Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

December 8, 2010

Imagine…… it was 30 years ago today that John Lennon was gunned down, outside the Dakota building in the Manhattan district of New York, by  deranged ‘fan’ Mark Chapman.  

As a 27-year-old teacher at Bosworth Wood School in Chelmsley Wood – a large housing development adjacent to the Birmingham bound M6 – I vividly  remember climbing into my Ford Cortina on the morning of December 8th 1980, switching on the radio and being stunned by the breaking news of Lennon’s murder.

For others it might be Buddy Holly or Elvis but for me and millions more of my generation that really was ‘the day the music died!’    

I had grown up with John Lennon and the Beatles, buying my first pieces of vinyl in 1963 as ten-year old at Spring Street Junior School, and had watched and listened as the ‘mop heads’ from Liverpool  had grown and developed into the most influential quartet in popular music history.

John Lennon, iconic singer/songwriter, poet, artist and political activist, will be remembered by many today. If he were still with us he would be 70 years old and, I dare say, as revolutionary and opinionated as ever.       

It’s interesting to imagine what a septuagenarian Lennon, peering through his trade mark spectacles, might have made of some of this week’s news stories.  

I’m pretty sure I know where he would have stood on the Julian Asssange Wikileaks affair, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, and what his views might have been on the proposed increase in university fees,  but how about Susan Philipsz winning the 2010 Turner Prize for her ‘sound installation’ and then whatever would he have made of the X-Factor finalists?

‘Hip’Politicians & the Grange Hill Academy?
July 21, 2010

So just what is it with politicians and references to pop culture? They never seem able to get it quite right and invariably finish up with egg on their faces or worse!

The latest in a long line of cringe worthy moments, of this type, came from PM David Cameron earlier this week. On meeting Liverpool born TV producer and screenwriter Phil Redmond, creator of cult ‘80s children’s TV series Grange Hill, DC tried to up his street cred by coming out  as a huge fan and naming ‘Gripper’ Stebson as one of his role models in life!

It might have been a joke DC (it’s hard to tell, you’re not a natural when it comes to stand up comedy are you?) but admitting to hero worshipping a bully and a racist is not too clever is it?

I doubt ‘Gripper’ would have voted Tory, more likely BNP!

But Cameron is not alone when it comes to this particular type of banana skin.

Remember back in 1997, when newly elected PM Tony Blair was quick to tell us he had been in a band called Ugly Rumours, whilst at Oxford, and then went on to embrace Brit Pop by inviting Noel Gallagher to a Number 10 reception and that stage-managed, cheesy photo opportunity?  It certainly wasn’t one of his better moments! 

Not to be out done, Gordon Brown, whilst Chancellor, tried to shake off his dour image by showing off  an eclectic taste in popular TV, and music. He claimed he was a big fan of X-factor and that the Arctic Monkeys featured on his  iPod, along side Cold Play, U2, (and this is where he slipped up) James Blunt!  

He then showed just how un-hip he really was with his famous, “The Arctic Monkeys really wake you up in the morning,” quote. It just didn’t seem right some how!

And then there was Lord Prezza, back in his Deputy PM days, attending the BRIT Awards and getting a bucket of icy water thrown over him for his pains.

Danbert Nobacon, of Chumbawamba, justified his anarchic actions by saying,

 “If John Prescott has the nerve to turn up at events like the BRIT Awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy then he deserves all we can throw at him.”

Harking back to Grange Hill I wonder if, ‘born again Blairite’, Michael Gove would have considered the North London comprehensive school for academy status? It’s more likely they would have been in special measures I suppose, but then again it looks Gove is a Grange Hill old boy! (right: Gove, far right: Zammo)

‘Heroes’ and ‘Villains’
July 17, 2010

Definitions of a hero:

  1. A brave person
  2. A person noted for their courage or nobility of purpose especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life
  3. A person noted for special achievement in a particular field
  4. The main character in a drama or other literary work
  5. A celebrity

Definitions of a villain:

  1. A wicked or  evil person
  2. A mean, worthless character in a story or play
  3. A scoundrel
  4. An antagonist who has a negative effect on other people

The Facebook Fiasco!

I don’t agree with David Cameron’s political intervention, because you are never going to win in a situation like this. Firstly, you can’t control people’s opinions or take away their right to express them (not yet anyway!) and secondly, it only serves to draw attention to those misguided enough to have stated their support for Raoul Moat, as some kind of folk hero.      

Moat may have gained celebrity, in some quarters, as  an anti-hero but in actual fact he was a self pittying, wicked and evil villain.

He may also have been a victim whose cries for help went unheeded by the support services. That’s certainly the image being generated by edited extracts from his tapes which have been aired by the media. The verdict is still out on that one.

If there are heroes to come out of this whole sorry saga try PC Rathband who, in the line of public duty, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, was shot in the face and has lost his sight. And what about Moat’s children, who he supposedly loved so much? They have not only lost a father but will have to grow up with the legacy of his murderous exploits.    

Graduate Tax

I’m rather undecided about Vince Cable’s graduate tax but it’s certainly worth exploring further. On the face of it, it seems not a bad idea for students but less good for certain universities. Like everything the devil will be in the detail.

However I agree totally with his views on reducing some university courses to two years, flexible part-time modular degrees and raising the status of vocational training. University is not right for everyone and the previous government were misguided in implying it should be an aspiration for at least 50% of all school leavers.

Of course, modular degrees through distance learning are nothing new. I earned a degree that way back in the late 1970s through, what in my opinion is one of the greatest legacies of any Labour government, the Open University.  

Back to Vince Cable, it was reassuring to hear that voice of calm reason once again. His talents are clearly being wasted and I’m sure he would have made a far more considered and compassionate chancellor than Cameron’s buddy, Osborne. However I do concede there would be logistical difficulties having a PM and chancellor from different parties.       

In pantomime terms, which are probably those best suited to the coalition government at the moment, Vince cuts a lonely heroic figure surrounded by celebrity seeking villains!

The Famous Five

I admit to being rather ambivalent about the over hyped and much publicised Take That reunion but, back in the mid ’90s, as  a father of twelve and thirteen year old girls I remember well the female hysteria that accompanied Robbie’s dramatic exit and the subsequent break up of the boy band.

Ostensibly this was a consequence of an apparent disagreement over how the band should develop and the type of music they should be producing but quickly escalated into a battle of giant egos. Robbie and Garry were the main antagonists, and portrayed as the villains of the piece.    

Robbie, a celebrity hero to many in his solo career, has enjoyed his time in the sun including an 80 million pound recording contract with EMI, and whilst hardly on the bread line, his current standing and sales have somewhat slipped. And of course he never really conquered America did he?

Meanwhile, since 2006 the reformed Take That quartet has enjoyed meteoric success, sales are soaring, and their record-breaking The Circus Live has taken the USA by storm. Their heroic celebrity status of yesteryear has well and truly been re-established.  

Old cynics, like me, will say Robbie has got much more to gain than the rest of the boys by hitching his star to the Take That wagon.

The new album and the subsequent tour will undoubtedly be the music industry stories of the year and I am pleased for their legion of loyal fans, mostly in their late 20’s and 30 some things now I guess!

Their type of music never did and still doesn’t do anything for me other than by association with my kids growing up.        

I hope those five boys from yesteryear have matured into men who genuinely have buried their differences and that there is more to this reunion than pound signs!

Once the album is out, I have my doubts they will make it through the tour. Rumour has it Robbie suffers stage fright! Could that be his get out of jail card if he needs it?

I am the egg man…..I am the walrus goo goo g’joob!
July 10, 2010

I had been tempted to use: “I am the egg man…..” to head yesterday’s ‘Prezza’ posting but saved it for today: the 3rd annual Beatles Day.

This year it’s going global with cities around the world joining Liverpool in celebrating the legacy of the Beatles. Simultaneous events will be taking place in Hamburg, New York, Shanghai, Sydney and Moscow.    

The 10th July was chosen as it was the date of the group’s triumphant return to Liverpool from the States and the premiere of their Hard Day’s Night film in 1964. The Liverpool hotel of the same name will be staging a balcony concert with tribute band the Backbeat Beatles re-enacting the famous rooftop concert at the Abbey Road studios in 1969.  

All proceeds from today’s events go to the Beatles Day Foundation. Last year 20,000 mop-tops were worn and cheques amounting to £45,000 presented to the Imagine Appeal for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and Liverpool Unites, by charity patron Ricky Tomlinson aka Jim Royle.

I count myself fortunate to have been a child of the 50’s and a teen of the 60’s, a period of huge social and cultural change.

The ‘four frenzied Little Lord Fauntleroys who are earning £5,000 per week’ (Donald Zec in the Daily Mirror September 10th 1963) were central to the popular music revolution of that time and arguably the most influential band of all time.

In 1963, as a 10-year-old at Hucknall, Spring Street Juniors, I was bowled over by the fab four and saved pocket money to buy my first ever piece of 12 inch vinyl, ‘Please Please Me’, in mono. It’s still up in the loft – a collector’s item!

Like Rob, the main character and owner of the Championship Vinyl  shop in Nick Hornby’s Hi-Fidelity, I’m a sucker for Top 5 lists of any description. Of course every Beatles fan will have their own favourite albums, album tracks and single releases, and committing myself in writing may prove not only contentious but embarrassing .       

Having spent a while thinking this through, it’s an almost impossible task because the Beatles’ back catalogue surpasses anything ever produced by any other artists, embracing a range of genres and jammed pack  full of ground breaking classics and more under stated hidden gems.  Anyway, without further pre-amble or any attempt to justify my selections – here goes:

Top 5 Albums:

  1. Abbey Road(1969)
  2. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
  3. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
  4. Rubber Soul (1965)
  5. Revolver (1966)

Top 5 Singles:

  1. Get Back (1969)
  2. Strawberry Fields Forever (1967)
  3. Hey Jude (1968)
  4. Lady Madonna (1968)
  5. All You Need is Love (1967)

 Top 5 Album tracks (not released as singles):

1. Here Comes the Sun (Abbey Road)

2. I am the Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour)

3. Penny Lane (Magical Mystery Tour)

4. Revolution (The Beatles – White Album)

5. Norwegian Wood (Rubber Soul)




‘Do you come from a land down under?’
July 8, 2010

Isn’t it funny how certain songs creep up on you, and then as Kylie famously sang, “I just can’t get you out of my head!”  

One that I’ve been plagued by lately was also born out of Australia; ‘Down Under’ by ‘80s band Men at Work.

I hadn’t heard it for ages until I went to watch the recent England v Australia ODI at Cardiff. As each Aussie batsman trudged from the pavilion out to the middle they were accompanied by MaW’s  unforgettable tune and lyrics which remained with me for several days after. All together now: 

“I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.”

Personally I would prefer to see them come out to bat with another  bit of Kylie: I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky ” –  but that’s another story!

As I was flicking through the paper yesterday, Men at Work were there again.  Apparently a judge has ruled that the well-known flute riff from ‘Down Under’, “where women glow and men plunder”, was indeed plundered from that other well-known 1930’s Aussie hit, “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree”.
The top or bottom is, the band have got to pay 5% of royalties to the publishing company that hold the copyright. So I guess the kookaburra had the last laugh!  

Any how,  the song stuck with me again. But later, as I was mowing the lawn, I got to thinking (as one does during this most tedious of jobs) what other, never to be forgotten, ‘classics’  have our Antipodean friends contributed to 20th and 21st Century pop culture? 

To be honest I’d set myself a difficult task. Having taken away Kylie’s Greatest Hits I was in the realms of, “Can you tell what it is yet?”, Rolf Harris (seen here showing off his didgeridoo) and, Sun Arise, Tie me Kangaroo down Sport, Jake the Peg (with the extra leg, diddle, diddle) etc. etc.

When I delved even deeper into the recesses I dredged up I Remember You (well only just actually) from ‘60s yodeller Frank Ifield. After that I admit to giving up.   

