24 April 2009

No plasters on either lens, I hope

I'm going for an eye test today. I haven't had one in my adult life but figured that while the migraines keep popping up every couple of weeks or so, I'd see if I can at least rule out any number of things that may be contributing to them.

I remember the eye tests as a child, which basically involved reading the letter chart, then putting a card over one eye and doing so again, then a third time with the other eye. Presumably smarter kids with good memories can just parrot the letters, irrespective of the quality of their eyesight.

My long sight seems to be okay - I spotted a Yorkshire Terrier (often vile, nasty things) on the other side of the playing fields yesterday and promptly put the temperamental Boris back on to his lead, so maybe that's a good sign. Short sight seems to be fine too - I'm typing this without pain or squinting, after all.

Anyway, wish me luck. If I end up in spectacles then I'll be in good company - a number of bloggers to your right are resplendent in their bins - and if I don't then at least I'll have saved myself a quid or several. Do you get tea and biscuits while you wait?

23 April 2009

What the sunshine was invented for

Sunshine + nearby playing field + return of school term making said field devoid of irritant children = brilliant Basset walking scenario.

In the absence of anything else to blog about right now, have a picture of the four of them attached to the gate at the end of the field, enjoying the sun - and compare and contrast with the last one I took there...

22 April 2009

"I am the first to see the light at your door..."

Room In Your Heart by Living In A Box. A long, string-laden ballad from 1989 which was described by a Smash Hits reviewer as "dull and characterless, like all their records" but also, jointly, the biggest UK hit of the Sheffield trio's brief run of success in the charts.

Where to start with this? There was a short period in 1989 where I rather liked this deeply unfashionable band. I bought the second album, Gatecrashing, on the strength of decent reviews from even the inkies, as well as the teen mags, and from there dipped backwards and found a cheap copy of their self-titled debut album from two years before.

If there was one thing that Living In A Box could boast, it was a good singer. Richard Darbyshire was always heavily in demand for session work from the industry, be it before, during or after his time fronting the band. From what I could decipher from female classmates, he had an allure to him too, smouldering and mysterious, and given that the reviewer was largely right about the sound of the music, it was possibly as much this as anything else that got three Top 10 hits out of a rather ordinary group.

Room In Your Heart was their penultimate single and their last successful one, coming out in the autumn of 1989 as the third release from Gatecrashing. It was rehashed from the album version, with a plodding piano intro shrouded by a new acappella bit of harmonising from Darbyshire prior to the one-paced, tunnelled first verse.

However, it picked up. The lyrics were understandable and emotive - I still really like the line "The door is open wide, is anybody there?" - and the middle eight allowed Darbyshire to go into rage mode ("I can feeeeeeeeeeeeel it!"), something he always did rather well. The last two choruses were down to the girly backing singers while Darbyshire's croaked adlibbing aimed to find a dramatic ending, then one single note, which took forever to fade, ended the song at just under five minutes.

Living In A Box got famous in 1987 for bringing out a song after which they had named themselves. This meant that, drearily, any statistic-friendly disc jockey (which is all of us, to be honest) could say on air that we'd just played Living In A Box with Living In A Box, taken from the album Living In A Box. It had a smart intro and Darbyshire's quickly-familiar "waaaah-how!" exclamation at the outset, prior to the following of what became their regular recipe of promising but never brilliant pop. It got good pre-release airplay, charted high and ended up at No.5. Obviously the song remains on the radar for homeless documentaries and tiresome gags about inappropriate songs to play at funerals. The twelve-inch and CD single editions - plus the album - feature a long, less synthesised, vocal-free reprise of the song which is extremely good.

The second and third singles - Scales Of Justice and So The Story Goes - were two of the most featureless dirges of the 1980s and deservedly stuck between 30 and 40 in the charts. The latter, inexplicably, featured Bobby Womack on co-vocals, entirely with crediting, and he would later do his own version of Living In A Box. I have never been able - or, more truthfully, had the inclination - to decipher how the two acts knew each other.

