Thursday, February 26, 2009

Get On Your Boots

My boots, my sexy-sexy-boot-heels finger-snap their click-clack way across the vast granite flagstones – providing an ominous echo all through this huge, cathedral-like space.

High above me ancient oak glows golden-brown as if lit by a million beeswax candles; they constitute the largest hammer-beam roof structure in Europe and have been in-situ for the last eight hundred or more years.

Far away in the distance at the other end of the hall and underneath a colossal stained-glass window are a set of stone steps, nearly as wide as this veritable chamber of secrets is, itself. In the centuries that have passed, its walls – two metres thick and counting – have witnessed the great and the good, the finest minds and the notoriously fearsome pass through this space.

This is the room into which Sir William Wallace was dragged in chains to be ‘tried’ before the Lords of the land after being similarly hauled most of the way from Scotland to London during the fourteenth century.

Wallace hadn’t a hope in hell; his sentence a foregone conclusion before he’d even left Scotland – Edward Longshanks, the third of that name to rule England was not, by nature, a forgiving man; and any notion of clemency would have been a long way from his mind when the man who’d led the Scots in rebellion against the English (somewhat foolishly) walked into Edinburgh Castle, hell-bent on giving himself up as a bargaining tool with the all-conquering foe.

Scotland 0 - England 1(own goal scored by W. Wallace).

Wallace was duly convicted before being taken away to Smithfield to suffer (perhaps) one of the most gruesome deaths that middle ages England could conjure up – that of being hung, drawn and quartered.

In front of a baying crowd, he’d have had been served up the hors d’oeuvre by feeling a noose tightening around his neck prior to being hoisted high into the air to dangle; … slow strangulation.

If the executioner timed it absolutely right, he’d have been cut down while still, just about, breathing. At which time, he’d have been strapped – face up – onto a heavy oaken table with his legs and arms manacled.

It was, at this point, that it got a bit nasty.

The executioner would open up his bag of tricks to extract a few really rather disagreeable gadgets – hooked and barbed knives as well as sundry other instruments of sharp and blunt persuasion that defined his particular stock-in-trade.

Presumably each legalized slaughterer would have his own specific order of preference in terms of where to start inflicting real pain. Possibly it’d be the genitals first – one quick slice and… no more rumpy-pumpy for you boyo. Perhaps a hammer blow to the foot just to loosen things up a bit… then, maybe a pair of medieval piers would be used to remove toes or fingers… oh dear, did that hurt old boy, terribly sorry but… I do have a job to do so… be a good chap and lay still... only another nine to go.

This was, of course, simply the appetiser before the main course – since the general idea was to keep the victim alive as long as possible while inflicting pain in unfeasible proportions. The crowd, needless to say, found this hugely entertaining – those that hadn’t already passed out in their own vomit-pool of disgust, that is.

Because, eventually the subject’s stomach would be slowly sliced (drawn) open and… his entrails hauled out before… being messily brandished in front of his own eyes.

After which the quartering would occur; the victim (if he wasn’t already dead by now) would be be-headed and then his body would be hacked into four chunks – each body-part then sent to a main city in the land and displayed for all to see as a warning to others who may have been harbouring rebellious thoughts.

Charles 1st in comparison got off lightly – this is the chamber in which he, too was tried and convicted of treason; to become only the second reigning monarch to be executed. I suppose its debatable if Mary, Queen of Scots was actually a reigning monarch when she knelt at the block seventy-five years previously at Fotheringay Castle in 1587 but… in any event, on a cold and frosty January 1649 morning, Charles stepped onto the scaffold in Whitehall – not that far from where I’m standing now – and awaited the executioner’s blade.

Guy Fawkes was another who was tried and convicted here in this very same space – the bloke who got nabbed just before he could light the blue touch-paper that’d have set off the gunpowder kegs that he and his fellow conspirators had stored in the vaults right under the chamber in which I’m standing.

It’s a room that has also seen the laying in state of Churchill and that of the late Queen Mother; where Nelson Mandela has walked down those same steps that I can see at its far end – and which I’m about to ascend; where the Pitts, both Younger and Elder would have strode across the floor; the very same surface that Simon de Montfort – the founder of the parliamentary system would have walked over…

The same door through which I’ve entered has seen the likes of Sir Thomas Moore, Cromwell, Walsingham, Disraeli, Burghleigh, Gladstone, William Wilberforce – the prime mover behind the abolition of slavery in 1833 who died just three days after the Act was passed – Palmerstone, Walpole, Archbishops Cranmer and Wolsey among hundreds of other great statesmen and women pass through; a floor upon which Kings and Queens and world leaders have also stood – maybe all of them have gazed about them in awe at one point or other too.

Up the steps at the far end, the bearded wonder, his vegetarian assistant and I turn an abrupt left to walk down a short corridor flanked by marble statues of the nation’s most famous politicians through the ages. Behind them are huge friezes – painted snapshots of moments in long-ago time; a young Henry VIII receiving a deputation, Edward II being preached to… and, three more either side before… two small wooden signs that – in gold lettering – tell me that to my right is the House of Commons, to my left The Lords. This slimmer than one’d imagine corridor is precisely where Black Rod leads the assembled Commons before knocking loudly with his staff on the door to the Lords at the state opening of Parliament.

We walk on, then down steps where it says visitors must go and then turn right along yet another corridor from where rather yummy smells are emanating – to the right behind closed doors are the kitchens, to the left are the opened doors of the dining rooms. Black and white clad waiters scurry back and forth as people (politicians? – they must be, mustn’t they) pull up to their respective bumpers on the green-backed leather seats that align the long tables that, themselves, are groaning with cut glass and silverware.

Up another set of steps, left again along a short corridor, down again, take another left and… it seems we’re expected; this is the entrance to the BPI / ACM meeting at which Andy Burnham the Secretary of State for Culture, Music and Sport for Her Majesty’s Government will speak after the assembled gather round and listen to what the ACM’s founder, the BPI chairman and the lady MP for Guildford have to say.

Time to grab a canapé, a glass of the well-chilled and mingle.

Three canapés and two glasses of quality white later and I’m mingling like there’s no tomorrow. This evening’s headline act, (new) Labour’s front bencher has eloquently said his bit and already been grabbed by someone, I know not who… I watch like a hawk, figuring out the form; what to look out for in Spring – how to approach a Government Minister.

Taking up position Z on his left flank – like a submarine laying just off a convoy in a World War 2 Atlantic swell – fine tune my periscope-senses, pick my moment during a lull in their conversation and... strike.

First introduce N to B and then, its straight into the elevator pitch. He listens intently ignoring interlopers and would-be boarders, gets the plot in one, asks relevant questions and, as others jostle at my shoulder eager for their own five minutes with him, asks if I have any documentation with me. I do: Here’s one I prepared earlier, Minister… a little light reading for your journey home.

He grins in response, grips warmly, puts the envelope that contains the entire blueprint for Project-X into his inside suit pocket and, thanking me by name (which surprised me), promises to do just that.

Two and a half hours later and I’ve talked at length to a number of other key individuals who’ve gathered here tonight.

One such and I’ve been out on the Terrace itself, talking intently – away from the hubbub of the ACM Gospel Choir who are proving just why they only reached the semi-finals of the recently televised One Choir Left Standing.

The view from here is stunning; the backdrop of the gently flowing river while over my right shoulder, the London Eye lit up in electric-chair-after-shock blue, slowly turns – offering its passengers their own, extraordinary, vista of the capital.

My half-bearded companion out on the Terrace – with whom I’ve been communicating during the preceding twenty-four hours – has already pre-researched to the extent of finding Project-X’s home on the web, is very much a supporter of the initiative and eager to learn more. Thirty minutes later, one more envelope passes hands as we prepare to walk back into the throng.

The same goes for the Education Strategist with whom I meet next; we know many people in common which serves to break the ice, he gets the concept in moments and, after another sealed envelope passes hands, we part by agreeing to aim at fixing a further meeting later in the week once he’s had a chance to digest everything I’ve handed over.

A closing conversation with the BPI bod that I last met at the IFPI meeting – who, once again, assures me of their own support and… its time to retrace my steps back out through that great hall and head off into the unseasonably mild night air.

Needles to say, come 4am, and I still can’t sleep. My brain has been churning all night – not the usual nonsense that clogs up its wires; this is a realisation that we’ve genuinely reached the end of the beginning – part of a Churchillian quote I know which, I suppose, just goes to show that some of the rarified air in which I’ve walked earlier in the evening, has percolated my head.

