Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Don't spare the horses



A line in Rocking Chair by Jack the Lad makes great play of the fact that riding between London and Leeds in one day was a big deal. It would have been.

Jack the Lad: Charismatic
Time was when the fastest way of getting between the two cities would have been aboard the mail coach. Averaging speeds of between six and eight miles per hour and stopping for fresh horses horses every 10 miles and you can see why packing an overnight bag would have been wise. That and a pistol: highwaymen weren't just a figment of Adam Ant's imagination. Having said that, East Coast Trains will take anywhere between £100 and £150 off you for travelling with them for the two hours and 10 minutes the journey takes today.

Jack the Lad were formed after Lindisfarne disbanded (the first time) and Alan Hull, vocalist and chief songwriter, went solo. The other three brought in Billy Mitchell, another Geordie singer, and together they mad a handful of cracking albums on the Charisma label. I remember Fluff used to play them on his Saturday afternoon radio show in the mid seventies. He probably squeezed them in between Tony TS McPhee's Groundhogs and Genesis.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Leeds, 1972


Dave Mackay: not a big fan of Billy Bremner

Living in Leeds in 1972
If you didn't like Billy Bremner
There wasn't a lot to do

© John Medd 2014

With apologies to anyone out there who really did live in Leeds in 1972; not least my two favourite wessies, Phil and his glamorous assistant Jane. Anyway here's my rough and ready homage to the city that brought you Ernie Wise, Keith Waterhouse and Marks and Spencer. And contrary to repeated taunts in the 1970s, I'm assured it's very clean.

John Medd: Leeds, 1972

Monday, 7 April 2014

The 70s: brought to you by the letter B

Living through the 70s was by turns grim and grimmer still. Thank you to The Dabbler for pointing me in the direction of Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain 1974-1979 by Dominic Sandbrook. I shall of course be reading the tome in its entirety, but just a quick glance through Sandbrook's index tells you everything you need to know about the decade that still haunts us. Just a few of the Bs: Bouquet of Barbed Wire, Brain Salad Surgery, Black & White Minstrel Show, Brentford Nylons. Says it all really.

Here's the author being interviewed about his book.




Thursday, 3 April 2014

Trip Advisor

In case you've not heard, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are reprising their roles in The Trip tomorrow night on BBC 2. The Trip to Italy sees the comedy duo hamming it up as fictionalised versions of themselves all in the guise of another culinary road trip. Apart from the warmer weather - the original was filmed in a typical north of England winter - it's business as usual. Kicking off in Turin in their open top Mini, the food is a long way down the menu - Coogan and Brydon's riffing, complete with extra helpings of Michael Caine, is, as you would expect, the main course.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Phil Wilding


Phil Wilding is a music journalist, radio producer and presenter and most recently author of the acclaimed Cross Country Murder Song. And with his good friend Phill Jupitus he was one half of The Perfect Ten - a real time podcast they used to take out live on the road. Phil kindly agreed to answer a few questions. Sadly I didn't ask him about his fascination with fountain pens.

I hear you're a born again runner. Did I hear right?

You did, I used to run in my youth and then touring with bands and drinking in the daytime took over for a while. Then I found myself working at Men’s Running magazine for a few years (I did a column and wrote and edited for them) and being in that kind of environment pretty much ensured that you were out running along the Thames at least three times a week. I actually started enjoying it and now I do it for the solitude and to think, and to keep fit too, obviously.

You're back on the radio. Are you having fun? Do you prefer being in front of the mic as opposed to knob twiddling?

I do both, I joined Team Rock Radio to produce the Metal Hammer Magazine Show five nights a week, Alex, who presents it, used to be the occasional music contributor on the 6 Music Breakfast Show with me and Jupes, so there’s a certain symmetry to it. I literally presented the Prog Show as they needed someone to cover for a month and I’d done a lot of work on the actual magazine, so knew a lot of the music and musician involved. I was just my usual scathing self, but going into tunes by Yes as opposed to someone like the Manics. Then oddly, the bosses at the station heard it, liked it and asked me to stay. It’s just gone to two nights a week; I’m expecting to be found out anytime soon.

