Tuesday 18 July 2023

Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious

Lotus was formed in 1952 by Colin Chapman and Colin Dare.  Arguably, the beginnings of Lotus were 4 years earlier when Chapman had built his first car in his garage at home.  The basic ethos of Lotus was to design and build innovative, affordable and competitive sports cars.
The first widely available car from Lotus was the 7 (not as sometimes believed based on an Austin 7, it just happened to be the 7th vehicle designed by Lotus.  This was a stripped out 2 seater track car aimed at motor trialists and privateer racers.
Available pre-built or in kit form, the popularity of the 7 remained until the mid 70s when production ceased and was taken over by Caterham who continued with the pre-built or kit versions to this day - the basic vehicle remains the same despite some obvious safety and reliability upgrades.
Following the success of the 7, Team Lotus was split off to concentrate on racing (primarily with the aim of Formula 1 entry), and Lotus Cars and Lotus Components established as 2 separate companies as Lotus moved into manufacturing road cars.
The first road car proper was the Elite - designed and built by Lotus using whatever parts they could find, and fitted with a Coventry Climax Fire Pump engine.  The cobbled nature of the build led to reliability issues with the Elite.
But it proved popular and so began a succession of road cars each beginning with the letter E - Elite, Elan, Europa, Eclat, Excel, Esprit, Elise, Exige, Evora, Exos, Evira
(OK, by the end they were just making up words)
Reliability issues continued as each model rolled on - Lotus were always looking to innovate - particularly with their own engine and gearbox designs, and often used whatever parts they could source from partners.  So as with the Elite, something was going to give sooner or later.

This innovative streak obviously didn't harm Team Lotus, winning 6 Drivers Championships and 7 Constructors Championships over 15 years.  They were one of the first teams to recognise aerodynamics and experiment with wings on their cars, one of the first to run with tobacco sponsorship, and the first to come up with the concept of ground-effects cars where using a skirt around the car would allow a vaccum of sorts to suck the car to the road and go round corners almost as fast as they could along the straights.
The Lotus 72 car that took Emerson Fittiapldi to the 1972 Championship (bedecked with the Black and Gold JPS livery) continued at the front of the grid for the next 5 years with no major upgrades.
When it was finally updgraded - first to the Lotus 78 which was the first ground-effect car, and then later the 79 which refined and (very probably) perfected the principle.
The 78 and 79 were maybe a little fragile (as all good Loutus's tended to be) but when they stayed working they were unbeatable.
Colin Chapman continued to focus on innovation rather than winning, although performances remained with the front-runners.  However, when he died in late 1982, Lotus began a slow decline towards the back of the grid - their last race was in 1994.
Colin Chapman's passing also opened up the crisis at Lotus Cars and the marque went through a series of owners never quite achieving enough stability to fully re-establish itself.

If you want to get your product noticed, then a blockbuster film is a pretty good placement.
In 1977, just after the launch of the Lotus Esprit, it was the vehicle of choice for James Bond.
But this was no ordinary Esprit - in addition to the guns, cement jet sprayer, and it's ability to out-run and out maneuver the baddies helicopter, this particular Esprit had retractable wheels and a submarine mode.

In the Summer of 1977, I was taken to the Cinema to see The Spy Who Loved Me - we arrived late, but as was the way you could just stay in your seat and re-watch the film played in rotation.  So my first experience of James Bond was in 2 halves.
Maybe because it was my first, I will argue with anyone that The Spy Who Loved Me is the best Bond film, Roger Moore is the best Bond, and the Lotus Esprit is the best Bond car.

The Bond Films have history with their theme songs.  While Monty Normans Bond Theme was the main music for the first film (Dr No) and has subsequently appeared in all Bond films since, the singing of the main theme was given over to a popular voice of the day - tis quite an eclectic list:

  • Shirley Bassey has done 3 themes
  • Matt Monro
  • Tom Jones
  • Nancy Sinatra
  • Wings
  • Lulu *
  • Sheen Easton
  • Rita Coolidge
  • Duran Duran
  • A-Ha
  • Gladys Knight
  • Tina Turner
  • Sheryl Crow
  • Garbage
  • Madonna
  • Jack White and Alicia Keys
  • Adele
  • Sam Smith
  • Billie Eilish

* Lulu provided the theme for The Man With The Golden Gun.  Alice Copper were supposed to be in the running for the theme, but excessive booze and touring saw to it their submission failed to arrive in time for consideration.

