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)

Monday 13 August 2012

Songs For Sports Day Revisited

OK, I admit it - I was being overly grumpy for the sake of it.
Joining the band of the nay-sayers and doom-mongers wishing ill on the Olympics just so we can say: "Hey, we're British, what did you expect? Of course it was going to go wrong"

Obviously, I've seen previous Olympics, but there was something intangible about London 2012 that piqued my interest.

Team GB did good, better than many expected.  A small nation who are traditionally a bit rubbish at sport, and they have achieved 3rd Place in the Medal Table.  And the sportsmanship on show - those that competed did so for the love of their sport, not for some financial or commercial reward.

The names have been said many times before, but I'm going to say them again because they deserve as many mentions as possible: Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Andy Murray, Ben Ainslie - and these are just (some of) the high profile winners.  Lets not forget all the others: Helen Glover, Heather Stanning, Katherine Grainger, Anna Watkins, Peter Wilson, Greg Rutherford, Charlotte Dujardin - the list goes on.

The Opening Ceremony was a fantastic spectacle  from the singing of 'Jerusalem', around the country with the different anthems, the story of Britain, Mr Bean does Chariots Of Fire amd the lighting of the flame.
It seems though not everyone was convinced -
Aidan Burley MP: "The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?" followed later by: "Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!"
Oh shut up you silly sod!

I watched bits & pieces in the first week, not really being taken with much of what I'd seen, but then the running races started, and from the start of the Hurdles I was willing Jessica Ennis to victory in the Heptathlon.  To me, this was a truly remarkable sporting performance and if she receives the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year it would be richly deserved (although there is quite a bit of competition)

There was a great deal of hype and rumour leading up to the Closing Cermony.  Did it deliver?  Sadly not.  There were enjoyable bits, but it just smacked of the same tired, corporate "rock show".
Most memorable bits?  Boris Johnson doing his thumbs-up Dad Dancing to The Spice Girls, The Kaiser Chiefs doing "Pinball Wizard" (I really thought it was Roger Daltrey singing, so much so I even argued with the TV when the Kaiser Chiefs name was shown) and the closing performance from The Who (No Beatles, No Stones, and so The Who get the gig (this is not meant to sound dis-respectful to Pete & Roger, but I think even they accept that this is perhaps the order of things).

The Downside:
did we really need Emeli Sande twice?  Was Adele not available for one of those slots?
The tempting of the audience/viewers with the suggestion that Kate Bush & David Bowie MIGHT appear on stage
Has Annie Lennox got any other career than appearing at major concerts?
Ed Sheeran & Pink Floyd - Ginger Ed's voice is (I think) a bit to weedy to do the song "Wish You Were Here" the service it deserves.

Before the start of the Games, I offered a list of songs I was expecting to hear played constantly for the duration.
I am pleased to report that the BBC (and other media providers) did not resort to the tired and predictable I was suggesting.
The Take That & Elbow tunes did not make an appearance until the Closing Ceremony, I only heard Spanner Billet's "Gold" once (on Radio 2), and the Status Quo & Pet Shop Boys tunes were entirely absent.
That'll teach me to be prematurely grumpy about something that may never happen

I'm a football fan, and the Euro 2012 tournament that preceded the Olympics just pales in comparison to the 16 days of sporting endeavour we have just witnessed.

(I have just realised that the last entry posted was a wistful reminiscence of times gone by, and this entry is an apology for being a doubter about the biggest Sporting event of the year.
I'll have to be careful in future, or I'll be in danger of losing the coveted title of 'UK Number 1 Curmudgeon')

Friday 10 August 2012

Memorable Dates

Some dates are so memorable they become a permanent part of your consiousness.

1066 - Battle of Hastings
30 July 1966 - England win World Cup
21 July 1969 - Man On The Moon (unless you believe the conspiracy theories?)
17 March 1978 - Release of Stiff Little Fingers first single (Suspect Device/Wasted Life)

One date that is forever burnt into my brain is 10 August 1987.
Why? I hear you ask (or perhaps I don't, but I'm going to tell you anyway).
This was the date I started work.  The day I, and 70 other new Apprentices (35 Mechanical & 35 Electrical), turned up at our place of work for the first time.
And 25 years later (and I hasten to add) several changes of job later, I'm still at the same place.  And so are 14 others.
So, to mark our 25th Anniversary, some of the remaining lifers turned up at the staff restaurant this morning for a coffee and a chat.  You may never meet a more cynical bunch of sods (joking (honest!)).

So, I'm in a reminiscing mood:
Mid way through their last school summer holidays, 70 kids turn up at this daunting grey establishment ready to give the next 4 years of their life to learning how to be some form of engineer/technician.
Some are here because they want to be, others because it was the only job they applied for, maybe a couple just got on the wrong bus.  But anyway, there we are with no clue who anyone else is, or what is going to happen in the next 48 months of our young lives.
When you are thrown together with a group of people your own age, friendships develop over shared interest, new interests are discovered with people you would never normally speak to, and you learn to be tolerant of the one bloke who is constantly spouting bullshit about how his grandad was Frank Whittle, or how he invented the Compact Disc but forget to send the details to the Patent Office (these two events aren't 100% true, but you get the general idea).
Our time together also coincided with the discovery of alcohol, and the almost quaterly event of the House Party (ie someone's parents were on holiday, word got out and about 10 or 15 of descended on their house for a week of loud music, heavy drinking, junk food and a lack of sleep).
The Apprentice Years were soundtracked by Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, The Jam, Happy Mondays, Quadrophenia, The Blues Brothers and Monty Python.
Many of us made it through the 4 years and then all got monumentally pissed after the Prize Giving Ceremony (including receipt of our Indentures).  Some people moved on, others stayed and forged a career in their chosen specialism.  But we all (sort of) stayed in touch.

