Monday, December 31, 2007

I'm deeply saddened by the news of Kevin Greening's premature demise. When he turned up on Radio 1 in the early 1990s, his bone-dry wit was a welcome counterpoint to the wacky but ultimately humourless cack that had gone before (Gary Davies' Sloppy Bit, Willy on the Plonker, etc). I was a student at the time, and it took a lot to wake me before midday (no change there, then), but I regularly made the effort to catch at least the last half-hour of his weekend breakfast show, as a prelude to Danny Baker.
He wasn't just a funny man, though. Years later, I found myself sitting in a cubicle at BBC Norwich, being interviewed down the line by Greening for a World Service programme on the state of the record industry. He had either read my book thoroughly or been provided with an excellent precis, and the ensuing interview was one of the best and most perceptive I've ever been involved with. Before the recording started, I took the liberty to thank him for all the great radio he'd funnelled my way. All the Raymond Sinclair stuff, etc. I felt a bit of a gushing pillock at the time, but I'm glad I did it now. He'll be missed.

Friday, December 28, 2007

When it comes to the German people, one of the most enduring stereotypes is that they have no sense of humour. This is unfair and untrue. If nothing else, they are connoisseurs of slapstick, which explains the enduring popularity of Dinner for One, an old British music-hall sketch that the German television networks show every New Year's Eve.

The setting for the piece is the 90th birthday party of an aristocratic female called Miss Sophie. Her table is set for a group of friends, all of whom have predeceased her. Not daunted, it falls to her butler, James, to pour the guests' drinks. As he does so, he asks Miss Sophie if she wants him to follow "the same procedure as last year", to which she replies "the same procedure as every year". The same procedure being that he has to drink the drinks himself, supplying a brief impersonation of each guest. Unsurprisingly, with a different booze being specified for each course, he becomes thoroughly Rowley Birkin-ed, and a rich vein of comedy ensues as he tries to dish up the dinner while utterly paralytic. His attempts to negotiate a path round, over or past a tigerskin rug are particularly joyous. In short, it's a masterclass in physical comedy. Finally, Miss Sophie declares that she is ready to retire to bed. "Same procedure as last year?" asks James. "Same procedure as every year," replies Miss Sophie, and they disappear upstairs together.

The piece, which is believed to have been written in the 1920s, was the star turn of the comedian Freddie Frinton. Despite being the star of the BBC sitcom Meet the Wife (very few episodes of which survive, despite being enough of a smash hit to be namechecked in a Beatles song), it appears that Frinton never performed his most famous sketch on British television. Certainly, if he did, no recording has survived. The German recording resulted from a visit to Blackpool in 1962 by German entertainer Peter Frankenfeld and his producer Heinz Dunkhase. Frankenfeld persuaded Frinton to come to Germany and perform it in his live show, and at one performance in March 1963, an outside broadcast unit from the Norddeutscher Rundfunk network captured it. Frinton had served in World War II and had the hatred of Germans that many of his generation and experience shared, but he overcame that to accept the offer. That Frinton's greatest fame should be in a country he disliked so intensely is as noteworthy as the fact that, despite being a superb comedy drunk, he was, like Jimmy James, a teetotaller. The broadcast went down well, but it wasn't until it was shown on New Year's Eve in 1972 that it began to acquire its ritualistic status. Since then, it's been shown every year, at various times of the day by the regional German broadcasting networks. The German recording has never been shown on British television, but it's been part of my own New Year's Eve ritual - along with Rikki Fulton, Still Game, the Edinburgh Castle gun, a bottle of single malt and not even thinking about leaving the house - ever since my friend Gavin Sutherland gave me a tape years ago. We can rest assured that if the BBC had ever screened it, the tape would now be wiped or misfiled. Or, even worse, only ever dragged out for clip shows where a nanosecond would be shown as a prelude to five minutes of Barry Shitpeas passing a judgment along the lines of "Yeah, right, and they're going to have sex. They're really old. Gross. What's all that about? Can I have my money now, please?" despite not being able to display one iota of Frinton's comic craftsmanship in his own work.

Frinton died in 1968, just before he was due to return to Germany to remake the sketch in colour. In recent years, the original tape has been colourised fairly sympathetically, and this is the version I present here for download. It's a 200MB AVI file, suitable for viewing on Xvid/Divx-compatible DVD players. May it bring as much joy to your Hogmanay celebrations as it does to mine.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I'm not sure whether this qualifies as a Christmas song, but it's easily my favourite piece of music with 'Christmas' in the title. And what a title, too. Ladies and gentlemen, get festive with the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and their pub singalong from the Planet Zanussi, 'There's No Lights on the Christmas Tree, Mother, They're Burning Big Louie Tonight'.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another beauty from Wikipedia, this time from the entry for Pope Benedict XVI:

Pope Benedict XVI
(Latin: Benedictus PP. XVI; Italian: Benedetto XVI, born Joseph Alois Ratzinger on 16 April 1927) is the 265th and reigning Pope, the spiritual head of the Catholic Church, and as such, Sovereign of the Vatican City State.[1] He was elected on 19 April 2005 in a papal conclave, celebrated his Papal Inauguration Mass on 24 April 2005, and took possession of his cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, on 7 May 2005. Pope Benedict XVI has both German and Vatican citizenship. He succeeded Pope John Paul II, who died on 2 April 2005 (and with whom he had worked before the interregnum). Benedict XVI is also the Bishop of Rome.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In response to the Andrew Gold cover in this post on The Urban Woo's blog, here's Gold and Graham Gouldman (Say what you like about 10CC - I ruddy love 'em - but he wrote Bus Stop, and that's enough to warrant the keys to heaven as far as I'm concerned) on TOTP in 1987, miming to the majestic 'Bridge to Your Heart'.

