Saturday, 3 October 2015

I hate to see you cry

For reasons not entirely of my own making, the playlist in my car over recent weeks has comprised, seemingly, more than its fair share of tear jerkers: everything from Del Amitri's Driving With The Brakes On and Ben Kweller's Thirteen to Another Train by Pete Morton and I Can't Let Go Of Her Now by Justin Currie. All tunes that have featured in this blog at some time or other.

Something inside me stirs whenever I hear a minor chord and before I know it I'm reaching for the Kleenex. We had friends round recently who'd never heard Baz Lurhmann's life affirming Everyone's Free To Wear Sunscreen; when I pressed play I really had to bite my lip before doing a Mick Hucknall. It's unnerving how certain pieces of music can still creep up on me.

So, after today's offering from Alan Hull I should really try and make future selections more upbeat than down - more anthems and less dirges. But I can't promise. And, anyway, I love sad songs.

Alan Hull - I Hate To See You Cry

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Let's Dance

I once declared, a little rashly on reflection, that I wouldn't mind living in Chigley: with its biscuit factory, steam railway and regular cast of characters turning up in all the regular places. Hang on a minute, I already live somewhere like that.

I think what I like most is the reassuring six o'clock whistle which punctuates the end of the working day at the aforementioned biscuit factory. What happens next only appears strange if you don't reside in Trumptonshire. It heralds the start of the daily tea dance where the male workers in their best pressed overalls throw a few shapes with their buttoned up repressed women folk - all to the backing track of a barrel organ. Heady stuff. I'd like to think that when it wraps up they all slide down to the local hostelry for a few liveners. Maybe we'll have to wait for Chigley - The Director's Cut.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the six o'clock whistle.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Time is going nowhere when you are on my mind

We had the pleasure of being entertained by Jinski the other night. They blow me away every time I see them. And they remind me so much of Del Amitri - achingly beautiful songs that are for ever catching me unawares. And none more so than Tick Tock from their Down Here album. I've asked them for the lyrics and chords as I'd love to work out an arrangement sometime. It really doesn't matter how many times I hear it, I still have to pinch myself. John Peel used to sob uncontrollably when he heard certain songs: I know how he felt.

Thursday, 24 September 2015


Clique (Klik) n. A small group of people who do not readily allow others to join them.

The strangest thing happened last night. I was snubbed. Royally. And this is why I found it strange - I was snubbed by people, until last night, I regarded as friends. Anyway, the immediate upset, followed by the later anger has now just given way to indifference. I guess I just need to be more careful about who I give my friendship to in future.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Underrated? Are you sure about that?

The OBE. How more rated can you get?
Richard Thompson, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and owner of many fine berets, is back on the road (when is he not?) and, once again, every journalist who writes a review or interviews him is reaching for the u word: underrated. And nobody breaks rank. Some even go the whole hog and prefix it with another word: criminally. Criminally underrated? By who exactly?

His fans? I don't think so. Thompson sells out wherever he plays. And he plays on most continents at sometime during the year. Has done for years - to a fan base most artists can only dream about.

His peers? Hardly - take a look at who covers his songs: Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, REM, Loudon Wainwright, David Gilmour, Graham Parker; the list is endless.

The critics? If you rounded up all the scribes writing for the music press, broadsheets, blogs and fanzines who have ever given Thompson anything less than a 4 star rating and then add to them all the movers and shakers in radio and music television who don't speak about him in gushing terms, you'll probably fit them all on the back seat of a taxi. With room to spare.

Another award for the criminally underrated Richard Thompson
Then there's the Ivor Novello awards, and the BBC Folk Awards: Thompson's part of the furniture at most of these shindigs. Oh, and don't forget all the guitar magazine polls he cleans up at. Nearly forgot the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting by the Americana Music Association.

And if all that adulation and mantelpiece full of trinkets still isn't enough, there's always the OBE he was given by the Queen of England. That must count for something, surely?

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Good Timing - The Singer & The Sax Player

He sat behind her on the bandstand every night. And every night he would watch her sashay in front of him in the exquisite little black party frock she always wore for gigs. Night after night he could tell if she was wearing big pants, little pants or no pants at all. He knew everything there was to know about her; not just the names of all the other big bands she'd ever sung with and how long she could hold a note for; he knew her embarrassing middle name that only her parents knew, her top five restaurants in New York and the fact that she was currently sleeping with two people. One was a girl.

On the flip side, she knew nothing about the slightly awkward, slightly geeky, slightly stoned sax player sitting within six feet of her who, when he wasn't belting out a solo, spent the entire evening secretly staring at her (nice) bottom. Why would she? She'd only been singing with the band for three weeks and in that time she only knew the name of Keith the drummer. But that was only because she called all drummers Keith. This one was actually called Dave. Since the band had taken up residency at The Coconut Lounge they spent an hour each afternoon rehearsing for that night's gig and as for the show itself, he sat behind her the entire time gazing at her bum.

On the Friday their grizzled band leader, Frankie Monroe, decided to drop Perdido into the band's set. It's a beguiling little jazz standard that really tests the range of any singer brave enough to tackle it: just as the final syllable of the final word of the final verse falls out of the singer's mouth, the alto sax kicks in and it's heads down see you back at the chorus - a military operation to be carried out in just under two minutes with a handover every bit as important as if you were in the 4 x 400 metre relay. The first time they tried it the whole band all fell about laughing. Only because the sax player missed his cue and, instead of blagging it, he shouted 'Fuck' at the top his voice and then asked if anyone wanted to buy a saxophone. Even the singer laughed. She turned around, walked up to him and told him not to sweat it and gave him a peck on the cheek. 'It'll be alright on the night' she said, grabbed her coat and left the building.

Later that evening they both arrived at the venue at precisely the same time. He held the door open for her. 'Are we still doing Perdido tonight?' he casually asked her, while at the same time praying she'd politely say no, let's do it another night. 'You bet' she said. 'Great!', he lied. They parted company in the foyer and went to their separate changing rooms. He bunked in with the rest of the band in a room not much bigger than a phone booth. She had a veritable palace in comparison. And all to herself. It even had film star bulbs around the mirror.

Thirty minutes later, show time. The band filed on stage and took up their positions - all matching jackets and music stands. The first number was Ellington's Take The 'A' Train. The band could play this one in their sleep. They then stepped it up a gear with a brace of tunes by Count Basie before band leader Monroe stepped up to the microphone and announced that 'the next one skips along at quite a pace. It's called Perdido.' The sax player was bricking it. The singer clicked her fingers and counted to three. They were off. 'I look for my heart it's perdido' - she was singing it to perfection; and then it was time for the solo. As she hit the all important note the sax player stood up and played his solo note bloody perfect - like he'd been playing the song all his life. Reaching the crescendo and then winding up with a quick ad lib flourish, the tune came to rest and the crowd went wild.

The singer bowed, waited for the crowd to stop applauding and then took the microphone off its stand and thanked the band. 'In particular' she said, 'I'd like to thank Billy on the alto sax. He's spent the last three weeks staring at my bum while I've been belting out these tunes.' Billy didn't know where to look. 'But tonight', she went on, 'he came good. Billy - are you taking me out for a drink after the gig? I think we need to get to know each other.' The crowd loved it. Billy couldn't stop smiling. His music teacher had been right all those years ago - it really is all about timing.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Sing when you're winning

Football chants: they're a bit like radio jingles. Throwaway yet informative, simple yet to the point. And funny; aimed at players, mostly, but often directed at the fans sitting in the opposite end to you. A prime example of the former: remember when Peter Crouch (6'-7") played for Liverpool? He's big, he's red, his feet stick out the bed, it's Peter crouch, Peter Crouch. And the latter: when the away fans inform the home fans that they don't think much of their ground and sung to the tune of When the Saints - My garden shed is bigger than this, my garden shed is bigger than this.

And like any catchy song that eventually becomes an earworm, it's the alchemy combining a turn of phrase and a memorable tune. In fact, and I'm probably going out on a limb here, but you'll probably find that 90% of all the best chants rely on just a handful of tunes. Think of a chant you heard last Saturday afternoon and I'll lay money on it being hung around one of these songs:

Knees Up Mother Brown
Sloop John B
Winter Wonderland
The Hokey Cokey
Son Of My Father (God Bless Giorgio Moroder)
This Old Man
She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain
Glory Glory
Go West
Kiss Him Goodbye

There are, obviously, notable exceptions. When Rio Ferdinand famously failed a drugs test, Fulham fans came up with His name is Rio and he's watching from the stand to *that* tune by Duran Duran.

But my personal favourite has got to be one from the seventies (of course) and was a rather succinct tribute laid at the door of Billy Bremner (587 appearances/ 91 goals for Leeds Utd 1960-1976).

Na na na na, na na na, na na na na na BILLY! BREMNER! to the opening bars of this:

* When Rangers keeper Andy Goram was diagnosed with mild schizophrenia, the chant Two Andy Gorams, there's only two Andy Gorams could often be heard at grounds north of the border.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Helter Skelter

The Fab 4
We've not done the Matthew Street Festival in Liverpool for a couple of years now; setting up base camp in the sweaty confines of The Cavern for two whole days and gorging ourselves on every eclectic variation on a Beatles tune you could ever wish for. Some turns even throw in solo stuff (though I don't recall ever hearing anyone brave enough to cover Back Off Boogaloo), even the odd Rutles homage.

That said, another gap in proceedings always seemed to be The White Album. For some reason 1968 doesn't loom large in Liverpool - if you gave me a pound for every time we heard a Bungalow Bill or a Martha My Dear we still wouldn't have had enough to buy a packet of crisps between us. I'm hoping if we go back next year the balance will be redressed.

I found this on Youtube (where else?) lurking in The Beatles aisle. I'd pay good money to see this fella. Maybe he'll be there in 2016. Nice hat btw.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Turns out

Just a chick with a camera
Bill Bailey's skit on the Stupidity of Celebrities acts as a perfect guide to both the correct and incorrect use of the phrase 'turns out'. Since time immemorial, it transpires, whenever Bailey has sausages he's been pricking them first: turns out, he saysyou're not meant to prick them at all. Sausages are best un-pricked. The wasted years, as Bailey calls them. So, a valid use of turns out.