Now you're a published author do you swan around at literary gatherings calling everyone dahling?

Not as much as Jupitus does. No, you’ve met me, I don’t play well with others, I did a few literary and music festivals when the first book came out, and readings were fun if only to watch the way people reacted to the things I’d written (appalled, shocked, angry), but I don’t want to buy into that strange little world, though I think my agent wouldn’t mind if I did.

How's the second book coming along?

The second book is pretty much done, it just needs a final polish and then I need to be able to let it go – harder than it sounds. On the book tip, we’ve finally got the film rights for Cross Country Murder Song away, some North American producers have picked it up, more news on that if and when I get any.

You've interviewed some of the greatest bands rock and roll bands in the world. But who was the dullest?

Kip Winger (of the band Winger), you probably wouldn’t remember him, but at the time his band had sold something like three million albums, and he’d become something of a pin-up, he wore torn T-shirts on stage and fingerless gloves (he sang and played bass) and was in pretty good shape. So even though his label, Atlantic, had flown me to Chicago to talk to him at some festival just north of there, he told me he could only give me ten minutes as he had to work out before he went on stage and he kept his mirrored sunglasses on the entire time. I did not make him my friend and I never did write the article either. I remember all the teenage girls screaming as he came on stage, I’m sure the memory of that kept him warm after Beavis and Butthead eviscerated one of his videos on their show and practically halted his career overnight. Strange days.

And who came closest to Spinal Tap?

Mötley Crüe were pretty close, they were living in a strange world of excess and hype and had been on tour far too long, they were always pretty kind to me, but just caught up in this weird bubble, I’m sure you’ve read The Dirt, it was just like that. I remember being on the side of the stage at one of their shows and Nikki Sixx ran into the wings, threw up into a bucket that was there for that very task – it happened more than once on their tours – gave me a big grin and a thumbs up and went straight back out before the audience even noticed he’d left. You have to sort of take your hat off to that kind of thing. The last time I saw him backstage at the Roundhouse, he was drinking green tea and was incredibly serene.

You're Welsh. Do you sing? Can you sing?

Wilding in his back garden (back row, 2nd. from the left)
Of course I can, like all Welsh people. I also live in a big house on a hill in Camarthen with MSP and the Stereophonics and everyone in Wales was born on St. David’s Day, you berk.

Would you share your bag of boiled sweets on a long train journey?

Of course I do, I’m always first to the bar in the catering carriage too. What are you having?

What's your Saturday night record?

Last Saturday it was Marah’s Kids In Philly, it makes me want to put junk in my hair and sit at a bar and do shots, preferably in New York. Though my neighbourhood is very far from NYC both mentally and physically, sadly.



Who was the last band you saw and did they give value for money?

I’m very lucky in that I don’t have to pay to go to most gigs – though I did pay for my Kate Bush tickets – but the last band I saw was Red Fang at the Electric Ballroom in Camden and they were worth the price of admission, I’m sure. It’s the Manics next and even though they’re mates they’re always great value live, I think they still mean it, so many bands don’t.

Got any advice for Mick Jagger?

Mean it.

Any plans to do another Perfect 10?

Yes, we always have plans to do another 10, there’ll be no more live ones, but there will be more 10s at some point, probably in the field somewhere, as it were, but we’ll do it.

Tell us something about yourself we might not know.

Geddy Lee is my homey. Though I think quite a lot of people might know that, and I have the last paragraph of the Great Gatsby tattooed on my person.

Geddy Lee. Or is it Bono?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

I'll get my coat


It's the winter of 1976 and there's a positive nip in the air. You could even call it Derby Road. Time to dress for the Tundra. Back then you had three choices - four including John Collier: Burtons, if you were feeling flush; Army & Navy Stores, if you weren't, and Kays Catalogue. Good old Kays Catalogue: if you bought a coat in December '76, and availed yourself of their easy payment plan, there's every chance you'd have owned it outright before the onset of the eighties

That's what Foreigner did. Looks like they bought matching luggage too.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Name that tuber


'Get off my land!'

