Monday 31 December 2012

Eat, Drink, And Eat Some More

Went to Cosmo Restaurant today.  It is an "Eat As Much As You Like" place, so for around a tenner each we (myself, Mrs D, and 4 children) managed to stuff away several plates of curry, chinese, mexican, sushi, chips and cake.  All washed down with as much as soft drink as you like (a bottomless glass - a bottomless glass is a tube, surely?).
Just what you want after the previous week binging on rich food, too much drink and generally being lazy and (probably too) relaxed.
And after these final seasonal excesses comes the traditionally long and boozy night that is New Years Eve.
But not this year - for the first time in my adult life, we will be having "a quiet night in".  Doubtless, alcohol will be cosumed and rubbish food eaten, but this will be done from the comfort of the sofa with no agenda of forced enjoyment.  Who knows, we might even get the Scrabble board out (yes, thats right, I'm living on the EDGE!).
Tonight will consist of watching a couple of DVDs, listening to the Madness Box Set I received for Christmas (note to self: consider a Madness retrospective post in 2013) and building a Haynes Internal Combustion Engine model.

Obviously, this will be the last post of 2012.  So in the spirit of good will to all - thanks for reading 12 months worth of my drivel, and hopefully you'll be back to be bored to tears with more inane ramblings in  2013.

Monday 24 December 2012

Something's Missing In My Life

All the Christmas shopping is now done, everything is wrapped up and I'm planning on doing nothing for the next couple of days.
(Finished before mid-day on Christmas Eve?  I must've forgotten something)
Not that I had that much to do - fortunately I'm married to one of those people who has been organising Christmas since mid-October, right down to the buying of her own presents and handing them to me with the instruction "hide those somewhere"

A few amusing observations from my minimal shopping trips in the past week:
  • People standing around in Argos clutching tickets whilst staring up at a TV monitor - just like a retail version of Ladbrokes or Coral
  • Shoppers carrying huge boxes of toys, gadgets, electricals, or shoppers shuffling along under the weight of 26 carrier bags.  And then stopping at the already crowded bus stop
  • All the bargain shops seemed to be playing the same 15 songs, ranging from the predictable to the very predictable, all in perfect synchronicity.  I can't help but conclude that a 'Radio Pound Shop' has been set up to further sanitise and homogenise our shopping experiences
  • Visiting HMV - this is generally an amusing excursion, comparing what it was like in the past to the overpriced, badly organised, alternative Dixons affair that it has now become.
    The chucklesome event occurred whilst browsing the Spoken Word/Comedy section.  A rack spacer between "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" & "Spike Jones" bore the legend "Jethro Tull" (maybe the Cornish comedian has replaced Ian Anderson?  I think it was just an error of the 'Thelonius Monk/The Loneliest Monk' type)
  • Supermarket customers with two trollies loading them up with the equivalent of the EEC food mountain.  The cynic in me says that about 30% (or more) of that stuff will be in the bin by New Years Day as they'd forgotten about it and it's now out of date.
    And when does anyone buy Advocaat, apart from in December?

Despite these personally amusing diversions and annoyances, I thought about the Christmas presents I had received in the past.
The memory lists the usual childhood and adolescent boys presents - Action Man, a bike, Scalextric, various books (usually of some educational/historical intent).  But figuring high each year was the plastic construction genius of Lego, specifically the Technical stuff (later renamed Technic).
Over the course of a few years I received a veritable smorgasbord of plastic bricks that could be clipped together to form models that you may want to display on a shelf - and then broken down to it's base components and re-built into something else.
In the spirit of dewy-eyed nostalgia, the sets I had (complete with reference numbers, because I'm that sad I can remember them) were:
  • 854 - Go Cart
  • 955 - Mobile Crane
  • 8843 - Fork Lift Truck
  • 8845 - Beach Buggy/Desert Racer
But the one set I never did get, and still yearn for, is 8860 Auto Chassis.

And who wouldn't want that?
Reclining seats, 2 speed gear box and a flat four boxer engine.  It may be left hand drive, but as it is lego it is easily converted without having to send it back to the manufacturer for modification.
30 years I've been waiting for that, and I'm still hopeful of getting it.

Monday 17 December 2012

10 From 2012

It's nearly the end of the year, so in the spirit of "everyone else is doing, so I'm going to as well", here is my Top 10 Musical things this year (with a twist).
These 10 acts, presented in list form for your logical delectation, are the 10 acts that are "new" to me this year (ie I might have known something about them, or they existed before 2012, they just never 'passed through my transom' (as a wise man once said (David St Hubbins)).
Each band is listed with a suggested track if you want to hear what they sound like (unless you already know, in which case I'm teaching my granny to carry coals to Newcastle (or something like that?))

  • The Wildhearts - 29 x The Pain
  • Graham Day & The Gaolers - Soundtrack To The Daily Grind
  • Ducks Deluxe - Fireball
  • Frank Turner - Try This At Home
  • Devo - Space Junk
  • Richard Hawley - Tonight The Streets Are Ours
  • John Wesley Harding - I'm Wrong About Everything
  • Allo Darlin - Northern Lights
  • Spector - Chevy Thunder
  • First Aid Kit - Emmylou

In fact, whilst I'm here, I might as well add Top Tracks & Albums from the Year as well:
Top 5 Albums:
  • Paul Weller - Sonik Kicks
  • Bruce Foxton - Back In The Room
  • Madness - Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da
  • PiL - This Is PiL
  • First Aid Kit - The Lions Roar
Top 5 Tracks:
  • Paul Weller - When Your Garden's Overgrown
  • PiL - One Drop
  • Bruce Foxton - Number Six
  • First Aid Kit - Emmylou
  • Allo Darlin - Northern Lights

And to conclude The Rigid Digit 2012 Cultural Almanac (yes, its another list)


  • Here Comes Everybody, The Story Of The Pogues - James Fearnley
    OK, some of the prose is a bit 'flowerey', but the book captures the essence of being inside the band that has grown up together - the smiles, the seat, the fights.  And it does the one thing that all good rock biographies should - it makes you want to go and listen to the back catalogue, only you'll do so now with a bit of insight as to where the band's heads were at the time of writing
  • Men In Black 3
    Personally, I didn't think it was as good as the first two, and there was no Frank The Pug, but it was still a well written, well acted film which continues to debunk the "is there anybody out there?" school of thought
  • The Muppets
    Kids Film? Yes it probably is, but it's not stopped me watching about 10 times so far.
    (I'm including this, because although the film was 2011, I never saw it until the DVD release this year) 
  • Only Connect remains the best quiz show produced by the BBC (or indeed any other Channel)
  • Special mention to BBC4 and it's music documentaries, particularly the '... Britannia' strand.  This year has seen Chas & Dave, Squeeze, Thin Lizzy, Britpop, Manchester/Factory Records, Paul Carrack (to mention but a few).
    The Alan Yentob fronted 'Imagine' programmes are also usually worth a look 

Monday 3 December 2012

Another Long Term Search Draws To A Close

The Gents were/are a Mod Revival band from Doncaster.  They were active between 1980 and 1989 releasing 9 singles and two albums.
The first album 'How It All Began' I used to own, but lost at a party around 1990.  The second album -  'Waiting To Be Seen' - I never did get round to buying when released in 1987, and I've never seen it since (I did have a taped copy which has been (badly) transferred to CD).

The Gents - that is one of those terms, like "Gentlemans relish" or "Oral Practicioner", that you hesitate to type into Google.  Searching for "The Gents" AND "Waiting To Be Seen" returns mostly links to The Gents website, a couple of videos on YouTube, but no CDs for sale.
Until now
Detour Records will be releasing 'Waiting To Be Seen' for the first time on CD on 10th December.  This will be the second release in a planned release schedule of 4 CDs.

The first album 'How It All Began' was released in 1985 and contains a solid set of 11 anthemic songs including "New Direction", "The Faker" and "Revenge" (see below).
Detour Records issued this album on CD in 2011 and is sitting on my CD shelf (filed under 'G' between Genesis and The Georgia Satellites) awaiting its partner.
'Revenge' was released as a single and should be filed under "How The Hell Wasn't That A Hit?"

Admittedly waiting until 1985 to release their first album did leave the band somewhat behind the curve of the original Mod Revival which was all but over by late 1982/early 1983, but I still believe that song deserved a wider audience.