Non-celebrity Chantelle, on the other hand, was for a long time under the illusion that the sun and the moon were the same thing. However, she later confessed, turns out they're not. Watch the clip below for a full on onslaught aimed at this most cretinous of proclamations.

I, on the other hand, learned only today that the perceived wisdom linking Linda McCartney (née Eastman), the keyboard player with Wings, to George Eastman, aka Mr. Kodak, is just that: she was just a chick with a camera - turns out they're not related at all. They'll be telling us next that Michael Nesmith's mother had nothing to do with Tippex. Maybe it really is best living in ignorance.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

(Not) the end of the pier

Photograph - Alan Plant (September 2015)
Please don't think that I'm in cahoots with the Cleethorpes Tourist Board or anything (is there such a body, one wonders?) but the seaside town on the east coast that nobody remembers has now had its second namecheck on this blog in as many days. There never were such times.

Cleethorpes - what's not to like?
Reports have reached Medd Towers that the town's old pier has been dramatically rescued (it was, quite literally, all at sea), restored to its former glory and will soon be basking in a late Indian Summer positively thronging with flat landers eager to seek out its charms. I'm not sure if they have a Novelty Rock Emporium, but I'm sure they have establishments that will both quench your thirst and fill your belly. There may even be dancing.

Having only been to the C word twice in my half century wandering this earth, I feel a return visit coming on. That's right, I'm still living the dream.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Good times

Time was when any band worth their salt, gigging relentlessly up and down the highways and byways of this sceptered isle, would pitch up in crumbling ballrooms, sweaty rock clubs and falling down theatres: to boldly go where (probably) all the other hard working bands on the UK circuit had been the previous week. Or the week after. These clippings from a 1981 issue of Sounds showed just how far and wide your average transit van was expected to travel in order for it to count as a proper tour - and not just a casual jaunt. Imagine the countless books of Green Shield stamps you'd have racked up in gas stations navigating the nation's trunk roads.

As you can see, Girl, in April and May, pulled in a pretty impressive 31 gigs in 50 days. Upon closer inspection you'll see that it's a gazetteer of (mostly) bulldozed clubs and theatres in towns where live music probably doesn't exist anymore. Cleethorpes Winter Gardens anyone?

I saw them at least five times on that tour and I know that none of those venues exist today; car parks and apartments now I think. Perhaps one of them will have a Blue Plaque on the site recording the fact that good times used to be had there? I hope so.

Sunday, 6 September 2015


Husband and wife
Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, commonly known as Squeeze, have had more bust ups and reconciliations than Burton and Taylor. They can't live with each other, can't live without each other. They've recently been taking their two man show, The At Odds Couple, around and about and you may well have caught them in a provincial theatre near you telling (and retelling) their personal stories and playing their wonderful songs.

They've also written some brand new material for fellow Deptfordite Danny Baker as the soundtrack to the new comedy Cradle to Grave (starring Peter Kay as Spud - Baker's old man) now showing on BBC 2. Baker's life story pretty much centres on SE16 and, in particular, the south east London where Danny, Glenn and Chris grew up in the 1960s and 1970s - much of the landscape that made up that part of the capital just isn't there anymore.

Father and son
When the pair aren't writing or recording (or bickering) they can often be found, unlike, say Ant or Dec, playing solo gigs. And as good as their own songs are and as great as Squeeze's repoirtoire is, every now and again, Tilbrook in particular, will slip anchor and throw in a tune he wished he'd written: this one, however, Weather with You, he sort of did. Crowded House owed a lot to Squeeze - a sort of SKiwis if you will. And anyone who knows Woodface will tell you it plays like a Squeeze Best Of.

Anyway, here's Tilbrook going nowhere on his mantelpiece.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Chelsea Bridge

We stopped in a lovely little hotel on Sunday night in Leeds called The New Ellington. Tucked away in the legal quarter of the city and only a five minute walk from the station, it ticked all the boxes and much of the ground floor bar and dining area was adorned with classic black and white photographs of jazz greats. No prizes for guessing whose image took pride of place weighing in at, as it did, six feet square. Edward Kennedy 'Duke' Ellington is probably one of only a handful of musicians who, in the twentieth century, continually evolved, never stood still, and took their art form in ever far reaching new directions.

But even geniuses need sidemen. And Ellington had the very best; Ellington, it's probably fair to say, owed much of his early success to composer, arranger, lyricist and pianist Billy Strayhorn. He wrote Take The A Train and Lush Life and many other classics. He also penned Chelsea Bridge - around the time saxophone colossus (and one of my favourite players) Ben Webster was in Ellington's band. When Webster went solo he still dropped it in his set. Interestingly Strayhorn wrote the tune after seeing a Turner painting of Battersea bridge and misnamed it. Maybe if he'd known the mnemonic for remembering the order in which London bridges cross the Thames, he'd have nailed it.