That same thought process is confirmed when the bearded wonder and I catch up twenty-four hours later; he’s equally of the same opinion – there isn’t a single person who is other than totally supportive of Project-X… thus, now is the time to put the hammer down. I check-in with far-away… the same opinion is proffered; we’re stymied by one thing and one thing only – now, therefore, its time to become ridiculously pro-active on that front.

The bearded wonder also updates me – tho’ he probably shouldn’t since it’s all confidential for the moment – on matters pertaining to Island50: the list of gigs for May is starting to look quite tasty and intriguing; the book is now being printed which leads me to wonder just who its author actually spoke to and how complete it’ll really be while the exhibition is getting ready to roll-out and most of the major magazines will be running huge pieces on the anniversary with, at least one, cover-mounting a compilation CD – apparently someone, somewhere has trawled back through the catalogue and discovered… gems. What a surprise. May, so it appears, is going to be a busy old month… if, that is, one’s part of that circle.

At least this time around, I won’t loose any of my own (precious to me) archive – Island25 required as much memorabilia as was possible to accumulate and, naively and all too trustingly, I volunteered all that I had (which was considerable).

Sadly, scrapbooks came back with all manner of prized possessions – such as half a pair of Bob Marley Lyceum tickets – missing; some rare Black Swan singles disappeared altogether and… I learned an invaluable lesson – don’t let anything you value like that out of your sight.

However… the clouds within those thoughts lift as, the very next morning, I collect an eagerly awaited packet from very far away indeed; inside are two heavily sellotaped brown envelopes that eventually reveal the package’s true contents – a most looked forward to book that I’ve been examining in detail whenever I’ve come across a copy.

Its Yuri Grishin’s, wonderfully illustrated, self-published guide to Island album releases between 1962 & 1977.

I first tripped into Yuri’s own site last year while delving deeply into researching another project that my fertile brain had been concocting these last few months. Am I about to allude to exactly what that was (or, perhaps, still is) – no, absolutely no – not yet.

Anyhow… one research link led to another which led to another exploratory mouse-click and then yet again before… stumbling across a site announcing itself as one for real train-spotters. Here was a bloke in Moscow who not only collected records but compiled those collections by label into illustrated guides.

Would Yuri become my new best friend – I rather hoped he might and thus we began a bit of e-mail back and forth.

After a few hiccups not least caused by no access to one of my e-addresses and… I discover that Yuri’s resilient enough to figure out another manner in which to get back in contact within which, he’d agreed to forward on a copy of the particular tome that I’m so interested in.

Part of me is intrigued as to how a Muscovite has managed to collate such a difficult collection to compile – the label itself is, without question, the most collectable in the world and… even if you’re in Britain or America, the sourcing of old vinyl is difficult enough so… doing that out of Russia can’t have been easy.

Equals, his dogged determination is to be very much admired.

I guess it helps too that, besides being a collector, he’s also a publisher too – which means that from concept to realisation is an easier step than otherwise would be possible.

By Yuri’s own admission, this volume is flawed – there are a number of omissions (the vast bulk of which, oddly enough, I have squirreled away at Merle HQ in the dungeon there) meaning that Yuri’s book is by no means a completists’s dream but… even so, it’s better than anything that presently exists and, as it stands, has become an invaluable aid to any serious collector.

If I was to critique it in any manner then I’d offer up the fact that it being written in both Russian and English is unnecessary, that it is way-too top-heavy on detailing matrix-numbers, the cutting process of acetates and sleeve manufacturing (even though that appears to be Yuri’s big passion), but then, one has to bear in mind that this is a volume – as are his others on labels such as Harvest, Vertigo, Charisma etc etc – aimed at the truly dedicated vinyl junkie.

That said, its a great reference point as has been proved by the bods at Island itself who have been using it as their best point of referral (largely because their own archive is such a mess and no one currently there has much of a real history of the label) as well as the blokes at the Pinewood production company who’ve similarly been trawling it for background for their forthcoming BBC Island50 documentary that’ll be aired in May.

Collectable records (sic) is a growing business and Yuri’s grasped that bit of mettle with both hands…

I’m jerked back from perusing much-loved album covers by the ‘phone ringing; it’s the call that I’d been anticipating – during which the summons (for want of a better word which would, actually, be ‘invitation’) is issued; could I arrive at place Y tomorrow and present myself at the appointed hour to discuss… in much more detail… Project-X.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tears Of Rage

The lane to their house is downhill all the way; rutted and pot-holed – the very essence of an unmade road that, at the top of the incline, bisects a sixth hole – a rather pleasing, fairly straightforward, par four with a very slight dog-leg to the left measuring just three hundred and twenty four yards from tee to pin.

