Sunday, 21 September 2014

What it means to be English

Arthur English, stalwart of seventies telly, is probably best remembered as maintenance man and union representative Mr. Harman in Are You Being Served and everything from Follyfoot to In Sickness and in Health, via cameos in shows like  The Sweeney. But it's as a standup comic in the post war years that he gained his comedy chops. In 1949 he was resident comedian at the Windmill Theatre in London's West End. His wartime spiv persona surely the inspiration for Fast Show music hall comedian Arthur 'Where's me washboard' Atkinson.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Every picture tells a story

In 1977, after beating the Auld Enemy at Wembley, the rampaging Scots (The Daily Mail's words, not mine) decided to invade the pitch. Nothing unusual in the seventies, but this was the pitch invasion to end all pitch invasions: they dug the turf up, smashed both crossbars and then took woodwork and sods back with them over the border. And the hapless Police just looked on. I remember John Motson being incensed; he wasn't the only one.

It's nearly forty years later and, after tomorrow's referendum result, we may once again feel slightly different about our tartan neighbours. It looks like they're all set to start dismantling something (we thought was) far more sturdy than a couple of sets of goalposts. For what it's worth honorary Scot, Rod Stewart, who found himself on the pitch that day has pitched his wagon to the Better Together campaign. As long as he doesn't make a song and dance about it.

Monday, 8 September 2014


Roy Wood and that bloke out of Chas & Dave
Jeff Lynne's about to call his old mate Roy Wood, long distance, from his luxury home high up in the Hollywood Hills. Lynne, never one to bear a grudge, fancies getting The Move back together. Their last single, California Man, released in 1972 was the springboard to what would very soon become the Electric Light Orchestra's trademark sound. But Roy Wood jumped ship while land was still in sight and became everyone's favourite Wizzard. Lynne, meanwhile, morphed into a hybrid of George Martin and Paul McCartney and took ELO global. But that was then and this is now. If only Jeff can get Woody on side then maybe Birmingham's finest can have a second bite at the cherry. And, who knows, they might even crack America this time around. Time to make that phone call.


Saturday, 6 September 2014

What did you do today?

So far, so Saturday: got up around seven, put the kettle on and made a brew. Checked my email, read a couple of chapters of my book and then took a cup of tea to the lady of the house. Had a quick shower and dressed before going down the town to fetch the paper. Came back, fed the cat, did a couple of crossword clues and then decided to bake some bread.

Oh, then I nipped down to the crossroads and sold my soul to the devil.

With thanks to Phil Friend, one of the best photographers in the business

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

The Mark 3 lineup of Deep Purple may not have been the most commercially successful of their reincarnations, but it was certainly their funkiest - by a country mile. Mid-seventies albums like Burn, Stormbringer and Come Taste the Band saw the group drop their extended guitar solos and take a more introspective look at themselves. In fact it was why Ritchie Blackmore (surely one of the most miserable guitar players ever to have picked up the instrument) left the band. 'I don't play shoeshine music' he told Sounds back in 1974.

How apposite then that this cheeky little mash up finds the Purps sharing a bed with Daft Punk, the behelmeted French funky house duo. I'm guessing vocalist David Coverdale thinks it's a hoot; Blackmore on the other hand probably tried to slap an injunction on it. And, anyway, I think you'll find he nicked the riff for Burn from George Gershwin's Fascinating Rhythm.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Why don't we do it in the road?

If this photograph isn't a hoax then it purports to be over a hundred years old - taken at the turn of the century on Chernomorskaya Road in the Russian city of Yeysk.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Howard and Hilda

Lauren & Bas
A trip to the seaside today: we were on a mission. However, before the job in hand we had time to pull in a spot of breakfast (baked beans and poached eggs with coffee to die for at the Mojo), then a slight detour while I tried on a few shirts: the Uncle Burt I came way with was probably last seen at the height of Rollermania. I was actually singing Shang-a-Lang in the unfeasibly small changing room.

But I digress. Our mission was two fold. We had to get our photographs taken and then present them at the railway station to acquire a rather neat railcard currently doing the rounds called Two Together which gets you a third off all rail journeys - well, all rail journeys with the other person on your, what is in effect,  joint railcard. A couple of trips to see the Number One Son and it'll have paid for itself. As for the photographs, we found a charming photo shop tucked away in a quiet part of town where a most genial chap in a plaid shirt (not a Rollers shirt, I hasten to add) took us into his parlour at the back of the shop and turned us both into beautiful people. We were allowed to giggle as it wasn't for passport purposes. 'You have to look as if your budgie has just passed away, on the day your wife announces she's leaving you, if you were having a passport picture taken' he informed us.
Howard & Hilda

Back to the front of the shop to print our smiling beguiling pictures where a most helpful girl, wearing a matching plaid shirt, behind the counter took payment. 'Company issue?' I enquired, pointing to the shirts. A look of embarrassment shot over her. 'No!' she said, emphatically. 'Bas walked in five minutes after me this morning wearing the same shirt. What are the chances?' I couldn't possibly say. That's one I'll leave to Howard and Hilda.