The fourth and final single from the album, Love Is The Art, failed to reach the Top 40, and yet was probably the strongest song on the whole album. The album certainly had a couple of decent melodies therein - although the excellent Superheroes only made the CD edition, oddly, at a time when most of us were still buying vinyl or cassette versions of our music - and it was reviewed mainly through duty without any great excitement or cruelty attached. The photography was good, mind.

Living In A Box returned at the start of 1989 with the amateurish Blow The House Down, a ploddy and tedious record which nonetheless restored them to the Top 10, possibly because Queen lunatics felt compelled to buy it as Brian May had been cajoled into guitar solo duties. The three minute funk effort Gatecrashing, the title track, was a far better record but was banned from all airplay as it coincided with the Hillsborough tragedy, and duly only just made it into the Top 40. One thing these two songs did have in common were brilliantly - and deliberately - bollocks B-sides, both of which never went near the album but did have a charm to them - respectively they were called Dance The Mayonnaise and Get On The Dog Doza.

Then along came Room In Your Heart, the drippiness of which earned it a solid climb, week on week, from No.40 to No.5. Darbyshire chose not to stand up from his torch song stool for the guitar solo on Top Of The Pops, something which a number of DJs and pop columnists, in the absence of anything else to discuss, wondered about the next day. Upon its decline, a song called Different Air was released which just missed out on the Top 40, despite an appearance on peak-time Wogan. It was one up on the tempo stakes from its predecessor, and perhaps releasing two ballads in a row was an error, especially as the excellent Unique - used as a TV theme for a lifestyle programme and I can't for the life of me remember what it was called - was a standout single from the album - and the opener too - and yet never got issued.

Something went wrong at Chrysalis, their record company, the following year and we never heard from Living In A Box again, barring an appearance on the Little And Large Show to mime the affable album track Touch Sensitive for no discernible reason. I remember Darbyshire doing some solo stuff - When Only Love Will Do was a single which Radio 1 played for a bit - but nothing more, beyond the sessions stuff. The other two - Marcus Vere and Anthony Critchlow - remained as anonymous on the street as they somehow managed on the telly.

I've embedded the video for Room In Your Heart, as you can see, but I'm not sure if I've ever actually watched it.

20 April 2009

"I've been clean for 14 months, sober for five..."

Paul Gascoigne's shift on Match Of The Day 2's pundit settee last night represented probably the most articulate television appearance he has ever made.

Admittedly this barely marks itself as a great achievement, given that the vast majority of Gazza's previous television gigs have either been drunken, hyper, offensive or just plain incomprehensible. Be it his previous ill-fated attempt at punditry (for ITV during the 2002 World Cup) or his various post-match interviews (Ray Stubbs is probably still reeling from the "eeeeeeeeeh!" he got from Gascoigne after the 1991 FA Cup semi-final), the ex-England player has rarely covered himself in glory. Let us not forget that, in more spontaneous moments before a camera, he also told the people of Norway to "f**k off" and burped to an Italian reporter...

But last night, with the gaunt build which will stay with him forever now as a man who has drank himself to lasting damage, Gascoigne spoke concisely ("clearly" doesn't quite describe it purely because he will always have that more acute Geordie drawl) about the match between the first two clubs of his own career - Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United - analysing Newcastle's defensive problems and enjoying Aaron Lennon's brand of wingplay.

Whatever your opinion of Gascoigne, certainly he will always remain an endearing figure to football fans everywhere. He is, as all generations of players and commentators will acknowledge, the single most gifted Englishman ever to have kicked a ball and when one thinks of the conjuring he has performed on a field for his clubs and country, all the other issues pale into insignificance. Those less keen on the beautiful game see a life wrecker - that of his own and countless others - and there are ample arguments for that too, although he has made a point since his rehab of acknowledging his mistakes and apologising for them. That's all he can do; the rest is up to the conscience of others as to whether they'll let him carry on with his life.

Here's Gazza's single best moment on a football field...