What didn't strike me fully at the time was how much the man who wrote 'Bus Stop' (etc.) looked like someone in my year at school who went on to become head boy. Wherever he is now, I hope he's well and prosperous. If not, he could always form a 10CC tribute act, although I seem to recall his main field of musical expertise was playing bassoon, and I don't recall there being a rocking bassoon solo on 'Good Morning, Judge'.
This morning, while putting the bins out, I was rewarded with the most startling sight. Paul Rutherford from Frankie Goes to Hollywood tarmacing the pavement. Well, you've got to have some rough trade to fall back on.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

While I'm in a YouTube jazz kind of mood, here are some other clips that have caught my eyes and ears. We'll kick off with Ella Fitzgerald in London in 1965, with the Johnny Spence orchestra and the much-missed Tubby Hayes on tenor saxophone. I'm happy to report that you can see the whole show from which this performance comes on BBC4 on Christmas Eve at 9.30pm, following a documentary about Ella.

That Ella Fitzgerald Sings special was a Terry Henebery production, as was the 1987 edition of Parkinson One to One from which this next clip comes: a blistering Buddy Rich Orchestra tearing into Matt Harris' killer-diller arrangement of 'Just in Time'. Not sure who the trombonist is, but the trumpet solo is by Greg Gisberg. As good as the solos are, it's the Clarke-Boland Band-style unison ensemble work from 2:02 onwards that gets the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

Talking of Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland, here's one of my own uploads - 'Sax No End' from a 1968 German TV special. I think that, if I could go back in time to see any past jazz ensemble in concert, it would be this one. As it is, I shall just have to settle for a memorable evening in a Wigan hotel bar with Johnny Griffin. Again, solos great, ensemble playing (from 2:30 onwards) greater. Just so dextrous, powerful and tight.

Here's another swinger, and one that doesn't quite come off, but it's an fun and interesting experiment, nonetheless: John MacLaughlin with the Tonight Show orchestra in 1985, ripping into 'Cherokee'. It sounds ever so slightly as though JMacL's fighting the band while he's stating the theme, but when he takes off into his solo from 1:12 onwards, I find it hard not to be rendered breathless by the gusto of his playing. Some accuse him of playing too many notes, and they may have a point, but the notes he does play are always impeccably placed and pitched. Sometimes I think less is more, sometimes I'm ready for the works.

Moving into the fusion arena, I had a major thing for Weather Report in my teens - RIP Joe Zawinul. I still love their work dearly, but don't listen quite as obsessively to them as I did 20 years ago. Around that time, Channel 4 had a music strand called The Late Shift, in which Charlie Gillett and Vivien Goldman - both commendably knowledgable and broad-minded - introduced bought-in concert footage. One night, they showed Jaco Pastorius live at the Montreal Jazz Festival, a show that opened with a ferociously groovy number called 'The Chicken'. Weather Report's music was given to odd squawks and warbles, and that was a large part of its charm, but on his own, Jaco liked to dig deep into the pocket, and 'The Chicken' is a perfect example. Yes, there's some flashy playing from Bob Mintzer on tenor and Randy Brecker on electronically-treated trumpet, but the groove - to which the great Pete Erskine's drumming makes no small contribution - is rock solid. Here's the Montreal version that blew me away, with a link after that to a big band version recorded in Japan. Both are just jaw-dropping.

Back to the 1960s, and around the same time that Ella visited the UK, we were graced by a visit from saxophonist, composer and arranger Benny Golson. Terry Henebery (that man again - jazz history owes him a great debt) got Golson into the BBC Television Theatre with an orchestra of the best British musicians, including Tubby Hayes, guitarist Dave Goldberg and multi-instrumentalist Alan Branscombe, all of whom died far too young.

Another of my own uploads, but what the hell. This is the Victor Feldman Trio rattling through 'Swinging on a Star', and it just makes me smile every time I hear it. That's Rick Laird from the Mahavishnu Orchestra on bass, and it's Ronnie Stephenson on drums, a great, underrated British player (for my money, one of the best and most musical jazz drummers there's ever been - he was very fond of playing the tune in his breaks and fills), whose best-known work is the excellent Drum Spectacular album he made in 1966 with Kenny Clare and a host of names like Stan Tracey and Tubbs. When not playing jazz, Ronnie was a session giant, providing the drums for tracks like Dusty's 'You Don't Have to Say You Love Me'.

More will follow.
Jazz appeals to a niche audience, and this is why legendary figures can be found playing regularly in pubs and clubs with no need for giant video screens or opera glasses. I've lost count of the happy hours spent at the Bull's Head in Barnes listening to Stan Tracey and Bobby Wellins, with Andy Cleyndert on bass and Stan's son Clark on drums, and a host of special guests including Guy Barker, Don Weller and Ben Castle (son of Roy, and a superb tenor player). In particular, I remember Weller and Wellins raising the roof with a stunning version of 'Comme d'Habitude' a few years back. For the uninitiated, that's the original title of the song that Paul Anka ruined by turning it into 'My Way', so to hear Stan and the chaps attacking it as a ferocious samba is always a delight.

I've been to Dublin only a couple of times, but my first act on arrival has always been to find where and when Irish jazz guitarist Louis Stewart's playing that week. The quietest and most unassuming of men (I don't think he realises how good he is, or, if he does, it's still not good enough for him - no matter, the big name American players like Pat Martino all hold him in the highest esteem), Louis is nothing less than a god. His gorgeous, rounded tone is matched by a lightning speed and, most crucially, a great sensitivity and an unrivalled sense of when to hold back and when to let rip. Here he is, letting rip on 'Four'.

