Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Better than it has any right to be

According to Wikipedia, the combined age of Debbie Harry and Joan Jett is 131, so this collaboration, from Blondie's latest album Pollinator, proves that age need not be a barrier to cranking out a decent tune. To further put this age thing into context, I could add that Debbie is only four years younger than my mum, who mostly cranks out cups of tea, nice roast dinners, and the occasional trip to her GP. I expect your mum is much the same.

The video is terrific too: dynamic, funny and thought-provoking. There's a lot going on in the detail, and it rewards repeated viewing.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Happiness still isn't easy

Back in 2013 I wrote twice (here and here) about Alex Quick's book 102 Free Things To Do - inspiring ideas for a better life and how I intended to try the suggestions therein to see if life did indeed get better. At the last update, I identified 34 that I had already done (green), five that I would never do (red)...and the other 63 were up for grabs. Anyway, here's an update - newly done are bold:

  1. Go out and look at the stars
  2. Keep a diary - but only one sentence a day
  3. Meter your energy use with a smart meter
  4. Give up your car
  5. Get up earlier
  6. Sketch your relatives - it's better than photos
  7. Treasure your precious human body
  8. Go on an archeological dig
  9. Write a letter to your future self
  10. Don't confuse affluence with well-being
  11. Memorise a poem
  12. Ask a child for advice
  13. Take part in a police line-up
  14. Give up craving for recognition (and be admired for it)
  15. Notice when things have improved
  16. Go on holiday without leaving your bedroom
  17. Practice random acts of kindness (and, if time permits, senseless acts of beauty)
  18. Climb a mountain
  19. Turn your house into a restaurant
  20. Start a film society
  21. Remember that making mistakes is part of being human
  22. See the sun rise and set on a single summer's day
  23. Get fit without joining a gym
  24. Sit still until you see wildlife emerge
  25. Contact a friend you haven't spoken to for years
  26. Go cloud-spotting
  27. Learn to meditate
  28. Volunteer for something
  29. Spend a day and night in a forest
  30. Cherish older people
  31. Reconsider your career
  32. Enlarge your comfort zone
  33. Achieve your ideal weight
  34. Learn how to talk to strangers in public
  35. Visit Project Gutenberg
  36. Gather a meal from the wild
  37. Learn another language
  38. Invent a language
  39. Pretend you are a valet for humanity
  40. Go busking
  41. Start a book in which to record things that have really, really made you laugh
  42. Go somewhere outdoors that is very silent
  43. Make Christmas presents for your whole family one year
  44. Give something up
  45. Cheer up lonely men in public places
  46. Swap your CDs
  47. Adopt or invent a personal motto
  48. Support your local eccentric
  49. Become a freegan
  50. Swim in the sea
  51. Get to know your neighbours
  1. Act without expecting anything back
  2. Deliver meals on wheels
  3. Look for glue
  4. Send a message in a bottle
  5. Have an eco-friendly bonfire
  6. Attempt a world record
  7. Walk in the rain
  8. Give away free trees
  9. Do a sponsored parachute/bungee jump
  10. Perform
  11. Cycle 100 miles in a day
  12. Serenade someone
  13. Reflect on something you're grateful for
  14. Cook and eat a nine-course meal
  15. Write a love letter
  16. Create a lair
  17. Notice beauty
  18. Let go of emotional pain
  19. Write down your parents' or grandparents' stories
  20. Look at your day-to-day concerns from the point of view of five years from now
  21. Fan the flames of desire
  22. Contemplate imperfection and impermanence as forms of beauty
  23. Join a gardening scheme where only your labour is required
  24. Laugh in the face of death
  25. Train your memory
  26. Accept the full catastrophe
  27. Write the first sentence of a novel
  28. Cherish solitude (Sister Wendy does)
  29. Get your friends to sponsor you to go to Spain and celebrate La Tomatina
  30. Embarrass your children/teenagers
  31. Work a room
  32. Confront people politely
  33. Learn a trick
  34. Be a representative of your country, in your country
  35. Try lucid dreaming
  36. Come to terms with ageing
  37. Be a bookcrosser
  38. Teach a child something fun
  39. Make your gratitude less perfunctory
  40. Give away your superfluous possessions
  41. Grow huge sunflowers
  42. Smile
  43. Go bell-ringing
  44. Form a debating club
  45. Take your shoes off and walk in the dew on a sunny morning
  46. Dress up
  47. Give up your TV
  48. Be 'Lord' for a day
  49. Write fewer emails and more letters
  50. Don't expect that things will be different in Tenerife
  51. Find out what's happening near you and join in

So, now 43 done, and a reduction to only three nevers... So am I happier?

No. But not being happier is not the same as being sadder, or even sad. And I am different. That's the important thing here, I think.

Are you happy? What makes that so?

Friday, 8 December 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #9 - if Billy Bragg covered "Half A Person"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Ninth guest contributor is long-time reader (longest, actually) and oldest, best mate, The Man Of Cheese. We discussed this over several pints (okay, and some vodka too), so apologies to TMOC if I've missed something, but here's the gist. And if you think this is also just a good excuse for me to post loads of Smiths songs, well, what's wrong with that? Anyway, The Man Of Cheese brilliantly suggests:

What about Billy Bragg covering Half A Person by The Smiths? Here's the original, recorded in the autumn of 1986 and first released in January 1987, as the b-side to Shoplifters Of The World Unite:

Now Billy has previous convictions for covering The Smiths - here's some early, straight-bat takes on Jeane and Ask, and a slightly later, slightly more nuanced interpretation of Never Had No-one Ever:

So Bill is clearly a Smiths fan, and demonstrably adept a delivering a cover version of them. What would he make of Half A Person's lyrical content? Now there was a time (mid- to late-Nineties) when Billy seemed a bit reluctant to sing his own older songs, on the basis that he no longer felt he could identify with them. How could he, by then a happily married, content man in his mid to late thirties, sing A New England or The Man In The Iron Mask with the same feeling, he argued (to unconvinced and slightly disappointed gig crowds)? Instead, he tried to work around this by updating the lyrics of some songs, to better fit him as he was then. So perhaps, just perhaps, instead of singing "Sixteen, clumsy and shy", he could change to "Sixty, clumsy and shy" ... because, incredibly, Uncle Bill will hit the big Six-O in twelve days time. Although applying for a vacancy as a back-scrubber at the YWCA as a 60-year old man might be lyrically problematic. But could an older Billy carry off the youthful heartache of Half A Person? I think so. Take a look at this much more recent interpretation of Jeane, and compare it to the earlier cover:

I think this shows that Bragg The Elder is more suited to a slower, more personal slice of Morrissey/Marr than ever. What do you think?

Thank you, The Man Of Cheese. As a fellow fan of both the acts in question, I predictably think this is a fantastic suggestion. I very much enjoyed some YouTube me-time choosing these embeds too.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Hear even more different Christmas music this year...

Last year, and in 2015, I threw together an alternative music advent calendar. It seemed quite popular, so I've tried to repeat the trick, this time with a little help in the form of suggestions from other bloggers... anyway, here's the patent-pending, minutes-in-the-making 2017 New Amusements advent calendar...

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

We need to talk about Steven

It isn't easy being a Morrissey fan. It never has been, but it's harder in 2017 than ever. Allegations of racism have dogged him since the early 90s, when lyrics like "Life is hard enough when you belong here" (Bengali In Platforms) were seemingly open to (mis)interpretation, and when Moz took to the stage at Madstock to sing National Front Disco whilst waving a Union Flag around. A couple of years later, the flag was appropriated by everyone from Geri Halliwell to Noel Gallagher and the whole Cool Britannia thing, and no-one batted an eyelid - maybe Wannabe is less thought-provoking lyrical matter.

