Saturday, 25 July 2015

Morecambe, Wise and Nathan



Last night's BBC 2 repeat of Episode Seven of The Perfect Morecambe and Wise, a compilation series drawing on their time with both the Beeb and ATV, prompted this repost of an extract from The Laughtermakers by David Nathan, a book very influential in my life.

In the chapter entitled Mixed Doubles, mostly about Morecambe and Wise, Nathan writes about being present when the very first sketch in last night's episode, which can be viewed on BBC iplayer here until August 24th, was recorded.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Rock 'n' Roll America Episode Three (BBC 4 documentary series)


The final episode of the BBC's Rock 'n' Roll America was delayed by almost an hour - blame the corporation's decision to persist with live coverage of a golfing event - but it proved worth the wait.

I did wonder, initially, whether the need to cover all the many offshoots of rock'n'roll in this final programme meant that we might only be scratching the surface, but that was a misunderstanding of what the series is trying to do. There may have been more genres to be covered than in earlier episodes but once again the programme makers did a pretty of good job of selecting key moments and remarks which conveyed the essence of a range of styles without losing a sense of the bigger picture.

Which, in this episode, was rock'n'roll's transition into various strands of pop, for good and ill, followed by the impact of the Beatles on a moribund US chart.

We started with the main figures "missing in action" - through death, religion, the army or scandal.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Rock 'n' Roll America Episode Two (BBC 4 documentary series)


Episode Two of Rock 'n' Roll America follows the pattern of the first programme: well-chosen clips, interviews with surviving key players and sidemen, the whole a canny mix of the story's essentials and some illuminating extra details along the way for those who already know the basics. At present it can only be seen on in the UK on BBC iplayer here, but if it makes its way to the US it is well worth watching.

Incidentally, of the sidemen interviewed in the first two episodes there seems to have been a disproportionate number of drummers. Do they tend to be the survivors of rock'n'roll? I suppose having a regular workout as part of your job doesn't hurt in the longevity stakes.

By coincidence, a film about Ginger Baker (not quite new but presented as such in Alan Yentob's Imagine series) had been shown a few days earlier. After all those jokes about the supposed slowness of drummers (in the wit department) could it be that they are now having the last laugh, or at least the last word?

The focus in this episode is on the major stars once rock'n'roll was established as a force: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. The Elvis Presley material, and the business of his singing Hound Dog to an actual canine on the Steve Allen Show, will already be familiar to most readers, although it does mean something to hear directly from drummer DJ Fontana that Elvis really didn't want to do it and as a result "didn't like Steve till the day he died."

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Spaniels # 2

The previous post was a bit convoluted so I am going to add something today which will, I hope, be clearer. In the meantime I have been rereading Richard G Carter's book on the Spaniels, which can be recommended. It's not necessarily superbly written throughout, but where it scores is that there is a degree of frankness about it which made me wonder at times whether it was wise for the group to embark upon it - at least if they were expecting a PR job.

But I'm glad they did, because you really are taken into the heart of things. Although the book was published in 1994 it ends before they have gone to London, so presumably the MS was completed around 1991. There is a lot of optimism and hope from the various members at the end, though I couldn't say precisely how much success the group had in later years. Group members seem to assume they're on the verge of a huge breakthrough - or at least are entertaining the possibility - and that finally they will get the money and acclaim which is their due. Whatever level of success they did enjoy I don't think it matched up to their expectations.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Spaniels


After seeing the current version of the Spaniels in the BBC's Rock 'n' Roll America I resolved to find out a bit more about the group's various lineups. The above is a videocap from the programme; all I can say for certain is that Billy Shelton is on the far left.

From my memory of Richard G Carter's biography of the Spaniels there were two main lineups of the group which recorded on Vee Jay, and the original members were more instinctive singers than the Mk II version. It was the originals who were reunited in the 1990s and whom I saw perform in London.