I first became aware of him on a Stephane Grappelli concert shown by BBC2 when I was 11. On that occasion, he was playing rhythm guitar to Martin Taylor's lead role, and for most of the show was blocking out chords. However, on the last number, 'Sweet Georgia Brown', he got to solo and I realised that - immense as my love of Martin Taylor is - this was no second banana. Over the years, I became more aware of Louis' work with Benny Goodman, Tubby Hayes and many, many others, and my respect for his playing just grew and grew. Recently, when I found this clip of him and Peter Ind (whose Tenor Clef club in Hoxton was a very important part of my late teens) performing on Q7, introduced by another hero of mine (a man who knew his jazz, too), I couldn't believe my luck.

I've met and spoken to Louis on a number of occasions, most memorably after the 60th birthday concert mounted in his honour by RTE in 2004. Shortly after that, I was asked by Crescendo magazine to interview Louis when he was in London. I travelled to Southend to see him play and set up the interview, and all was agreed over a drink in the interval. The next day I turned up at the agreed spot and Louis was nowhere to be seen. It became clear that he had 'gone shy'. If I'd had the recorder with me the previous night, he'd probably have talked, but given time to think about it, he had reconsidered and done a vanishing act. I'd have been angry with almost anyone else in the same situation, no matter how legendary, but knowing Louis a little, I realised I had to respect his decision and return to my editor empty-handed. And, no matter what stories he could have told me, sometimes, the music is all that matters. This version of 'Scrapple from the Apple' just takes flight.

These clips are only the tip of the iceberg. If you have even the slightest liking of jazz, I urge you to go to YouTube, put his name in the search box and watch everything that comes up. He's very special.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Recent spurious revelations about the harmlessness of binge drinking while pregnant apart, we all know that the best policy for a modern, expectant mother is to retire to bed for the whole nine months, padding the abdomen well with cotton wool. How different it was in 1968, according to the British Medical Association's You and Your Baby part 1.

According to modern advice, liver is a no-no, because of the high concentration of vitamin A. In 1968, mothers-to-be were advised to get as much vitamin A down them as they possibly could, and it was considered that "Foods such as liver and pork contain excellent amounts of vitamins, and also iron, as well as protein, so do try to eat them once or twice a week".

As for drinking, Guinness have a full-page colour advertisement, stressing the medical benefits of stout. Quite right too. I'm guessing that the mothers of most people over 30 drank in moderation through their pregnancies, with no obvious harmful effects on their offspring.

I keep looking for a section advising mothers to cut down to 40 fags a day, or 20 if they're untipped, but I might have to locate a copy of the 1958 edition for that sort of advice.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Last night, viewers in the Anglia region were treated to a programme called Bygones, in which presenter Eddie Anderson met a man who collected ceramic railway telegraph insulators. The chap was allowed to explain his obsession in some detail, while Anderson appeared genuinely interested in what he had to say.

Although ceramic railway telegraph insulators aren't my bag, it was refreshing and heart-warming to see an out-and-proud anorak presented on TV without masses of ironic detachment and 'ha, look at this sad wanker'-type sneering. The modern media has a 'too cool for school' wariness when it comes to enthusiasts, but all too often relies on them to do its research for free. In a recent survey, it was discovered that 98.7% of all modern TV documentary makers regard Wikipedia (which, apart from the libellous bits about Bryan McFadden, is the province of altruistic anoraks) as a primary source. Meanwhile, I've lost count of the number of times that friends in the archive TV collecting world have been contacted by 'we're so good at telly' pisspots who expect them to reveal all they know in exchange for a pat on the head, a complete and utter lack of understanding of any material thus supplied and a credit that's going to be squeezed to oblivion and talked over anyway.

It's not just the media. In general, modern Britain seems to have a bias against knowledge. Anyone who actually knows anything is instantly categorised as Rain Man. All too often, when someone asks an arcane question about cultural ephemera in my presence, I find myself feigning vagueness and replying with another question: "Wasn't it Freddie 'Parrot Face' Davies? He's coming to mind for some reason". The reason being that I know it's the right bleeding answer, but to come out with it in an authoritative and unequivocal manner would make me look unacceptably smug and twatty.

Well, bollocks to it all. I know about a lot of esoteric things and I like knowing about a lot of esoteric things. Anyone who thinks I'm a bit of a spanner for doing so can work it up their arse. Better something useful like a spanner than a dildo made of blancmange. It's hip to be square. So there.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The business in the Sudan makes me despair. I could just about take the Sudanese authorities citing 'rules is rules', and giving her a mild, but nonetheless unjustified jail term. This was aided by the sight and sound of most high-ranking British Muslims shaking their heads very sadly and very publicly, stating that the whole thing is a terrible misunderstanding and a ghastly mess, thus confounding the 'all Muslims are dangerous' lobby and doing much to defuse tension. My tolerance is, however, tested by the reported thousands of protesters marching on Khartoum demanding that Gillian Gibbons be shot. If that's your idea of a solution, I think the governments of the world should get together and make lack of perspective a capital offence, with full extradition.

I understand the importance of respecting other people's beliefs, just as I expect them to respect my utter lack of faith. In this case, I've seen nothing to indicate that the poor woman did anything other than go out of her way to respect the predominant faith of her adopted home. Unless I've misread the situation wildly, it seems to have gone something like this. Teacher says "What shall we call the bear?". Class of children says "Muhammad, miss". Teacher says "You know that's not really allowed". Class of children says "Pleeeeeeeeease, miss, or we'll hold our breath until we keel over". Teacher, quite understandably, says "Oh, all right then". Teacher then sends letter to parents explaining that the children chose the name, that she tried to explain that it wasn't on, but just you try reasoning with 30 anklebiters with a rudimentary understanding of collective bargaining. Parent dobs her in. All the nutters come out to play.

