Saturday, 28 December 2013

Lost Lover - the Magnificents

Talking of the Magnificents' Lost Lover (see previous post), it has recently been uploaded to youtube, so here 'tis, as the B side of Off the Mountain, their soundalike follow up to their big hit On the Mountain.

It's an odd track - it's not really doo wopified, as, say, the Flamingo's version of I Really Don't Want to Know is. Is it a sendup? Not sure, but the guitar is a big part of the record and the singers do seem to be taking a back seat. Could it be as simple as their being told to record what sounds like a country song and their hearts weren't in it?

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Now We Are Four ...

As it is now the fourth anniversary of that day in December 2009 I started this blog with the intention of archiving posts from Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop written in 2000 I decided to commemorate my achievement by submitting the contents to OSTMB, the UK-based Office for Standards in Music Blogs.

This was done on a voluntary basis and I'm not sure what I thought might be gained from doing so. Above is a scan of the printout I received in the post today. After much waiting on the telephone I managed to speak to one of the inspectors for ten minutes (he put the phone down mid-sentence which I thought was discourteous, to say the least).

But I surreptitiously recorded the last eight minutes of the conversation so thought I would give a report here. My advice to other bloggers, however, is don't bother seeking out this organisation. If you gain pleasure from writing posts then go on doing so. Anyway, here are the "highlights" of what I was told combined with a more detailed email.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

They turned him off (Russell Davies show axed)

Big news in my little world, and I regret to say it appears to be a done deal, though there is a campaign: Russell Davies' Sunday night programme on the art of the songwriter on BBC Radio 2 is no more.

And so ends a line which stretched, for me, from the seventies and Benny Green in the same slot (before it was shunted from the afternoon, during the Davies era, to make room for the chumminess of Ms Paige).

It's also a source of sadness because although I believe he will still be presenting the odd programme for Radio 2 this marks the end of regular broadcasting of the last of those presenters who educated me in pre-rock'n'roll music, most notably Benny Green, Hubert Gregg, Ken Sykora and Robert Cushman.
Of that quartet only Robert Cushman is still alive, although as far as I know he is no longer broadcasting.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Lou Reed

 I have just heard that Lou Reed has died so I am reposting this piece from 2012.

The Word - a magazine I ought to have read more often than I did - is shortly to be no more; its final edition is in UK shops just now.

Others will be better placed to eulogise; I only mention it because skimming through its last hurrah reminded me of an early post on this blog, and a matter which has been occupying me on and off for some time, namely the content of Lou Reed's record collection, stolen in the sixties.

In an interview with John Medd in the final edition of The Word he mentions a few artists presumably among those purloined, and it's gratifying to see that he liked "anything by the Flamingos" and the Diablos' The Wind, a near neighbour of Flamingos recordings at their ethereal best:

Reuben, Reuben (1983 film with Tom Conti)

Have just watched Reuben, Reuben for the second time - with a gap of about thirty years in between. The first time was, if memory serves, at the former Glasgow Odeon, now gone or translated, the second time was last night, with the film shrunk to the dimensions of my fairly small telly screen.

Is it a good film? Not sure, although I didn't stop watching it last night, which must mean something. Mind you, I'd mislaid the remote, so maybe I just couldn't be *rsed with all the kerfuffle of stopping and starting.  The ending is quite something, and I'd retained that from the first viewing; avoid the w*kipedia page as it gives everything away - and I mean everything.

Although I momentarily fancied myself as a critic in those days - I did a few pieces for the student paper - I think I saw films as purely entertainment. I was studying Drama, and it was quite nice to feel free  not even to shape critical thoughts in my head if I wasn't sitting watching a play. The Glasgow Film Theatre, or GFT, would give out a closely printed A4 for most of its films as you filed in; I would read these but I think I made a conscious decision not to join the game.

Anyway, that's by the by. What it means is I don't have a handy set of notes to compare my reactions then and now. All I really remember is that the ending made an impression. And that I was in two minds about the film as a whole, while accepting that the central performance was a piece of bravura acting.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Crackerjack May 1964

Clips from this edition of Crackerjack have has featured in several documentaries (Danny Baker's programme on Peter Glaze and The Unforgettable Leslie Crowther) but I haven't seen it since a repeat on TV in the late eighties.

It's Eamon Andrews' final programme and although I probably saw it as a kid I don't remember it from then: for me Crackerjack was always presented by Leslie Crowther, but Pip Hinton and Gillian Comber  and of course Peter Glaze are present and correct in memory, though I seem to remember Gilliam Comber as more maternal, less glam.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

They're not juvenile delinquents ...

A clip of 14 Karat Soul not seen before (by me) is cause for celebration. Presumably this is Sesame Street as the background is the same as for their version of the ABCs of Love. Stay tuned for developments re my doo wop presentation. Forty years boiled into an hour. How can I do it? I did jokily suggest to the kind person who has encouraged me that five hours would be more realistic but he wasn't wholly convinced. Also going back to basics, the play which I occasionally alluded to in my posts on the Kewl Steve site may be more realistically within sight of a production, and one of the lead characters is obsessed with doo wop. Ee, it's all happening, or it might be. Also in the pipeline is a book but, cursed as I am with the ability to talk a good game I shall shut up until matters become more concrete. I ache for the moment I hold a hardback in my hands. Anyway, here be the group:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

There'll be fifteen minutes of expoundin' my thesis, and then you'll holler "Please, DO stop!"

No time, I'm afraid, to write a detailed post, so consider this an interim bulletin for those who might care. This blog is going back to basics as I have been asked to prepare a presentation for students about doo wop music. I will post audio when it's done and add the occasional entry here as I go along if you want to keep up with my progress.

Which task has made me think back to Phil Groia's They All Sang On the Corner, the first book I read devoted to the subject. I have to admit it didn't live up to my expectations. Not that there wasn't good info in it, but as the first book I read specifically about doo wop, there was a bit too much of the trainspotter about it. Yes, I know: following the changing members of the Cadillacs, etc is important, and there were some great phrases in the book, for example describing Frankie Lymon as the little boy who "lit up like a Christmas tree" whenever a microphone was placed before him. But the "list" aspect seemed - to me, anyway - to devalue the book a bit.

Against that, of course, you could say what's a history of the subject for if not to set the record straight? And such books may be better regarded as reference books than sparkling single-sitting reads. 

I mention this partly because I have just received Johnny Keyes' book Du-Wop (sic), have already read half, and it really puts you there, in the middle of a group. It's fairly short but it answers questions I've often thought about but don't think I've seen answered before.

In particular, Keyes says that the backing musicians for doo wop groups in the studio would compose arrangements which essentially came from the singers' acapella version of the song, though it would be the musicians who would get all the credit. Interesting, too, to note that the musicians were usually older and could be contemptuous of the groups. If a band was supporting a group or groups live, it could be that a current hit might be played at the wrong tempo, either through negligence or a deliberate attempt to mess the singers up. But the main thing is that, according to Keyes, the real creativity was in working out the vocal arrangement then bringing it into the studio, whereupon the band would quickly work up a backing.

