6 August 2010

"Let a woman be a woman, let a man be a man!"

Friday, little to report, and so because I'm bored of seeing Tarrant's mug at the top of this blog, I thought we'd engage in a little iPod roulette. Shuffle mode set and, uh oh, here we go...

1: Grace - Supergrass
"Then you showed me Mars through your telescope!" My mate Dan, who signed the Tarrant post, looks like a member of Supergrass. I haven't much to say about their music except that it's fun and crazy and gets from A to B without fuss or flinch. The introduction to this two-minute jam sounds like that of the theme to Jamie & The Magic Torch, something which every commercial radio DJ in the country observed when they first played it.

2: He's On The Phone - Saint Etienne
"The lipstick kiss, reminisce, awake til dawn..." This is one of my favourite songs of the 1990s, a most rare example of an "indie" (inverted commas intentional) group embracing all-out dance music and getting away with it. A solitary, lonely existence charted by Sarah Cracknell's whispery vocals. Twitter made me laugh recently when someone genuinely believed that the headline "Cracknell fractures skull" was about her, and not the rower-cum-adventurer James. Also, I keep forgetting that the first word of their name is the full 'Saint' and not the two-letter abbreviation. Be careful out there.

2: For America - Red Box
"Title fights and human rights, your satellites, you're parasites..." Red Box got stuck between pop tweeness and a desire to be taken seriously and never really managed to prolong their careers via either path. The singer always looked really stern and pretentious too, though use of a tin whistle and multiple drummers did make them look outwardly different. This is good, if only for the nonsensical chorus and the ridiculousness of rhyming "gasoline" with "Made in Taiwan western scene".

4: Gett Off - Prince and the New Power Generation
"You plus me, what a ride!" Prince in complete filth mode is outstanding. This is the unedited version, whereas the single we bought in 1991 had a reverse effect on the words "move your big ass this way" which, for 1991, was tame stuff, and certainly tame compared to some of the material Prince was churning out. The production is all seed and squalor and the words are uncompromising in their intent, and Prince managed to promote sex without ever appearing misogynistic. Fantastic.

5: The Sun And The Rain - Madness
"I haven't a doubt that this is what life is all about..." Not a live favourite with Madness as it meant Mike Barson ended up with severe cramp in his fingers thanks to the relentless, pounding piano track that starts and ends the song. As fair as a Madness song at the tragic end of their canon can get, with smart imagery of a man wandering the sodden streets with little purpose, though Grey Day will never be surpassed for sheer depression. No wonder Barson quit the following year, mind. I'd want to retire to Holland with my royalties if I had to play this arthritis-inducing solo forever. Should serve him right for writing it in the first place...

Right, done my bit. Expecting visits from the international Simon Toulson-Clarke fan club any moment now...

5 August 2010

Britain's got Tarrant


Chris Tarrant was on The One Show last night, and I've been trying to decide ever since whether I actually like him or not. It's not something I've heavily considered before and I still don't know the answer.

There are things I do like about him. There was that marvellously unconventional way he got into television in the first place - writing those letters to regional ITV outlets declaring himself to be "the face of the 70s" while living in a van on the grounds of a school. For all the blind luck involved, only a significant churl would not say "fair play" at that kind of achievement.

Tiswas was brilliant, of course, and so was OTT. I liked Everybody's Equal, even though Tarrant himself couldn't even remember the name of the programme when he was recently asked about the "other" television programmes he had presented down the years. If you don't recall it, then it was simply a "process of elimination" quiz that involved the whole studio audience, later rehashed as Whittle by Channel 5 and given to Tim Vine.

But then there was Man O Man, in which ridiculously good looking women pushed nervous men into a swimming pool while being encouraged by a baying audience entirely of women. Yes. Let's now have Woman O Woman, where women with looks and personality defects are humiliated by muscular adonis types while a yelling audience entirely of men encourage them. That'll get past the commissioners, won't it?

And Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is, of course, a national institution but Tarrant's occasional placing of doubt in a contestant's mind when they know they've already got the correct answer - usually when the question is worth a life-changing £250,000 too - really irks me. I've stopped watching it now.

And his Capital Radio breakfast show is still something that the London media brings up with the blithe assumption that the whole nation must have heard it because it was Tarrant, for pushing 20 years, in London. I heard the show on the internet a couple of times. In a roundabout way, I even wrote gags for it for a while (this is true). But there were far better breakfast shows on local radio around the country at the time - Tarrant as a radio man isn't fit to unravel Daryl Denham's headphone cable - but he was in London. And that matters.

Sorry, I really do sound like a broken record on this, don't I? But Tarrant himself brought the subject of "20 years of breakfast radio" up on The One Show last night while plugging (needlessly) his current period of depping for Steve Wright on Radio 2. I expect The One Show's Carlisle and Inverness and Derby and Exeter viewers were all wondering when they might have heard him on the radio when they rose of a morn. And if you think I protest too much, ask yourself how most of the viewers of that breakfast biscuit advert that Johnny Vaughan and Lisa Snowdon are currently appearing in are supposed to know where this alleged breakfast show of theirs is taking place. When Snowdon was on Strictly Come Dancing the other year (and was brilliant), her radio job was even brought up by the judges. My mum asked me the next day where she was on the radio, assuming it was Radio 1 or Radio 2.