The only bad thing I've heard from the Gibbons side of the affair was professional Scouser and proven ambulance chaser Pete Price on the wireless last night, talking loud and saying nothing about his imprisoned friend. Surely he can't know everyone on Merseyside personally?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I seem to be receiving a lot of penis extension spam at the moment. The latest came from someone called Justin.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

More from the scurrilous back passages of Wikipedia, this time from Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac's page:

"Annie's brother Davey MacManus is in the British band The Crimea. Annie also has a sister named Rachel and one other brother. She is also very close friends with fellow DJ, Edith Bowman. They have been known to finger each others vagina while presenting radio shows together. Pictures had been posted on her Flickr picture thread. Only to be taken down from webmasters due to rile violations."

What on earth are rile violations? I adore the fact that there's a link to the vagina page, just in case you were unsure. If you see any similar mash-ups and derailments, do please alert me. I can usually do with a laugh.
It seems to be a long-standing BBC rule that great occasions can only be entrusted to a Dimbleby. However, between the untimely demise of Pa Richard in 1965 and the coming to maturity of the Boy David some years later, another broadcaster held the fort with great panache. When the Harold Wilson went to the country in 1966 and 1970, it was Cliff Michelmore, of Tonight and 24 Hours, who helmed the BBC's results coverage, and a fine job he made of it too. Here's an example of how superbly agreeable he was:

Now nearly 90, he's back on our screens for one night only this Sunday, linking six (count 'em) hours of archive material about the 1967 devaluation crisis. BBC Parliament is the channel, and, quite frankly, I believe the evening's programming justifies the cost of a Freeview box in its own right.

The running order is like this:

6pm - The Pound In Your Pocket - new intro material from Cliff Michelmore
6.10 - The Money Programme (original tx: 17/11/1967)
6.55 - Our Money (original tx: 19/11/1967)
8pm - Edward Heath's response (original tx: 19/11/1967)
8.15 - 24 Hours (original tx: 20/11/1967)
8.40 - Panorama (original tx: 20/11/1967)
9.15 - 24 Hours (original tx: 29/11/1967)
9.40 - Roy Jenkins outlines spending cuts (original tx: 16/1/1968)
9.55 - 24 Hours (original tx: 16/1/1968)
10.35 - Roy Jenkins' Budget broadcast (original tx: 19/3/1968)
10.45 - Iain MacLeod's response (original tx: 20/3/1968)
10.55 - Budget '68 (original tx: 19/3/1968)
11.15 - 24 Hours (original tx: 19/3/1968).

I appreciate that this isn't everyone's idea of a great night's viewing, but it'll do for me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

As a stickler for accuracy, I should deplore anyone who puts false information on Wikipedia deliberately. Sometimes, however, it's just plain funny. This evening, for professional reasons, I found myself perusing the entry on Westlife. I found the following on the subject of Bryan McFadden's departure from the group:

"On 9 March 2004, just three weeks before Westlife were due to embark on their fourth UK and Europe tour, moon faced buffoon Bryan McFadden (Otherwise known as the lummox)left the band due to an uncomfirmed report of goat fiddling..."

Feeling immediately grateful that I wasn't drinking anything at the time I saw the above, I went to the history page to see how long that nugget of utter misinformation had lasted. About 3 hours, it appeared. The same contributor had also changed:

" The group's roots are in Sligo in the north west of Ireland, where Egan, Feehily, and Filan were in a six-member vocal group named IOYOU..."


The group's roots are in Sligo in the north west of Ireland, where four tramps were found by Louis Walsh at a bus stop. They were singing drunkenly whilst wetting themselves stuffing thier faces with donuts. WHO ATE ALL THE PIES!!"

In this case, I actually find the made-up version strangely plausible.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Going through some assorted DVD-Rs the other day, I found the collection of clips that I prepared to illustrate a talk that I gave at Glasgow School of Art in June. The theme was something to do with networked societies and the creative persona. No, I haven't a clue either - a friend is a lecturer there and I think he booked me as the equivalent of bringing board games in at the end of term. Certainly some of the other sessions seemed pretty hardcore in cultural theory terms. Taking a wild stab in the dark, I presented a celebration of the awkward buggers in entertainment history who took the greatest risks, played with the possibilities of the media in which they worked and played havoc with their paymasters' blood pressure in the process (cue long section about Milligan). Roger Ordish's story about the night when Sammy Davis Junior turned up midway through a live Dee Time, & took the house band through an unrehearsed, but utterly magical performance of 'This Guy's In Love With You', went down particularly well - If you don't mind, I'll save that one for now, as it's one of the best bits of my forthcoming book.

As a continuity nerd, it was with great glee that I knitted together a montage of spoof continuity announcements, programme menus and station idents from, respectively, Look Around You, End of Part One, Rutland Weekend Television, Inside Victor Lewis-Smith, a Jerry Sadowitz Without Walls special on swearing, Alexei Sayle's Stuff, the Kenny Everett Video Show and the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show of 1983. I left Python out because time was limited and I thought it would be more fun to dig out some relatively obscure items. In particular, End of Part One strikes me as one of the great unsung TV comedy series - composed almost entirely of deadly send-ups of late 1970s television and a very early peak for Andrew Marshall (of Lowestoft) and David Renwick. Almost nobody watched it. Certainly it was scheduled badly, in a Sunday teatime slot usually reserved for undemanding children's shows, but maybe it was just years ahead of its time, TV not being quite as ready to eat itself then as it is now. They carried on messing about with the language of the medium a decade later in Stuff, but there's a special magic to seeing Play School's Fred Harris impersonate Nationwide's Michael Barratt. Anyway, here it is:

