4 July 2008

There was something in the air that night


Watched the documentary on the making of the movie version of Mamma Mia! last night and for the first time, I now want to see it.
Not the movie, obviously. I don't do movies, and haven't visited a cinema since taking Sue Cain to see Kingpin in 1996*.

But maybe the West End musical? I appreciate that there are stereotypes about men who express interest in watching musical theatre. I am comfortable with my sexuality, ta very much. I am also comfortable with being a lifelong Abba fan. I am, however, most comfortable with the idea that this musical is, by all accounts, bloody good and worth seeing.

Now the only musical I've ever seen which was based on the songs of one artist was Our House which we went to see for my 30th birthday in 2003. It was simply marvellous, despite the cack-handed way Night Boat To Cairo was shoehorned into the plot. You haven't lived until you've seen a bloke in a penguin suit and a lass in a cocktail dress doing a ballroom dance to The Return Of The Los Palmas 7.

I refuse to watch the Queen musical, despite being a fan of the band. It's not endorsed by every surviving member, Ben Elton is involved and the reviews have been horrific at times - three ample reasons to stay clear. Years ago, I remember Stephen Fry saying he was trying to write a musical on Elton John, which never materialised. There's a Rod Stewart one too, isn't there? If it contains Young Turks then I'm keeping a healthy distance.

But with Abba, the songs remain fresh, innocent and almost entirely timeless. The refrain between verse and chorus on S.O.S. remains one of the greatest noises any musical instrument has ever made. And, judging by Lord Bragg's docu last night, every single song of note has made it without it ever looking like it was a case of "bugger, we'd better find somewhere for Voulez Vous". So while the cinema and I will never again be re-acquainted, I may try the stage show and risk aspersions being cast on my manhood. Any recommendations?

*I should point out that the reason I haven't been to the flicks since is not anything to do with Sue Cain, nor my own behaviour with Sue Cain (which was impeccable, by the way), nor even the quality or otherwise of Kingpin - indeed, the film was quite good. I just have an irrational, unexplainable dislike of cinemas and simply Will Not Go.

3 July 2008

Great forgotten songs of the 1990s - #10



"There's a spirit here tonight..."

2 July 2008

Scrap with a lawnmower


I've done it. I've done what almost everybody I've ever met in the last two years has implored me to do.

I've had a haircut. And a proper one.

I'm not receding anywhere, but nonetheless it was obvious that my efforts to grow my hair to a substantial length was not working, despite a dogged effort of more than two years on my part. My hair had peaked, as it were. Last time I grew it, in the 1990s, it didn't take this long to get a lot longer.

So, after much persuasion (what I believe is also known as "nagging" and "blackmail") from within my own walls, I made the decision to get the lot chopped. I ventured down the hairdresser's with heart in mouth.

Now, when someone like me turns up at a hairdresser's, it must be nightmareish for the customers who follow. It's just a good, long-established gentleman's barber which operates the simple queuing policy, and therefore the fellows of varying ages who take the seats in the waiting area and flick through the dog-eared pages of April's issue of Esquire must hate the sight of someone like me when they first turn up. It's bad enough having to wait for two or three haircuts before yours, but when one of the people ahead of you has hair to rival any self-respecting 1970s Argentinian footballer, it must irk you further.

That said, there is also much idle intrigue to be aimed at people who go to the barber's even though they have barely any hair at all. One chap walked in who I swear was bald except for those tiny scuffs of hair dotted round his head. I'd love to know what he said to the barber when his turn to settle in the springy chair came along. Frankly, if he'd stayed at home and stuck a wooden spoon between his teeth and then yanked out his own hair in fistfuls it would have been quicker and cheaper, if a little discomforting.

Three chaps were ahead of me when I arrived. One was in the seat, talking to the hairdresser about badminton. A teenage lad was next in, and they nattered about driving lessons while the barber applied the razor and gave this lad a Number Two from scalp to neck. Honestly, kids today have no imagination. Then the next chap, a middle-aged business chap, went in and while his greying barnet was trimmed down, they talked about fuel prices. This hairdresser had an opinion on everything.

My turn came. He and I recognise each other well, even though I've been consciously avoiding his establishment for two years. Three chaps were waiting after me, and I was aware that the long discussion about what to do with my wayward barnet would have been mildly irritating to the impatient future customers as they read that morning's Mirror and Express (newspaper reading to satisfy both ends of Hedon's political spectrum, then; and newspapers I hate equally).

Finally, he got to work and the conversation turned to football, Hull City, Wembley and the Premier League. When the job was done a good 25 minutes on, I'd ended up with a standard short haircut with a slightly foppish frontage. I wasn't convinced entirely, but as soon as the mirror came out I was giving it the standard "lovely, brilliant, thanks" spiel prior to parting with just £5.60 (northern life) and heading out. The short walk to the car consisted of a glance in every single shop window I had to pass, as if that was going to make my hair look any different, for better or worse.