A none-too-challenging hole within which PG Woodhouse’s plus-fours would have felt very much at home; heather and gorse intermingle among the fairway bunkers, ready to snag that wayward mashie-niblick or heartily-hooked and totally miscued drive.

Beware, golf-balls is just one sign among many; private – keep out seems to be the common denominator; no dogs allowed to poo anywhere (well, it doesn’t actually say that) – it just shows a picture of a small dog contentedly crapping with a dirty great red cross across it; golf buggies this way; dogs only on a lead that way etc etc constitute this sign writer’s paradise happily informing everyone everything they cannot do – the saggingly-sorry juncture of leafy suburbia and the countryside.

Other signs obligingly advertise the imaginatively thought-out names of the generously proportioned houses either side of the rutted, bumpy lane – The Firs, Two Pines, The Clock House, The Oaks (though I’ll be bxxxxxd if I’ve ever spotted any), The Red House; Three Pines, Great House Cottage – just a small six bed-roomed place which, presumably means that the Great House itself is… pretty big, Garden Lodge and… you get the picture – this is where size matters and not a lane upon which any house is numerically challenged.

Outside each and every one stand the recently-shampooed and blow-dried obvious; some seriously heavy metal – top of the range 4x4’s with smokestack-blacked-out windows vie with each other as second cars. Just about good enough for Mum (or the Nanny if Mum’s not awake in time) to take the kids on the daily back and forth school-run with their obligatory SatNav as well as television screens built into the back of the front seats switched on for good measure. Mum / Nanny won’t get lost; the kids won’t get bored or miss any of their favourite tv shows or DVDs.

Sunday morning, ten past ten – the thwack of a club hitting the small white ball, propelling it straight down the straight and narrow, echoes in amongst the pine trees as I pause beside a huge Rhododendron bush that provides an evergreen barricade between the course and the gravelly lane – eager to empty myself of the considerable volumes of coffee I’ve partaken of earlier. Time to adopt position Y and… pee like a German.

Moments later and steam has started to rise in a most satisfying manner just as another thwack, accompanied by a vehement curse, rents the morning air; followed hard on its heels by the unmistakable sound of a small white ball cannoning off one pine tree after another.

The ball that evidently didn’t hurtle forward in quite the manner in which it was intended to, lands in the midst of the Rhododendron only to roll forward and halt in the midst of the slowly vapourising puddle I’ve Teutonically created.

There are some friends upon which one can simply ‘drop-in’ and there are others when its far wiser to make what more or less constitutes an appointment.

These two and their two teenage children only really understand category #1 and, while one answers the door, the other will invariably be already switching the kettle on in the background or brandishing a bottle-opener – obviously dependant on the time of one’s arrival.

I’m on the flat part of the lane now, the golfer who’s party got whacked well out of bounds is but a small shape in the rear-view mirror and… oh shit, there are cars parked up and… drat they’ve got visitors. Wait a moment though… that’s… their two cars and… why is that huge removal lorry parked there and… what on earth is my all-round-gastronaut-fine-wine-loving-friend who I forgave many years back for his undying affection for Arsenal FC doing… heaving a bookcase into it?

Wind the window down as I sashay to a scrunching, pot-hole-enhanced bouncy-castle halt and offer a breezy Hello.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh… Neil, my good man comes a familiar voice… what a lovely surprise. How the devil are you?

I’m fine…. I was just passing (which is true since daughter the youngest was out and about – I knew I should have called ahead) and… Ummm… it rather looks like you’re moving … Frankly, I can’t think of anything else to say; its not as if they’re the kind of parents to throw their young out of the nest even though their son has just appeared from the back of the truck. Bit short notice… you didn’t say..?

Ahhhhhhh yes… we’ve been… repossessed.

You’ve been whaaaaaaat? I gasp.

Yes… ‘fraid so. It all happened rather quickly.

I splutter… we spoke what… ten days ago… remember, the day you couldn’t get to the meeting in London and…

I know… remember I’d said something had cropped up?