A short walk to the railway station where our shiny new photos were put in a shiny new case for the next time we climb aboard one of East Coast's shiny new trains.

Just time for a quick aside. Before leaving the station we took a walk to the farthest platform as I knew we would find a truly remarkable, and indeed record breaking, bench: weighing in at 139 metres long it's the longest railway station seat in the world.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Bath time

Bath and bog
Bath, no bog
London may have been swinging and California may well have have been dreaming, but in 1966 there was no way you could release an album with four people in a bath, clothed or unclothed, on the cover and get away with it. Nor could it have a lavatory in the foreground. And thus a collectors item was born.

Bog all
But what a debut album The Mamas & The Papas' If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears was. Aside from the monster hit singles, Monday Monday & California Dreaming and John Lennon's I Call Your Name, it also contained a sassy cover of The In Crowd. Pass the soap.

Sunday, 24 August 2014


Clearing out the garage this morning I stumbled upon a veritable treasure trove of seemingly lost photographs, slides, concert and theatre programmes, button badges, commemorative beer glasses and general flotsam and jetsam I've been dragging round with me all my adult life.

My penchant for badges has never left me. From my Blue Peter badge (which I still have c/w the letter from Biddy Baxter that came with it) to the band badges I used to wear as a kid on denim jackets - I would always hunt them down at Record Fairs and market stalls and pin them on my lapel. And only recently I picked up an Old Grey Whistle Test 'star-kicker' that I have on a 'going down the pub jacket'.

But in 1973 I discovered patches: take a look at the photograph of me (found earlier today) taking against a watery backdrop. If you look really carefully you'll be able to make out two letter boxes on my knees; they're actually cloth patches about the same size as an old bank note. In fact, the one on my left knee is a bank note - an Alice Cooper Billion Dollar note. The one on the right, and I can see it now, is Messrrs. Connolly, Priest, Scott and Tucker: The Sweet.

Keith Moon, it would appear, was rather partial to patches too. His famous white boiler suit (the 'July' calendar photo from their 1976 Charlton gig - this was also in a box lurking at the back of the garage) was bedecked with them. I always hankered after the Esso one, but could never find one. Interestingly, the above mentioned drinking jacket has three patches running down the left arm. More proof, if proof were needed, that I'm still not ready to be a grown up.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Today, I've mostly been listening to Saint Motel

I heard this tune for the first time yesterday. A little over 24 hours later, I can't get the bloody thing out of my head. And I can't help thinking I've heard it before, which, of course, I have: it's ABC's and Haircut One Hundred's notes but, to paraphrase Eric Morecambe, 'not necessarily in the right order.'

Tuesday, 19 August 2014


Norm Larsen (1923-1970)
Norm Larsen, founder of the Rocket Chemical Company based in San Diego, was a chemist. A bloody good chemist. And like a lot of chemists he was always looking to find that elusive breakthrough. In 1953, at the fortieth time of trying, he hit upon a formula for a water degreasing agent/lubricant he thought may have applications in the aerospace industry.

As with a lot of boffins he never had a commercial brain. He sold the company not long after, complete with its only product, for a paltry $20,000 - no royalties, no residuals. He always reckoned on inventing something better; he never did. Larsen died in 1970.

The WD-40 company (they dropped the Rocket moniker 'because we don't sell rockets') now has an annual turnover in excess of $300 million.

These days WD-40 is one half of, along with duct tape, what is affectionately called the Redneck Tool Kit: if it isn't moving and it should: WD-40. And if it is moving and it shouldn't: duct tape.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

David Hepworth

I've been reading David Hepworth's blog 'What's He On About Now?' for as long as I can remember. In fact if it wasn't for him and the irrepressible Mondo, 'Even Monkeys Fall Out Of Trees' probably wouldn't have got off the ground. Last year David and I both both appeared in Saga magazine's Top 50 over-50 Blogs; not quite the Man Booker Prize, but I was chuffed all the same.

David's CV, however, extends way beyond blogging. Broadcaster, journalist, publishing industry analyst, he's been spinning around  in my orbit ever since he co-hosted The Whistle Test with Mark Ellen in the 80s and continues to do so through his writing and podcasts. He is also soon to be a published author.