It got a pleased reaction at home. It got utterly staggered reactions at work later, as most of my colleagues have never seen me with short hair before. The usual stuff about a "fight with a Flymo" was chucked at me, while my (very) long-haired newsy pal Wesley told me such a step was "unforgivable". A member of management stared at me for rather a long time to try to get used to this new look.

It'll grow back. That's what I keep telling myself.

1 July 2008

Anyone for ... ?


Tennis is an odd old business. It's the only sport which drags many women to the television screen once a year (but only ever for Wimbledon; they don't get out of bed in the middle of the night for the Australian Open in January), and it's also probably the only sport where the women's game is as high-profile and, quite often, far more entertaining than that of the men.

Oddly though, the Natural Blonde hates the game. She'll watch football, she used to go to rugby matches, she'll even tolerate cricket when it's really important (during the Ashes win two years ago, she took to calling Matthew Hoggard 'Hoggy', suggesting she was getting into the correct spirit) but tennis, a traditionally female viewer-friendly sport, does not float any of her boats. So, depending on which of us feels most like an argument, someone's in the spare room watching the portable when an important match is on.

You also see more old tennis on telly than any other vintage footage. Once a year the BBC dusts off its coverage of McEnroe v Borg in 1980 to fill the gap caused by opened heavens during Wimbledon fortnight. It's one of those few old sporting occasions which never becomes tiresome to see again. As I type this, ESPN Classic is showing Navratilova v Evert from 1978. It was Navratilova's first final, back in the days before she was a) blonde; b) American; c) in possession of a decent racquet; and d) publicly out.

Looking at what Evert, physically attractive and something of a darling of the sport, was prone to wear back then, I still wonder how even the less self-conscious lady tennis star didn't feel mildly ill at ease with the amount of knicker they were liable to expose. Mind you, the fellas have a tendency to change their shirts after sets nowadays. For every bit of girly frill, there's a manly torso, so we're even.

Another good thing about the ex-tennis players is that they largely turn into brilliant commentators. I could listen to John McEnroe talk about tennis all day. He does a whole session's worth of droll, articulate and unabashed commentary for the telly, then nips to the radio booth to do the tennis version of 6-0-6 on Five Live each evening, and never seems to run out of new opinions or be even remotely perturbed by what he says. His autobiography is superb. He, along with Geoffrey Boycott on cricket, David Doyle-Davidson on rugby league and Michael Johnson on athletics are four high-class sports stars of their day who have switched to commentary and punditry with the same star quality and class that they showed as competitors.

The BBC have, almost with a sense of obligation after his retirement, hired Tim Henman to aid with their coverage this year. I don't mind him, and I think his achievements at Wimbledon are unfairly scorned given how diabolical British tennis was before he pitched up, but listening to him speak about the game has the appeal of being hit in the face with an anvil. But the likes of Boris Becker, Tracey Austin, John Lloyd and Pam Shriver are insightful and never slow to point out an awkward truth.

The crowds annoy me though. "Come on Tim", a sound you could still hate despite agreeing with the sentiment, has now become "Come on Andy", which I sympathise with less. Murray's talented and hopefully has some ruthlessness which will take him further than Henman's four semi-finals, but he's sometimes a spiteful piece of work who has admitted to a naturalised hatred of the English - hardly a good ploy when it's the English who'll back him faithfully on Centre Court against Nadal tomorrow.

The crowds also irk me when something unamusing is greeted with laughter usually reserved for Bob Newhart or Eddie Izzard. A pigeon flies down and that's just hysterical. When a ball gets stuck in the net, it's utterly side-splitting. Some player makes a pig's ear of a shot and gives a daft gesture (see Henri Leconte from days of yore) and the whole audience is giggling uncontrollably. Yet if a player legitimately double checks a dodgy line call, he or she is roundly booed. And despite repeated warnings at late finishes from the umpire about distracting players, they still get out their cameras with the strong flashes and click away.

And look in the royal box. Who is actually royal in there? Princess Michael of Kent sometimes puts in an appearance in between denying her Nazi connections and no sod cares, rightly. The Duke and Duchess of Kent, as acceptable a royal couple as there has ever been, come along in their patronage roles for the semi-finals and the final ("have you enjoyed being a ball boy?"), but otherwise it's major corporate clients and celebs like Terry Wogan who will roundly ignore all other tennis for the year but turn up at the All England Club when, frankly, they could watch it on telly for all the interest they have in the actual tennis.

Is tennis any more accessible as a sport for kids to take up these days? When I was at school, you'd see a few lads (never girls) on the tennis courts at my school during and briefly after Wimbledon, but it'd never last. It was only taught once a week during the summer term in PE, and anyway, our school kept running out of tennis balls and nobody ever weeded the courts so you'd have lessons delayed while someone dragged the nettles from the baseline. Tennis lessons were far more fun for the "how high can you whack the ball in the air" competition (often clearing the wire cordons around the courts and into the main road) than it ever was for that tedious baseline and serving gubbins. None of our PE teachers seemed to care for tennis anyway; hardly inspiring stuff.