Something, indeed, had cropped up and over the course of the next twenty minutes, all is revealed. It would be entirely wrong and completely impolitic to reveal certain elements – I’ve always believed that some matters remain entirely private.

Suffice to say, these are two who’ve certainly had their financial ups – days when only the very finest champagne would suffice – have also known the downs.

And yet, for the past four or five years have happily weathered the small financial storm that overtook them about five years ago. Bills have been met, their children privately educated, arrangements with banks properly fulfilled, successful businesses – ie plural – have been and continue to be run from their home, taxes are paid – they are, basically, thoroughly decent, law-abiding citizens.

And yet, over the course of the last however long, their bank has decided to act tougher than tough, not just by calling in at very short notice previously-made arrangements (because they can) but – and I quote here – changed the goalposts every single day without the courtesy of allowing us to talk to the people who were making all these decisions; we’d satisfied their demands and the pressure was off – that all happened on the morning I was meant to be in London with you – and then… forty-eight hours later, it just got worse and worse, they started asking for the impossible and…

He shrugs… his distraught wife – who, in over twenty-five years, I’ve never once seen shed a tear other than of happiness on their wedding day stands weeping and forlorn – looking over the fence at what was their family’s home. Don’t worry… he puts his arm around her… its just bricks and mortar. We’ll be fine.

The Dunkirk spirit.

I drive on – the kettle’s already been packed away in a box, destination their new, rented accommodation on the South Coast.

For some, anonymous bully to take away someone’s home is extreme… and, I can understand how that can occur if (say) one runs up vast bills, can’t (won’t) pay back the overdraft, have credit card debts in the multi-thousands, can’t (won’t) pay the poll tax and other similar charges while living the life of Riley. In other words – if you’re really a bad person., a threat to society and the overall banking system

These two (and their two) aren’t… and, whatever the(ir) crime, the punishment meted out… of losing their home… does NOT apply.

As I drive on toward my appointment with a bacon sandwich chez son and hugely hung-over heir, thoughts turn to something else I’d been told in the last hour… in the queue trying to deal with / cope with the about to be enormity of loss was a lady… just a normal single parent who’d been told she had to come up with a huge (as in many, many thousands of pounds) amount in… three days.

She’d worked her proverbial off and had secured the money.

It was to be a bank transfer and (for whatever reasons) that’d take seven days. She told that to her interrogators – thinking that they’d show some form of clemency – who calmly said no deal. We gave you three and on the fourth, the bailiffs will walk in and change your locks.

To be hung drawn and quartered in this manner is not good.

All around – and its reported everywhere – there are those who sponge off the state… doesn’t matter which state… America… Peru… Britain… France… Germany…. Sardinia… Canada… and everywhere else; it happens and… yet… with the world in economic free-fall… what happens? What really happens?

Seems to this Voltaire on its grassy knoll that those who’re busting their collective arses and trying to be good are the first to be… punished.

While hating every second of it, this living out of a suitcase maybe… just maybe… has a few merits.

My alcohol-drenched, lain on the sofa and nursing his unwisely-imbibed-whisky-sodden-head awaiting-his-bacon-sandwich son recently mailed me from his totally sober, corporate lair… Dad, what’s your address… his forthcoming will occur in California during the eighth month of this year and his about-to-be outlaws wouldn’t mind an address to which they’ll send the… to about-to-be son-in-law’s (dysfunctional) father.

I’ve yet to reply.

Tomorrow, I’m at the House Of Commons. I’ll be talking to a set of seriously gown-up types about Project-X that, itself, is about to undergo a name-change. All the good web-site domain names have gone; but – with a great deal of help I’ve narrowed the selection down to… something that works; tells it like it is without being too wordy and… I’m going to be needing business cards.

Easy enough to design… and they’re designed and printed out – my contact details (such as they are) are there in black and white; the shirt is clean, the suit pressed and the boots… yeah, my sexy boots are ready to rock and fxxxxn’ roll.

But… there’s one thing I can’t wear or type onto a business card: passion.

Its brimming over… it informs everything; it is the central point.

Tonight and while writing this, I watched a truly extraordinary tv documentary; a bloke who set sail in his Kayak – aiming to be the first chap to paddle his way from Australia to New Zealand. He knew he’d face mountainous seas… knew it’d maybe cost him his life… his wife, his child… his everything.

But… he set sail… or rather… he put paddle to water with their absolute blessing and, after one false start… off he went.

