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.