Friday, January 30, 2009

Bless The Weather

Timeless – Music
Generation – Defining
Ground – Breaking
Incomparable – Songwriter
Slurred – Narratives
Lyrical – Genius
Scotland – Always
Folk – Roots
Storm – Bringer
Distinctive –Vocals
Solid – Air
Chordal – Fury
Bearded – Wonder
Consummate – Drinker
Whisky – Galore
London – Conversation
Jamaica – Often
Fine – Ganja
Big – Muff
Unparalleled – Songs
The – Tumbler
Droll – Wit
Inside – Out
Musical – Visionary
WahWah – Pedal
Echo – Plex
Stretched – Notes
Jazz – Infused
One – World
Ireland – Mostly
Irascible – Humour
Huge – Heart
Suffered – Pain
Gifted – Writer
Superlative – Guitarist
Blues – Based
Tolerated – Fools
Top – Bloke
Great – Interviews
Surprising – Stories
Brilliant – Raconteur
Loyal – Friend
Island – Keystone
Inspired – Millions
Loved – Yes
Forgotten – Never

A lion sleeps tonight.

John Martyn OBE – September 11th 1948 / January 30th 2009.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Abandoned Luncheonette.

A curious conundrum struck me earlier – while winter’s chill holds all in its icy grasp we dream of summertime warmth and a flush of green leaves adorning currently bare-naked trees; yet, come high summer and all we want for is it to be just that little bit cooler. Not much, but just a bit.

Cars are too hot to get into, baked by cloudless skies yet, right now, everyone’s getting pissed off with having to de-ice their windscreens before the four-wheeled trudge to work. Never quite as one wants it to be is it – either too much rain or too little, too hot or too cold; the British and their bloody obsession with the weather.

Its a bit... bollox, isn't it?

This morning (its dull, overcast, the possible threat of rain but maybe brightening later) and yet another round of tragic news hits the wires. The number of people in the UK alone who’ve been put out of work in the last 26 days since this year began number 39,340 – that 1,513 each day of a seven day week. Black Monday struck hard since it was also revealed that 70,000 people around the world learned yesterday that they were job-less.

Newspaper headline-writers took to using phrases such as economic downturn sharpens. Well, I suppose that’s one way of putting it – personally, I think a more apt phrase would have included the use of the word ski-slope within an adjectival context.

This isn’t getting any better… now, is it..?

No, quite clearly its not.

And is that worthy of further comment? Hardly, other than to reiterate one observation from before – will someone in power stand up and be prepared to be counted and… actually tell it like it is.

Someone speaking naturally – perhaps someone like the Archbishop Of York who… in plain language, absolutely castigated the BBC the other night about its refusal to broadcast an appeal for aid – much needed aid for the hapless victims of the omnipresent strife they’re unwittingly caught up in the Gaza Strip.

In front of the stunningly beautiful backdrop of York Minster, he stood and talked into the camera – a BBC camera – the very model of dignified indignity; using plain-speak to put across his point of view. What was impressive was his use of words – just normal words, not the evading-the-issue gobbledygook so much beloved by ‘politicians’.

Sure, the Bish – fully robed-up, decked out in his more Cirque Du Soleil than clerical headgear and brandishing his over-sized ceremonial Shepherd’s Crook – had a point to make but this isn’t about commenting on that – its about admiring his ability to talk plainly and… tell it like it is.

Which leads me to pondering… given that the Bish has fairly forthright views on (I’d imagine) all manner of subjects; what would he say – I wonder – to news reports my eagle eye spotted earlier regarding a pastime practiced by both sexes but which is rarely spoken of – anyone bashed the bishop recently or taken themselves in hand of late; enjoyed a hand shandy or spent a few minutes with a merchant banker recently?

The snappy headline in a day full of the little blighters read thus: Masturbation can be good for the over 50’s. OK, since I’m past the two score and ten mark, better have a quick squint. The article was, frankly a lot less exciting than the headline, claiming that a decent dose of solitary sexual activity is (maybe) linked to protection against prostate cancer that can develop in men over the age of a half-century so long as – during one’s twenties and thirties – you’ve shot one off the wrist on a pretty regular basis. Apparently its all to do with a build-up and / or removal of toxins. Far too complicated for me... time to move on.

Besides, can't really imagine the Bish would much want to comment on anything like that; tho’ I suppose monks and nuns do it just as often as bankers and backpackers say they do. Perhaps they just don’t admit to it or maybe they confess themselves into confessional meltdown before mass – who knows… who cares?

Perhaps however, the Bish would comment on another little item that’s been occupying my mind of late. The small matter of Cover Songs. Because, I’ve been wondering what is the one single thing that a cover needs to possess – the special something that’ll make a re-working of someone else’s song stand out?

Is there, for instance, a single defining moment that turns what someone else has written into… one’s own? Is it a sprinkling of fairy-dust or just plain going radical? Is it de-constructing to re-construct or is it new rhythm or meter that sparks new life? I wonder.

I suppose its highly probable that magazines have conducted their own polls on what’d be regarded as great covers. Maybe, maybe not.

In any event, to while-away some of my suitcase hours, I’ve trawled the memory stick and come up with a bit of a list. As with any list, its bound to be incomplete but… here goes. In no particular order, the following are, I reckon, some of the most interesting – and in some cases absolutely stonking – cover versions one’d ever hear.