The second album 'Waiting To Be Seen' was released in 1987 and was predominantly "more of the same", split on the album as the "Dancing Side" and the "Listening Side".  This is the title track:

Is it time for a Mod Revival Revival?
The Chords reformed in 2010 and have released 'Another Thing Coming' in 2010 & 'It Was Twenty Years Ago Today' in 2012
Secret Affair are touring, and have recently released a new album called 'Soho Dreams'
Add in Bruce Foxton's current album 'Back In The Room', Paul Weller's release earlier this year 'Sonik Kicks' and the 30th Anniversary Edition of The Jam's 'The Gift' and it's beginning to look like it.

Is it time to kit myself out with a Fred Perry shirt, Sta Press Trousers, Dessert Boots and a Parka?  How much for a second hand Lambretta?

Monday 26 November 2012

What Saturday Needs

Just finished reading The Encyclopedia of Classic Saturday Night Telly by Jack Kibble-White and Steve Williams
(Amazon link)

Great book, appealing to my nerdy needs for useless information and trivia.
A series of essays/comment about the programmes that occupied the Saturday Night TV schedules, covering everything from the Classic to the Codswallop, the Memorable to the Forgettable.
Seemingly, the high point of Classic Saturday Night Telly came in the mid-to-late 1970s/early 1980s.
The schedules were an endless stream of Talent Shows (should that be written as "Talent"?), Variety shows, drama series and inoffensive family based game shows.  The Saturday night schedules now are much the same covering all the same basic components.  But there is one thing missing from the entertainment smorgasbord served up on a Saturday - There is no Madhouse.
Daft sketches and puns, silly characters and corny jokes - now that is what you want on a Saturday evening (well, I do anyway).

Mention 'Madhouse' and one name is synonymous with the concept - Russ Abbot

Russ Abbot started as a drummer in comedy band The Black Abbots.  They released a couple of singles in the 1970s and signed with a major label in 1977, releasing a single live album before disbanding in 1980.
Russ Abbot had already appeared in Freddie Starrs Variety Madhouse in 1979, and in 1980 he got his own Madhouse.
This show allowed him to exploit his talent for silliness, producing a cavalcade of comedy characters (including: Cooperman (and Blunder Woman), Jimmy McJimmy, Barratt Holmes and Basildon Bond).
Assisted by a supporting cast including: Les Dennis, Dustin Gee, Susie Blake, Jeffrey Holland and Bella Emberg.

Of all the characters on show, the most memorable was Basildon Bond (he had letters after his name).

Point One: Much like Tommy Cooper, he just looks funny to start with
Point Two: The secretary in the sketches was named Miss Funnyfanny
Point Three: The Parody didn't end with the name, he also appeared in films with titles such as 'Dr Yes' and 'The Man With The Golden Labrador', and was usually fighting against his nemesis Luke Bakenanger (it's a silly name, but it makes me smile).

Luke Bakenanger: "Have you ever been caught by your adversaries?"
Basildon Bond: "I had a bit of trouble with some barbed wire once"

OK - it's not so funny when written down, but I promise it will raise a smile.

As with most Saturday Night Variety/Comedy shows of the time, there was always the musical number.  Either it would be a great pop star/group of the Day (Grace Kennedy?  Manhattan Transfer? Guys & Dolls? Gerard Kenny?), or would be a parody performed by the cast.
Russ Abbott's Madhouse went down the latter route and gave us songs by:
Julio Doubleglazius (inspiration for Steve Coogan's Toni Ferrino?), The Four Bottoms, The Neverly Brothers, Vince Prince (a generic Teddy Boy Rock n Roller performing "And Then She Kicked Me"), The Bleach Boys and The Spanners (below).

What Saturday Night needs is a TV show which is heavy on puns, daftness, bad impressions (I'm looking at you Les Dennis & Dustin Gee) and just plain silly characters.

So, please can we have a Madhouse on Saturday Night?
Second thoughts, what we'll probably end up with is Ant & Dec's Saturday Madhouse.
A programme helmed buy the two miniature Geordies, introducing an endless stream of celebrity non-entities trying to be funny.

The shows aren't available on DVD (at least, not legitimately anyway), but YouTube is a veritable treasure trove of Madhouse moments - if you're stuck for five minutes and fancy a giggle just type "Russ Abbot" into the search box - you (probably) won't be disappointed.

Monday 19 November 2012

The Search Continues ...

You join me at the end of my bi-annual search for a decent priced CD copy of Dexys Midnight Runners 1985 album 'Don't Stand Me Down'.
When originally released, it basically tanked.  It got no higher than number 22, spending just 6 weeks in the album chart - a considerably poor return for the amount of time and money it took to produce.
Following this failure, Dexys ended up providing the them for the sitcom Brush Strokes ("Because Of You").
Was recording a sitcom theme part of Kevin Rowland's artistic manifesto?
(It might've been - after all this is a man who wore a dress on stage in the name of art)

Standing in Our Price in 1985 with £5, I was torn between the Dexys album and 'Rum, Sodomy and The Lash' by The Pogues.  Shane MacGowan and co get my cash, and it was probably another 10 years before I actually heard 'Don't Stand Me Down'.

Later on, I (like everyone else) created a sales spike for record companies as I was dilligently replacing vinyl with "these new fangled CD things".
'Searching For The Young Soul Rebels' - bought
'Too-Rye-Ay' - bought
'Don't Stand Me Down' - nowhere to be seen

'Don't Stand Me Down' did get a CD release in 1997 and again in "Directors Cut" format in 2002.  I purchased neither of these because basically I'd forgotten about it and wasn't in "Dexys Mode" at the time.

"Don't Worry - Amazon will save you"
No it won't - the cheapest at the moment is £49.99, and, when it is available, it is pretty much always around that price.
"You could always download it"
Yes I could, probably from some dubious/questionable source but, hey isn't all music free nowadays? Besides, why would I download it - I want the physical product.  Now call me old fashioned, but the physical product is key.  It's part of the whole choosing/selecting/listening experience.
In a similar way, why would I got to The Louvre to see The Mona Lisa when I can see photographs of it on the internet?  It's the same principle (or it is in my head anyway).

And so the search continues - I'm hopeful (confident?) that one day I'll stumble across a copy at a Car Boot Sale, in a Charity Shop or at a Record Fair at a price which doesn't mean selling a kidney first.
Or perhaps (even more hopefully) the will be another CD release sometime in the future.  Perhaps it may be another Kevin Rowland "Directors Cut" ('Don't Stand Me Down' has the potential to become the Blade Runner of the music world).

To paraphrase an earlier Dexys song:
"I've been searching for the album, I've been searching everywhere, I can't find it anywhere, where have you hidden it?"

Dexys Midnight Runners - There, There My Dear

Last-Ditch Request: If anyone has a CD copy they don't want, I know where it will be given a good home

Saturday 17 November 2012

Sweet Sounds

The phrase The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ( or NWOBHM) first appeared in print in Sounds in May 1979.
The music took its lead from the classic rock bands such as Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, plus other bands like Golden Eaaring and Montrose, added a bit of punk ethos/attitude and came up with a new tough sound that had Heavy Metal fans banging their heads and playing air guitar.
Bands to emerge from NWOBHM include: Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon and Diamond Head.  Motorhead and Judas Priest, although being in existence before NWOBHM started, were also considered part of it.
If asked, my default response to NWOBHM is this track:

Trespass - One Of These Days

But I believe I have found another, unrecognised influence: Sweet

Yes, Sweet - the band responsible for throaway 1970's bubblegum pop like Co-Co, Poppa Joe and Alexander Graham Bell.  They did achieve a number 1 single with "Blockbuster" (a song which had basically the same riff as David Bowie's "The Jean Genie"), and perhaps they're most well known single was "Ballroom Blitz".
Despite being part of the Chinnichap production line, the band always provided a self-penned track for their B-Sides, and these were usually pretty heavy by comparison.
Listen to tracks like "Done Me Wrong All Right", "Rock And Roll Disgrace" or "Sweet F.A." and you can almost hear the DNA template for NWOBHM.

And here is Exhibit 2 - Promo Video for "Action" from 1975 - Brian Connolly has more than a passing look of Bruce Dickinson about him, especially when holding the mike with two hands and wailing into it.

By the way, have you heard the story (urban myth?) as to why every ceiling has a Sweet Spot?

