Monday, 6 May 2019

He's gawn completely Radio Rental

So here I am watching coverage of the 1979 general election coverage on the BBC Parliament channel (which includes the news read by Richard Baker right at the start, which is worth the price of admission alone), and the complete Eighventiesness of it reminded me of this ghost sign that I noticed in town on Saturday. A more recent shop has closed, removed their signage and uncovered this. Funny how there are a certain subset of high street shops that have now completely disappeared. Did you rent a television? My parents did right up until the beginning of the 1990s. There were all the big hitters here in Newark: Granada (where ours came from. The televisions were always modelled as Granada Finlandia. As the name suggests they were manufactured in Finland, I think possibly by a name that would become ubiquitous in the 90s and 2000s, Nokia), DER and the above mentioned Radio Rentals. I also think that electrical retailers Wigfalls (where you could also buy records) and Rumbelows rented TV sets. We had them all here, long gone now of course. Even Dixons/Currys no longer have a presence in the town centre.
Renting electrical items hasn't gone away though. I was watching television the other night (a Panasonic 32" HD smart TV purchased from, ahem, Sainbury's, if you're interested, most definitely not rented) that the online electrical retailer AO are now offering rentals for low-income households on washing machines with a view to rolling the service out to other electrical goods. As it happens Mrs Ambassador found a receipt yesterday for her grandparents' television which was purchased in 1990 for £300, about the same amount you'd pay today for an equivalent set. The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Air bridge

When I was a kiddywink, this picture of a Jaguar being loaded on to an aeroplane fascinated me. The thought that you could load up a car on a plane and go on holiday somewhere overseas was just mind-blowing, especially when the memory of a Hillman Super Minx estate (it wasn't particularly 'super') constantly overheating on the way to Cornwall burned bright in your mind. I doubt the Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair with its piston engines would have spluttered its way much further than Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam - and Dad was NEVER going to take US to France* - but the thought of it was rather nice.

Inside the book the same aircraft shares its page with the Vulcan. Which is perfectly correct.

* The last  holiday he ever had was actually in Paris, Dad fans.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Radio, radio

I don't know if you recall but last August some damn fool gave me an hour to play some records that I'd bought from charity shops on the radio. Well that was an experience that I really enjoyed and what do you know, the radio station in question run training days for complete and utter wannabes like me to produce and broadcast an hour of a radio over a six hour course. So when the inevitable question came from family members at the back end of November "Whaddya want for Crimbo?" (well what does a man in his mid-late forties want? Socks? Hankies? No thanks) I asked if they could chip in for this training day so I knew that I was going to get something I really wanted.

After emails back and forth with the guy who runs the station, a date was decided for March 1st. The day came and I find myself in the Levenshulme area of Manchester ringing the doorbell of a former library which is home to the station. Inside I met Jason*, our trainer for the day, along with my fellow trainees Freya and Luisa. A tour of the studio while the station was playing a mid-morning automated playlist was followed by us recording our own voices and learning about operating a fader on a training laptop. Then came the production part of the day where we had to decide what kind of two hour show we wanted to produce. So we decided on each of us having our own thirty minutes followed by thirty minutes of what some would call, ugh, "chat 'n' choons". Luisa decided she wanted to make a show with music related to fashion as that was her bag. Freya, an Aussie, was there for radio experience because she had been working in TV and wanted to transition to the wireless so she decided to theme her show on Australian music that might be unknown to a UK audience. I decided that mine should feature music from Manchester, basically because I'd taken two hours' worth of music and was looking for a label to hang on it.
To cut a long story short, zero hour of 5pm arrived and we were on air. Only having one studio Nicky,
who was on air before us with her regular show, very kindly played a long final track to give us all time to get in the studio to set up and sort ourselves out. We decided to let Luisa and Freya go first as Luisa, in particular, was quite nervous, so she could get her solo segment out of the way.

6pm arrived and I was on. Well, I had a blast and you can hear the results in the link below. Stick around because after thirty minutes you can hear me pontificate on subjects ranging from fast fashion (of which I'm an expert...NOT! Ho-ho!), Australia's participation in Eurovision (I chose that topic) and, as it was a Friday night, is British pub culture on its knees? After only knowing each other for six hours or so beforehand there was much camaraderie and willing each other on because we all kind of clicked.
It's a bit of a cliche but the two hours flew by and we were saying our goodbyes and going home. I'd recommend it to anyone, it put a real spring in my step for the next couple of weeks and, if they were offering it to paying punters, I'd participate on All FM's thirty hour radio training course which goes more in depth into stuff like Ofcom regulations, legal stuff etc. If only I'd taken up the chance to do hospital radio when I was at school...oh well.

*Jason is also a regular presenter of Charity Shop Classics so it was nice to finally meet a voice I'd got used to hearing coming out of a radio. And he was brilliant.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

