25 July 2008

Platell it like it is

An appearance on Have I Got News For You back in 1993 when she was MGN managing editor, played along with all the "I'll give you one" gags, wore a pink suit and got monstered by Ian Hislop over the nicked 'Squidgygate' tapes.

That was the last thing Amanda Platell did that I quite liked.

Until today.

24 July 2008

"Which till's open?"

I don't like supermarkets, but I admire people who work in them. With the advent of 24 hour stores, I even suspect that the best time to work in a massive Asda or Tesco is overnight, when you can chat to your colleagues, stack the shelves, have pallet-trolley races* and leave the oddball drunkards to the beefy chap in the security guard's clobber.

As someone very much used to overnight work on the wireless, I accept that nightshifts are unnatural, irrespective of how much joy or fun the actual job might be. But I can't help but believe that, like the unwilling hotel owner who could run the place so smoothly if it weren't for all these guests getting in the way, supermarket employment is at its most stimulating and fun when there aren't these ludicrous customers blocking the aisles.

Anyway, I went into a big, customer-free Asda at 3.45am today and bought a bottle of dilute peach juice and a pack of ten rewritable CDs. I suspect the staff had hours of fun speculating why these items were so vital at such a crazy time of day.

*For the online PR bloke from Asda who searches blogs every day for references to his employers, can I point out that I've never seen pallet-trolley races in any of your stores. Even at 3.45am, I noticed no gossip, no tomfoolery, just conscientious staff working hard, and my words are merely speculative. There.

22 July 2008

Chart-hoggin' hits - still

It's easy, and indeed quite lazy, to realise that you're "getting old". For me, I genuinely follow that comedian's adage that a good sign of ageing comes when you see a 19 year old girl with splendid legs and a skirt the size of a mousemat and your first (and only) thought is "she'll get her death of cold dressed like that".

Then there's the shelf which calls itself your stomach, or the fact that you switch on Newsnight at 10.30pm but have succumbed to the power of your bed and are in deep slumber long before Paxman has gone through the money markets or the front pages.

But the killer one for me appeared on television this week.

Now That's What I Call Music - Volume 70.

70. Yes, seventy. Seventy!

I have a brown, fake reptile cassette box somewhere in my loft containing the first ten Now! compilations. Now 1, advertised by that pig in the autumn of 1983 for the build-up to Christmas, is still there. The inlays are raggy round the edges but still readable. It was two cassettes stuck together - literally, with a piece of masking tape - before that presentation double cassette box was introduced in time for Now 2.

Pop compilations changed with the Now! album. They became essential, representative compendiums of the sounds which had genuinely rocked through record stores, radio stations and kids' singles collections over the period represented. Before that, you got guff like Raiders Of The Pop Charts (lots of songs which got to No.42, and re-records of Dollar hits) and those Chartblasters efforts from K-Tel - occasional standard selections like In The Air Tonight interspersed with Beggar & Co and Matchbox, plus a version of Einstein A Go Go which omitted the presidential telephone call at the beginning.

They were as a good as you got. If you wanted something which authentically contained the hits we were hearing and buying, tough. You got what the record companies were willing to release, other wise you had to buy the studio albums and the singles themselves.

Then came the Now! album, and all changed.

We got the Hits franchise from 1984 onwards too, and between them they stacked up about 35 must-have compilations to the end of the 1980s. I bought the lot.

My copy of Now 8 has graffiti on it, thanks to Mark "Smiggy" Smith nicking it during breaktime and drawing beards on the faces of Janet Jackson and Boris Gardiner. I also have copies somewhere of Now Dance, Now Christmas, Now this, Now that ... and that weird Smash Hits tie-in one from 1987, the reason for its release I can't remember, but it did finally give me a playable copy of ABC's The Look Of Love.

But Now 70? Crikey. Surviving with the ashes of a pop radio career means I'll recognise the music on there but I haven't been compelled to buy a Now! album since 1992 (can't remember the volume number, but it's got Take This Heart by Richard Marx on it). Someone somewhere has them all. And they really do make me feel old.

I'm not into shameless pluggery, but there's more info to be had here, as writ by me and this guy over here. Velvet trouser thing indeed ... but hey, we mention the Ward Brothers!

(Going) up and (going) under

As I write this, the RFL are about one hour or so from handing out the new Super League franchises. These are three year deals for 14 rugby league clubs to compete at the highest club level without the threat of relegation.

(Southerners and sport-haters, please read on - grit your teeth and remember that film with Neil Morrissey and Samantha Janus in it).

Not too many shocks are expected, though the allocation of 14 franchises when there are only 12 teams currently in Super League means that at least two differently-based sides (one of whom could be French) are going to get a fast-track to the top tier. The least controversial thing that could happen is that one or two of the lower sides with seemingly the best case for an upgrade, like Widnes or Salford, might miss out. More controversial could be the removal of current Super League stragglers like Castleford or Wakefield (just ahead of the latter appearing in the Challenge Cup semi-final this weekend, as if the players would appreciate a distraction) because their stadium facilities are not of the highest calibre. Anyone who has been to St Helens' ground in recent years will know about that, but they are proper Super League elite and they're getting a franchise, no question.

