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


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.  


I have now listened to The Shooting of Sam Cooke. It wasn't bad, though it didn't really add a great deal to the little that is already known, and what came across most strongly, from members of Cooke's family and others, was that the death should not have been so sordid and grubby: it doesn't fit with that sweetest of voices and Cooke's iconic status.

There are two biographies out there, and the second one, by Peter Guralnick, suggests Cooke compartmentalised his life very capably, so the banality of his death doesn't seem all that unlikely to me. And the suggestion in the programme that Bobby Womack (Cooke's protege) exploited his death needs to be set against Womack's allegations in Peter Guralnick's book that while Cooke encouraged him he was also pinching his ideas.

Other posts on this blog about Sam Cooke:

The Elusive Man and His Accessible Music

Discusses Peter Guralnick's biography Dream Boogie, the CD box set of Specialty Recordings and A City Called Glory, the BBC radio play by Neil McKay.

Waxing/waning crescent moon (Sam Cooke in the Soul Stirrers) 
Discussion of the Specialty gospel sides with audio clips.

Ben E King at Jazz Cafe and repost of Stand By Me
A comprehensive account of the origins of Ben E King's Stand By Me, including a discussion of Cooke's Stand By Me Father, Tindley's gospel original, and A Change Is Gonna Come.

Don't Stand So Close By Me
A Junior Parker song closely modelled on Cooke's Stand By Me Father plus other examples of musical "borrowing."

Whatever happened to ... the Sam Cooke biopic?
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais talk about their rejected film treatment.

The Lives of Sam
Update on biopics and stage plays 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.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Return of radio show about the Flamingos (Matt the Cat's Juke in the Back)

This is another post which involves recycling, prompted by seeing that Matt the Cat's radio show on the Flamingos is currently available once more on the Rock-it Radio website and can be downloaded for free while it's there. 

It's the first of three programmes, and Matt promises all the Decca recordings in a later episode. Go to the Rock-it Radio Archives Page here, and scroll down to show #5021 to download or stream. Shows are only online for a few weeks before they are displaced, so it may have gone or a later episode may be up, depending on when you read this. But there are always good things to listen to on the Rock-it website anyway, and you can support them by buying vintage radio broadcasts here.

If you have explored further than the most recent posts in this blog, you will know that it was originally set up to archive posts from a doo wop messageboard, and that a favourite subject of those messages was the Flamingos' recording of Golden Teardrops. This was recorded in 1953 for the small Chicago label Chance, before the group went to Parrot Records then found success at Chess Records.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Hermitage Revealed (new documentary by Margy Kinmonth)

 I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend the documentary Hermitage Revealed, which had its UK premiere at the Curzon Soho last night and is showing today (Tuesday 9th September) at Curzon Ripon and Curzon Victoria at 6.30.

It was, director Margy Kinmonth said in a brief Q&A afterwards, made primarily for cinema, and although it will eventually be shown on the Beeb I urge you to catch it on the big screen if you can. We seem to float at will through the Hermitage's many spaces and are even taken backstage to see the Museum director's desk, piled high with papers and books. There is the motif of a little boy walking around the gallery who is at once the current director, Mikhail Piotrovsky - son of a previous director and brought up in the building - and us, the popeyed audience, as we look around at the riches on offer.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Pentel Man or Blu-Tack Thinking

There is no pleasure sweeter than the awareness that one is in possession of a perfectly valid reason to recycle old blog posts. Especially when what I wrote didn't really fit in with the rest of the post and I can now make a whole new post out of it without too much extra effort. Sort of a victimless crime. A while ago, I wrote:
The promise of new stationery rarely delivers, in my experience, but continuing to buy it is an act of hope. Which reminds me of a Clive James interview with Jonathan Miller and Robbie Coltrane, viewable here, in which the good doctor goes off on a two minute riff about things and Robbie Coltrane eagerly joins in. What isn't mentioned, and may be relevant, is Coltrane's background as an art student: there is a shop in the basement of Glasgow Art School, and another - at least there was - a few blocks away. I still remember the joy, aged about fourteen, of my first Rapidograph: such perfect things I'd be drawing from then on ...
The recent publication of a book by James Ward entitled Adventures in Stationery sparked off further thoughts - this time about writing, rather than drawing, implements, in particular those orange Pentel pens with a fine tip which I used to use for essay writing when I was at university.