 My Way – Sid Vicious / Frank Sinatra… can’t for the life of me recall who actually wrote My Way, don’t think it was the Mafioso King but… whoever it was – would they have expected that hissing Sid could ever swagger, snarl, spit and sten-gun it… his way – and make it stick.
 One – Johnny Cash / U2… clearly a classic in its own right and thus a bit of a tricky one (sic) to attempt – yet the man in black claims it for his own, sounding for all the world as if he’s down on his knees on a cold flagstone floor; praying – a last-gasp plea for forgiveness to his Creator.
 A Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker / The Beatles… its that long drawn out organ-intro that gets you first; then the crash-crunch of gigantic drums before the realization that Ringo’s vocal take was simply a woeful wooly-draft when compared to the ensuing growl of Sheffield steel that follows. Add in Sue & Sunny’s call and response backing vocal and a song that began as a John ‘n Paul give-away has only ever made sense when the tie-dyed Woodstock windmill took hold of it and… strangled it.
 All Along The Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix / Bob Dylan… a song that Jimi heard off of a white label test-pressing at a party one Sixties-night, immediately booked some studio time at Olympic on the hoof and hi-tailed it down there; he pulled in Traffic’s Dave Mason to play slide guitar with Mitch Mitchell on drums whilst playing everything else himself – Noel Redding seriously pissed-off and in the pub over the road.. Hendrix, quite literally, made this his own and – even on repeated playing – it sounds like it was recorded only yesterday; a song so utterly transformed that I’d wager that many don’t even know that it was written by Robert Zimmerman – and, while open to debate, I’d suggest this is one of the greatest covers… ever.
 Killing Me Softly – The Fugees / Robert Flack… I confess – I don’t much like the Fugees. Sorry, I just don’t – the idiotic and needless background rap-grunting annoys the heck out of me; but that’s not to say this isn’t a brilliant take on an already superb original… A classic covered (if that’s the right word – I prefer the adjectival phrase, almost crippled) at the end of the About A Boy movie under-scored by Hugh Grant’s cruddy guitar playing (yeah, I know it makes sense in the context of the film) but even so… couldn’t they have chosen a different song to massacre?
 Red Red Wine – UB40 / Neil Diamond… a far cry from the original that appeared on Neil Diamond’s late-seventies album Sweet Morning – taken to a totally different, easy-skanking, spliff-laden level by Birmingham’s finest; a quality arrangement with a whole heap of superbly understated hooks – from keyboard swirls to what suspiciously sounds like an infinite guitar yet plainly isn’t – over and above maestro Campbell’s chopped out vocals. The whole thing deserves the full-length, extended mix 12’ treatment – the radio friendly version is great but the user-friendly dubbed-up-a-bit mix is when the UB’s really come into their own. One of many Diamond songs that are better known by the cover than as the original – another being a US number One just as this was, The Monkees’ I’m A Believer; love or hate the pre-fab-four, that’s another track worthy of inclusion here.
 Dear Prudence – Siouxsie & The Banshees / The Beatles… why this one… well, its a bit like what Cocker did with A Little Help, the Banshees take the heart of the song and twist it, coagulate it, let it bleed dry and then… only then… start properly messing with it – the result… a real result.
 Always On My Mind – Pet Shop Boys / Brenda Lee / Willie Nelson / Elvis Presley… phew, who do you choose… is Elvis’ version sacrosanct – nope, not according to the straight-faced PSB committee who bound this up with their own take on U2’s Where The Streets… to create a sublime bit of disco meets Memphis by way of the Dublin Quays. Does it work… sure does.
 Cocaine – Eric Clapton / JJ Cale… yes, of course, a great cover – who’d deny that but… for me, it’s the original that I prefer, stark in its down home, under the porch, rocking-chair Tulsa simplicity. That said, doubtless JJ would (I’d imagine) not be unhappy with the weight of pure gold pouring into his bank account every six months – probably enough for his great grand-children to have a very fine education indeed. That is, so long as no one’s nose had got in the way. Clapton’s other memorable cover – Marley’s I Shot The Sherriff gets an honourable mention; both led to massive increases in popularity for the originators tho’ again (for me) his white-rock approach somehow detracts from the original.
 Tainted Love – Soft Cell / Gloria Jones… quaintly dippy, eye-shadowed Marc Almond, Top Of The Pops and Soft Cell’s elegantly quirky trashing of a song that they truly made their own.
 I Fought The Law – The Clash / The Bobby Fuller Five… and the law won tho’ you’d never know it; Strummer’s in-yer-face quasi gangsta-rap went further than fifth gear in the version recorded at Shea Stadium when the Clash were at their zenith; their creative force had lit the touch paper to a long-forgotten song back in a London studio; live, however… it became a fireball.
 Crossroads – Cream / Robert Johnson… a one-time lesson that harnesses hell-hound blues to a three-piece collectively playing out of their skins. I guess my first encounter – and certainly not my last – was seeing the final Cream concert beamed into our 12” black and white tv back in Hampshire in… gawd, that was a long time ago; having the Royal Albert Hall come to life in one’s parent’s sitting room was one thing, hearing this was quite another. The next again day, I emptied my trouser pockets and bought every Cream recording I could lay my hands on. It was only years later that I discovered the mastery of Robert Johnson – and that, too, was an unforgettable encounter.
 Redemption Song – Joe Strummer & Johnny Cash / Bob Marley… one to search out and cherish. Bob’s original is – it hardly needs saying does it – a bona fide classic; the last shows he ever did featured the encore as just him, an acoustic, his voice and this song – spellbinding. The combination of Cash and Strummer’s voices however work like a dream… as I said, one to treasure.
 Don’t Leave Me This Way – Communards / Harold Nelson & The Blue Notes… disco two-thousand plus or minus; there’s bald little Jimmy Communard strutting and making shapes as the energy from this bursts out of the speakers like an exploding condom. Even if you didn’t dance or, worse still, danced like a Dad, this will always make a Granny smile. The original is a great song, make not an issue of that – his though, takes the biscuit… hob nob anyone?
 Dancing In The Street – David Bowie & Mick Jagger / Martha Reeves & The Vandellas… a truly unlikely cover; Mr Rubber-lips and Mister Android go full-sail Kent estuary all over Detroit – yes, an unlikely combination but… boy, does this… rock-out; hammed up (for sure) with tongues firmly in cheek the Dartford / Beckenham connection go at it full tilt, never letting up from the moment the needle drops. Berry Gordy may well have raised an eyebrow at their impudence but who could fail to love the boys in their ankle-length macs cavorting for the video? Better than the original – who knows, who cares… this is a great slice of… whatever you want to call it.
 Nothing Compares 2U – Sinead O’Connor / Prince… played to death and rightly so; a song that was pretty much just another song from the purple-panted people-eater’s cannon but which became something otherworldly when Sinead got hold of it and breathed new life into the real pain of separation. Possibly one that can’t be listened to over and over again but, on that occasional hearing basis, the hairs on anyone’s neck would stand up and be counted.
 Rocket Man – Kate Bush / Elton John… taken to bits, entirely re-configured and given a sort of reggae twist – is that really an Uillean Pipe in there, I think so… Kate’s breathless vocal gymnastics in between Connemara meeting Kingston town head-on led to a 2-all-draw at the final whistle; the original – a great track in its own right, somehow pales into insignificance beside this.
 Stairway To Heaven – Dolly Parton or Rolf Harris / Led Zeppelin... who would even dare to take this and… play with it. I’d never suggest that Uncle Rolf the bearded painter’s version bears up to repeated listening – it doesn’t but, its here (as much as the huge-chested Dolly’s is) for the sheer audacity that allowed them to even consider a re-make of a song that most would claim as untouchable.
 (I Can’t Ge No) Satisfaction – Devo / The Rolling Stones… ah, this is more like it – another of my favourite what the fxxk is that moments. Having perplexed the world outside of Akron, Ohio with their We Are Devo opener, they completely out-foxed the opposition with this – batsman number three… but, how does one describe what they did to what was once a sort of anthem to pimply youth who weren’t getting any? Clearly they weren’t getting any either so, showing no respect whatsoever to Mick ‘n Keef’s magnificence, they tore up the rulebook and put it back together again so much so that it smelled like burning rubber.
 Helpless – kd Lang / Neil Young… back in the bleak days and even darker nights of Merle HQ, there was a BBC transmission of a kd Lang show from, I think, the Union Chapel in London… stark in its simplicity, stage and music stripped bare. 50 minutes of kd singing and playing that’s best described as being utterly mesmerizing that made sitting up late the more worthwhile when she sang this… I cried and don’t mind admitting it.
 Star Spangled Banner – Jimi Hendrix / Francis Scott Key… the moment when Woodstock made sense, Jimi’s savage, pyro-technical, de-construction of the national anthem shook up an entire nation; it came right out of left-field – with the rising of the sun at his back, James Marshall Hendrix coaxed a sonic incendiary out of his guitar that became as eloquent a statement for a generation as any ever heard. Quite astonishing. Full stop.
 Only Love Can Break Your Heart – St Etienne (Sarah Cracknell) / Neil Young… ah yes, what have we here? One late night way back when at Le Paradis and limp-along Steve has rolled a sizeable one and is sitting happily in front of rather a lot of cds. His diminutive spouse screeches – no Neil Young, too fuckin’ depressing. This appeared, honour was satisfied and its up there alongside of the majestic original; both heart-breakers of the first order.
 Stop Your Sobbing – The Pretenders / Kinks… never worked (for me) as a Kinks song but put Chrissie Hynde in front of Ray Davies’ lyrics, factor in that great Pretender’s rhythm section and what do you get..?
 Love Hurts – Jim Capaldi or Nazareth / Everley Brothers… yeah, I know Nazareth covered it in a bizarre-grunge-eighties-metal-meets-heartbreak-meets-gravel-voice style – probably quite a few others have too but, somehow gentleman Jim’s version said it far better than the Bros Everley ever did. Maybe a minor hit, memory loss threatens… was it from Oh How We Danced or Whale Meet Again… the bottle of wine is less than half-full… I can’t remember. Drat.
 Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley / Leonard Cohen… which is better… the old man of the Grecian seas by way of Montreal or… the son of the father? To be honest, I’m not exactly sure… did I fire five bullets or was it six..? That said, I’d argue that without Jeff Buckley’s sublime reading of the song coming to recent prominence, few would have trawled back through Cohen’s own song-book to discover the original. A tie.
 Blinded By The Light – Manfred Mann / Bruce Springsteen… picture the scene; a rammed to the rafters Marquee Club on Wardour Street; the Earth Band have just taken the stage… the bearded bloke starts prodding away at the keyboard and… this… sort of… erupts. The bloke I was with turns and mouths… who the fxxk wrote this, its amazing. It was and still is. Brucey-boy, take a bow… you’ll be sixty next year yet – for all your new stuff – this still stands loud and proud as a great version of a great song that the equally great E Street band never quite nailed.
 Turn Turn Turn – The Byrds / Pete Seeger by way of the Book Of Ecclesiastes… I wonder who actually gets the publishing on this… the God-squad or the Seeger estate or… is it split? Maybe The Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man should have been included here instead… it’s a cover after all… This isn’t necessarily the best of all covers; however, its one of the most thought-provoking… and takes the germ of Seeger’s idea to a new high, eight miles up up and away.
 Helter Skelter – U2 / The Beatles… I found this on a bootleg called Cover Of Love – whoops, they’re illegal aren’t they… ah, bollox, who cares… the band that formed (everyone knows this) and started out playing covers but gave up playing other people’s songs ‘cos they were crap at it – equals they started writing their own stuff – take a stab at this and… breathe an ocean-full of light and shade into what had become, I reckon, a bit of a tired song. Chunky and punky and it sounds like fun was had by all. Even Larry.
 I Shall Be Released – The Band / Bob Dylan… what do you say, where do you start with Dylan since so much of his extraordinary body of work has been covered by… just about everyone. Lets start again from the premise that this ‘list’ is just that, a list of a few songs that… are covers and which, in themselves, are pretty good (or interesting). From which ever side of the musical fence one resides, there can be no debate (I’d argue) that the Band’s first two album were entirely ground-breaking. The total, absolute bollocks – perm any adjective you like from three or more thesauruses and it still comes out that – within the context of all time, both those records didn’t just break the mould, they more or less invented a new one. Blue-sky thinking is, I gather, a new buzz-word. Ok… fine, if that applies to this, then this is thinking in outer-fxxxing space. This version comes from within that period and… it takes Dylan to a new level. Just gob-smacking.
 Wheels On Fire – Julie Driscoll & The Brian Auger Trinity / Bob Dylan… one more from Bob the Bard’s prolific pen; a pure stab of sixties psychedelia – all swirly Hammond organ, phased drums and vocals with strangely coloured garments for the newly colourised Top Of The Pops. Why this and not one of twenty-dozen others that Dylan wrote… because, once again, it takes the original… deconstructs, reconstructs and… becomes something new and valid in its own right that doesn’t just stand the test of any time but is a bona fide classic in its own right. File under… stonking.

So… have we any conclusions…? Hmmm. As I wrote all of that, I thought of at least another thirty that’d make the grade. Maybe there is a book there – but, I guess it’d just be a subjective one… yet, it’d be an interesting (and lengthy research process – and probably never definitive) to list all the major covers. Perhaps, over time, that might become Project Y.

But, what actually makes a great cover?

I think its this… when act or artist X takes song written by composer(s) Y and makes it, totally transforms it… into their own.

And, in first place currently – two are tied. Joe Cocker’s re-make of With A Little Help and Hendrix’s All Along… both, in my book are definitive.

Disagree as much as you like, oh readers of this little Voltaire…

However, you’ll probably have noticed that the tearful Poodle’s absurdly warbled rendition of Leonard Cohen’s glorious Hallelujah hasn’t quite made it onto this list.

I think its obvious why… don’t you?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Crisis… What Crisis?

The clock that is set perennially twenty-one minutes fast is digitally displaying the fact that its way past four in the morning; I’m stood – feet barely touching the ground – beside a straggling, thorn-encrusted, rose-bush whose full-blooms are fading with every-other petal long fallen.

Looking up and looking in through an all-too familiar window, I hadn’t thought that there was anyone there but, by seeing the ‘phone answered, its obvious that there is. The shape has its back to me, receiver to ear – clearly intent on an exchange of information.

I feel as if that room is vaguely familiar but it looks altogether different in the half-light; there are a pair of ornate white wall-sconces set mid-way to the ceiling above a set of double-darkened-doors that I don’t recall being there before – they’re shut now, blocking off the room to an outsider. I watch the beautifully scruffy dog walks to its bed in the corner, turn three full circles before settling down and yawning, its eyes wide shut.

There is a dining-table laid for more than four, a starched white table-cloth on which cut-glass gleams; yet, more chairs than necessary have been set around in an almost complete circle and the pictures on the wall are not as once they were; nor are the walls themselves because they’ve been covered by old-fashioned school-blankets. Embers from a long-ago fire are throwing a dull-red glow against one of the luminous chairs yet the chair isn’t alight; its gently – smokelessly – shouldering.

I have to deliver a message; walking down the hill I’d tried texting earlier but the reply that came back missed out two words in every three. Each time I looked down at my ‘phone, trying to pick out the pieces, it resembled communication by code; a code that Morse himself would have had difficulty in deciphering.

The happily chattering voices sound closer; damn, they’re right overhead. I shrink back. A door that I hadn’t even realised was there creaks opens in surprise; will I be discovered, crouching in the shadows? I am – ghosts stare, unevenly, at ghosts. Two women – neither of whom I know – materialize, standing fully clothed yet virtually topless; both wearing matching black and red peep-hole bras that reveal nipple-less breasts. They stand face-to-face, bosom-to-bosom, each admiring the other in soft undertones.

I try to explain that the deposit for the borrowed lap-top hasn’t been received and that there is now a man in the White House who has been made to give up both of his Blackberrys; I tell them he doesn’t even have a lap-top but the tinkle of laughter at this absurdity drowns out my crying to be heard – dinner is ready to be served. A gong sounds, the double-doors open…

An impossibly tall man advances from out of the gloom, bowing his head… it can’t be… surely not… but, it is – he looks straight through me, Sorry Neil, it was inevitable. The flickering moon that sheds light onto the confused candle-light as they all take their places is set high above a plain-sailing river that’s illuminated by an iridescent turquoise sky – nighttime and daytime have merged. A choir is softly singing: We’ll meet you on Clare Island, take the boat out from Rhuna and go skinny-dipping on the strand. Descending, there was no sound – just whispers in a swirling breeze. Then, quick as an unexpected flash, the ‘plane’s wheels screech out a welcome on the tarmac of fear high amongst the rooftops. Relax said Frankie, I can’t though. I need to look down but the wire between the buildings is worryingly thin.

