripping community, keen to sell off the most valuable items and send the rest to the nearest charity shop. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

What’s worse is that my own children as inheritors of my precious collection will probably do exactly the same.