And so 25 years later, a small group of ex-Apprentices are sitting drinking coffee and asking "Where did the time go?".

To quote the song: "we were so close, and nothing came between us"
(I warned you I was in a sappy, reminiscing-type mood)

The Jam - Thick As Thieves

Note: If you know the above Jam song, you probably also know "Burning Sky" which (sadly) is probably more what it is like now

Monday 6 August 2012

Comedy Records

When I started buying records, thanks to the proceeds of two paper rounds, working in a Bike Shop and any other sources of income that came my way, the obvious place to go was Reading's foremost second-hand record emporium Pop Records (long since gone - the two shops are now both demolished.  One to make way for the IDR extension, the other was on the grounds where The Oracle now stands).
These two shops had a wide selection of just about every music style you could desire.  Rock, Punk, Metal, Electronic - I bought it all.  I manged to assemble a full set of Beatles singles (in various degrees of condition and age (original issues, 1976 re-issues in green sleeves, a couple of US issues on Capitol)), and also a pile of NWOBHM singles and albums.
The shop also had a very large section devoted to Spoken Word and Comedy records.  So not only was I devouring music, I was also getting a comedy education at the same time.

There was no difference between the consumption of these records.  Both music and comedy records were played, digested and regurgitated in the same way.  The content of the Comedy Records is now just as hard-wired into my brain as the collected works of The Beatles, T.Rex and The Jam.

Here are a few choice selections of the purchases made:

Tony Hancock - The Blood Donor & The Radio Ham
Quintessentially British, pompous and exasperated at every step, Tony Hancock (or the character) is a born born loser who is never quite as good as he thinks he is.  The Blood Donor and The Radio Ham are perhaps two of the best episodes.
The Blood Donor contains the often quoted line "A pint, thats very nearly an armful" which is still funny no matter how many times I've heard it
Favourite Hancock line (from Twelve Angry Men): "Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?"

Monty Python
In my world, definitely top of the comedy pile.
Monty Pythons approach to comedy was to take a low brow subject and talk about it in a high brow way, or take a high brow subject and talk about it in a low brow way.
A palindrome of Bolton is Notlob - you don't get stuff like that with Hale & Pace

Jasper Carrott
Robert Davis's records are funny.  There is no question about that.  It just seems that as he got going on the TV he became less funny as each series went on.
Check out 'The (Un)Recorded Jasper Carrott' or 'Carrott In Notts' for proof of how funny he was.
He even managed to get on Top Of The Pops performing his single 'Funky Moped', which probably sold more due to it's "banned" B-Side 'The Magic Roundabout'.

Not The Nine O'Clock News
A near perfect collection of three albums and one live show.
Recorded between 1979 & 81 and despite some of the cultural references not being entirely relevant some 35 years (!) later, these records are still superbly funny.  Even the title "Hedgehog Sandwich" is enough to raise a smile.

Ivor Biggun
There are 3 main Ivor Biggun albums and as you would expect they are stuffed full of filth, rude words and references to ...
Trivia Note: Ivor Biggun's single ("The Winkers Song (mis-print))" was Johnny Rotten's Single Of The Week when he was a guest reviewer for the NME in 1978

Spitting Image
The puppet show which was responsible for possibly the last proper novelty Number One single ('The Chicken Song').  The album was basically a collection of stuff that had been previously aired on TV.  Interestingly, the words on their own stand up without the visuals needed to back them up or flesh out the laughs.

Ben Elton
'Motormouth' was released in 1987. I think I listened to this more than U2's 'The Joshua Tree' which was also released in that year.
Ben Elton had previously either written or co-written The Young Ones (era defining television), Filthy, Rich & Catflap (good in places) and Blackadder The Third (in my view the application of the English language for the purposes of comedy in this series is bettered only by P G Wodehouse).  This recording is effectively his Saturday Live gig with added material, extra nob gags and a couple more expletives which wouldn't have made it onto Channel 4

There are loads of others I could mention, and all equally pant-wettingly funny: Tom Lehrer, Billy Connelly, Richard Digance, Rowan Atkinson, Barron Knights, Derek and Clive, Alexei Sayle - all good and all worth seeking out.

The Comedy Record was a product of the time - a time before home video allowed the words AND the visuals to be viewed.
Now the DVD takes the place of the Comedy Record, and its a very crowded market (virtually every stand up comic will have a DVD out at any given time, regardless of quality and popularity).
I like stand-up Comedy, but sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of stand-up DVDs on offer.
A comment regarding quality control: I've only ever turned off one DVD halfway through - that was Jimmy Carr's Making People Laugh (sorry Jimmy)

Due to the fact that these were Comedy RECORDS, it was sometimes obligatory to include a song on the album, or indeed release a single.  The chance of getting on Top Of The Pops was never ignored.
Here are two which scored quite well:

Jasper Carrott - Funky Moped

Spitting Image - The Chicken Song