9 October 2010

He realises those tears must have been poisoned...

Everyone is talking about John Lennon this weekend. As someone who still thinks his solo stuff was largely tedious and the man himself was far from likeable, I'm loath to join in. I was only seven when he died anyway, and that was the first I'd ever heard of him. My memories of it are of the immediate aftermath and the impact it had on the pop charts.

Then I remembered this.

EMF, whom I'm sure you remember. Their big hit was the debut Unbelievable at the start of 1991, which got to No.3 in the UK and No.1 in the USA. They followed it up with another Top 10 hit called I Believe, then a less well-received song called Children, and finally for the first album, this.

Lies, as a song, is distinctly unremarkable. It's not a poor composition, but it was released as an epitome of fourth-single-syndrome, in that only avid collectors would buy it as everyone interested in the band had purchased Schubert Dip, the well-received but craply-titled album. And this single version is very different to the album version - indeed, of the four singles, only Unbelievable wasn't entirely remixed when becoming a single release.

But it is that album version that brings me to John Lennon. Upon the release of Schubert Dip, I'd saved enough of my wages from the pizza restaurant I worked in at the time and so was able to buy it on the day it came out. I'd never done that before. I have many albums, in all formats, but have never been so desperate to acquire and hear one that I've been in the shop on the day of delivery. But, there I was, at the branch of HMV on Whitefriargate in Hull, immediately after sixth form, having caught the bus straight into the city.

And it is a good, thumping, naive, satisfying album. The band claim to have done masses of bedroom songwriting and rehearsal and you can feel that ethic in the final version of many songs. Of course, they were already establishing a reputation as semi-hellraisers, enjoying plenty of female attention and swearing in interviews, not least when admitting what those initials stood for (something I first read in Rave magazine - yes, this is 1991 all ends up).

One thing they did on the album was put random audio clips at the beginning of some songs as introductions that were apropos of nothing. There was a Radio 3 announcer (quite possibly John Marsh, of later Wake Up To Wogan fame) introducing a Schubert composition (relevant to the album title but not the song that followed), there was Bert from Sesame Street, a TS Eliot reading and a couple of clips of the band doing unspeakable stuff, most notably keyboard player Derry Brownson chucking something through a closed window and shouting: "I'm gonna smash the f**king place".

And, at the start of Lies, there was a clip of somebody reciting a line of what I assumed at the time was poetry.

Well, it was poetry, but it was more than that. It was this:

People say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing
But they give me all kinds of warnings, to save me from ruin.

Yep, the opening lyric to John Lennon's Watching The Wheels, a gentle song from his Double Fantasy album, the one he released three weeks prior to his slaughter. The song was released posthumously as a single and though I had heard it on a handful of occasions, I wasn't interested or aware enough to recognise the lyrics. To me, it was some random bloke reciting some random words and I reacted only with the same teenage intrigue as I did with the rest of the album.

The speaker was very distant and spoke nasally with an American accent. The recording quality was extremely crackly. I thought no more of it, as the clip was only five seconds long before the intro to Lies kicked in.

Then, at the end of the week, the papers began to report that Yoko Ono was metaphorically smashing up her house in disgust and rage at the antics of EMF and had issued lawsuits at this bunch of half a dozen chancers in baseball caps from a leafier part of Gloucestershire. It was while reading this stuff in the papers that I learned that the rhyme was from Watching The Wheels - and the speaker was Mark Chapman, killer of Lennon, recorded in custody in New York just hours after firing the bullets.

EMF's people panicked like buggery and, as far as I remember, the record company recalled every unsold copy of Schubert Dip from the shops and pulped them (well, they'd have pulped the vinyl albums; I assume they crush cassettes and snap CDs). Very quickly, re-issued copies - without Chapman's interlude - were in the shops and all was well. Aside from the following outcry about the track called, er, EMF, which contained - via the band name - the expletive to end all expletives and was hidden and uncredited at the end of the album. Epsom Mad Funksters, my arse.

My CD copy of Schubert Dip, which I've not listened to for a while but have never grown to dislike, still has Chapman doing his mentalist's thing. EMF and their production overlords got mega publicity over it - there would have been quite a clamour to buy the album and hear the offending cut before Yoko's heavies got their way - but it was still a daft thing to do. The only real effect it had on me in the end was that I really like Watching The Wheels now, and without EMF I might not have found that song for years and years afterwards.

Naturally, when Lies was released as a single there was not a sign nor mention of the Chapman incident. Had they had the nerve to tack it on to the single for the first week it might have got a hell of a lot higher than the No.28 it eventually hobbled to. Though they may all have been sent to jail too.

And to be honest, the biggest surprise as far as controversial material from that album remains unnoticed, unheralded and regularly repeated. Throughout Unbelievable, that memorable lead single that the Americans took all the way to the top, is a sample of Andrew Dice Clay shouting "What the f**k" and, at the end of each chorus, the clip is extended to the full "What the f**k was that?". And when you think of the stick the USA gave Lennon for his comment about being more popular than Jesus...