I will have more to say on that and maybe some other books in my next post. So join me, why don't you, in my quest to boil down forty years' enthusiasm for streetcorner sounds into one measly hour. Which gives a whole 'nother meaning to Sixty Minute Man, hence the above title.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Last tired gasp of Bizarre Beatles Coincidences


 One final astonishing set of Beatles coincidences has recently been sent to me by a reader of this blog. I present them below.

The production of the Beatles' Lady Madonna owes a great deal to Humphrey Lyttleton's Bad Penny Blues. That much is beyond dispute.

What is less well known, however, is that "Bad Penny" was a character in the comic Smash!, created by Leo Baxendale and based on his own character Minnie the Minx in the Beano; Baxendale had left DC Thomson by the mid sixties so could no longer draw the anarchic tomboy he had created.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Thunderbirds are Wash 'n' Go!

It's not music-related, but I just had a really good idea which I'd like to share.

I like to swim, and I take shampoo and shower gel for afterwards. Obviously there's no point in taking big heavy bottles so I usually decant stuff into two small bottles, but even so it seems a lot to be carrying about, especially if you've got a back problem like me. I wondered about having one bottle with two compartments, maybe a stopper at top and bottom, or perhaps having a tiny bottle of shampoo within a bigger (but not too big) gel bottle with a wide neck.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Birch tree agonised - please advise

On a certain social networking site I have been entertaining (or not) family and friends with youtube clips of fave songs which actually might be better placed here. I think the reason I haven't placed them here is that a few lines of writing doesn't seem adequate, and the best pieces on this blog have, I think, been the longer, more considered ones. But those arose out of having no other writing activities on the go, a situation which has changed. So, on the understanding that this is low level, Division Two stuff in terms of care, the following series of posts contain some of those songs and what I wrote to my limited audience at the time. Or, as in this case, writing taken from an earlier blog post.

Not long after the news of his death I was upstairs in Tower Records in Picadilly Circus when they were playing On Again! On Again! (the album). There was an additional pleasure in hearing it unexpectedly, and at such a time. Not exactly on the scale of the vigil at the Dakota, but someone working in the shop must have been responding to the death - or scenting a marketing opportunity. Whichever it was, the music felt like a glass of cool, clear water after whatever aural alcopops had just been blasting out, and I delighted in being reminded of his capacity for taking pains with details - "rascally episcopal", "pussyfooting butcherman", not to mention "wild as little strawberries" - but it was The Rain on the Mountainside, with its blind persistence and final note of defiant hope, which got to me most - and it is clearly poetry, not comic verse. A bare transcript cannot convey the strange half-growl ("singing in hi-i-i-is") with which he invests the final line.

As a sort of companion, here is Van Morrison's The Philosopher's Stone.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

To our joys a C.L.O.G.(S.)

When Frank Zappa used a phrase like "cretinous love songs of greasy simplicity" he may have been thinking about records like this. I don't think I've heard this before today but it sounds awfully familiar - at least I could predict every change. And I love it.

I'm presuming these Markeys are not the Mar-Keys of Last Night fame - in fact I'd be willing to bet money on it. The sound is not dissimilar to various New Orleans vocal groups I'm familiar with from a compilation entitled Lost Dreams.

I looked at Unca Marvy's website and found a reference to a song called Eternal Love recorded by the Heralds, but this is a different song. Then there was a page on Marv's site about the Marquees, which mentions there were lots of groups with a similar name ... You know what? In the past I would have happily gone down  a series of alleyways and come up with some vaguely interesting discoveries.

But if you're wondering about the heading for this post, wonder no more.  

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The AMAZING Tale of the Macca from the East (from Bizarre Beatles Coincidences)

                                                                                                 Ah, go on, give us a go ...

Yes, there are still many AMAZING Beatles stories to tell, and they can all be found in my forthcoming book, Bizarre Beatles Coincidences. 

You can, for example, read about how Cilla Black's real name inspired the title of a Beatles album ... or did it?

But it's another curious tale I have to tell in this post, a mish-mash of coincidences and unlikely events coalescing. I call it ...

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Bizarre Beatles Coincidences - the Frankest Tale of All (buy the book)

My final extract from Bizarre Beatles Coincidences is perhaps the most staggering of all. After this you really will have to buy the book. I call this story ...

Saturday, 17 August 2013

More stuff about sitcoms

On the general subject of new or newish sitcoms I have been unimpressed with two of the latest, Family Tree and Big School. The former is directed by Christopher Guest, and I've never been that keen on his films, so perhaps enthusiasists can discount what I have to say. But I'll try to say it anyway in case anyone else has been underwhelmed.

Friday, 16 August 2013

More thoughts about Count Arthur Strong

There's an interview with Steve Delaney, creator of Count Arthur Strong, here. It's worth reading all the way through, but the responses to two questions in particular interested me. One is that he both knows and doesn't know Arthur: that is, he knows instinctively how the character will react but couldn't necessarily articulate that beforehand:

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A further extract from Bizarre Beatles Coincidences (please help fund the book)

Another extract from my forthcoming book Bizarre Beatles Coincidences. Please consider contributing to my Kickstarter page as the American publishers withdrew their offer once they read the completed MS for some reason.


I'm sorry that I doubted you, I was so unfair
You were in a car crash and you lost your hair

So runs the lyric of Ringo Starr's Don't Pass Me By, one of Ringo's most accomplished compositions, according to top Beatles authority Howard Goodall, who has singled out that couplet in particular for its "playfulness, originality and invention." He continues:
The unexpectedness of Starkey's vision, perhaps as a result of the Indian soujourn which had such a profound effect on him, enables us all to see the world afresh.
It is a bold, disturbing image, certainly. But original? I think not, Mr Goodall.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Goodbye, for the moment, to Count Arthur Strong

It doesn't really need to be said, because you'll either get it or you won't, but the TV adaptation of Count Arthur Strong has been beautifully judged and got better with each succeeding episode. I have just watched the final episode (there is definitely going to be a second series) and it's difficult to describe except in the most general times - I don't want to ruin the surprise for those yet to see it on iplayer.

But the real achievement is the marriage of comedy and sentiment - no, that's not fair, because that implies unearnt emotion. You're taken into the lives of these strange and isolated characters - the cafe regulars - and really believe they have been united by the childlike Count Arthur. In the last episode in particular you see the effect when, for a while, he isn't there.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

"To you, Murray ..". the ASTONISHING tale of Macca's embargo in more Bizarre Beatles Coincidences (buy the book)

Some more BIZARRE and ASTONISHING coincidences from my forthcoming book. Murray the K, as everybody knows, was the fifth Beatle, contributing to many of their records. But how well did Paul McCartney get on with him? 

Not very, is the answer which can now be revealed. It may already be self-evident from that scowl in the image above but if you are still in any doubt listen closely to the Novello Award-winning song All Together Now from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. Macca sings "EFGHIJ, I love you," but STOPS before K! 

Coincidence? I think NOT. 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Bizarre Beatles Coincidences to be published in America!

There has already been interest from America in publishing Bizarre Beatles Coincidences as a proper book, with an advance offered and everything. Which is bit embarrassing, as I've only written the stuff that's in the previous post. On the other hand, how long would it take to write another 90,000 words or so?