Afterwards they seemed to disappear, only to surface on those I Heart the 80s type programmes. At least, I think they did. (Beat.) Yes, yes, I'm pretty sure I can remember Johnny Vegas saying in a hoarse voice: "If you didn't have a Pentel Pen you were NOBODY." Unless that was spacehoppers and Phil Kay, or rather Peter. Anyway, in the places I normally search for stationery I certainly have no memory of seeing such pens in recent years.

But today I had a quick look online, and guess what? Yep: you can still buy them in large, cheap packs just about everywhere, it seems. You lied to me, Vegas. Or possibly one of those pesky Kay twins. So I'm going to. Buy them in large, cheap packs online, that is. And if traces of an ancient creative flame don't immediately set my veins atingle thereafter it can only mean the manufacturers have switched to a different ink or something.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Living Legends - the Clark Brothers (event at the V&A, 22nd August)

Went to the V&A on Friday evening to see Steve Clark of dancing duo the Clark Brothers talk about his career in a presentation entitled Living Legends - the Clark Brothers.

I had only become aware of him a few weeks earlier when I was invited by Freddie Davies (autobiography available here, if you're new to this blog) to partake in the "bait" which is customary after a Water Rats meeting. Various Rats, including Chas McDevitt, entertained us after the meal but once that was formally over a slim and elderly man went over to the piano stool lately vacated by Rick Wakeman and proceeded to play a few tunes which had a big impact on me, partly because his playing reminded me of Fats Waller's approach. I talked to him afterwards and was astonished to learn that he'd actually worked with Waller and just about every other jazz great. This was the publicity material for the V&A evening:

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Sketchiform - review of Free Fringe music-based revue

Bit of an unexpected show, this. Terrible title: Sketchiform, or possibly Sketchyform or even Sketch-y-form, like there's some kind of Welsh vibe going on, but never mind all that: this is, quite simply, the funniest revue I have seen in ages.

One year in the mid eighties I decided I would only see revues at the fringe. The warped logic was that happiness could not but be amplified further with each show. Alas, nohow and contrariwise. With the exception of a show called Writers Inc there were diminishing returns. I remember telling my then drama tutor, who I bumped into at the Fest, of my plan: he looked sceptical but sadly didn't forcibly stop me. Anyway, my money and my time I wasted.

Which is why Sketchiform (I'll stick with that spelling) at the Free Fringe has been such an unexpected delight. More difficult to describe than to experience - and the element of surprise is a big factor - but here are some of the items, though I don't know how they will come across in cold print (or on a lukewarm screen).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

And I Ran With the Gang: review of Edinburgh Fringe play about Alan Longmuir of the Bay City Rollers

A few days ago I saw And I Ran With the Gang, a play about, and starring, Alan Longmuir of the Bay City Rollers. As plays go, it's hardly the most ambitious piece in the world, but then it wasn't really written for me. It is, as the narrator (an actor playing a Rollers-era version of Alan) says, a celebration, and the darker side of things isn't really explored. It was undoubtedly a hit with the former Rollers fans who came on the afternoon I was there. It was written by Liam Rudden, who I understand is working on Alan Longmuir's autobiography.

The production, which lasts about seventy minutes, is in three sections: first of all three actors tell the story of how the group came into being, and there's no doubt it's a fascinating tale. It comes over as a kind of fairytale, such is the speed with which we skip to their colossal international success. This opening third is done quite effectively, with a bit of comedy (the actor playing Les McKeown forever appearing too early in the narrative) which enlivens the brisk canter through the key events in the Rollers' saga. I am not deeply read in Rollers lore so can't say whether this version is one which would be agreed upon in every aspect by all the other group members, though I have read that the real Les is coming to see the show on the day I am writing this, which seems to indicate an endorsement. There's a bit of music at the start but this first section isn't punctuated by full songs.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Funny Bones the blog of the book ...

Doo wop fans might be relieved to know that a blog has now been created for the book Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy, so consider that destination, here, your one-stop (pet) shop for all things psittacine.

Radio interviews etc are all noted there, and there are a couple of recent ones. Kevin Cann (an expert on early Bowie, so maybe he'd like my Gnome Thoughts series) talks to Freddie on Channel Radio today, and Billy Butler of BBC Merseyside has already had an interview, listenable on ... but why not check out the other blog for details?