These licences (as the RFL prefer to call them; "franchise" would appear to be too emotionless for them) are being handed out, as I understand it, to start a process of evening the balance between the teams in rugby league's top division - the one bought up by Murdoch 11 years ago and switched, via Sky, to the summertime from the winter. Therefore clubs have to apply by showing their credentials regarding on-field success, youth development, training and stadium facilities, heritage, community standing and general good upkeep. There are probably other factors taken into account too.

I don't approve. As someone brought up in the round ball game who was greatly disturbed by the Wimbledon/MK Dons outrage, I expect it's a way for smaller sports like rugby league - which, barring planted French, Welsh and London sides over the years, remains a M62 corridor game - to up their standards and bring in outside interest and investment, but it doesn't make it morally right and it doesn't feel like sport. Unfortunately, for the clubs who don't get franchises, or haven't been in a position to apply, life is going to get even tougher. I've always felt that sporting prowess - or lack of - should be the sole key to organisations or people ascending or descending the echelons, but maybe I'm a bit square.

Rugby league isn't new to deciding the winners and losers by means of something than actual points on the board though; it currently has a long season with a normal league table, but whoever finishes top of that table (last season - St Helens) isn't crowned champions unless they also win a lottery-style six game play off at the end of it (last season - Leeds), rendering the achievements of attaining the most points after a gruelling season almost entirely worthless.

Here in Hull, nobody seems anything other than ultra-confident that the one true derby of rugby league will remain, and both Hull FC and Hull KR will be awarded their licences for Super League's next three years. Both fit the criteria with ease. The sport remains a huge pull in the city, even though it's never been as big as the round ball game as they make out, and has been trumped just lately by the impending arrival of the Premier League. It would, like kicking out a huge club like St Helens because their stadium is rubbish, be a PR disaster to omit either side and rob the game of its biggest club occasion. And, of course, no sporting organisation likes bad PR.

21 July 2008

"She must have found somebody new and now I'm all alone..."

Just to start a new, thrilling week (no, come on), I thought I'd bore/enlighten/be humoured politely by you all with another round of iPod roulette. Hang on to your hats for...

1: The Root Of All Evil - Beautiful South
"Rich may switch the way they feel rich!" From the later end of their career and not even, sadly, a Top 40 entry, this was nonetheless a jaunty bit of Europhilia about the single currency. The rhyme "we'll be eating frogs and modelling clogs" appears in the chorus, which shows who the song wasn't aimed at.

2: You Will Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties - Jona Lewie
Now making a fortune from property and annual December playlist royalties, this was Lewie's other hit from 1980. I have sung this via an iPod at the Phoenix Arts Bar with F-C while each of us had an earpiece. So there. A terrific piece of semi-ecstatic, semi-bleak, synth one-fingership as Lewie foggily details his crapness around women at house parties. "Then I met this debutante, I said 'I like new wave rock'..."

3: Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd
"In Birmingham they love the governor!" D'ya know, I only found out recently that most of Lynyrd Skynyrd copped it more than 30 years ago in a plane crash. This, and Freebird, were all they managed singles-wise in the UK but this sounds very, very good when very, very loud - there's a Gothic club near me which insists on drawing blood from your eardrums when they stick it on. Now a germaine record again thanks to Kid Rock, of course.

4: Imitation Of Life - REM
Hmmm. I am a big fan of REM but I don't really have much to say about this song. Reveal was their first album in yonks, and all I remember about the publicity for the album and this launch single was Michael Stipe doing one of Q magazine's readers' Q&A things, and being asked "Why did nobody buy your last album?" The album was New Adventures in Hi-Fi, I think ... anyway, he replied "That's a mean-spirited question and I'm not going to answer it." I do like the chorus on this song - Mike Mills' harmonies are immaculate. "This lightning storm, this tidal wave, this avalanche, I'm not afraid..."

5: Thorn In My Side - Eurythmics
"I should have known better, but I got what I deser-erve!" Annie and Dave's last UK Top 10 hit, chartwatchers. Uplifting mid-80s sax intro, fab vocal, clear as day lyrics and a chorus and "run run run run" backing which rendered it resident in your head from the first listen. Eurythmics were more melodious than they were given credit for.

Over to you...?

20 July 2008

Ostenders



Back and safe, with an inexplicably bad bout of dizziness caused by alcohol consumption, rendered bearable by a nice memory of following the boys abroad for the first time. The game wasn't up to much, but hey - they still have terracing in Belgium and let you drink beer during the game. Awesome.

Ferry cabins are the pits of the earth though, especially when you share one with three other grown men of varying hygiene standards and liquor retention skills.

(The cabin did contain four beds, might I add, despite being the size of an ashtray).