Wednesday, 14 September 2016

In praise of... Chas and Dave

"Oi mate. Are you a punk?"

Well hardly...This remark was made in a school cricket match where a fellow player noticed that I'd drawn a safety pin onto my teenage arm. It wasn't exactly Johnny Rotten. Don't get me wrong. Some punk records were amazing. I say to you Nervous Wreck by the Radio Stars. What a song. But then again, my sister's boyfriend's brother recorded every Led Zeppelin record for me to prepare for the trip to Knebworth in August 1979.  Was it a crime to like both rock and punk?

And Knebworth was a massive event. Record historians might refuse to admit this but Knebworth, with the presence of Led Zeppelin and perhaps 250,000 fans over two Saturdays, was a massive V sign to punk. And as Chas and Dave came on as a support act, I was quite happy to buy into the theory that these cockney rejects were an outdated embarrassment, not popular with any music fans. But there was a problem with that.

They were absolutely brilliant.

Just the piano and the guitar - and songs about having a knees-up. Chas and Dave were better than Led Zeppelin. I know. Mad, isn't it? OK. By the time Led Zeppelin came on, my 16-year-old body gave up and I slept through 'Dazed and Confused'. That day also started a lifelong love of one of the other support acts, Todd Rundgren. But my best memory of Knebworth is the Chas and Dave set. They talk about it here. And I don't care if it's not fashionable now in 2016. It wasn't in 1979.

Right. Enough of this incessant talking. They were the dog's bollocks. 

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Crimes against rhymes in music

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t enjoy a misheard lyric. From ‘Into the loo, leaving it all behind me’ (Carpenters) to ‘How’s your boiled egg; how’s your boiled egg?’ (Odyssey). 
Travis: What happened when you were 17?
But I want to discuss something altogether more potentially sinister. With misheard lyrics, it’s the fault of the person listening. With words that are used purely-because-they-rhyme, the high-pressure nozzle of contempt must be thrust squarely in the direction of the lyricist. 

Take this, from the Police and 'Wrapped around your finger'. I'm so glad I'm finally writing this down, because for years the sheer audacity of what you're about to see has sent me trembling with a shock that can only be born of disbelief. Disbelief that someone actually thought they could get away with it. It got to number seven in the charts.

"I have only come here seeking knowledge
Things they would not teach me of in college."

A colleague tells me that it's not just popular music where this sort of crime-against-everything has occurred. It's happened on the West End stage. A lyric for Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat includes the lines:

"All these things you saw in your pajamas
Are a long range forecast for your farmers."

The song? Phaoraoh's Dreams. The effect? I closed my eyes. 

But there are also those artistes who take it on themselves to write a line and then 'sort of' make it rhyme with the next. I'm a great fan of Travis but really:

"Why does it always rain on me? 
Is it because I lied when I was seventeen?"

What did he lie about? Why was that date important? Or is it that the syntax just scanned in a seemingly trendy way? 

But, to my mind, by far the biggest, baddest, and, quite frankly the worse lyric of all time is by Wet Wet Wet. (The song was originally by the Troggs, but WWW repeating it is just as bad). I mean, they actually rearranged the words of a sentence just to make it scan and rhyme. No one speaks like this unless they're in a play at the Globe theatre, and even then Shakespeare would be aghast, forsooth. Love isn't all around...

"There's no beginning, there'll be no end
'Cause on my love you can depend."

Sunday, 24 April 2016

In praise of Rugeley, Staffordshire

In 1981 Mrs Steve was at a dinner / dance. They were all the rage as Soft Cell’s Tainted Love topped the charts. Mrs Steve and her sister grew up in Rugeley, Staffordshire. More of the dinner / dance in a moment...

Raised by Wolves - Channel 4
First though: Rugeley isn't well known. The town probably doesn't see the producers of property programmes turn up and do up people's houses. There was always Dr Palmer (no relation), the Rugeley poisoner. Or, as Wikipedia describes him: ‘William Palmer (murderer)’. Anyway, he was hanged and it sort of put Rugeley on the map; in 1856. It's been pretty sleepy ever since. 

So, we were watching the comedy 'Raised by Wolves' recently; set it Wolverhampton, the single Mum goes out on a less-than-glamourous date and, on her return, says rather ironically: 'He took me to Tesco in Rugeley - and back'. I know the shop well.

These days Rugeley hosts a massive Amazon depot; across the road from a soon-to-be-abandoned power station. A sort of old days / new days snapshot of modern Britain. Mrs Steve freely admits that until her sister husband turned up and started to take them to clubs and gigs in Birmingham and Stoke, her social life was pretty mundane; it was either house parties, the social club at the power station or a conference suite at a nearby hotel. Edgy stuff.

Back to the dinner / dance, thirty-five years ago. This hotel’s function room had to have a shiny parkay floor.  It was mandatory. Or should have been. It was the eighties, after all. At a sixth form party in the function room, in front of her peers, Mrs Steve's sister went to the loo and returned to the table, only to turn on a heel and go arse over tit on the heavily-polished floor. Everyone laughed. The entire sixth form. 

Then Mrs Steve went to the loo and, on her return, did exactly the same thing. Arse. Over. Tit. Everyone laughed. Again. It’s the sort of déjà vu development that sisters don’t ever want repeated. They were forever remembered as the sprawling sozzled sisters. But they weren’t drunk. They were just unable to negotiate that slippery floor in heels.  

It's the sort of scene that could have ended up on Raised by Wolves. 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

My gran meets Steve Buscemi. It's the roaring 20s

I brought my girl an apple; she let me hold her hand.
I brought my girl an orange; we kissed beneath the band.
I brought my girl bananas; she let me squeeze her tight.
I'm going to bring a watermelon to my girl tonight.

My grandmother in c 1926, aged about 20

Lyrics to a Bonzo Dog song from 1966. But it was originally recorded in 1924 by the risque Billy Jones and Ernest Hare. It's the sort of thing that might have been found on my grandmother's gramophone record player.
What the Bonzos did in the 60s was to scour the flea markets, find old 78 rpm records, and re-record them. And then, about 15 years later, in the early 80s, I started listening to them. And still do. So, the recordings live on. 

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Johnson in Boardwalk Empire 
And here we are talking about something that happened in the 1920s and those records give us a direct link back in time. But there's more. I mentioned to a colleague that I'd just started watching the box set of Boardwalk Empire (which starts in 1920) and we concluded that the roaring twenties were a great time for music; with the idea of lots of people being able to listen to recorded music in their own homes for the first time. And that included my maternal grandmother.

A '78' player, like my grandmother's (similar to the one on the left) was made between about 1898 and the late 1950s & played at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute
I remember Nana's wind-up 78 gramophone record player in her flat in Chislehurst. When she died, in 1991, it was still in pristine condition. That's because I reckon it was only me and my sister that ever played with it. Sadly, in 1991 it was sold on to a collector. I say 'sadly' because actually, in reality, what would we do with it? It was about three foot tall. So a bit impractical to have hanging around. But it was beautiful. 

Music and scenes from Boardwalk Empire 

So perhaps there's a direct link between me, my grandmother and Nucky Johnson, the character depicted in Boardwalk Empire by Steve Buscemi. And that link is those 78 records that define the era. 

Suggested listening

Boardwalk Empire soundtracks vols I, II & III

The Bonzo Dog Band - Cornology (Best of) 

Songs the Bonzos taught us 

Woody Allen - Wild man blues 

Monday, 8 February 2016

The Scambusters versus the world

Scott: 'Tony? It's Scott Chisholm calling from Talk Radio...'
Tony: Sighs
Scott: '.....again'.
Tony: 'Scott; I've got nothing more to say to you, mate'. Hangs up 
Scott: 'Tony. Tony. Tony!'
Producers in the operations room: 'Hooray!'

Talk Radio reunion, 5 Feb 2016.
Scott, Craig, Harry, Nat, Me, Foxy, Mike and Tom 

Just a normal, everyday call in 1999 on Scott's show on Talk Radio, which included the Scambusters hour. The reason for telling you this is that last week, those producers and that presenter had a wonderful reunion. 

The show was from 9am until midday every weekday; my involvement was on the consumer show, Scambusters. And the thing is: There's no note of the show online. There's no digital history of it. If we were on air today we'd have a social media presence, a website and maybe a Scam app. But there's no mention of what we did in 1999 if you do a search. So I'm writing this to redress the balance. 

It was a consumer show with attitude. We put nasty retailers on air and humiliated them live to the nation: Dodgy phone companies; cowboy builders; people offering non-existent contracts to aspiring models. Often their humiliation would be accompanied by Craig's Scamwall. These were a set of sound affects that would be played as the scamees tried to squirm their way out of their misdeeds. The ice in the glass, a line from the song 'I remember you' or the howling Scamdog, ready to be unleashed at Scott's command. 

Watchdog it wasn't. We did things our own way. For the modelling scam mentioned above, we asked the guy from reception, who had a heavy London accent and was in his 60s, to read out the leaflet: 'Hi. My name's Samantha. I'm an attractive, beautiful, 23-year-old model. And you can be too'. How could the scammers respond to that?

People who rang into the Scamphone would be put on air to state their case against the scam retailers. There were some amazing people, often at their wits' ends. And more often than not, we solved the problem for them. 
A handy explanation some of the team, drawn by a listener, 1999.
So we saved several people from being ripped off. It was so much fun and we were also providing a valuable public service. 

