12 June 2009

You may deduce that I don't like Cristiano Ronaldo

I've been on Pure 107.8FM's mids shift this week and there's a feature which is unashamedly taken from the old Triple Tracker of Nicky Campbell's glory days. Take a news story and play three songs which are somehow 'appropriate'. I thought I'd mention it as we've had a good week of this...

Story: Billy Elliot wins ten Tony awards

He's The Greatest Dancer - Sister Sledge
North Country Boy - Charlatans
Englishman In New York - Sting

Story: Police in Bournemouth are measuring the speeds of cyclists on the promenade

Saddle Up - David Christie
Just A Ride - Jem
Don't Slow Down - UB40

Story: Israeli woman chucks out an old mattress, not knowing it contains her mum's life savings

Money's Too Tight To Mention - Simply Red

Does Your Mother Know - Abba
Throwing It All Away - Genesis

Story: Narcissistic, cheating, posturing, spoilt football primadonna Cristiano Ronaldo is off to Real Madrid for £80million

Ready To Go - Republica
Spanish Stroll - Mink de Ville
I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down - Elvis Costello

Story: Madonna succeeds in her appeal to the Malawian courts to adopt baby girl Mercy James

All The She Wants - Ace Of Base
Somewhere Else - Razorlight
The Girl Is Mine - Michael Jackson with Paul McCartney

There. Have a good weekend.

11 June 2009

Let's hear it for the (uncredited) boy/girl

I heard Criticize by Alexander O'Neal on the radio earlier today. A fine song it remains (sorry, VS) but it has always mildly troubled me that there are two hardworking singers performing and yet only one gets the credit. I'm sure the lady in question continues to be well-reimbursed with international playlist payments, but still nobody knows who she is. And she even sang the chorus, the bit everyone knows, while the headline turn just adlibs around her...

Crediting someone on a song who performs a vital role but is not the star turn requires a degree of subtlety. Firstly, if you're cruel and selfish, you can just take the O'Neal route and pretend they aren't there at all. Other examples of this include Torch by Soft Cell (the woman who sings the chorus at the end and, crucially, turns it into the first person); Shiny Happy People by REM (yes, we all know it's Kate Pierson from the Lancaster Brothers, erm, the B52s, but *they* don't, and since when have REM had a female singer anyway?) and Dead Ringer For Love by Meat Loaf. Yes, we all know now it's a pre-scalpel Cher, complete with buck teeth, who's doing the girly second verse, but we didn't then unless we were told by a kindly soul on the wireless. She'd had more number one hits than Marvin Lee Aday but got no crediting at all. And to this day I've no idea who the "sooner or later you'll be screwing around" bird is on the Bat Out Of Hell II album. But I reckon I shouldn't have to find out.

Elsewhere, Denise Marsa is only just now, after 30 years, having her all-compassing contribution to Dean Friedman's more-acceptable-the-older-it-gets Lucky Stars recognised and namechecked, even though its conversational nature makes it as obvious a two-parter as any duet could be. Sting sang without namecheck but was given a songwriting credit (for dreary, unromantic legal reasons, not because he actually wrote any of the song) when he popped into Dire Straits' studio to ask how the new album was coming on, and was instantly roped into doing the MTV-plugging bobbins on Money For Nothing. Everyone now knows it's Carly Simon singing on the terrific Kissing With Confidence by Will Powers, but few will ever learn of Powers' real status as Lyn Goldsmith. Dunno who the geezer flogging the puckering technique is, mind...

More ruthless is the habit of crediting no vocalist at all, even though they are the only one on the record. Perhaps most famous of all of these is Killer by Adamski, which chose not to even acknowledge there were any vocals on the record at all apart from a tiny "introducing" label on the reverse of the 7" sleeve.