Perhaps it's just a case of mud sticking, or Britain's national trait of wanting to take someone successful down, but this issue has never really gone away. Maybe this is understandable, when people can interpret lyrics any way they choose. If only the man would offer up a categorical statement one way or the other on the subject? Something like this, maybe:

"I abhor racism and oppression or cruelty of any kind and will not let this pass without being absolutely clear and emphatic with regard to what my position is. Racism is beyond common sense and I believe it has no place in our society." [Source]

Now, for editorial balance, I should add that this statement was issued after the NME published an interview with the Pope of Mope, in which he said Britain had lost its identity and had been "flooded" with immigrants. Is it possible, you might reasonably wonder, to hold quite such an abhorrence of racism in all its forms, whilst believing the country has lost its identity in this way? And if it is possible, how valid is that view if held by someone who divides his time variously between numerous other countries but spends comparatively little time in the country he seems so concerned about? What did he actually say?

"With the issue of immigration, it's very difficult because, although I don't have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. If you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won't hear an English accent. You'll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent." [Source]

Blimey. Doesn't have anything against people from other countries. Does have concerns about the British identity disappearing. At first glance, these two views don't correlate, do they, unless you're one of those people who say things like "I'm not racist but..." Except I don't have Morrissey down as that sort of person. You may think me naïve for this. That's okay. Maybe I am. I just think that if Steven had made a plain statement of fact, along the lines of "The introduction of other cultures into British culture by definition changes that culture from what it was", no-one would have batted an eyelid. But that's not Morrissey. He can't help himself. He wants to provide a quotable soundbite. He wants a headline. And most of all, as Rol argued brilliantly last week, he can't help but challenge us all to think about difficult issues, in a way few other social commentators do these days.

Three years later, he was seemingly at it again. Discussing China's animal welfare record, Moz opined:

"Did you see the thing on the news about their treatment of animals and animal welfare? Absolutely horrific. You can't help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies." [Source]

At best, a spectacularly crass statement. But as interviewer Simon Armitage later commented, "I thought at the time it was a dangerous thing to say into a tape recorder. He must have known it would make waves, he's not daft. But he's provocative and theatrical, and it was one of dozens of dramatic pronouncements. I'm not an apologist for that kind of remark, and couldn't ignore it. But clearly, when it comes to animal rights and animal welfare, he's absolutely unshakable in his beliefs. In his view, if you treat an animal badly, you are less than human. I think that was his point." Which is interesting. If you or I try to make a dramatic pronouncement and it goes awry, however well intentioned, no-one cares. If someone like Morrissey does so, it makes headlines. And headlines sell. Does Morrissey genuinely believe the Chinese are a subspecies? I very much doubt it. Does he think there is a lot of inhuman treatment of animals in China? Certainly. Did his "dramatic pronouncement" get people talking about the issue? Most definitely. Moz himself, whilst not apologising, later clarified his view by describing the Chinese attitude towards animal welfare as "indefensible". Not many would have a problem with that, I'd imagine. But it wouldn't have made waves either.

And on it goes. Earlier this year, there was T-shirt-gate, when Moz - then manager-less, label-less and album-less - added a T-shirt featuring black civil rights activist James Baldwin to his merchandise offering. On the shirt, Baldwin was surrounded by lyrics from Unloveable, specifically: "I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside." Cue a Twitter-storm of outrage, and the withdrawal of the t-shirt. And more recently, during a live broadcast for 6 Music, Morrissey offered up the opinion that the British media had rigged the UKIP leadership election. The reaction from the audience (mostly devoted fans who had entered a ballot to win precious tickets) was deafening silence.

I think the UKIP comment between songs is the most telling of all. "You didn't get it, did you?" were the next words out of Morrissey's mouth. In his mind, he'd just made some kind of joke. Was it about UKIP? Or about the British media? We'll never know, as he has been characteristically close-lipped about it all. But to me, this comparatively minor indiscretion is the perfect illustration of so many of Morrissey's problems: he thinks he's being clever, arch, pointed, witty, incisive, provocative. And yet, quite often, he's being gauche, clumsy, naïve, ill-judged... and yes, provocative. It's no surprise that most of his problems arise in interviews or in live, spontaneous settings, where he can't rehearse, revise and tweak his pronouncements. And when you're someone with fans around the world who hang on your every word, the temptation to make those pronouncements dramatic must be hard to resist. What you probably need in such situations is someone to rein you in, but I get the feeling that it's been a long time since anyone told Morrissey "no".

Most recently of all is Steven's alleged defence of Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein. An interview (again, see?) given to a German journalist, presumably in English, is translated into German for publication. Excerpts from that interview get translated back into English, apparently using Google Translate, and, unsurprisingly, something gets lost along the way. Whatever the circumstance, Der Spiegel quotes Morrissey as saying:

"One wonders where the boy’s parents were. One wonders if the boy did not know what would happen. I do not know about you, but in my youth I have never been in situations like this. Never. I was always aware of what could happen. When you are in somebody’s bedroom, you have to be aware of where that can lead to. That’s why it does not sound very credible to me. It seems to me that Spacey has been attacked unnecessarily." [Source]

Which probably wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows without that coda; I'm sure a lot of people have wondered (to themselves, not to a German news agency) where the boy's parents were. Not sure too many have come to the conclusion that Spacey has been attacked unnecessarily. So, pretty bad, eh Moz?

Except, at a gig earlier this week, Morrissey offered up a pronouncement that was, perhaps, more rehearsed than most. Between songs at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre on Saturday, Moz appeared to deny that he had made those comments about Spacey, telling the crowd:

"I did an interview a couple of weeks ago for a German newspaper and, of course, let me just say this: that was the last print interview I will ever do. Unless you see the words form in my mouth and then you see or hear the words come out of my mouth... please, if you don’t see that, I didn’t say them." [Source]

And the irony of all this recent controversy, and the resurrection of the whole "is Morrissey racist?" debate is that it comes as he releases the most outward-looking, cosmopolitan, global album of his career, singing with passion and feeling about the Arab Spring, Tel-Aviv, Israel, Venezuela, fake news, Brexit and a propagandising mainstream media. He's not just singing about his life any more, but the wider world, more than ever. Introspective, insular old Moz got empathy, on a global scale.

Of course, Steven doesn't help himself. In the pixelated world we all live in these days, when someone says something social media disapproves of, the keyboard warriors of the world expect the Sacco model of public shaming to play out; they demand contrition, apologies and ruination. But Moz does not comply. He's neither contrite nor apologetic, he only ever explains or clarifies. And far from ruination, he continues to sell plenty of records, and sell out concert venues around the globe. I fear this just makes some amongst the professionally outraged more determined to "get him" next time. Luckily for them, there will almost certainly be a next time.

I know there are some who have had enough of Morrissey, including bloggers I very much admire and respect, and musicians I love (notably Martin Rossiter). And I'm very much aware that I sound like the biggest Morrissey apologist imaginable. So let me add this. Do I agree with everything Morrissey says? No, of course not. As I hope I've shown, he's often gauche, ill-judged, misinformed, naïve and more than a bit crass. I'm certainly not one of those fans who hangs on his every word either. Do some of the sentiments he expresses make me uncomfortable? Yes, absolutely, especially those that cannot be explained away with rational scrutiny. In fact, do I think Moz is a bit of a berk sometimes? Yes. But do I think he's a racist? No, I don't. I think he strives to be profound, relevant, wise and/or funny, in making pronouncements about serious or topical issues, but whilst the thoughts are clear in his head, I believe he struggles to articulate them in a clear and unambiguous way. Or maybe I'm being too kind - maybe that ambiguity is deliberate, fuelling the Morrissey myth which, if you've lived within it for 35 years, must be tempting to keep burning. Either way, as the t-shirt once said, "It's Morrissey's world, we just live in it." Live in it we may do, but we just don't get it, do we?

Maybe one day the scales will fall from my eyes, and I'll have had enough of Steven too. But for now, I am content to continue my appreciation of the man and his music. Low In High School (complete with the "axe the monarchy" cover that has so upset certain UK retailers) is my album of the year, without question, and I am very excited to have a ticket to see the man in person at a gig in the Spring. I appreciate you may have a different view, and that's fine too. I didn't write this to change anyone's mind. Unlike Rol's brilliant post from last week, I don't seem to have reached a conclusion or summarised a cogent argument either. Never mind. Maybe I'd better just end with Morrissey doing what he's always done best - delivering a song.

Monday, 27 November 2017

It's nearly that time

For the last two years, I've blogged a musical advent calendar of festive tunes that you don't hear on the radio. I'd like to do the same again this year, but I've blown 48 ideas in the last two years, so need your suggestions please, in the comments below.

To give you an idea of the sort of songs I might post, here's 2015's calendar, and 2016's.

I await, with interest.

P.S. And while you're at it, I'm still (always) on the lookout for your fantasy cover version suggestions...

Friday, 24 November 2017

This time five years ago... part IV

As you know from earlier, five years ago, almost to the day, I went to Tokyo. Here's my travel diary from then, mostly unedited, for the fourth and final day of the trip. Much as I was loving Tokyo, I was also missing people. Let's see what I squeezed in before the flight home...

22nd November 2012

Up early (6) after next to no sleep. Less than an hour and a half, in fact. The capsule was comfy, if a bit short. Too warm though. Main problem was the guy opposite snoring loudly all night. Cut my losses, got up, got washed and got cracking.

On my way to the tube, saw a Japanese beer casualty, draped over some railings. Two passersby were trying to help him. Wouldn't happen at home. As wouldn't homeless people sleeping in the underground without being evicted, as appeared to have happened in the Shinjuku underground passageways. All good though. And even their sleeping area was clean and ordered.

Got a tube out to Ueno and then, because I was up so early, I had an hour to spare before my Skyliner back to Narita, so I headed back to Ueno Park, found the lake (complete with lotus (?) plants growing five feet out of the water) and the Benten-do shrine on an island in the middle. A quiet, peaceful moment, so I washed at the font (left hand, right hand, mouth) and lit a candle.

Then onto the Keisei Skyliner back to Narita Airport at high speed. Despite police in helmets and body armour appearing to investigate an abandoned trolley behind police tape (a drill? I was allowed very close), check-in was uneventful, as was passport control and immigration.

Unlike the outbound flight, the one home was fully booked so when I boarded (after some last-minute souvenir shopping for ■■■■■■■■) I found I didn't have an empty seat next to me this time. But that was okay. Films: Dark Knight Rises (okay but too long), then (after a meal, some sleep, another meal and some reading) Killer Joe (excellent ... but they turned it off for landing, five minutes before the end!)

After a bumpy landing courtesy of strong crosswinds, I breezed through passport control (UK queue non-existent, non-UK/EU queue very long)... so much so that I was able to get an earlier National Express coach home. Uneventful ... more reading. Got to ■■■■■■■■■ at 10pm. Then waited in the very cold wind for the 10.24 bus to ■■■■■■■■■■. ■■■■■■■■ were a sight for sore eyes.

Then to bed, and trying to get my body clock back on time.

Benten-do Shrine over Shinobazu Pond

Things I seem to have neglected to mention then but stick in the mind now:

  • the homeless people sleeping rough at Shinjuku all had flattened cardboard boxes for mats, and these (and hence they) were all arranged in perfectly straight, ordered rows
  • I really liked the Shinto temples, like Benten-do. I'm not religious, so don't know whether it was the peace, the ritual or the novelty that appealed
  • the penultimate paragraph has been quite heavily abbreviated, sorry. Too reflective, too personal for public consumption

And that's that, you'll be pleased to know. I loved Tokyo, and wish I'd had longer to explore, and to visit other parts of Japan. If you get the chance to go, seize it with both hands.

This time five years ago... part III

As you know from earlier, five years ago, almost to the day, I went to Tokyo for a few days. Here's my travel diary from then, unedited, for day three of the trip. It was a day of real contrasts, as I recall. Let's see how I wrote it up...

21st November 2012

Up and out early, reluctantly leaving the Eishinkan which I had quickly grown to love. By tube to Ueno Park, a journey which included being forced onto a crammed train when there looked to be no room.

Ueno park has many attractions - you could easily spend two days there and not do it all. I limited myself to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tokyo National Museum. The former, ironically, had a big exhibition of western art but also had some locally made prints and photographic displays. The latter was much more what I was after, giving a potted history of Japanese art, including ceramics and terracotta figures, Buddhist figures, swords, costumes and more. Very good, as was the park itself, as a lovely relaxing green space.

Then back on the tube to Akabusa for the Kaminarimon Gate and Shenji-jo temple, easily the busiest tourist spot I've been to. The temple and five-storeyed pagoda were impressive though, as were the shots of the Sky Tree in the near distance. Walking back to the tube I was stopped by a group of primary school age (10-11?) kids and their teacher - could they ask me a few questions in English, to help them learn? It was quite sweet - what was my favourite colour, favourite sport, how many in my family, that kind of thing. When they'd finished they gave me a little origami figure they'd made and a homemade sticker that I'll have to get translated sometime. Then the teacher took their picture with me - I might be on a Tokyo classroom wall somewhere!

Then to Shibuya to watch the throng of humanity at the manic Shibuya Crossing - 100,000 people cross the road (in all directions) per hour. It's as mental as it sounds. Also to the statue of Kabichko, sort of a Japanese Greyfriars Bobby.

Then I headed to Kabuchiko to find my hotel for the night in daylight, which I just about did but only by asking in the General Post Office. They didn't know where it was either but kindly phoned the hotel for me to find out. And at least I got to see the Golden Gai, a warren of tiny lanes filled with traditional Japanese bars, many of which don't admit foreigners.

The capsule hotel is odd, not something I'd do again but just this once for the experience. My stuff is in a locker downstairs, as is the communal bathing area. And I really mean bathing, with showers, bathing room and sauna. I get to sleep in a box that is, at most, 3' 6" square ... but it has a light, an alarm and a TV in the ceiling. It's on now, with the sound down. I wouldn't understand the dialogue anyway.

Having checked in, it was back on a tube to Akihabara to see "Electric Town" or Akiba, as it has come to be known. Eight or nine floors of as much tech, and of every conceivable brand, as you can imagine. The guidebook described it as "geek heaven" and I certainly had fun nosing around.

Then back to Shinjuku for a walk to the Tokyo Central Government Towers, to go up to the free observatory on the 45th floor of Tower One. Grabbed some good night shots of the skyline, and best of all it was free to go up. Another triumph for the guidebook.

After dinner in Café Lu-Le in Shinjuku's massive station (3.6 million use it every day, I think - the station, not the café), I walked back to my hotel via the Kabuchiko red light district. Got hassled by a couple of guys trying to hustle me into their club ("Come and have a free drink with a pretty lady!") so decided to call time on a busy day and head to my capsule to write this and a few postcards.

Kaminarimon Gate

Things I seem to have neglected to mention then but stick in the mind now:

  • the Post Office guy didn't just phone the capsule hotel for me, he then took me out through the back of the building and pointed the hotel out to me across the street
  • the only thing I actually bought in Electric Town was a tiny paper diary (I'm so 20th Century)
  • the trip to the Kaminarimon Gate was the first and only time I saw an appreciable number of westerners anywhere during my Tokyo trip

Rest easy, there's only one more post like this to come.