It was anarchic. At times, Scott would say, on air: 'This is a shambles'. But it was well-thought-out shambolic broadcasting. At the reunion, Scott told me that he still, to this day, has taxi drivers telling him how much they loved his show on Talk back in the day.   

At the reunion everyone turned up. It was special because everyone came to remember the sort of time you shouldn't really have if you're getting paid for it. But it was also great broadcasting. And what a team. What a reunion. 

The team
Presenter: Scott
Producers: Tom, Dick and Harry 
Studio production: Foxy
Scamwall: Craig
Trainee Scambuster (set for big things): Nat
Friend of the show: Motoring Mike Rutherford 
Other friends:Callers on the Scamphone, Ola & many others

Monday, 1 February 2016

The battle of the bulge

Blackburn and Bury have both been in FA Cup action this weekend and theirs are magnificent. Manchester City’s and Liverpool’s are horrid. 

Man City, standard net, San Siro 70s and lower league net

The net. The onion bag. This is important stuff. The ball has to nestle in the goal. There used to be nets at the San Siro in Rome where the net just hung down. When Italy scored yet another goal against England in a qualifier I had to begrudgingly admit that it looked sublime. 

But Manchester City and Liverpool may as well have iron hanging down from the goals. When someone scores, it really does take away from the moment. Blackburn and Bury have done a clever thing. It’s the newer, bigger net that has become Premier League / Championship standard over the last few years, but there’s some added girth/ slack so that ball nestles in nicely. 

All sides in the Premier League and championship have those standard nets, but most are still pretty tight for my liking. Manchester City and Liverpool’s are painted in their colours, so you don’t see any buoyancy. You just get a nasty dull thud. 

Back in the 1970s, Wembley, Chelsea, QPR and West Ham all had tight nets. Most other grounds had the net hanging down from two stanchions; many lower league teams still adopt this beautiful thing. Lots of nestling possibilities. 

I’m sure that Chelsea once had a goal ruled out because the referee thought the ball had hit the post. In fact, it had actually rebounded back from a terrifically-tight net. (This is the opposite of a ghost-goal)

Millwall had a lovely set of nets last season. Loose as anything, with a bit of blue in. Pleasing to the eye. They’ve now reverted to the standard, bigger net with moderate give. 6/10.

There are more important things in life, obviously. But the whole point of football, our number one sport in the UK, is to run down the pitch and get the ball in the goal. If it looks great, doesn’t that make us all feel a little bit better? Thank you Blackburn and Bury. I hope they're bulging with pride. 

Friday, 1 January 2016

The campsite toilet & the incandescent man. Kenya 1991.

A man got very angry with me, by the side of a pool, exactly 25 years ago. Mrs Steve and I were in Kenya in January 1991 and I’ll tell you about our livid friend in a moment. But before we could relax poolside, we had to put up with privations, going to see African animals. I worked in a travel agency and although we got cheap flights, the spending money was our own cash. So we booked a budget safari.
Kenyan safari on the cheap. January 1991 
And we got to the campsite on the first day. Well, I say ‘campsite’ but that’s perhaps an exaggeration, especially given the state of the toilet. Well; I say ‘toilet’ but it was a massive hole in the ground. Well, I say ‘ground’. And that’s what it was. 

I remember seeing a Japanese tourist, obviously at her wit’s end, running into an open field, dropping her jeans and parking a large one then and there in front of me, twenty yards away. People have asked how I could have possibly have watched, but, Your Honour, it all happened so quickly.

The problem for Mrs Steve is that she too wanted to ‘go’. At night; when you fear that hungry lions may be roaming around. We left the tent, clutching a rudimentary torch, and then Mrs Steve had to make like our Japanese friend and basically let go a few yards away from the canvas. It was practically touching cloth.

And I couldn’t resist shouting, just as things were coming to a nice conclusion: ‘Lion!’ The result was that Mrs Steve panicked and trod in it. She was wearing flip-flops and poo squelched up her leg. I told her that she had to stick the limb out of the flap of the tent all night. I said it might even give the lion something to gnaw on.

To recover, we sought luxury. In the resort town of Malindi, we headed straight for a hotel and its pool; and a couple of British families were there. I did that thing where you duck under water and just before your body disappears, you overhead-bicycle-kick a ball to show off your skill.
The pool in Malindi. Don't look back in anger
This British holiday-maker was standing by the side of the pool and the ball I’d kicked smacked him right in the face. 

As I surfaced, he was shouting: ‘You fucking bastard! I can’t fucking believe it! What the fuck do you thing you were doing, you fucking wanker?’ I said: ‘I’m so sorry.’ He said: ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck!’

And a kid from the other family asked me: ‘Is that your Dad?’