Tuesday, 13 February 2018

My 80s Diary

I think I might start tweeting my 1980s diary, which appears to be all the rage at the minute. I've never kept a diary, of course, but they all follow the same pattern (the following is entirely fictional, by the way):

"12/04/85 Listened to Run DMC tape. I didn't like it much but Wayne says they're the future and that rock music is dead. Had Findus Crispy Pancakes for tea. Watched Top of the Pops and Blackadder. Bed ."

"14/05/85 Had a tin of Quatro. It's better than Lilt"
"18/06/85 Got an A for my geography homework. I think Miss Harris fancies me. Mum cooked my favourite tea - Bird's Eye potato waffles, beans with sausages in and a fried egg"
"19/07/85 Got off with Janine Smith at the end of term disco. We danced to Nik Kershaw, Bryan Adams, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran and Paul Young. We shared a tin of Quatro and had a finger of Twix each. Janine doesn't like Quatro much. She thinks Lilt is nicer. She's wrong but I didn't tell her. We've agreed to meet up in the library to do our summer geography project together, after she comes back from her family holiday in Lanzarote. I said "Lanzagrotty", she laughed"
"12/08/85 - Waited at the library for Janine. She never showed up. Oh well, she has BO anyway. Bought a U2 tape from Boots to cheer myself up. Salad, ham and chips for tea"

"03/09/85 - Back to school today. Got Mr Johnson for a form tutor, he's alright but his breath smells. Got told off for forgetting my football boots"

"19/09/85 - Thursday night means Top of the Pops night! That man Cameo was on wearing a bright red cricket box, I don't know what that was about. It wasn't as good as last week's when Marillion were on"

See? An absolute piece of piss. Of course, what these diaries fail to mention is how much wanking in bedrooms was going on.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Film '18

I've been having a discussion on Facebook, prompted by the Oscar nominations, about films. I have to say that the idea of sitting in a cinema is becoming less and less appealing as I get older. At risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, people in cinemas get on my wick.

First we have to pay nearly ten pounds a pop for the privilege of sitting in there with people who won't sit in their allocated seats (I was once given short shrift by a guy at a cinema in Nottingham when I informed him that he was sitting in my seat for a performance of far-fetched Brad Pitt WWII film Fury. Flaming pillock).
Then they have to bring in all manner of food. I mean, those nachos they insist on serving these days look horrific. What is that fluorescent orange gloop they have to smother them with? It looks radioactive. And that's before we've even got started on rattling sweet wrappers and bags. Then, when they're not pushing food into their hungry maws, they're talking. Or looking at mobile phones. It's only in the past decade that I've actually seen people being ejected from a cinema for bad behaviour (The Woman in Black in Birmingham). Is that because people no longer know how to sit quietly for a couple of hours?

Then there's the films themselves. That's when you can actually get to the main feature part. You can put another thirty minutes on the stated start time because first we have to sit through half an hour of adverts, which wouldn't be so bad if they were still like this. The main features are rubbish these days too. I went to the cinema five times last year, two of those films (Trainspotting 2, Dunkirk) were rubbish, one was okay-ish (Murder on the Orient Express), one was quite good (The Death of Stalin) and the other one was Dave Gilmour* at Pompeii, so I knew what I was getting with that. All films these days seem to be based on comics, and not the sort of comics I like either. If someone made a film based on The Tough of the Track (Alf Tupper), Braddock VC or Billy's Boots then I'd be well up for that. If they're not based on comics it has to be a historical drama where they get all the facts wrong. And if it's not those then it's some worthy old bollocks. Why does nobody make daft comedies any more? Police Academy, Trading Places, Groundhog Day, Rita Sue and Bob Too, those stupid-but-good films with John Candy, Chevy Chase or Dan Aykroyd?