McCain, the frozen chip giant, are ploughing something of a Beatles furrow with their latest advertising campaign. The privately owned Canadian company are using the iconic Abbey Road image to promote their use of British potatoes. Interestingly, the company were founded in 1957 by Harrison  McCain.  He died in 2004 leaving behind a personal fortune estimated at $ one billion.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Martin Kitcher


Three years ago I wrote a blog about Shandy Bass. Top Deck may have got a mention too. Anyway, in amongst the sackful of letters I got in response to this piece of nonsense was a reply from Martin Kitcher, a Dorset musician, who, it transpires, had written a song about Shandy Bass. I of course replied straight away and said  that I'd love to do a Q&A with him as he seems just the sort of maverick my readership would be interested in. Like I said, that was March 2011. Sorry for the delay Martin.

Your CV looks pretty busy - what do you best?

I think I`m probably best at remembering my way around rock and pop songs, which has not only helped me make the odd penny, but has helped quite a lot of musicians get through the odd gig where they weren't really that sure what was going on. I'm a good prompt! This ability helped me naturally into the production of new material for me and for others.When I was a kid, all of the tunes in my head were self invented, so I guess I learned about music that way too.

You appeared on my radar singing Shandy Bass! What's that all about?

The story of Shandy Bass formed as I was driving my old Renault 5 with my friend Marc Arnold to a gig in Southend. Years prior I'd worked in a factory with a company that had moved down to New Milton (my hometown) with many of their staff from that part of Essex; leaving me with many tales of unseen faces and place names of the town that was now fast approaching. Dying for a beer when we arrived, and all hostelries shut, we settled on Shandy Bass from a chip shop by the sea front. I top decked (sorry) the song later on with an ending that takes me and the listener, hopefully, to my hometown - hence the local references including 'cricket down at Ashley Rec.'

So you think you can write another Waterloo? Or Boom Bang a Bang? Why did you go all Eurovision?

It was a joke that got out of hand, but with so many people around me at the time enjoying it and wanting it do well I just had to roll with it. I did find something that I objected to within the rules of the competition, at about the time we found out that we didn't have a hope, and that clause caused all the publicity. But it all became too much for me to handle. My mate who was acting as my press agent at the time took a lot of the pressure off me, but, alas, whilst we were still toying with ideas - including representing Iceland instead of the UK - I had an accident and broke my back. Not too helpful on fronting my dancers (see below). So that was that really.



Will Dorset go the way of Scotland?

I can see it splitting into East Dorset and West Dorset. But the busiest areas of East Dorset will be English with emphasis on the blue bit of the Union Jack for a very long time to come. But Cornwall will go first.

Is Social Media a big part of your life? When did you last write a letter?

I have always written loads. The internet and its social media was like a prayer answered. I love being in touch with people and, yes, sometimes they do get an actual handwritten letter from me. But I've always had great difficulty holding a pen and modern day keyboards have made things so much easier for people like me - with very busy thought patterns and less physical extremities. I would hate being without social media but it does make me wonder what some people smell like!

Who or what makes you angry?

Any injustice dealt out by bullies against people with less defence. Particularly injustices against disabled people. Although it makes me me seethe, I dont like to impose my beliefs on anyone - a quick word or two in a song is something that I am lucky enough to do and get things out of my system.

What's the strangest gig you've ever played?

That's a book in itself! But here's one: I was booked with the band to play at a kind of Christian festival weekend in the summer - as soon as they'd finished their studying and praying they came to see us play. I didn't know how the heck this would go, but when I saw them all flood in - with so much energy - I realised they were party people. We started with Sit Down by James and then followed seamlessly into Spirit In The Sky. The set then seemed to flow naturally. When we did I`m a Believer the lyrics gradually became hymnal in delivery: 'And then I saw HIS face, now I`m a believer!'

Would you share your bag of sweets with a stranger on a long train journey?

Did do as a kid once. Never again - the sooner I'm off of there the better. I wouldn't really want to share a beer in the buffet car either really these days.

You're in a bar. What do you ask for?

A pint mug with a handle filled with either a 5% very cold lager, a decent real ale or local cider that has seen many apples.