Still, I have a bottle of Robinson's Peach Juice (the nearest I'll allow myself to barley water, vile stuff) in the cupboard and I'll soldier on to watching the finals this weekend. Or maybe I'll pray for rain and hope we get that tie-break from 1980 again. McEnroe wins it, y'know...

30 June 2008

Paper play

It's been a long time since I published a photograph of one of the cats doing something cute and, well, catty, so here's Sox flat on her back on a copy of the Daily Mail's Weekend supplement. You could make a case for it being the only use for ... yes, we've all had the same thought, I suspect.



And, in case you still have a few spare 'awwww' platelets in your arteries after that, try a picture of Sidney laying on same mag - while Oliver washes him.



Don't melt all over the keyboard, now...

29 June 2008

All 80s, All Night

If you'd attended my 80s night last night at the club in Stockport at 11pm and stayed until chucking out at 3.05am, this is what you'd have enjoyed/endured:

Kool and the Gang "Celebration"
Fatback Band "I Found Lovin'"
Detroit Spinners "Working My Way Back To You"
Earth, Wind and Fire "Let's Groove"
Imagination "Just An Illusion"
Mary Jane Girls "All Night Long"
Womack and Womack "Teardrops"
Pointer Sisters "I'm So Excited"
Shalamar "A Night To Remember"
Evelyn Thomas "High Energy"
Whitney Houston "How Will I Know"
Diana Ross "Chain Reaction"
Lionel Richie "Dancing On The Ceiling"
Billy Ocean "When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going"
Colonel Abrams "Trapped"
Prince "Raspberry Beret"
Luther Vandross "Never Too Much"
Michael Jackson "Billie Jean"
Bob Marley and the Wailers "Could You Be Loved"
UB40 and Chrissie Hynde "I Got You Babe"
KC and the Sunshine Band "Give It Up"
Simply Red "Money's Too Tight To Mention"
Level 42 "Lessons In Love"
Wham! "Everything She Wants"
Culture Club "Karma Chameleon"
Kajagoogoo "Too Shy"
Haircut 100 "Love Plus One"
Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield "What Have I Done To Deserve This"
Erasure "A Little Respect"
Duran Duran "Girls On Film"
Spandau Ballet "Gold"
Soft Cell "Tainted Love"
Human League "Don't You Want Me"
Talk Talk "It's My Life"
Depeche Mode "Just Can't Get Enough"
Dexys Midnight Runners "Geno"
Specials "Too Much Too Young"
Madness "Embarrassment"
Jam "Going Underground"
Housemartins "Happy Hour"
Smiths "This Charming Man"
Aztec Camera "Oblivious"
U2 "Pride (In The Name Of Love)"
Simple Minds "Don't You (Forget About Me)"
Bon Jovi "Livin' On A Prayer"
Guns n Roses "Sweet Child O' Mine"
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts "I Love Rock n Roll"
Blondie "Atomic"
Katrina and the Waves "Walking On Sunshine"
Kim Wilde "Kids In America"
Nena "99 Red Balloons"
Madonna "Holiday"
Tiffany "I Think We're Alone Now"
Donna Summer "This Time I Know It's For Real"
Irene Cara "Flashdance ... What A Feeling"
Dolly Parton "9 To 5"
Starsound "Stars On 45" (Abba Version)
Cyndi Lauper "Girls Just Want To Have Fun"
Laura Branigan "Gloria"
Bananarama "Shy Boy"
Nolans "I'm In The Mood For Dancing"
Ottawan "Hands Up (Give Me Your Heart)"
Kenny Loggins "Footloose"
George Harrison "Got My Mind Set On You"
Billy Joel "Uptown Girl"
Shakin' Stevens "This Ole House"
Tight Fit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
* LAST ORDERS AT THE BAR PLEASE! *
David Bowie "Modern Love"
Dire Straits "Walk Of Life"
Dr and the Medics "Spirit In The Sky"
* TIME AT THE BAR PLEASE! *
Phil Collins "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)"

Yep, we end with the slow arse-clinching 80s ballad, though while some couples smooch, most people just tend to sing it at the top of their voices.

I'd say about 60% of the above are must-plays every week, though with some I'll keep the artist and change the song. I never play the same artist twice (not since the hours were reduced from 4am finish to 3am) and have never, ever played the same song twice. I could easily do another four hours with a totally new set.

Publicising a playlist isn't always useful - I once rang up a club in Hull asking for work, so they told me to send a sample playlist through. I did - and they nicked the playlist without hiring me to play it.

So, would you be feeling the beat to the rhythm of this night?