This time five years ago... part II

As you know from earlier, five years ago, almost to the day, I went to Tokyo for a few days. Here's my travel diary from then, unedited, for day two of the trip. It's not the greatest piece of writing, and the tone of it makes me wonder what (or who?) I was writing it for. Anyway, here goes...

20th November 2012

Blimey, what a busy day. If I resort to bulletpoints later I'm sorry but there's so much to write...

Up at seven for a nice hot shower just down the corridor, then breakfast of scrambled egg, a bacon-like meat, croissant, orange juice and bread rolls. I really like this place and wish I had booked all three nights here. Still, tomorrow night's capsule hotel stay will no doubt be an experience...

First trip of the day was a tube ride out to Narimasu to see the Daibatsu (giant Buddha) at the Jourenji temple. The only directions I had from the tube station were to walk for 20 minutes in a north-easterly direction and given the lattice of tiny streets, this wasn't very helpful. But I did find it, despite there being no-one out in the suburbs who spoke English. Finally, as I was on the verge of giving up (after spotting what I correctly thought was the top of the temple roof between buildings but still being unable to pinpoint it) an elderly Japanese man helped. All I said was "Buddha?" and he pointed me in the right direction ... then followed me to make sure I wouldn't miss it. The Daibatsu was huge, the temple serene, and the whole trip a worthwhile contrast to the hustle of the city centre - empty streets, quiet domestic life, a smalltown feel - a different side of Tokyo.

After finding my way back to the tube (much more easily), I headed back into the city and to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace (Higashi-gyoen and the Ninomaru Garden). Peaceful and starkly beautiful, not what we would consider a garden to be though - all trees and lawns, no flowers. From there it was a short walk to the wonderful Wadakura Fountain Park, a little gem, sparkling in the sunshine. Then, after grabbing a sandwich for lunch at the impressive, Western-style Tokyo Station, I went by tube down to Ginza, visiting the Sony building first, then having a £6.50 beer in the Sapporo Lion Beer Hall.

Back on the tube again for a trip to the Tokyo Tower, a red and white 50's version of the Eiffel Tower. It has observation levels at 150m and 250m, so naturally I went to both. Was still up there as the sun set behind a distant Mount Fuji.

On foot from there up through the commercial stretch of Roppongi, a neon strip of clubs, bars and shops. From the tube station there back to my local stop, Yotsuya, and back to the Eishinkan to drop off bags and have half an hour.

Then back out to find dinner - ended up in the Bambi restaurant, Shinmichi, where you order at a vending-style machine, get a ticket, put it on the bar and watch it be cooked. The U-shaped bar has the cooking/prep area in the middle, where the twelve set dishes offered at the vending machine are prepared. I had hamburger, topped with cheese and gravy, served with sweetcorn, carrot, sauté potato and a mountain of rice for ¥700, i.e. about £5.50. Oh, and it was served with a glass of water and a cup of gravy. Nice touch!

Then back to my room to write postcards and record the day. I'm exhausted and footsore, having walked miles, but it's been a good day. And I phoned ■■■■■■■■ from half way up the Tokyo Tower as the sun set. A quality moment.

Daibatsu at Jourenji temple

Things I seem to have neglected to mention then but stick in the mind now:

  • that breakfast... the "bacon-like meat" was a perfect circle. Also, the Eishinkan's take on a westerner's breakfast included a single lettuce leaf, which really should have been noted
  • I passed a couple of cemetaries on the way to the Jourenji temple. These, with their narrow wooden grave markers, are quite something to behold
  • the "gravy in a cup" served up at Bambi was white, so maybe it wasn't gravy. It tasted like gravy though.

There will be two more entries like this. Try to contain your excitement.

This time five years ago...

...well, not quite, it was the 19th, but never mind. Courtesy of some air miles, I went on a short solo trip... to Tokyo. And kept a diary of it, that I have just rediscovered. Here's what I wrote then, exactly as I wrote it, unedited. It may be boring for you, I understand that, and I may have misspelt some Japanese names but it's nostalgia for me, so...

19th November 2012

Took Virgin Atlantic flight VS900 from Heathrow to Tokyo Narita airport. Arrived on the morning of the 19th, local time, after an 11½ hour flight, lots of food and lots of in-flight movies. Narita was clean, quiet and efficient - hard to imagine getting through passport control so quickly in the UK! Took the Keisei Skyliner into the city - again, clean, quiet and efficient. Can you see a theme emerging here? Without doubt the cleanest train I've ever been on, it took me as far as Nippori station where I changed and got a JR line train the rest of the way to Shinjuku. From there, I walked down Meiji-Dori, past the Takashimaya Times Square shopping complex, to the Meiji-Jingu Shinto shrine. This is starkly beautiful, dedicated to a dead emperor and his wife, and set amongst tens of thousands of trees planted by the public to honour them after their deaths (early 20th C). There seemed to have been something going on, as lots of families were there with their daughters (primary school age) all dressed up in traditional costume. Had lunch there - beef curry noodles, very tasty though not much beef! Then walked back across town to find my hotel, the Ryokan Eishinkan, in a part of Shinjuku-ju called Sakarnachi ... and it was very hard to find. I'd probably still be looking now if I hadn't got lucky. After asking two traffic wardens (who couldn't speak English and had no idea where it was anyway) I asked a young mum out with her son in a pushchair. Luckily she'd been to England on her honeymoon, and spoke some English! She didn't know where the hotel was either but offered to ask some other people for me. After another local didn't know either I was starting to get worried ... but then we found a postman and he knew straight away!

The Eishinkan is basic but clean, quiet and (I think) safe. My room has bamboo matting on the floor and a paper + wood blind across the window. Oh, and the bed is a thin mattress on the floor. As I was unpacking (which didn't take long - hand luggage only), the lady who'd shown me around knocked on my door with a cup of green tea. Nice!

After a nap, I phoned ■■■■■■■■, then dragged my tired self out to explore the neighbourhood and buy myself some tea, which I ate back in the hotel whilst watching the Japanese weather channel and planning tomorrow's excursions. And now - an early night, I think!

In the grounds of the Meiji Jingu shrine

More later, if you can bear the excitement of it all...

Monday, 20 November 2017

Lost in King's Cross

I had occasion to go to that there London recently, for the best part of a working week. Not for a holiday, nor for a jolly, but for a fairly intensive training course for the day-job. It's nice to have an employer who's happy to invest me again, after a good while without.

Now the training company are a big of a beast in their field; they've been around a good while too, have a good reputation and are a global training brand. So much so that I used to be a customer of theirs way back in the past, when I worked for a corporate multi-national behemoth and had a personal training budget. Back in those days, I would think nothing of taking three or four courses, four or five days each, per year. How times change, eh?

I'll tell you what else has changed - the nature of training itself. This training company, fifteen or more years ago, used to occupy all five floors of a brick and glass cube near Euston Station, and would play host to so many trainees, every day of every week, that they had their own canteen on the fifth floor to keep their students fed and watered. But time moves on. Technology, more than anything, moves on. These days, most of the company's students take their courses remotely, with a virtual desktop and a webcam - why travel to London and spend the week in a generic hotel when you can take the course from the comfort of your office desk and go home afterwards, right? Except where's the interaction with your classmates and, more importantly, trainer? Where's the space to reflect on the day's learning, as you eat dinner at your table-for-one in the hotel restaurant? And most of all, where's the time and space away from everyday work, to just concentrate on learning. I'm no Luddite, and I completely understand the financial pressures at play here, for both the training company and the trainee, but it does feel to me that something has been lost, and going on a course is not what it was. The training company now occupies only two floors of the same building, and has no canteen any more. For lunch, trainees have to make their own way to the M&S across the road for a sandwich. I wonder what, if anything, will be left in another fifteen years? Why go on a course anyway, when you can just Google the hell out of everything instead, right?

