30 May 2009

"It was no infatuation, but a gradual graduation..."



I broke the habit of a lifetime last night and attended a gig. I've never been a gig goer but when I spied a few weeks ago that 10cc were doing Hull City Hall as I walked past the great old building, I decided I'd rather like to see them.

So, last night, a couple of friends and I had a pleasant three hours or so watching one of the more innovative and sharp bands of the 1970s work through their back catalogue.

I was too young to remember 10cc first time round; their first hit was before I was born and their swansong with Dreadlock Holiday happened when I was five. I became mildly aware of some of their back catalogue as I grew up, but when I became a hospital radio DJ at 16 and began to learn properly about the music I'd missed, they were one band that instantly struck. I've been a fan ever since, and most weeks for the last eight years I've driven past the historic Strawberry Studios in Stockport where they made their music, which is now blue-plaqued and makes everyone aware of what once happened within.

There is a new Greatest Hits compilation CD and a concert DVD out and so they're doing some of their old haunts to promote it. I know they did our City Hall in 1975 as it was a gig I researched when I was presenting the 70s Night on KCFM. I looked around the crowd that gathered last night and wondered how many of them had been teenagers in the crowd on that evening 34 years ago.

Now, it isn't the 10cc you may remember. Graham Gouldman is the only original member of the line-up still using the name. Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme aren't involved and although it's easy to feel disappointed by this, I wasn't especially bothered. It was the sound that mattered, and the songs remain so strong and witty and worthy of performance that the personalities onstage were almost incidental, although without Gouldman it would have been a tribute band and that really isn't the same. Crucially, two of the musicians who worked in the studio and onstage throughout 10cc's heyday - drummer Paul Burgess and guitarist Rick Fenn - are there alongside Gouldman. There are two more musicians, one of whom also acts as the high melody lead singer.

Gouldman began with an acoustic set of the stuff he wrote for other bands as a jobbing composer prior to 10cc - Bus Stop, No Milk Today, For Your Love - and each of the other musicians joined him, one by one. Then, after a long interval, the 10cc set began.

And we got the lot. Look under 10cc in the Guinness Book of Hit Singles and you'll see that nothing was missed out. The severely rock-opera'd version of Art For Art's Sake was a magnificent highlight, while it's tough not to listen to the immortal I'm Mandy Fly Me without wondering why Bohemian Rhapsody got so many more plaudits. The ringing telephone on Donna was taken up by a Nokia ringtone rather than the one-note "ring ring" of 1972 that features on the record.

We also got a couple of album tracks plus Bridge To Your Heart, the jolly single Gouldman released with Andrew Gold under the name of Wax in 1987, though as even the chap apeing Stewart and Creme's vocal performances couldn't sing as high as Gold did on the recording, we got a rather a low key version of the song, and it was the only thing that didn't quite sound right. And me an 80s boy too - Valentine Suicide will think there's hope for me yet.

They did I'm Not In Love penultimately, featuring the vocal stylings of the original recordings plus the famous secretarial "big boys don't cry". It was superb. Then the last song was Dreadlock Holiday, with the cheesy but amusing pay-off line "I don't like Hull, I love it" prior to saying goodnight. Naturally they were cheered back on and we got a ten minute version of Rubber Bullets as the encore which brought the house down.

I'm regularly told by people I should have experienced more live music in my life. Maybe this is true. I still doubt I'll attend many gigs in what remains of my existence, but I did enjoy this thoroughly. It's also quite odd to look around the audience of which you are a part, and realise that you're quite possibly the youngest person in it.

29 May 2009

"I thought it was a bit .... minor key"



Great British Menu reached its climax tonight and I've really enjoyed the series. People I admire include piano players, sign language exponents and chefs, as they all do something I can't do, but really want to.

The brief this year was to prepare a four-course banquet for hundreds of troops returning home from Afghanistan, with the remit that each course will provide "a taste of home". This meant that the poncier end of a Michelin-starred menu was not called for, more a desire for unique twists on familiar meals and ingredients, with a dollop of excellence spooned in.

Each region had a heat, and so once the heats were done we had eight finalists. The judging was done by three food critics, led by the likeable Pru Leith, who would proffer opinions on each dish's taste and authenticity as a "taste of home". Food critics generally get on my tits, but these three were refreshingly quite reserved in their pomposities and criticism. In the final, each chef made their courses again and each were marked out of ten by each judge.

Then we hit a snag.

The public were asked to vote.

This obsession with interactivity has surely gone too far when the viewers are being asked to spend money voting for food they haven't tasted and never will. At least on Strictly Come Dancing you can make a qualified judgement on who was good at the salsa and who less so. Seven million people weren't ever going to taste the dressed duck eggs, crab salads, beef wellingtons and strawberry textures on show, yet their opinion was regarded as equal to that of three people who a) had expert palates; and b) had tasted the actual food.

