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:

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Oh yes it is!

A Facebook friend of mine posted this panto bill earlier. Funny how certain pantos seem to have fallen out of favour. I'd never heard of Robinson Crusoe as a panto before. While other ones from my youth like Mother Goose and Babes in the Wood have fallen completely out of favour (Nottingham Playhouse are, as it happens, doing  Babes... this year but it's being billed as ROBIN HOOD and Babes in the Wood). While others are now popular which were pretty much unheard-of in my childhood like The Snow Queen, thanks to the success of Frozen. I'm pretty sure our local theatre just has Cinderella, Aladdin and Jack and the Beanstalk on a three year loop.
And they only last barely a month even in the biggest cities these days. I saw the record holder for longest panto in history at Nottingham Theatre Royal as relatively recently as the very early 1980s (Keith Harris with Orville & Cuddles and Barbara Windsor. Can't remember who was the dame in that one, it was either John Inman or Barry Howard from Hi-De-Hi, I saw them both) which started on Boxing Day and finished just before the following Easter.

And was Hughie Green creaming off the most popular acts from Op Knocks?

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Granada Experiment

I've just watched an edition of 1970s Schools and Colleges programme
Experiment, after seeing a BBC Archive post this morning about today being the 16th anniversary of Look Around You first broadcast. Experiment is widely regarded as the inspiration behind the series and it has to be said that the people behind it, Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz got the tone and look spot on. What I'd like to know is Experiment classed as hauntology? I remember being frightened by it as a child in the 1970s and it had to be said that I haven't just come over all warm and fuzzy after watching this edition  in which a locust has some pretty horrific things done to it ("there's a break to give the locust time to settle down" Settle down? You've just removed its legs) by a man who looks like a fair-haired Peter Kay. And who does this particular experiment serve? I thought Experiment was aimed at O and A Level students, what they do here looks like it would only be of interest to someone doing a Ph.D thesis on the nervous system of orthoptera. The whole thing is so cold and stark, there's no theme music, no proper titles to speak of and nobody directly addressing the camera.

So I ask the question, was Granada the most hauntological of TV companies? Let's look at the evidence: Experiment (if indeed it is classed as hauntology) World in Action, Hickory House, Picturebox and the old Kabin in Coronation Street? I should cocoa.

Write it down.

Monday, 6 August 2018

The Spirit of Radio

A few months ago I was asked by the people who run the Charity Shop Classics show on a Manchester community radio station called All FM if I'd like to be a guest presenter for their show. Charity Shop Classics is a show I've been listening to for quite a while now and it's fair to say that I love the concept of the show and the music we hear which is presented by good people. So I took it as a great honour that I was asked to contribute with my USP being that every track played, bar one, was purchased from my local Oxfam Books & Music store in my hometown of Newark. It took a few months to get together, what with one thing and another but the results were on air yesterday. My links at times leave a bit to be desired but I enjoyed doing it, which is kind of the point. You can hear the results in the link here:

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Bitter and Lemons

I've been watching those classic Coronation Street episodes that ITV3 are showing in the afternoon. I promised myself that I would only watch them until Hilda Ogden left but here I am thirteen months later (in Coronation Street repeats terms that is, in reality, with them showing two episodes a day, it's only about three months).
I view it as a kind of time capsule of the mid-late Eighties. I mean, who wouldn't be charmed/alarmed at Bros and Rick Astley being referred to as the latest thing the kiddywinks are going mad for? Or gasp as Kim Wilde's latest chart hit gets played on the jukebox in Jim's Cafe? Or gaze in wonderment at The Kabin selling long-defunct cancer stick brand Players No.6? Or smile when you see that The Kabin is also selling the Official 1989 Iron Maiden calendar?

But what I have noticed, above everything else, is how much bitter lemon is consumed in the Rovers. In fact, it seems the only drinks consumed in the Rovers are bitter, light ale, tomato juice and bitter lemon. Was bitter lemon  really this popular? We used to have it Christmas or Mum would sometimes get a bottle in because she might have fancied "something sharp to drink". Indeed, we sometimes still buy it but I could never imagine that people would go to a pub and order a bitter lemon. Here, take a look:

Dierdre and Emily throwing a curve ball here with a pair of orange juices. 

Curly's got a round in. Bitter lemons for everyone!

Monday, 19 March 2018

In Defence of Ed Sheeran

I was listening to our incredibly local local radio station when Ed Sheeran's Castle on the Hill was played. I listened to it and I thought to myself, do you know what? That's not a bad song. Yes, the lyrics are a bit on the Summer of '69 side but I like the way the record thumps along and it's about having a good time with your friends. What's wrong with that?
You see I've never understood the bile levelled at Sheeran. If you don't like his music then fair enough, I get that, but what is it that drives people to be incredibly rude about him? You can't say he hasn't paid his dues, he talks of train fares to get to gigs that were more expensive than the fee he was being paid. Indeed, a very good friend of mine would regularly go and see him in the pubs and clubs of the toilet circuit years ago and was incredibly affronted when he couldn't get tickets to his show at Nottingham Arena last year ("This is the first time we've ever missed him in Nottingham" he moaned).
Is it because he's clearly middle class? Funny how people don't mind that when it comes to Mick Jagger or Jimmy Page but hate it when Chris Martin or Sheeran are unashamedly middle class.
Is it because he's enormously successful? Granted, he's more likely to win the Queen's Prize for Export over the Brian Eno Award for Innovation but who cares? If he makes music that people like, and they clearly do, then is that so bad? If you listen to the right radio stations then it's quite easy to avoid his music and nobody's forcing you to buy or stream it.
Is it because he's ginger? And not only ginger but not exactly the most handsome of men? This anti-ginger, anti-unhandsome business seems to be particularly peculiar to the UK. I like to call it The Mick Hucknall Syndrome.
And you can't say he hasn't got a massive pair of balls; step out onstage at Wembley Stadium with no backing band with just an acoustic guitar and looping station for support? I hope he had his brown pants on.
I think I can put my finger on what it is: snobbery. People hate it that he's successful. Why should it be like that? And if you like something then you should feel no shame in admitting it and enjoying it. As this excellent fellow says, in his East Midlands' accent, "If you like it, stand up for it"
I'm not saying I love everything he's done. In my book for every Castle on the Hill there's an A Team. For every Shape of You there's a Lego House. For every Sing there's a Galway Girl.
Anyway, here's a very good friend of mine adding to Castle on the Hill exactly what it needs: a great big dollop of drums because Ed doesn't need the cash of somebody else adding to the 300m plus views the original's had on You Tube.