Detailed information about personnel changes can be found online in Unca Marvy's R&B Notebooks, an invaluable resource for the doo wop fan. His page about the Spaniels, based on interviews with Pookie Hudson, can be read in its entirety here. Pookie's first group was formed in 1949 at Roosevelt Junior High in Gary, Indiana, when he was fifteen. Billy Shelton was a member of this, though the group which were to become the Spaniels were a separate entity:

Monday, 6 July 2015

All You Need Is Love (Tony Palmer's documentary series)


Having mentioned Tony Palmer's pioneering 1970s series All You Need Is Love, a history of the many strands of popular music, in the previous post here is a review I wrote at the time of its first DVD release in 2008.
I saw the original series when in my teens and have seen many, many documentaries on myriad aspects of popular music since then. So is this worth buying? The answer has to be a resounding yes: the original film material and the range of authorities Tony Palmer gathered together for this mammoth 70s project mean that it remains a vivid account of the genres which coalesced into rock.
Yes, some sections feel a little dull, and the quality of the film transfer doesn't help in the immediacy stakes, but Palmer has two big things going for him: recognised experts in their fields (eg Sondheim on musicals; Lyttleton on swing) wrote the scripts which became the basis of each programme and - crucially - interviewees are given ample time to talk. You get the likes of Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Caesar discussing their own songs, and there's even a bizarre turn from Phil Spector (who appears to be singing his hits in the style of Bob Dylan). Whatever the outcome, Palmer would have deserved our heartfelt thanks simply for the foresight to do something on this scale while the names involved were still around, if occasionally frail.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Rock 'n' Roll America (BBC 4 documentary series)


Just watched Episode One of the new BBC 4 series Rock 'n' Roll America, which will be available on BBC iplayer for a month (for those in the UK, anyway).

It was a particularly clear and effective retelling of what has become an oft-told tale, with enough freshness in the detail to mean that it can serve equally well as an introduction to the social roots of rock'n'roll and as a reminder of the music's importance for those who have read the books and seen the other documentaries. Archive clips seemed to have been very carefully selected and, crucially, the programme's length meant a decent chunk of time was devoted to the consideration of the contributions of key individuals. Each episode (this was the first of three) is an hour long, though the pace never seemed to flag in this debut show.


The great strength of the programme was the way in which the social background to this upsurge of a new kind of music was firmly sketched in.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Johnny Vegas Television Show


Don't know how long it'll be there, but someone has recently uploaded The Johnny Vegas Television Show to youtube.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Russell Davies interviews Ray Davies


This is to alert readers to the fact that Russell Davies recently interviewed Ray Davies for his The Art of Artists series on Radio 2 and it can be heard on BBC iplayer, here, for 28 days.

I haven't listened to it yet, and will add a note to this post when I have done so, but it has been interesting to hear Russell Davies as interviewer, as opposed to presenter of his sadly departed Sunday afternoon/evening music programme with those superbly scripted links. The unhurried, hour-long format seems to suit him, and as with the departed music programme you can tell he's done his homework and is, in any case, bringing a considerable breadth of cultural reference to the table, what with being Russell Davies and everything. I recall, in the interview with Sandie Shaw, her surprise and palpable pleasure at being taken seriously, and I think she has put the interview on her website.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Leiber and Stoller documentary

The 2001 Leiber and Stoller documentary which I mentioned in the post about Stand By Me is available on youtube, at least at the time of writing. There Goes My Baby, Spanish Harlem and Stand By Me are discussed and Ben E King is among the interviewees.

 

Friday, 20 February 2015

Get Carteret or No Place Like Home - again

I may as well give in and admit to myself that these entries on the 80s sitcom No Place Like Home, currently being repeated in the UK on the Drama Channel, are starting to become a diary. If you want to look over my shoulder at the entries, feel free, although other diversions are but a click away.



Unfortunately my PVR did not record No Place Like Home on Thursday but I did manage to watch Episode 3 of Series 4 today.