Meeting Place
The biggest change of all though is that whole area, from King's Cross and St Pancras up to Euston. Back in my younger days as a trainee, it was - well, there's no other word for it really - a bit of a hole. Seedy, run-down, decrepit. Dirty, in every sense. Back then, my employer used to book me into a nice hotel, quite upmarket. And in that hotel, posh at it was, there would always be a concierge in the bar in the evening, part of whose job it was to identify and remove call girls who would linger there in the hope of picking up well-heeled customers. Whilst at the other end of the scale, venture out of the hotel in the evening to find a bite to eat and you often couldn't walk thirty yards without being propositioned: "You wan't business?" And every phone box (of which there were still many, back then) was plastered with business cards for all manner of escorts, eager to part the transient population of the area from their money. I remember seeing someone cleaning the phone boxes one morning as I walked to that day's training, assiduously removing every card. By the time I'd finished for the day, eight hours later, they had all been freshly plastered. And looming over everything, at once disapproving and complicit, was the gothic and ever-so-slightly faded grandeur of St Pancras station.

Identified Flying Object
The transformation now is marked. Let's stay with St Pancras, shall we? Now the end of the line for Eurostar, it's clear to see the investment that high-speed link has brought. Still gothic but no longer faded, the building looks fantastic, rejuvenated. There are champagne bars in there, for God's sake, and more shops than you can shake a stick at (station or mall, you decide). And then there's the statuary, like the Meeting Place (aka "The Lovers"), a 30ft bronze of a kissing couple that is frankly breathtaking, or the statue of Sir John Betjeman, or (currently) the mechanical clock installed in front of the more traditional Dent Clock (more here on all of this if you're interested). And this rejuvenation carries on into King's Cross, where the ceiling of the western concourse is a dazzling, dizzying piece of architecture (or is it art?) And of course Harry Potter's Plaform 9¾ brings a queue of selfie-taking tourists, all keen to spend oodles in the adjacent shop - wizard, no doubt, though I didn't venture in. Outside the station, Battle Bridge Place is currently home to Identified Flying Object, a 30ft-high birdcage that is lit in neon at night - bizarre but beautiful. Swish bars are everywhere, none finer than the German Gynasium (which is a very fine building, more than worthy of its fascinating history). Walk from there up past Google's huge new office (another very conspicuous sign, and source, of inward investment), over the Regent's Canal towards St Martin's, and there's plenty more redevelopment on show, none more arresting than the redeveloped old gasholders, two of which now house apartment buildings with their exterior ironwork intact (to dramatic effect). The third gas holder stands empty, but it artfully lit at night, with the foot of the ironwork clad in subtly angled mirrors and steel, encompassing an undulating lawn - the overall effect is quite beautiful.

Gasholder Park

All of which sounds great, doesn't it? I certainly sound enthused, hopefully. The art and architecture is wonderful, the bars and restaurants infinitely better than their equivalents of yesteryear, and (whilst I was only staying with the hotel chain Lenny Henry now purports to like for cash) I am happy to report that hotel bars no longer seem to need policing. And not that many phone boxes are left, but those that cling on have only a half-hearted smattering of cards posted in. So, the area is much improved all around... but sanitised too much, maybe? I felt a little out of kilter, otherworldly, uncanny - the familiar had become unfamiliar. The changes taper off as you move towards Euston, and there are still a lot of homeless people rough-sleeping in doorways (maybe more so than when New Labour were in their pomp, fifteen years ago). Beneath the steel and glass, and shiny new paint job, London's rusty hindquarters and matted underbelly cling on. That's probably how it should be.

The Pet Shop Boys had a song called King's Cross, and maybe you were expecting that. But since I very nearly became lost, metaphorically if not literally, in King's Cross, there can only be one song to end this with. I know, any excuse for a bit of Gene...

Friday, 10 November 2017

The single most important television of my youth

Given that I've recently blogged about Starsky and Hutch and The Bionic Woman, it seems only natural to continue the TV theme. They were both programmes I predominantly watched in the late 70s, as were other blog subjects Paddington, Happy Days and The Two Ronnies. I've also waxed lyrical in the past about The Prisoner, a 60s programme but new to me in the 80s when the nascent Channel 4 screened it. Over the twelve (!) years of this blog, I've written about television quite a lot... all of which makes it even more surprising that I have never written about the most important programme of all to the young me. For whilst I once blogged about a spin-off film, I've never written about the original television series of Star Trek.

Just three series. 79 episodes. A cast of regulars and a whole host of red-shirted security guys. Occasionally hammy acting and special effects that, whilst state of the art for 60s television, were, in a post-Star Wars world, pretty basic to behold. Leading men who looked like they couldn't believe their luck. Leading women who were always in soft-focus for close shots. A science fiction show that played fast and loose with physics (when asked "How does the Heisenberg compensator work?" ST technical adviser Michael Okuda famously replied "Very well, thank you."). And storylines, in the third series, that often didn't measure up.

So what was the appeal? Beyond the science-fiction of transporters, warp speed, phasers and photon torpedoes. Beyond the catchphrases ("Beam me up," "Illogical", "He's dead, Jim", "She cannae take the strain, Cap'n", and so on). Beyond the mostly bipedal aliens, all of whom could be understood by the miracle of the universal translator (no doubt something else that worked very well, thank you), and beyond the interplanetary women, who all wore revealing costumes and fell for James Tiberius Kirk. Beyond an emotionless first officer from another planet who could render you unconscious by pinching your neck and perform mind-melds just by holding your head. And beyond an impossibly glamorous communications officer who had a bluetooth earpiece 40+ years before such things were invented (and the shortest mini-skirt of the lot).

So quite a lot going for it then. But genuinely beyond all that were the stories. The space setting was, to a degree, secondary to the premise that a band of friends would roam around in altruistic exploration, encountering strangers and having scrapes, resolving them in a positive way. It could have been set in the old West, or ancient Rome, or anywhere in-between. The sci-fi accoutrements of the 23rd Century added some excitement, made it new and even more colourful, and maybe enabled fantastical elements to enter some of the stories but, when you boil it down, the series survived (and later, in syndication and repeats, thrived) because of the stories and the interplay between the principal characters. That's the reason people are still buying merchandise, attending conferences, reading books, watching movies and TV spin-offs, and, most of all, revering the source material. And that's how it's entered the pop-cultural lexicon: everyone knows what warp speed is, everyone has had a "beam me up" moment. And it's why, in an episode of The Simpsons when Bart prepares to shock his classmates, he puns, "Crew, set your faces to stunned."

I had a hard time choosing a clip to illustrate these virtues of story-telling and crew camaraderie. I considered The Devil In The Dark, Amok Time, The Trouble With Tribbles, The Day Of The Dove, Assignment: Earth, A Piece Of The Action, Charlie X, The Galileo Seven and Arena before settling on a clip from perhaps my favourite episode of all, The City On The Edge Of Forever. If you're not familiar with the plot, all you need to know here is that Kirk and Spock have gone back to 1930s New York to retrieve a similarly displaced McCoy. Whilst there, Kirk falls for Edith Keeler, a pacificist. Long story short, he has to let her die, otherwise her campaigning will delay the US entering the Second World War long enough for Germany to win, thereby changing the future irrevocably (and Kirk et al's past). This, for me, is great stuff. I appreciate your mileage may vary.

And because lots of you that come here are music bloggers, or readers thereof, there's this, from Amok Time. Kirk agrees to fight his best friend, for that friend's sake, not realising it is to be a fight to the death. And it's of interest to fans of music trivia because...? It's where 80s power-poptarts T'Pau got their name...