They are quite insistent on new packaging, which I suppose is fair enough, given that they're paying for everything and I mocked up the earlier one in two minutes. Using Paint. But their proposed cover looks a bit tasteful to me. And what's wrong with "William"? Even if it is a nom de beat. Okay, let's rattle something out ...

Another AMAZING Beatle coincidence: after he left the Beatles Paul McCartney the song Another Day. So what? you might say. But what no one seems to have remarked upon before is that Blue Monday, also a day of the week, but a more specific one, was recorded by Fats Domino, whose style was copied for the song Lady Madonna. Coincidence - or something more disturbing?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

AMAZING new Beatles book!

I am about to self-publish my new book entitled "Bizarre Beatles Coincidences - Or Are They?!" As a lifelong student of the "Fab Four" (yes, that's what they were called) I am constantly surprised that no one has made the kind of connections which seem self-evident to me. So if you're tired of the usual so-called "revelations" (really rehashing of information easily accessible on the internet-web), this publication may be something of a surprise. A life-changing one! Naturally I don't want to release too much, but here are a few appetisers. You thought you knew everything about the Beatles? Think again! These are just a few snippets, and there is plenty more in the book.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Three Hats for Lisa officially released on DVD on Monday

This is to bring you the happy news that Three Hats For Lisa, the candyfloss-light yet endearing film musical which I wrote about in this earlier post, is about to be given a proper DVD release in a couple of days. And judging from what appears to be a period trailer, or a rather good mocked-up version of one, the print is pristine.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Count Arthur Strong

 [Post about final episode here.]

For reasons I will make clear at a later date the subject matter - the yoking together of an embittered writer and a variety artist - is a bit close to home, but I thoroughly enjoyed Count Arthur Strong last night on BBC 2.

I always had a bit of a problem with the radio version, not really quite buying into the main character's past, which seemed rather vague and changeable. I kept thinking: okay, who's he meant to be? Who is this based on? and never finding a satisfactory answer. There was quite a lot of discussion on the now defunct BBC Radio 7 messageboard in which I participated.

But the TV version works, and Arthur now has a believable world to inhabit. Last night was about his being offered a small part in a radio play and (of course) messing it up with predictably hilarious results, but really it was the framing of that plot strand which made the whole thing so successful.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Round Britain Rejects even more ...

 A Ball boss, a bell boy, and a marked mobster. 

Why do they sound like lunatics?And in which dame's watery domain might they feel at home?

Answer below, if you admit defeat or disinterest and care to click.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Round Britain Rejects back again

Okay, here's one.

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?

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Round Britain Rejects is back!

Alright, this wasn't actually sent to Round Britain Quiz, as I only thought of it just now, when I should have been doing other things. And it isn't the most complex question in the world. But it's there, and it may provide a few moments' diversion.

If Marillion and the Tremeloes offer a lead and the Newbeats' enthusiasm addresses a side issue, why might an American hip hop group provide a less than ideal accompaniment?

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Back On Chapel Hill

Some kind person has uploaded the Ravens' long-missing On Chapel Hill to youtube, so  that once again it may sing out underhindered on this blog. You can find the earlier post where it's discussed, and more about the Ravens, here, along with a clip of their sublime version of There's No You, featuring the fathoms-deep voice of Jimmy Ricks.

But if you'll indulge me and stay that clickhappy digit for a mo, I want to add a bit more about On Chapel Hill Here.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

It Is No Secret - The Sensational Nightingales

This is a favourite gospel recording of mine which I only found on youtube recently. I first heard it on Viv Broughton's 1985 Black Gospel compilation, a tie-in with his book of that name, later reworked as Too Close to Heaven.

As far as I remember the tracklisting was arranged so that you heard the Sensational Nightingales' harrowing New Burying Ground, with Julius Cheeks sending the recording equipment into overload, then this performance which, in that context, felt like a kind of reward: you needed it, a note of hope, after what you'd just been through. I wrote of New Burying Ground in an earlier post:
It's difficult to tell whether the other group members' rough-hewn harmonies are actually supporting Cheeks or goading him into an ecstasy of torment.
But there is a kind of stately joy about It Is No Secret: although Cheeks does get a bit more frantic as it goes on he seems contained, consoled, by the other members of the group, and the choruses build in a very satisfying way, and you feel you've arrived somewhere by the end.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Tell the World (in case it might be listening)

Apologies to regular readers for this prolonged absence from my post - or posts; frankly I didn't think anyone would notice, but I'm happy to stand corrected. I have several writing projects on the go, which I hope to fill you in on soon, so no news on this site is - for me at least - likely to be a sign of good news. I have also taken to posting clips on a certain social networking website restricted to family and friends, but actually I'm not sure why - a lot of it is doo wop which would be better suited to be shared with the world, or that portion of the world which cares about that sort of thing, here.

I don't have the time to talk about them at length but here are two favourite doo wops which I don't think I've posted before. One is a raw and naive recording by the recently depleted Dells, my introduction to them on a double album I've written about before, and the other is an acapella recording by the Five Satins which is also available with vaguely South American backing. Give me the acapella every time.

Okay, cue the music. Keep the Five Satins as the dessert. And if you don't like this kind of thing, I wish you well as you click beyond my ken. I've just listened to the Dells again and it's rawer than I remember. But it sounds like people making music, or trying to, all in the one room, and it reminds me why I love doo wop, and why it's the cornerstone of this blog. If blogs can be said to have cornerstones. Do bats eat cats?

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

14 Karat Soul as they should be heard

 Wow! Some kind person has uploaded a session 14 Karat Soul did for Radio 1 in the early 80s to youtube and it sounds the closest yet to my memory of seeing them around that time, much better than the studio recordings available.

I remember hearing 16 Candles on the radio in the evening before going out to see the group at their week long residency/tryout/whatever at the then new Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow. So many great songs I heard over the nights I attended are not included here but it is wonderful to hear a fuller, rougher, more "alive" sound which may give an idea to those who never heard the group during this period just how good they were. Not an elderly group straining to recapture past glories: all young, and the energy is palpable. I've written about them, and that Mitchell Theatre gig, in more detail in an earlier post. Below is an extract:

That week at the Mitchell Theatre is how I remember them. Aspects of the act changed from night to night, suggesting that it may have been a tryout base, although these were fairly minor. Essentially, they were good to go from the first night - and the first number - onwards.

I'm now going to try to remember as many of the songs featured in that week as I can. Quite a number are available on CD, although I cannot stress enough what a long way those antiseptic studio recordings are from hearing (and seeing) five figures with nowhere to hide blasting out at you. I think this is what draws me to acapella doo wop, and acapella in general: the knowledge that you're watching a balancing act, and if there is one weak link in the troupe they will all topple. You're seeing something vulnerable and human.

At around the same time, a lecturer at Glasgow University was trying to explain the twentieth century to us - a good trick in precisely fifty five minutes. His main point was that in previous centuries people were in touch with the objects which surrounded them - eg a door handle would have been carved out of wood, and you could visualise how it was made: by a man, as you were a man. You could have made it. (Unless you were a woman, of course, but that was a whole 'nother lecture.)