For The Spy Who Loved Me, songwriters Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager submitted the first Bond Theme not to share a tile with the film (it was however levered into the lyric towards the end of the first verse).
Carly Simon was invited to perform the song after a throw-away comment from Marvin Hamlisch to Carole Bayer-Sager noting that the lyric seems to be "incredibly vain".  Carly Simon had had a US number 1 with "You're So Vain" so that is very probably where the connection was made.
So I think I have another "Best" to add to the list:
Best Film, Best Bond, Best Car, Best Theme Song

Carly Simon - Nobody Does It Better

And if you're not sure, or need a reminder of the opening sequence of the film, Alan Partridge is here to help ...

Monday 10 July 2023

Jim Bob - Thanks For Reaching Out

Album number 12 for Mr Bob (18 if you include Carter USM), and whilst there may be 30 years distance from his first outing, his ability with a tune, a pun, a lyric, a narrative, and an affecting ballad shows no sign of fading.

Over on that there Facebook, Jim Bob shared the story (a True Story) of sharing the demos with his manager who replied "I bet this is how Tony Defries felt when Bowie sent him Ziggy Stardust.  Just don't muck it up in the studio".
(except it wasn't the word "muck" that was used, but one that sounds very similar)

And I can report that Jim Bob certainly didn't muck it up and delivered 38 minutes of very fine music indeed.
Like a collision of indie, punk, folk, Billy Bragg, Buzzcocks, Slade, and Ian Dury (without the funk).

Opening with the title track where Jim Bob observes "it's an effed up world" but turns in a song of hope.
"Day Of Reckoning" fires up the guitars baiting Putin that there will be a spreadsheet listing his misdemeanours.
"Bernadette (Hasn't Found Anyone Yet)" lists the undesirables she's encountered looking for love - interestingly Bernadette's rejects may well be the blokes that Shona ended up with on his last album
(if you own the last album, you'll get the reference.  If you don't own 'Who Do We Hate Today' get yourself along to bandcamp, Cherry Red, Amazon, or other vendor and correct that oversight).

"This Is End Times", "We Need To Try Harder", and "Billionaire In Space" are a trio of commentaries harking back to the initial observation (it's an effed up world").
"This Is End Times" is ostensibly written from the point of view of the Taliban controls, but could equally apply to the current climate of Cancel Culture.
"We Need To Try Harder" (harking back to "Where's The Back Door Steve" ergo the planet is bit effed) paints a dystopian picture of how it happened ("a single-use tent discarded at a festival by an entitled kid") - there's also a reference to Ian Dury ("In the desserts of Sudan and the gardens of Japan") and later one of Jim Bob's best couplets: "Whatever tune does it for you.  Mozart's Requiem or Black Lace's Agadoo".
The final words of the song set up the next with "Billionaire In Space" - I wonder what the inspiration was for that?
A bit of politician-baiting up next (with a psychobilly soundtrack) - "Sebastian's Gone On A Ride Along" considers politicians habits of donning a hi-viz vest, a stab vest, or some form of uniform and tagging along where perhaps they're not wanted or needed.  The video received a take-down request from Jacob Rees-Mogg (or his Twitter account administrators anyway).  The request was due to the use of his image rather than the lyric (but I do hope he listened to the lyric as well).
"Befriend The Police" calls for tolerance, and is attached to one of those sing-along choruses, which is much in evident on "The Prince Of Wales" (the pub, not a comment on the King) - 2 short verses - including another Jim Bob zinger "Don't cry over spilt milk, you'll only end up with spilt salty milk"and a repeating chorus set-up for a pub singalong.
The publicity suggest this track is "Kooks" for older people, and the repeating: "When your day feels mediocre, we'll drink tequila til it's over" could well support that thought.