Finally, your iPod is on the blink. It will only store one 3 minute song. What do you put on it?
It`s going to have to be something that I have sought after and failed to hear or find for – well, forever basically. So this would be a track by a band that, I think, was called Aphrodite's Child. It was 1971 and I think it was called Bye-Bye My Friend Goodbye. It's in my head but I've never found it.

I think this is what you're looking for Martin. Demis Roussos, Vangelis and some other fella in what looks like a Bee Gees outtake.



Thanks very much John - good questions. Hope you're OK and this is fun for your readers!

You're very welcome Martin.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Get Back (to Leeds)

A Hard Day's Night may not be my favourite film of all-time, but it's certainly in the top two. If my VHS copy and subsequent DVD had stat counters on them they would probably conclude that I'd spent half my waking hours watching this timeless classic.

And here's the thing - I've never seen it at the pictures. I've only ever seen it on the box.

But that's all about to change. A Hard Day's Night is 50 this year and it's coming to Leeds, of all places. For one night only, Tuesday 29 April, it will be showing at the Cottage Road Cinema in Headingley - and I've just bought four tickets. I've got my eye on that poster too.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Ginger

Tom was on hand at The Medd Gallery yesterday overseeing the hanging of his picture. As the title of Sonia Rollo's 'Lady Marmalade' etching would indicate, it's not actually him. But he does do that stretchy thing every morning when he wakes up.

Anyone wondering, like we were in the pub last night, just how many more ginger toms there are compared to their female counterparts - here's the answer and the science behind it.

We're going to see Martin Taylor next week at The Early Music Centre in York. We've seen him numerous times - he made my 50 odd gigs recently. Here he is performing Ginger with fellow stalwart Martin Simpson.





A big thank you to Phil Friend - Honorary Curator at The Medd Gallery.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Bayswater Blues - Chapter 1


It was Saturday morning when I first noticed him. It was early, early for me anyway - about half past ten. I was just coming out of Hyde Park, opposite The Albert Hall, as he was running in.
How am you?’ And with that he sped past me into the park. How am you? Was he foreign? Was he a bit dim? I don't know, but he was wearing a tee shirt that made me laugh. Not out loud, just inwardly. Something I hadn’t done much of recently. Picked out in white on his black shirt was the slogan ‘What You Talkin’ Bout Willis?’
He was there again the following Monday. I was taking Blue for her morning constitution, just coming around the north side of the Serpentine, when I saw him about fifty yards away. Within seconds he was passing me on the right hand side, half on the path, half on the grass.
In it to win it lad.’ In it to win it? How am you? What was he trying to tell me? Again, his shirt brought a smile to my face. This one bore the strap line ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?’ What indeed? And was he Bob, or was he Terry?
Tuesday was the same, same time and tee shirt, but Wednesday was a no show.
Looks like he’s stood us up’ I said to the dog. Oh God, I’m talking to the dog.
Walking back to the flat I made sure Blue was back on the lead, crossed over the Bayswater Road and spent the next twenty minutes re-running old Likely Lads episodes in my head. My favourite was always the one where the pair were holed up in a Church trying desperately to avoid the England score before the TV highlights were shown later that night.
With the dog lead and a pint of milk in one hand I fished my keys out of pocket with the other and let myself back in the flat. I live alone. If you don’t count the dog and the two cats, that is. I’ve lived here five years. In fact it’ll be  five years to the day in a couple of weeks. I know this because I moved in on my 35th birthday.