Having trimmed and edged the lawns to perfection, I took the last resort, Wikipedia, where I found I’d underestimated the musical talent from down below – well just a little bit! The top 4 Australian recording artists of all time are as follows:        

The Bee Gees (1958-2003) top the list with an estimated 220 million in record sales. Well I guess the UK and the USA  both might argue the toss here and lay claim to them – but no worries the Aussies are welcome!   

In second place AC/DC, (1973-present), with 200 million sales from the heavy metal rockers, but more problems here too. All the group members are Scottish or English, except one, and they perform out of the States, but are classified as an Aussie band, having originally formed in Sydney.

AC/DC  don’t do ‘catchy tunes’ of course, but their 1980 album Back in Black has sold 49 million copies world-wide. This makes it the highest selling album ever for any band and 2nd only to Wacko Jacko’s Thriller in the all time best-selling albums list!     

Olivia Newton-John (1966-present). 100 million sales for the bronze medallist and just when I thought I’d found a bona fide Aussie, well actually no! 

O N-J was  born in Cambridge to a Welsh father and German mother. Her Dad was an MI5 officer on the Enigma project at Bletchley Park and, apparently, the officer who accompanied Rudolph Hess into custody during World War II!   

Having emigrated to Aus in 1954, aged six, she went on to carve out a pop career with largely country-style music until 1978 and Grease.

As a 29-year-old playing high school senior Sandy, along side John Travolta’s Danny, her career really took off and she became only the 2nd female artist ever to have 2 top 5 singles simultaneously, Hopelessly Devoted to You and Summer Night, both taken from the Grease soundtrack.    

Kylie Minogue (1987-) with 60 million sales comes in a surprising 4th but fair dinkum mate, we’ve found an out-and-out Aussie at last. Kylie (seen here starring as Little Red Riding Hood!) first achieved recognition as Charlene in the TV soap Neighbours before chugging her way to number 1 in the charts with the Locomotion (1987).

Having reinvented herself and relaunched her career several times since, she is of course a genuine Australian national treasure.   

All of that ‘trivia’ because I couldn’t get some tune out of my head, while mowing the lawn. Incidentally in this morning’s Sky News review of the papers a Daily Mail article was flagged up, which claims, the way to a woman’s heart is no longer through chocolates and flowers but the rather less romantic avenue of vacuuming and ironing!      

So I’d better go and do battle with the Dyson then. Another tedious chore – I wonder what earth shattering questions I can resolve today?

Curiouser and Curiouser…………………………
July 5, 2010

Lady in Red

I have to admit to being intrigued by the Russian spy ring saga, that emerged from across the pond last week, as the FBI swooped to arrest ten people accused of being part of a clandestine intelligence gathering operation.

Most attention over here, has been given to Anna Chapman, ‘the lady in red’, said to be the daughter of a former KGB officer, formerly married to a British entrepreneur and resident in the UK until four years ago. She now lives in NY and has supposedly been running a  $2 million online real estate business as a means of infiltrating high-powered political circles.  

It appears that the so-called intelligence gathered and communicated by ‘the spies’, apparently using techniques familiar to fans of  cold war novels and movies, was pretty much available to all and sundry on the internet and as things stand none of them are currently charged with ‘espionage’. The LA Times described it as, “more Woody Allen than John le Carre”!  

Make over for Wonder Woman

What are DC Comics playing at? Wonder Woman, 69 years old this year, is having a make over. Gone are those stunning star-spangled hot pants and kinky red boots to be replaced by black leggings! For men of a certain age, which includes me, Wonder Woman will always be remembered, as personified by Lynda Carter, in the 70’s TV adaptation of the sci-fi comic book heroine. It’s a generational thing, I know! Batman, for instance, will always be pictured in my mind’s eye as  portrayed by Adam West, rather than Val Kilmer, George Clooney or Michael Keaton!       

Don’t Do It Meryl!

legendary Hollywood actress Meryl Streep, an amazing 16 Academy Award nominations and twice a winner, is considering taking on the role of Margaret Hilda Thatcher in a film to be produced later this year.  