New Boots

Tracks of My Years Part 3: Nancy Sinatra - The Boots Are Made For Walking

The last time I did one of these was in 2015 so I suppose I'd better get back on track with it. If you don't remember (and why would you?), these are songs which I remember really leaping out of the radio at me when I was a kid and somehow shaped my musical taste. And in a lot of instances they frightened me. This is definitely one that frightened me.
The sad death of the Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine this week helped remind us of the amount of excellent work he did. One of those songs he played on, These Boots Are Made For Walking is a record that both fascinated and scared the living daylights out of me as a child. For some context, among records like The Runaway Train, The Laughing Policeman, The Laughing Gnome (and all manner of other records with the word 'lauguing' in the title) and Nellie the Elephant which would get played week in, week out on Radio 1's Junior Choice in the 70s and early 80s, Nancy Sinatra's most well known song would also always get an airing. I think the record both enchanted and frightened me for a variety of reasons. First, there's that slightly off-kilter descending double bass part that leads into the verse. Secondly, this person wants to walk all over you in their boots. Why would she want to do that? Of course at the time I was too young to realise that she wanted to metaphorically walk all over you in her boots (although I'm led to believe that people literally like to be walked on in boots). Thirdly, she talked about matches. Now, I was always taught that matches were never to be touched*, so what's she going to do with those matches? Isn't it all rather dangerous to be playing with matches? She'll burn herself. Put. The. Matches. Down (as before, it was metaphorical matches she was playing with. Again, that bit was lost on me). Fourthly (is that a word), she actually talks to the boots. "Are you ready boots? Start walkin'" Are these magic boots? Wow.

*A message that was lost on my sister who once tried to set fire to our wooden garage. Think she might be something of a pyromaniac as she would often light matches and watch them burn down to nothing. And she taught me that trick of flicking your index finger in and out of a lit candle. There were a lot of power cuts in the late 70s.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Start the Dance

There's been a lot of talk about The Prodigy this week, for all the wrong reasons. I recall when they first hit and got songs like Charley and Outta Space in the hit parade they were seen as a bit of a joke act (but not a full-on joke like Altern 8). However, they made Music For the Jilted Generation which got nominated for the Mercury Prize and released this as its lead single. I doubt Keith Flint had very little to do with its inception or production but I'll never forget hearing this coming out the PA at Rock City. It made your whole body vibrate.
I'd already been discovering that Marshalls set to 11, a huge kit and a biker boot resting on a monitor didn't necessarily have to equate to HEA-VEE. Getting into stuff like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Godflesh along with more traditional bands at the 'alt' end of the rock scene like Helmet, Nottingham's own Fudge Tunnel and Corrosion of Conformity was already turning my head to another form of headbanging.
Hearing No Good (Start the Dance) that night, in its natural setting, a club, meant that I suddenly 'got' rave culture. It still sounds fantastic. And, alarmingly, it's now a quarter of a century old. Oh dear.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Christmas Top of the Flops

I'm sure our memories must play tricks on us at this time of year. I say that because songs that have always seemed to be embedded in our consciousness as stone-cold Christmas classics, when you delve deeper, and from my own memory, weren't such massive songs during the festive period at all. And I can pinpoint when all this started happening: the run up to Christmas 1985 when Virgin/EMI released The Christmas Album (or The Christmas Tape, as it was in our house) all done under the Now! banner.
I mean, there were some bone fide yuletide tracks on there that did transcend the years and always seemed to chart on re-release. I'm talking about Slade, Wizzard, Bing Crosby etc but some of the others? Hmm, not so much.

  • Queen - Thank God It's Christmas. Reached no.21 in 1984. This was of course before they re-wrote their own history and played a make-or-break gig at Wembley Stadium on July 13th 1985.
  • Elton John -Step Into Christmas. Reached no.24 in 1973. A song I had never heard before that fateful Christmas in 1985. Now it's all over the place. I guess it keeps Elton in 'fruit and flowers' these days.
  • Kate Bush - December Will Be Magic Again. Wheezed its way to no.29 in 1980. A song written for her 1979 BBC Christmas Special. This was before she went down the dumper for a bit and made an album that sounded like King Crimson with a Fairlight.
  • Chris De Burgh - A Spaceman Came Travelling. Didn't chart on original release in 1975. I had heard this single before but only because we had a teacher at school who'd been a bit of a Head back in the day and used to start his year assemblies with a bit of rock music (on one occasion treating a load of bemused 1980s kids to Black Sabbath).
  • Beach Boys - Little Saint Nick. Didn't chart on original release. Something doesn't sit quite right with me when a band associated with California sun and the outdoor life sing about reindeer.
All those songs now seem as much a part of Christmas as mince pies, drinking too much and having to be nice to people. And the tracklisting of today's Now Christmas album just grows and grows. The edition in this house had grown to three CDs as at some point with a lot of artists realising how much the publishing on a Christmas track can be worth. Indeed, the most valuable song for non-Beatles royalties in Paul McCartney's catalogue is that ultimate in will-this-do? filler, Wonderful Christmastime. And what's on in the background while I'm writing this? Freeview Channel 88, the Now That's What I Call Christmas channel showing Pete Waterman's Christmas 1972-Now. The songs keep coming: East 17, Bo Selecta, Peter Kay, Steps, Jon By Jovi, Mariah Carey, Mickey Bubbles...

Blue (Peter) Christmas

Yes, we all know about John Noakes, Simon Groom, Janet Ellis, Peter Duncan, Skelts and all but Blue Peter is still worth watching. Of course it's changed to fit with a modern audience (and is confident enough to gently take the piss out of itself) but it never forgets its core values. For many of us in the UK, along with Elizabeth II, BP is just about the only constant; one of the very, very few things we know have always been there throughout our lives.

Thursday's show, the last before Christmas, visited a tinsel factory, showed us how glass baubles are made and how Christmas jumpers are manufactured. But it was the last five minutes which, I'll be honest, brought a lump to my throat. They still have the same nativity scene, they still have the advent crown (nonnaked flames though), they still brought in the Salvation Army band, they still got the kids in to sing a rousing O Come All Ye Faithful. And at that point, I may have had something in my eye.

UK readers can find the episode by clicking here.

And for those of you outside the UK, here's an advent crown compilation: