1 August 2009

"A different take on music"

I shall be hosting my first ever London radio show this weekend, having been given a nice Sunday evening slot from 6pm.

I won't say where as any blogging about my career has never been designed to self-promote, merely natter about how the industry works and be anecdotal. But there is a clue somewhere on this page. If you really are interested, then you'll find me.

31 July 2009

Sir Bobby



My favourite story about Bobby Robson, one of football's last great gentlemen who passed away today, involves a famous clip of him looking all pondersome and reflective during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

England had only taken one point from the opening two group matches and had also lost its first choice midfield pairing to a dodgy shoulder and a bad temper respectively. The manager had been given some vitriolic treatment by our charmlessly impatient press and had some important decisions to make prior to a match that was win or bust.

He had been wandering around the pool at England's base, shirtless, and was then filmed leaning on a rail by the side with his hands over his cheeks and ears, looking deep in thought and as if he were going through acute personal torment. It was as if he was trying to come to terms with the decisions on personnel and tactics for the forthcoming game against Poland which could make or break him in a job he held so proudly.

Much speculation followed about his state of mind as the bit of film was replayed countlessly and analysed by body language boffins and hacks desperately trying to fill space. Look at his expression. That pose with the hands over cheeks and ears shows a man embroiled in turmoil, a man who knew he had to drop certain players in order to rescue England's declining hopes in the tournament. Was he cracking under the strain? Was he losing his bottle? Was he at the end of his tether? Blah blah, and ever more blah blah blah.

It turned out the reason he was adopting such a forlorn pose was because he was trying to listen to his not-very-loud 1980s-style personal stereo without outside interference. His fingers were so placed because he was pushing the cans further againt his ears to get a better sound. In the days when we wore miniature cans which loosely fitted over our ears, rather than either mega cans which enveloped the ears or tiny earphones which fitted right in, it was easy for incidental noise to gatecrash with the listening experience.

His choice of music was Whitney Houston, by the way. As it was 1986 it may well have been How Will I Know or The Greatest Love Of All to which he was tapping his index fingers against his head. Given that he was 53 at the time and Whitney represented what many of his generation would have interpreted as "drug-crazed modern garbage" (about a decade early for Whitney, as it turned out, with the possible exception of the "modern garbage" bit), it was quite a oool choice for a man who loved Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.

Anyway, he made the necessary tough decisions, England beat Poland 3-0 and ultimately only exited the tournament in the quarter finals thanks to a cocaine-riddled Argentine cheat. That said, Bobby Robson was probably the only anguished Englishman that day who didn't call Diego Maradona that particular word. Such was the man.

30 July 2009

The Chinese Way


A bunch of my mates are currently in China, watching Hull City's involvement in the brief pre-season jolly-up called the Barclays Asia Trophy. I still can't work out, as I read their (inebriated) online accounts of their experiences, whether I wish I was with them or not.

I am not an experienced traveller, but I have acquired an urge to travel more. However, China is one place I've never really fancied and I still don't, despite my new-found itchy feet. I don't know why. Maybe I've got a worthy principle within my being not to spend my money within the borders of a country with such a poor human rights record. Maybe it's because I'm shit at using chopsticks. Yet when the tournament was announced and pals began looking at decent flight and hotel deals for five days in Beijing, I was sorely, sorely tempted.

Short shrift was offered at home, correctly, and so the idea of me going to China was quickly abandoned. The lads who have gone are either younger than me, or single, or mortgage-free, or all of the above. And they all have jobs which entitle them to paid annual leave. I don't.

So, given that I'm mature enough to accept that I'm of an age and with a level of responsibility that means beanos to the Far East on a whim just to watch football in smoggy conditions (something which you can get just as easily in Middlesbrough for 0.01 per cent of the expense and upheaval) are a non-starter, why does a bit of me feel like I've missed out? After all, ultimately you non-footballists will say I've made the right decision purely because it would be insane to spend so many quids just to watch a couple of football matches which are more designed to spread Hull City's name in warmer, distant climes than it is to benefit footballers or to entertain the public, be they from Beijing or Bridlington. Footballists will, however, understand my dilemma.