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Freddie Parrotface Davies book signing at Blackpool Waterstones Saturday 2nd August 1.00-3.00pm

Freddie Davies and Blackpool go way back - about sixty years, in fact - so he's delighted to be having a book signing at Waterstones Blackpool this Saturday, August 2nd, between 1-3pm.

Freddie's long-awaited autobiography Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy, cowritten with Anthony Teague, was published on July 31st - fifty years after his TV debut on Opportunity Knocks.

Freddie was brought up in Salford but Blackpool helped give him the taste for performing. As a teenager he would travel there for the day to see the shows, waiting outside the stage door for a glimpse of a star and the chance of an autograph, enjoying comedians such as Bill Waddington (later Percy in Coronation Street) and Joe Church, and singer David Whitfield.

Freddie was entertainment manager at the Butlins Metropole Hotel in Blackpool in the early sixties, a time he remembers fondly. "In those days Blackpool was a great place to go if you wanted to have a look at most of the premier acts of the age. On a good day, there was nowhere nicer: a walk along the prom then a star-studded show in the evening. Blackpool always enjoyed a longer season than most with the famous Illuminations extending it. And the stars shone bright in 1962 with Doddy at the Opera House, Tommy Cooper and Nina and Frederik at the Queens; all the piers had big stars at the top of the bill. It was quite a season for us as well, as they launched Smirnoff vodka from the Metropole!"

In 1963 Freddie made the big decision to leave the security of Butlins in order try his luck as a full time comic. Blackpool was the obvious choice for a base: "In the sixties there were still about ten major summer shows in Blackpool plus big nightclubs and pubs, all needing acts."

Samuel Tweet spluttered his first in a Manchester club, but the homburg hat which started it all was bought in a nearly new shop in South Shore for two and sixpence (12½p). "It was for an impersonation of Arthur Lowe, who was in Coronation Street at the time, but when someone shouted out for a joke about a budgie I put it on and the voice somehow just came out. A few months later I got the call from Opportunity Knocks and that was it - the next twenty years just flew by."

Freddie appeared in many summer shows in Blackpool over the years, and there is still footage of his 1966 appearance at the ABC Theatre, introduced by Tony Hancock: "I was playing on the same stage I was working on every night," recalls Freddie, "so it was easy - a home crowd, you might say. I remember going onstage around that time, and the audience was really going 'Wow!' Such wonderful memories."

Freddie lived in Blackpool until the early seventies and returned to produce pantos there in the early eighties. Later the Disney film Funny Bones was shot there in 1994, featuring Freddie and George Carl as double act the Parker Brothers, along with Jerry Lewis and Lee Evans. "It really captured the spirit of Blackpool as it used to be and is now seen as a cult classic," Freddie says.

Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy by Freddie Davies with Anthony Teague is published by Scratching Shed. There is a 19.99 limited edition hardback and a 14.99 paperback edition. If you can't make it to Waterstones you can order a copy on the Scratching Shed website here.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

What a Crazy World DVD review

I have just added the following review of the Network DVD release of What a Crazy World to a well-known shopping website. It rehashes some info from posts on this blog, so it's nothing regular readers won't already know, but I was keen to get something up quickly, and it might work here as an introduction to the posts about Alan Klein (click here) if you haven't read them.  

Readers directed to this blog by Network's newsletter may be interested to know that I have cowritten Funny Bones, the autobiography of veteran comedian Freddie "Parrotface" Davies, who was at Butlins Skegness around the same time as Alan Klein.

The stage version of What a Crazy World came about in 1962 when Gerry Raffles heard Joe Brown sing Alan Klein's song of that name on TV and commissioned him to write a musical for Theatre Workshop. Klein had tired of singing exclusively American songs during a stint at Butlins and wrote a song in the style of George Formby which didn't try to emulate the subject matter of American songs.

The resulting musical was a popular success despite some adverse critical reaction. Robert Stigwood offered to put it on in the West End with Mike Sarne in the lead but Klein opted for Michael Carreras' offer to make a film of it because "a film's gonna be there forever." And thank goodness he did, because now, more than fifty years on, we can still enjoy it on this Network DVD.

Existing fans of the film can be reassured that the restoration is fine. It's a joy to see such sharpness and clarity compared to the ropey off-air copy I have had to make do with until now. True, when the film begins, and at a few other points like a conversation between Joe Brown and Harry H Corbett, you hear a little faint scratchiness, but that's far preferable to overprocessing of sound. So to anyone who has been hesitating, worry no more - it's worth getting. And the film deserves a whole new generation of fans.

Monday, 7 July 2014

What a Crazy World DVD ... yes, it's good!

This is not a review of the film but simply a note to reassure anyone with doubts that the Network DVD release of What a Crazy World is indeed a good 'un. I have watched about half an hour so far, skipping ahead to see some of my favourite sequences (like Independence, filmed just off Denmark Street) and the picture quality compared to the ropey ebay copy I've had to tolerate up till now is remarkable: it's a joy to see such sharpness and clarity.

When the film begins and at some other points like a conversation between Joe Brown and his old man, Harry H Corbett, you can hear a little scratchiness, but that's far preferable to overprocessing. So to anyone who has been hesitating, worry no more - it's worth getting.

There is also something which Rich Podolsky, author of a recent book on Don Kirshner, would call ironic about the fact that a restored A Hard Day's Night has also recently been issued. I watched what I presume is the new version on TV last night. A Hard Day's Night was the film whose release suddenly made What a Crazy World look like a period piece, but here's hoping that now both films can be seen and appreciated without any need for comparison.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Ex nihilo or ex-Parrotface? a note on the tangled origins of Monty Python's Parrot sketch

The origins of Monty Python's Parrot Sketch have been well documented, but on the eve of the team's imminent reunion I think they could stand a little more examination. And as the cowriter of Freddie Davies' autobiography Funny Bones, to be published by Scratching Shed on July 31st, I may be able to add a further note.
The essence of the joke has been traced back to Ancient Greece but let's begin a little later, with Michael Palin's supremely evasive car salesman (above) in a sketch in the one-off pre-Python show How to Irritate People; if you are unfamiliar with it you can see it here.

As is well known to aficionados, that situation was reworked for a Python sketch with the garage replaced by a pet shop and, at Graham Chapman's suggestion, a parrot replaced the car as the faulty object. (At one point a toaster had also been mooted, which suggests it took a while for the shop's identity to settle.)

 You will find occasional references online to the idea being stolen from Freddie "Parrotface" Davies. That would be getting rather silly, as the late Colonel Chapman might have put it. Nevertheless, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Freddie's standup act may have made a small contribution towards this enduring sketch.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Gerry Goffin Pt 2

 (headline on Sky News website)

Two points as a follow-up to the previous post. I have found suggestions online that the singer of the demo of Up on the Roof is Tony Orlando. Think I assumed it was Goffin himself, without knowing or bothering to investigate whether he had any kind of voice: yes, that's the kind of attention to detail which this blog offers as standard. If it is Orlando, then that would certainly make sense: if you want your song to be recorded by Ben E King, then get someone who can make a demo in his style.

Secondly, thanks to the magic of the internet (or wundaweb, as we Bernard Cribbins fans cry it) I find myself transported back to that gig at the Jazz Cafe in Camden - or rather twenty fours earlier to the previous night's performance, but close enough - and Ben E King does sing Up on the Roof. The arrangement borrows from a later recording by James Taylor or Carole King, possibly both, and as I've remarked earlier his voice isn't what it was, but it's still worth hearing.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Gerry Goffin and The Man with the Golden Ear

The recent death of Gerry Goffin has been widely reported, and the importance of his contribution to popular music appropriately acknowledged in the British newspaper obituaries and articles I have looked through. You will find plenty of detailed obits online, and this post is not intended to compete with these, only to add a few personal notes.

One is very personal indeed: the memory of an evening in 2003, walking home from work, when the verse from It Might As Well Rain Until September popped into my head for some reason, and I was struck afresh by its simplicity and perfection: it's not particularly clever or witty but it sets up the song as well as any equivalent introduction crafted in pre-rock'n'roll days by the sort of writers who used to throng the Brill Building.

I immediately thought of the person I could share that thought with, the friend who would undoubtedly get it, and understand why it was important. Then I remembered that from now on it was no longer possible to do that.

Which is probably why those words of Gerry Goffin's had come to me in the first place. They said everything without a word wasted.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

It approaches is nigh.

Another videocap from the clip of What a Crazy World in the previous post, out in a month's time.  From left to right, Marty Wilde, David Nott, Alan Klein and Barry Bethel (I think).

Go to the Reel Streets website, here, for six pages of comparing locations as they were at the time of filming with today.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

What a Crazy World DVD release delayed?

It looks as though the Network DVD of What a Crazy World has been delayed - the popular online shopping site where I ordered it now says it won't be delivered until July 7th, and that's the date now given on Network's own site.

But the good news is that Network have recently put up a clip on youtube which suggests that the transfer will, indeed, be as good as hoped: the above is a screengrab from that clip which is far sharper, and more subtle tonally, than the ropey off-air version I bought from a well-known auction website.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Breakfasted he is, and yet he's breakfastless

After the demise of my favourite record shop Cheapo a few years back (see here), another blow: I learnt this morning that the cafe in my local supermarket is to close at the end of this month. As I told the assistant, now I'll have to start making my own breakfast.

Alright, in some ways this will be no bad thing - and I have made my own breakfast in the past, I hasten to add. (Yes, really.) But the cafe was more than just a place to eat a meal prepared by other hands. It was a kind of refuge, providing an uncluttered table top when my own desk was messy (yes, yes, maybe I ought to address that too sometime), and over the last three years I have written or planned a substantial amount of my forthcoming book there.

Why? Well, unlike other local cafes - whose competition has, I'm told, finally proven too much to bear - once you sat down with the contents of your tray you were left alone: no passive-aggressive enquiries about whether you were finished; no whisking away of cups and plates, necessitating a mumbled "thank you" or an awkward and guilty silence - either way, something which you had to deal with, drawing you back to the workaday world.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

It was a Madd, Madd, Madd, Madd, Madd world ... but not anymore.

I happened to notice that Madd, the mango dessert  emporium which took over the former home of Cheapo Cheapo Records in Rupert Street, Soho, is no more. A blog post says:

After 3 sweet years of dessert loving, we have bid our final farewell to our beloved Rupert Street location. The MADD team would like to send a very big thank you to every customer, staff and Soho “character” that has walked through our fluorescent yellow doors and joined in the experience. Leaving your first home is never easy but we are excited about our move and will never forget the memories here.
Thank you letting us be a part of your Soho experience and we look forward to seeing you very soon at our next grand launch.
"Never forget the memories"? Oh well, I suppose they're entitled to their own mango-themed brand of nostalgia. I would like to know the full story but I suppose today's economic climate is explanation enough. No one wants to go out and buy CDs, and they obviously aren't all that keen on mango desserts which were not, from my occasional forays, all that cheap.

Wonder what will take its place? Could there be scope for a Daniel Kitson-type show about all those businesses which alight there over the next few years, filled with an optimism which gradually leaks away ... I don't know how long Phil reigned there but I would like to think that he would have carried on had his health permitted. An article about Roy Orbison's years in the commercial wilderness (but still singing his heart out at county fairs or whatever gigs he could get) likened him to a mighty oak tree, staying the same, unmoveable, while all around him changed.

Friday, 4 April 2014

"Eat your heart out, Temptations!"

Doo wop being on my mind in the last few posts, perhaps now is a good time to remind you of the documentary Life Could Be a Dream, which I have reviewed here. It has been uploaded to yout*be, though who knows how long it will be there, so it's worth having a look. Thanks to the magic of the internet I can even take you to the precise place I mentioned in the review, namely the sequence at the end when lots of singers, including one of the Teenagers and Earl "Speedo" Carroll, have a bash at a couple of Smokey Robinson songs. It's ragged but will bring a smile to your face if you are anything like me.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

On the Beat doo wop special featuring interview with Little Anthony available on BBC iplayer until 29th March

I have now listened to the On the Beat doo wop special and it can be thoroughly recommended. I think it's possible for US readers to access it too, so click here, wherever you are, if you want to hear an engrossing interview punctuated by lots of doo wop. The programme, which is on BBC Radio Merseyside and presented by Spencer Leigh, lasts two hours. I don't have the time to give a blow by blow account but will add a few thoughts here.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

On the Beat Doo Wop Special on BBC iplayer soon

This is to alert readers that there will  be an On the Beat doo wop special with Little Anthony and the Imperials available on BBC iplayer shortly for one week - I only caught the very end of the progamme live so can't review it yet. Anthony Gourdine was part of the David Gest soul package in Liverpool recently but only got to sing two songs - though he is still in good voice, according to Spencer Leigh, who relayed the happy information that there might be a bit of a Little Anthony renaissance on the cards: he has a track on an album with Paul McCartney, there will be an album of him singing with other big names, and he has an autobiography coming out soon.

I will be interested, in particular, to read about his relationship with Richard Barrett, a name who ought to be more widely known to the general public.I have read in an excellent series of articles about Barrett that Anthony Gourdine resented, at the time, Barrett's disciplinarian and seemingly overprotective ways but now he understands what it was all about. You can find a series of articles about Barrett on the Classic Urban Harmony website here; scroll down and you will links on the left. Part 4 focuses on Little Anthony and the Imperials.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Now you can listen to some of those Decca sides ...

Seven of the nine Decca sides on Jasmine's Time Was Flamingos compilation can be found on yout*be. Sound is reasonably good except in the case of Jerri-Lee (a girl rather than the pumpin' piano man), which is a pity as the vaguely Spanish or South American backing is rather nice. Anyway, here, to save you effort, are those available recordings and handy notes. Think I'll stop now.

Helpless (everything but the kitchen sink: bells, white-sounding chorus and ending OTT in a bad way)
Where Mary Go (not unpleasant: sounds vaguely Jamaican-y in a Harry Belafonte way)
The Rock and Roll March (this is very corny, like something even  the Ravens would have turned up their noses at - possibly it was meant for them as there is a bass lead)
Ever Since I Met Lucy (a pop confection I can take or leave which doesn't seem to fit the group)

Kiss-A-Me (almost very good but production lets down)
Jerri-Lee (pleasant, Spanish-tinged pop)
Hey Now! (bit like Chance recordings but sounds a bit more regimented, formulaic - wonder if hearing higher quality recording would make a difference?)

Now click below if you can't see the clips.

The Flamingos 1953-1962

Below are my reviews of the two Flamingos compilations as posted on a well-known shopping website. They don't really contain anything which hasn't already been said on this blog, but they may be more concisely expressed.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

New Flamingos compilation includes Decca sides

Wow! At last there is a Flamingos compilation which includes the sides they recorded for Decca.

It's issued by public domain label Jasmine, responsible for the earlier Dream of a Lifetime 2CD set, and the perfect complement to it in terms of track selection as it collects the End label recordings they missed out before - there was just a selection - so if you have both sets I presume that that will cover everything commercially issued by this superlative group up until the end of 1962.

Rather cannily, that earlier collection ended with I Only Have Eyes For You on the End label, thus ensnaring the casual purchaser, but at the expense of chronology as their Decca sides came in between Chess and End.They only included Ladder of Love from Decca.

There is an earlier post about the Dream of a Lifetime collection here. But to cut a long story short, it was the first compilation to assemble their Chance, Parrot, Chess and a selection of their End recordings in one place and was fairly cheap, as befits a public domain issue.

To my ears, however, sound quality was okay rather than great. If you listen to the Flamingos CD issued as part of the Chess 50th anniversary celebrations, or the Chance recordings issued alongside those of the Flamingos in 1993 (by what seems to be Vee Jay itself) then you can hear just how clear and full those original recordings really are. Jasmine, by contrast, don't seem to want to get too trebly and exposing of their (presumably vinyl) sources.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Perfect by name ...

A new clip show entitled The Perfect Morecambe and Wise is currently being broadcast on Saturday nights. Yes, there have been quite a few programmes about the pair recently but - based on the first two episodes - this particular assembly has the advantage that some of the sketches aren't overfamiliar through exposure on documentaries and other clip shows and their earlier ATV work is also represented.

I'm drawn to the little dance they do halfway through a Syd Lawrence number. Watching it you think: "Ah, maybe we're seeing some of the musical interludes to give a flavour of the original context," but then on they trot. If you are in the UK and reading this within five days of its being posted then go to BBC iplayer here, and start watching about 3.20 in.