Metallic blue and gun-metal grey march me right on down to the waterfront in the far distance – left, right, left right; high above black and white gulls cry to each other drowning out the sounds of a red telephone-box ringing. The blindfold beckons and I do look down – I knew I would – and , it’s a lot further than I’d thought… oh, heck. If I take that step, would a half-completed patchwork save me? I’m teetering… swaying back and forth on the edge of the cold crevasse’s embrace, the glacier’s bowels beckon… Looking down on…on people. Far-below shapes… breathing out, breathing in; just breathing.

People walking past, chattering idly into cell-‘phones clamped to frozen ears as a mid-morning watery sun makes ivy-leaf shadows across the brick-work – the cat in black makes improbable angles, washing its paws as the rifles are raised; there is another on the same ledge staring with criminal intent at a half-empty / half full glass of orange juice; I’m guilty, I know I am… I’m sorry. Ready, aim… I’m twisting and turning, rolling-over in my sweat-soaked borrowed bed, clutching at straws, clutching at… before the stream of light invading one side of the black-out blind catches me unawares. I can hear the bolts being drawn back in unison; I’m going to fall, I know I shall…

Enough, enough; stop… no more… the fierce jolt of coffee to freshen befuddled dreamscapes. Switch on, gather knowledge. Turn the page. Discover; read and learn.

A report published during the last few days by the Financial Services Authority makes absolutely stomach-churning reading; since – according to them – a family is being ejected from their home every ten minutes because they’ve failed to keep up with their mortgage payments.

If – repeat IF – that statistic is correct (and, conversely, why would anyone doubt the FSA), then that equates to one hundred and forty-four families being removed from their homes… each day of the week, Sunday’s included. Today is Monday – traditionally the start of the week.

Their figures also claim that the amount of families losing their homes is showing as a one-hundred percent increase over the previous twelve-months and that precisely 13,161 families were evicted between July and September 2008.

However… I’m thinking its important to bear in mind that these particular figures, relate to the period of time before the banks started crashing like so many out of control bumper-cars. Which, therefore gives a bit of credence to what the Council of Mortgage Lenders has also said very recently whereby they are predicting that there will be over 75,000 houses repossessed during 2009 – that equates to between 225,000 and 300,000 men women and children put out of their homes.

An iceberg; a bell being furiously tolled… too late… and a doomed vessel named RMS Titanic – that was, according to folk-lore of the time, unsinkable – spring to mind.

Further to this, in the last few days, it has been revealed that UK unemployment is hovering just under the 2 million mark – much has been made of the phrase or words – just under.

Yet… the published figures are not, by any stretch of the imagination, accurate.

First, they’re over a month out of date; secondly, the long-term unemployed are officially recognized as being ‘in re-training’ thus (apparently) that number doesn’t count when the overall is added up and thirdly – with (again from published figures), somewhere around two and a half thousand people losing their jobs on a daily basis – the utilization of the phrase just under does not stack up.

Equals, in whichever manner any official agency calculates the figures, the numbers don’t just top 2 million but – I would suggest – actually add up to a lot more than just over.

Indeed, certain commentators – this taken from a radio programme I listened to the other morning en route to Pinewood – and who, from what I could work out seemed pretty well informed – are stating that within the next nine months the figure will head north of the 3 million mark and may well by-pass 3.75 million.

Nevertheless, in the last forty-eight hours, yet another set of – official – published figures have confirmed something that pretty much everyone has hid behind the sofa of acceptance (and, thus, not accepted) as a reality. We’re now – officially – in a… recession.

It is now an official recession since (apparently) it can only be so-termed when two consecutive quarters’ figures show it to be so. Equals… the Government and their agencies have, up until now, been allowed to – officially – hoodwink us mere mortals because they’ve not – officially – been able to use the word recession up until now.

Oh… dear. Isn’t that absolute bollox..? Perhaps common-sense really has departed the nest and flown right out of the window..?

Why so? Because… you see… my Voltaire on its grassy knoll doesn’t agree.

Yeah – like you really know what you’re banging on about Neil. That may well be so… perhaps I am just a casual passer-by but… my arithmetic observation means that one plus one does equal two.

Which tells me – we’re long past the point of recession and now firmly in the grips of a full-scale economic depression…

And I’d further suggest that its about bloody time that governing authorities actually stood up, were counted and… told it like it is.

I’d also say that the time for nimby-pambying around with this set of figures and that set of numbers in order to present official statistics is absolute, total, bollox too – since they just display an unrealistic and (therefore pointless) point of view – is long passed.


It is quite clear that the so-called ‘global-credit-crunch’ has got a shed-load worse since September… who, after-all, could deny that as a pure fact?

The tinder-dry box of unemployment is exploding – that, too, is an unarguable fact; not far short of 100 firms – both the great and the small – are going under in the UK daily. And, worldwide – not a particularly sunny outlook there by all accounts either.

Thus, it logically follows that more and more families will be placed in the invidious position of being rendered homeless.

And thus, IF one uses a bit, just a scrap, of logic, it follows that this, British, economy is – really and genuinely – teetering on the brink of disaster. And globally – the cold-front of icy-change is edging ever closer, every day.

Equals #1… depression with a capital D.

Equals #2… just about the worst time imaginable to fly the flag of belief that Project X will fly.

But… I am flying it and… its fluttering high and proud.


The next IFPI meeting has now been set – for a week today. Within which, there will be more key-movers-and-shakers around their corporate table, all wanting to discuss how best we can progress the base idea and turn it into a workable reality.

Further to which, yet another organization emerged out of the woodwork last week wanting to structure a deal with us based around an enviable catalogue of material that they’ve already assembled.

It all adds up to the one small step for man, one giant leap (of faith) for… you get my drift.

The depression with its capital D is about facing an unpleasant reality and dealing with it.

Its about accepting that a world one once knew – and (perhaps) were comfortable in – no longer exists; its about recognising that the next two or maybe three years will see fundamental changes right across the board.

As such, it’ll be about adapting and not burying one’s head in the fast-encroaching (quick)sand.

Thus… for Project X, it’ll be all about keeping faith; dreaming that much harder and working with the new to turn (what many deem to be impractical) idealism into… actuality. This is all about being in… the arena.

It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles. Or where the doer of deeds could have done better. Credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement. And at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

President Theodore Roosevelt, Paris 1910.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Larks' Tongues In Aspic

A cold morning mist rests uncomfortably above this tree-lined Buckinghamshire backwater, an opaque shroud laying in wait of the warming sun’s translucence.

Directly outside the iconic gates, there is a silver 4x4 parked up; its orange hazard-lights flashing on and off in unison, lighting up its smoke-darkened passenger windows once every couple of seconds.

I get the concept of darkened car windows in the full-blaze of summer but, in the bleak mid-winter… so, who, I wonder, craves that level of anonymity at this hour? Maybe its an errant partner half-way back from the school run; dropped off little Johnny into teacher’s care and now parked up and waiting for the arms of Mary?

In any event, the doors to both of the dual gate-houses are shuttered; there is not even a whisper of smoke from the chimney-pots or their fires down-below that once would have warmed uniformed lackeys – ready in a moment to pull-on greatcoats to ward of any unseasonal chill before hauling open the massive wrought-iron gates at the gathering sound of hoof-beats, announcing the arrival of yet another coach and four.

The days when Heatherden Hall – a Georgian mansion with the dimensions of a decent sized hotel – that boasted additions from the Edwardian era of an enormous ballroom, a Turkish bath complex, squash courts, a gun room as well as the table upon which the Irish Free State Treaty was signed, ornately fitted marble bathrooms together with (at the time) the largest indoor swimming pool in Britain all surrounded by acres of perfectly manicured lawns and hectares of wood-land and fields – echoed to week-long house-parties and hosted weekend shooting parties are long gone.

In fact, those days disappeared for good in the 1930’s during the inter-war economic meltdown. The 100+ acre estate was bought at a knock-down price by the building tycoon, Charles Boot who, within a year or so, embarked on a new venture in tandem with a nonconformist Methodist millionaire mill-owner – and the legend that has become Pinewood Studios was born.

From then ‘til now, pretty much every single film-star one can think of would have (been) driven through its gates; had their security pass checked by uniformed guards who’d then have stood back and politely saluted – just like AA motor-cycle out-riders of a bygone age would acknowledge the driver of an oncoming vehicle displaying their organisation’s yellow and black badge – and gone to work.

Lights, camera, action.

From the earliest days of Wilfred Hyde-White and Margaret Lockwood came the likes of Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker; Norman Wisdom to Diana Dors; Patrick McGoohan to Donald Sinden; Virginia McKenna to Kenneth More, a young Anthony Hopkins and an already portly Robert Morley, Donald Pleasance, Gordon Jackson, Eric Sykes, the slowly going mad Tony Hancock, Tony Curtis, Richard Burton … and hundreds more.

John Mills starred in Great Expectations, an early Oscar winner alongside Black Narcissus; over 30 of the Carry On series were filmed there as were British classics such as Reach For The Sky; A Tale of Two Cities, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, The Heroes of Telemark; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, When Eight Bells Toll and hundreds of others… before… along came Bond, James Bond – of whom Sean Connery once s(ch)aid of the role, It’s a cross, a privilege, a joke, a challenge. Every single Bond movie has been at least part-filmed at Pinewood.

Topol starred in Fiddler on the Roof; Ken Russell directed The Devils there starring (now MP) Glenda Jackson; and, more than 30 years after having made his first film there, Alfred Hitchcock returned to make Frenzy; Sleuth with Laurence Olivier & Michael Caine; Francis Ford Coppola’s The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford & Mia Farrow; Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone; Bryan Forbes’ The Slipper and the Rose before Christopher Reeve and Superman arrived on the scene; The Mummy Returns and – of course – more recently Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace.

Nowadays Pinewood is more, much more than a pure film-studio complex; the blockbusters still occupy their vast aircraft-hangar-sized stages but much of the complex is given over to so-named light-entertainment, made-for-television productions that dwell in smaller, more compact studios. So light, in some cases, that they’re positively weightless in terms of content and imagination.

However – for today, its all about meeting up with just one amongst the hundred-plus independent production companies that are housed in amongst the special effects houses and prosthetics makers, lawyers and accountants offices. .

Snapshots from many films with recognisable parts of Pinewood as part of the set – often in black and white – fizz through my mind as I navigate a bit of a u-turn past the silver 4x4 in the original forecourt.

I retrace my steps a couple of hundred yards back up the road to enter by the new, entirely unattractive yet fully functional, main gate where I am, of course, immediately halted by the expected security guard. A gigantic building marked with the trademark 007 symbol looms large in the background.

The uniformed one reluctantly steps out of his warm cubicle and consults his clip-board; it seems my arrival is anticipated – they’d told me that they’d let the people on the main gate know I’d be arriving. Tho’ unhappily, mister uniform doesn’t take a leaf out of Goldfinger’s book by saying, Ah Mister Bond, I’ve been expecting you.