Friday 16 November 2012

Right Said Fred

No, not the Deeply Dippy baldy brothers (and that bloke with the curly locks and the guitar).
This Bernard Cribbins 'novelty' song is a true, unadultered classic.  I'm surprised there haven't been more high profile cover versions of this monumental track.

But, what were they trying to move?
First thought is a Piano, especially when they talk about removing "them fings that hold the candles".
But does a piano have handles?  A portable piano perhaps - I've never seen one, but they might exist.
And then Fred suggests taking the feet off.  Do Pianos have feet? Yes, they do.  But the next line, they're taking the seat off.  So this is now a piano with handles and a built-in seat.  Not like any piano I've come across.
In the end, they end up wrecking the house trying to move whatever it is, and Charlie and his mate go home leaving Fred to do the cleaning up.

Is it important? Probably not, but I would like to know what they were moving.

The spoken part at the end is another one of those 'philosophy in songs' moments:

"I said to Charlie we'll just have to leave it standing on the landing that's all, 
You see the trouble with Fred is he's too hasty 
Now you never get nowhere if you're too hasty"

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Glam Slam

Whilst clearing up in the cave (clearing up or moving things round?) I found a copy of an old double album entitled Glam Slam.
The sleeve states: "The Definitive Glam Rock Collection" - but is it?
Here's the TV advert:

Here's the track listing:

Slade -  Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Gary Glitter -  Do You Wanna Touch Me
Suzi Quatro -  Devil Gate Drive
Elton John -  Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)
Rod Stewart -  You Wear It Well
T Rex -  Get It On
Sweet -  The Ballroom Blitz
Gary Glitter -  I'm The Leader Of The Gang
Glitter Band -  Angel Face
Mott The Hoople -  All The Young Dudes
Faces -  Cindy Incidentally
Wizzard -  Angel Fingers
Slade -  Cum On Feel The Noize
Alice Cooper -  School's Out
Sweet -  Blockbuster
Wizzard -  See My Baby Jive
Rubettes -  Sugar Baby Love
Mud -  Tiger Feet
Bay City Rollers -  Bye Bye Baby
Hello -  New York Groove
Argent -  Hold Your Head Up
David Essex -  Gonna Make You A Star
T Rex -  Hot Love
Faces -  Stay With Me
Mott The Hoople -  All The Way From Memphis
10cc -  Rubber Bullets
Cockney Rebel -  Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)
Sparks -  This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us
Rod Stewart -  Maggie May

How many of the above are actually considered as part of the Glam Rock cannon?
T.Rex are often considered to be the originators of Glam Rock, Slade were there at the start and sort of got tarred with the brush, Wizzard and Roy Wood turned the colour up.  Sweet were the embodiment of "Brickies in Drag", whilst Gary Glitter was the ubiquitous face of Glam Rock (did he ever release a version of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl"?).
But of the others?
Were Mott The Hoople really a Glam Rock band?  In the same way as Slade, I suppose they were.
What about Alice Copper?  By stretching the definition, you could probably say yes.
David Essex?  Pretty Boy, yes.  Adored by knicker-wetting pre-teens, yes.  Releasing records in 1972 to 1975, yes.  But not a Glam Rocker.
And what about The Rubettes?  Glam?  Here's the evidence:

The Rubettes - Calm down Ladies

Much of this album is from the Rock n Roll revival period directly following Glam Rock.  Wizzard probably led the way, but Mickie Most's Rak Records stable (including Mud and Suzi Quatro) and Bell Records (home of Glitter and Hello) all played a big part in shaping the charts.
And lets not forget Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn who wrote most of the stuff.

Without wishing to invoke the Trades Descriptions Act, in what way could this album be considered definitive? Especially when you consider the ommission of the biggest name of the period.  Where is David Bowie?  Maybe K-Tel just couldn't afford the rights.

Perhaps it would've been better to title this album:
"We Wanted To Release The Definitive Glam Rock Album But Ran Out Of Ideas And Money.  Here's A Collection Of Some Of The Most Memorable Singles From The Period 1972 to 1976"
or maybe
"Now Thats What I Call Glam Rock ... Sort Of"

Glam Rock - It was just "basic" Rock & Roll, but performed after a visit to the dressing up box.

This is why The Faces are NOT a Glam band.
No, they are a Bloke Band - Music, Booze & Football (in that order)
The loosest, tightest live band ever.
They could've/should've been as big (if not bigger) than The Stones.
Combination of disillusionment (Ronnie Lane), poaching (Ronnie Wood), and solo success which surpassed the band (Rod Stewart) caused the end of the good time bar band, always performing with an air of mischief about them and a bloody big smile on their faces.

This is quite simply the best song on the Glam Slam album, if not one of the best songs ever written.
The Faces - Stay With Me

For an absolute History of The Faces, try this boxset (one of my favourites):
Five Guys Walk Into A Bar

They may not have been a Glam Rock band, but The Faces had just as much fun (if not more) than anyone wearing mascara and platform boots

Monday 22 October 2012

What Was The Best Year in Music?

If you were to ask anyone (specifically someone with a keen interest in music) "What was the best year for music?", the answers would probably be:
  • Now - nothing like living in the present
  • A random year between the ages of 12 and 20 - these are the (arbitary) ages when people are buying their first records (usually by the barrow full), going to their first gigs, developing their musical likes & dislikes and mixing with like-minded friends
  • A couple of years before their first record buying experience
Me, I fall firmly in the last category.
Prior to 1979 I was a football obsessive - more interested in Football Focus than Top Of The Pops
And then (to nick a phrase from Jarvis Cocker) Something Changed.
As previously stated, 1979 was the year I got my first tape recorder so I now had choice of what music to own and listen to.  I started to take proper notice of the music coming out of the radio and TV, rather than just accepting the odd novelty song and the Abba & Carpenters albums coming out of my parents car stereo.

The football obsession continued, but a realisation that having 2 left feet and an inability to kick a ball straight was never going to enhance my chances of being a professional footballer, so I thought I'd give Rock & Roll a go.  I discovered a couple of years later that a distinct lack of talent in this chosen field may also hamper my options.  (Maybe that's why I'm a Project Manager?)

And this was the song seen on Top Of The Pops that made me say: "this being in a band lark looks like a good career"
Similarly (not that I'm comparing myself to him), John Lennon stated in an interview with Tom Snyder in 1975: "I saw Elvis on the movie screen with all these girls screaming and I thought, that’s a good job!")

Dave Edmunds - Girls Talk

The song was written by Elvis Costello, and performed by Dave Edmunds with assistance from Nick Lowe, Terry Williams and Billy Bremner - collectively known as Rockpile.
Rockpile are perhaps one of the most under-rated and undiscovered bands to come from this period (or indeed any period).  A top notch live band (see 2011s Live At Montreux 1980 for proof of how powerful and tight a band can be), their solitary album (released in 1980 due to contractual difficulties with each member being tied to different companies) did not truly do the band justice.  There were 3 other albums recorded by the band, but these were released as Dave Edmunds solo albums (Trax On Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary) and a Nick Lowe solo album (Labour Of Lust).  All are worth a listen if you get the chance.
The Nick Lowe solo single "Cruel To Be Kind" entered the charts as "Girls Talk" was on it's way down.  It was recorded by the same personnel, and if you can find the video on YouTube, it looks like it was filmed at the around the same location and time as "Girls Talk").
Not content with having a couple of singles and an album in his own name, the collaboration above, other production work (notably Elvis Costello), and becoming Johnny Cash's son-in-law he also found time to co-write and produce "Milk & Alcohol" for Doctor Feelgood.

So was 1979 the best year?  In the style of Lloyd Grossman "lets look at the evidence":

  • Blondie, The Police and Squeeze at the peak of their popularity and releasing some of their best singles
  • Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick at Number 1
  • Gary Numan
  • The first Top 10 single for the Jam ("Eton Rifles")
  • The Rock n Roll/Rockabilly Revival (featuring Racey, Darts, Rocky Sharpe & The Replays and Matchbox.  Showaddywaddy were still releasing singles too)
  • The Mod Revival (featuring Secret Affair, Purple Hearts and The Chords)
  • The first Specials album, and the birth of 2 Tone
  • The Disco of The Bee Gees
  • The Funk of Chic and Earth, Wind & Fire
  • The sheer diversity in the charts - not only did Gary Numan, Boomtown Rats & Blondie have Number 1 singles, but Art Garfunkel, Cliff Richard and Lena Martell also achieved the top position.
  • The song that signifies start of the 80s (Buggles - "Video Killed The Radio Star")
  • And the year was finished with a Pink Floyd single at number one.  The song that will forever be used by lazy TV & Radio researchers to show teenage rebellion against schooling

The evidence is compelling, and it is certainly a more interesting musical landscape than the Simon Cowell influenced homogeny clogging up the airwaves.
The FA Cup Final of 1979 wasn't too bad either (actually it was quite a boring game until the last 5 minutes when Man United scored two goals to equalise before Alan Sunderland (complete with 1970s perm and tache) scored the winner in the 89th minute).