Growing up, I always wanted to be Spock most of all. Sure, Kirk had the swagger and got the girl and McCoy was funny, but Spock was cool, logical, detached, intelligent, and always knew what to do. Plus, you know, the tricorder, neck-pinches, mind-melds and "fascinating"... Or maybe I just fancied myself as a bit different, who knows. I certainly hold dear his view that "there are always alternatives", and I can raise quite an arched eye-brow. And whilst I don't have pointy ears, I do sometimes wonder whether the Starfleet ideals of altruism, positivity and peaceful exploration might, in part, explain why I have spent the majority of my working life in public-sector or non-profit roles. Just how influenced was I?

Whatever, the bottom line is this: whilst I like Star Wars I love, and will always love, Star Trek. You could do a lot worse than immerse yourself in the original series and, to a lesser extent, the (even numbered) films starring the classic cast. Enjoy... and live long and prosper! (Not you, Ensign Ricky)

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Disentangling

I have something of a love/hate relationship with being online.

I love the possibilities the Internet provides, the inter-connectivity, the access to the riches of the World Wide Web.

I hate the capacity of mankind to fill the World Wide Web with unmitigated bobbins.

Just lately the balance is getting increasingly out of whack. Example: I used to think Twitter was great - the social media it was okay to love. Concise, pithy, and interactive, if you had something of value to say it could be picked up and shared, your message was out there. And it was a door-opener, allowing you to communicate with people that you'd never otherwise be able to. But now? It's a bot-ridden, fake news propagating, cesspool of hate, where a thread can go from innocuous comment to outraged splenetic insults in four tweets or less. It is the demesne of the professionally angry, provocative, hateful and the first recourse of the competitively correct. Trolls, attention-seekers, hate-mongers, virtue-signallers, bots, propaganda, lies, fakery, extremism, inanity, ridicule, scorn, derision, loathing, self-loathing... pretty sure this is not what Tim Berners-Lee had in mind.

It wears me out, it really does. And it's not just Twitter. It's anything and anywhere online that requires you to have a username.

What makes it worse is that we've got to this point incrementally, and by stealth. The idea now of renouncing all online activity, deleting every account, cancelling email addresses... well, it's hardly to imagine. But if the whole shebang was invented today, complete and in its current form rather than developing over many years, I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. Would you?

All of which doesn't really even scratch the surface of why I am trying to disentangle myself from the Web somewhat, though it gives you a flavour. And I am aware of the irony of making these points in a blog post (attention-seeking, inane, loathing, self-loathing). Whatever. I shall be having a purge, reapplying the pub test to my Facebook friends list (as in, would I enjoy having a pint in the pub with you? If not, unfollowed), the reciprocity test to Twitter (is our interaction mutually beneficial or are you getting more out of it than I am? If the latter, unfollowed), maybe just binning LinkedIn completely, and even pruning my blogroll (I currently subscribe to 39 RSS feeds). And I'll be sending Do Not Track requests from my browser, not-accepting third-party cookies and browsing incognito as much as possible. Stick that in your algorithm and smoke it.

I will not be entirely successful - it's impossible now, we're all too entangled. But I shall be trying to get back towards, oh, let's say... 1989. When the Internet existed but life in general was a bit more like this:

Friday, 3 November 2017

What you got?

Thanks to C at the always-excellent Sun Dried Sparrows for the heads-up that the final series of Detectorists starts next week on BBC4. You really should watch it. Here's the trailer:

I've eulogised about Detectorists before, so won't go on again, other than to say you'll be glad you tuned in. The Beeb's programme website has a lot of clips from the first two series, if you want to see what you've missed already.

Oh, and there's the theme tune too, of course, which is perfect.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

I am at stage four...

...in the five stages of grieving over the climate. Stage four is depression. Where are you?

Monday, 30 October 2017

Instinct, overheard

Overheard, earlier today...

A (downcast): Anyway, I'm sorry. I've been a bit down on myself lately, and it's made me a bit grumpy.

B (slightly disinterested): Don't be so hard on yourself.

A: I know, I've just been having a bit of an introspective phase, and -

B: Introspection's over-rated, if you ask me.

A: Well, I can't help it.

B (slightly more interested now): You can, actually. You can choose how you are, choose to give introspection a miss.

A (unconvinced but perhaps not wanting a debate): Well, maybe.

That's from memory, so apologies to A and B for misquotes and paraphrasing. That was certainly the gist of the conversation, anyway. So what do we think? Can you choose your mood, like B suggests? Or is choosing not an option, as A reckons? Is introspection, or any number of other behaviours, instinctive or reasoned?

You might think this slice of early Spandau Ballet would be the obvious choice to go with musings on instinction, but who likes obvious? It's alright, but I prefer a bit of tunesmithery, thanks.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Cryptic-schmyptic - the answers

Earlier this month, I posted a music crossword: 75 clues of varying difficulty - some cryptic, some anagrams, some straightforward. I hoped it might be a fun test, albeit a test that would be easier if you knew my taste in music and/or were a regular reader of the blog.

Anyway, a week is quite long enough to mull over a crossword, so here's the solution. There are no prizes but hey, by all means have a kudos point for every answer you got right.