Why? It had to be done… and… he had the passion and drive to do it.

That he didn’t survive is a matter of record… though, he did it, driven on by… a beating heart. By his passion to achieve. His upturned and empty Kayak was found within sight of land.

Project-X is driven too… not by an address / a suitcase under the stairs or in a closet… not by a mobile ‘phone number or a web-address… but… by passion.

My dear friends from the bottom of the bumpy, graveled lane will re-build… that bit of adversity – just a minor inconvenience in the wider scheme of things… they have the passion, the will, the want and desire to make good. And… they will. The lady who lost her Kayaking husband; the mother who’s husband drowned will help their son re-build because they both believed in his… passion.


Its more than a business card; opens more doors than a suit; better than a tie and a shed-load sexier than the best boots.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

West End Girls

Where shall we start…? Project-X or… the Brits? Hmmm… why not with the two hours that made-up the UK’s annual made-for-television music-show.

Ultimately, however, it was only the last ten or so minutes that made any sense; one solitary performance that made the preceding seventy-five minutes actually worth sitting through.

The great and the good, the underdressed and the overly-made-up, the truly average and the gong-anticipatory await at their costly corporate tables all around the venue. TV captions roll as fanfares blare; MasterCard get their televised logos across for all to see… and then a shouted Mancunian voice announces the reason why a lot of people are having their dinners on their laps in front of tonight’s television.. it’s the Brits… 2009. Fabulous… really been looking forward to this…

First up… that well-known four-piece from Dublin whose reputation alone should set the bar for tonight.

Doubtless it was great in the hall… but… frankly, Mr. Shankly, the televisual sound left much more than there should have been to the imagination with levels going haywire and, it was only once they’d got to the closing minute or so of their new Sexy Boots single that U2 started to fire on all four cylinders.

Great promo though… the record’s just out – its all part of their John The Baptist for the new album – and, with this performance (exposure) its an obvious leg-up the lets-see-if-we-can-chart-it-at-Number-One ladder.

The Brits (a tv show) gets a great opening act / U2 get great exposure (promo). Almost as good as Springsteen strutting his gruff-stuff just a few weeks ago while the players sucked on their half-time lemons at the SuperBowl – he had a new album out, the half-time sing-along-slot is monumental exposure for that and the game’s television audience get a lot of musical satisfaction while the capacity crowd get to see a spot on the horizon unless… they’re watching on the tv screens around the stadium – there’s only ever one way to see anything like this nowadays – and that’s on a tv screen. Same as Earl’s Court, the Brits venue – up in the Gods and Bono’d have been but a speck (of eye shadow) in the far distance.

So far, so… OK… just.

Enter stage right, Kylie Minogue – Queen Mother elect of Pop in shimmering gossamer white alongside four dancers clad, improbably, in improbable-shaped red dresses, black thigh-high patent leather boots and… baby, you really should leave your hat on. Their routine is set to (the obvious) Can’t Get You Out Of… and Kylie obligingly bumps, grinds and shows a very fair degree of beautiful bottom – she has about as perfect an arse as it gets. Equals, all the Dads watching are edging close to Heaven while Mums are squirming… does mine look that big in this?

Wait… hey, look… its… Gavin and Smithy in black and red too alongside her… that’s pretty cool… only… within moments of their grinding bump and thump ending, they get kyboshed by totally absurd scripting and lousy cue-card reading. Oh dear.

Maybe they’d have been better, if they’d have been allowed to write it for… themselves… and be the Essex equivalent to Little and Large we all love… Sadly, that wasn’t to be as someone, somewhere (in tv-production land probably) had decided they needed to be… their real selves. Not a wise decision. Dressed ‘em up poorly too – one could almost hear Tracy’s nasal Barry-backstreet whine crying, Gav… what have you done to your hair? Tidy..? – no, it wasn’t.

Still on with the show, as MacPhisto would’ve said – yet, with this being written a few days later, I can’t for the life of me remember what came next – yep, it was that memorable. God, Neil – you’re a cynical bxxxxr. Not really – been privileged to attend enough Brit Awards in my time – some good, some truly memorable, some absolutely awful.

The madness of the Jarvis Cocker stage invasion, Pulp’s high-priest of lankiness displaying his hirsute buttocks to the cameras as Michael Jackson, assuming the crucifix-position, got it on with hundreds of children on a snow-bound night at Alexandra Palace in North London – live tv, oh what joy.