Nope, he curtly nods me in the direction of the visitor’s car-park, from where I have to go and collect a security tag in an adjacent building that’ll allow me… on-site… not on-stage. Nor am I licensed to kill – drat.

Not so far away is the golf-course at Stoke Park upon which Goldfinger and Bond battled it out – mashie-niblick to putter, driver to spoon over the obligatory eighteen holes; the entrance to which featured in another Pinewood classic, Genevieve. Nowadays, Stoke Park is as much about wedding receptions as it is about elegantly-cut fairways and devious greens. Though the immaculate gravel drive – where Goldfinger’s Rolls Royce was parked up, right outside the Imperial-colonnaded club-house is exactly the same; in fact the gravel makes that self-same scrunching sound when driven over too.

Two second-time around friends got registry-office hitched one windswept November morning up North, partook of the wedding breakfast locally before driving south and gobbling an eight-course secondary breakfast that same evening in the spacious dining room there.

Vintage champagne flowed, much port was drunk and, late in the evening under the soft glare of the exterior lights, financial-John and I stood, somewhat unsteadily, by the edge of the eighteenth green, recreating the moment when Goldfinger realises he’s been duped by Bond before our respective (at the time) Odd-Job’s appeared brandishing their verbal variants on steel-rimmed bowler hats and we were hustled back inside.

The bloke with what looks suspiciously like a silver nail through the topmost part of his ear who’s come to collect me from the reception building and I walk across one car-park after another. He’s chastised by yet another security-bloke for not carrying his pass while mine isn’t even asked for.

Down steps, along pathways, past signs saying stage one carpentry and canteen, through doorways and along corridors – perhaps following in the footsteps of… oh, I dunno… Roger Moore or Cubby Broccoli… before a choice… lift or stairs. The former seems more appropriate and lets hope there’s coffee waiting at the top. There is; it’s offered the moment I step across the threshold.

Their office is L-shaped, lap-tops and full on computers laze around, luminescence of screens brightening the clutter; on the far wall Robin Denselow’s tribute to Rob has been clipped from that day’s edition of the Guardian and hangs, lopsided and slowly yellowing off of a cork-board. There are framed posters of other productions they’ve made; motor-cycle ace Barry Sheene is next to Paul Weller with Marc Bolan alongside the former.

There are white-boards on which a black-marker-pen has hastily scribbled a things to make and do list. Sideways-glancing at one, I see that I’ve been scheduled after PJ Harvey and before Yusef Islam and Dave Robinson while, against the names of Steve Winwood and Marianne Faithfull there are question marks.

The camera’s already been set up and, steaming mug of coffee in hand, I’m ushered into a smaller office in which is a desk on which reside a number of album covers, cds and hard-backed colour photo-copies of long out of print album jackets. There is a chair in front of the desk, a particularly uncomfortable chair as it turns out and that’s where I’m going to have to sit and face the camera.

The bloke who’s going to be asking the questions and I make idle – yet informed – chit-chat; within moments its apparent he knows his stuff and has done his home-work. As we talk, I start to peruse some of the album covers laying on the desk – one of the first Island albums I ever owned is there, Fairport’s seminal Liege & Lief tho’ not the sleeve as I recall it – this is but single sleeved and not the gate-fold as it was when originally released.

A long-time back Christmas present from my parents – and much requested (probably to the point of patience exhaustion) – it was happily all too obvious what was waiting for me that particular December 25th morning – after all, its not easy to disguise a 12” square album. That much-played copy now resides in the dungeon at Merle HQ along with all my other ‘stuff’ (for want of a better word); some would term the boxes and scrapbooks of everything I’ve squirreled away over the (many) years as memorabilia, I’d call it – aide-memoires.

Scrap-books filled with more or less every single ticket or pass from every concert I’ve ever attended; tour-schedules; letters; postcards, award ceremony menus and masses of other paraphernalia plus boxes of other ‘stuff’ that can’t be pasted into scrapbooks such as moment-defining magazine covers and attendant articles, the tour programmes I’ve written and designed, all of the various Island catalogues – one or two of which I know (now) that they don’t even have in their own archive – together with long-forgotten photographs, mis-printed album covers that were otherwise destroyed, up-front sales information sheets for when we were all traipsing around the record stores and more, much more desides.

And, along another wall in that same dungeon, a floor-to-ceiling rack that includes every Island album on vinyl I could ever find plus a very fair smattering of promotional 12” singles and picture-vinyl; a bit of a short-lived fashionable must-have for the serious collector – ie, train-spotter.

It is, dare I say, precisely the equivalent of standing at the end of the platform and writing down numbers off of in-bound steam-engines; by which I’m – finally – owning up being part of the anorak brigade. I’m jerked back into the here and now, realising I’ve been musing out loud.

How did you file everything… by artist or by..?

Numerically… and sad as this is, I can probably remember most of them. I’m absent-mindedly gazing at Liege & Lief and, almost without thinking say. This is ILPS 9116. I turn it over and search for the catalogue number on the top right corner, adjust my glasses and gasp out loud. I’m wrong, its 9115. Bugger, one out.

And the first you ever owned..?

Album or single? Single was Roy C’s Shotgun Wedding quickly followed by Traffic’s Paper Sun with Smiling Phases on the back – did you know that the first time that was played on radio, the dj played the b-side first? Album would have been ILP 961, Traffic’s Mr Fantasy, ILP meant it was the original mono copy and eventually I got the stereo version when that came out; that was ILPS 9061 and a bit of an eye-opener as most of the tracks sounded completely different. The great thing about working at EMI before I actually joined Island was that I’d be whizzing about all these record shops, do what I had to do and then spend ages trawling through their bargain bins – that’s where I found all the really early stuff. At home I’d made this book up with everything listed by catalogue number and I’d fill the blanks in when I’d found an album or single that I didn’t have. So I suppose I made my own first Island catalogue in that way – eventually I managed to get one record shop owner to part with the first official catalogue… I don’t think there are too many of them around now.

Are we ready to roll..? Asks the smiling, motor-cycle booted, voice in front of me who, although he’s courteous enough not to say it, will have realised by now that he’s about to interview a bloke who has a disposition to err on the anally retentative side of anorak.

We are, says the tall voice who, throughout this exchange and my inadvertent meander into my own memory lane has been fiddling about behind the camera… and the first question is asked.

Just under three hours later, we’re done. I’m awash with coffee and busting for a piss.

On camera interviews are weird in the extreme and there is a big difference between doing stuff live as live is as opposed to how this has been done.

Live means you’ve just a few moments to get your sound-bite comment across in as pithy and succinct way as possible; there is no going back, no room for verbal stumbles or hesitation. Pre-records are a different matter entirely since one knows that everything is going to be edited down and all the rambling, meandering stuff will land up on the cutting room floor.

That said, I fully expect this entire interview to end up in the bin – they’ve a ninety minute programme to make, have already conducted over sixty interviews with the real shakers and movers as well as the epoch-changing musicians who’ve been part of the fifty years of Island with more yet to be conducted.

Its an abundance of riches that begs a fundamental question – how the fxxk do you put fifty years of music and all related into a ninety minute-long documentary?

Answer #1 – impossible.

Answer #2 – you gloss over so much as to create a few – distinctive yes – essential snapshots that whatever programme you put together simply scratches the surface.

Answer #3 – you don’t – you hold out and turn it into a three-part series; that way properly telling the entire story. After all – the 25th anniversary (curiously celebrated just 23 years ago) gave way to a ten-part series broadcast on Radio One that took two weeks to transmit.

That 25th anniversary was something else again – and culminated in the party to end all parties; one that took place at… Pinewood… in one of the huge, hangar-like stages that became a night almost without end.

Like all great parties, large chunks are a complete blur – all of the obvious suspects were there and, given that it was for what most would describe as the most influential record label of all time, there was a very fair smattering of the truly important in situ.

Various bands played – don’t ask, that’s one of the really blurry bits – and within the entire main part of the night, random offices and sundry spaces were taken over in other buildings throughout the complex. In some, threes and fours and mores partied in near-darkness; in others music was played by people semi-hiding away from the masses elsewhere.

And, in one such, one of the truly surreal events in my own life occurred.

On my own – in that my, then, American girlfriend was Stateside – I’d gone with a musical mate who, at the time, ran the best record store in Brighton; a useful ally for the evening as we’d arrived – shall I say – pretty well prepared for the evening’s adventures.

I’d also become friendly with and been hanging out a bit with a couple of people who, in their own manner (in that they’ll remain nameless here) had associations with the label. They were there, I was too and so were seemingly zillions of other people; the entire place a teeming mass of humanity – the scent of spliff everywhere; drinks if you could physically get to a bar and music… music of all denominations absolutely everywhere.

Nameless #1 and I eventually run into each other on a set of stairs that led to… I dunno where. I’m informed that Nameless #2 is in a room somewhere over there and wondering where I am. I head off in direction X… opening one door after another before eventually entering what I can only describe as a musical sepulchre – a holy of holies.

I’m standing in the doorway and beckoned inward by Nameless #2; if I turn and run it’ll be deemed rude yet… oh, shit… thankfully there’s a couple of other people in there that I know… a drink is offered and I sit down, trying to appear relaxed which is, of course, precisely how I don’t feel.

Nameless #2 and I sit and natter away as various acoustic guitars are tuned; it appears as if some form of sing-song is about to occur. Nameless #2 then decides – possibly because of a gregarious nature or maybe because of simple politeness that introductions should occur – frankly, I was rather preferring the anonymity but… Neil, you know Eric I’m sure… Umm, no I don’t… so the bearded one idly tossing off acoustic arpeggios and I shake hands.

And George…? He leans forward over his gleaming Martin acoustic and proffers his hand as well… You ok? Yes, fine thank-you. Another glass of wine? He politely offers Nameless #2 and I a three-quarter full bottle of superior quality white. Nameless #2 looks around – who else might I not know… and Ringo… ummm, no, I don’t believe I do… how are you? His Liverpudlian darkened glasses and beard look at me, he puts down the tambourine he’s been fiddling with and similarly grips and grins. Good thanks mate…

And John – ahh, yes… John Martyn I do know each other… thank goodness; he smiles a greeting and casually passes over an economy-sized spliff that’s producing smoke like a small bonfire, the proximity of which is already making my eyes water. I pass it down the line to the first guitarist who inhales deeply, passes it on and starts to play the opening chords to Here Comes The Sun.

An hour or so later – time in a strange way became a bit timeless – I make my excuses and leave; the air in this small room is like a ganga-fog and eventually I find myself outside in a car park… and run into my mate who’s been wandering about looking for me. He is somewhat unsteady on his feet and using the bonnet of a car for support.

God, what an amazing night… Thank-you so much for inviting me. Fancy a little… ummm… refreshment..? I’ve just been at the bar, stood next to Keith Richards…What have you been up to..? Met anyone interesting..?

Ahh… bit strange actually, I met up with a few people I didn’t know and have been singing Beatles songs for the last hour.

This time around, what will be will, of course, be.