Incidentally, I shared the lecture slot with Anne Ward, the thoroughly good egg who runs I Like, and a rake of other rather wonderful sites. If you've never visited any of them, go now. No dawdling.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

One of the great delights of watching old light entertainment programmes for me is when the camera pans across the orchestra. I'm enough of an anorak to be able to put names to many of the faces that show up, as they parp, honk and bash away in the service of the business they call the show. I know I'm not alone, because I've sat in darkened rooms watching shows with close friends (male, as if you needed to ask), all of us cooing "Ooooh, look, it's Kenny Clare" at the appropriate moment. One such occasion was when a friend showed me Pop Go The Sixties, a BBC/ZDF co-production from 1969, showcasing the best musical talent of the decade. In among the likes of Tom Jones, the Shadows and the Who were the Johnny Harris Orchestra, then the house band on Lulu's show. Aided by some fairly rubbish dancers, they stormed through a fantastic version of 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction', powered by the stellar drumming of Harold Fisher, whom I've mentioned here before. I've been wanting to see that bit of the show again ever since, so I was delighted when it turned up on BBC4 the other night. The bass playing is superb, too. I'm not sure who's responsible - Johnny Harris usually worked with Herbie Flowers, but it doesn't look like him to me. The Harris is pretty groovy in his own right. You can't imagine Harry Rabinowitz conducting like this.

Just one reservation: I'm not entirely sure about BBC4's decision to chop such a major show into bite-sized chunks to be used in tricky 5-minute gaps in the schedule. Let's see the whole thing in context. Even less sure am I of the right of the person who chopped the show into those chunks to claim a producer's credit for an editor's job, as one Robin Keam did.

Meanwhile, this one turned up in a TOTP2 shown on Dave (shite name, half-decent channel) the other morning. It's the Top of the Pops Orchestra under Johnny Pearson, offering their version of 'El Bimbo' by Bimbo Jet. As the camera moved across the band, I identified Clem Cattini on drums, Lowestoft's own Derek Warne on electric piano, Rick Kennedy and Bobby Lamb on trombones, Paul Keogh and Chris Rae on guitars, and Kenny Wheeler, Ian Hamer and Leon Calvert making up the trumpet section. It's playing candyfloss like this that enabled Kenny Wheeler to make several stunning, but marginally profitable albums for ECM. We must be profoundly thankful. If anyone else can identify any of the musicians I've missed, please add a comment. In particular, the southpaw bass player is unknown to me.

What the hell, while we're here, let's have some of the real stuff. Might be time for some Phil Seamen stories...

Yesterday morning, I had the very strange experience of being 130 miles from home, watching the town where I live on the television. I was woken at 8.30am by a phone call from my mother, and through the bleariness, I caught the words 'tidal surge', 'Lowestoft' and 'on the telly now'. I then spent the couple of hours before I was due to catch my train back to the eye of the storm goggling at ferocious waves and News 24's Simon McCoy standing by the fountains that Bernie Clifton opened a couple of summers back. Mercifully, the surge missed high tide, averting disaster by about 20 centimetres, and McCoy's disappointment was almost tangible, as he desperately tried to whip up a very choppy sea into a major event. "Well, it's not as bad as forecast, but it's still pretty hairy down here," he gabbled breathlessly, before grabbing a local shopkeeper for an in-depth discussion of sandbagging. I've seen it as hairy as it was on a couple of occasions in the five years I've lived here, but those times there were no satellite trucks or damp reporters to put a frame around it. If a tree falls, etc. However, with environmental attitudes as they currently stand, we 're likely to see it getting a lot more hairy in future. News 24 may yet return to these shores.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

In Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam, one of the characters is a high-flying businessman, always leaving his secretary a string of telephone numbers on which he can be contacted at any given hour, should the business balloon go up. The intention is to make him a figure of fun - a control freak too absorbed in work to notice that Woody Allen's having it off with his wife. And yet, nowadays, most of us have that oppressive level of contactability, and our nearest and dearest start to worry if the lines of communication are broken, even temporarily.

Aside from the malevolent and ever-present influence of the mobile phone, we now have to contend with social networking websites. I quite like Facebook as a way of keeping up to speed with friends and colleagues, but it's far from perfect. A friend of mine is a radio presenter. I turned on the wireless the other day to hear a stand-in doing his job. This didn't bother me, but when I logged into Facebook, my friend's page stated that he had “left his job at Wonderful Radio Fab”. I saw that he had removed his work email address and a line of specific information about his duties, and assumed that the 'left his job' line was Facebook's clunky way of saying that he had removed a bit of information, rather than an actual resignation. Nevertheless, I felt it worth sending an email to make sure all was well. Shortly after, the phone rang. It was my friend, happy to confirm that he hadn't done anything other than change a line on his profile. His absence from the airwaves had been due to attending a training course. If it hadn't been for the misleading information on Facebook, I wouldn't have given the matter a second thought.

This raised questions in my mind about what we are expected to reveal of ourselves. Facebook's assumption seems to be that we are now all so candid about everything that removing our job description from a website can only be the result of leaving that job. I removed my birthdate from the site a while back – not as a result of vanity, but because birthdates play an important role in confirming one's identity to banks, insurance brokers, etc. Does the removal of that information change my birthday? Of course not. Elsewhere on the site, I see people revealing, in plain view of anyone with an Internet connection, details of their lives that I'd think twice about confessing to a medical professional. Could we possibly be living in the too-much-information age?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Depending on your generation, the term 'old-school comedian' can be either a terrible insult or a great compliment to a gagsmith. When Bernard Manning died, it was used by his detractors as short-hand for 'unpleasant old racist', whereas when it is applied to Les Dawson, it is used affectionately to denote a high level of craftsmanship, and quite right too.