This was the year I first became consumed by music - a passion which has never abated., and (much to the annoyance of my wife and my bank manager) probably never will.
OK, I'll never score in a Cup Final or play on stage in Ringo Starr's All-Star Band, but it will never diminish the enjoyment of hearing some random notes thrown together against a catchy melody with some added words.
And so, its back to the Gantt Charts and Earned Value Analysis, but this will be performed with a constant soundtrack around me and in my head.  You can take our lives, you can take our pride but you can never take away the music.

Friday 12 October 2012

The Big Question

For centuries, mankind has pondered the Big Questions.

  • The existence of God(s)
  • The creation of the Universes
  • The meaning of life
  • How come Coldplay are so popular
My brain is currently pre-occupied by a similar conundrum:
Is it pronounced Nestle or Nestlé?
And who decided that we should ignore the Milky Bar ads of the 70s & early 80s and add a European inflection?

Is it just the 'ponsification' of products, in a similar way when Walkers got rid of Beef & Onion, replacing them with Steak & Onion (Beef vs Steak - same thing, surely, but Steak sounds more expensive)

Anyway, heres proof from 1981 - it clearly says Nestles (without the accent on the e)

Tuesday 9 October 2012

The Jaaag - A Progress Report

In April, I fulfilled a dream by becoming the owner of a Jaguar.
The multiple 'a' in the title is because the name MUST be pronounced in a Terry-Thomas/Leslie Phillips/1950s Bounder type way.
And so 6 months on, is it a case of "Never Meet Your Heroes"?

Not quite.
At first I was somewhat daunted by the apparent size of the car, but after a short time I realised that it isn't much bigger than a Mondeo, and only a little bigger than the Renault Laguna which it replaced.
Once I'd got the size issues sorted in my head, and despite it being a diesel, it is the smoothest driving, most comfortable vehicle I have owned.  Previously, long journeys (ie in excess of 150 miles) usually necessitated at least one comfort stop.  But now 200 miles plus can be done easily,comfortably and with no need to stop and stretch the legs.

And now the downside:
In 6 months, I have had two punctures - once when a bolt went through the rear tyre, and secondly as a result of a small crack in the alloy wheel at the front (subsequently repaired).
EDIT: Since publishing this yesterday, make that 3 punctures - I had another puncture/knackered tyre today
The other prime annoyance has been the abundance of black smoke emitted from the exhaust when under hard acceleration (particularly embarrassing when overtaking cyclists).
This has been diagnosed as a problem with the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) Valve, which gets clogged up with soot from burnt diesel fuel.  A common problem and a simple fix - I have a blanking plate which should prevent the dirty black plume happening.

Teething Problems? I'm sure they are, but none of it has detracted from my joy of ownership.

Driving around, lording it over the plebs in their lesser vehicles - maybe I should buy a sports jacket and a cravat to complete the transformation from suburban 40-something to a proper old-school cad.

The illustrative song choice is pretty obvious, but has to be done.
Queen - I'm In Love With My Car

Saturday 6 October 2012

I Did It

I finally managed to stop being a procrastinating idiot, and get on a train to London.
Brace yourself for a long(ish), meandering story:
The good people from The Afterword had arranged an evening event/meet-up (colloquially called a Mingle) at a pub in London (see previous post Metropoliphobia).
I have been promising myself/convincing myself to attend a London event for some time.  To stop me wimping out at the last minute with some feeble excuse, I made sure I bought the Train Tickets 2 weeks in advance, and printed a street map showing the route I needed to take from Oxford Circus Tube to Foley Street - there will be no backing out this time.
Friday arrived and I set off for the Bus to the Train Station.  This was the first (and thankfully) last puncture to my fragile confidence when the Bus was delayed en route due to two boarding passengers arguing with the driver about the validity of their tickets.  Someone on the bus lost their rag and suggested that the argumentative passengers either: "Pay the fare or get off the fucking bus - some of us have got to get to work"
Collected Tickets from the Self Service machine with no issues (was there ever going to be a problem?), and get onto the train within 5 minutes - "this is all a bit too easy" says the paranoid, self-defeating part of my brain.

Off the train, straight down to the Underground, 5 Stops and off at Oxford Circus.
Total Time spent travelling from to Central London: 90 minutes
Still seems too simple.  Maybe it is this easy, and I've just forgotten.  My in-built irrationality has been building this trip up into something akin to scaling the north face of Everest equipped with only wellington boots and an umbrella.  Nothing like it, in fact it was a piece of piss.

But ...
Following my copious studying of my map, I knew that I had to leave the Tube Station, head up Oxford Street for a bit, and turn left into Great Portland Street.
So I exited the Station, stopped and considered my bearings and decided to turn left believing that Great Portland Street was in the direction I decided to go.
It wasn't - I realised this when I passed Berwick Street and the Plaza Shopping Centre, and started to see the sign for Tottenham Court Road Tube Station in the distance.
I turned round, headed back up Oxford Street, passed Oxford Circus (again) and found Great Portland Street.  I was now heading in the right direction.
Fortunately, there were no more navigational errors and I found the King & Queen on Foley Street.
First things first - order a pint and then locate the Function Room.

I climbed the stairs, pint in hand - the moment was nearing when I, a socially inept/borderline misanthrope, would have to announce to a room full of strangers: "Hello, my name is Rigid Digit".
What was I worrying about?
I was warmly welcomed and introduced to the others who were already there.  A couple of people I had met before, but mostly the others I only knew electronically.  It was good to put faces to names.  The whole evening was relaxed, and both the beer and the conversation flowed.

I left just after 10pm, retraced my steps, bounced on the Tube at Oxford Circus (I went the right way this time), straight onto a fast train at Paddington and was back in Reading by 11:30.

Would I go again? Yes, definitely.  Standing in a pub Function Room talking about Alistair Crowley, Ian MacLagan's autobiography or the under-rated/unrecognised prodigiousness of Andy Partridge may not appeal to everyone, but I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.  And there was cake too.

Everything about the evening was positive:
- I didn't get mugged
- I didn't get lost
- I didn't get too drunk and end up making a tit of myself by dancing half naked on a table
- I didn't fall asleep on the train and end up in Swansea
- I did, however, discover that there are other people in the world with the same peculiar interest in the minutiae of music and pop culture as me

And, perhaps most importantly for me, I can now see the folly of my irrationallity with travelling to London - there really is no problem.

Amazing what wasting you're time staring at a computer screen and having conversations with people you don't really know can do for one's self-confidence.

Monday 1 October 2012

D'you Wanna See Some Puppies?

I'm a bloke - I like Football, Beer, Cars and Motorhead.
So writing about feelings, pets and domestic upheval isn't going to happen - WRONG!

We have 2 Dogs (1 Female (Nancy) and 1 Male (Merlin)).
Nancy was in season in late March, and although Merlin took a great interest and did try to become a daddy, he probably wasn't old enough.
The plan was to get him "done" in September, before Nancy was in season again.
Unfortunately, she had a second season at the end of July, and Merlin filled his boots.
Nancy got fatter, and we estimated/guessed the due date was as yesterday (30 September).  At about 3:00 pm, her waters broke and she seemed to be starting labour.  By 5:00, no puppies but the birth sack was being expelled from the dog.
An hour later, still nothing so I phoned the vets (this is Saturday, so it was the local out of hours service).
We arranged to take Nancy down, where she was assessed and  X-Rayed.  The problem was two puppies pushing down the birth canal at the the same time, hence causing a blockage.  The only way forward was for Nancy to have an emergency cesarean to extract the puppies.  This had to be done to prevent any further stress on Nancy and the unborn puppies.

It was a long, sober night.  At 3:00am Sunday morning, we were able to collect Nancy and her 5 puppies (originally it was 6, but sadly one didn't survive).