8 October 2010

Get stuck in

"It's a contact sport. Man up, chaps."

That was an email that an anonymous person sent to Sky Sports News this morning after a debate on who is responsible for the current spate of bad tackles in the game became news.

Danny Murphy, one of the more thoughtful players of the last 15 years (for non-footballists - he's the one whose missus supposedly whinged about not going to enough film premieres when they moved from Liverpool to London), has said that managers have to take responsibility for the actions of the players.

It has become prevalent of late because, mainly but not exclusively, of the activities of one Karl Henry. He is a Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder of undoubted footballing ability who, shall we say, "likes a tackle".

So far, he has led a planned victimisation of Joey Barton, then helped to break Bobby Zamora's leg and, finally, received a deserved red card at the weekend for spannering into Jordi Gomez so late that the Wigan player turned somersaults in the air and landed in an adjacent postal district.

No doubt off the pitch Henry is "honest as the day is long", changes most of the nappies at home (I don't know if he has kids, to be truthful) and frequently volunteers for the Urban Badgers Trapped In Rosebushes Rescue Service in Cannock. But on it, he becomes - on current evidence - something of a demon.

And Murphy is right. Managers pick players for their strengths and decide exactly how they should play. In the case of the lesser skilled clubs, the most likely way of taking a point or three is to prevent the other team from playing, rather than doing the playing yourself.

This is a laudable tactic and not exactly new. But it has to be channelled in the right way. It's no good telling players to get stuck in and take no prisoners if they don't understand where the line has been drawn and get sent off after 20 minutes. Before long, a player annoyed at the vilification he is receiving is going to tell the press he removed an adversary's kneecap because his manager told him to.

I'm expecting that email at the top of this entry to have been sent in by a T.Smith of Liverpool or an R."C".Harris of west London. Inevitably, older observers will tell you that tackles like those of Karl Henry were commonplace in the days of pitches that resembled quagmires and gluepots. As good as these players were, they are remembered for the football they prevented, not played. Tommy Smith once scored in a European Cup final at the age of 32 but nobody brings that up when recalling his career. They think of the thousands of tackles that left good opponents writhing in agony.

Tackling is part of the game, but clean and fair tackling will always earn much more admiration than the alternative. Part of the problem is that we now assume that injuries caused within tackles must have been caused by the tackle itself. Henry already had a reputation thanks to his mental vendetta against Barton by the time he cleanly and clearly took the ball off Zamora. He wasn't punished for the tackle, and rightly so. Zamora suffered a broken leg within the tackle, but not because of it. But it's being brought up now because of the tackler, not the tackle. That can't be good.

Bad tackles will always happen, and sometimes they'll cause injury and sometimes not. There's a difference between bad and malicious. But if managers are actively telling players to prevent the other side playing, and then protesting their innocence afterwards as someone undergoes surgery for a broken tibia, then there will always be a tactical contribution to the problem. It's up to managers to inform their players responsibly, and take the rap for it if it goes wrong.

Here's a compilation of the treatment of Barton - four of the challenges are by Henry. I'm not sure which is more outrageous - the succession of appalling challenges or Alan Shearer's laughter.

6 October 2010

Please find my purse, please, please, please...

You know what late bars and nightclubs are like. The floor is sticky and wet from spilled drinks. Coats and bags lay on seats and sidings and floors. People often struggle to get through throngs of others to reach the bar, the toilets or the smoking area.

And even in the nicest areas with the most refined of clientele, you get the odd moron out to ruin someone's evening.

On Saturday night, a lass approached me as I was playing the music and reported her purse missing. I get one of these most weeks, but usually it's an older woman, experienced on nights out, who knows that anything that does go missing is likely to be of little value to anyone else. They stuff their tenners in their bras and, having placed their keys in their jacket pockets, give me their jackets. They often don't bring purses with them. I have mobile phones reported missing more than anything else.

But this girl was different. She was very youthful, looked and acted like she'd never been out before. She was really worried about her purse as everything - keys, cash, cards, driving licence, photos, mobile - was in it. Bad error, that. I asked the punters if they could look in their respective corners of the bar and dancefloor.

One of the doormen then brought me a purse. This girl's face brightened up momentarily - but it wasn't hers. At this point, she burst into tears. Great uncontrollable sobs that you could almost hear above the music. She flopped down on the floor next to my rope cordon and buried her face in her knees for what felt like hours.

I gave it up as a lost cause in my head but for her benefit, kept putting out appeals. This purse hadn't been accidentally kicked around the dancefloor, it had been lifted. People kept coming up to her to try to comfort her but she was inconsolable. Word had genuinely spread among these half-cut, dancing partygoers that a purse had gone missing and a youngster had been heartbroken - and left beside herself with worry - by it. But while the sympathy and reassurance was plentiful, there was no sign of the purse.

Her issue was that her keys were in the purse, along with documentation that contained her address. She was frantic that someone could go round her place and break in, or turn up later when she was there alone.

