Sunday, 1 January 2017

What a Crazy World to be shown on TV


I'm delighted to report that Talking Pictures TV, available on Freeview and elsewhere, will be showing What a Crazy World (1963) on Saturday January 7th at 8.05pm and Sunday January 8th at 8.00pm. Its website is here. And for anyone new to this blog, here's an introduction to the film.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

It's Trad, Dad - Deal With It



The British Trad Jazz boom of the 1950s and early 60s has been much on my mind, and in my ears, recently. It started when I came across the soundtrack for Dick Lester's It's Trad, Dad!, his first full length film, and found the whole strangely enjoyable, despite the collision of jazz and pre-Beatles pop.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Four in the Morning (Anthony Simmons) on London Live tonight


The late Anthony Simmons' Four in the Morning is on London Live tonight at 8pm. In one sense this is a slight piece, but only if you're expecting the cinematic equivalent of a novel rather than the poetic short story which this seems to be. It offers a glimpse into two relationships, one soured by the arrival of a child, and the other perhaps about to blossom, although one of the partners has had such a bad experience earlier that it is unlikely to be smooth going. These stories are framed by the discovery of a woman's body in the Thames and the subsequent cleaning and storing of the body.

It's certainly not a thriller and there is no epiphany for the characters in either of the two tales; as Jude (Judi Dench) says they are no further forward by the end of the night about what to do, and the short bursts of happiness and unease in the case of the other relationship don't provide much in the way of closure either.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

14 Karat Soul live on Switch, Channel 4, 1983


Searching youtube for any new videos of 14 Karat Soul I was delighted - no, make that gobsmacked - to find a recently uploaded clip from 1983 from a Channel 4 programme called Switch broadcast in between the first and second series of The Tube. The announcer is the actress Yvonne French.

The year is important because this is the original lineup of the group, which I remember with enormous affection, and of all the clips I've seen this is undoubtedly  the one which comes closest to the experience of seeing them live. One of the numbers is Take Me Back Baby, which founder Glenny T (above, right) revived with a version of the group in a 2011 appearance, and which I heard during their week-long residency in the unlikely locale of Glasgow's Mitchell Theatre in 1983.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Neil Brand's original radio version of Stan


If you read the earlier post about Jeffrey Holland's Stan Laurel play I bring the happy news that the Neil Brand radio play, Stan, can now be heard on archive.org here.

I have to admit that I hadn't got around to listening to Stan until today - I mean, ever, even though I'd been presented with a CD of it. Having been put off by the TV version the original incarnation wasn't an immediately exciting prospect, despite a former colleague's praise.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Gnome Thoughts ... 38 (Toll the Bell for Minnie Dyer by Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks)



I thought this series of posts about David Bowie's musical inspirations had come to a natural end, but something I read online today demands to be recorded here. Searching for the Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks song Toll the Bell for Minnie Dyer, I happened across a transcript of Bowie chatting to fans in 2001. Asked if he likes the Carry On films and Kenneth Williams in particular, Bowie replies:

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Jeffrey Holland in play about Stan Laurel at the Jermyn Street Theatre


I have just seen Jeffrey Holland in ... And This Is My Friend Mr Laurel, a one man show about Stan Laurel at the Jermyn Street Theatre until Saturday. It's an ideal venue for what is an intimate experience, starkly staged, with a chair and the frame of a bed as the only props (plus, of course, the inevitable hat).

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Barely Remembered Lil's


So 53 Rupert Street, once the home of Cheapo Cheapo Records, has transformed itself once again. Having been a mango dessert cafe, then a restaurant called Lil's, I passed the site on Saturday to see that it is now offering Italian fast food (excluding pizza, it seems) under the name of Mister Lasagna.

It only launched a month ago, and more can be read about it here, if you are so inclined. Apparently "Lasagna pans and fresh sandwiches line the counter as diners walk through the door and there’s a subtle waft of garlic in the air."

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Freddie Davies Performing Masterclass London, May 31st



Within reach of London? If so, this is to let you know that Freddie Davies, the man also known as "Parrotface" - and a comedian, actor, producer, you name it, with over fifty years' experience - is about to present his performance masterclass in London, at the Hippodrome, Leicester Square, on Tuesday May 31st. Full details including booking are available at the Stage One Productions website here. (A student discount is available.)

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Flamingos # 2: That's My Desire


The opening blast of unison singing seems to herald a performance more suited to rowdy boozer than the "dim cafe" of the lyrics, but the Flamingos' rendition of That's My Desire, a song best known via Frankie Laine's earlier hit, is mainly an exercise in emotional restraint. Discreetly aided by a sympathetic backing band, passion is allowed to build gradually, in stark contrast to some later doo wop recordings of the tune.