However, within my little Voltaire on the grassy knoll, it seems a little sad that such an incredible story will be desensitised into tiny bite sized chunks for a world now suffering from attention deficit disorder.

A world in which 21st Century Schizoid Man now lives.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pride (In the Name Of Love)

We are free… to be free
(Nelson Mandela – Johannesburg, February 6th 2001)

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you’re on the wrong side of history but we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist
(President Barrack Obama, Washington, January 20th 2009)

Perhaps… just perhaps… a really key sentence – although, curiously, the commentators didn’t or haven’t yet picked up on it – within newly inaugurated President Obama’s first address as – officially – the most powerful man in the Western hemisphere.

The man in the spotlight … This had to be a day of… no more, yes we can – there had to be a more resounding message, something that was more than pure, perfectly delivered, rhetoric. Could the man in today’s spotlight deliver… yes, he could – and did.

On a cloudless, sub-zero, Washington late-morning Obama stood tall and rightly proud – Kenyan-Kansas black against that familiar snow-white backdrop of the Capitol, looking out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; his hand on that great man’s own velvet-bound Bible, the smallest of his two young children, standing on a foot-stool, the better to witness for herself an unforgettable few minutes unfolding.

Obama – a modern day icon at the altar of memory.

Within which, a strange irony in that the Capitol was – in the main – constructed by enslaved black Afro-Americans and, that it was barely fifty years ago that the deep South and Birmingham, Alabama in particular erupted.

Racial tension overflowed; segregation was not just rife but a tragic way of life and black fought white for that most basic of Human Rights – the right of equality no matter creed, race or colour.

Today… at long last… Doctor King’s dream became a reality.

As far as the eye could see, countless thousands – with the official television estimates ranging toward two million – crowded the Washington Mall to watch history unfold.

And, perhaps too, this’ll be the first big step on a long ladder of understanding – for everyone throughout the world – that it actually matters not one effin’ jot if you’re black, brown, yellow, red or of any skin colour whatsoever; that differing faith views matter not one iota either.

Because kneeling shoeless on the carpet to face Mecca is of no more importance than the worship of Christ; that a Jewish faith is just as acceptable as atheism; that Scientology is as personal a belief as is Buddhism and Hinduism is as relevant as Seventh Day Adventism and Calvinists are as significant in terms of belief as Humanists are.

We are one... but not the same.

Yet… one wonders if anyone in the Middle East will ever allow their minds or hearts to be unlocked from the sheer, bigoted hatred they seem to love to cling to – to free their heads and minds enough to be willing to listen to a plea from the heart that echoed what the world has been thinking and wishing for years.

Because Obama’s inauguration day was made all the more memorable by news footage of the UN Secretary General’s visit to the Gazza strip and the revelation that the Israeli’s have been shelling school compounds there using white phosphorous…

He said it was entirely unacceptable… anyone watching would have thought the same… so…why on earth are militants within the respective camps still blasting the shit out of each other. And hurting the entirely innocent?

Talk about time to unclench the fist; it is… NOW.

And, it certainly is time that ALL tanks are beaten into tractors.

Warm in Israel this time of year but a biting wind blowing across the tundra of Washington today – and, I wonder just what levels of thermal underwear were utilised by the great and the good as much as I got to thinking about the amount of hair lacquer employed too.

Hilary Clinton’s mane of air-brushed thatch barely moved in that stiff breeze. Sadly, it didn’t look like Sarah Palin made it, maybe she had a prior engagement hunting bears in Alaska – the lady of whom it was once said (in my hearing) by someone brandishing an over-filled brandy-glass… My arse is more liberal than that Sarah Palin.

And, will Michelle become the next Jackie O.. and will the children get their new puppy and what was it that the departing Bush-duo said just before they left for their helicopter ride to…

Where do ex-Presidents go exactly..? Home on the range must be… a bit of a let down don’t you think?

Eight years in office perfecting the art of being the most unpopular President in living memory; from taking calls and dialing all those other world leaders, getting through on a one-to-one, first name basis on the third ring…

But from now, it’ll be calling the club secretary asking to change the ten-am to a half-past tee time for the morning four-ball… Which is not quite the same as getting through and chummying up to Putin on the price of Russian gas… or having Bono harangue you on stage in front of thirty-thousand punters, in his guise as McPhisto, repeatedly calling the White House… is it?

At least he won’t have to go through all of that hand-shaking any more – well, not on the industrial-level scale of today.

How many times did George Double-U and B.O. actually grip and grin – after (or was it before) church, there was the brunch with Michelle handing over the gift of a leather-bound book in which Mother Bush might write her own memoires, ie photo opportunity on the steps to the White House and, of course another after they left; then they must have done it again when they arrived at the Capitol.

Then, they did it all over again on the podium before the event, then again when it was all over… So much pressing of flesh.

Plus, maybe a few times in between (for those ever-present photographers)… though I suspect that the after-speech grips weren’t quite as convivial as those prior to since B.O. went for the jugular within the first couple of minutes, unleashing a sidewinder verbal missile that made George Double-U look mighty uncomfortable – for him, his dynasty in tatters and no hiding place in the glare of the arc lights.

Then, like Broccoli Spears, they did it all over again – when waving crocodile teary bye-bye’s to each other before the green doors to the oh so green is the new red white and blue helicopter lifted Bush times two up up and away.

I wonder if both have got nice firm grips or if – today especially – they were on a mission to out-grasp each other… a bit like arm-wrestling someone you meet randomly in a pub…

You know the kind of thing when someone you’ve just been introduced to gives you the iron-man, my fist is made of steel sort of handshake and you grit your teeth to combat the vice-like grip yet wince enough to make your buttocks clench.

Maybe that was their ploy today… out griping each other in a final trial by handshake.

And oh, I do so wonder what was said… perhaps it was B.O saying… Look, I’m sorry we can’t ask you to stay to lunch but… do promise to come over for dinner one night soon, maybe when we’ve redecorated the bathroom… we’re installing Michelle’s Mom in the Granny annexe, we’ll ditch the kids for the evening… so, remember to bring a couple of bottles of wine too… ok?

And maybe George Double-U’s reply was… Sure, love to… hey, great you fluffed your words up, I’ve been doing that meself for years. Could never get a darned thing right, learned that trick from my Pa. Now, remember, Barrack… you and Michelle be mighty careful with the ol’ bed in the master bedroom… it got a bit of workout when Bill was in charge here and one of the legs is still just a bit wobbly… Oh, and… Barrack – watch out for that Bono fella too… he talks a lot, I think I nearly bought half of Africa just to shut him up one afternoon… Ok, me and the wife gotta run, that helicopter ain’t gonna wait too long… see y’all in a few weeks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Who The Cap Fit

All men kill the thing they love
By all let this be heard
Some do it with a bitter look
Some with a flattering word
The coward does it with a kiss
The brave man with a sword

(Oscar Wilde - The Ballad Of Reading Gaol)

The end… when it arrives… is – so they say – swift… very swift indeed.

That final dawn has come and gone; those last letters to loved ones have been written and, in the distance, there’s the far-off sound of a tolling bell, muffled through walls a yard thick as the clock strikes the hour – the appointed hour as laid down by law.

The long wait is nearly over…

The clickety-clack of highly polished footsteps marching to the beat of a silent drum draw ever closer; left right, left right, left right. Stop.

Suddenly – as if without warning… as if warning were needed – the real dawning of fear as the key to the locked door is turned. Within such a claustrophobic space, its echoed jangle stretches nerves already passing breaking point even further.

Seven seconds…

The procession is quickly led in by a wholly-enrobed priest intoning prayers for the dying from an opened bible and there, following behind, is the small, somehow business-like man, saying (allegedly)… follow me, this won’t take a moment…

First the manacles…

Then, those few short, halting (assisted) steps to another, altogether more macabre chamber, as the guardian doors are rapidly pulled back reveal…

And then the blindfold…

The only sound is deep-breathing and the steady drone of prayers; all is dark as the noose around the neck is tightened with the knot correctly positioned under the left ear….a split second pause and… eternity beckons…

The bolt is drawn like greased lightning and, finally, that unhindered drop to the end of the rope.

The fastest on record – apparently – considerably under ten seconds from the moment James Inglis’ cell door opened until the trap-door was sprung, sending him to meet his maker.

And the dispatcher-in-chief…? Albert Pierrepoint, the executioner who not only followed in his father and uncle’s footsteps but the man who – up until the mid-1950’s – legally ended the lives of between four and six-hundred men and women (estimates vary) convicted of a capital crime.

John Christie, Ruth Ellis, John Amery – who, again allegedly, greeted him with but seconds of life remaining by saying, Mr Pierrepoint, I've always wanted to meet you. Though not, of course, under these circumstances; Timothy Evans; John Haigh – the acid bath murderer; as well as those convicted of war-crimes at Bergen-Belsen including its camp commandant, Josef Kramer.

And, of course, Derek Bentley – Christopher Craig’s accomplice in the notorious shooting of a policeman in Croydon after their bungled raid on a confectionery manufacturers. Craig was too young to hang so – although he never fired the gun and did not commit murder, Bentley paid the ultimate price, leaving this world just a very few months after I entered it

And why has all of this come to my mind today..? Should I not be thinking about Obama’s inauguration and celebrating his vision of change. Yes… and in a way I am.

I’m a non-violent person… Sure, on occasions I become cross and say things that, in the cold light of day, I bitterly regret – but, then, from time to time, we all do. I guess I’d probably be classified as a pacifist. Though if I had to tick a box, such is my loathing of a society that lives under the rule of boxes having to be ticked I’d probably refrain from making my mark.

Along with millions of others, I’ve an abhorrence of war and an intolerance of politicians who send people to fight… I simply do not believe that any man or woman has the right – no matter what difference in creed or faith or standpoint of view – to advocate wholesale aggression to another in that manner.

And so, IF Obama can bring the undoubted weight of his office to bear on bringing about one, much-needed change whereby the futility of going to war is seen for what it is… then brilliant. IF he can set a true leader’s example by saying… you know what, enough really is enough… great – because then maybe, just maybe, the idiots in power throughout the Middle East might also see sense and stop their massacring of innocent people who have, unwittingly, got in the way of either side’s bombs and bullets.

It’s a faint hope but… then I’m a hopeful kinda bloke.

Oh – as a sort of aside here, there’s one other change he could make… Mr President… please, for pity’s sake, stop going up on stage and pointing your bloody finger at photographer P or Q and grinning foolishly, you’re just aping those con-artists, George Brown and Gordon double-U-bend… act like a statesman not like a…


If push came to shove, I’d happily pull that bolt to convey a convicted perpetrator from this world to the next.

Eh..? On what basis..? What’s brought this on..?

Murder and… child abuse – which, as I see it, is the slaughter of innocence.

Because, I believe the law has become – and has been for some considerable time – an absolute parody of itself… there is absolutely zero deterrent to heinous activities.

For instance, its been stated that – during the past year – over 20,000 sex-offences against children have been reported to police; a sickening enough statistic in its own right. Factor in this detail then – nearly 5% are for offences against pre-school-age children and the revulsion is even more abhorrent.

