6 April 2011

You've oversmoked your trout

Great British Menu is back and I love it. This year the chefs are trying to impress the judges with dishes designed to cater for a summer street banquet.

We're on the North East heat first - which will irritate people who live in the actual north east as the three chefs competing are all based in Yorkshire - and so far they've done themselves proud with the amount of cliché, rhetoric and pointless drivel told to the camera while they prepare their dishes.

This, despite sounding like a weakness, is one of the strengths of the Great British Menu. If you think the guff that Wallace and Torode come out with on Masterchef is amusingly vacuous, it's nothing compared to the patter from the chefs and the narrator on this programme. Like any cookery programme, it suffers from having nothing to say during the process of preparing and cooking the actual food. It's like a catering equivalent of all the National Lottery shows down the years - all you want is for them to draw the numbers and see if you've won; on this show, all you're waiting for is the prepared dish. Sure it's interesting and necessary to watch the method of creating the dish, but unfortunately there are no original phrases to accompany them. The producers think we're better off watching with pointless narration rather than in actual silence. I love that. You can play a game of "Cliché Watch" with your viewing companions and see who gets pissed the quickest.

Nigel Haworth, Lancastrian chef and former winner on this programme, is the judge and he too has become amusingly predictable. He's very strict with the three competitors and during the tasting process, just asks them all the same question over and over again: "Do you think this is good enough for the banquet?" One day, a chef is going to say: "No, it's bollocks as I've overcooked the fish and not added enough coriander, and I should've chucked the whole thing in the bin and started again." And the producers will cut it out and insist on a re-take.

Replacing Jennie Bond as the v/o has been a good idea too, as I've always felt she was on too much of a jolly in television after retiring early as a BBC journalist. Wendy Lloyd, former Radio 1 presenter, is now doing the "Stephanie is running out of time and still hasn't chopped her asparagus" shtick and sounds great for it.

Those fish stews looked good yesterday. My money's on the Rudding Park lass to win this week, and for a number of people from Northumberland and Tyne & Wear to write to the Radio Times about the geography issue.

5 April 2011

Back for good, home and dry

I'm stunned that the Pet Shop Boys have agreed to be the support act on Take That's latest tour. Stunned and, well, impressed too.

The one thing Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have always been is aware of the zeitgeist. Their taste in music is as modern as anyone a quarter of their age - Neil is 57 this year - and while I expect they don't have wall to wall Take That records on hand, they'll know exactly what they're doing.

It really is a clever move on everyone's part. Take That could end up with up to three generations of young families going along - the current kids, the initial Take That screamers now in their mid to late 20s, and the 40-something mums who were 20-something mums taking their daughters along to gigs when Everything Changes was in the charts. Those 40-something mums will be as interested in seeing the Pet Shop Boys as they will the main act, given as they would have been of the dominant demographic when Neil and Chris were regularly hitting the top of the charts.

The presence of Neil and Chris - first name terms, don't you know - will also get a good deal more fellas at the gigs than before.

The only previous connection between the two bands I can think of is that Neil sang backing vocals on Robbie Williams' solo song No Regrets, which was a thinly-disguised attack on Gary Barlow and almost certainly is swept under the carpet now. Then again, having done that "we're friends again, look!" duet last year, they'll probably think it'd be hilarious to have Gary singing the song about him, with Neil providing his backing vocals without a hint of irony.

Okay, not that then. But it's inevitable that they will do something on stage together - you can't imagine, for all the handiness of being on a major sell-out tour, that the Pet Shop Boys would be happy being heading back to their hotel while the star turns arse about onstage - so what will it be? Neil and Robbie duet on Back For Good? Mark pops onstage early on to play the Dusty Springfield role on What Have I Done To Deserve This? Perhaps Howard (or is it Jason?) will come on and prove he really can play guitar by doing the opening riff to Being Boring?

Back in 1991, I won a pair of tickets for a Bryan Adams gig at Maine Road, Manchester. He was still on his one-man chart strangulation mission at the time and my mum, prone to singing along to the sanitised rock music courtesy of the stuff my brother used to play through the walls throughout the 1980s, had begun to like him. So, I gave her the tickets and she took my (semi-reluctant) dad along, parked along the Curry Mile and watched every act - Little Angels, Squeeze, Extreme and finally little Bry himself. Now that was quite some support he had.

Duran Duran first got some proper publicity from supporting Hazel O'Connor; the Damned rose in the punk ranks courtesy of their association with Marc Bolan; even the largely unknown Wet Wet Wet sold a damned good stack of singles in 1987 after getting on to Lionel Richie's sell-out tour. Kim Wilde was happy to play second fiddle - as it were - to Michael Jackson in 1988 and Level 42 bowed and scraped to Madonna ("America was calling me, you said I must choose") around the same period. Plenty of examples here of ego being put aside for the good of the long-term career, and I'm pretty sure that's how the Pet Shop Boys view their professional decision too. Or, they might just think it'll be a laugh.