23 September 2011

It's the end of the world as we know it

I'd love to blog about R.E.M. and their demise, but I don't really feel I have the clout for it. Though they were formed at the start of the 1980s, they're not some chuckaway 80s pop act whose very existence needs the likes of me to justify. They're far more important than that.

All I know is that a pal of mine started a small but intriguing Twitter debate which suggested that the USA, with the exception of the Beach Boys and R.E.M., didn't tend to produce "good" bands. One assumes the criteria includes longevity, statistical success, worldwide appeal, continued credibility as tastes change and a generally good reputation that combines musicianship with a spot of devilment. When you give it some thought, he isn't far wrong.

I think R.E.M. may lack on the devilment front - the nearest they've had to scandal or an off-diary story is Peter Buck getting pissed on an aeroplane and being acquitted of any further wrongdoing afterwards - but otherwise they've been as good an American group as any since the Beach Boys. They're outstanding composers, professional performers and yet when you read their interviews or sleevenotes, their seriousness doesn't ever come across as pomposity or self-absorption. If the Americans ever adopted a class system like ours, Mike Mills would be the ultimate middle class American.

Ultimately though, I just care about the songs. Find The River is their most exquisite single composition of all. Finest Worksong rocks. Crush With Eyeliner is brilliantly scary. And, of course, people will always think of Losing My Religion, a song that has never really suffered in the UK for being what our beloved radio industry thinks is pretty much the only playable song the band have ever produced in 31 years.

I've never been one for live gigs, more fool me, but R.E.M. are one band I always thought I would go and see play one day. I hope there'll be a reunion tour in five years or so because otherwise I'll spend the rest of time kicking myself that I didn't take up an opportunity go along. With my musical tastes, they're the nearest I've ever got to liking a band that "proper" music fans like, and the quiet arrival of a new, polished R.E.M. album every three years will soon be missed.

Not allowed to embed Losing My Religion at the moment, so have a gorgeous bonus track - the one that tried to emulate those very Beach Boys mentioned here...

22 September 2011

Bowl provider

Been working in Preston this week, covering the breakfast show on Lancashire's Magic 999. Good fun.

The radio station, with its sister 97.4 Rock FM (together the two used to be the old Red Rose Radio brands), is based in an old church on the Preston ring road. It's a bizarre place to work but wholly satisfying as well, seeing meetings take place between ancient archways and walking down arcane stone staircases from the offices to reception and the studio area.

Anyway, like all radio stations, it has commemorative framed discs pinned on every wall, proudly proclaiming the station's contribution to an artist's sales. One of them is this, featuring the much maligned (and fairly so) Michael Bolton.

All fine so far, taste issues aside. Then a second photograph reveals the actual context of its display.

Yep, in one of the traps. And it makes me laugh every time I see it.

(Okay, I'll even it up a bit. I liked this one...)

20 September 2011

"We have a Matthew James Rudd at customer services..."

Brief sojourn into a well-known supermarket yesterday, and a lost child was being comforted by staff as they tried to locate his parents via the tannoy system.

Brought back the memories, it did. To my knowledge, it occurred twice in my tinier years. The old Jacksons Grandways superstores had a big branch in east Hull, and this was the favoured store of choice in the late 1970s for my parents to do the weekly (always weekly, back then) big shop. As the younger of two boys, I'd be the one in the little trolley compartment, whereas my brother would cling on to my mum. Dad, with hindsight, clearly didn't want to be there and his job seemed to combine keeping us youngsters occupied before finding boxes from the back to pack the wares into as they were tilled through.

Anyway, once I was not sitting in the trolley, for whatever reason. I think I probably decided that at six years old - and proud of it - I was now able to walk round the shop with big brother and the grown-ups. And so, naturally, I got lost. I looked round a few aisles but to no avail, and can't imagine how frantic my family were when they noticed my absence. In the end, I had the sense to accost a person in a Grandways tabard who was stacking a shelf and asked, very innocently: "Excuse me, do you know where my mum is, please?" That's the one bit I remember clear as day.

Quickly I was transported to the customer services desk and within ten minutes I was back in the company of my parents. I blamed them for losing me, of course. Though I was a bit upset and very relieved, I was most of all utterly terrified. My naivete in assuming Grandways person would know the identity of my mother hit me quite quickly afterwards. And in later years when thinking about it, I realised how fortunate I was that I didn't just ask some random customer.

The second time wasn't long afterwards, I think. This time it was the dreaded family trip into "town". All families did this. The mother would insist that we needed to spend a whole Saturday morning, and sometimes part of an afternoon, in Hull city centre, traversing the shops. My dad never made any secret of his loathing for this but, being a good dad and husband (and figuring it'd be easier to look after us two when walking us round town than it would be at home without my mum), he loyally tagged along. Like all kids in this situation, my brother and I were very, very bored, especially when the dreaded moment would arrive involving my mum bumping into someone she knew and spending 20 minutes gassing to them about bugger all, meaning the rest of us stood motionless, anxious to move on. Or, better still, go home. I think the naggy question I asked more than any other during this period of childhood was "Can we go back to the car now?" I think my dad wished every single time I asked that he could say yes.

Anyway, the Hull branch of British Home Stores. Mum, dad, brother and I are looking at clothes - well, Mum is, dad is pretending to, and me and big bro are tossing about like kids do - and I wandered round a corner or two expecting to be chased by him. I wasn't. I tried to retrace my steps but suddenly there was no sign of anyone I knew. Unlike at the supermarket, I have no idea how I ended up as an official BHS misper but before I knew it my name was on the tannoy system and, as if to prolong the agony further, the staff had picked me up and stood me on the enquiries desk so that the whole damn store could see me. My strongest memory of this incident was saying "You lost me!" to my mum when the rest of the clan finally saw me and returned to pick me up.

There was one occasion when Mum genuinely did lose me. I've been told, and heard told to others, this story a thousand times. My mum sees it now as some kind of badge of honour. The pair of us were, it appears, out of hospital not very long after my birth when she took me into the village in my pram while paying visits to the bank and the Co-Op. When going inside, she left me outside. She then returned home and Dad asked her where I was. The story goes that she said she'd left me with him, only for her jaw to then drop on the very last syllable before declaring "I've left him outside the Co-Op!" Into the Ford Cortina they dived to speed to the Co-Op - and there I still was, happily playing with the plastic things in my pram, oblivious to my brief period of abandonment. And yes, the story in all subsequent tellings has come with the obvious punchline.

I didn't hang around this supermarket to see how quickly this family were reunited. But one suspects the little lad will remember this moment for life.