Such was Seal's subsequent impact that DJs everywhere credit him as a matter of course when playing the record now, even though the record company went as far as to try to ban Jakki Brambles from mentioning him when they were on Top Of The Pops. Her finest career moment came when she stubbornly ignored this order and did a girly "wow, cop that singer!" routine to camera after their turn was over. All the more galling was that Seal wrote the blimmin' words he was singing, yet the label were only interested in the scrawny bloke in round glasses doing beepy noises at the synth in the corner. On a similar tack, there was no minuscule "introducing" credit on the sleeve or sycophantic DJ help for poor Maggie Reilly, the deliverer of a fine vocal on Moonlight Shadow but still invisible next to composer and sole creditee Mike Oldfield.

Then there are the credited performers who are nonetheless put in their place. A perfect example of this is the dribbly ballad Don't Know Much, a 1989 No.2 hit for Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Nevil. But wait, no! It's actually Linda Ronstadt featuring Aaron Nevil. He sings as much of the song as she, opens it with a super pleading vocal on the first verse, but is still only cast as the "hired help" to a Ronstadt record. If the duet or collaboration features a "featuring" (or, for that matter, a "with"), it means that they have been credited out of necessity, as without them the song can't happen. This is prevalent with "guest" vocalists on dance records ("here's D-Mob featuring Cathy Dennis!") but less so, and therefore more disrespectful, if used on an equal-parts duet. Imagine Fairytale of New York without Kirsty MacColl. Go on.

Of course, some vocalists may be so embarrassed by the record they chose to flaunt their throaty virtues that they're probably grateful for the anonymity. I suspect Michael Fenton-Stevens, voice of The Chicken Song, falls into this category.

9 June 2009

Free range or free speech?

Like most people residing in Yorkshire, I was appalled that my fellow countyfolk had cast enough votes for the BNP to allow one of their kind to sneak into the European Parliament. This is what proportional representation does, you see - it is designed by politicians who, in their quest to self-protect, don't consider (or blinkeredly don't accept) that it allows extremism to beat down democracy's door and take the odd seat.

However, for all the many thousands of reasons that right-thinking people in society should have to despise and scorn the BNP, the actions of those egg-throwers at the Palace of Westminster today were all wrong. Nick Griffin is now, dislike it or not, a democratically-elected politician. He has earned the right, through the (misguided) will of the people in the north west, to speak freely on his policies.

I empathise with the principles of anyone who feels outraged by Griffin's elevation to bonafide political representation. His election in the north west, and that of his colleague on my side of the Pennines, is the sad day for parliamentary politics we all feared but never really expected would come. Election to a few county councils where race issues are more acute than elsewhere holds little impact. Election to the continental parliament, crammed with politicians representing countries and religions which the BNP actively despises, is a frightening possibility that has now developed into reality, although I strongly believe that a good 90% of the people who ticked the BNP box did so to show their disgust at the others, rather than to offer active support to Griffin's band of knucklescrapers. Nonetheless, Griffin is now part of the real world, and for all his party's splinter status, he needs to be accepted as a politician, if not as a worthwhile human being.

But chucking eggs at him in public when he is about to hold a press conference is entirely wrong and dangerous. I'd quite like to hear what he has to say, for the simple and sole reason that the BNP's cause is hindered far more when they open their filthy gobs to the civilised world than it is when they stay silent and talk to their own kind. Preventing Griffin from speaking prevents the rest of us from being allowed to laugh at him, to point out the atrocious prejudices within his words and remind the saner majority of why this man is someone to ignore, or contradict, even pity, because of the hateful garbage he professes to believe.

Extremism is bad on both sides of the political spectrum, and there is little doubt that left-wing extremists were responsible for the protests. While the extreme left fight the extreme right, it's us, the intelligent and staid majority, who are caught in the middle. Free speech has to be more important than anything, and what happened to Griffin was a denial of exactly that. Next time, let him spout his bile, as it will be a far easier way to kick the unspeakable bastard and his mates as far down the political road to nowhere as we can.

