Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Let's See What Next Year Brings

The last red berries and the first white snow
I wrote Let's See What Next Year Brings at the arse end of November; thus giving myself a four week window in which to perform it live, before it gets put away in my cranial garage 'til next November/December. That's the trouble with writing anything seasonal: it becomes perishable the minute you make any reference to the time of year, prevailing weather conditions and tinsel. Or sleigh bells.



Anyway, it being New Year's Eve, I'll be giving it a final 2103 outing tonight. And then, in true Noddy style, I'll change the lyrics to include eggs & bonnets, bunnies & buns.

And just before we sign the old year off, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Thanks for swinging by.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A mere Bagatelle?

Batteries not required

1966 and all that: England lift the World Cup, Ford launch the Ford Cortina Mark 2, The Beatles release Revolver & John Medd gets a Bagatelle for Christmas; and you know what? I've still got it. And the box it came in: 'To John, from Santa' it says.

'Zoe'
'Emma'
A bit like The Queen, it gets wheeled out every Christmas day afternoon. This year, however, we waited 'til the 27th. We were invited to a Games Evening, so took the Bagatelle c/w box with us. Not surprisingly it went down a storm. Well it would, wouldn't it? It doesn't need plugging in. It doesn't need batteries. Nor does it come with instructions or a rule book as long as your arm. It just requires you to sit down and pull a rudimentary trigger mechanism and fire six ball bearings around a piece of wood with some nails in. What could be easier?

Some people, of course, took it way too seriously. I won't use their real names here - let's
just call them Zoe and Emma. They were questioning the score keeper. They were sledging. They were tipping drinks all over the playing surface. Well, they are twins. From Leeds. Need I say more? I blame the parents.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Get Bacchanale


Our Christmas revelry has been kept in check this year - not very Bacchanalian; though glasses were charged and raised at the appropriate times. Contrast that to the music we've been listening to this holiday: lots of Medieval Babes and Red Priest - classical baroque fits like a hand in glove at this time of year. Saint-Saëns provided the soundtrack to the bird cooking in its own juices and the subsequent (mini) banquet that followed. Here's the Baccahanale with Gustavo Dudamel conducting The Berlin Philharmonic. Hold on to your seats.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Children Go Where I Send Thee


Shiny 45s hanging from the tree and Nick Lowe entombed in a snow globe; Noddy was right - it's only just begun.

Speaking of Nick Lowe, he was persuaded by his American record company earlier this year to make a 'Holiday' album. In the wrong hands this project would surely have become another of Herod's victims. Instead, it sounds like this:

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Dying Day


Christmas will be a quiet affair this year; just the two of us. We will, though, in keeping with family tradition, still be be putting the tree up this afternoon - big switch on 16:00 GMT (11:00 Eastern). And, as ever, it will be decorated to a Dean Martin soundtrack; not one of his Christmas albums but, invariably, Live at The Sands* or The Essential Collection. Don't ask me how, why or when this all started but we simply cannot deck the halls with boughs of holly to anything other than a Dino backdrop.

But here's the thing. And a very apposite thing at that. Dean Martin died on Christmas Day. Who knew?

* Dean Martin Live at The Sands = classic Sopranos clip

Thursday, 19 December 2013

I always get chocolate stains on my pants

In 1977 you couldn't move for punk rockers. They'd taken over the country. They'd taken over our airwaves and they'd taken over our TV screens. It was wall to wall Clash, Sex Pistols and The Damned. It was Anarchy.

Maybe in a parallel universe the punks really did take over. In reality, apart from the aforementioned stalwarts, the UK punk and new wave scene was essentially John Peel's nocturnal Top Gear radio show and Billy Idol curling his top lip and miming on Top of the Pops. And Sounds on the newsstand every Thursday, of course.

Which is why, despite numerous attempts to rewrite music history (1976 - Ground Zero anyone?), much of the old guard carried on with business as usual. Not least Thin Lizzy. Their leader, Phil Lynott, like Pete Townshend, befriended many of the young upstarts and actually found a lot of common ground. Lynott would go on to front The Greedies with Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the rudderless Sex Pistols and play both Lizzy and Pistols favourites; you couldn't slide a cigarette paper between them.