David kindly agreed to answer a few probing questions for this humble blog.

You're obviously passionate about print journalism, but where is the next generation of great writers going to come from?

I'm not sure I am passionate about print journalism. I read and value some of it but my children's generation don't, and they're the ones who will decide its future. There's lots of good writing all over the place, some of it long and some of it short; there's more of it than ever before. The difference is people have great difficulty getting paid for it. I don't know what the answer is. If I did I'd be a billionaire.

I understand you're writing a book about 1971. What, for you, sets that year apart from any other?

It was the last year before rock starting repeating itself. It was the last year before the music business took over and the tail began wagging the dog. It was the last year of all rock stars having hair. It's the annus mirabilis of the rock album. There wasn't a dull moment.

If you hadn't have been hosting Live Aid would you have gone to Wembley for the day?

Frankly, probably not. Those were our years for raising small children and Saturdays were spent ferrying them between swimming lessons and parties. And since I never watch music on TV I would probably have missed it altogether.

Can anything replace the 45 rpm single?

For all sorts of reasons, no. Pop flourished amid scarcity and now it's just another thing which we have an over supply of. That's not to say people don't still like music. It's just that they can never feel what I felt for Good Vibrations because nobody can imagine the background against which it appeared. Two TV channels. One radio station playing no more than ten discs a day.

Is Amazon the new HMV on Oxford Street?

Well, it's bigger, better stocked and a lot more sinister. The thing that shops like HMV offered was an education. You spent hours in the place - in my case, since I worked there, years - and you absorbed a huge amount that it's impossible to absorb nowadays. That's the problem with on-line retailing. Vast choice which you can only glimpse through a tiny window.

Is London getting too big for its boots?

The great thing about London is its complete indifference to what anybody thinks of it. We're really not bothered because we live in London and we wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Once a year Hartlepool supporters descend on the capital dressed as Smurfs or penguins or whatever. This in my experience is the only thing from outside London that impresses Londoners.

Who was the last band you paid to go and see? And were they as the first band you went to see?

I honestly can't remember. But since the first act I went to see was Chuck Berry I think it's safe to say that they weren't.

What a bummer, you've just had two dinner party invites land on your doormat for next Saturday night. One from Paul McCartney, the other from Ray Davies. Who do you let down politely?

I suppose I'd go to Macca's because he's living history and my wife would be tickled to meet him. Mind you, vegetarian food is a bit of a drawback. Seriously, I've met lots of famous rock stars and the overwhelming majority of them are only comfortable talking about themselves which makes them not brilliant at socialising.  If I could choose one to socialise with it would be Randy Newman, who's just interested in people and funny about them. He's had me weeping with laughter.

Can you ever read for pure enjoyment or are you always framing a 500 word review whilst turning the pages?

I am *always* reading for pure enjoyment. There is nothing I would rather do. I find it very difficult to read out of duty.  I'm never framing 500 word reviews because they're really hard work. I prefer to write something on my blog because as soon as I'm bored I stop.

It's common knowledge that Penny Lane is the The Beatles' finest hour. But what other two tracks would it share the podium with?

'Help!' and 'If I Fell'.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Missing cousins

I hadn't seen Suzie in nearly 40 years. But about two years ago I received an email that contained in its subject box the words 'Are you the John Medd that used to live in Grantham?' The email read 'If you are,  I have a photo of us together and you're wearing a most remarkable shirt.' I may be paraphrasing. And it was signed 'Suzie, your cousin - though everyone calls me Susan these days.' I simply replied 'Yes.'

That shirt
The next thing I knew another email arrived enclosing a photograph of us taken at a family wedding in 1975 - the last time we saw each other. And of course I remembered Suzie (and the shirt) vividly. Suzie not least because whenever we visited her I was always struck dumb by her bedroom: it was, quite literally, covered from top to bottom in Marc Bolan posters. Walls, ceiling, mirrors, every square inch of her room was given over to The Jeepster himself. The shirt because, as I told her when she came up on Friday for a 24 hour smash and grab visit, I loved that shirt so much I'm actually thinking of going to a tailor, with the photograph, and asking him to reproduce it - albeit several sizes larger.

Anyway, we stayed up 'til 7 o'clock in the morning drinking wine spodeeodee and generally playing catch up. But by the time the sun came up I'd be hard pushed to tell you most of what we'd been talking about. Though I can remember, quite clearly, her telling me that she went to see Marc Bolan and T Rex in the spring of 1977 not long before he wrapped his Mini round a tree in Barnes. She said he was back on form and it was also the tour he'd got The Damned supporting him. Sorry Suzie, you're going to have to come back again and tell me all that other stuff again.