I dunno, maybe I'm just more into television these days. Namely imported television. Deutschland 83, Witnesses, Modus, that silly Swedish Scooby Doo thing that BBC4 showed in the autumn. All much more deserving of my time, I think. I'm currently well into French law and order procedural Spiral. We've only discovered it on series 6 but it was my birthday last week and Mrs Ambassador gave me the first four series in a boxset. I can't wait to sink my teeth into all 4000+ minutes of that.
It's either that or I stick to the excellent television channel Talking Pictures TV.

*I say 'Dave' because he insists on being called 'David'

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Brum Brum.

Ah, 2018 then. How are you? Oh right, excellent. Anyway, enough about you, as it's a new year and a chance to set out some new life goals, I thought I'd go back to blogging. The micro-blogging of Twitter doesn't interest me at the moment so I thought I'd have a go at this again. See how it goes, and all that. Just a quick one to ease me in:

There is absolutely nothing I don't love about this photograph.

It's Rush outside the Holiday Inn in Birmingham in 1978. A very West Midlands' decade, were the 70s, think about it: ELO, Black Sabbath, Wizzard, Trevor Francis at Birmingham City, Spaghetti Junction, Jasper Carrott, Tiswas ATVLand Birmingham B1 2JP, John Swallow, Red Robbo, the Bull Ring, Crossroads etc. The Brutalism architecture in Brum is one of its great strengths, I find. What a pity theses days that the city seems intent on erasing every last piece of it. I mean, look at the concrete in that Holiday Inn. Also look at the Renault 16. They were everywhere then. I really hope that's the car which will transport the Canadian rockers to the Birmingham Odeon. A very Renault decade was the 70s. And look at Rush, a very Rush decade was the 70s, with their epic twenty minute songs, moustaches and Geddy Lee's boots...

Thursday, 21 January 2016

By Chance Two Separate Glances Meet

I've been listening to the 40 minute cover version of Echoes on Crippled Black Phoenix's new EP.  I think the CBP EP - which has a running time of an hour, so hardly an EP - has done more to restore my faith in the music of Pink Floyd than the miserbalism of The Final Cut, the Floyd-by-numbers of A Momentary Lapse of Reason and the borefest of The Endless River ever will. As I'm on a mid-period Floyd tip at the minute, I've been watching Pink Floyd in Pompeii. It's such a shame that this is the only proper visual live record of the Pink Floyd lineup of Waters, Gilmour, Wright and Mason. When you think about all the gigs they did in support of Dark Side of the Moon, Animals and The Wall and it's a wonder none of it was captured properly on film. I know that it is something that irks members of the band. Mind you, they had such difficulty around the cinema release of ...in Pompeii that they were probably put off. And who would have foreseen Imax or hi-def Blu-Ray with a 5.1 surround sound mix in the mid-70s?
Watching Pink Floyd in Pompeii also served to remind me how good Nick Mason was before he became the world's most bone idle drummer.

Any road, my I point you in the direction of Crippled Black Phoenix's version of Echoes? It has a total running time of about double the original and takes in some interview audio with the band (which I think is from the documentary footage of ...in Pompeii. The bit where Mason asks for apple pie with no crust being a highlight. "They've only got round apple pies left, Nick". Anyway, who wants apple pie with no crust? Bloody freak), a dollop of The Tornados' Telstar and finishing up with a version of Childhood's End from Floyd's most underrated LP, Obscured by Clouds. It really is a very good thing from a band who've had their ups and downs recently but who have come storming back with this.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Record Store Day