Firstly, I'd like to say a big Thank You to the people at VetsNow, Castle Street, Reading for all the work they did and the time they took - a definite reminder that there are still some thoroughly decent, helpful people about.
And secondly, I need to train myself not to walk round saying the above title to everyone I meet.

Right, I'm off to check the Fantasy Football Scores, drink Boddingtons, watch some Rallying, and listen to Lemmy.
Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

PS Does anyone want a puppy?

Should I include a link to Cat Stevens singing 'I Love My Dog'?
No, I think that would be a step too far

Thursday 27 September 2012

Getting Back In The Game

A couple of months ago, I dropped into a pub at the end of an evening.
I wouldn't normally go into pubs which feel the need to have bouncers on the door, but I fancied a pint and I the music coming out of the door got the better of my interest.

First off: Order a Pint of Smithwicks (it was an Irish pub (or O'Neills which is an Anglo-Irish pub to be honest)).
Secondly: Enjoying the music selection .. hang on, its a live band
OK, it was only a local covers band, but I'd actually forgotten the visceral power that a live band playing loud can have on a bloke.

Some years ago, the live experience was to be had on (at least) a weekly basis.  I would travel the length and breadth of the country (OK, Berkshire and the Home Counties) seeking out live bands.
I even organised a few pub gigs for friends bands (this was when it was possible for a band to play in a pub for a cut of the bar takings, without red tape, form filling & special licenses).

And then all of a sudden it stopped.
Why? Don't really know, but I'm guessing that marriage, mortgage and kids may be more than just a coincidence.
And so this period of time was marked by (a) a complete lack of cash, and (b) a bout of Metropoliphobia (an irrational fear of going to 'that London').  These two things combined sort of put the mockers on going to see bands.  And then when I rectified the cash situation, I found I now had no time.

In August I went to the 80s Rewind Festival - OK it was a retro-ironic-fashion parade more than a music event, but it did inspire me again to get my arse in gear and go back out in pursuit of live music.

And so this is the point where I get back on the horse - tickets for Stiff Little Fingers a Sub89, Reading on 23 November have been purchased.  This will be first proper live show since Santana at Wembley Arena in 2006 (which I got complimentary tickets for anyway (friend of mine knew the Sound Engineer)).

And the Metropoliphobia?
It's still there I guess, because I've done nothing to face up to it and change it.
Irrational? I'm sure it is, but I will be addressing this in the very near future.
On Friday 05 October I will be off to the Smoke for a meet-up/mingle with other frequenters of The Afterword site.
Kept promising myself to go to previous events, but the "trinity of annoyance" (cash, time & personal stupidity) always seemed to get in the way.
I've bought the train ticket, consulted Google Maps so I know where I'm going, and I just need to keep saying to myself: "confidence, confidence, confidence - what's the worst that can happen?".

Amazing what a pint of Irish Ale can do to you.

Friday 21 September 2012


Received an e-mail from informing me that the 30th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition will be released in November:
Universal Music Store
(same product - the Universal link provides more detail about the package)
Looks interesting, but pricey - I may settle for the 2 Disc Deluxe Edition (much like the Sound Affects set released a couple of years ago

So, what better way to spend the last few days than immersing myself in the world of The Jam (and then some Style Council and Paul Weller's solo stuff)

The simplest way of 'doing' The Jam is to listen through the "Direction, Reaction, Creation" Box Set - this gives a start to finish run through of all the singles & albums, plus an extra disc of unreleased stuff (add to this the "Extras" and you've pretty much got the lot).
But thats too easy, so I'm going to do it by (a) playing each album (b) a run through of "Snap!" to get the missed singles, and selected B-Sides, and (c) playing the albums in order of release

In The City
You hear the opening couple of chords, a shout of "1-2-3-4", and your off.
The opening track 'Art School' is an immediate high energy adrenaline rush (I promise not to use that phrase again ).  Played at high speed, full of energy and bullishness - it never lets up throughout the album.
The music on the album is a combination of Punk, Mod, Motown, Soul and a dash of The Beatles, and the choice of covers is interesting, and a nod to their influences - 'Slow Down' previously covered by The Beatles, and 'Batman Theme' previously covered by The Who
In summary, not a duff track on it - doesn't let up from start to end.

This Is The Modern World
Released in the same year, it does appear on first listen that the band struggled with this one.  It sounds laboured in places, like they have no new ideas or direction.  You know how a double album can start to run out of steam halfway through side 3? well, listening to "In The City" followed by "The Modern World" is a bit like that. But stick with it, repeated listening bears fruit.
The opening track ('Modern World'), 'Standards', 'In The Street Today' and 'London Girl' sound like they would've sat comfortably on the first album, and the cover of 'In The Midnight Hour' has got all the urgency and energy that you expect if performed live.
Special mention for 'Life From A Window' - an early dreamy, melancholic Paul Weller, and it (in my opinion) a great lost Jam track and definitely worth a listen (in fact, it's just down there )

All Mod Cons
What is there to say about the album that heralds this unadulterated classic?
After the relative failure of The Modern World, this album could've been called "Shit Or Bust".
There was a point in the early recording when Paul Weller lost interest in writing, resulting in a batch of songs being rejected by the producer ("This is shit" were apparently his words).
The new batch of songs (assuming the above is true) were more mature, narrative than on the previous albums.  And in one case deeply personal ('English Rose').
You get cynicism towards record companies and the music business ('All Mod Cons' and 'To Be Someone'). venom against what you don't want to become ('Mr Clean') and possibly the most evocative, vivid, best first-person narrative song Paul Weller (or indeed anyone) has ever written ('Down In A Tube Station At Midnight').
Its often been hailed as a classic, and rightly so.  If you own just one Jam album, then it should be this one.

Setting Sons
Where do you go after the high point that was 'All Mod Cons'?
Answer: back in the studio to produce an album that is equal, if not better, than its predecessor.
Originally conceived as a concept album about growing up and, as often happens, growing apart.  The original idea never came to fruition but many of its component parts can be heard on the album ('Thick As Thieves', 'Little Boy Soldiers', 'Wasteland' and 'Burning Sky' - 'Private Hell' and 'Smithers-Jones' also (sort of) fit the story, but thats probably more coincidence than reality.
What you have here is a tougher sounding record than 'All Mod Cons' - it also includes the bands first Top 10 Single ('Eton Rifles' (beloved of David Cameron (apparently?)), but is let down by the ropey cover version of 'Heatwave', which just doesn't seem to fit with the flow of the record.

Sound Affects
This is the sound of a band at the top of their game.  It takes the previous sound and adds more to the whole.  There's a nod to funk, soul, jazz and a touch of the avant-garde throughout the album (or at least to these ears anyway).  Paul Weller described the album as a cross between "Off The Wall" and "Revolver" - as throwaway, media sound-bite descriptions go, its pretty close to reality.
Starting with the huge bass rumble of 'Pretty Green', and than into the dreamy, Byrds-y jangle of 'Monday', you're hooked and will stay for the next 40 minutes.
(although 'Music For The Last Couple' just gets in the way for me.  I'm sure it has a purpose, but I've never fully understood it)
You can't talk about "Sound Affects" without mentioning 'Thats Entertainment' - a song so simple in its construction, even a ham-fisted guitarist like me can play it (G- Em-Am-F).  It may be simple to play, but it is a song that surely no-one can ever tire of hearing?
I thought I had everything The Jam had released, and then last year the Deluxe Edition of "Sound Affects" added a version of 'Waterloo Sunset'

The Gift
The bands last release, and more new influences are on show.  The record has more of a soul revue/northern soul vibe - the addition of horns & keyboards fill the sound offering a different Jam than expected
The "classic Jam" songs are here ("Happy Together", "Carnation", "Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?"), "Town Called Malice" moves into Northern Soul territory, and theres the funky, extended workouts of "Precious" and "Trans Global Express".  On the whole, a fitting end to a recording career.

It was announced in 1982 that the band would cease at the end of the year.  Paul Weller is 23.
That is quite a legacy: 18 singles (including 4 Number 1s) and 6 albums plus a live album - this catalogue, and the affection that fans held for it, ensured that the band may be gone, but not forgotten.
Was it right they split up when they did? Yes - they were at the top and went out with a number 1 album and a number 1 single with their last release.   They could've slogged on, but there was a danger of repeating themselves, and possibly sullying their legacy by releasing an album like The Clash's "Cut The Crap" (which has two extraneous words in the title)

But, there's more ...