First things first. Let me explain about the dog. She’s not mine. I’m just looking after her for a couple of weeks. I must be mad. Looking after a dog in Bayswater; well at least I’ve got the Park. But the dog is only the tip of this iceberg. Becca (more of whom later…a whole lot more I promise you) said she’d be no trouble. That’s easy for her to say; but you try walking and feeding (and clearing up after) a greyhound in central London. Bert and Ernie are no trouble at all: they come and go as they please courtesy of the cat flap and if they could use a tin-opener wouldn’t need me at all.
I stuck the milk in the fridge and toyed with the idea of making coffee. But then I looked up at the kitchen clock and decided that as the pubs had been open ten minutes it would be rude not to have a proper drink.
Drinking this early in the day didn’t use to be part of my normal routine. But, since Becca left, things aren’t normal and I don’t have a routine. Blue and I made our way to The Lord Alfred. It’s a ten-minute walk from the flat and, with it being tucked away behind the shops, it’s never busy, nor is it frequented by office knobs; they tend not to venture past the wine bar on the corner.
Walking in the Alfred I always get the feeling that I’m coming back to some spiritual home, and then that feeling gives way to a wave of guilt and self loathing; but then the whole thing passes and it’s business as usual.
Pint of London Pride and a double scotch when you’ve got a minute Bill’ I yell to mien host at the other end of the bar who appears to be persuading, without much success, Angie not to leave his employ and succumb to the allure of the wine bar 'round the proverbial corner.
‘…I’ll up your money to eight quid an hour and I’ll pay for your cab home’.
Ten and you’ve got yourself a deal.’
Nine’ and that’s my final offer’ replied Bill, now with a serious sweat on his brow.'
Alright Scrooge. But I’m out of that door ten minutes after you shout last orders. The last few weeks I’ve still been washing glasses at midnight’
Knowing that he couldn’t afford to loose the pub’s one and only asset Bill acquiesced and, with a wave of his hand, walked down the bar and started pulling my pint.
You’re early today Richard’.
The sun will have passed the yard arm somewhere on the planet Bill and that’s good enough for me. And anyway, the dog likes it here.’ I was being serious: Blue shuffled under my bar stool and nodded off within seconds; when we’re back at the flat she paces the room and scratches at the front door. I think she’s missing Becca; tell me about it.
If I had more customers like you Richard I’d be a rich man’.
You are a rich man’.
I won’t be for much longer if I pay all my staff Premiership wages for playing in the Fourth Division.’
With that Angie came back from the cellar and whispered loudly enough into Bill’s ear so that she knew I’d hear - ‘You know that without your star player this team would be relegated out of the league.’
Bill, knowing he was beaten, laughed and made his way to the office. Just as he reached the door he shouted over to me.
You don’t know Group 4’s number do you Richard? I need them to deliver Angie’s wages on Friday!'
He’s right’ she said, ‘It is early. Even for you. Still no word?’
Well, as she’s technically left me, I’m not expecting her to ring’.
I know, but surely she’s coming back for Blue’.
I’ll probably get a second hand message from her sister. In fact I don’t know why she didn’t dump the mongrel on her. In fact I don’t even know why she got the bloody thing in the first place. We never talked about having a dog and yet two days after walking out on me she’s bought a bloody whippet’.
It’s a greyhound’ Angie corrected me.
Whatever it is, it’s nothing more than a four legged shit making machine’ and with that off my chest I downed my scotch in one and took the head of my London Pride. I then felt sorry for the mutt curled up under my stool and tickled her ears. It struck me that it wasn’t a very fair swap. I lose the girl of my dreams and six weeks later I’m babysitting her dog while she’s lying on a beach somewhere.
Another Pride, Ange, and whatever you’re having’. I figured on having a couple more before going home and typing up some invoices; I call myself a translator, Spanish mainly, but most of my time these days is spent with spotty kids trying to get them ready for GCSEs. I used to get a lot of commercial work with overseas clients who wanted everything from sex guides to gun manuals translating. But I take whatever I can these days. After Becca left I just can’t think straight.
Angie pours my pint, graciously turns down my offer of a drink and reaches up to switch the TV on. From where I’m sitting I get a grandstand view of the top of her thong peeking over her jeans; for a split second my mind races into X-rated territory but I’m soon shaken out of my reverie when the news channel up on the screen cuts away to a familiar face and the reporter thrusts a microphone in his face.
The smug looking newshound asks: ‘So a great victory today, you must be delighted’.
I am indeed. It just goes to prove that you’ve got to be in it to win it’.
It’s the man in the park!’ I yell. Angie looks over, as do a couple of punters at the other end of the bar.’ It’s him’ I say and, obviously, she’s none the wiser. ‘It’s the loony jogger!’
How do you know him then, love?’
I see him in the Park and he talks to me in code. Turn it up Ange, let’s see what he’s been up to.’
‘…I can’t believe it. I’ve finally got the law on my side. It means I’ve now got regular access to my kids.’ The guy then starts choking up and with that the interviewer hands back to the studio. Angie turns the sound down and starts conducting her own interview.
If he’s a mate of yours why have you never brought him in here and introduced me: he’d keep my bed warm on a winter’s night’.
Two things Ange: One, I don’t know his name, he runs past me at a rate of knots shouting something barely intelligible and two - you’re a married woman. Wouldn’t your fella object if you brought home a six foot two hot water bottle?’
A girl can dream, can’t she?’
I decided that if I had another one I’d be there for the rest of the day. But if I left now I could grab a bite to eat and get an early edition of the Standard and see if I could put a name to the likely lad in the Park. I was proud of myself, I went for Plan B. Maybe I’m not quite an alcoholic yet.