I must say, however, that I'd have been gutted far more if the contest had been somewhere I was more attracted to, like Australia, Japan, anywhere in Europe or Canada. The lads will get home this weekend with their tales of mad heatwaves, insanely luxurious hotels and singing Hull City songs for a foreign crowd obsessed with taking photographs of western footballers. They'll have had great fun. They'll be unspeakably smug for the impending season that they did the China trip and the rest of us didn't. And yet I genuinely don't know whether I'm glad I didn't go or not. Tell me what I've missed!

29 July 2009

Lembit have it



Lembit Öpik MP is getting stick from the sniffier wing of Fleet Street again for daring to snare yet another exciting girlfriend. She's pretty, young, "curvy" (that's sneery tabloid shorthand for "not having her ribs jutting out" - see also "plump") and glamorous.

I'd rather like Öpik, one of the more accessible and switched-on MPs we have, to be left alone but given that he does provoke good copy, it's unlikely. Having already dated a hateful weather presenter and a Cheeky Girl, he's decided again to hook up with someone who, deliberately or otherwise, is going to guarantee him headlines wherever he goes.

Of course, the question being asked is what on earth these women see in Öpik, a man who they claim is not classically good-looking or charismatic and has a lop-sided smile and a mild obsession with asteroid invasions.

Well, maybe he's charming. Generous. Thoughtful. Affectionate. Honest. Sensitive. Maybe he knows how to divide his time properly between the ludicrously busy professional life which comes with being an elected representative and the personal life which can so often suffer. It's all possible, y'know. He doesn't look like George Clooney, but then again neither does the proprietor of the Daily Express, (although he'd probably instruct his journalists to say he does).

Öpik made a bit of a fuss over his expenses claims when a council tax bill wrongly found its way thereon but he is largely a relatable guy who speaks sensibly and legibly. He has an element of personality and profile which the Liberal Democrats need more than ever. For all his obsessive traits, he seems more normal and in touch than most politicians.

The decorative qualities of his partner shouldn't be an issue, but the newspapers choose to make it so. Do they expect all the straight men in politics to be stuffed suits with no public appreciation of the opposite gender?

It's jealousy, of course. Öpik will have at least three high profile partners of pazazz and glamour to store in his memory bank, and his political career will survive, and maybe thrive, for as long as he remains fundamentally likeable. I suspect there are rather a lot of men who work in politics, or work as observers of politics, who would rather like to be him. And I reckon he rather likes being himself too.

28 July 2009

Justice

A blunder by the CPS means a man who matches the DNA sample found on a woman who was attacked and raped cannot be tried for the crime.

The file has gone missing, containing all the statements, evidence and so on.

However, as an original trial was fixed up in 2000 (which the judge abandoned after ruling the DNA evidence had been unlawfully obtained), it must mean that the man's solicitors will have received advanced disclosure, containing - yes - statements and other vital evidence. All defence teams have to know, by law, what the case is against their client.

Could these solicitors do something right and offer to give their copies back to the prosecution, I wonder?

If not, then in order to give some peace of mind to the woman's family - she was 66 at the time of the attack and has since died - they should take out a civil case against this man and the CPS should pay for it from their budget.

27 July 2009

Punch up the bracket



(There's A Man) In Iran, That I Can't Resist, Much Revered (Kinda Weird) Got This Chick In A (Twist). A fine Not The Nine O'Clock News song it was too, written about Ayatollah Khomeini and sung by Pamela Stephenson. Obviously it was a satirical love song aimed at Iran's leader in 1979, but the crazed bracketing when the title was written down on the sleeve of the tie-in cassette added a further, less crucial but nevertheless worthwhile dig.

Bracketing in song titles has always baffled me. Why bother? The Beatles never did it once with a single during their lifetime. Ultimately, few people are going to notice or care greatly about why you felt the need to separate and then enclose half of the title sentence and there seems to be little more than artist whim that justifies it.

Let's examine what songwriters do put in their brackets, and see if a purpose is properly served...