Come the twentieth century, however, the advent of mass production and the development of new, artificial materials meant people were surrounded by objects which they didn't really understand and so they lost a secure sense of their place in the world which led to social alienation and lots of depressing - I mean, challenging - literature.

The tutor probably put it better (it was over twenty five years ago) but when I see an acapella group onstage, vulnerable in way that no overamplified rock band can be, all I know is that I feel in touch with something fundamental. There's sense of intimacy involved: the directness of the human voice, rather than a lump of metal in front of the face, to provide the music; the self-exposure and risk in the sharing of that voice, in offering it to others for judgement. Then the magical-seeming, yet utterly human, way in which a group of people can temporarily subdue their egos to create a single entity. To go back to the image of the balancing act: when nobody falls - when, in fact, they all seem to soar - then that is a joyous moment which affirms your faith in humanity. And as the listener, you feel like an intimate part of that group.

[...]  Fast forward a few years and I'm living in London, going to see 14 Karat Soul at the Fridge in Brixton. I'm near the front of the stage, immersed in the performance, when I find I'm one of the people called up to add a few extra dum dums to Come Go With Me.

This is a task into which I throw myself with relish - only at some point one of the singers, grinning, makes a gesture. He slashes his throat with his index finger, which I know now almost certainly means "Shut the *&%! up as you cannot carry a tune in a bucket," but I thought then, and even now would like to present as a remote possibility, that it meant he envied my vocal command, joshingly indicating that he wished my prowess could be curtailed so as not to expose his own limitations quite so cruelly when he next stepped up to the mike.

But I admit it's a bit of a long shot.

You can read the rest, plus some links to other posts, here

Sunday, 19 May 2013

My mind she has mated ...

Remember Joyce Carol Oates? Yeah, that's right, the one who told the Guardian in 2012 that "Situation comedy ... distorts the complexity of the human soul." Now she's only rhapsodising about Seinfeld on a well-known limited-number-of-characters networking website:
Reruns of "Seinfeld" fascinating for the brilliance of the script/ fluidly comic ensemble performances/ background (grocery prices!).

Far from being a situation-comedy about "nothing," in fact "Seinfeld" is a comedy of manners about "everything"--minutiae of NYC life.
I'm really confused now, don't know what to think. Let me jot down these hitherto unimaginable insights and pass them on to the makers of the series; bet their minds'll be mated too.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Round Britain Rejects # 7: answer

As with the previous question, the answer, if you have given up all hope of alighting on it naturally, is below - but you have to make the choice to click. No one's forcing you. I think this one is a good 'un and fairly set out. I think.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Round Britain Rejects # 7

Okay, one more. I found this in an old email but I can't remember the answer. I'm sure there will be one. Ah. I do remember the second bit. I'll try to find the rest but see if you can beat me to it.

If the only way is up for an American Professor's admission, 

and down for a sleepy combo's combinations (as engineered by their manically grinning bespectacled leader), 

furnish me with the boy to make this answer thrice-blessed dramatically.

It may be (I'm honestly not sure now) that the question didn't have a complete answer, but that's unlikely. I suppose I could devise a post facto answer, but that may be like the one from Alice in Wonderland - you know, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" This was just a bit of fun, as Peter Snow would say, and when Carroll did cobble together an answer you could hear the distant whoosh of tumbleweed as you read it: 
 Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat ...
Oh, stop, Mr Dodgson, my sides will split. There is an article with some alternative explanations, on the Straight Dope website, here; this site is also the source of a good piece about the word pismotality, which you can find by clicking the "meaning of pismotality" page above.


Ah! I have just remembered the complete answer. And it does make sense. All the clues are there. I'll fess up that I'm not entirely sure about the first part, but the other two are okay. Bonne chance - and laissez les bons temps rouler.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Previously on King Lear ...

I don't normally do mini-soundbite-type posts but this is irresistible - Paul Merton talking about his forthcoming autobiography:
Until I sat down to write my autobiography I had no idea my life
story was so fascinating - what with its tremendous ups and downs both
in and out of showbusiness. I can't wait to see what happens next.
Apparently it will include a description of what sound like pretty tough early days in South London, packing heat - oh. No. Packing meat, I'm sorry. I mistook the word. I read it wrong and wrote it down wrong. It happens. Deal with it. Blogging is an imprecise art. I misheard and I misspoke, as a penitent Phil was once obliged to say on Larry Sanders.

Do not, however, confuse Merton's forthcoming book with an earlier spoof autobiography entitled My Struggle. I bought a hardback copy of this at the time - think I paid full whack, too - and it was a disappointment. Possibly better as an audiobook or more suited to a small gobbet episode format.

Anyway, you can read a bit more about plans for the real autobiography in the British Comedy Guide here.

And there is a highly recommended King Lear study site by Greg Smith here. This has been around a long time and recently revised. Were I still in dominie mode I'd be a-clicking. I won't say much about Lear here as I'm still mourning the loss of the posts on my Cracklearjack blog. I put 'em back into draft form then they all disappeared. Admittedly the concept wasn't all that amusing - do Lear in end-of-show Crackerjack mode - and even more admittedlyer, I was losing interest in it because you cannot knock Lear - I mean, you just can't. But I would have liked readers to be able to make up their own minds.

This is the only surving post.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

One of Those Movies ...

Incredible though it sounds, it is now the fortieth anniversary of the film That'll Be the Day.

If you have travelled deep within the recesses of this blog, you will know that the soundtrack had a profound effect on my musical tastes. In fact there wouldn't be a blog as we know it (well, I know it anyway) without it: those songs ignited my love of doo wop and rock'n'roll.

I was probably about fifteen when I saw the film, and at the same time the songs featured were being played on the radio: I still can the remember the moment I became aware of the beauty and the yearning in Frankie Lymon's voice when he hit a certain note during Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Around the same time there was a Chuck Berry concert on TV, I bought a Little Richard album a few days later, and I've been listening to that kind of thing, or developments thereof, ever since. What? Yes, of course Specialty. Why do you even need to ask?

I was reminded about the film by an article in the current edition of UK music magazine Mojo which provides some interesting background about the films and some amusing details; if you travel to this site you will find readable scans of the article as well as  youtube versions of the complete movie along and its sequel, Stardust. 

I was pleased, though not surprised, to learn from Mojo that Rosemary Leach was unfazed by costar Keith Moon. David Puttnam talks of meeting her at the hotel where the cast were staying when a door crashed open, and drummer and partner tumbled out in flagrante. "Oh," said Leach, "It's one of those movies, is it?"

Now is not the time to talk about my mild - and really only very mild - disappointment at finally seeing Sadie, It's Cold Outside, the sitcom written by Jack Rosenthal and starring Leach and Bernard Hepton as a middle-aged couple under siege from the outside world. I'd seen a short scene with Rosemary Leach in bed asking where it had all gone wrong in a TV compilation of sitcom moments, and thought it must be a forgotten masterpiece, but the series as a whole wasn't quite up to that. In my opinion. Performances were great but the overall effect was a bit too whimsical for my tastes, bit too much making bricks without straw. Maybe it's about getting a solid slab of that kind of thing; scenes in the snug of the Rover's Return in Rosenthal-scripted episodes of Corrie are miniature gems. And maybe  it depends how you feel about that other Rosenthal sitcom The Lovers, which you could say is the same story viewed from the other end. (Wonder if Sadie, It's Cold Outside was sold to ITV as a sequel to The Lovers?)

Good to see, too, in the Mojo article that Puttnam and others admit the first film is better. "It's about me, that film," says writer Ray Connolly, "me in the universality of being adolescent." Which seems like a cue for that reposted review:

 First film is the more universal tale

That'll Be The Day is a modest but very satisfying rites-of-passage movie with 70s pop star David Essex (who'd already scored in the stage musical Godspell) playing a 1950s teenager with a string of conquests but no sense of direction until music starts to give his life a purpose.

He is careless of the feelings of others, so this is not a simple pop cash-in for the singer, and there are good actors around him (the exasperation and affection of mother Rosemary Leach is especially notable) and an excellent, well structured screenplay by Ray Connolly, where even small scenes - the action of a kindly policeman, for example, when Essex is drunk and lonely on his birthday - contribute to a coherent whole.

Ringo Starr must have been taken with the script, too, as he plays Essex's buddy/mentor when they are both working at Butlin's. And a young Robert Lindsay is his schoolfriend, watching in horror as Essex chucks all his books into the river prior to an exam. Lindsay later reappears in a truly fifties moment when he and his university chums are all listening to trad jazz, and the visiting Essex is made to feel left out; shades of the early Beatles having to pretend they were a jazz band to get gigs in Liverpool.

The aimless Essex, for so long indifferent to his mother's concern, eventually makes a stab at being the dutiful son but it does not last long: he cannot resist sleeping with Lindsay's girlfriend (the last in his long line of conquests) immediately before he is due to marry his friend's sister, nor is he able to sustain the marriage for long.

But his struggle throughout the film to make some kind of sense of his life, and the way in which the answer - music - eventually comes into focus with an insistence which cannot be denied, keeps the character sympathetic, or at least understandable.

And in case anyone misses the point, the film is bookended with the idea that he takes after his philandering father, unable to settle down to domesticity after the war. And the greyness (or, to judge from the decor of the family sitting room, the dark, suffocating browns) of a life of late fifties/early sixties conformity is well painted; taking over the family shop, or becoming like the smug Lindsay ("There's always night school," says his mother hopefully), convinces you that whatever is needed to feel fully alive cannot to be found in either of those options. There's a tiny scene using Bobby Darin's Dream Lover, for example, where the combination of the shot and the music really makes us feel his yearning for something else.

The sequel, however, which follows "Jim McLaine" into stardom, is, for me, far less appealing, and Ringo jumped ship (what was effectively his role was taken by Adam Faith). The trouble with this film is that a rites-of-passage story has a universal appeal; following a troubled star's decline when he's surrounded by material wealth (especially when his music is pretentious and high-blown tosh about the role of Woman and Mother) doesn't stir the same sense of general recognition.

Additionally, the focus is on the relationship between Essex and his manager so that the group, the Stray Cats (whio seem to be all actors apart from muso Dave Edmunds) are not called to do that much, and Jim's wife reappears too briefly to make much of an impact. (Come to think of it, the one criticism which could perhaps be levelled at the first film is that we glimpse an underused band there, led by Billy Fury, but in that instance I could understand if they were largely edited out because they don't contribute significantly to Jim's journey.)

So don't expect too much from the sequel. Although I admit that maybe that's partly because for me, personally, the earlier film is a very important one as it alerted me to the hitherto unknown delights of early rock'n'roll and doowop; the soundtrack is liberally spattered with classics of the day, greatly enhanced by the fact that many of them are playing in the perfect setting of a fairground.

A footnote: as for the title of that first film, from a vague memory of reading Melody Maker when the film was just an idea, there had been an attempt to do a Buddy Holly biopic which was quashed for some reason - possibly I'm misremembering but they certainly didn't use, or weren't permitted to use, actual Holly recordings so the version of That'll Be The Day which plays over the closing credits is the Bobby Vee cover (with, I think, the Crickets backing him), and there is a scene where, reunited with his precious record player, Essex brandishes a Buddy Holly LP, saying "I've been waiting weeks to hear this," only for us to be treated to the strains of ... Richie Valens' Donna. But whether or not a biopic of Holly was originally intended, what emerged is a thoroughly worthwhile film which captures the sense of rootlessness which found an answer for many fifties teenagers in rock'n'roll. 
I later wrote some notes about Nowhere Boy, about the young John Lennon's early days, and was surprised to learn from a review by the Observer's Philip French that That'll Be the Day had been based, in part, on Lennon. Surprised, that is, in the sense that I hadn't known about it before - not that surprised otherwise. Neil Aspinall and Ringo were involved in the film, and Rosemary Leach is definitely of the Aunt Mimi type, even though she's the hero's mother. The post is readable here.

Another post, mainly about the novel Paperback Writer, includes a shameful detail about arranging to see this film with a friend. You can read it in full here, but this is the relevant passage:
I was late, and wasn't allowed to enter the cinema as I was just over the thiry minute limit. I wanted to scream: It's not fair! I'm going to appreciate it more than her, what with my extra knowledge about the Beatles, having read all the biographies including the "spurious" one - I've even got a complete book about the "Paul is dead" theory - I mean, c'mon.

But (of course) I didn't. I walked away and mooched around in bookshops for an hour.
There was, however, a reward of sorts later, when she emerged from the cinema and spoke these words: "I'd forgotten she was run over."

But the feeling I had at that moment - an unlovely male sense of superiority about being in possession of more Beatle fax'n'info, basically - vanished in the act of writing this down. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Round Britain Rejects # 6: Answer

Here's the answer for those who have given up. But you have to click to get it, so it will be your choice. No one will think any the less of you for giving in. There are probably other matters in your life more worthy of attention. Choke down that sense of defeat. One click is all it takes.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Round Britain Rejects # 6

Okay, this is a fiendish one, and shall be the last for a while. Pretty certain this is one which was actually despatched to the programme, though I have striven to make it more accessible. Honest. I was going to say you need to get the first part first, but now I've revised the question I think you can start anywhere. 

Addressing a female creator of bovine pastries more formally than usual may call this man's nemesis to mind, relatively speaking.

But why might situating him at the end of a Mayfair shopping mall out him as a late riser?

Alternatively, if a hound from the Daily Mail followed behind, why might that effect a Spanish transformation to his name - at least, if you hail from the North of England?

Disclaimer: No responsibility can be accepted for damage caused to computer screens by the frustrated pounding of participants' fists accompanied by what sounds suspiciously like crying.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Round Britain Rejects # 5 continued

Ah, I can add the bits which will make it a proper RBQ questiion. (Insofar as such a thing is within my power, obviously.) So here is the complete question, and I'm going to remove the partial answer presented as an image in the previous post to remove temptation from the frustrated.