Of course, at least one result had to be changed to make the public's expense worthwhile, and so the affable young Welsh chef whose starter was voted top by the judges lost his place at the banquet to the Geordie bloke he had previously shoved into second. The other three courses were all awarded to the chefs put at the top by the judges, thereby making three quarters of the public vote a nonsensical confirmation of what had gone before. One suspects that the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish chefs involved had a stack of votes cast their way by fellow residents of their respective principalities, but it wasn't enough, and the Welshman can feel particularly aggrieved that his whole nation didn't vote enough to stop the ginger Tynesider overtaking him. How must the judges feel when a few million amateurs who hadn't tasted the food essentially decided their opinion was worthier?

The starter went to the Geordie (beef salad with horseradish); the fish course to the droll Brummie with earrings and stubble (curried monkfish - yum!); the main course to a lairy Lancastrian (Lancashire hotpot - natch;) and the dessert to a perspiring Darlingtonian who was now a restaurateur on Jersey (treacle tart and clotted cream with raspberry coulis).

The turnover in filming and editing was impressive, as although blatantly a pre-recorded series, the public voting was just for two hours after each episode this week, giving the production team time to gather the result and film each reaction accordingly.

I still won't get much more culinary than a bowl of pasta bolognese, but these guys inspire me nonetheless. I wouldn't mind being at the banquet.

27 May 2009

"I've got news for you, I hope it don't hit you too hard..."



I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down by Paul Young. This cover of a fine Ann Peebles song was his comeback single of 1984 at a peculiar old time for him, having been forcibly in retreat all year due to severe voice problems.

It was a good way to come back, though many reckoned that after relying on cover versions thus far in his career (Marvin Gaye and Nicky Thomas songs had previously got him into the Top 10, while his take on Joy Division's major contribution to music remains as remarkable now as it was then), he should have been brave enough to commission some original material for his second album. Not so. Aside from this, the seminal (and divine) Everytime You Go Away were included on his second album and once his A-list status died, he plodded on gently with covers of Congregation, the Chi-Lites and Crowded House, among others.

Playhouse... (I'm way too lazy to keep typing out the full title) amuses me greatly. It features the vocal interruptions of Young's blue collar backing duo The Fabulous Wealthy Tarts, suggesting it was recorded a while before release as they had parted company with one another after Love Of The Common People as they fancied a go at forging their own career (which never happened). For the new album, Young recruited that Londonbeat-esque soul trio to do vocal interjection duties but clearly there was no time (or no right) to re-do the backing.

It meant that Young mimed the song on Top Of The Pops without any backing vocalists present at all, despite the "push push" girliness being more than audible as he bridged his way to each chorus. On this video, however, intelligences everywhere are insulted by making it a mega jump-cutted concert performance and claiming that the new boys behind the microphones were in fact providing the girly vocals. If it weren't so tragic...

Young promoted the single by talking about his vocal troubles, which had been caused by overstretching his range on an exhaustive tour of the USA, where he was still attempting to make his name. I remember an interview he gave where he said that even though without his voice he couldn't do his job, it was still easier to be a singer with vocal damage than it would have been in his previous job working for Vauxhall. I didn't understand it then and I don't now.

Still, it was a good, sturdy comeback and reached No.9 in the UK charts and, as his only release of 1984, was probably the song which reminded Bob Geldof of his existence when it came to recruiting pop's great and good for Band Aid. Young's understated performance of the opening lines, however, is overshadowed by the plain white T-shirt and his garbled miming at the crescendo which led to his sharing a joke with Rick Parfitt.

He was rather boring. As a predominantly covers act, he could never be critiqued with any great gusto for his musicality, while even in the alleged taste-free world of the 1980s fashion scene, his jumpers and leather ties were mercilessly ridiculed. His boyish good looks maintained female interest when the music wasn't always doing its job, while he did, of course, possess a superb voice. The only time he seemed to go beyond the pale at all in terms of interest was when he, according to the tabloids, "won" a "battle" for the affections of Stacey Smith against stunt rider Eddie Kidd, who seemed to be, at face value at least, a far more exciting prospect for most women.

Young is still performing, doing the country and western scene with his band and sporting a grey beard. When you hear the sublime duet he did with Zucchero, Senza Una Donna (Without A Woman) ("blatant liars, both of them" - Jakki Brambles), you'd forgive him almost anything...

25 May 2009

"I haven't been able to give up McDonalds yet..."



The weekend's gone all to cock. My joy at Hull City's survival demanded an instant response upon returning to blogland, but before all that hellish tension of the leather sphere, there was the latest Nerd Night. I'm doing all this in the wrong order.

The Nerd Night is a phrase coined by the great and good Alex Lester for the bi-monthly (though this time we had to wait a third month since the last one) gathering of broadcasty types for discussion of the industry, swapping of gossip, anecdotes and memories.