But… what happens to convicted abuser X..?

Essentially, they’re given nothing much more than a rap over the knuckles. They’re put behind bars for a certain amount of time – having been told they’re being given a life sentence – and then, after a while, let out again. (And, yes I know this is a bit simplistic but, in essence, its factual).

Just the same if, for example, criminal Y is convicted of murder; twelve upstanding citizens have unanimously passed a guilty verdict and the sentence, as approved by the authorities – the Home Office – is handed down by the beak. Who, no matter what they think, have no choice in the matter…

Because, here’s the issue… life does not mean life.

Equals… no real deterrent.

Knife crime, gun crime and the horrific abuse of children is way too prevalent within our current society – there can be no detractors from that point of view.

But, what does… what has… society – today – done to curb it..?

The Voltaire on this particular grassy-knoll says… bxxxxr all.

School-kids… youngsters… since time immemorial have always looked up to who they perceive to be their peers, just the same as Bentley and Craig did back half-way through the last century.

They were brought up on a diet of gangster movies wherein gun-totin’ villains battled it out in cinemascopic black and white with the cops. Having come through the Blitz and the (real) horrors of living in war-torn Britain, for them as it was for countless thousands of others a fantastic form of escapism – a Saturday morning well spent down at the local Gaumont.

Its part of growing up that one sides against the authorities thus, packing a gun or a knife or knuckle-duster was, for them, their way of kicking out the traces. It made them feel big… important… like (their adolescent yet cinematic perception of) real men.

And, in today’s parallel world of the unthinking, less-well educated, its just the same… blinged-up blokey-bloke at the back of the class has a gleaming machete stuck down his pants… hey, man, that’s cool… I’ll have a portion of that.

Violence on the streets and child abuse is – probably – not much different from then as it is now – though, for certain, its a lot more publicised in this day an age since the news reporting across whichever form of media in this generation is a lot more open than it was during post-war years and into (say) the Seventies.

The death penalty – other than for treason – has been done away with. So be it. There were as many worthy arguments for its abolishment long ago as there are equally laudable points of view that would see its re-introduction tomorrow.

However, by taking that – the ultimate deterrent – away, what has replaced it?

The rap over the knuckles approach whereby life doesn’t mean the rest of one’s natural life behind bars, simply does not work… it is no deterrent at all.

As just two examples, who can forget the truly horrific murder of Jamie Bulger in Liverpool during 1993..? Yes, at the time, the convicted killers were under-age (11 years old) but… both Jon Veneables and Robert Thompson are now free… men.

Because, for the taking away of this child’s life (don’t forget, that’s a basic Human Right – the right to live) the pair served… eight – yes, only eight… years behind bars. Both of them out before their 21st birthday…

They, nowadays, live under new identities having, essentially, been repatriated into society.

In 2002, the Soham murders of the two school-girls – Jessica and Holly – rocked a nation… The actual killer – Ian Huntley – was, quite rightly, put behind the secure bars of Broadmoor but… in 2005, the ‘authorities’ decided that he should only serve 40 years while his accomplice Maxine Carr – who provided false alibis and more – served just two years, her sentence shortened due to ‘good behaviour’. She is now a free-woman and has also been provided with a new identity and a new address by… the State. Yes, the Bulger lad’s killers and Carr (along with similar others) are (I imagine) monitored by Police or local authorities but…

Every thinking person would, I believe, agree that enough is enough when it comes to knife and gun crime… and I cannot imagine anyone could condone the abuse of children.

Am I therefore advocating an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth..?

Yes… I firmly believe it has now come to that… because, the existing deterrent will never eradicate the current culture of violence and abuse.

If young people packing guns and knives – and using them – because they think it’s a cool thing to do actually saw some of their so-called peers being put away… for ever… when they realized that life actually meant you’d die in jail, then perhaps they’d think again.

If child-abusers witnessed the same, would that not be a move in the right direction..?

The media has the power… to really strike fear into that part of our society who believe its actually ok to maim and kill by wielding guns and knives; to properly scare those who feel its alright to murder children by claiming their innocence.

Not just by saying… oooooooooo isn’t that just too terrible… It is, we know that… So, stop wandering about on the moral high-ground and step up to the bloody plate.

Methinks its time for a change of gear… For the media to properly champion the cause of… put these abusers and un-thinking killers away and... heavily publicise the fact that…

Life… means… life.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Catch The Wind

We’ve just crossed the threshold of the Theatre of the Absurd or, more properly, the City of Manchester Stadium to where the Mancunian Sky Blues moved during the 2003/4 season from their ageing yet much loved Maine Road with its slightly sloping pitch and once home to goal-keeping legend Bert Trautmann.

He was a former German prisoner of war – who, famously suffered a severe neck injury with about fifteen minutes left to play in City’s 1956 FA Cup Final defeat of Birmingham City but, in true Roy Of The Rovers style, carried on regardless. It was only three days later and after a thorough set of x-rays that it was revealed that he’d actually dislocated five vertebrae with the second cracked in two places – in straightforward terms, he’d broken his neck.

Terribly stiff upper lip and all that… and all frightfully Rudyard Kipling, whereby the very notion of pain is an anathema… but, in earlier times, Trautmann had been awarded the Iron Cross for heroics performed on the Eastern Front, had been a Paratrooper within the Luftwaffe as well as something of a Houdini, escaping from both the Russians and the French Resistance – thus, the minor inconvenience of a broken neck wouldn’t have felt like much of a setback as he kept goal at Wembley.

So, here we are behind the highly French-polished, closed doors – where danger lurks behind every filing cabinet – and the board, the Sheik of Arabi-owners and manager are sitting discussing this potential world record-breaking transfer fee and attendant salary for player # 1, the Brazilian dribbling-whizz Kaka.

As is known, the figures being bandied about are as follows: the transfer fee is said to be 100 million with a yearly net salary of 15 million for the player – obviously that’s not counting in his personal endorsements, merchandising rights and so forth. However the arithmetic is done, it’s a tidy sum.

Over forty league games, that’ll mean he trousers 375,000 per match; so… with each game going the distance – ie, he’s not substituted or predisposed by a severe case of man-‘flu– that’ll mean that for every seven and a bit minutes he’s on the pitch, he’ll earn 30,000 – in other words, more or less the average UK worker’s wage… for a year.

Equals – if person Z works for 45 years (give or take the odd recession here or there), then they’d expect to pocket around about 1,350,000 during that time. Not bad in the wider scheme of things.

Yet – it’d take that one man or woman – eleven working lifetimes – to bank what Ka Ka will lodge into his current (probably off-shore) account in any 12 month period.

Which is a bit more than George O’Dowd will be earning over the next fifteen months while he is a guest of Her Majesty – having, this afternoon, been banged up for the (illegal) handcuffing to his bed of a Norwegian male escort who… ultimately escaped (which just goes to prove that pink fur-lined handcuffs don’t always work), charged off down Shoreditch High Street wearing just trainers, boxer shorts and hand-cuffs… caught a ‘plane (that didn’t crash-land into the Hudson River) back to Oslo and… then sold his tale of woe and anguish at the hands of that nasty Mister O’Dowd for five and a bit grand to a local scandal rag.

There is a curious bit of symmetry here… because… the video for Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, Culture Club’s 1982 light-reggae-tinged numero uno smasheroonie in over a dozen countries from their Kissing To Be Clever debut album featured George in not just a courtroom scene but… sulking behind bars too.

Fifty million records sold world-wide and yet, you can still be jailed. Community Chest anyone… or just throw a double-six and collect the cash by by-passing Go and avoiding multiple hotels on My Fair lady..?

Government initiatives come and go; they’re up and down and on and off like so many tart’s thongs… Green is the new red white and blue and is there life on Mars? It appears so – well, according to one well-read tabloid who tend to avoid words of more than two syllables ‘cos long words are a bit tricky for their readership to grasp. Thus the word methane makes it onto their front page.

I honestly don’t know why anyone’s particularly bothered about finding methane (or marsh gas as its more commonly known) on Mars. After all, if it is to be used as a source of green energy, how is anyone planning on getting it back since the acknowledged best method of transporting methane is via a pipeline.

Mars is roughly 35 million miles away… it tends to move about a bit, due to orbits and complicated stuff like that. Equals – an awfully long pipe and… what’d happen if it sprung a leak?

So, wouldn’t it be better to use more available resources? Wouldn’t research zillions be better spent on figuring out how to hook up a herd of cows to an energy distributor – cattle flatulence accounts for one-quarter of the UK’s methane emissions with a single cow producing 400 litres of gas per day… that’s potential energy and the pipe would be a lot shorter.

Of course this could also translate across to men coming home from the methane-inducing combined pub and late evening vindaloo experience – whereby the following morning’s full-monte-fry-up could be cooked by harnessing and the overnight storage of… (un)natural gas.

And, for the life of me, I can’t see why there are so many objections to wind farms – that’s not a lot of cowsheds all wired up; that’s row upon row of wind turbines. Natural energy. Yet… the detractors are in there and any process of harnessing natural energy – which seems so logical to me – is fraught with difficulty and takes ages to get up and running.

Perhaps I’m ill informed or just plain stupid but, that particular technology has been in use for centuries to grind corn and so forth so, what on earth is the problem with modern day equivalents? They’re a lot cheaper and safer than the Chernobyl option and by no means unattractive – driving way down south in France a couple of summers back my youngest daughter and I came across an astonishing array ranged right across the top of a lowish escarpment… a car-stopping, camera-wielding moment. Beautiful. .

And, today – whiling away the in-between Project X hours until sundown – I’ve also been thinking about another compilation that might have been. And, I’ve come up with the following which I’ve entitled Aural Symmetry (Snapshots In Time)… and, this is what I reckon should be on it… and why.