Again, most odd compared to the approach of earlier series. The episode was sparsely populated, with the new Nigel established as being the only one now living at home, and the story centred around trying to get a new lady friend for Trevor. Beryl and Arthur thought the object of his fancy was the matronly florist but oh, SPOILER ALERT, it turned out to be the much younger part timer - oh dear - but then she took umbrage at Trevor's not being married, so problem solved. But then Trevor got a new girlfriend, a rather butch policewoman, so Bravo, I say. Which is the sort of weak half-pun Jon Watkins has often included in the show in the past. I do hope they will return. (Maybe there'll be a spin-off series about Trevor's pursuit of his new love called Get Carteret?)

But as with the first episode the emptiness of that formerly heaving home really hit me. It can't have been much fun for the younger actors in the earlier series, often with little to say, but as I've said earlier the crowd effect helped create a frantic, confused speedy jumble, and the actors and script seem more exposed now. The new Nigel was given far more lines than Martin Clunes had ever been given, though I couldn't help wondering how Mr Clunes would have delivered them.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Further further thoughts on No Place Like Home

For those who may care about such things, the Drama Channel has just started repeating the fourth series of No Place Like Home - and by the show's previous standards the tone is distinctly odd.

The Series 3 finale, shown the previous day, was crammed with characters as usual, only more so, as the Crabtrees celebrated their silver wedding and non-speaking uncles thronged the living room. The plot, revolving around rival attempts to celebrate the occasion while those involved affected to know nothing about it, was properly farcical, even if the plotting was rather less intricate  than Fawlty Towers, and Raymond, the annoying but sort of endearing son in law, did an Eamon Andrews as the kids covertly arranged their surprise for their parents: a This Is Your Life type reunion of relatives.

Monday, 16 February 2015

TVDC5

A recently broadcast documentary about the Dave Clark Five - it's currently available on BBC iplayer here, if you are resident in the UK - makes me think some readers might be interested in my review of the group's film Catch Us If You Can.
Two Films in Conflict

Though he wasn't much of a musician (someone in Melody Maker once opined a list of the shortest books in the world would include Lessons in Drumming Technique by Dave Clark) Clark had aspirations to be an actor and this film (scripted by Peter Nichols, better known for his stage work, and the directing debut of John Boormanm) is a sort of road movie-cum-anti-advertising satire bolstered by a cast of interesting character actors. It's got great period charm and, as other reviewers have said, it stands up very well - it's certainly streets ahead of many other low budget pop movies.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Rich picking (Joe Brown and Chris Smither)



In the last week or so I've been listening a lot to a recording made of a Joe Brown concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic. I think this was the same show I saw, and briefly wrote up here, at the Millfield Theatre in Edmonton, although a few of the song choices are different. But there is still that same sense of the performers' enjoyment, that this is rather more than a greatest hits package, so I thought I'd share a couple of those video clips here.
 

The first is a rendition of Mystery Train, sung by drummer Phil Capaldi with an effect on the mike which really does suggest an Elvis Sun-era voice, along with a nice guitar solo by Brown. But the key thing is that the overall effect is of everyone, as they say, gettin' it on, and it's sheer pleasure to watch and listen. It's not a carbon copy of the famous recording but it seems to capture its spirit.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Further thoughts on No Place Like Home

I am still watching No Place Like Home (on the Drama Channel, if you are UK-based and have Freeview), and still trying to puzzle out precisely what it is I feel about it. And an episode broadcast yesterday has helped me along the way, hence this second post.

First of all, when I was talking about tempo in the previous post - well, it's obvious now. It's not a farce as such, but it is played at a farcical pace: that's why you're drawn in (if you are anything like me), and even as you register the improbabilities it is a place you want to be.

Because the performances are, uniformly, superb. From the morose Arthur (William Gaunt) holding it all together, to the manic son-in-law (Daniel Hill), a  sort of oversized child or puppy, repellent and endearing in equal measure, everyone seems to get the most out of the dialogue. My sense that neighbour Vera (Marcia Warren) was out of place no longer seems relevant: naturalistic it ain't. I can't remember now whether initial episodes were perhaps less certain, but the sense now (meaning in the middle of the third series being repeated as I write this) is that everyone gets it. It's not the same, but one of the joys of Third Rock From the Sun was that everyone had locked into a way of playing.