Then there was the truly legendary one hosted by page-three-stunna, Sam Fox and the hugely-high Mick Fleetwood at the Albert Hall when the auto-cue failed miserably – a night prior to which the brother’s Moss had only delivered the top half of my dinner jacket (that’s what we had to wear in those days) to St Peter’s Square upfront of the evening’s shenanigans and the ensuing mad-dash to my brother’s flat to borrow his trousers for the night; not quite what the prospective buyers of my brother’s flat were expecting when I ran, breathlessly, into his kitchen demanding trouser-ware in stentorian, older brother tones.

Another classic at The Grosvenor Hotel when Kid Creole won the Best International Act award; did they truly deserve it… well, lets just say they were in town and none of the other nominees were – the Brits were a bit like that back then. The same night when Jacko – accompanied by a Giant Haystacks minder made his way to the stage and squeaked out an acceptance speech… in fact, the very same night when nature took its course on both Whacko and self a bit later and we stood, side by side in the Grosvenor urinals looking straight ahead – as one does on such occasions.

Others when Eurythmics and Van Morrison won lifetime achievement awards, when Sting lifted the same and, during his closing set, ripped his shirt off and the band played on – all of the ladies on our table that night swooning in admiration. Nights when the after-show parties started at the out-of-control level; nights when it wasn’t a made for tv show (a pre-record in another language) and the actual ceremony took four and more hours to complete because it took so long for bands to change-over sets, drum-kits, amplifiers and so forth. And, occasionally, mornings after when the opening of blurred eyes accompanied the embarrassment of being asked… sorry, what did you say your name was?

But always one constant – when the organizers drag out a list of (generally) inappropriate – we’re in town and have something (of worth) to promote – ‘celebrity’ presenters. Nothing much changed for the 2009 edition then… we were treated to an outstanding Z-list that contained a boxer, a bloke from – so I’m reliably informed – something called Baywatch and Lionel Ritchie among others... including…

The no longer lithe lothario of the Valleys himself… Tom Jones… who, tragically, had got his sun-bed timings horribly wrong…. His face was… a rich shade of… orange.

Duffy (as we all know by now) nabbed three and changed her dress as many times; Kylie took the prize for that, though, appearing in five different costumes – popping up to read her cue-cards like a Pantomime Dame; Paul Weller couldn’t be bothered to show-up and collected his over a cappuccino in a London bar as a pre-record; the booted and suited Kings of Leon got two and played their (hit?) song rather poorly; Iron Maiden were named best live act (?) amongst a stellar list of nominees which, with that being a public vote, just goes to show how a band can mobilise its fan-base – ahh, the Internet’s a great thing isn’t it; Guy Garvey from Elbow – a man of as many pints as talents picked up a well-deserved gong to take back to Manchester… the already liquored-up-look on his face said it was highly possible the band’s award might well be left on the north-bound train the next again day; and Girls Aloud – with the red-head in the middle looking suspiciously like she’d recently been injected with embalming fluid – finally nabbed a gong after seven years of being nominated. In all seriousness, was theirs really the single of the year – being better than Coldplay’s Viva La Vida..? This particular Voltaire on its grassy knoll in the prairie has asked the jury to deliberate a bit further on that count.

Take That entered stage above as space invaders sans Robbie; the Ting Tings were joined on stage by a second girl singer who… sung (shouted) as flat as a pancake; throughout we were treated to the irritating delights of an (I assume) radio presenter (?) doing her back-stage stuff in front of a poor prop – an annoying caravan – who’s interviewing technique (that’s her not the caravan) was more Jackie Magazine than Newsnight; someone called Florence And The Machine (the machine being absent) won something else and… then… finally… and not before time… it kicked in; kicked off and… flew.

The Pet Shop Boys ten minutes or so when they played out the show was truly sublime; art met rock, dance met theatre, songs made sense – theirs was a performance to treasure; so much so that I’ve watched it again and again on You Tube.

The last time I saw them was at another Brit Awards… as the plastic-boiler-suited former Smash Hits writer Neil Tennant entered from on high in a large bucket, the wrap-around shades that are Chris Lowe gazed up in wonderment from his solitary keyboard as he pumped out the opening chords to Go West… then an entire choir of Welsh Miners – clad in regulation helmets with lights on, appeared – and that unlikely combination camped it up to such an extent that even Larry Grayson’s buttocks would have clenched and twitched in excitement. That too, is out there, awaiting re-discovery on You Tube.