1. Book Of Rules – The Heptones… a single (WIP 6179 – though never one to trouble the compilers of the charts) as well as a veteran cut from a number of Island compilations over the years, most of which have been long since deleted. Produced by Harry J in 1973, this is harmony-led rock-steady at its very finest, never past its sell-by date as it remains as fresh-sounding as it was the day the initial acetate was cut in Kingston town.
2. Brother Can You Spare A Dime – Ronnie Lane & Slim Chance… founder of the Small Faces and then the engine room behind what became Rod Stewart & The Faces, Ronnie recorded two albums for Island but this is a one-off single (WIP 6229) and taken from the 1975 film of the same name. Never a hit and, besides, Slim Chance were always a better live outfit – their set one of the highpoints at the Basing Street Christmas party a year earlier, ending with Ronnie’s wife and a couple of others can-can-ing around the studio. Tragically, the musical world lost Ronnie to Multiple Sclerosis in 1996.
3. Lady D’Arbanville – Cat Stevens… From literally dozens to choose from, this is the opening cut to his curiously entitled Mona Bone Jakon album; the first song (and single) that would re-introduce the world to the man who’d earlier hit Decca / Deram paydirt with Matthew & Son… His total, troubadour style Island reinvention ultimately pitch-forked him into the monster selling league when the two follow-up albums went stratospheric. The bristling pin-up of countless bed-sits is still bearded, but now better known by his faith name, Yussef Islam
4. Times Square – Marianne Faithfull… it’d probably be logical to think of a cut from Broken English, La Faithfull’s Grammy nominated comeback that took the entire world by surprise… surely that’s not that pretty blonde chick from Reading who once squired Michael Philip of Jagger then got down and out spitting out the lyrics to Why D’Ya Do it..? It was… but this is from her A Child’s Adventure album, although the jury’s still out in terms of whether this is the better variant since the live version of her co-write with Barry Reynolds recorded in New York for the Blazing Away record and featuring Dr John is equally killer.
5. Tiny Goddess – Nirvana… many students of music wouldn’t be aware that Kurt Cobain’s group was not the only one named Nirvana. This is from 1967 and the duo’s (Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos ) first of two Island releases – the Story Of Simon Simopath – very possibly the world’s first quasi rock(ish) opera since it long pre-dated The Pretty Things SF Sorrow’s own footprints in that particular bed of quicksand. Over forty years on, the entire album remains a seminal slice of psychedelia while the original gate-fold cover would now be something of a collector’s item.
6. A La Perla De Cadiz – Paco de Lucia… born plain Francisco Sanchez Gomez in Algeciras in southern Spain, virtuoso de Lucia (who can barely read music) is acknowledged as one of the greatest ever exponents of Flamenco Guitar – indeed, noted by many commentators as one of the all-time greatest guitarists; this outstanding track is taken from the first of his two Island albums, Almoraima
7. Concrete Jungle – The Wailers… As much as it is with so many Island acts, it’s a nigh-on impossible task to choose just the one – definitive – track. With Marley, its beyond impossible so, the rationale behind this is: it’s the opening track from the Zippo-lighter sleeved Catch A Fire album and… it’s the first ever Bob Marley track I heard. And one that – quite literally – changed my known-as-it-was-then musical horizon for ever. Those opening few bars (first encountered in an upstairs conference room in a Horsham hotel during an Island presentation of forthcoming releases to the EMI Sales team of whom I was a member at the time) should have carried some form of health warning… once the needle dropped into the groove on that white-label test-pressing, I’d begun my journey past the point of no return.
8. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight – Richard & Linda Thompson… Former Fairport Convention stalwart (acknowledged by Rolling Stone in 2003 as one of the top-twenty guitarists of all time) together with his then wife Linda (Peters), The CWS (Manchester) Silver Band and their enduring – though minor – hit from this, their 1974 debut album – the first of three recorded for Island.
9. Genius Of Love (original 12” mix) – Tom Tom Club… a loose collective based around half of Talking Heads – Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz; Genius Of Love is the second single from their 1981 debut and was only released in the US after over 100,000 copies of the 12-inch platter sold in to the US as UK imports. Incredibly widely sampled over the years, Genius Of Love has been ‘utilised’ by Grand Master Flash, Ziggy Marley (Tomorrow’s People from the Grammy Winning #1 album Conscious Party). Mariah Carey and other Bad Boy MCs and re-mixers such as the X-ecutioners.
10. Rehab – Amy Winehouse… multi-million selling, recipient of every award under the sun, a modern-day phenomenon, a true Island artist of any era. If there was a previously unreleased version of this absolute classic, then that’s what would live here since every other released variant of this timeless three and a bit minutes has been hammered to death. File under indispensible.
11. The Apple Stretching – Grace Jones… taken from 1982’s top-twenty release, Living My Life, the last of the Sly & Robbie infused Compass Point trilogy of albums. The track was written by Melvin van Peebles for the Broadway show, Waltz Of The Stork. Featured heavily in her One Man Show of the same era, the album cover is yet another striking Jean Paul Goude image – Grace as a US Marine with square hair and a white sticking plaster over her left eyebrow (although its not – its white masking tape as used by graphic artists at the time and cunningly positioned over the final, heavily manipulated, photograph).
12. Midland Maniac – Steve Winwood… a musician who is more a cornerstone of Island than anyone; this is the closing cut from – back then – one of the most long-awaited solo albums of all time. Steve’s first stab at the genre resulted in what became Traffic’s magnum opus, John Barleycorn Must Die and it was as near as dammit two decades later that this hit the streets. Legend has it that this track is about the late Chris Wood but true or false, who knows? What is true is – this was a solo record in every sense of the word; every instrument, every vocal was Winwood – and he both engineered and produced it too. This wasn’t a single, not much played on the radio either but this track is as pivotal a piece of music as almost any other in his remarkable career.
13. Some Guys Have All The Luck – Junior Tucker… alas, poor Junior – he never did as it was Robert Palmer who scored with this. Junior’s sugar-sweet, early-teen voice married to an almost lovers-rock variant on the arrangement we all know and love and yet, sadly never much of a hit though, from memory, it dented the lower reaches only. To compensate, we took Junior shopping in Hamleys during his promo-trip to London – an uneasy expenses reclaim explanation followed. Just a one-off single yet… it still hits the spot.
14. Sailing – The Sutherland Brothers… written by older brother, Gavin Sutherland – thus he copped all the publishing when Rod Stewart covered the song; the BBC used it as the theme for a documentary series about HMS Ark Royal in 1976 and took it on a chart-topping rollercoaster all around the world. Two versions exist, the better is the pure brothers one as opposed to the one recorded with Quiver with whom they toured and recorded two albums. An alternative track would be The Pie from the brothers’ first, sans Quiver, album.
15. My One Temptation – Mica Paris…from a pure Gospel background, Mica signed to Island subsidiary 4th & Broadway when she was 17 and this is the lead cut from her 1988 debut – So Good that also featured a collaboration with Will Downing (Where Is The Love).
16. May You Never – John Martyn… recently awarded an OBE, John’s career encompasses folk-roots Glasgow although by the time he signed to Island in 1967 he was a major-player within the mid-sixties London club scene – May You Never is from his epoch-defining 1973 album Solid Air (one of Q Magazine’s top 100 albums of all time) wherein his jazz-slurred vocals and echoplexed, fuzzbox treated acoustic guitar embraced a densely-rich new tapestry of his own making. On first hearing, yet again a ‘what the fxxk is that’ moment.
17. Molten Gold – Paul Kossof… one of the great young white blues players and justifiably famed for his guitar exploits with Free, this is from Koss’ only solo album – Back Street Crawler and features Jess Roden’s harmony vocals; Koss died of a heart attack mid-air on a flight from Los Angeles in March 1976 yet his enduring legacy lives on.
18. Jah Heavy Load – Ijahman… born Trevor Sutherland in Manchester but converted to Rastafari whilst serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure in the early seventies. The opening cut from his 1978 debut is a pearl of a tune that also featured Steve Winwood on keyboards – album design by the ubiquitous Tony Wright who (probably) created more Island album jackets than anyone else.
19. Bad – U2… from Mount Temple School in Dublin to the biggest band on this planet via three chords and the truth; perm any six tracks from three hundred and still there would be disagreements. There are many versions of Bad – within this compilation it’d be the never released twelve or so minutes of audio from Live Aid (if one could attain the clearance rights)… the afternoon when Bono went walkabout leaving the rhythm section stranded; the evening the band nearly fired him because they only got to play two songs and therefore missed out playing their hit of the time (Pride) and the morning after when – along with Queen, U2 achieved global acknowledgement as one of the two genuine uber-highlights of that extraordinary July Saturday in 1985; the moment U2 took hold of centre stage by the scruff of its neck and never let go.
20. Dear Addy – Kid Creole & The Coconuts… signed to Michael Zilkha’s ZE records and licensed to Island, the final track from their Fresh Fruit In Foreign Places epic… a regular closing song within their mid-eighties live set and, quite simply one of the great love songs of all time; with Darnell’s gut-wrenching, heart-rending vocal delivery of a song written about his soon to be ex-wife, Mama Coconut herself.

Hmm… those explanations (if that’s the right word), those rationales of inclusion on a song by song basis almost read like the beginnings of sleeve notes.

Yet, as I read back through what I reckon wouldn’t be that bad a little snapshot in time, I’ve realized that there’s so much more that could’ve been included.

For example, I’ve yet to find a place for the Stereo MC’s; the Fratellis; Head Hands & Feet; Jess Roden and Bob Marley (although they’ve both appeared in the background); Will Downing; Paul Weller; The Waterboys – hey, if a ZE or 4th & Broadway artist can be included, then so can an Ensign one; Ultravox!; Dave Mason; the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra; Steel Pulse; Art; Birelli Lagrenne; Claire Hamill; Toots and The Maytals; The Plastics or Third World… and that’s still only the tip of this particular iceberg… but, Anthrax; Mott The Hoople; Mountain; Automatic Man; Scaffold; Salad; The Slits; Baba Maal; LKJ; Etta James; Millie and The Jags… they’re all part of the story too but… where would they live?

You know what..? I can feel more of this ilk emerging…

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Time Is Tight

For the last three or four days my back’s been giving me what my Dad would have called ‘serious jip’. It happened in a split second during yet another shifting of the bloody suitcase that had a black and brown sticker emblazoned across it quite a while back, cautioning said luggage as a heavy object. And that it most certainly is.

A grasp of the green case-handle, one tug ‘n lift upwards… and over and… ohhhhhhhhh, fxxk… ouch… fxxky fxxk fxxk fxxk – a stab of pain shot through my lower lumbar region like the very devil being pursued by the zealous horsemen of the apocalypse. Its now rendered the simple acts of sitting down and getting up high-up on the excruciating-ometer… to, I’d say, the buttock-clenching degree of… ouch

No, Clutterbuck Minor – stop… laughing… at the back. This is not a variant on man-‘flu; its far too real and makes travel by any means or foul darned uncomfortable as well.

The train I’m riding is awash with people; nations speaking in tongues, whispered conversations to (assumed) loved ones behind the privacy of a cupped hand alongside hoarsely barked instructions to quizzical office staff back at base camp under the adage of – if the signal is lousy, then simply bellow louder.

The full-throttle annoyance of the roaring passenger is felt by an entire – crammed in like sardines – carriage when entering or emerging from anywhere remotely subterranean where cellular contact is lost paralleling into this peculiar reliance and assumed need of being in total, absolutely full-on contact with the outside world. The entire time.

Its a day when Barclays Bank, Jaguar and Land Rover – all long-standing bastions of British Industry – have announced yet more job cuts; when the Labour Government’s Business Minister – Baroness Vadera – shot herself squarely through the foot at lunchtime by suggesting that she could see green shoots of recovery on the rotten tree of the economy.

I just wonder if a more constructive reality within a journey such as this would be to enter an analogous universe by switching off from the humdrum.

Everyone, everywhere is under pressure – generally though no fault of their own and the mid-January bills have started to drop on doormats from a mis-spent December and the tallyman’s come a-calling when money’s too tight to mention.

So… what better time to journey to the metropolis and fly the flag of complete belief on behalf of Project X..?