Two hours or so on, with a whole river now cried next to my cordon, I put out another appeal for the purse to be hunted down. I was doing it to soothe her because I was sure there'd be no hope of its return, but I felt I had to be heard trying because this lass - I reckon she was 19 at the most - was just distraught. The doormen tried to persuade her to go and look for her purse in the area where she last saw it but she wouldn't move. She couldn't go home as she couldn't get in. She was, essentially, marooned while people danced to very loud music under flashing lights all around her.

Then someone approached me and handed me a purse. She said it had been found outside in the smoking shelter under one of the benches. I checked the documentation inside and my heart leapt - it was the correct purse. The girl stood up and I showed it to her.

I have never been hugged so bloody tightly as I was at that point. The tears were now of relief.

She checked the contents. The toerag had taken her money but left everything else, so she got off lightly. She has now learned to only bring out the stuff that's necessary and to use the cloakroom facilities to secure her stuff. And I've learned that it's possible among a crowd of varying degrees of roughness and inebriation to have enough camaraderie to help someone in real distress.

I've worked Saturday nights in that establishment for pushing six years now and I can genuinely say it was one of the best moments of it. That girl left with a smile - albeit principally of relief - on her face, something which seemed so unlikely at one point. That it happened is a credit to the crowd and the staff, and that almighty bear hug she gave me was for them all. You know when people say an event restores their faith in human nature? Well, this did just that for me.

5 October 2010

"But you made it into port!"

As I head for work on a Saturday night, my Twitter feed is jammed solid with stuff about the X Factor, a programme I have never watched and never wish to. If you want to hear proper singers on a Saturday night who don't need all that egotistical guff around them, then Strictly Come Dancing is the place to be.

That said, asking someone who is obviously a classically trained vocalist to do a version of Ke$ha's Tik Tok is going a bit far.

Strictly... is back and this year's nonsense has made a cracking start. We have the early contenders, the personality competitors, at least one arrogant sod whose expectation outweighed their talent and a couple of dark horses.

Matt Baker is a guy I've always liked, and he is the early front runner after the first weekend. The gymnastic background will help him, as will his cheery persona when something goes awry. He has a sporting background but, unlike most of those with such a heritage, isn't seeking perfection from the beginning. That should help Peter Shilton too, whose personality has always been akin to that of a bucket of water but who has quickly acknowledged he needs to be taught and is prepared to listen.

This, however, isn't true of Goldie. I don't mind him, and I know the montage of training footage isn't indicative of the whole week of work, but that guy is going to be out on his backside quickly if he doesn't start listening to his teacher.

Scott Maslen was surprisingly good, Kara Tointon wasn't as amazing as her scores suggested. I've never liked Tina O'Brien, for reasons I genuinely can't fathom, and so my main hope for an early exit is there. And what a shame that a chap as gifted and as experienced in showbiz as Paul Daniels remains not only charmless and arrogant in his old age, but also now a confirmed homophobe too.

Michelle Williams was absolutely compelling, because she adopted the lairy Yank attitude and seemed to think she was a shoo-in because of her choreographed past with Destiny's Child (point of order, 'Chelle my love: Maybe the reason you're on this programme while Beyonce and Kelly have successful solo careers is because you weren't the talented one after all). Anyway, she was tremendously rotten and looked aghast that the judges didn't think she was instantly fantastic. And having Brendan as a partner will make for great telly as a result. I hope she stays in for a few weeks without ever getting better.

And then there was Ann Widdecombe. She is the Cameron Stout of the show, in that there seems to be genuinely no fathomable reason why she has decided to do it. Not only can she not dance, but she has no showbiz credentials, no performing experience and no real understanding or interest in the peak-time, frivolous brand of television she is making. And yet, it's because of all these things that she'll stick around for a few weeks and, like John Sergeant, a few better dancers will suffer for the car crash entertainment she supplies. It's clear she won't improve as a dancer but she'll keep the viewing figures up while she's there.

The others were a bit of a muchness by comparison, though Jimi "Dr Fonseca" Mistry might be worth an outside bet, assuming he realises that an EastEnders history will hold more sway with the viewing public than a Hollywood career. Gavin Henson has potential but is otherwise a thunking, monosyllabic Welshman who the public won't warm to. Patsy Kensit will see this as a good test of her public image after all the marital strife, especially if she learns to control her nerves. Pamela Stephenson, meanwhile, looks absolutely bloody amazing and, it appears, can dance a bit too.

Elsewhere, there really was no need for the hosts to harp on about the new studio. Who the hell else would know, notice or care? Still, the execution of the show is helped by that new staircase at the other end. No change with the judges - hypercritical, hypergenerous, hypercretinous and hyperbolic from left to right.

For all the girlish appeal of Ola and Katya and Natalie, the show still isn't the same without Karen Hardy. She deserves so much more than a trouser-suited critique spot with Claudia during the week.

And, while he has probably now outstayed his welcome by at least two years, I'll give Bruce a break, just because that Miliband gag was one of which Armando Ianucci would have been proud.

So then, Matt Baker to win. Michelle Williams to leave in tears. Ann Widdecombe to be offered a role in Chicago and Pamela Stephenson to get an American Express ad for real.