Dig The New Breed
Released in December 1982 as a parting gift, this live album contains a selection of live recordings from the bands career.  The performances show a growth in both confidence and sound, and was also (at the time) the only Jam album that contained "Going Underground" and "Start"

10 months later "Snap" hit the shelves.  The album is a compilation of singles, B-Sides and selected album tracks.  I may be biased, because it was the first compilation album I bought, but it is not far short being 'the perfect compilation'.  This is the only album to contain the studio versions of : 'All Around the World', 'News of the World', 'Strange Town', 'When You're Young', 'Going Underground','Funeral Pyre', 'Absolute Beginners', 'The Bitterest Pill' and 'Beat Surrender' - How many other bands can have 9 singles in a 5 year career which are not culled from albums?  And lets not forget the B-Sides - these weren't on albums either, but were the virtual equal of anything that was.

Paul Weller returned in The Style Council - their early singles sounded to be an extension of sound of "The Gift" (indeed "Solid Bond In Your Heart" was originally demoed by The Jam, and considered as the final single"), but I personally never really got into them.  Maybe it was the more relaxed, soul/jazz sounds being made which just didn't appeal.  In truth, I think it was a combination of 'Long Hot Summer' and Red Wedge that killed it for me.  Although, 'Walls Come Tumbling Down' remains one of my favourite Paul Weller songs.
Of the albums, I've only got "The Singular Adventures Of ..." & "The Sound Of ...", the tracklisting of each covers similar ground.  To be honest, I only bought "The Singular Adventures Of ..." because "The Sound Of ..." didn't have 'Solid Bond In Your Heart' on it.

The Style Council's last album wasn't released by their record company, and Paul Weller took a break of some 18 months.  Paul Weller returned to touring in 1990/91 as The Paul Weller Movement, and then the release of his first solo album in 1992 marked the beginning of his solo career.
Space and time (and lack of interest on the readers part, I'm sure) prevent me from continuing with a review of Paul Weller's solo records - maybe another day

Life From A Window
(to show that 'The Modern World' wasn't as bad as many people thought/still think)

Carnaby Street
(representing the "lost" B-Sides)

Thats Entertainment
(No introduction necessary)

Thursday 13 September 2012

A Personal History of Recording/Playback Equipment

Football and Music - those are the two memorable constants in my lifetime (probably sweets and cake as well).
My footballing abilities would, at best, get me an unused substitute appearance for AFC Cotinthians in the Reading Football League Division 4 (ie I wasn't very good).
My practical musical abilities weren't much better (from Take The Money and Run: "he had no concept of the instrument...he was blowing into it.”), but I was good at listening to it, remembering the words, who sang it, chart positions and general trivia.
But, what use is a deep rooted love of music if you have nothing on which to play it?
Yes, you can always gain a timeshare of your parents (or siblings) audio kit, but for true independence and musical discovery, you need your own stuff.
From the bowels of my strangely retentive memory, this is my journey in audio equipment.

1979 (9th Birthday) I received a Sharp Cassette Recorder and a copy of a Woolworths tape 'Sounds Like Showaddywaddy".
Within two weeks, I'd learnt the Showaddywaddy songbook and purchased my first blank tape.  And so the next Sunday I sat next to the radio for the chart rundown waiting for songs to record - and then played the tape constantly for the next week, before taping over it again (and again).
Recording was an awkward affair as there was no direct link between the radio and the tape recorder.  This meant you had to remain silent whilst recording.  Unfortunately, I had a recording of Slade's "We'll Bring The House Down" interrupted halfway through by my mum telling me (shouting at me) to "clear your bloody room up".  Embarrassing when you're playing the tape with friends about

Tapes are all very well, and do the job of supplying music, but nothing can compare to the thrill of a record player and the ownership of vinyl records.  Christmas 1981 saw me receive one of these:
A 1960s Dansette Record Player.  Two albums (one by the Barron Knights and one by Shakin Stevens) were also part of the deal.
I was also given a pile of my mum's old singles from the 60s, a couple of old compilation albums.
Also, being given £5 in WHSmith vouchers allowed me to buy my first 7" Singles.  Any money I had would go on records - in fact it is a trait that continues to this day.
Recording was still a faff though, and therefore it was soon time to upgrade.

The Dansette went "bang" one day and I was left with no way of listening to my now prized vinyl collection.
No matter, the explosion my first record player coincided with my dad upgrading his stereo, and so I was given the old unit.
It was a record player and radio combined.  Still no tape though, but there was an auxiliary input so I rigged up the Sharp Tape Player and no longer had to be as quiet as a mouse when trying to record The Jam off the radio.

I now had a source of income (a paper round) and access to a second hand record shop.  Next move was to upgrade the stereo.

Bought second-hand for the princely sum of £10, this collection of Pioneer separates did sterling service for many years.  It was responsible for the first parent to teenager cliche heard in the house: "Turn that bloody racket down - I'm trying to watch the News."
The amplifier had a couple of spare input ports, so I rigged up the TV and my computer (an Acorn Electron) to run through the speakers in glorious stereo sound - Jet Set Willy has never sounded so exciting.

Sadly, the system died due to a combination of age and youthful over-exuberance.
The Record Player was accidentally trashed when I lost my temper with the indoor TV Aerial and kicked the desk the 'home entertainment centre' stood on.
The Record Player fell from atop the amplifier, the smoked glass effect plastic lid shattered, and the stylus arm broke in two pieces.

The Tape Player survived this fit of anger, but was on its last legs anyway - the left channel would often, for no reason that I could find, just give up the ghost and stop transmitting (or receiving - very annoying after 45 minutes of recording the Kid Jensen Show).
The amp, however, continued working (despite having difficulty maintaining its radio tuning) and stayed connected to the computer and TV for a while longer)

Anyway, it was time for a replacement - and thanks to Santa Claus, I got one of these - Currys best priced offering at the time- a Matsui Midi System
This system lasted until the first week of January, when the tape door refused to open - when it did, thanks to a little encouragement from a screwdriver, it no longer closed (I wonder why?).
So, we (dad, mum, me, brother) all traipsed back to Currys and start using posh words like 'merchantable quality' to seek a replacement. We was offered a 1 for 1 replacement, but considering what happened to the original it was suggested that a different brand would be preferred.

And this was the replacement - essentially the same thing (although £10 cheaper)
First time I used the record player it freaked me a bit - it reached the end of the run-out groove and then just stopped turning.  I thought I'd broken it, but it turns out this was a "feature" of this particular model.
To sum up, this unit was "adequate" - it did the job, but the sound wasn't great.
A couple of years after getting this, I was again the beneficiary of parental upgrade.  This unit was sold to a mates girlfriend for a tenner, and was replaced by a circa 1977 National Panasonic Music Centre

Proper, balanced stylus arm, lovely smooth turntable motor, higher wattage output than I'd had before, and much clearer sound.
This did me sterling service for a couple of years, before I decided, purely in a big-headed, 'pretend' audiophile, showing off way that Hi Fi Separates was the way to go.
Goodbye 1970s Music Centre - Hello Kenwwod

The Kenwood M34.  An absolutely superb piece of kit.  And including my first CD Player (first CD purchased: Jimmy Page - Outrider)
This unit survived three house moves, marriage, kids, divorce and the cat being sick into it.
It was replaced soon after the kitty vomit incident.
The belt/motor in Record Player became unresponsive needing the platter to be manually wound before motor would engage, and the CD drawer didn't always close properly - or it did close, but not always enough to actually register and read the CD.
The Amp and Tuner still work - they are now part of the "upstairs system", coupled with a Marantz CD Player and a very nice Pioneer turntable.

The current system is a collection of Sony separates including Record Player, double CD, Amp, Tuner, MiniDisc and double Cassette.  Although, to be honest the last two units get very little use (Cassette Player was last used for playing "Derek & Clive Live" which I found in amongst a pile of old Viz Comics when clearing up (moving stuff around?) the loft).

This will probably be the last system I own - its now about 10 years old but showing no real signs of failure so should last a while yet.  But with the march of digital/mp3/hard drive solutions such as Sonos or Media Centres storing all your CDs, DVDs, Photos and anything else that can be reduced to a series of ones and zeros, I have to face facts that the physical format may well soon be no more.
The stereo that was once the main focus of the room (well it was for me anyway) and the accompanying wall of CDs will soon be superseded by a little magic box.