Please don’t do it Meryl! I’d rather remember you as the mysterious French Lieutenant’s Woman, or your Oscar-winning performances in Kramer versus Kramer and Sophie’s Choice. Damn it! I’d even rather remember you in Mamma Mia. I even named my blog after one of your films!

I’m sure you would be great, you always are, but I don’t want to remember you as the handbag swinging Iron Lady!      

 What’s New Pussy Cat?

Welsh ‘sex bomb’ Tom Jones has reinvented himself again. This time he has decided it’s not unusual, for an artist of his mature years, to return to the ‘green, green grass of home’ and has drawn on the chapel songs of his youth for a soon to be released album ‘Praise and Blame’.  

Mojo magazine has described Tom’s latest offering as ‘remarkable’, which of course could be interpreted in a number of ways! Whereas a leaked email from the chief  executive of Island Records, was not at all ambiguous: “ We did not invest a fortune in an established artist for him to deliver 12 tracks from the common book of prayer”.  

Come on boys bach, when you’re a national treasure you can get away with anything. I don’t know what Delilah would have made of it, mind!

Going Dutch (& German) at Upton Jazz!
June 30, 2010

This year the sun well and truly shone on the 25th annual Upton on Severn Jazz  Festival. 25 years, where do they go? Having relocated to Upton in 1984 I remember visiting the very first Oliver Cromwell Jazz Festival, an altogether much smaller affair, the following year.

It has now grown beyond recognition and every year little old Upton bursts into life, for the last weekend in June, welcoming internationally renowned trad jazz bands and the colorful, vibrant crowds that flock to see them. 

Over the years I have always tried to sample some of the jazz and soak up the atmosphere but, unfortunately, with school reports high on the agenda at this time of year the conflicting demands on my time have usually weighed in favour of work over pleasure. Not so this year – in my first summer of retirement I was able to indulge myself !   

Chris, having managed her time well, had finished her school reports before I got back from Africa (she must have been at a loose end!) This allowed us to invite friends, from the cold wastes of the north, down for the weekend to share the whole Upton Jazz experience.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves listening to some top quality musicians, sipping  a few too many ice cool beers and even eating al fresco at our local Bangladeshi restaurant, Pundits, on a balmy English summers evening!

Two jazz sets we all particularly enjoyed were provided by Lamarotte, a Dutch band, and the Bourbon Street Stompers, from Germany. Both bands have appeared at Upton before and Lamarotte are old favourites at the festival with their delightful blend of jazz and humour always goes down a storm.  Our friends were even moved to buy their latest CD, which features Upton Church on its sleeve!     

I’m looking forward to next year already! But before that there will be a weekend of Blues  starting 16th July, the Water Festival with its stunning firework display, over the August Bank Holiday weekend, and the annual Upton Folk Festival next May Day weekend.   

We do very well for a sleepy little Worcestershire town!

Bring on the Germans and all that Jazz!
June 24, 2010

So it’s confirmed, we will be playing our old adversaries, the Germans, in the last 16 of  2010 World Cup. It just had to be didn’t it?  But I have a feeling that  playing them now, rather than later in the tournament, could be better for us!

The match will be played in Bloemfontein on Sunday afternoon. It promises to be a barbecue weekend here in the UK  so stock up on the bangers, burgers and beer!

Today, the sun is shining  already and I’m about to set off  for an all together more tranquil sporting occasion down by the riverside in Cardiff. England versus the Aussies in a day /night, 50 over cricket international at the SWALEC stadium in Sophia Gardens. Come on England let’s make it 2/2.

It heralds the start of a busy weekend with  friends arriving tomorrow, from the north-east, for the 25th annual Upton-on- Severn Jazz Festival.

So what with cricket, jazz, barbecues, beer and sunday’s big football occasion I’ll be putting the blog on hold until Monday.  By then the nation will be euphoric or wallowing in the depths of another depression.


Top tips for Fabio and England:

1. Same starting XI

2. Keep the red shirts

3. Extra practice on penalties

Let’s make Franz ‘the Kaiser’ Beckenbauer eat his words!