The clueThe answer
ACROSS
1Purveyors of dead air space (9)Dead Air Space is the current title of Radiohead's website.
4Pentito (10)Pentito is Italian for someone who is repentant and is commonly used to describe criminals who help the judiciary, much like a Supergrass.
5Covered 41A's feast day (7)41A is Billy Bragg, who sang about St Swithin's Day. Dubstar did a lovely cover of this.
7...but neither Jane Fonda nor Donald Sutherland (1,2,5)Jane and Donald co-starred in the movie I Am Klute, from which I Am Kloot took their name.
9Panacea, they dropped the 'easy' (3,4)A panacea is a cure-all. Robert Smith's band were originally called The Easy Cure - they dropped the 'Easy' and became The Cure.
11A hand reached down to him (5,5)The lyrics to Oh You Pretty Things by the late David Bowie describe "A crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me".
13Over experienced (4,7)His breakthrough band was The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
14Oh Susanna! Plus three. (3,7)The gorgeous Susanna Hoffs was lead vocalist with The Bangles.
16The beginning of all bands (7)Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 1: In the beginning...
21She stopped wearing cardigans (4,7)The sublime Nina Persson was singer with The Cardigans before going solo.
23Dancers of the leggy mambo (3)Leggy Mambo was the second album from Cud.
24Bickle boys (6)Travis Bickle was the protagonist in Taxi Driver, and gave the band their name.
25Time for Sleep for these indie also-rans (6)Time and Sleep were minor hits for forgotten indie nearly-men Marion.
27Insistent insect (4,3)Insistent could be adamant, an insect could be an ant, hence Adam Ant.
28Allowed the country to quiver (1,1,6)Let England Shake was an album by P J Harvey.
30Shoegazing was easy (4)Easy might imply an easy ride, hence Oxford shoegazers Ride.
31They bore a rose banner (4)Rose banner = Pink Flag, an album by Wire.
32Rearrange Mancunians (3,5)Not an anagram but if you arranged those Mancunians you might put them in a New Order.
34Locus of deoxyribonucleic acid (4)Deoxyribonucleic acid being DNA, this is one definition of a Gene.
37Sad aviation (4,10)Sad = blue, aviation = aeroplanes: Blue Aeroplanes.
40They reflected in the en-suite (3,4)Mirror In The Bathroom was a big hit for The Beat.
41Still suitable for miners (5,5)Note, miners, not minors. Who's more suitable for miners than Billy Bragg?
42Gift chosen from a list (3,7,7)Wedding gifts are often chosen from a list, hence The Wedding Present.
45Goes well with Streetband hit (3,3)Streetband had a hit with Toast, and what goes well with toast? The Jam, of course (Marmalade wouldn't fit).
46Gave 41A an extra verse (6,7)41A being Billy Bragg, the late Kirsty MacColl added an extra verse to her cover of Bill's A New England, which he subsequently adopted in tribute to her.
48After-hours training for the philharmonic (1,1,1)After hours implies in the Dark. Training implies Manoeuvres. Philharmonic implies Orchestral. So, O.M.D.
49The Office Block Persecution Affinity (3,5)One of a number of groups The Kinks identified with in The Village Green Preservation Society.
50Gave Val Kilmer his finest hour (3,8)Val played Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's Doors biopic.
52Not as hard as stainless steel (4)Sheffield is indelibly associated with stainless steel, as are the much softer sounding Pulp.
55Their sophtware did not sell well (9)The Sophtware Slump was an album by Grandaddy.
57They always sounded so happy (1,1,1)Ecstatic even, or in a state of X.T.C. perhaps?
58Multiple stationers (3,6)More than one branch of W H Smith would surely be The Smiths?
61Scouse anglers? (4)Fishermen Cast their line.
62Change for vending machine (6,4)Forgive the playground joke, but this is Johnny Cash.
64Kubrick's favourite band? (11)Probably not Stanley's favourite band, but Strangelove were excellent, as is Kubrick's film Dr Strangelove.
66Handy for nurdling, if Gallic (5)A nurdle (think of the Aquafresh logo) would be easy to draw with a French curve. Or just Curve, if Gallic.
67Not the high street soap pedlars (4)As well as the soap company, Lush were also shoegazers signed to 4AD.
68Kept in a creel? (4)Sylvia Plath's poem You're memorably compared a baby to a creel of Eels.
69Oh, duo screwed (7,5)Confusingly not a duo, just an anagram of Crowded House.
71Not Screaming Lord Sutch's backing band (7)Sutch's band were The Savages. So not them, just Savages without the The.
DOWN
2Essential French duo (3)Air is pretty essential, I find.
3New York childminders (5)Nanny In Manhattan was the jeans-ad-powered one-hit wonder for Lilys.
4Velveteen trash (5)Velveteen is an adjective that might be applied to Suede who had quite a hit with Trash.
6Bald, bony? (3,5)A straight anagram of the bony but still hirsute Bob Dylan.
8Suicidal Swedes (3,9)The Wannadies were from Sweden.
9Liverpudlians who always had one eye on the cover (3,3)The La's eponymous debut album had a close-up of an eye on the sleeve.
10Symbol's mother (5)For a while, Prince went by the name of an unpronouncable symbol. Who's a prince's mother? A Queen, of course!
12Neither acoustic nor heavy but philharmonic (1,1,1)Not acoustic implies Electric. Not heavy implies Light. Philharmonic implies Orchestra. So, E.L.O.
14A modest, dizzy bunch (3,6,5)(Im)modest sounding The Wonder Stuff helped Vic Reeves with his hit cover of Dizzy.
15Spanish archer (5)El bow... Elbow. Geddit?
17Tight fit (but not Tight Fit) (7)A tight fit is, literally, a Squeeze.
18Kopavagur's finest (8,7)Kopavagur is a little town in Iceland, home to singer-songwriter Emiliana Torrini.
19When Bob was sweet, not mouldy (5)Bob Mould's other band, Sugar.
20Sounds like they should be Alan's favourite band (1,2)Knowing me, Alan Partridge, knowing you, New Amusements... A-Ha!
22Shy poets bop (3,4,4)A straight anagram of Pet Shop Boys.
25Ann Coates (9)Credited with backing vocals on Bigmouth, Ann Coates was actually a pitch-shifted Morrissey.
26Quite good (3,12)In their early days, this band had badges proclaiming "The Housemartins are quite good".
29He plays guitar (6,4)The lyrics of John Kettley Is A Weatherman by A Tribe of Toffs include the line "Johnny Marr, he plays guitar."
32They saw off the fear (5)There Goes The Fear was, in my view, Doves' finest moment.
35The decline of ... (7,3,5)...British Sea Power is an excellent album by, unsurprisngly, British Sea Power!
36Alternate heroes' stetson (3,5,5)A straight anagram of The Stone Roses.
38No longer an attraction (5,8)Since Steve Nieve doesn't fit, another ex-Attraction would be Elvis Costello.
39Changing man (4,6)A descriptive reference to a mid-90s release from Paul Weller.
43Not Middleton, not burning (4,4)Not Middleton, so another Kate. Not burning, so another bush. Kate Bush.
44Gaussian smudge (4)A Gaussian Blur is a common image processing effect used in many graphics software packages.
47Is Georgia the dream state? (3)Rapid Eye Movement is what you do when you're dreaming and Athens, Georgia, was home to R.E.M.
51(W)hole lot of water (5)A waterhole might be an Oasis.
53Fallen in French farce (7)The farce in question, 'Allo 'Allo, featured a painting entitled "Ze Fallen Madonna With Ze Big Boobies". Yes, really.
54Diminutive Cornish or Devonians (6)Those mythical little fellas would be Pixies, of course.
56Pre-Banksy stencillers, Essex anarcho-punks (5)I remember the stencilled art and logos more than the music. This was Crass.
59Gudmund's daughter, once sweet and die-shaped (5)Ex-Sugarcube, Bjork Gudmundsdottir.
60Left the opera Scott-free (5)She left her soap opera husband Scott behind and went on to become so big she could dispense with her surname. She is Kylie.
63Grunge Yoko and co (4)Grunge Yoko was a label thrown at Courtney Love, who had her own band, Hole.
65White Van men (4)Van Morrison first found fame as the singer in Them.
70Entwistle (2)Who bassist and archetypal quiet man John Entwistle's nickname was Ox.

So that's it. How did you do? And don't worry, I doubt very much that I'll be doing this again - okay, it generated quite a lot of interaction in the comments (no cross words though, ho ho), but it was disproportionately hard work for all concerned!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Who was your favourite?

I cannot imagine a time when this title sequence will fail to make me feel joyously young again, even if only for one minute ten seconds...

And what a theme tune!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Cryptic-schmyptic

I may or may not have too much blogging time imminently, for reasons too numerous to go into. In case I don't, I'd thought I'd just leave something here that might last passing readers a while. And I'll be honest, I was also inspired by Rol's Saturday Snapshots series, with their cryptic clues.

So here's a crossword. All answers are bands or solo artists. If you've been reading this blog long enough you'll have an idea of my musical taste, so you'll have a head start there, I should imagine. Either way, you'll probably solve it all in a lot less time than it took me to compile. Some clues are cryptic, some are straightforward, and there may even be an anagram or two. Oh, and you might want to click the grid to view it a little larger than it displays below.