Monday, 21 March 2016

We ask: "What's the deal with Martin Kelner's sacking from BBC Radio Leeds?"


Very sad to hear that Martin Kelner (above) has been sacked from his lunchtime slot at BBC Radio Leeds. Although I am not a local listener, I acquired the iplayer habit a couple of years ago via a certain psittacine comedian - Martin interviewed Freddie Davies when our book Funny Bones was still looking for a publisher - and the regular, wholly pointless but compelling film club competition (a daily excuse for weak puns) soon got me hooked - not that the regular diet of Northern Soul and sixties and seventies pop proved any kind of hindrance in this matter, you understand. And for a few shining hours - I mean days, or possibly even a week or two - there was even a regular doo wop slot, though it didn't seem to attract much attention from anyone other than me and was quietly dropped.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Weald (play by Daniel Foxsmith at the Finborough with David Crellin)


I have just seen Weald by Daniel Foxsmith at the Finborough Theatre. Unfortunately this is its last night, so I can't drum up business for it, but I want to explore why it was so good.

First of all it's the mesmerising performance by David Crellin, owner of a small stable of horses, a man who never achieved his dreams, and whose remaining props are tottering. It's a two hander, and Dan Parr as Jim, the young man who has returned to this remote rural location after a spell in London, gives fine support, but it's Crellin's character, the older Samuel, who has the more painful journey and is pushed over to the edge, though their fates are intimately intertwined.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Barry Humphries' Forgotten Musical Masterpieces (BBC Radio 2 series currently available on iplayer)




Fans of the late Hubert Gregg who have happened upon this blog may be interested in a series of three hour-long programmes currently available on BBC Radio iplayer. The last episode was broadcast a few days ago so don't hang about if you want to hear them: at the time of writing (January 30th) there are thirteen days left to hear the first show. Links are provided at the end of this post.


Presented by Dame Edna's alter ego, the show's title is Barry Humphries' Forgotten Musical Masterpieces, and there are many selections of the sort which Hubert Gregg used to play on his Thanks For the Memory programme. I may be right, I may be wrong, but I'm perfectly willing to swear that the Beverley Nichols-penned Little White Room, sung by "Johnny" Mills (yes, that one) and Frances Day hasn't been heard on Radio 2 since the debonair Gregg left his square chair once for all.

A charming number in the mode of Noel Coward's A Room With a View, I've long suspected that it also played a part in inspiring Sandy Wilson's pastiche A Room in Bloomsbury. And as those iplayer links won't last forever, and I know the internet generation have issues with delayed gratification, here it is on youtube:

Monday, 7 December 2015

Some posts about John Lennon


Anniversary

Paperback Writer
 An account of a spoof Beatles biography with an unexpectedly serious centre plus a moment of shame for me after seeing Nowhere Boy

The Man From Mendips
Transcribed interview with Colin Hall not used in the LENNONYC documentary

Fifties Britain
An overview linked to the previous post

Notes From Nowhere Boy

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Flamingos # 1: Cross Over the Bridge


Listening to the audio clips in a recent post about Clyde McPhatter, here, I was struck by the difference between the Dominoes and the Flamingos. While Sollie McElroy's voice is not unlike that of Clyde McPhatter, hearing You Ain't Ready immediately after those McPhatter-era Dominoes records was mildly disconcerting: it felt like there was something missing, something I hadn't been aware of before. I had always believed that the Flamingos' records for Chance, jump blues and ballads alike, were uniformly superb.

This sent me back to Robert Pruter's book Chicago Doo Wop for guidance and succour. Here's what he says:

Thursday, 1 October 2015

NRBQ (Not Round Britain Quiz)


Round Britain Quiz will be starting soon on Radio 4 ... or will it? There are no clear indications on the Beeb's website. Still, that gives me an excuse to collect the attempts at RBQ-type questions scattered through this blog. Some were actually sent to the programme and not used, but (a bit like Keith Richards) we are not concerned with your petty quality control restrictions. So why not find a partner from the same region, book yourself into a remote but luxurious location and pretend that you are one of the RBQ teams? If you are not from Northern Ireland or Wales, please substitute alternative places.


Q1  Northern Ireland

A Lawrentian betting aid; a Beatles album before a Family intervention; a hillbilly's tribute to the military; seventies popsters who went sky high. In what sort of concerto might you reasonably expect to find all of these and why?

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Clyde McPhatter


Prompted by Colin Escott's book on Clyde McPhatter (above), I have now listened to a representative sample of McPhatter's work with the Dominoes and the Drifters plus his solo work on Atlantic, so here are a few more thoughts.