Any fans of record shops will know that this year's Record Store Day is just around the corner. Now I quite like the idea of RSD, unfortunately, like Emerson Lake and Palmer or the Sony Discman, the theory is much better than the reality.
I've only 'done' RSD once, two years ago. Unless you're wont to get out of bed at stupid o'clock in the morning on a Saturday then I really wouldn't bother going. I can guarantee that by the time you get there, whatever you've gone for will be gone. When I went to a participating RSD shop back in 2013 the only thing I went for had been sold out for ages. The handy thing was, that when I was standing in line, I had two studenty types behind me who couldn't wait to get in there and buy, ugh,'vinyls'. I got there at around midday and certainly didn't expect to queue to get in when I arrived. So what happens then? Well, you just buy something. Anything so that you don't feel that you've had a wasted journey. I came home with, amongst other things, a Frankie Goes to Hollywood picture single. It's a nice thing to have but it's hardly essential.
Last year I saw the author of Last Shop Standing, Graham Jones, give a talk on record shops. This came a few weeks after RSD 2014. When he took questions from the floor he was asked what could make RSD better. He came up with a number of ideas to improve the RSD experience for everyone. He suggested that the organisers were considering limiting official RSD releases to new music only. Or introducing a loyalty card scheme so that regular independent record shop customers could get first dibs on RSD by getting four stamps on their card over the previous year. None of these ideas have been implemented. So this year there are well over 500 official RSD releases. I've had a look at the list and there's absolutely nothing I'm desperate for. So yet again we will see people queueing outside Piccadilly Records in Manchester before it's even closed the day before. And for what? A few 7" singles that you didn't really want because the David Bowie picture disc you went in for sold out at 8:30, while you were still parking the car. I realise that RSD is important for independent record shops in their constant struggle to survive against downloads, online stores and supermarkets but against the backdrop of me supporting independent music stores throughout the rest of the year and tales of an unscrupulous retailer reserving stock for favoured customers means that on April 18th I'll stay snuggled in bed for as long as I please.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Piss on the goons

Peter Gabriel or Blake Edmonds?
Tracks of My Years Pt.2
Peter Gabriel - Games Without Frontiers

This song will always remind me of boiled egg and soldiers for breakfast. I don't know why but my mother went on some kind of mission for me and my sister to go to school on an egg. God knows what my farts smelt like, they're bad enough when I don't have any eggs. Anyway, because Dave Lee Travis used to seemingly play this every day on the Radio 1 breakfast show at the that time we were having boiled eggs, the two will forever go hand-in-hand.
Again this another song that I can remember from my childhood that used to scare the wits out of me. David Rhodes' repetitive slide up the fretboard in there is one reason - completely unsettling. The vocal wasn't normal either. This man sounded like he was the modern day version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's childcatcher; watching children playing from afar while clearly formulating something in his mind. Hans plays with Lotte which gradually descends into Adolf and Enrico building and playing with a bonfire. My mum tried to keep me away from people who set bonfires (probably because my fellow egg-munching, pyromanical sister once tried to set fire to the garage, but that's another story), they were deemed to be naughty and no good would end up coming of them (she was right about one of them, as it turned out).
Sticking with the lyrics, I always thought that the opening lines to the song were "She, so popular" Who is she, and why is she so popular? I didn't know. And who is She? Lotte? Suki? Britt? Jane? Well, Jane did play with Willi, so it could be her (ho ho!). Turns out, of course that the opening line is "Jeux sans frontieres". Now I have a confession to make here, it wasn't until about ten years ago, when I bought Peter Gabriel 3 and looked at the lyric sheet that I found out what the lyrics actually were. Of course then it all makes sense! Jeux sans Frontieres was the French name for the television inter-city shitfest It's a Knockout! I'm not happy to report that it was only when I reached my mid-thirties that the lyrics all made perfect sense. You know, watching people play 'silly games' like the contestants in It's a Knockout*. And that all adds up to the song being an allegory on the foolish games politicians and leaders play with people's lives. Dur! Thick, aren't I?
I do remember, however, being struck how clever it was that the line "Whistling tunes..." was accompanied by actual whistling. I'm clearly quite easy to impress, especially as the next big hit to feature whistling was that bloody Wind of Change.
Anyway, it's a good job I never saw the accompanying video and single sleeve at the time as that would have had me hiding under the dining room table. Gabriel looks like a man possessed in the video, then there's that weird spinning three-headed doll thing and footage of a nuclear explosion. Christ. While Gabriel's melting head on the cover of the 7" would have had me having to have it placed upside down at all times. But having said that, his face does like like that of Blake Edmonds, a character in the Tiger comic at the time in a strip called Death Wish** which I lapped up every week. Little did I know at the time that less than a decade earlier this guy used to prance around with a flower on his head singing about farms, firemen, hogweeds and Green Shield stamps.