As research for my forthcoming book on variety and light entertainment, I've been trawling through a lot of 'old-school' comedy. Happily, while some of it tends to reinforce the 'where's me washboard' view of anything pre-Python being an impenetrable mess of idiotic catchphrases and cross-talk, an awful lot of it comes up fresh as a daisy and timelessly funny. For example, ITMA has dated very badly, while Much-Binding in the Marsh continues to delight and amuse.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that some old-school comedy is easily as surreal as anything Vic and Bob or Harry Hill could come up with. Take, for example, this sublime clip of Reeves & Mortimer's fellow Teesider Jimmy James from the opening night of Tyne Tees Television in 1959. If you've ever wondered why Danny Baker sometimes says "I'll stop you going to those youth clubs" to callers on t'wireless, here's the explanation.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Sticking with the subject of the British music scene's unsung heroes, I was inspired by this posting on Let's Look Sideways to dig out my copy of Roy Castle's 1961 LP Castlewise. Ever since I first heard The Intro and the Outro by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (on Mike Read's Radio 1 breakfast show, circa 1983, since you asked), I've been a sucker for tracks where the band members are introduced, and the always-dedicated Roy's version of How High the Moon is a masterpiece of the genre. A fair few of the names dropped were then members of Ted Heath's band - an outfit very close to my heart - including the king of the high Cs, trumpeter Bobby Pratt, as well as trombonists Don Lusher and Johnny Edwards and, on drums, the never-less-than-superb Ronnie 'Animal' Verrell. However, as Roy points out, the arrangement is the star, and for that we have to thank Wally Stott. The overall approach is very much in the cool, West Coast vein of Marty Paich's Dektette, as heard on numerous Mel Tormé and Sammy Davis Junior records, but with that added touch of class that marks out every Stott chart. Of course, since 1972, Wally has been known as Angela Morley, but I can't think of a rhyme using Morley to match "Somewhere there's music, and it's nice and hot/'cause this arrangement's by Wally Stott". The world very badly needs CD reissues of this, 1957's Stott-scored Tormé Meets the British and Stott's own rather gorgeous 1958 LP, London Pride. All were on Philips, so come on, Universal, get your finger out.
Eating and reading are two of the great pleasures of my life. Should I, therefore, have been quite so surprised to open an infrequently-consulted volume from my groaning shelves and find, nestling between the pages, a piece of desiccated cheddar cheese?

I made my alarming discovery on the train to Norwich the other day, as I made my way to London for a meeting. It was sunny, so I had the peerless sight of a fair day on the Broads to compensate for discovering a level of slovenliness that surprised even me. It somehow seems wrong to be travelling through this landscape at even the modest speeds achieved by the stopping service via Oulton Broad North, Somerleyton, Haddiscoe, Reedham, Cantley and Brundall. The 3 or 4 mph notched up by a 12-foot dinghy with a British Seagull 40 Plus long-shaft hanging off the transom is, for me, the optimum Broads-going velocity. Of course, such romantic notions only occur to me when actually on the water with a pub around the next bend, or when the train is going at significantly more than 4 mph, and I am in no danger of missing my connection.

This leg of the journey was also enlivened by some pretty excellent music. In typical obsessive fanboy style, I've decided to gather as many different versions of Duke Ellington's I'm Beginning to See the Light as I possibly can - all suggestions gratefully received, by the way. The main reason for the exercise is to establish empirically whether Duke's own 1961 recording with Louis Armstrong really is as good as this particular, very fine number gets. Currently running it pretty close is a 1989 live version by an obscure British big band led by baritone saxophonist Jack Sharpe - best known as a member of Tubby Hayes' big band back in the mid-1960s.

When I say obscure, I mean that most punters will never have heard of the musicians involved. They will, however, definitely have heard them, as the band consists of the A-listers of the London session scene, blowing for not much more than beer money and the chance to stretch out. The lead trumpet is Derek Watkins - if you know what I'm talking about, that's the only marker of quality you really need, if you don't, just trust Uncle Cheeseford. These are the chaps. Meanwhile, on drums is one of my all-time heroes, Harold Fisher - seen by millions weekly, powering Laurie Holloway's Parkinson band. With H in the driving seat, you can be sure it'll swing. The arrangement is by Jimmy Deuchar - another associate of Tubby's, who also supplies an ace trumpet solo to complement Chris Pyne's trombone workout.

It's on a CD called 'Roarin', which appears to be long since deleted, although there are some used copies available through Amazon. As their preview clips don't seem to be working, I've taken the liberty of MP3ing the opening track and posting it here. If you like it, buy the CD, or just look up all of the musicians on it and send them money. If you don't like it, there must be something wrong with you, quite honestly.

I'm now off to dig out that Laurie Johnson LP (Something's Coming, on Columbia Studio 2 Stereo, if memory serves) with the 8 bass flutes having a bash at IBtStL. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Once upon a long ago, it was acceptable for Anthony Powell to assert that "books do furnish a room". Nowadays, though, he'd probably have some twunt from daytime television telling him that books are not furniture, but clutter, and forcing him to hawk the lot at a car boot sale so he could buy something really important and useful, like a sunbed, nose hair perming equipment or a boob job for his 12 year-old nephew.

Clutter is, apparently, one of the evils of the modern age, and, as such, is to be purged mercilessly. Minimalism is the way forward. We must all downsize like mad, or risk ending up like poor old Mr Trebus on A Life of Grime. In 2007, having even a modest display of gewgaws and trinkets is likely to elicit patronising suggestions that you're "a bit of a hoarder", with 'hoarder' quite clearly being a synonym for 'psychopath in waiting'.