Click to embiggen

ACROSSDOWN
1Purveyors of dead air space (9)2Essential French duo (3)
4Pentito (10)3New York childminders (5)
5Covered 41A's feast day (7)4Velveteen trash (5)
7...but neither Jane Fonda nor Donald Sutherland (1,2,5)6Bald, bony? (3,5)
9Panacea, they dropped the 'easy' (3,4)8Suicidal Swedes (3,9)
11A hand reached down to him (5,5)9Liverpudlians who always had one eye on the cover (3,3)
13Over experienced (4,7)10Symbol's mother (5)
14Oh Susanna! Plus three. (3,7)12Neither acoustic nor heavy but philharmonic (1,1,1)
16The beginning of all bands (7)14A modest, dizzy bunch (3,6,5)
21She stopped wearing cardigans (4,7)15Spanish archer (5)
23Dancers of the leggy mambo (3)17Tight fit (but not Tight Fit) (7)
24Bickle boys (6)18Kopavagur's finest (8,7)
25Time for Sleep for these indie also-rans (6)19When Bob was sweet, not mouldy (5)
27Insistent insect (4,3)20Sounds like they should be Alan's favourite band (1,2)
28Allowed the country to quiver (1,1,6)22Shy poets bop (3,4,4)
30Shoegazing was easy (4)25Ann Coates (9)
31They bore a rose banner (4)26Quite good (3,12)
32Rearrange Mancunians (3,5)29He plays guitar (6,4)
34Locus of deoxyribonucleic acid (4)32They saw off the fear (5)
37Sad aviation (4,10)35The decline of ... (7,3,5)
40They reflected in the en-suite (3,4)36Alternate heroes' stetson (3,5,5)
41Still suitable for miners (5,5)38No longer an attraction (5,8)
42Gift chosen from a list (3,7,7)39Changing man (4,6)
45Goes well with Streetband hit (3,3)43Not Middleton, not burning (4,4)
46Gave 41A an extra verse (6,7)44Gaussian smudge (4)
48After-hours training for the philharmonic (1,1,1)47Is Georgia the dream state? (3)
49The Office Block Persecution Affinity (3,5)51(W)hole lot of water (5)
50Gave Val Kilmer his finest hour (3,8)53Fallen in French farce (7)
52Not as hard as stainless steel (4)54Diminutive Cornish or Devonians (6)
55Their sophtware did not sell well (9)56Pre-Banksy stencillers, Essex anarcho-punks (5)
57They always sounded so happy (1,1,1)59Gudmund's daughter, once sweet and die-shaped (5)
58Multiple stationers (3,6)60Left the opera Scott-free (5)
61Scouse anglers? (4)63Grunge Yoko and co (4)
62Change for vending machine (6,4)65White Van men (4)
64Kubrick's favourite band? (11)70Entwistle (2)
66Handy for nurdling, if Gallic (5)
67Not the high street soap pedlars (4)
68Kept in a creel? (4)
69Oh, duo screwed (7,5)
71Not Screaming Lord Sutch's backing band (7)

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Rose(-tinted) crush

Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers. Sigh.

My first real crush as a boy, after the prototype crush I had on my second teacher (the brunette-hair-down-to-her-waist, guitar-playing, hoop-ear-ring-wearing Miss Broad) was Lindsay Wagner. Or, more precisely, her most famous screen role, Jaime Sommers, The Bionic Woman. You could keep your Charlie's Angels as far as I was concerned (although I watched that too, of course, and did sort of like Jaclyn Smith), it was the tennis-pro turned schoolteacher who somehow warranted a multi-million dollar upgrade after a parachuting accident that always did it for me. She had brains (a schoolteacher knows everything when you're that age, right?), was super-powered (a bionic arm to go with bionic legs and, erm, one ear) and looked nice enough to make me feel funny in a way I didn't really understand at the time. It's no coincidence that the girl I always ran after when playing kiss-chase in the primary school playground looked like a pint-sized Jaime...

Watching clips now, The Bionic Woman hasn't aged terrifically well. It's hard to imagine watching whole episodes, even through the rose-tinted haze of nostalgia. By contrast, contemporary shows like Columbo and The Rockford Files still hold up, I think. But anyway, Jaime Sommers... the title sequence is archetypal Seventies US fare: the premise, the background, and lots of lingering shots of the star. And then there's a little clip of Jamie defeating a HAL9000 rip-off, in a race against time before they get nuked. Yes, really. Heavy stuff for a show aimed at kids, and actually pretty well done, I reckon.

Now, let me wallow.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Blogging. Not blogging.

On the way to work this morning, I was mulling over what to blog about next. Maybe the next Clandestine Classic, or how I might encourage more Fantasy Cover Version submissions. Or maybe an original piece... perhaps a review of the new Blade Runner film. So what would I write about that, I wondered? How visually stunning it is? How it adds to, rather than detracts from, the original? Or why it might be, in the words of one broadsheet, "under-performing" at the box-office? (A bit too long? Dystopia fatigue? Misogyny or misandry? Pick your keyboard warrior on that last one, I've heard both views.)

Joi and K

Except everyone who writes about films online is writing about Blade Runner 2049 already. If you want a straight journalistic review you could do a lot worse than Empire, and if you want a neat blogged summary you should pay Cultural Snow a visit.

So not Blade Runner then.

Maybe I could finally pull something together to celebrate a pretty much life-long love of walking up hills and mountains? You know, throw in some details of notable summits bagged, add an amusingly captioned photograph or two, maybe a lament to crumbling knees and the fact that my highest peaks are probably behind me, that sort of thing. Endcap it all with a YouTube embed of Kate Bush, maybe. But no. Because no-one wants to read that really, do they? Apart from me.

Buckden Pike (summit), Sept 17

I find myself veering towards the sort of posts I was writing back in 2006/7/8 that were highly personal and a bit raw: a sort of primal scream into the ambivalent ears of the world. But, if website stats are anything to go by, even fewer people want to read that, so really, what's the point? I wonder if anyone is actually still reading this even, or whether it got abandoned midway through the first para? In the unlikely event that you are still reading, why not enter something in the comments to show me you've got this far - let's say, oh, I don't know, the name of the first single you bought.

What desperate cannibalism it is that allows the mind to consume itself.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Maida Vale-able

Moz and Boz

For your listening pleasure: MaidaValeAble.zip (Need unzipping software?)

Edited 04-Oct-2017 13:00 - original file replaced with 320kbps version.

Monday, 2 October 2017

This month, I am late to the party with...

...the fact that Steve Coogan doesn't like Paul Dacre or the Murdochs. Neither do I.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Clandestine Classic LIII - You've Got A Friend (cover)

The fifty-third post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I've been thinking about cover versions a lot lately, mainly fantasy cover versions. Mainly, but not exclusively. Because you see, the other day I heard James Taylor's version of this, itself a cover, on the radio. And then, of course, there's the Carole King original. It's undoubtedly a brilliant, beautiful record, in Carole's hands and James's. Thing is though, when I think of this song I don't think of either of these renditions. I think of today's classic.

The Housemartins were, as most readers of this blog will undoubtedly already know, a jangly 80s indie band from Hull - in their own words, "the fourth best band in Hull" (the three bands that were "better" were apparently Red Guitars, Everything But The Girl and The Gargoyles). As you will also know, they had their big breakthrough moment with Happy Hour, helped no end by the Aardman-esque claymation video, and had their only number one around Christmas 1986 with an a capella cover of Isley/Jasper/Isley's Caravan of Love. And of course The Housemartins begat The Beautiful South and Norman Cook, in all his guises.

Enough intro though. The band clearly knew their way around a good cover version, and today's classic is no exception. It was recorded by the band's last line-up, in which drummer Ted Whitaker had been replaced by Dave Hemingway, an added bonus of which was Dave's nice backing vocals. The band play the song with a straight bat, perhaps mindful that the original is so well known, their only real digression being the complete omission of the middle eight.

And that's it really. A straightforward rendition of a well-loved song, simple and stripped back, with Stan's acoustic guitar to the fore. On the face of it, nothing staggering. But this is the version I always hear in my head first when I think of You've Got A Friend, and if I should ever ill-advisedly try to perform it in public, I'd take my cue from Paul and Stan, not James or Carole.

You can pick up today's classic on the career retrospective Now That's What I Call Quite Good, and you should because The Housemartins were excellent, in my view never really given the recognition they deserved. And if you are wise enough to invest in that album, you'll also get a copy of the Housemartins' track that I almost chose for today, Step Outside, another beautiful slice of Paul and acoustic Stan. It's a gem. But anyway, just because I've been thinking about cover versions here's today classic - enjoy.

This is the sort of song that gets covered to death, so if you prefer a different version, let me know in the comments. And if you still haven't submitted your fantasy cover version, what are you waiting for?