The appointment that I’ve been kicking my heels over for the last couple of weeks was arranged during the final countdown to the Christmas break; a within 24 hours e-mailed response to my hand-delivered resume of Project X from the Chairman of the IFPI – essentially the organization that the represents the recording industry worldwide.

They’d liked what they’d read and wanted to meet me and I, most certainly, wanted to meet them. Game on.

Despite train delays, I’m early for the 2pm face-off; and Pantoni’s coffee bar directly opposite from their corporate HQ on Piccadilly seems like the ideal spot to mentally prepare – one humungous cappuccino at an equally monstrous price (probably due to my requesting extra lashings of chocolate across the top) is ordered and I await my co-conspirator – he of the domed and partly-balding pate, bristly beard and scholarly glasses. All of which belie the sharpness of intellect and razor-like understanding of ways in which we can collaborate to take this entire concept forward.

To while away the time, I start to properly compile just one of the compilations that I’ve so recently discovered I’ll no longer be assembling for Island 50. If truth be known, I’m still smarting from that rebuttal – it really was a bitter blow to unexpectedly learn that that entire assignment has been given over to someone else in-house.

What would have gone in there..? And what would I have titled this one, I wonder, getting froth on my lips and scalding the back of my throat. I’ve got my lists to hand… a pen and a notebook…. so, lets have a little look-see.... shall we?

Ok – this one would, I reckon, have been entitled Flying Without Wings – why..? It seems to work and I rather like the neatly ambiguous phrase… plus, it – to me – sort of sums up Island as a label…

And the running order would, I imagine, have been a bit like this… and I’ve tacked on a few of my own reasons for including this or that song as well.

1) Roy C – Shotgun Wedding… released as a single on the Sue label, the very first bona-fide Island Record I ever owned (where better place to start?); something of a minor hit although I don’t believe Roy C (whoever he was) ever made another record – unless he was the Roy with whom Millie of My Boy Lollipop fame once duetted. Maybe he was – there can’t be that many singers in Jamaica called Roy… can there?
2) The Christians – Born Again…so many gemstones within their catalogue to choose from, so many cuts where the band are at their zenith and a shaven-headed Gary Christian’s voice is like melting honey in amongst the impeccable harmonies; this – both sonically and emotionally – fits like the proverbial glove.
3) Zappow – This Is Reggae Music… a grade-one, absolutely timeless, any-year-you-like classic yet straight out of mid-Seventies downtown Kingston.
4) Tom Waits – In The Neighbourhood… it could have been Frank’s Wild Years, it could have been a dozen others from Tom’s Island days but again, its about what fits the mood and Waits’ lurching voice of gravel within this masterwork sits faultlessly.
5) Passengers – Your Blue Room… the one and only (thus far) Eno / U2 writing collaboration; the (more) obvious choice would have been the duet between Bono and Pavarotti (Miss Sarajevo) but this haunting song that was used in Wim Wenders’ film Beyond The Clouds somehow works better. Plus, the ending would segue-wave brilliantly into…
6) Traffic – No Time To Live… a scarily overlooked total cannon-ball of a song from Traffic’s eponymously entitled second record. Chris Wood’s ways-away, stage left, almost out of earshot saxophone adds an eerie feel to the mists invoked; Winwood’s voice at its remarkable best.
7) Scotty & Lorna – Skank In Bed… the ‘b’ side to their seminal single, Breakfast In Bed… all dubbed up over ruffled sheets and long before duvet’s had been introduced. Pure musical sex; you just know that they’d been enjoying themselves all night… rather a lot.
8) Bronco – Bumpers West… festooned with a bank of acoustic guitars, the closing track from the Jess Roden fronted combo’s first record, Country Home, a superior slice of honeydewed Midland’s C&W with attitude.
9) Fairport Convention – To Althea From Prison… a superlatively reading of verses one, two and four of Richard Lovelace’s magical 1642 poem taken from Fairport 9; a paean to love from behind bars with a coda that, after all these years, still arouses the hairs on just about anyone’s neck. A far too often overlooked Fairport masterpiece. If there was a slightly longer version – with an extended instrumental run-out, then that’s the version I’d have included here.
10) Mike Nesmith – Flying Down To Rio… who’d have thought the wooly-hatted ex-Monkey could write as well as this… taken from his 1977’s From A Radio Engine To A Photon Wing, this track was UK hit and the film-like quality of the video played an important role in the burgeoning development of the entire genre.
11) Sparks – The Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us… the Mael Brothers unleashed this on an unsuspecting public, from its first radio airings, yet another what the fxxk is that moment – plus, its final quasi-operatic crescendo leads perfectly into…
12) King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King… immense mellotron-led chordal sweeps and colossal drums over improbable Tolkein-esque Pete Sinfield lyrics. The first time on hearing this led to many a loon-pant-shaking, disbelief moment… where did that come from..? Late sixties and, quite simply, this broke new ground like a melodious jack-hammer.
13) Wally Badarou – The Theme From Countryman… synthesizer driven, rumbling beats over an understated but delicious keyboard wash… the French whizz at his very best as Countryman runs at warp speed through various scenic parts of Jamaica, intent on nailing the baddies by utilizing his mystic powers. The film was so-so, the soundtrack was awesome and the theme pivotal.
14) Bob Dylan – Forever Young… from Planet Waves, one of only two Dylan albums released by Island, a timeless classic.
15) Robert Palmer – Every Kinda People… the many moods and faces of the late and very great Captain Birds Eye; if one and one only track was to be included this’d be high on anyone’s list. This cut from Double Fun – immortalized with the two wet bikini-tops discarded on the swimming pool edge under Robert’s watchful smiling gaze on the cover – bridges the gap of funk and high end melody with strings that are sublime.
16) Murray Head – Say It Ain’t So, Joe… nowadays acknowledged as a classic, at the time, the epitome of a mysterious non-hit… radio just wouldn’t play it back then but, it still sounds like it was recorded yesterday.
17) King Sunny Ade – Jah Funmi… for many, this opening cut from JuJu Music was their first introduction to the true aural delights of African music… swaying and liltingly haunting, the steel guitar / synthesizer combinations are to die for.
18) Bob & Earl – Harlem Shuffle
… a stone-ground classic of course, it set the tone within late sixties club-land and passes the acid test many years later by remaining one of the freshest pieces of music ever recorded.
19) Augustus Pablo – King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown… yet another ‘what the fxxk is that’ piece; is it a song, is it dub, is… what the fxxk is… that? A beyond-category three and a bit minutes of totally essential and entirely indispensible music.
20) Keane – A Bad Dream… one of the unqualified highlights from the second Keane album, somewhere there has to be an extended mix (which is what I’d have wanted to include) wherein the central instrumental passage goes on for ever, just like it feels it should do on the shorter, album version.

Someone’s left a copy of a newspaper on the table next to me, the dregs of their discarded tea are growing cold and I pick it up to idle away the time over the remains of my coffee; there’s a banner headline – some top-notch club up north are planning on offering – equals paying – over 100 million quid as a transfer fee for a footballer and, according to them, it makes sound business sense…

But, that… is it not, would be the equivalent to the national debt for a small(ish) African State… and, his weekly salary is mooted to be just half a million. Not dollars or yen… but pounds sterling equals (more or less) euros.


Weekly salary..? That’d mean his yearly gross earnings would come in at 24 million… Smart accountancy fees would, of course, be really significant, his agent would cop 20 percent (or thereabouts) but even so…

One’d never – ever – begrudge someone earning their true worth but… with many parts of this country, Europe and the rest of the world either in the midst of or about to endure really severe financial pain… is that, in all reality, justifiable?

How could you – footballer X – walk out onto the field of play on any given Saturday, knowing that your net earnings for the first minute or so of any given game equated to a year’s salary for those still employed who, themselves would have paid a significant ticket price to watch you perform during the 90 minute + half-time pies match?

I dunno… I just wonder about this sort of ‘business’… do I object to people with reams of talent earning what they do… absolutely not and never ever. They’ve been blessed with something truly special – be it as a footballer, cyclist, musician, songwriter, actor, film director, entrepreneur or… whatever it is.

But… there is just a little part of me, a tiny cell within my brain saying… give back a bit. Don’t make it into a Hello magazine grand (ie empty) gesture but… just, quietly, let the ordinary man in the street know that yes… its great to be paid this or that but, at the same time, you – the high wage earner – is doing something… something… and, an enduring something… for those folk around the world who, quite frankly, have absolutely zero.

When one has had some form of a lucky life; when one has done (or been paid to do) some incredible things… isn’t it about admitting that luck, that that talent that’s been paid and… giving back… a bit…?

In a sense, this is what Project X is about.

The core principle that underlines what is otherwise known as Project X is this… the world is very, very different to how it was when my co-conspirators and I began work… very different indeed. Nowadays, one needs all manner of qualifications in gobbledygook, A-Levels in bullshit and degrees in corporate-speak and all the rest to even get your toe in the door.

We didn’t have any of that… all we did was collect records… it was as if our very lives depended on it… Music was a strange centrifugal source that informed our daily lives; we lived it, we ate it on toast, we breathed it. It mattered so much that somehow or other we ended up working within it.

None of us has any money… not a bloody bean… but, we retain that same vision if you like… One of my co-conspirators lives far away and is currently acting as a check in bloke for an RV sort of convention… to pay the rent; our web-meister is about to tell one of his clients (of over twenty-five years standing) to have sex and travel – because they’ve become unutterably unreasonable that he’d rather get rid of them before they go bust in the so-called ‘credit-crunch’ and work on what he enjoys than suffer their ineptitude; another takes what work he can by framing pictures and being a navvy in order that he can devote downtime (after supporting his family) to researching and supporting like a bloody demon. Another is so budget conscious that literally every penny spent is counted – yet nothing gets in the way of pulling the whole together; and me… – near and very dear have understood, helped and supported beyond financial reason or sense. And, shown… absolute, utter faith.

Equals… Project X is informed by… its core is… total, complete… passion.

I’m a believer… and am lucky, oh so lucky… very very lucky, to have others round me who believe too.

Because – at one time or other… we were (all) lucky too. We all got, in our own ways, to work on, to be involved in… absolutely magical things.

We didn’t… none of us did… end up working down coal-mines… tho’ we easily could have.

And now, for all of us, its time to – in our own.. tiny, little way… to give back. To forthcoming generations.

Ninety minutes later, the be-spectacled one and I are standing in a doorway just a few yards from corporate HQ… he’s rolling a cigarette, I’ve popped one from my packet… silently breathing nicotine air. Both thinking back…

We’ve achieved more than I dared dream or hope… we’ve talked until we were hoarse, we have cajoled and been passionate – eyes have met eyes head on… yes we’ve been absolutely passionate in what we believe in…

And, Project X now has the implicit and unequivocal support of the IFPI.

But, not just that…

They said they couldn’t and wouldn’t fund or seed the idea… that I knew before we walked in.

But, what they now do want to do – so they’ve told us – is schedule another meeting to discuss ways in which Project X can be seeded – they see this initiative as really important and one not to be ignored. .

And, that meeting which’ll involve a lot more people around their corporate table is due to occur in about ten days time.