The problem, for me, is one of definition. Clutter, to me, is rubbish, or something that is not used and is not likely to ever be used. Everything else is stuff, and having stuff can be life-enhancing. A casual observer would probably regard the contents of my house as 80% clutter, while the lifestyle Nazis from the telly would almost certainly bung the lot in a skip, and arrange for me to be put in one of those jackets that fasten from the rear.

For example, with all world knowledge available at the end of an Internet connection (Ronnie Hazlehurst wrote Reach by S Club 7 - FACT!), what's the point of anyone apart from the British Library keeping a copy of the 1951 edition of Radio and Television Who's Who?. However, that very volume proved itself to be stuff, not clutter, earlier today, when a friend contacted me asking if I knew anything about an old entertainer called 'Izzy Bond'. I replied that she meant music-hall and radio personality Issy Bonn, and I was then able to scan and send her his entry from my 56 year-old celeb directory. When I've had a bit of a rummage later, I should also be able to send her a copy of one of his cartoon strips from the comic Radio Fun. Meanwhile, the website has just ditched its online version of Mark Lewisohn's admirable, exhaustive Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy in favour of vague, inaccurate ramblings by clueless hacks not fit to hold Lewisohn's coat while he pores through the PasBs at Caversham. A bloody good job, then, that I kept my original copy of the Lewisohn book.

I've seen apparently decent people get twitchy upon crossing the threshold of Cheeseford Towers. I know what they're thinking. What's he got one of those for? Wouldn't this room be nicer with nothing in it? Why am I having to walk sideways? Will I catch something life-threatening if I accept a cup of tea?* In return, I get really, really twitchy in minimalist dwellings, but I accept the owner's right to live as they wish. Unfortunately, there is no such reciprocal agreement. The anti-clutter brigade are utterly, sickeningly convinced of their correctness, and feel no compunction in banging on about it. It also depresses me beyond measure that the punters on shows like Flog It and Cash In The Attic are usually selling rather lovely things for two-tenths of sod all to fund something with no lasting effect whatsoever. The proverbial birthright/mess of potage deal, piped into your house every morning. Well, it's time that someone stood up for stuff, people who like living amongst it and who wouldn't rather have the money. Cometh the hour, etc.

So, building a maze of tunnels out of discarded gas bills is clutter. Books are stuff. Records are stuff. Magazines can be stuff, although each has to be judged on its merits. Newspapers are best clipped and kept in scrapbooks, or else left to the miserable, but necessary experts at Colindale. Somewhere between Mr Trebus and the Hempel, there's a path for those of us who regard an empty house as a representation of what's between the occupier's lugholes.

* The respective answers to these burning questions, by the way, are 'because I like it', 'no it wouldn't', 'because you're a mipsy prannet' and 'with any luck, yes'.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

When I was young, a wise man told me to look up whenever I walked anywhere. That way, I'd see and appreciate more of architecture than almost anyone else around me. It's true, but when walking down the street where I live, looking up merely brings home to me how many severely skew-whiff TV aerials there are. In some cases, the masts have snapped, leaving the whole assembly pointing either skywards or towards the ground, rather than in the vague direction of Tacolneston. If you don't have satellite, it's the most important bit of the broadcasting reception chain (you can spend any amount you like on a spiffy plasma screen the size of your gable end, but without a decent aerial, you won't see a thing), but usually the least frequently considered. Doubtless, many will be complaining about the pictures they receive, and banging their ruinously expensive and blameless TV sets, while cursing the manufacturers and broadcasters roundly, not once realising that they should just spend £50 or so on getting an aerial rigger to sort out the hardware on the chimney.
To begin with, let me just say that I like Al Murray. I think that the Pub Landlord is a superb character, and a wonderful comic grotesque. 'Happy Hour' was a delightful demolition and reconstruction of the chat show format. If nothing else, 'Fact Hunt' deserves respect for putting something very close to obscenity into continuity announcers' mouths. Before he crossed most comedy lovers' radar by winning the Perrier, I remember him writing funny articles about drumming (he's rather good on the tubs, I'm led to believe) in 'Rhythm' magazine back in the early 1990s.

However, despite having these many points in his favour, I don't understand why he was considered worthy of the 'Audience With...' treatment again last night. When I watched his first stab at the show, back in March 2005, I thought it lost the chummy banter of the original 'Audience With' shows, slightly missing the point of the format. In place of questions from the star-studded audience, Murray asked them questions, many rhetorical, and pulled a few out from their comfy seats to participate in funny, but vaguely humiliating stunts - a trend started on the show by Freddie Starr, when he taunted his show business peers with a bucket of maggots. Of course the questions and responses in the old-style show were rehearsed, but the McGuffin was that the star was being forced to think on their feet. With people like Billy Connolly, Kenneth Williams and Bob Monkhouse, all known for sawing off comedy gold by the yard, the illusion was perfect. In Murray's version, the tables were turned. While thinking that it wasn't really what 'An Audience With' should be about, I enjoyed it a lot, so was prepared to forgive ITV as long as it was a temporary deviation from the original format.

Then, with indecent haste, along comes 'Another Audience With...', the audience being suspiciously full of personalities with soon-come ITV1 vehicles to promote. Yes, the business with Holly Willoughby was amusing, but it was hard to escape the feeling that this was an hour-long trailer for 'Dancing on Ice'. By all means, have a series called 'Al Murray Humiliates the Stars' (hang on, isn't that 'Happy Hour'?), but don't devalue the currency of 'An Audience With...' any further.

