Saturday, 31 March 2018

Brought to you in Technicolor

Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
I love this photograph. That's my mother on the right, and her younger sister Carmel (my favourite auntie) taken in Trafalgar Square c.1954. Mum would have been 20, Carmel barely 18. It's quite obvious, looking at them over 60 years ago, they hadn't got a care in the world - their whole lives ahead of them.

Although mum's not around anymore, I decided to bring this photo to life, blow it up, frame it, and give one copy to Carmel and one to my dad - both very much alive and kicking.

I've been following Andy the Photo Doctor (@andythephotoDR) on Twitter for a while now - he restores historic black & white football photos and, with the knowledge of old football strips, can kickstart a once tired tired image and make it look like it was taken only yesterday. I asked Andy if he would do a commission for me, we agreed a price and then it was down to business.

As mum and Auntie Carmel weren't wearing football shirts the day they visited the capital in the mid-fifties, my only markers were hair colours and maybe the livery of mum's coat. My email to Andy last week must have read like gibberish: 'Mum had dark hair in her twenties, not black as such, but not brown either. Her coat would probably have been dark blue - but I haven't really got a clue. Am I making sense?'

No, but then, when did I ever?

But fair play to Andy, it was only a couple of days later when I got this sneak preview - the crop on the right (Duffle Coat Man had to go) was my edit. I liked this version so much I took it to my picture framer straight away.


And then, only a couple of hours ago I got the finished article. Again I'll probably crop matey on the right - you never know who's behind you when you're having your photo taken, do you? In an ideal world I'd also want to air brush the guy standing directly behind mum; but no worries, I'm absolutely made up with the final image.


It's Carmel's birthday soon, and Father's Day, so when I get them back from the framers I'll hand deliver both presents and watch as they peel away the wrapping, and travel back in time...

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Hey there Mister Blue

Mr. Blue. He invented glam, you know
A songwriter friend of mine came over the other Saturday afternoon with his guitar - we played, drank gallons of tea and swapped a few ideas. He produced a melody and some snatches of lyrics he was turning into a new song. He told me its premise was all the girls he'd ever gone out with were together in one room - and what they'd say.

"Are you mad?" I think I may have blurted out. But he wouldn't listen. "Finish that song mate and there's a whole world of pain coming your way, nothing's so sure."

However, it did get me thinking. What if all the people I'd ever done a mixtape for all congregated in the same room? "Fuck me," they'd say to one another, I thought he only put 'Car 67' on mine just to wind me up. And what was 'Sunscreen' all about? But I really liked that bluegrass version of 'White Wedding' he put on mine." A lot of the blokes may remember me putting this on their CD compilations: "I think I got yours" one of the chaps would say to the girl in the corner wondering what she was doing in a room full of strangers - all clutching a drink in one hand and a C90 cassette in the other.

"Oh! Oh! Who remembers that song by the crazy Bollywood guy? I still dance around the kitchen to that one!"


Mohammed Rafi - Jaan Pehechan Ho (1965)

Some of my 'Best Bits' would be playing thru the PA and a few in the room may get dewy eyed about Another Train. Others maybe jumping on the furniture when Block Buster! comes on. Not pretty.

But I wonder how long it would be before Barry Blue's 'Do You Wanna Dance' entered the conversation? "He used to tell me Barry Blue invented glam", one would say, and someone else would pipe up "And did he put it on at the start, just after Gene Hunt shouting "Don't move you're surrounded by armed bastards?"

"YES!"

Rumbled.


Barry Blue - Do You Wanna Dance (1973)



For Alyson - even though I've never done her a mixtape

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Son Of My Father

The father of two close friends of mine (brothers) died suddenly last week. It’s the first immediate family loss they’ve had to deal with, and they’re taking it hard; it's understandable - the death of someone so pivotal in your life will always knock you off your perch.

We all deal with bereavement in our own way – there is no right or wrong way. Just your way. But no matter how you choose to handle the fall out and the very fact that that person is no longer around, it’s vital that the memories you retain accurately reflect the deceased. Keep the latest revision, or at least one that you’re comfortable with, and file it in your emotional hard drive where it can be retrieved easily and without (too much) pain. Bloody hell, I sound like a counsellor.