 If Hook's alma mater has jammy arms why would a modern Cockney be unconcerned? Might there be a different response from a famished drifter? Or would he prefer a more "softly softly" approach?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Round Britain Rejects # 5

Okay, here's one which was gently turned down by RBQ in 2009. It doesn't have enough sections but it amuses me so I present it here. Answer on Thursday or Friday. Possibly.

 If Hook's alma mater has jammy arms why might a modern Cockney be unconcerned?

Monday, 15 April 2013

Round Britain Rejects # 4

Find an abode suitable for a Cockney dancing partner reluctant to accept direction, an artistic creature of habit, and a seamstress of the penumbral.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Round Britain Rejects # 3

To find the hometown of a female authority on the longevity of Lucy's accessories, put muddy feet on a victorious leaf.

To identify a female authority on the companionable qualities of said accessories, bid a guttering farewell to Bobby's alleged girl (amongst others).

A former drifter could be instrumental to this answer - unless, that is, you'd prefer a bunch of fake gladiolas associated with another leaf.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Round Britain Rejects # 2

Well, I showed the RBQ-style question in the previous post to a colleague who pointed out, in a reasonably gentle manner, the ways in which it didn't quite make the grade. Luckily, another was nearer the standard set by that BBC Radio 4 programme so I shall reproduce it below. It's probably fair to say you will need to be of a certain age, and to be familiar with 60s British pop entertainers, to have a fair chance of solving this, but when you have solved part then the rest ought to fall into place fairly easily.

And my colleague suggested that the real test of a Round Britain Quiz question is that the answer, when revealed, ought to make you exclaim in delight: "Oh, of  course!" I hope the following offers you that possibility.

If you can name Joe Brown's would-be christener and a rank and enseamed hat model then locate precisely the attractive Pirandellian health worker hymned by Macca why might it be a circular journey?

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Round Britain Rejects # 1

A while back I shared a self-devised Round Britain Quiz-type question with readers but couldn't find the cache of emails which I had sent to a colleague over the last few years which had lots more. Well, now I have - and the burden of these delightful notes shall occupy the next few posts.

Some questions were actually sent to the BBC programme and didn't make it, so maybe they weren't that good. Or maybe they were too much about my specific areas of interest.

Yes. Yes, that's the only explanation which makes any kind of sense.

So if you are a regular reader of this blog then you might have an idea of what to expect. And if you're not ... well, you'll already be three or four clicks away from this page, so it doesn't matter.

Looking over the emails I am struck by the melancholy thought that I was more amused, in the formulating, than my original emailee was in the reading. But he occasionally said he was tickled, so maybe he was. Who knows? Anyway, I am sending these out into the world in case others may be.

If you are unfamiliar with Round Britain Quiz, a description in that earlier post may help:
 Round Britain Quiz is a longrunning programme on BBC Radio 4 where each week two teams from different regions strive to answer questions which require the making of unlikely and unexpected connections between a varied series of high and low cultural references. When, as is often the case when faced with anything relating to popular music, a team fails, the listener then has the chance to feel all smug and superior - until, that is, another strand in the same question exposes the limitations of that hypothetical listener's supposedly mature and eclectic sensibility.
So let quizzing commence. Not sure how long I should leave questions up for - will see how long it takes to get responses. Go to the contact page, above, to send your answers ... if you dare. Alright. Ready? It'll be one question per post.

1 If a Dutch rodent's domicile initially leads you to a proprietorial disease, which organs might be affected by some additional Nancy-ish behaviour (without a late mime's soundbite)?

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Whatever happened to ... the Sam Cooke biopic?

I was watching the interview on BBC 4 with writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais the other night. It's very enjoyable and worth watching all the way through, even if you know the basics (who in Britain doesn't?) but one detail leapt out.

Asked about film projects which hadn't worked out, without too much prompting they mentioned they had completed a Sam Cooke biopic. They finished the screenplay before a director had been chosen; when a director was in place and he said that he wanted his own input they assumed this would mean collaboration, but in the event not a single scene of theirs was left. Did this mean everything they had done was sh*t? La Frenais (I think) asked.

Anyway, I knew nothing about it, assumed that if you are reading this you might be interested too, found it was based on Peter Guralnick's book and is being produced by Jody Klein (daughter of Allen) of ABKCO.

There are several places online which give basic info about this (so why didn't I find out about it sooner?), but here is a piece which is slightly more detailed and cautious about the choice of Clement and La Frenais, citing inconsistency, and fearing that Klein's "rooted financial interest" may lead to a hagiography. Anyway, good or bad, now we'll never know unless their original script leaks out. What makes it odd is the extravagant praise heaped on their screenplay by Klein in Billboard:
"We had been looking for a long time for a writer to develop Peter's book," Klein told Billboard, "and it clicked when we met them. They understood the artist, they understood the times. It's one of those things, like when you meet the love of your life and you know you have met your (future) wife. They have written a fantastic script."
So who knows? I can't find the director's name online - lots of pieces about ABKCO being on the hunt for a director, but no names. Anybody know?

Watch the interview with Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais here, if you can access BBC iplayer, until Wednesday 27th March. The Telegraph's Michael Deacon, reviewing the programme, wrote:
It was fascinating to hear them talk, not just because they’re fascinating writers, but because the format allowed them to be fascinating. Mark Lawson Talks to… is perhaps the least visually enticing format on TV: this was an hour spent watching three men sit still in a barely lit studio, and one of the men was Mark Lawson. But that’s what made it good: interesting talk without visual distraction. TV that aspires to be radio. 
And talking of radio, I cannot avoid mentioning Neil McKay's A City Called Glory, an excellent account of Cooke's life using the device of his friend and sometime Soul Stirrer June Cheeks, as an Ancient Mariner-type narrator and choric figure. Here's part of what I wrote in an earlier post (read it in full here):
Cheeks, who never deserted the gospel field - he became a preacher in tandem with his singing - is the touchstone for Cooke as he wavers between two worlds. First a friend and confidante to the young Sam, Cheeks is then split into two as the play approaches its climax: a voice in Cooke's own head as well as the real man desperate to tell his tale, give his subjective but privileged take on what may have happened on that fateful night Cooke was shot.
Although Cheeks was briefly in the Soul Stirrers, he is best known as the lead singer in the Sensational Nightingales, screaming himself hoarse in performances, so it's a neat idea that he is the polar opposite of Cooke in more ways than one. And although Cheeks had been dead for several years by the time of the first broadcast, so presumably it was less complicated to use him as a narrator figure, the choice of a character who is and is not of Cooke's world was inspired.

I have read the two biographies of Cooke (Daniel Wolff and Peter Guralnick) since first hearing this play; it really does still stand up. Both are good but the Guralnick one in particular brings out the sense of his contradictory, elusive nature as he pursues success: capable of immense warmth and charm yet taciturn and dissatisfied in private (Cooke's widow Barbara contributed to the Guralnick book). You emerge from the book not really knowing him fully, wondering whether it's possible to know him, but Neil McKay's play - and I don't know how much information was available to him at the time of writing - feels right: if it wasn't that way then it's still a convincing conclusion to draw from what is known about his life. 
The play has been repeated a few times on BBC Radio 4 Extra, so it may come round again. However good or bad the finished feature film, Neil McKay's play can be very highly recommended indeed. It was part of a series called All Shook Up, directed by Andy Jordan. The quality of the writing in the series was a little variable, but the two plays by McKay - the other, Take the Night, was about Roy Orbison - were great.