Is it a classic clip? I dunno. But you can see the contrast between the two men: Ernie's transparent delight in the moves and Eric maintaining a kind of solemnity. The overall shape is pleasing: they are decorous, city-suited, and there is slow build to their climactic jitterbugging, the whole rounded off by a simple but smile-inducing bit of business.

But in the end there's not much point in comparing it to other, more celebrated routines. It's them. It's like that feeling I remember when once watching Oliver Hardy (sans Stan) in a less than great film called Zenobia listening to his daughter sing. Whatever these men do I want to watch it. And maybe it's also about seeing Ernie giving the lie to the idea that Eric Morecambe was really a single act. Anyway, if you can watch it, do so. Think I'll try it one more once ...

More Morecambe and Wise stuff here, here and halfway down here.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Freddie Davies autobiography (Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy) to be published July 31st

As I have a vested interest in promoting this I can't comment on its inherent quality but this is to let readers know that Freddie Davies' long-awaited autobiography Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy will be published on July 31st.

An apt date, as it's the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Freddie's debut on Opportunity Knocks on August 1st 1964 when he told the budgie joke, already honed in the clubs, which brought him and his antic alter ego Samuel Tweet overnight fame. Read more about the book on the Scratching Shed Publishing website here. It will be available as a paperback and a limited edition hardback which you can pre-order via the website.

If you have read my earlier post on Mr Davies, here, you will know that the book has been in the planning stages for quite some time. Has it been worth the wait? Well, Stafford Hildred, writer of a great many biographies and autobiographies, calls it "The fascinating autobiography of the ultimate showbiz survivor." And Alwyn Turner, who has a very interesting page about comedians' biographies and memoirs here, describes it as "a good 'un." You can read about Alwyn's own books, including a biography of Terry Nation, on his website here.

And in case you were wondering - yes, Freddie is still performing. He can be seen at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, on Wednesday May 28th at 2.30pm and 7pm as part of a Music Hall bill - details here. Samuel Tweet lives - and it looks like 2014 could be the Year of the Parrot.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Sedaka's Backstory or Neil Sedaka: King of Song (BBC 4 documentary available on iplayer)

[19/3/17: this programme was recently repeated on BBC 4 and is once again available on iplayer until 17th April 2017- the link below has been updated]

I almost didn't watch the recent documentary about Neil Sedaka, thinking it was a repeat of something which had been on BBC 4 a couple of years ago.

Nohow and contrariwise. Well, alright, not too contrariwise, as this programme, like its predecessor, was firmly in Mr Sedaka's corner: "more tribute than assessment" as the Daily Telegraph said here. I wiped the earlier show from my hard drive so can't make a detailed comparison but it's certainly my impression that Neil Sedaka: King of Song is several notches above the previous effort.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

What a Crazy World to be released on DVD

Great news!What a Crazy World, the film version of Alan Klein's Stratford East musical, is finally going to get a legitimate release on DVD ... Alright, it's in June, so you'll have to hang on for a bit, but it's still worth marking.

The company is Network, which is also good news: they have recently issued Joe Brown's later film Three Hats For Lisa in an excellent print. And according to a well-known shopping website What a Crazy World will be "a brand-new transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio."

Not a great cover - they have taken it from a publicity picture of the actors not in character - but I suppose it indicates their target audience: not film buffs but fans of the individual stars. Nevertheless this is a great film, not simply a pop star vehicle, and if it reaches as many people as possible that is a Good Thing. I have written about it, and the work of Alan Klein, at length in this blog already. Go to this page for a guide to earlier posts.

This release may also be an incentive for me to update my posts about Alan Klein. I have gone through all the newspaper reviews of the shows he has been involved with over the years, mostly at Stratford East, so watch this blog.

I do hope Alan Klein is going to make some money from the release of this DVD and that it will get the film more of the recognition it thoroughly deserves. In an interview with Spencer Leigh (which can be found in one of the posts in the guide above) he talks about how the release of A Hard Day's Night a few months later made his film suddenly seem dated.
 It was changing fast from when I started writing the stage show in 1962. The Beatles had a big impact, they swamped the business. By the time the film came out, it was probably starting to age already. It was a document of its time, even though it's dated. All I was doing was saying what people felt.
 But the verve of What a Crazy World still shines through - and not having to rely on a ropey off-air copy will make it even better.