8 June 2009

Twizz 1992-2009

Our beloved old Persian lady, Twizz, died today. She was 16 and a half years old and, despite her age, which was quite an achievement for a pedigree, had been in rude health until about ten days ago.

She became rather lethargic and initially, as she was still occasionally eating and drinking, we blamed it on the intense heat. However, her lethargy didn't alter after the sun took a hike and so the Natural Blonde decided to get her checked over.

Blood and urine tests followed and it transpired that Twizz had an incurable kidney disorder. A day on a drip was required, which was today, but despite this her kidneys failed entirely today. We were advised that improvement was unlikely and took the heartbreaking decision this evening to let her go. I'm typing this with my eyes still red raw.

The NB got Twizz as a kitten and, despite being of a species renowned for conditional loyalty, Twizz barely left her side when they were in the same building. Twizz offered friendship and companionship akin to that of a dog. She got uppity if the NB left the room and didn't take her with her.

Twizz would lie on the settee next to the NB while she watched trash on the TV. She'd be in bed whenever the NB was, usually laid on top of her, and sometimes she would sit on me in bed, only to then sneeze on me as her big joke. She was remarkably good at sneezing by choice. She was fiercely loyal and expected reciprocation, so when we went on holiday and left Twizz at home in the care of a friendly neighbour, it'd take a good day or so of hurumphing and sulking after our return before she would return to her favourite knee.

She didn't exactly welcome the other cats into the household as each joined us, but didn't let it spoil her status in the house as chief lap occupier. She was never slow to bat away any other moggy looking for affection but at the same time would happily exchange sniffs and share plates of food with any of them.

Her finest hour came when we returned from holiday to discover that Harvey, our big wussy cream shorthair, was missing. My dad had been doing some work on our bathroom in our absence and a cat-sized hole was in the bathroom floor. We assumed Harvey had gone down there and refused to come out but we could neither see nor touch him to get absolute proof. Hours went by, and just as we began to worry that he had, in fact, escaped the house and we'd never see him again, Twizz calmly went upstairs, made an almighty racket at the bathroom door, and then came down again. She only made it to halfway down the stairs when this loud scrabbling noise sounded in the ceiling above us, and we rushed upstairs to find Harvey, petrified and admonished, clambering free.

Twizz was a speaker. The NB's name contains no hard consonants, and in a scenario from which Gavin Campbell would have got 15 minutes of Sunday evening airtime in the 1980s, Twizz was capable of coherently calling out the NB's name. Her mouthiness extended to her giving a grunt of disapproval if you told her to "get down" from a comfortable kipping position on the settee, to the point where we never wanted her really to get down, but just answer us back.

When Twizz was the only cat in the house, she reacted sportingly to the dogs. Initially, there was just my dear old collie-corgi cross, Paddy, who was a slow and dopey old thing but also the most docile and lovable animal. Twizz gave him a wide berth but occasionally snuck behind to sniff him, and a mutual respect developed between the two - he was there before Twizz, and she knew that - even though she generally made sure he couldn't reach her. When Paddy died, we brought him home and lay him in his bed. After his lifeless old body was handed to the chap from the dog crematorium, Twizz slowly walked over to the empty bed and lay in it, as if to say goodbye in her own way. Upon the subsequent arrival of Basset after Basset, she allowed one of them to give her a wash but otherwise did the batting away routine again, and the dogs soon learned that she was top animal in the house, queen of their growing pack, and she deserved space and respect. She got it.

Her sudden demise has hit us hard, but it's something you buy into when you commit to a pet. The presence of the other eight four-legged dependants will soon make us move on, but for the moment we're mourning a remarkable cat who brought so much joy to us. She was as much a member of the family as anyone could dare state about an animal.

I know of people who actively hate cats (mainly because they dare to defecate in their gardens), and plenty more people who just cannot understand the effect an animal can have on your lives. For more than 16 years of the NB's life, and almost nine years of mine, Twizz was the top girl. We loved her dearly, and we'll miss her.