Cuddles IS Vindice ...

Have just read that Cuddles the monkey is preparing for the lead role of Vindice in a new production of The Revenger's Tragedy. This is his first foray into Jacobean revenge tragedy - and, indeed, his first straight acting role after a career spent largely in variety and panto. It is also his first project away from longtime associate Keith Harris. 

There is no rancour between the two, however. In fact, a few days ago a beaming Harris was happy to talk to press about his friend's progress at rehearsals, and how he is dealing with the new challenge of learning such a substantial part. 

"He's not off-book yet," Harris admitted to a journalist who voiced what appeared to be a general concern about the monkey's lack of formal training, "but the director says he's very pleased with his progress and  he's already got to the essence of his character's motivation: 'I hate that duke.' "

Cuddles will be appearing in The Revenger's Tragedy in June-July at the National Theatre - details here.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Donovan autobiography part two - free download

 Surprising  news: there is now a second volume of Donovan's autobiography, and you can download  the first part of an audio version for free from  his official website here. (The image above is a screengrab.)

Will it also be published in book form? There is no indication on the website. The freebie seems to be a marketing ploy (and why not?), as we're told each instalment relates to a particular album - the first is Brother Sun, Sister Moon - also available for purchase via the website.

The first  part of Donovan's autobiography didn't get universally good reviews, but the most surprising thing about it was that the seventies weren't really covered: it ended, really, with his being reunited with Linda Lawrence,  and there was no indication that there would be another volume. That first book is highly readable – Donovan’s tranformation into a major musical figure is a fascinating story, after all – and sections like his account of the casual beatnik lifestyle in Cornwall are enormously entertaining.

But despite a strong page-turning quality, occasionally it feels like details have been omitted or insufficiently expanded. His eventual reuniting with Linda Lawrence is the overall arc of the book; perhaps as a consequence, other relationships seem to be given short shrift. And when you consider who our troubadour kept company with at the height of Flower Power isn’t there a more complex, contradictory tale - or at least an extra anecdote or three - waiting to come out?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Insight: The People. The Sounds. The Blogpost. (BBC 6 Music documentary series on iplayer)

I've really been enjoying the Insight series on BBC Radio 6 Music. You can find a guide to the currently available epsiodes here; the image above is just a screengrab. But hurry, as some are disappearing in a matter of hours or days.

I don't know when they were first broadcast - I mean originally, presumably on Radio 1 - but the fact that Pete Drummond is doing the portentous opening announcements suggests it wasn't all that recently. Late seventies, maybe? But don't let Drummonds' tones put you off because these hour long programmes are, at least the ones I've heard so far, little gems: very clear guides to musical genres, record labels, groups or individuals.

With the odd bit of quirkiness thrown in. There's a two part interview with Marvin Gaye, for example, where the star's responses remind me a bit of the beguiling - and mildly disturbing - raw footage of Jerry Lee Lewis which can be seen on the extras if you buy the big box set version of Taylor Hackford's documentary of Chuck Berry: both men are delighted by their own wit and not too bothered about how clear their intentions are to the listener. And it's a fair bet that neither has a PR person from their record company hovering within a five mile radius.

Asked if (I think) Mickey Stevenson is a mentor, Gaye professes ignorance of the term, asking if that's "like a tormentor", to which Gambo, perhaps not getting it, replies "That's for you to say." Did Marvin like working with Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol? Fuqua he knew from his time in the Moonglows but as regards Bristol he has difficulty working with people he doesn't respect - not that that applies to Bristol; he's just choosing, he says, to make a general observation at this point. "He's okay, you're okay, everyone's okay, I've read that book (chuckles)."

Monday, 18 March 2013

Two gospel records

I may have to curtail the extended blog posts for a bit, but I'm still going to try to post regularly - maybe even make a virtue of the more limited time available by focusing more on individual songs.

Here, for starters, are two gospel recordings I have known and loved for a long time. They have been posted on youtube quite recently, so what better reason to celebrate them?

Alright, in the time it takes to type this Russell Davies would have conjured up about half a dozen relevant anniversaries, outed a lyricist mysteriously absent from the original sheet music credits and made who knows how many other pertinent observations, utilising his trademark waspish wit all the while, but hey, I can only work with what I've got.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Freddie Davies in The Secret Garden at King's Head, Islington

For fans of Freddie Davies within reach of London, the happy news that he is currently appearing in The Secret Garden at the King's Head, Islington, on Saturday and Sunday nights until Sunday 17th March. Click here for more details and to make a booking. The performances are at 7.15 but there is also one matinee performance at 3.00 on the last day.

Freddie is recreating the role of Ben Weatherstaff, the gardener, which he played in the original RSC production at Stratford which transferred to the Aldwych in 2001. The King's Head production is a concert version, so dancing is out, but on the plus side you're very close to the cast, who make good use of the limited space: there are effective moments as they walk through the audience.

I'm not the greatest fan of the singing style in some modern musicals but even I could appreciate that the singing was top notch throughout (no amplification either) and that the songs were about revealing character, advancing the story. There were several musicians onstage, too, so it wasn't just a piano backing. The orphaned Mary is a resolutely un-cute Ana Martin, and Freddie has a particularly affecting moment in Act 2 when, in a beautifully judged speech, he recalls her mother.

I have to declare an interest, as I am acquainted with several of the cast, but there is another review here and here, and you can find more online.

Read an earlier post about Freddie Davies here

Photo credit for above: Claire Bilyard.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Richard Briers

Have just read that Richard Briers has died. I was lucky enough to see him in Ray Cooney's Run For Your Wife at the Shaftesbury Theatre around 1983, in what may have been the first run cast which included Carol Hawkins, Bernard Cribbins and Royce Mills. Naturally I knew him from television but this was of a different order altogether: there was a sense of his absolute control of the audience, his surfing the laughs which he had chosen precisely when to unleash. Can you unleash something which you subsequently surf? Probably not, but anyway he made it happen, and then he shaped it, determined the length. We were his willing instrument.

This may even have been my first visit to a London theatre, a couple of years before I moved here. Every single moment of that production - and Richard Briers was present more or less throughout - was sheer pleasure. I believe there is, or is going to be, a film version but I suspect it's a purely theatrical experience, and something akin to music. Coachloads may have come in to see Briers because of his telly fame but there is no doubt that he owned the stage and knew this genre inside out. I've only had a handful of great nights in the theatre but that was undoubtedly one of them. There had been a review in the Sunday Telegraph which may be online somewhere; if I can find it I'll add it below, but the main point it made was that farce is closely aligned to tragedy in terms of structure but it is "one of the hardest of theatrical trees to climb" (if I remember the crtic's words correctly) although Ray Cooney had successfully done so on this occasion.