Er, anyway. Tarrant last night was plugging two things that probably don't need plugging - Millionaire? and Radio 2 - and, as is always the case for his television guest appearances, was forced into a rather dimwitted spoof of the Millionaire? game which he hammed up to all eternity, to the extent that the presenters - the brilliant Matt Baker and, er, the less brilliant Gabby Logan - had to really hurry him up. And somebody among the question-setters reckoned that "Joan Simm" was in the Carry On films, a spot of slipshod research from someone who clearly wished they were preparing an item about Life On Mars instead. That wasn't Tarrant's fault, of course, but it irritated me further nevertheless.

I broached the subject of Tarrant with the Twitterati last night, and aside from the comments about his voice being identical to that of Kenneth Clarke, the general consensus was that he was bearable. Apparently he can be forgiven anything due to the continuing goodwill for Tiswas and OTT. He is a nice chap in the flesh when you meet him at a GMG radio bunfight but also scared too many people off the Space Mountain at Disneyworld when he wrote that he went upside down on it, even though apparently this ride doesn't go upside down. Oh, and his ex-wife Ingrid was mad to leave him. And he was good when presenting schools stuff on BBC2. This is all crucial information.

Tarrant has become one of the biggest names in television without having a showbiz string to his bow. Most anchorfolk were once singers, comedians, magicians, dancers, actors or just plain old journalists. Tarrant was a homeless teacher who got lucky. I don't begrudge him that at all. Trouble is, I think I begrudge him something and yet I haven't a clue what.

3 August 2010

Love at the gym

Took a trip to the gym earlier today, and only three other people were there. A woman of roughly my age sweating furiously on the dreaded cross trainer, plus two school age teenagers, one boy and one girl.

For the next half hour, the teenage lad brazenly tried to arrange a date with the girl. It was obvious they already knew each other well as friends, but he clearly wanted it to go further. The fact that he was doing it in front of two total strangers in a public place amazed me. He was brave, shameless, determined. Everything the archetypal teenage boy isn't when it comes to girls.

She was one of those girls who the 15 year old me would have declared as "way out of my league" but he kept up the gentle questioning and patter and she enjoyed the attention. It was made all the sweeter by the fact that he wasn't trying to impress her in the gym; indeed, he barely lifted a single weight during this period of wannabe courtship because he was chatting her up so much.

I only stayed half an hour as I went for a swim, but I hope that by the time these two left the gym, they'd exchanged numbers and had arranged to meet with a bottle of cider in a bus shelter somewhere. I doubt it, as teenage girls only look at older boys who have mopeds and stubble, and certainly not ginger hair, acne and a brace. But maybe this girl will prove to be exceptional and dig into the boy's personality when making her decision. I headed for the pool really rooting for this guy, hoping she'd eventually say yes.

2 August 2010

Just stick your hand out of the window


I've taken to listening to Radio 4 in the car lately, despite non-ownership of any silk cravats. For the most part, I like what I hear. I've got into The Last Word and Face The Facts quite well, for example.

Feedback is particularly fun, as it brings out all of those crusty walking stick wielders of society who feel the urge to complain if something on their precious radio station is not directly interesting to them and their highly specific demographic.

Recently, there was a series on London and its history. As a northerner, my view on London is that it's picturesque and exciting but also untidy and ludicrously expensive. I'd love to work there but wouldn't like to live there. And while I have previously aired concerns that Londoncentricity is too prevalent in our media (ie, the need for Radio 1's listening figures to be compared to Capital Radio's every time RAJAR figures are released, or for life-stopping snowfalls only to be deemed newsworthy when in London) I also understand that the place is pretty important. And interesting.

But when this series on London's history was aired on Radio 4, the reaction from everywhere else was tantamount to the reaction you'd get if you'd just placed a freshly-coiled turd into their fridge. But, in the interests of balance (and the dreaded compliance), Feedback felt obliged to air all these mad, myopic views on how "because I'm a Mackem I have no interest in London" and then force the editor of the programme to explain himself.

You complain if you are offended, not if you feel a bit left out. When that emotion comes up, you switch off your radio and try conversing with a fellow human being instead. Just how deeply arrogant must you be to declare your disapproval just because something dare not relate to you?

Feedback last week forced itself to question the deputy editor of the Today programme, at length and with the aggression of a leading advocate at a war crimes tribunal, after some barking woman moaned that the weather forecast had been sacrificed at one crucial point of the programme (ie, when she was about to switch off and leave the house) because an interview had overrun.

It made for remarkable listening. The interviewee must have had a thousand better things to do with his time than answer tiresome questions about whether information about a mild shower was as vital as this insane woman had claimed, but gamely and patiently answered all the questions. The producers of Feedback must kill themselves laughing with the complaints they get, knowing that they will have to make radio of their own that dulls the soul of anyone with an open mind but satisfies a tiny minority of lifeless ignorami who have nothing better to do with their lives.

It's frighteningly British, all told. And it's fun, without even for a moment being useful.