Friday, October 26, 2007

For years now, I've looked at Chaz Jankel's composing credit on Quincy Jones' 'Ai No Corrida', and assumed that the Blockhead-in-chief wrote the number especially for the man stalked by Starla in 'Arrested Development'. I've only recently discovered that CJ (who didn't get where he is today by writing songs for other people) actually did the original version himself, and that it tans Q's version hollow. Unfortunately, the only links I can find are to the cover version, or worse, the dancified version of a few years back that ditched all the interesting chords. Spend some money on Chaz. It'll be worth it. While you're at it, get Quincy's 'Big Band Bossa Nova' album. Not only does it contain 'Soul Bossa Nova' (best known for its use in the Austin Powers films and as the basis of 'My Definititon' by the Dream Warriors), but also a stunning, life-affirming soca version of 'On the Street Where You Live'.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Radio 2 seems hell-bent on sending my blood pressure through the ceiling at the moment. The last item on the 9 o'clock news concerned the vital information that Kerry Katona has become a novelist. Cut to a clip of la Katona admitting that she was more surprised than anyone at the development, on account of being dyslexic. She then went on to explain that someone else had written the book, and that "all she had to do" was come up with the plot, characters and the way that they intertwined. Does this make her a novelist? Not as long as my arse faces south. Will her book sell more copies than a half-decent effort by a first-time author who actually put the words in the right order themselves? Why, of course.

What exactly is the point of a ghost-written novel, apart from to shift a few copies in an increasingly debased market? Ghost-written autobiographies can be worthwhile - a skilful ghost creating the book that the nominal author would have written, had they not been too busy, stupid or strung-out on crack. I'm no football fan, but Tony Cascarino's 'Full Time' (written 'with' Paul Kimmage) is a superb piece of work - a tragi-comic morality tale. The big public seemed to grasp that ghost-written novels were an environmental scandal back when Naomi Campbell tried to foist 'The Swan' on the dumpbins of the nation. Since then, however, Jordan has proved that you can flog any amount of third-party drivel to the lumpenproletariat as long as your tits are big enough. If you wonder why the book trade's fucked (and don't believe anyone who tells you it isn't), you need look no further.
At the risk of turning this into the 'Save BBC Television Centre' blog, here's another slice of archive greatness. Called 'Birth of a Building', it shows the old place being erected, aided by the spooky excellence of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

On the subject of BBC Television Centre, I was moved to dig this wee delight out of the ganderbag and share it with a wider audience. From the edition of 'Points of View' that went out on 2 June 1962, this is a montage of images showing BBC tv going about its daily business. The exciting new building plays a starring role, supported by Robert Robinson, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, various old cars - including a Pininfarina-bodied BMC barge (the resolution of even the original tape is insufficient for me to say either Morris Oxford or Austin Cambridge with any confidence, but I've ruled out the Wolseley, Riley and MG options), shedloads of Richard Levin's wonderful Derek Italic signage, a rake of GPO type 332 bakelite telephones and a director who sounds suspiciously like Rudolph Cartier at the end. There's even a cameo appearance from the White City greyhound stadium, a much-missed example of the architecture of pleasure. TC must not be allowed to join it.

Note that the concerns about programme quality and use of resources seem oddly familiar.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Yesterday, on the train back home after a weekend on the other side of the country, I caught the end of Jeremy Vine on Radio 2, discussing anger management with Rabbi Julia Neuberger. Discussion over, he segued into 'Fairground' by Simply Red. Now, there's very little more likely to make me want to punch holes in brick walls than the sound of Mick Hucknall. All of the good work done by the interview and phone-in was unravelled just outside Stowmarket. I thought Jeremy Vine was meant to be a music lover?

In the profit column, we're living through a golden age of archive television repeats. BBC4 dug out Magnus Magnusson's rather wonderful preview of the 1972 Tutankhamun exhibition, and cobbled together a half-hour of the greatness that was Sir Mortimer Wheeler (who should be played by Simon Callow, if a biopic is ever made). Elsewhere, More4's 'Channel 4 at 25' season has thrown up some real gems, including the 1986 production of Mervyn Peake's 'Mr Pye' and a complete 'Tube' from 1983. The latter made for both joyous and sad viewing. Paula Yates, Big Country's Stuart Adamson and Tyne Tees studio 5 - designed by Richard Rogers, as it happens - all went long before their time. OK, I know that studio 5 is still there as a church, but it should be a TV studio.

Talking of which, the BBC's decision to sell off Television Centre strikes me as the worst kind of short-sighted, cost of everything, value of nothing, horsepiss. The main block - as good a bit of New Elizabethan/Festival of Britain-style design as you'll find away from the South Bank - is as fit for purpose as it was when it went up in the late 1950s. Any short-term financial gain will be spunked away on hiring in facilities of the same type as those sold off. Even though far less is made in studios nowadays, if TC closed, there would not be enough capacity in the UK to meet current peaks of demand. The cost of moving to new premises will be lower on paper, but, in reality, it will spiral. The great money-saving manoeuvre of BBC Birmingham from Pebble Mill to the Mailbox ended up costing far more than staying put and renovating the existing site. But, hey, what do I know? I only help pay for the Corporation.
Despite fairly fundamental issues with blogging, and the extreme smugness of some bloggers, I've observed rather splendid little communities growing up around the weblogs of people I like and admire. Being all for communities, society, camaraderie and anything that helps reverse the general 'do as you would be done by, but do it first' nature of modern living, it occurred to me that maybe I should get off my high horse and join in. So here I am, a body full of good British opinion and raring to go. In the main, I'll be commenting on matters concerning my various areas of expertise, most notably anorakdom, light entertainment, music, general trivia, books and radio. This is because I assume, nay hope, that no-one gives a toss about my personal life. I should point out that at no point in the proceedings will the horrible, vile non-word 'blogosphere' be used, apart from just then.