We were back in London for this one, which meant Alex could invite a stack of his colleagues. I was working in Stockport and so flew down from Manchester immediately after the show. This was greeted with camp "ooooh, get you" exclamations from people I knew, even though the flight was cheaper than our hideous, scandalous excuse for a railway system and was further enriched by the knowledge that the tracks were being repaired part of the way over the Bank Holiday weekend.

I'm not an experienced flier and I have zero experience of actually booking flights or finding my own way around airports, so my good friend Martin Emery almost had to hold my hand as we went to Terminal 5, then check-in, then security and then paid half an MP's moat clearing bill for fish fingers and chips in the departure lounge while scanning the screen. At security, I had to remove my belt and empty any keys from my pockets but, gratifyingly, was not required to give them money or jewellery. You are reading the words of a man who left his wedding ring in an Egyptian security box while negotiating his return from honeymoon, and only the eagle eyes and honest nature of a balding man from Doncaster prevented a quickie divorce.

I took my passport, which the online booking form advised, even though it was a domestic flight and I wouldn't be leaving British shores or, indeed, British airspace. Not once was my passport asked for, thereby making me risk losing it when its presence on my person was entirely unnecessary. I also want to know why the safety instructions on these domestic jollies include the life jacket procedure. Are we going to plunge into a swimming pool? If so, I'll take my chances. And maybe my trunks.

The flight, and my consumption of that day's Daily Mail, took roughly the same length of time. I was staying at Alex's central London flat and was responsible for gathering the non-BBC types (ie, everyone who Alex didn't work with) at the same place. Rapidly losing my mobile phone battery thanks to a dodgy connection within the charging socket meant this was proving difficult, but almost everyone managed to receive a text or call prior to the damned thing conking out entirely and leaving me uncontactable for the night.

So it was to the Stags Head, close to the BBC, for a swift intake of beers, prior to a 7.30 booking at a branch of Ask a street or three away. I'm a sucker for Italian food but Ask always lets me down - expensive and not exactly generous with the portions - yet it was the best option for people coming straight from working for the licence payer. We had a good 20 or so folk sitting at one long table. My abiding memory of the conversation that took place was telling BBC Radio Berkshire's Rory McAllister that no, I was *not* Alex's regularly-mentioned-on-the-wireless friend known only as Libido Boy.

We had the grand total of three ex-Radio 1 DJs with us. Charlie Jordan, who is still absent from Radio Rewind thanks to some ghastly oversight on their part, was joined by her pal Clive Warren, and my old mucker from the Viking days, Joel Ross, turned up. Joel is staggeringly entertaining company, be he in drink or not, and he proceeded to become an effortless life and soul of the party for the duration. When the majority of us finally gave up the ghost at about 1.30am at the Northumberland Arms - a shot put away from Warren Street tube station - Joel and our reluctant pal Simon Hirst were heading elsewhere. The Facebook update afterwards failed to give details, although they were happy to reveal that they had a 4am footlong sandwich from Subway prior to hitting the hay.



Every other hour I seemed to wake up on Alex's settee and try to get my mobile charging again, finally achieving some life from it at 8am, shortly before rising to devour a hearty breakfast from his local greasy spoon. However, it was disappointingly shut, so we had to pay three quid more for a smaller fry-up from one of those French chain eateries further along.

Alex accompanied me back to Heathrow - Martin was returning later than me, which meant I had to negotiate an airport alone and needed wetnursing - and we were merrily nattering away on our Piccadilly Line train when, at one of the Hounslow stops, a man with a wooden triangular thing got on our carriage and, as soon as the journey recommenced, announced in a loud voice and about six different accents at once that he was here to entertain us on our journey. He then added the caveat that he would not perform if anyone chose to object and Alex, in a distinctly un-British way, promptly but politely declared that he would like to travel in peace and quiet, please. Good on him. I've never seen anyone do this before, and I do still wonder exactly what this triangular thing would be were the man permitted to play it. It looked like a metronome but it was missing the ticky pendulum bit, which I suspect is rather crucial in the metronome world.

I got to Heathrow and managed to do check in without too many issues - I know I sound a dweeb, but I've genuinely never done it before and an airport is an easy place to get lost in - prior to waving farewell to Alex and going for a wander round the shops while waiting for the flight to be called. There were, according to the accents I heard in all the stores, seemingly hundreds of Americans in Heathrow on that Saturday morning. I had one small suitcase which I'd checked in, and had absolutely no hand luggage at all. I suspect it's rare that someone walks on to a flight, even a domestic one, completely empty handed.

Upon arrival in Manchester, I collected my case and headed for the car. No fewer than four cars on the row where I was parked had stickers on them saying "UNTAXED VEHICLE - PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE". Clearly the best way to get rid of a car you don't want is to ditch it at the airport.

I drove to my regular B and B in Stockport and fell asleep for four hours, prior to getting ready for the gig. I'm getting too old for this, but I don't care. I'm the host of our next one as we all hit my proud city of Hull at the beginning of August. Wanna come along?