First, no real surprises about the solo sides: my vague recollection of the arrangements being rather poppy and old hat was confirmed. But the less cluttered they are the better, as with A Lover's Question or Deep Sea Ball - or the classic Without Love, which reeks of gospel: you are hearing a sermon being preached. True, it ain't just a piano backing but the arrangement is restrained and supports the vocal, never overwhelming it.

Nevertheless, the solo work on Atlantic isn't a case of a performer being forced to betray his deepest instincts: Jerry Wexler says that "Clyde wanted to be Perry Como" and the material was slanted to the pop market, though he maintains Atlantic didn't go in for "vomitacious" productions - in fact the only regret he expresses is about their decision to use a white backing group. Ahmet Ertegun, however, talks about the "leaden feet" of the arrangements, likening the resultant recordings to a chrome-heavy 1940s car which has dated less well than a sleeker earlier model.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

A Few Thoughts on Clyde McPhatter


"A few thoughts" is right in this instance, as this is by way of a note about a forthcoming post which is likely to be sketchy. Influential as he was, there is no mammoth biography of McPhatter to draw on, and he isn't someone to whom I've been listening for years. But I recently bought a slim volume by Colin Escott billed as "a biographical essay" about the singer, and it occured to me that I really ought to write something about him, given that he features in the story of Ben E King, is lauded by Bill Millar in his book on the Drifters, and is a prominent figure in Street Corner Soul, the excellent BBC Radio 2 documentary series about the rise and fall of doo wop.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Beatles documentaries repeated


The image above is only a screengrab, so don't bother clicking, but this is to alert readers in the UK that the documentary Love Me Do: The Beatles '62 has just been repeated on BBC 4 and as a result will be available on BBC iplayer until October 18th. (As far as I'm aware American readers are only able to access radio programmes on the iplayer.) Click here for my review of the original broadcast plus a link to iplayer.

It's not only about the Beatles - they don't crop up in the first half hour - but another documentary, Produced by George Martin, was repeated yesterday on BBC 4 and is likewise available for a month on iplayer. Click here for my review and links to iplayer and two other posts about Martin-produced comic songwriters Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks (or "Dead Ticks", as Martin called him)

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Theatre Book Prize judge Viv Gardner on Funny Bones

If you haven't visited the blog dedicated to Freddie Davies's autobiography Funny Bones, which I cowrote, here is a review of the book from Professor Viv Gardner, one of the judges of the 2014 Theatre Book Prize:
This is one of those stories that just have to be told. It is unique – there has never been quite such a long and varied a career as Freddie Davies’s - but it is also the story of popular entertainment over the past 70 plus years: the hey day and decline of variety, clubs, cabarets and cruise entertainment, the rise of television comedy and subsequent changes in fashion, and the shifting relationship between popular and ‘high brow’ performance. Freddie Davies has played every type of theatre in the country, from working men’s clubs and Butlins to the Royal Shakespeare Company, television and film, though his earliest memories are of the halls and variety theatres of the forties where his grandparents worked. His autobiography is replete with names and places, many long since forgotten, details of acts – his own and others’ – and whole bills. It is also a ‘back-stage’ story. Davies has worked not just as a performer, but also as a producer, so the autobiography charts not just his own stage career but also the challenges of working with and supporting other artists – the ups and downs, the nuts and bolts of the entertainment business.  A researcher’s dream.  It is a fascinating and important story, not just a personal but also a social and performance history.

Viv Gardner
Professor Emerita, University of Manchester
Judge, Society for Theatre Research 2014-15

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

More radio plays about AA Milne ... and a film


Prompted by the play discussed here, I found two other radio plays available online about A.A. Milne - not on the BBC iplayer but preserved on the blog of their author, Brian Sibley. You can find them here and here.

I listened to both at their time of their original broadcasts on Radio 4, and the impressions I retained have been confirmed by subsequent listenings.There is some overlap - both provide an outline of Milne's career - but I preferred Not That It Matters, which draws upon Milne's autobiography It's Too Late Now.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Hush! Hush! Whisper Who Dares! (review of BBC Radio 4 play about E.H. Shepard and Christopher Robin Milne)


I have just listened to Hush! Hush! Whisper Who Dares, a Radio 4 play imagining a meeting between Winnie the Pooh artist E.H. Shepard and the adult Christopher (Robin) Milne, son of A. A. Milne.

It works very well, partly because of its narrowness of focus. And it's unsensational, by which I mean that although their meeting in later life (Shepard is ninety) is a product of playwright Christopher William Hill's imagination, the parallels which Hill draws between their respective situations are convincing. He even alights on a entirely plausible reason why Christopher Milne might have felt impelled to seek Shepard out at that particular time (presumably late '69 or early 1970, given Shepard's age).

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."