Reason 1: Alternative title

The song has a name that everyone is happy with, but due to something contractual or a tie-in project, an alternative title, almost certainly pitching the song's reason for existence, is offered in brackets. Diana Ross released Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To) in 1976, a record which showed that the song's place on a soundtrack was deemed more important than the title garnered from the lyrics, as also befell the pair of artists who have released what was officially titled Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless). These two examples offer extra punctuation issues - the adoption of brackets in the Diana Ross song was sorted out so urgently that they forgot the secondary title needed a question mark; while the use of * in a title must only ever have been used for censorship reasons before and since in titling songs.

Reason 2: Clarifying which song it is

A songwriter writes a classic (attic is optional) but insists on using a title which won't lend itself brilliantly to the song's familiarity as the title either appears fleetingly and less memorably in the lyrics, or not at all. Some artists - New Order spring to mind - gave no stuffs at all about this (Blue Monday, Thieves Like Us, True Faith) but others compromise, by putting a familiar word or line in brackets after the more 'personal' title. Try U2 with Pride (In The Name Of Love), Skunk Anansie with Brazen (Weak), Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand's sublime disco duet No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) or the Proclaimers with I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), all of which should have been titled just using the bracketed bit. There are loads more.

Reason 3: It's a new version, honest!
This allows for remixes and second releases and so on to be duly credited as such, either with the basic word - (Remix), (Medley) (Re-Issue) - or something far more pretentious, such as I Believe (A Soulful Re-Recording), which was released with typical pomposity by Tears For Fears, even though the song bore no difference to the unbracketed version on the album.

Reason 4: That bastard beat me to it!

Makes it clear that an artist's song is different to one with an identical title released just weeks or months earlier. Donna Summer's song On The Radio usurped the Roxy Music song of the same moniker by six months, so theirs became Oh Yeah (On The Radio). Probably wouldn't have stopped Bryan trying to give Donna one in the Top Of The Pops dressing rooms, mind.

Reason 5: The title should be long, but not this long...

There's probably a way of discovering this for real, but my hunch is that the Lighthouse Family single (I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be) Free/One is the song with the biggest majority of bracketed letters compared to those unbracketed, especially if you discount the /One bit of it, which I'm inclined to do. Brackets lengthen a title in looks, making the title more memorable, while at the same time letting the shortened version enjoy a form of precedence should it be so wished. These musicians really do have too much time on their hands.

Reason 6: To be deliberately pointless

My favourite ever use of brackets is on the otherwise totally unremarkable Hot Chocolate single What Kinda Boy You Looking For (Girl) . It is deliciously pointless, almost matched by the Bacharach and David song (There's) Always Something There To Remind Me. Given that neither of these would have felt detriment from either ditching the bracketed word, or keeping the word and just not bothering with the brackets, it is genuinely bamboozling. There are a lot of these - try (Do) The Hucklebuck by Coast To Coast, Fiction Factory's (Feels Like) Heaven or Gilbert O'Sullivan's maudlin Alone Again (Naturally) for starters.

Reason 7: It's how people will refer to it anyway!

Do you know Rupert Holmes for Escape or for The Pina Colada Song? If Billy Ordinary were to ring a radio station and ask for it (an irregular action, granted), then he'd tell the DJ he wanted to hear "that pina colada song, you know the one". He wouldn't ask for Escape. See also Stevie B's dripply forgettable Because I Love You (The Postman Song). There will be better songs with a (The _____ Song) in their title, but these are the two we can think of right now.

Reason 8: Oooh, controversial...
Do you think calling the last UK hit of Marvin Gaye's life (Sexual) Healing made the title any less dubious than if it had been Sexual Healing?

Reason 9: To set a precedent
I know of at least two people who will probably call me wrong here, but I suspect Heaven 17 are the only act to have released a single where the entire title is in brackets. Shame, really, that (And That's No Lie) didn't trouble the Top 40. Meanwhile, Iris Williams released a lyrical version of Cavatina which featured two separate pairs of brackets in the title, one after another. Beat that...