In 1977, whilst the music industry was allegedly knee deep in gob, Thin Lizzy released Bad Reputation - one of their most commercial albums. And on it was one of the catchiest tunes put out as a single all year. It has finger clicking. It has a sax break. It positively sashays off the turntable; I swear Brian Downey, Lizzy's drummer, is using brushes. Dancing in the Moonlight has it all.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

70 Thru and Thru

Anyone who walked into a branch of William Hill in the 1970s and put a tenner on Keith Richards making his 70th birthday will find themselves very rich today. He wasn't meant to live this long. Hell, it wasn't in the script that he'd see 40; I'm sure Keith would be the first to tell you that he used his body like a laboratory during his drug and drink fuelled heyday. So much for The Verve's mantra.

Thru and Thru is Keith taking the spotlight, sidelining Mick, and producing one of the Stones' finest moments. Fans of The Sopranos will recognise it immediately. It's a crying shame that James Gandolfini isn't around to send the new septuagenarian a telegram.




This goes out to Mondo who, I understand, has just broke the shrink-wrap on his Sopranos box-set.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Tom

© Rober Palmer (c/o The Oldie)
Tom's getting on. We think he's 19; he may even be 20. Despite being recently diagnosed as having Diabetes he still has days when he thinks he's about four and runs 'round like a lunatic. But mostly, he'll go to sleep for the day and only wake up to be fed and watered. Whenever I write a new song I play it to Tom first; I always ask him to tell me if he's heard the tune before. However, when my guitar come out, he just covers his ears with his paws and plays dead.

But as soon as he sees the tree go up on Saturday he'll be straight back into kitten mode - 'helping' us with the lights and tearing up our paper chains; like he's always done. And that's just fine, because we know Tom probably won't be with us for many more Christmases; we just won't tell him.

(Thank you to Hannah Donovan at The Oldie)

Monday, 16 December 2013

There Goes Signin' Simon

Cover photo (probably) not taken at Grimsby Docks
Today's offering writes itself: Roger Busby, musician and Sun Inn regular, met Paul Simon in Grimsby - a town better known for its fishing and maritime industries than its connections with music legends. Rog takes up the story:

"Paul Simon was playing his second gig at Grimsby Folk Club in the winter of 1965/66. I was 18 at the time and Paul would have been 23. I was sharing a flat in the town with work colleague and friend, Bill Johnston, and we had been regulars at the club for about a year at that time. During the break we got chatting with Paul and asked him where he was staying that night - he said that he didn't know (although it was the custom at the time for the club organisers to arrange a bed at someone's house) so we said why not stay with us? Bill had a VW Beetle at the time so imagine four of us plus Paul and his guitar crammed into that!
 Signin' Simon
We had an hour or so chatting and listening to music and he was telling us about how his US record company had dubbed electric guitar, bass and drums onto an acoustic track of The Sound of Silence that he'd recorded with Art Garfunkel and had released it as a single. 'It looks like it's starting to sell' he said, 'so I may have to go back.' Of course it went to # 1 in America and started the whole Simon & Garfunkel phenomenon. We had to get him up very early next morning to catch the milk train back to London and he wasn't the best of early risers. However, I did ask him to sign my copy of the Paul Simon Songbook which was, together with an acoustic EP with Garfunkel, the only recording available at that time. He signed it 'To Bill and Rog, thank you for the bed, the meal and the conversation.' I still have it to this day."


Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Man in Black


Between 1988 and 1992 on Radio 4 Edward de Souza resurrected his persona, The Man in Black, to present Fear on Four: thirty minutes in length these beautifully crafted contemporary horror/thriller dramas played host to some brilliant writers and a supporting cast to match. Spine tingling stories by, among others, Roald Dahl, John Wyndham, Stanley Ellin and Ray Bradbury were played out by a veritable who's who of British acting talent including Timothy West, Thora Hird, Anna Massey, Bernard Cribbins and Imelda Staunton.

I used to make an appointment with fear every Sunday evening for half an hour of aural suspense. Here's one I still find genuinely unnerving; it was Number 12 in the series, as The Man in Black will explain...

If your heart can stand it, set aside half an hour, dim the lights and hit the Play button:

Friday, 13 December 2013

Clichés & toupées & threepées

10cc may or may not have derived their name from the average amount of semen in a male ejaculation, but what is not in dispute is that between 1972 and 1978 they clocked up over a hundred weeks on the singles charts.