And that is the magic carpet ride through my history of audio equipment.
It is testament to my memory and Google Images that I am able to produce this article.
Depending on your viewpoint, if you can stare at audio equipment and/or find yourself unconsiously salivating when looking at photos of old equipment, then this post is for you.  If, like most of the rest of the world, audio kit doesn't do it for you, you can always just listen to the (vaguely) related tunes below:

The Selector - On My Radio

Cliff Richard - Wired For Sound

Monday 3 September 2012


to busy oneself doing stuff in an aimless, but thoroughly a agreeable manner

And that is a summary of my perfect weekend

The one activity, apart from Gardening, that gets in the way is Home Maintenance & DIY.

DIY, or to give it it's full title Do It Yourself, could just as easily be called:
CIUIY (Cock It Up Yourself)
GSETDIT (Get Someone Else To Do It)

Not a great record - household maintenance and me operate in two separate universes.
Theoretically, I know how something needs to be done, what tools are needed, the potential problems & how to solve them and roughly how long it will take to complete.
Practically - well, that is a different story.  Because I know theoretically what needs doing, when it doesn't go right I resort to shouting a lot and hitting the thing with whatever hammer I have in my hand.  And apparently swearing at it is no help whatsoever.

But DIY saves money I hear you cry.
Well, it would do.  Right up to the point where I completely foul up whatever it is I'm doing and have to call in someone else to sort it out (which is what I probably should've done in the first place)

The majority of the bookcases, wardrobes and shelves in my house are from the Scandanavian God Of The Inept DIY Practicioner - Ikea.
To a ham-fisted dullard such as myself, Ikea is a positive boon.  Ignoring the lack of uniqueness, the homogenization of Britains homes, and the general public/media perception and comedy value, Ikea furniture is strong, sturdy and lasts - it is also incredibly easy to put together, and very difficult to make a mistake with the assembly (although I did once build a revolving CD Rack upside down).
But apparently, this doesn't count as DIY unless you are modifying it for your own needs (what? by putting a power shower in  bookcase or something else equally ridiculous?)

This weekends DIY (or the activity which prevented pottering) was to assemble a wardrobe.  This was not a flat pack - those I can handle.  This was a bespoke wardrobe to be assembled from pre-cut lengths of wood.  The job involved building the frame, securing it to the wall, and then cladding it with boards and doors.
The frame went together with some minor modification/re-cutting, and the cladding and doors went on without any real problem.  All in all, quite a successful job.

To soundtrack this task, it seemed to me that Krautrock with its attendant industrial sound, motorik rhythms and jazzy-style noodlings would do the job nicely.
The compilation 'Deutsche Elektronische Musik' was duly selected and provided the necessary accompaniment.
This particular track was playing at the moment of completion when I stood back and watched as the entire structure did NOT fall to the ground.

La Düsseldorf - Rheinita

And now, experimental German music and flat pack furniture will forever be linked in my brain

Monday 27 August 2012

The Best A Man Can Get

Apparently, the best a man can get is a Gillette Razor.
Surely it must be something like a knighthood, or perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize.
Even a Gold Blue Peter badge probably ranks above a razor.
(perhaps I'm being too literal and/or unnecessarily ranting)

The one prime thing that differentiates humans from animals is shaving.  Most of the time I'll use an electric razor to do the job, but once a week (on Sunday, just before my weekly bath), I will have a full, proper wet shave.
But, even though I'm only using the wet razor once a week the blade will eventually go blunt.

I suffer from Tight-Arse Syndrome - have you seen the cost of replacement blades?
Far better to just buy a new razor (often with 2 blades (1 attached, 1 spare)), and these are usually on some sort of special offer/promotion meaning they are sometimes about a third of the cost of a pack of replacement blades.
And now, my bathroom cabinet is home to about 20 or 30 razor handles with no blades on the end.
We now live in a disposable society where replacement with new or often more economic than repair, and because of this I now have the EEC Gillette Razor Handle mountain occupying my bathroom.

But Razors are not the only flotsam cluttering my life.
To enhance my environmental credentials, I have been spurning the plastic bag in favour of cardboard boxes,  usually collected from the fruit aisle on my way past (to be honest, this is probably the only reason I ever visit the fruit aisle).  And so, the eschewing of the plastic carrier bag has caused my garage to become stuffed full of stated fruit boxes.
Why don't I just throw them away?  Firstly, that is probably not the greenest option, and secondly they might come in useful one day (this is, I know, an unlikely occurrence and I should just throw them away).

"Keep that, it might be useful" - this is a phrase I have used for several years, and probably the prime reason why my garage looks like a cross between a shanty town and Steptoe's yard.
Anything that has broken, or has reached the end of it's useful life will, more often than not, be stripped down to its component parts and stored somewhere in the garage and /or shed (and/or anywhere else I happen to leave it (have you seen the junk in my conservatory?)) - you never know, all this junk might come in useful one day (I seriously doubt it).

I now freely admit, all these pile of crap I am never going to find a use for and so I have had a big clear out.  After numerous trips to the Municipal Dump, you can now see the walls and the floor of the garage for the first time in recent memory.

So, at the moment the best a man can get is a garage free from junk, and a slightly tidier mind by association.  The thing is, I've now get all this space available - I wonder what I'm going to do with that?
(Tune in next week for more tales from the Hoarder Files).

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Erase and Rewind

I’ve always been ambivalent to the concept of 80s Music.  It seems to me that 80s music is often defined as starting with Video Killed The Radio Star – how is this when that single was released in 1979?  Also how come bands such as Iron Maiden, Metallica or The Anti -Nowhere League are not considered to be 80s bands when that is the decade in which their records were released?  (Killing Joke must be an 80s band considering it is the title of one of their singles).
So despite my mis-givings of the cult of the 80s, the celebration of naffness and big hair, I went  to the 80s Rewind Festival in Henley.

The first Rewind Festival was in 2009.  It was started in response to the attendances at previous 80s one-off shows and Package Tours (eg Here & Now).  The event is held over a weekend at Temple Island, Henley-On-Thames with 80s bands playing on Saturday & Sunday.
Now in its fourth year, the 2012 Event had ticket sales of 40,000.  The assumption is that this equates to 20,000 on each day.  Camping is also available on site, and my estimate is that there were probably between 5,000 – 7,500 campers.  I believe (although I could be wrong (I often am)) that this year was the largest attendance to date.  I did go to the first in 2009, and it was certainly a lot busier this time.

I only went on the Sunday – after considering the line-up, I really couldn’t bring myself to part with real cash to see Rick Astley, Five Star and Right Said Fred
If you look at the line-up for the 2 days you may agree with my stance:

Initial Impressions
Early Weather Forecast suggested maximum temperatures of 32 degrees – therefore dress accordingly (or in my case, don’t wear a leather coat) – fortunately, the sky was mercifully overcast from about 2:00pmn, meaning the heat and humidity was helped by a breeze and did not cause sunburn, heatstroke and general melting.
I decided to drive and park at the site.  Because I am now officially ‘getting on a bit’, drinking in the afternoon sun would just send me to sleep, I’m too tight to pay for train fares (plus the last train from Henley to Reading on a Sunday was 10:00), and it was free parking anyway.

Standing in the queue to get in, I had two prime observations:

  1. The bloke handing out Free Magazines was Graham Jones (or I think it was) from Proper Music – the film “Last Shop Standing” was to receive it’s rough cut premiere at the Solar Cinema on the site.  As an investor in this film (this statement sounds better than it actually is – I donated £10 via the website), I was thanked for my contribution and support.  He was a nice bloke, and I fully support his efforts to preserve the independent record shops (more info:
  2. A large number of people had decided fancy dress was the order of the day.  OK, fair enough, if it somehow enhances your experience of the day so be it.  But why does a 50 year old bloke feel that he can only enjoy himself dressed as Freddie Mercury from the “I Want To Break Free” video?

Gates open, everyone slowly shuffles forward and enters the site, but only after the obligatory bag search.  No food or drink (or presumably weapons grade plutonium) may be brought into the arena – no-one found my hip flask though.
Upon entry you are presented with stalls full of tat, stalls selling deck-chairs and wind breaks for £20 a pop, and a vast array of food outlets.  As is usual for the Festival experience, food choice is plentiful but over-priced (£7 for a portion of Noodles), and the drink choice is limited and over-priced (£4 for a bottle of Carlsberg).