Me and the dog stepped out of the pub, squinted in the daylight, only to be greeted by another all too often downpour. Tempting as it was to do an about turn and return to my still warm bar stool I decided that I really was hungry and, anyway, The Alfred hasn’t served food since 1982; if Bill ever offers you a pie, check the sell by date. We ran to the kebab shop on the corner, and I mean ran - after all, Blue is a greyhound. I put my order in for a ‘shish with everything’ and while it was being constructed I nipped to the newsagent next door for a paper.
I found him on page five. His name was Dave Goulden and, along with a group of other ‘Distant Dads', he’s been fighting for the right to have fair and unrestricted access to his children after he and his wife divorced eighteen months ago. Just as I was scanning further down the story a big dollop of chilli sauce ran off my kebab and totally obliterated half of page five.
Now I knew his name I wasn’t quite sure if having this piece of information helped me any; yeah, I’d be able to shout ‘Morning Dave’ as he charged past me in the park. But it wouldn’t bring Becca back.

OK, I guess it’s time to fill you in on this woman who walked out on me and whose face I still expect to see next to me every morning I wake up. And, if I haven’t had at least three cups of strong coffee before I leave the flat, I still think I see her in tube stations, sandwich bars and pubs all over town.
Rebecca Jane Harrison-Flowers is what it says on her passport. For some reason she was never comfortable taking on my surname when we married, hence the double barrel bit, and rarely uses it; at work or on utility bills she’s Rebecca Flowers. To friends she’s just Becca. To me she’s a gaping hole in my life that, as things stand, I don’t think I’ll ever get over. 


Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Cilla

Sher-oo! Cilla's third solo album from 1968
If anyone was going to play Cilla Black in a biopic then Sheridan Smith (below left) probably ticks more boxes than most. However, the transformation into Cilla, seemingly, took nothing more than a red wig and a pair of false teeth. How the story of Liverpool's First Lady is told hinges not just on young Sheridan's ability to keep her dentures in when mimicking Cilla's Mersey Tunnel of a voice, but trying to capture the sense of innocence that, despite much revisionism, existed throughout much of the the 1960s.

From hatcheck girl at The Cavern to having a lorra lorra fun on Blind Date I'm sure we'll learn as much as Cilla wants us to learn and, in keeping with most dramas of the genre, any gaps will no doubt be filled courtesy of some mild latitude with the facts.

Despite having a decent set of pipes on her I'm guessing that Smith won't actually be belting out the tunes herself, chances are she'll be miming to a selection of Cilla's formidable EMI 45s.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Group hug?

Fans of Notts County don't see a lot of good times. It's mainly thin, not much thick. If it wasn't for the self deprecating humour of the fans there would be a lot of jumpers throwing themselves off Trent Bridge right now.

I've never been a fan of the pre-match huddle; as the wag who sat a couple of seats from the Number One Son last Saturday said - 'You've had ALL week.' Precisely. And now the manager says he's baffled as to where it's all gone wrong this season. He's baffled? What does he do all week?

In addition to the legendary Wheelbarrow Song The Kop now sing 'The football league is upside down' to the tune of When the Saints. Priceless.

I think it's time to lose the group hug.