30 October 2009

"And it's sink or swim, like it's always been..."

Not much is going on this week, as you can probably tell. Hull City are all over the papers but I'm not going to bang on about it here. I'm three quarters through the terrific autobiography of Chris Evans. And that's about all. So, as if it were the Red Adair of this small segment of the blogging world, we indulge vehemently again in a round of .... iPod roulette!

1: Hanging On The Telephone - Blondie
"Did she go to work or just go to the store?" Frantic, simple and fabulous stuff from Debs et al. It has the fewest airs and graces of any Blondie record and I love the controlled desperation within the lyrics as the intended recipient of the call stays away from the phone. There is a Def Leppard version on the ether, and the song title was borrowed for a fanzine for Huddersfield Town after one of their ex-managers told the local press he was "hanging on the telephone" when trying to secure the services of a new player.

2: Victims - Culture Club
"Show my heart some devotion..." The one song of Boy George's career which should mark him as a great composer first, prior to great singer, great showman and great figurehead. Phil Pickett's piano playing is wonderful.

3: Jessie - Joshua Kadison
"She asked me how the cat is, I say 'Moses? He's just fine'..." Oooh. Now I don't believe in guilty pleasures at all - you like what you like and folk who sneer can bugger off - but there is something nagging at me that says this simply isn't a song for a man. It is a tug-of-love bit of schmooze that women love but having played it on endless radio shows (it tests well) over the years I've listened to it properly and grown very fond of it. It is a terrific bit of storytelling, even if the story itself makes you shiver uncomfortably, and I will always enjoy it. I'll get some real stick for this...

4: Acceptable In The 80s - Calvin Harris
"It was acceptable at the time..." This is looped as backing music on thousands of television programmes these days and as a consequence has suffered from over-exposure (it dies on dancefloors, despite being eminently danceable) but I still like it. The title of it appeals, naturally, but it's just a smart, funky tune and that's perfectly fine.

5: Tap Turns On The Water - CCS
"Come and ride a river, come and find the sun..." Collective Consciousness Society, or something. The line about looking at your sister "in the raw" remains most dodgy to this day but I love the brass inserts and the multi-layered chorus as it fades out. It sounds like a record where everyone was having a really good time and, surprisingly, it fared quite well on the dancefloor when I did 70s nights, although I only played it after last orders when everyone was ratted.

So there we have it? Joshua Kadison, hmmm...

27 October 2009

And the Brand played on


I've just finished reading Jo Brand's autobiography. It's an interesting read but she has made the assumption that we know all about her comedy career upon her elevation to television gigs and so ends the story with her debut appearance on the box.

I was rather looking forward to anecdotes about The Brain Drain, being treated like utter shite by Garry Bushell, Through The Cakehole, being invited on to Question Time to the mega chagrin of the right-wing press and her raucous put-downs to unkind hecklers over the years, but nothing was forthcoming. Aside from a prologue based at a recent Loughborough University gig, her tale starts in 1957 and ends suddenly and promptly in 1988.

This disappoints me mildly, and the fact that I've always found her more interesting than I have funny also means I should have disliked the book a bit. In fact I really enjoyed it, even without any words on her fame. Some of her tales as a teenager who hated being moved schools at the age of 16 are riotous; her relationship with her parents is intriguing (and seems to reach no conclusion, or at least not one she wishes to share with us); and her nursing career also receives much attention.

I think the reason why I never took massively to Jo Brand was that she did seem extremely prejudiced against men. She spent so much of her act monstering the less fair sex while simultaneously bemoaning the fact she couldn't find a husband. To me, this seemed a rather odd contradiction though eventually I did realise this was, of course, the point.

I remember seeing that debut on Friday Night Live in 1988 and being quite frightened of her. Again, I suspect she set out to frighten the audience as much as she could in order to ward off hecklers and also make it clear she appreciated her physical and sartorial flaws. For years we saw her dressed just one way - baggy black T-shirts, baggy black leggings and red Kickers. It was as much her trademark as the weary one-liners and the emphasis on men, cakes and alcohol.