Friday, 23 January 2015

No Place Like Home (80s BBC sitcom currently being repeated)


The world will little note nor long remember my thoughts on the 80s sitcom No Place Like Home yet I feel compelled to record them. If you'd like to look over my shoulder - if, indeed, you too have been watching the current reruns on the Drama channel - then feel free.

I don't think I ever saw this when it was originally broadcast but now, thanks to the magic of Freeview, I have been able to watch most of the first two series over the space of a couple of weeks. 

And I still haven't come to a decision about it. I do recall seeing William Gaunt in a more recent sitcom with Penelope Keith (Next of Kin) in which his role was essentially that of feed to Ms Keith, but with occasional opportunities for pathos which made me wonder how he would be as the centre of a sitcom.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

CHRISTMAS QUIZ 2014

Hello, and welcome to my fifth annual Christmas Quiz.

This year, there is a difference. No, the questions have not been dumbed down but after a considerable number of complaints from contestants there are less of the convoluted Round Britain Quiz type questions. This does not mean the questions are any easier. DARE you try it?

Monday, 22 December 2014

Days of 49


It's called "49ing" or "bridging" (the former alludes to The 49th Street Bridge Song aka Feelin' Groovy) and it is, at least according to an article I read, the latest craze for music fans of a certain age - usually male. It's very simple, but has really taken hold now that just about everyone has a microphone of sorts connected to their PC for skyping etc.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Sam Cooke documentaries on BBC Radio 2


[screengrab]

I don't know whether they are connected but there are two Sam Cooke documentaries on BBC Radio 2 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his death. The first, (Don't Fight It) Feel It: the Sam Cooke Story, was broadcast on Tuesday and is now available on BBC iplayer here - I'm presuming in America too. It will be accessible for four weeks.

The second programme, The Shooting of Sam Cooke, will be broadcast next Tuesday and available on iplayer here shortly afterwards - the page is worth visiting beforehand as it suggests original research:
With the help of a private detective, Dotun Adebayo examines the never-before-aired coroner's report, searching for signs of foul play, and scrutinises testimonials. He interviews key witnesses, like Grammy-winning record producer Al Schmitt, who was the last person to see Sam alive, and speaks to Sam's living relatives. Dotun takes a magnifying glass to the events of that fateful night, with the intent to unravel what really happened.
Is there really more to be uncovered beyond speculation? We shall see.  Meanwhile, here is a guide to posts on this blog about Sam Cooke:

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Review of Hancock's Ashes, BBC Radio 4


I have just listened to Hancock's Ashes, an Afternoon Drama written by Caroline and David Stafford which is currently Radio 4's Play of the Week. It's very well done: there's a narrowness of focus which means the story is perfectly suited to the forty five minute slot. I wonder, in fact, if it has its origins on the stage, as it all takes place in one location, and despite a few offstage murmurs is essentially a duologue between Willie Rushton (Ewan Bailey) and an Australian customs official (Richard Dillane), adamant that the eponymous remains which Rushton wants to take back to England must travel in the hold of the plane. On the other hand, I suppose you could say it's a perfect chamber piece for radio.

Without going into too much detail, as that would ruin the surprise of the piece's twists and turns along the way, the play quickly establishes itself as a battle of wits, the official claiming he doesn't have a TV and isn't interested in the news, so despite the headlines about his recent suicide "Mr Hancock" is an unknown quantity to him. Surely unlikely, but you need that for the play to work: always put more pressure on the protagonist, as they say, and it means the Rushton character really has to struggle to state his case and woo this Antipodean jobsworth entirely lacking in residual fondness for the great comedian.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Praise from John Fisher


There is now a dedicated blog for Funny Bones, the autobiography of comedy legend Freddie Davies what I cowrote, but I can't resist posting John Fisher's words of praise for the book here as well.