Loudon Wainwright has built a career on writing songs about his family. This is one he wrote just after his dad left the building for the last time.


For M & T

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Can you pull a few strings?

Could this seat be any bigger?

He doesn't walk like a Thunderbird puppet
Yesterday was kind of special: I'd got tickets for Thunderbirds Are Go at Broadway Cinema including a pre-screening Q&A with the late Gerry Anderson's son, Jamie.

There's something about sitting on the front row at the pictures - if it's good enough for Jamie Anderson and Scott Tracy, then it's certainly good enough for me. Scott was very quiet all afternoon, however Jamie was more articulate; he told me afterwards it was the first time he'd ever seen the film on the big screen.
Knee high






I also asked him how cool it must have been as a kid to have Gerry Anderson as your dad. "Kind of," he said, "But, between the ages of 11 and 16, never a day went by without someone at school asking me why I didn't walk like a Thunderbird puppet." A small price to pay, I'd have said.


Friday, 23 March 2018

Phil Cooper

Phil Cooper - Shakin' All Over

I found Phil Cooper on my Twitter feed. He's always plugging gigs and is, seemingly, forever on the road - there must be a bit of Bob Dylan in him, me thinks. His new single, Shake it Up, was released earlier this month and is so catchy it's obscene. So what makes this bespectacled troubadour tick? There's only one way to find out...

Phil, your new single has just come out. On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you?

10, naturally! It’s such a lively upbeat song, I’m mostly excited to get out and play it live. It’s really catchy and easy to pick up, so I’ll be expecting great things from my 'singalong' audience!

You love Twitter I see. Giving Trump a run for his money?

Well I don’t have any parody accounts of me yet, so I’m not quite at that level, haha! As an independent artist, Twitter’s a great place for getting out to people who don’t really know you. I’ve had quite a few people turn up at my tour shows because they saw it on Twitter and thought they’d take a chance. Long may that continue!

Are you a prolific songwriter?

I guess I’m a songwriter above all else (and as much as I love performing) so yeah, I guess you could call me prolific. I start new songs all the time, but I think I’ve become more picky about which songs I finish now. I also love writing while I’m out on tour, so I expect to be writing a load more over the coming months, as I set off around the UK.




I love the video that goes with Shake it Up. Are you still a busker at heart?

Thanks. As it happens, I’ve never really enjoyed busking per se, but I do love spreading happiness and creativity through my live show, and that was the thought process behind the video. I wanted to take that element of my show out on to the streets, so Mike (who directed, shot and edited it) and I went out in to Bristol city centre with all manner of instruments (mostly egg shakers, which also get handed out during most of my gigs).

What was the first single you bought with your own money?

I don’t actually remember, I’ve always preferred albums to singles, so I do remember that 'We Can’t Dance' by Genesis was my first album purchase.

Biggest crowd you've played to? And smallest?

The biggest was probably when I supported The Bluetones in Bristol last year. I’ve loved the band since the mid 90s so that was a special moment for me.  I’m pretty sure every experienced band has that one gig where literally no-one turns up, mine was with my old band The Haiku when we played to just the sound man, even the support band left before we took to the stage.

Where's all this leading to - plays on local radio or global domination?

Probably, and hopefully, somewhere in between. I tour the country (and Internationally) because I don’t want to get stuck in the 'local circuit', as much as I love my local area and the support they give me. I have confidence that my music is universally enjoyable, so I naturally want to get it to as many people as possible. I’m not sure I want celebrity status though for myself though, it’s the songs that are the real stars.

Beatles or Stones?

Beatles every time. I do enjoy the Stones, but The Beatles contained three of the most amazing songwriters that have ever lived.

Sweaty rock club or festival?

I enjoy both but festival just about edges this, I like the choice and the relaxed atmosphere.

Superstitious? Any rituals before gigs?

It’s boring but my pre-gig activities are mostly practical, the clearance of the bladder and the vocalzone (or Fisherman’s Friend) vocal lozenge to clear the airways. While I don’t really get 'nervous' I do get restless in the 15/30 minutes before a show, so there tends to be a lot of pacing involved.