She has softened her image substantially in the last decade - marriage and motherhood presumably helped this - and it does her much credit. She wears more colourful outfits, does more mainstream programmes (she was in Dictionary Corner on Countdown before her imperial phase was over) and has acknowledged the establishment by doing talk shows and daytime telly. I must say I haven't seen her do any stand-up on television for a long time and I'd be interested to see if her material these days has matured with her.

I suppose her showbiz career could be the subject for a sequel to her current tome, though I would doubt it because a) it's called The Autobiography, not The Autobiography Part 1; b) making the public buy two books when the whole shebang could go in one would go against her socialist principles; and c) she regards her last 20 years as far less interesting as her first 30. In my case, she'd be wrong on option c) and I hope we might get a second edition.

Enjoy the debut appearance on television...

26 October 2009

Come what Mayo


We had Octoberfest here in Hull for three days last week, with BBC Radio 5 Live presenting most of their programmes from locations within the city.

An enormous inflatable igloo represented the off-air face of the network in Queen Victoria Square, in the shadow of the BBC-sponsored big screen. With my friend Andy, I attended the two Simon Mayo broadcasts that took place - Thursday was at the Ferens Art Gallery (a building I last entered in 1981) and Friday was at the Vue Cinema (a building I'd only attended in its previous life as the catering section of the Princes Quay Shopping Centre).

Hell, I even got on air. John Prescott was the first guest on the Thursday and I put a question to him about the lazy, inaccurate image Hull owns nationally as a cesspit of doom and dirt (I put it in a more flowery manner than this). I was informed afterwards that my mug was on the big screen outside as a consequence of putting this question. Sorry about that.

I blogged recently about how much I dislike John Prescott. Well, I still do but my attitude to him did soften a touch. He spoke his mind and also talked with great passion about the city's excellent history. You could tell that a) he was retiring from politics next summer; and b) he cared about the city that he has represented a chunk of since 1970.

In the audience, we settled into our seats and then one of the many production assistants asked in advance if anyone would like to put a question to the Hull East MP. I offered my question among about ten others and then had a large yellow BBC News boom mic put in front of me when Simon chose my question, putting me on 5 Live for only the second time (the first was an episode of 6-0-6 after Hull City had won 3-0 at Stoke in 2006, though Alan Green evidently wasn't interested and quickly got rid of me).

After 2pm, the fantastic John Godber took a seat and brought the house down with a smart, witty, intelligent interview where he never once took himself too seriously despite being the most culturally important Hull person of modern times. His alleged love of German expressionism took the programme off on a tangent which Simon dealt with in good humour, not least because the emails flooded in from academics on the subject.

The last hour dragged a bit as it was the book review slot and there wasn't a lot a watching audience could take from the experience that a listening audience in homes and cars around the country couldn't, though when the face of Kate Moss (not that one) dropped upon one local reviewer declaring she didn't like her book (albeit merely "not as much as the other one we've just reviewed") was a moment of theatre. She'd travelled all the way from the south of France for this. I took an irrational dislike to her the moment she spoke, as he first words were that she'd never needed to come to Hull before...

The next day's programme was the big event for me, and indeed we had a full house in Screen Ten at the Vue, as Mark Kermode and his movie reviews were due. This hour of radio has been the best bit of speech broadcasting anywhere on the dial for many years now, and we weren't to be disappointed. The watching experience was made worth it initially for the sports panel but then especially for Nitan Sawhney's exquisite guitar playing and the impromptu singalong of Another Brick In The Wall as a quick request slot was introduced to get to the news. Simon's head was seen disappearing into his hands as the singing from Screen Ten, conducted by the quiffed one, rang out to the nation.

It was notable in the hallowed final hour that every person who put a point or question to Simon and Mark about a film under discussion was not local. A couple had come from the London Film Festival, and from memory there were people from Bristol, Nuneaton and Pontefract also offering their opinions. The discovery that one audience member used to be a drinks lackey on Simon's Radio 1 breakfast show led to an industrial-sized order for cappuccinos, lattes and espressos, while the buckets of popcorn on the broadcast tables were handed out to the audience.

It was a great viewing experience which, according to people I saw afterwards, also came across via the medium wave as a great listening experience too. It's on the iPlayer for a few more days and the podcasts of Godber and Sawhney are there too, plus the film reviews - go find them.