John is the author of Funny Way to Be a Hero and producer of the related TV series Heroes of Comedy as well as numerous other shows. He has also written biographies of Tommy Cooper and Tony Hancock. This is what he was kind enough to say:
I can’t get over how good Funny Bones is. Freddie Davies’ autobiography, co-written with Anthony Teague, is unquestionably one of the most honest and illuminating books I have read about the practice of comedy, never losing sight of the pressures and insecurities of a job that is prone to more ups and downs than a roller coaster. Along the way it provides fresh insights into other comedy greats, not least Sid Field, Sir Norman Wisdom, Frankie Howerd, Jerry Lewis, George Carl, Charlie Drake and Davies’ ostensible grandfather, the underrated revue comic Jack Herbert, who was a major influence on Field. It also vividly evokes the hollow shabbiness of so much of the late twentieth century British show business scene in that period betwixt the Beatles and Blur. In every way, a cornerstone of its genre. 


                                               John Fisher, writer and producer

Buy Funny Bones here.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Jake Thackray and Songs DVD now out


For those who don't yet know and would benefit from knowing, I bear the happy news that a DVD of extracts from the series Jake Thackray and Songs has just been issued. I have ordered it but have not yet seen it. This is from the product description on am*zon:

At last Jake Thackray's legendary television series, 'Jake Thackray and Songs', is released on DVD, by arrangement with BBC Music. ....  'Jake Thackray and Songs', broadcast in 1981, captures him at the height of his powers; it paints an intimate portrait of Jake as a live artist, playing to audiences in the small venues where he felt most comfortable. This DVD features all of his performances from the series: thirty of his greatest songs, along with his inimitable between-songs chat and storytelling. Also included are previously unreleased performances by three outstanding guest artists: Ralph McTell, Alex Glasgow and Pete Scott. 
If you haven't read my posts relating to Jake Thackray, the main one is here followed by two related post which also discuss Ralph McTell here and here.

Looking at the Jake Thackray website, I see that a great deal of his TV output appears to have survived. No indication, alas, of the appearances on the show Tickertape which have stayed in my mind (in particular a song which may have been called Sophie and William), but I was glad to see this note:

TW, TW, and thrice TW



At last a chance to see Frankie Howerd's appearance on TW3 in full. If you have seen any of the documentaries about Howerd then, like me, you may have been tantalised by a few brief glimpses of the 1963 appearance on TW3 which famously gave him back his career after his first major dip. I thought the Arena programme on Howerd was a dreary affair which only really came alive with a clip of him seizing his moment on Ned Sherrin's show.

Other documentaries have chosen slightly different extracts from that 1963 show, and for a while I contemplated trying to edit the material I had together in order to get at least a sense of the whole, which I was too young to see at the time.

It seemed the only way I'd get to see it, even though I knew it survived in complete form. A few years ago I was chatting to David Benson after a performance of his show about Frankie Howerd, and he said he'd seen a tape of the routine, which went on for about thirteen minutes - slightly too long, he said, with Howerd reluctant to quit even though he'd peaked.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Donald Sinden and Fiddler's Green


I was sorry to hear about the death of Donald Sinden. I have two memories of him, one shared by the playwright Simon Gray. In An Unnatural Pursuit, Gray's journal about the first production of his play The Common Pursuit, he describes going to see School for Scandal at the Duke of York's in order to check out one of the actors for a possible part in his play. Sinden is playing Sir Peter Teazle and Gray describes him in action:
Donald Sinden boomed richly away, postured ripely away, and was delighted in by the audience, whose delight he delighted in.
That was certainly my experience at the matinee I attended. I was studying Restoration comedy at the time (yes, yes, I know Sheridan's eighteenth century) but my exposure to high comedy of any sort (happy now?) had been limited to several stylised productions at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, so it was good to see a staging which may have been a bit of a museum piece but in a style which I'd never had a chance to ... well, to delight in before, as Gray says. And it wasn't difficult to believe that we were watching an unbroken line from its first staging. I can't remember how many asides were written into the play but I well recall that Sinden's Sir Peter indulged in quite a few.

That production was, I think, in the early eighties. A few years later I got the chance to see the great man at work up close when I attended rehearsals for a Thames sitcom pilot called Fiddler's Green.