Well they would, wouldn't they? They had two pairs of songwriters in the band - busy at their respective typewriters: Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart with their classic pop sensibilities had already put their songs into the Hit Parade with The Hollies, Herman's Hermits and The Mindbenders. Then you had the art school agitants - Lol Creme and Kevin Godley. Their slightly more cynical style and edgy lyrics were the perfect counterpoint to the luxurious sounds coming from across the corridor. Put the two together, throw in a little rudimentary studio trickery and, voilà, the unmistakable 10cc sound.

Silly Love was one of their few flops - if only getting to # 22 can be considered a flop - and shows that when push came to shove they could roll up their sleeves and get stuck in; or indeed any other cliché you may want to insert into that last sentence. I wasn't aware of this until I found the clip below, but in true 70s style they deployed two drummers when in a live situation.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Shack










Scoring heroin on a failed housing project in Liverpool's inner city would not be the subject matter of choice for every songwriter. But to brothers Michael and John Head it's something, by their own admission, they know a lot about. Streets of Kenny is a powerful depiction of life on the other side of the tracks; in every sense of the word. That it got written and recorded at all is a minor miracle - the brothers were in free fall for many years. That it then became one of the main building blocks for their majestic HMS Fable and was performed from the heart and so beautifully makes it even more listenable, to this day.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

I blame Joe Strummer

Cod Reggae: the clue's in the name. If there was an FM station that, heaven forfend, only played this watered down white man's reggae it would probably have the first two Police albums on a permanent loop with 10cc's Dreadlock Holiday thrown in for good measure. And maybe Nice 'n' Sleazy by The Stranglers if they were really pushing the boat out and ting.

Don't get me wrong, if it's done right it can be served up as a delicacy; but for every White Man In Hammersmith Palais there's a Reggae Like It Used To Be (Paul Nicholas really was old enough to know better). Likewise, for every Big Six (Judge Dread was actually on the Trojan label) you've got The Tide Is High - Blondie stylee. Or even worse, Seaside Woman by Linda McCartney; that's right, her take on reggae was about as authentic as her sausages. And before the hate mail comes in, I will gladly put forward Macca's C Moon and praise it to the hilt. Skanking.

Mettlers usually stay well clear of this sort of thing. But Girl were different. That's why I always had a soft spot for them - especially this pleasant little ditty lifted from their 1980 debut album, Sheer Greed: my Cod Reggae guilty pleasure.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Three legs, two hearts

George Lippert (c.1842-1906) was, as his strap-line on the Barnum Circus flyer heralded, the original Three-Legged Man. 
And, with six toes on the end of his third limb, that gave him 16 toes in total. Not only was he born with an extra leg but he had two fully functioning hearts side by side in his chest. So when in July 1906 his right heart stopped beating it wasn't the end; though because of advanced Tuberculosis he did peg it a couple of weeks later.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Still Playing at 78


Got a birthday in December? I'll drink to that!

My dad has got a birthday coming up in the next few days with mine following on a few days later. And his dad, my Pop, would have celebrated his birthday the day after mine. All these family birthdays dotted around Christmas have invariably meant that unlike a regular birthday falling in, say, July, these dates don't have their own identity; they just become part of the C word. You try arranging something in December between the 21st. and the 31st. and see how far you get; pound to a penny it'll be a 'no can do, we've got Christmas and/or New Year parties to go to.' The subtext being 'why can't you have a normal birthday like everybody else?'

So for that reason I'm getting in early, before the onslaught of fake bonhomie, mince pies and Cliff bloody Richard, and taking this timely opportunity of wishing the Old Man 'Many Happy Returns'. I'm sure he won't mind me telling you that he'll be 78; a very sprightly 78 - he still manages to pull in a round of golf three times a week. And, anyway, it gives me chance to publish the photograph above (taken circa 1965) that I only saw for the first time at our, now legendary, family summit a few weeks ago.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Sideways


I've just started reading Vertical, Rex Pickett's follow up to his novel Sideways - a beautifully written homage to California wines with a road movie thrown in - which, not unexpectedly, transferred to the big screen remarkably well. The sequel picks up Miles and Jack seven years later. A sort of Big Sur version of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads. Miles, as you can see from the clip below, is an insufferable wine snob.