David Bowie followed 'Ziggy Stardust' with 'Pin-Ups', and something similar happens here if you get the deluxe version - you'll get 7 perfectly Jim Bob-ised cover versions including "Are Friends Electric?", "Pretty In Pink", "Labelled With Love" and a storming take on Dexy's "Geno"

So, just over halfway through the year and I believe here we have a contender for the Top 2 in the "best of what I have been listening to" list later in the year

Thanks For Reaching Out

Monday 3 July 2023

100 MPH

 On holiday recently in Gibraltar, I noted that all road signs are (much like the majority of Gibraltar) British - using the Transport font developed for use on the first standard road sign collection in 1957, and the speed limits are displayed in Miles Per Hour.  But ... they also drive on the right side of the road and all the cars are left hand drive.  As a result, all these cars will be sourced from the European manufacturers and be fitted with speedometers that show Kilometres Per Hour.  Confusing, but is it's such a small place, it probably does no real harm.

As every driver knows (although many seem to think these numbers are purely advisory), the speed limit in a built up are is 30MPH, the national speed limit on a single carriageway road is 60MPH, and on a dual carriageway and motorway the maximum speed is 70MPH.
The earliest speed limits for powered vehicles date back to 1865 and was set at 2MPH in built up areas and 4MPH anywhere else.  You were also required to have someone carrying a red flag in front of you.
By the late 1870s, the Red Flag requirement had gone and the speed limit raised to a giddy 14MPH.
It jumped again in 1903 to 20MPH, but many cars could easily exceed this limit, and no-one really paid attention anyway.
The 1930 Road Traffic Act removed all speed limits, but by 1934 saw fit to introduce the blanket 30MPH limit in built up areas.  Open roads (ie those not in towns) remained unlimited.  With more open roads, better surfaces, and by 1958 the first motorway, it seemed that the unlimited speed might need taming.
The 70MPH limit on motorways was introduced in mid-1967, following 18 months of deliberation and investigation.  And as most family cars of the 1960s would struggle to top out, or maintain that speed without exploding at some point, 70MPH seemed to be a suitable limit.
There was one slight revision during the Oil Crisis of 1974, but the standard as defined by the Road Traffic Act and Highway Code has remained in force since 1977.

Like many of those 1960s cars, I was thrilled if my first car exceeded 70MPH, and the first time I drove a car at 100MPH was in a friends Ford Capri. Ford speedos were not the most reliably calibrated, so I was probably doing about 80 really.
My current car - a Vauxhall Insignia - has a quoted top speed of 138MPH (ie basically twice the legal limit), and I admit to being heavy footed once or twice and have gone into 3 figures, but 77MPH (yes Officer - no more than 10% above speed limit) is ample.

Vardis were a 3 piece band from Wakefield led by Steve Zodiac (note: it's not his real name, but Stephen Hepworth is not really a Heavy Metal name is it).
Playing the pub and club circuit tightened the band's sound to a collision of high speed, high energy, glam rock boogie heavy metal (sort of Slade meets Motorhead with a bit of Hawkwind and Status Quo in the mix).  With the look, the sound,m and the following they found themselves in the right place at the right time to benefit from the burgeoning New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.
Their first album was a live affair titled '100MPH' and in apt description of the content.  It also bore the legend "Guaranteed No Overdubs" - so it was straight from the mixing desk to the tape.
Underpinned by relentless touring, and some minor success, the second Vardis album 'The World's Insane' came in 1981 followed by 'Quo Vardis' in early 1982.
By the mid-80s, Vardis still weren't getting paid, and Steve Zodiac entered into lengthy legal disputes and the band disbanded.
They may have been at the edges of NWOBHM, but do warrant a mention in most write-ups of the period and have been cirted as one of the bands that occupied a place in Metallica drummers Lars Ulrich's collection - maybe not as mentioned or lauded as Diamond Head, Samson, Tygers Of Pan Tang or others who shone albeit briefly, but no less important to the movement and development.

Vardis - 100MPH
(complete with Vim Fuego-esque Guitar histrionics)

Vardis - Silver Machine