The song you wished you'd written?

Too many to mention, I love so many songs. Most of Neil Finn’s back catalogue, and plenty of Ben Folds' songs.

Tell me something you've never told another living soul.

Does it have to be true? Haha! I genuinely can’t think of anything, I’m a ridiculously open person and I probably share way too much.

A big thank you to Phil for taking the time. His plans for world domination continue apace - see his evergrowing list of up and coming gigs - he's well worth a detour.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Martina

Martina & Alfons - Prague 2018

On my last night in Prague I met Martina. And Alfons. Martina wanted to take my photograph. Not an issue; though I can count the number of times that's ever happened to me in a bar on the fingers of one hand.


Alfons, her adorable 12 month old black labrador, Martina told me, is named after Alphonse Mucha, the celebrated (and much copied) Czech Art Nouveau painter.

I then, of course, had to take her photograph. Unfortunately we didn't exchange contact details, so she'll probably never see this.

The footage below is quite amusing, if only for the presenter's suit and waxed moustache. But it gives you an idea of Mucha's place in art history - even his 'throwaway' advertising posters command silly money.



Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Very Fabric

Liberty Bridge (taken from Buda) 
It will come as no surprise to you that more than a few beers were consumed on my recent Eastern European jaunt. They like their lagers over there - which, personally, I can take or leave* - but coming up on the inside rail is a burgeoning craft beer scene that is certainly giving Euro-fizz a run for its money. That coupled with the fact that Budapest, our first stopover, is, officially, the cheapest place in Europe to drink beer and, all of a sudden, it's Game On!

Budapest is a tale of two cities, quite literally: a city divided by the Danube: conservative and classical Buda on the East Bank bank and, over the water, Pest (where we were staying) - busy, buzzing and bourgeois (as one of the guides I picked up described it).

Basic Bár (aptly named) was a smashing little find tucked away in the Jewish Quarter. Selling locally brewed Hungarian beers (a great range of IPAs, cherry beers & dark beers) with luxuriant electronica (they love house music as much as they love lager, seemingly) booming out to its Bohemian clientele - not a tourist in sight, it really was the perfect spot.

In his broken English** the barman was able to tell me in words of one syllable just how good his beers were (and they were) and that he piped in John Digweed's "Transitions" (his London radio show/podcast) every week for his discerning punters. This was the one playing when we were in.


It took me back to the plethora of Fabric CDs I own - many with Digweed remixes - and Saturday nights in particular back at Medd Towers in the early noughties when I took charge of the decks and cooking (knobs and hobs) with Digweed, Sasha et al creating the perfect soundtrack to the best homemade pizzas in town, bar none.  Ask anybody.

* With the exception of Pilsner Urquell Dark which hit the spot later in the week in Prague
** Still way better than my Hungarian

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Trains and Boats and Planes

Budapest 47.4979° N, 19.0402° E 
Sat, Sun, Mon

The bags are packed. The taxi to the airport's booked. The cat's sulking1. Yep, time for a few days away.

Three nights in Budapest, a train journey on Tuesday across the Hungarian border to Prague: three further nights in the Czech Republic, and fly home next Friday. Should be good.

Tues, Weds, Thurs


No itinerary to speak of; nowhere to be at any set time - just a few nice beers to be drunk, an eastern European goulash or two and a bit of culture thrown in for good measure. I know there's a terrific  floating jazz bar2 on the Danube everyone raves about, so a couple of hours on board a boat listening to live music, with a drink in my hand - should tick all the boxes.


And, can I just say, I'm getting really excited about the six hour train journey - I absolutely love foreign train travel - the drinks trolley, a good book3 and just gazing out of the window; what's not to like?

I'm sure there'll be pictures and stories when I get back, but that's it for a few days.