And so to the Live Arena (or large field with a stage) – it is a large field with a relatively small stage, so plenty of room for everyone.  What is noticeable is the amount of deckchairs arranged either in a line or some form of semi-circle marking out each groups territory.  Respectful gaps are left between each new kingdom (it might just be me, but I think there may be problems later).

But this is a Festival, it is (supposedly) all about the bands.

The Christians
Being first on is never an easy task.  The Christians know this, and even say so at the end of their first song.  The band turn in a perfectly passable performance, even if the crowd response is somewhat lacklustre (the cynical part of my brain says: “I wonder if they think they’re watching The Lighthouse Family?”)

The Straits
Made up of previous members of Dire Straits, The Straits do the rounds as a sort of Tribute Band, even if their credentials are somewhat stronger than other Tribute acts out there.  Competent, if unexciting and probably the closest Henley (if not anywhere) is going to get to seeing the actual band perform again.
 The thought occurred to me that whilst Dire Straits are perfectly listenable at home, in the car, or just around, could they really be considered as an open air festival sort of band?

The Lightning Seeds
Are the Lightning Seeds an 80s Band?  Their first chart single was in 1989, so “just”, but their heyday was in the 90s.
This was the band I was looking forward to most – a strong set but hampered by a truly awful sound (the sound problems would continue for the rest of the day – they never got the balance quite right).
The introduction to “Life Of Riley” got a huge applause, and then it sort of petered out when the crowd realised there is more to the song than the ‘music of the goals on Match Of The Day’.
The set included “You Showed Me” which I thought was a superb choice.  The crowd reaction was somewhat muted and disappointing – maybe Henley/80s Revival wasn’t in the mood for a 5/6 minute lump of psychedelic pop.  I liked it, even if no-one else did.

Adam Ant
The crowd around me started to get very busy.  It looks like Adam Ant was the most anticipated act of the day.  He certainly received the biggest cheer of the day when he hit the stage.  A proportion of the audience seemed to be disappointed that he wasn’t just delivering the cabaret-circuit style Greatest Hits package.  Starting with “Dog Eat Dog” and playing “Car Trouble”, “Zerox” and “Ants Invasion”, some of the audience were looking decidedly bemused (some of the younger members of the audience were wondering why Johnny Depp was on stage).
He finished with “Prince Charming” and the offer of audience participation in for the crossing of the arms wasn’t taken up, so the whole thing just sort of fizzled out.  Shame really, because I thought it was a blinding set, and would pay money to go see him again in future (and I was never a mad keen Ant Person, like some others I know)

Wang Chung & John Parr
Both these acts were met with a collective “Who?”.
The general rule for a festival is ‘Play The Hits’.  Unfortunately for these two, it is just a case of ‘Play The Hit’ – this is what they did and then left the stage.  Well, there is no point stringing it out when 90% of the audience have no idea who you are.

I went to Rewind in 2009 and T’Pau played there too.  To my memory, it was the same set, and it looked like she had the same coat and (daft) sunglasses on then as well.
No surprises here – “Heart & Soul” and “China In Your Hand” dutifully delivered.  Two other tracks that no-one seemed to know, then finish to polite applause.

Midge Ure
The first number was “Hymn”, unfortunately it became an instrumental when the microphones stopped working and not a single word was heard.  Why did it take the crew a whole song to realise and rectify this problem?
Midge Ure gave a thoroughly professional performance as would be expected for a man of his experience, talent and made to measure suit.
What was delivered was effectively a soundtrack to the 80s.  If he’d done a cover of “Video Killed The Radio Star”, all bases would’ve been covered.
My new theory is that Midge Ure invented the 80s.  He has a wealth of experience from the period,  the Ultravox song “Sleepwalk” sounds more 80s than anything heard before (or possibly even since), he wrote what is perhaps the New Romantics theme song (“Fade To Grey”), co-wrote the song that started the ‘video is more important than the song’ phase (“Vienna”),  he even managed to produce a song about impending nuclear destruction (“Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”).  And he was in an episode of ‘Filthy Rich and Catflap’.
He also wrote the best selling single of the decade (but the extenuating circumstances of the song preclude that one from being a symbol of success)

Roland Gift
He started slowly – I would even suggest shakily, but the confidence grew, the voice improved and he gave a good account of himself.
This was an 80s Festival and so nostalgia is never far from anyones minds.  The moment the introduction to ”Johnny Come Home” started I was immediately transported back to the moment I first saw it on The Tube in early 1985, before the band had a record contract – I had to wait another 6 months before I could get the record.
After “She Drives Me Crazy” he left the stage to applause which he fully deserved
Just one question: Did Roland Gift teach Heather Small to sing?  You can’t help notice the way neither of them seem to use their tongue whilst singing.

Marc Almond
I was never a big fan of Marc Almond and therefore wasn’t expecting too much.  But after his first song you genuinely felt he wanted to be up there performing, and putting on a show – not just “performing by numbers”.  The whole set was done with a beaming smile across his face, and a real sense of theatre in every move he made.   He knows the score, he knows what the crowd want to hear and after the fourth song announced he was a bit tired and that was it - stand back, await applause/chanting and then straight into “Tainted Love”.
He finished with a rousing, emotive version of “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”, and then gratefully received his applause.
Totally deserved – as I said I’ve never been a big fan, but this really was the best performance of the whole day.

Tony Hadley
Topped and tailed with cover versions.  The first was “Feeling Good”  – I think to show off his vocal range, and the ending was Stereophonics “Dakota” – just one question: Why?  Neither of these are 80s Songs as such, so why did Tone feel the need to perform them?
After the tour de force that was Marc Almond’s performance, he really did look like he was coasting.  He was dressed like an off-duty cocktail singer, and I feel conveyed an air of smugness throughout his set.  In fact I am moved to suggest that Tony Hadley is Richard Madeley in singer form.
Yes he can sing, but what he lacks in charisma he makes up for in the number of notes he can get into a single phrase.
I suppose it was inevitable – after spending the last 3 weeks successfully avoiding hearing the execrable* “Gold”, it was the penultimate track.  Oh well, never mind, it was bound to happen sooner or later (especially considering the imminent start of the Paralympics)

* This is my review, and that is my opinion – feel  free to disagree

This is the OCD bit: before each act, I made a list of the likely songs each would be performing.  I’m not suggesting the set lists were predictable, but I was never far off the actual songs played.
And then before OMD came on, I hit a wall – there are an awful lot of songs to choose from.  I didn’t realise how many OMD songs I knew.
OMDs performance was totally professional - they used the video backdrop to great effect, the sound was actually good whilst they were performing and Andy McCluskey really did engage with the audience (unlike some others during the day)).
Sadly, I only stayed for their first 6 songs – hence missing half their set and the closing Firework Spectacular (why does every event have to close with Fireworks?  It’s not as if its Bonfire Night or anything).
Having seen the size of the crowd and heard of the previous horror stories of exiting the Car Park, it was considered a prudent idea to leave before the end.
This we did, and when we eventually found the car we drove into a queue of traffic trying to get out of the car park.  And so this is how I saw the second half of OMDs set.  It wasn’t the same as being in the arena, but it was certainly more comfortable.
Musing on why OMD were as good as they were, it dawned on me.  Unlike many other 80s bands who were primarily synth driven.  OMD used the Bass Guitar to augment the sound, and much like Ultravox with Midge Ure’s guitar this added another dimension which many other bands just didn’t have.

Perhaps I’m doing the event a dis-service with this statement, but it seems to me that this Festival was more about “being there” than actually being entertained by the bands on stage.  Like some sort of obtuse Badge of Honour so you can say “I paid money to camp in a field and watch Soul II Soul, Five Star and Wang Chung.”
I paid money primarily to see Adam Ant & The Lightning Seeds.  I came away from the event glad I’d seen these two, but also Roland Gift, Marc Almond and OMD.
There are plenty of other ways to spend a Sunday, but this wan’t a bad experience – glad I didn’t go Saturday though.

And now the traditional YouTube ending - these two videos represent two favourite songs performed on the day

Lightning Seeds - You Showed Me

Fine Young Cannibals - Johnny Come Home

A pastiche of all early 1980s videos after the direcors have seen Vienna
(Not The Nine O'Clock News - Nice Video, Shame About The Song)