I think I may be giving the impression that I spent my whole childhood in a state of perpetual fear here. Don't worry, the next song I have lined up for this is what John Shuttleworth would call 'a fun track'.
All getting a bit prog, this blog, isn't it? Don't worry, I'm sure there'll be something on the TV to moan about soon enough.

*My parents knew someone who competed in IAKO when it came to Newark. He was dressed as a giant dog and had to find a bone in a haystack. We didn't go to the recording of it as Dad was too cheap to buy tickets. instead we went down the day before the recording, and gawped at Stuart Hall watching the set up and talking to the production team. Well, who knew...?
**Death Wish! In a kids' comic! Didn't think anything of a suicidal racing driver at the time of course. Clearly inspired by Niki Lauda, I guess.

Monday, 16 March 2015

IQ test

I've seen some odd sights in the quarter of a century that I've been going to concerts. When you've been to as many heavy metal, thrash and grunge gigs as I have you kind of take oddball fans and behaviour as something that isn't exactly out of place.
However, at the Steven Wilson concert that myself and Mrs Ambassador attended on Saturday night in Manchester, I was witness to one of the oddest fans I think I've ever seen. Progressive (or 'conceptual', as Wilson would have it) rock is normally home to the more genteel breed of rock fan. The sort of person who would quietly nod along to the music and emit polite applause, or maybe a cheer if they're feeling particularly exuberant, at the end of each son (unless you're at a Rush gig)
Anyway, a little scene-setting is required. I spotted this man walk in after we had taken our seats when he came and sat down two rows in front. I noticed him in particular because I thought to myself that he looked the archetypal middle-aged prog fan. He was wearing an IQ tour t-shirt, which was no doubt carefully selected to show off his prog credentials. Not a particularly well known act, IQ, so he was showing he liked 'deep cuts' and everyone knows it's a big no-no to go in a shirt of the artist you're seeing that night, unless it's a really old one so that you can show everyone else that you've been into this outfit for bloody ages. He looked like Mr Average, not very tall, and was wearing the ultimate in comfort: a fleece jacket (you might as well have a sign over your head saying "I've given up, me" if you're going to go out on a Saturday night dressed in a material made from old pop bottles). I think he was the kind of guy who made an effort to get down to London when he was student to see Marillion when they were virtually residents at the Marquee Club. And I bet he still jokes that he only just dried out a fortnight ago after the Genesis/Peter Gabriel reunion show at Milton Keynes Bowl in 1982 (it rained, famously. Well, famously amongst proggers). Oh, and he arrived alone. Now I spend a chunk of my spare time fighting music snobbery, so I hate to pigeonhole people but he really did look like what the kind of people who listen to BBC 6 Music think a fan of progressive rock might look like, i.e. quiet, unassuming, a bit of a nerd, CAMRA member. I'm not like that, of course, I'm far too cool.
So imagine, my surprise when during Wilson's first address to the crowd he said that he knew we were all seated but if we could make the band feel like we were actually at a rock 'n' roll show then that would be fine. At this point, matey jumps up out of his seat, rips the IQ t-shirt from his body, twirls it around his bonce and starts roaring. Yes, roaring! Mrs Ambassador and I exchanged a glance.
Again, during the song Index (about a serial killer who collects the body parts of his victims. Yes, I know.) our friend decides to really throw himself into the song, pointing, headbanging. He was really feeling that song. Worryingly.
But he saved the best to last, during the instrumental section of the song Harmony Korine, he was repeatedly punching himself in the side of the head. Incredibly quickly.
I hope I don't sound like I'm being sarcastic about this guy. I just found it a strange way to carry on at a prog gig. True to form, most of the other audience members nodded along in time with the music. And as the audience was about 80% male, the balding heads gave an extra dimension to the lights as they added a handy reflective surface for the light to bounce off. Well, they were nodding after they'd put their real ales down.