Hamarosan találkozunk4


Burt Bacharach - Trains and Boats and Planes (1965)



1 Doris hates it when we go away; she'll be OK
2 Columbus Pub
3 The Chalk Man
4 See you soon

Friday, 9 March 2018

Johnny's always running around

Johnny & Mary Antonia*
As the excellent Mad Men slowly begins to exit stage left in front of my very eyes (86 episodes down, only six to go), I've been forced to seek solace in another Netflix boxset: Lovesick, starring the ever charismatic Johnny Flynn, is my kind of show. It's funny. It's sad. And it is, for the most part, believable; pretty much. All the characters and their back stories are interwoven perfectly - making it a real ensemble piece. The writing is slick and it's always on the button. So much writing these days, especially comedy writing, is a bit like tuning in an old radio - sometimes the reception is good, other times not so. Lovesick is consistently 'locked on'.

I won't give away any plot spoilers, but if you watch the 45 second trailer below it will, I'm hoping, pull you in. And please don't think it's in anyway akin to the Richard Curtis school of lazy, tepid Rom Com - it's way, way, better than anything Curtis could ever conjure up (with the exception of About a Boy, and, in any event, that was Nick Hornby). No, Lovesick is a genuinely very funny and moving show that will definitely keep you out of mischief for a while. I'm on Series 3 so will be a few lengths ahead of you if you do decide to jump in.


Oh, and did I tell you that the soundtrack is none too shabby either? Take a look.
The episode I've just watched had a quirky take on Robert Palmer's Johnny & Mary. It's by Todd Terje with guest vocals by Bryan Ferry. I know what you're thinking but, believe me, it does actually work really well. Palmer's quirky 1980 single has been slowed down somewhat and been given a slightly sinister coat of menace.

Bryan Ferry & Todd Terje - Johnny & Mary


* Johnny Flynn plays Dylan, Antonia Thomas plays Evie

Sunday, 4 March 2018

If you should pass by, be sure to drop right in

The first, and the best
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about this piece of film I don't like. Every moment of its five minutes and 20 seconds warms my heart. Laundromat is taken from Rory Gallagher's eponymous  solo album released in May 1971. And this performance from Beat Club (a sort of German Whistle Test) was recorded shortly thereafter. As with most overseas performances by UK bands in the seventies, we never saw them; it's only recently, all these years later, that we've discovered what our idols were getting up to in Europe and America thanks to YouTube and the like.

Rather than frame a 250 words review of it, here are the headlines:

* Curly guitar leads, *so* 1971

* Rory wears double denim, and gets away with it

* His drummer wears his girlfriend's top, and he too, sort of, gets away with it. Just

* Rory's guitar looks like it's just been pulled from a burning building

* Tarot card backdrop

* Stack of orange amplifiers (though not Orange, but Stramp)

* He never looked better than he did in 1971; he would soon *fill out*

* Laundromat sits at the top table of the Side One, Track One Club


Rory Gallagher would have been 70 last Friday. He never even saw his 50th.

I'd like to dedicate this to Frank Johnson. It was he who pointed me in the direction of this album all those years ago. Cheers Frank!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs

Quite stylish
Frasier, the iconic hit TV show spin-off from Cheers, was first broadcast on NBC 25 years ago. It ran for 11 seasons and a staggering 264 episodes. And I loved every single one of them - it was certainly appointment TV at Medd Towers on Friday nights till it bowed out in 2004. That the show's main protagonist Frasier Crane was outshone every week by his younger, more pompous, brother, Niles (even after he got it on with Daphne) only added another layer to one of the most genuinely funny sitcoms ever to come out of America; or anywhere else for that matter.

Kelsey Grammer - Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs

Friday, 2 March 2018

Fly

All Medd Cons
Paul Weller was in town this week. For some reason I didn't fancy it; I'm kicking myself now.

I wonder if he played anything off All Mod Cons? You're probably aware that this year marks its ruby anniversary. Christ, where did the last 40 years go? (I can remember clearly the day I bought my copy) - the worrying thing being that 40 years prior the Second World War hadn't yet broken out. Stop the world I want to get off.

Anyway, you can keep Down in the Tube Station at Midnight and 'A' Bomb in Wardour Street - if I'd been at the Arena on Tuesday night I'd have asked him, politely, to "play that silly little poem you wrote when you didn't know any better." The words are naff, obviously, but it has a certain 1978 charm nonetheless. Chances are he'd have probably pretended not to hear me, but I think Fly would make any Weller Top 10 (there he goes with the lists again), don't you?


Paul Weller - Fly