So the source material presumably wasn't any hindrance to Briers giving a good performance, although I can think of other Cooney farces with other stars which don't stay in the mind in the same way. So let me salute the memory of a performer whom I was lucky enough to see in a farce which was a perfect fit. He once said of his 1956 performance as Hamlet (top) that it wasn't one of the best, but it was one of the fastest; beat by beat on that night in 1983 in the Shaftesbury Theatre there could have been no possible complaints about timing.


I have found an extract from that Telegraph review:

“A frolic? It is much more than that, it is a triumph. The brilliance of the structure, the imaginative joy, the scope for comic acting … put this entertainment at the top of the hardest of all theatrical trees to climb - that of farce.”

And I have just read that the film premiere of Run For Your Wife was only a couple of weeks ago.

With one Danny Dyer in the Richard Briers role.

Think I'll pass.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Beatles' Please Please Me: Remaking a Classic

This documentary about younger artists recreating the Beatles' day-long recording session for their first LP was better than I expected. It will be available on BBC iplayer here until 1:39AM GMT until Wednesday the 27th, and is worth watching.

As you may have guessed from this blog my interest in popular music and its makers falls off sharply by the seventies, so my expectations weren't very high: why watch this when you could be listening to the original album? But what was interesting to see was that quite a few of those involved were okay about following the Beatles' blueprints - not slavishly copying, but seeing them, not unreasonably, as a pretty reliable guides. And it was, essentially, about an act of homage, at a historical moment (the fiftieth anniversary to the day) in the place where it originally happened, so there was never likely to be much in the way of iconoclasm.

But it wasn't a tribute band experience either: Mick Hucknall's remaining ginger locks were neither literally nor metaphorically concealed beneath a Beatles wig. He made the point that Lennon stuck pretty close to Arthur Alexander's vocal for Anna, and the show was partly about acknowledging those artists like Alexander and the Shirelles, who had been covered by various Liverpool groups.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Hello Walls

I have written earlier in this blog of the surprising omission, in later editions of Philip Larkin's All What Jazz, of his review of St Louis Blues as recorded by Louis Armstrong and Luis Russell's Orchestra.

In the first hardback edition of this collection of jazz criticism, as pictured above, Larkin called it "the hottest record ever made" and claimed  that by a certain chorus you could actually feel the walls move.

In these days, when archive recordings are often compromised (don't get me started), it's harder to put that to the test but I certainly seem to remember experiencing such a sensation, or something like it, when I first heard St Louis Blues on the little record player I once owned. Listening to it now, however, the arrangement sounds too basic, too unadventurous - and maybe at some point Larkin felt the same and recanted. Or maybe someone in the chain messed up, who knows?

The other side, Dallas Blues, continues to excite, and there's a fair bit of bassist Pops Foster in there too, who must take most of the responsibility for any perceived wall-wobble in either performance. But Panama, recorded by the Russell Orchestra without Armstrong, is even better than Dallas Blues. In fact - and I'm talking cold, hard scientific fact, be certain of that - it is the Best Jazz Record Ever.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Spector trial film

It may sound like a premature April Fool, but according to Rolling Stone magazine Al Pacino is to costar with Helen Mirren in an HBO (ie TV) film on March 24th about Phil Spector's trial, written by David Mamet, and here is the trailer to prove it:

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

You Gave Me the WRONG Answer

Today, on a certain social networking site, I was informed that Paul McCartney has set up a new Q&A feature on his website entitled You Gave Me the Answer, named after the Honey Pie-style pastiche which appears on the Venus and Mars album. This prompted me to listen more closely than heretofore to the lyrics of said song, and it is not too much to say that the experience stunned me. Below is my analysis.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Such have I dreamed

Granted, the internet is full of a number of things, but here's something I really didn't expect to find. Someone has sampled the opening chords of one of my favourite (but little known) doo wop records, Chimes by the Pelicans. Not saying that I particularly like the result but it is - interesting.

Friday, 1 February 2013

The More the Mercerer

A quick note about the latest Bazza programme, this time about lyricist Johnny Mercer. No, Baz didn't play the Astaire version of One For My Baby, but there was a high proportion of archive recordings featured this time; he even said at one point that he preferred the older recordings, liked to imagine Mercer hearing his songs on record for the first time.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Tiger, Tiger or Let the newt see the steam train

Ah, I know what I did now. Tried for too much in the same day. Like Icarus. Or Bruce's Big Night Out.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Unplugged ... and Unequivocal

Found this version of Macca's Unplugged show on youtube recently - suspect it won't be up for too long so don't blame me if it's already disappeared by the time you click on the embedded link below.

More songs (and repeats) than the CD or the original televised MTV programme, and while there is nothing spectacular in the material which appears here for the first time the whole is very enjoyable. The performance comes from 1991, so is already more than twenty years old, and what I mostly remember from the CD is a reworked And I Love Her (47.12) slowed down and effective in a different way, and a beautiful instrumental performance of Junk (1.15.02) which is better than the studio original.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Brighten the Corner ...

Had a small but pleasing moment today which I want to share.

After I had lunch at the local shopping centre (ooh, classy) in the area of North London where I work I had a few minutes before I had to return to business. "What's it to be?" I thought to myself. "A mooch in HMV?"  But as I a) couldn't remember whether it was still open, and b) couldn't imagine finding much of interest there anyway, I went instead into the shop known as Tiger, really just to waste some time.

If you don't know about this chain, Tiger is full of lots of little things which contain the promise of creativity, though in my case it's rarely followed through, as though on some level I've tricked myself into believing the act of acquisition is enough in itself: sad to report my flat is full of such empty promises.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

They Write the Songs: Dietz and Schwartz

 Not too much to say about the latest episode of Barry Manilow's They Write the Songs (available on BBC iplayer here until Thursday) except that I enjoyed it. Felt that the langurous, melismatic version Something to Remember You By (Etta Jones this time, not James) did a disservice to the song - it's a plea, not a seduction - but then I have Turner Layton's more modest version firmly lodged in my head (not available on youtube or Sp*tify, so you will have to search it out for yourself).

But the main thing is that after several episodes I'm more keenly aware of, and warming to, Barry's particular skills: he's chatting casually about something he loves, so you're not going to get the precision or detail of a Russell Davies or Robert Cushman, but that's the wrong thing to be looking for. As easy, friendly introductions to these songwriters these are well done - provided you accept Barry's personality.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

When Barry bigged up Harry

Spare those keyboards, embittered Manilovians contemplating a pre-emptive strike, for I am happy to report that the most recent episode of Barry Manilow's BBC Radio 2 series They Write the Songs, available on iplayer until Thursday, is a wall-to-wall good 'un, and warmly recommended. This week's subject is Harry Warren, whose songs  - particularly those penned with lyricist Al Dubin - featured frequently in Benny Green's Sunday radio show.

But despite a remarkable output over several decades it's fair to say Warren's name is not generally known, for all the enduring popularity of his songs. He is, as Barry puts it, "the most non-famous songwriter I know" - a form of words which seems precisely right on this occasion, suggesting a difference of kind, not degree.