However, quite extraordinarily, Robert Plant didn’t get a look in at these Brits for his awe-inspiring album collaboration with Nashville songstress Alison Krauss that swept the Grammy Awards so recently… I admit I’m a bit of a late-comer to her particular other-worldly vocal talents and, while on this-here You Tube train, would highly recommend a quick squint… amongst many gems, there’s a duet with James Taylor to be savoured on a song that puts ethereal ache into sheer, unadulterated, heartbreak.

What a week its been… Project-X is assuming a real presence now and… the dear old Internet is still proving that it really is good value for money – I trotted off down to collect all of the Sunday papers and, while in the newspaper-emporium thought… why am I doing this? I can read all I want to online.

For free – since all of the newspapers are hell-bent on giving me what I want to read… for nothing.

Hey Neil… why not take advantage of that while the game remains the same; I’ll play my conservationist part in the madness of deforestation and besides, no newspaper outlay means I can have a nicer bottle of wine with my dinner.

Equals, I didn’t bother collecting swathes of saplings masquerading as The Sunday Times, Observer, (Stale) Mail on Sunday, Torygraph or Independent – the only worthwhile since they were the only ones that didn’t carry huge stories about the(is) nation’s current obsession – the very public dying-by-degrees of a former Big Brother contestant.

Part of me understands that this woman wants to ensure that her children have the wherewithal for a decent upbringing and is using her so-called celebrity status to make as many bucks as she can, while she can; the other part of me says that this is about as undignified as it gets. The media feeding frenzy over her terminal cervical cancer is… pitiable to put it mildly… and, besides, its hardly as if she’s the only lady who’s in that same – truly terrible – position… so, to use one’s unenviable ‘condition’ just doesn’t stack up – to me.

The news and comment is what it is but, late-night (after consumption of that rather nice bottle of wine), I’m taken by two particular album reviews – both based around the same record; the long-awaited No Line On The Horizon by the Brit Awards’ opening act… yes, Dublin’s finest. Both articles are a-glow in their praise for what (I’d imagine) is a truly great record. But… what I can’t get my head around is both writer’s – almost but not quite – subliminal need (requirement) with the (their) desire to swing from the coat-tails of success. Isn’t that almost as masturbatory as it gets?

Why, for example, the need for Neil McCormick in his Telegraph review (written as a blog) to end his well-argued and informative piece with a lengthy paragraph detailing that band’s singer’s texts to him – apparently telling him (the writer) what he (the singer) thinks of their new record. Tacky? This Voltaire thinks so – in that ‘why does a journalist need to tell his / her public just how well they (claim) to know a superstar’ vein?

Don’t friendships have any privacy any more? Yes, that singer and his balding guitarist have appeared within this little Voltaire before; we all go back a very, very long way and thus any descriptive narrative to do with Rob’s funeral couldn’t leave them or Tom Waits or any of the others who bowled up… out. But – within that… was everything laid bare? Hell no.

From his days with The Hot Press – Ireland’s most fortnightly music magazine – McCormick and the band have had a long history; he also co-authored (if that’s the right wording) the book U2 by U2 – their history in their and McGuinness’ own words. He knows them well – so what? The same could be said for Sean O’ Hagan – though his own relationship with them post-dates McCormick’s… certainly, he wasn’t one of the earliest supporters by a long chalk. Yet his piece – my eighteen months inside the mutha-ship while they make a new record – has that same, self-congratulatory tone. Its well written – no debate there – but, its that whole ‘I know people that you don’t / the journalist is just as important as his subject’ take that grates.

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned… but, I find that I’m rhetorically asking myself this question – would the late-great writer Bill Graham have approached it this way? I believe I can categorically say no to that…

And Bill, after all, was the single-journalist who knew them (that band) better than anyone; their absolute earliest and foremost champion, the man who played a hugely significant part in them and McGuinness joining forces as well as endlessly banging on and on to Rob and I in the Island Press Office on his many forays from Dublin to London about how this little band he’d come across should be an Island act.

Bill’s role in the whole – especially those crucial early days – has never properly been recognised. True, its never been glossed over but, at the same point – its is absolutely true to say that he was pivotal within their early development and remained so until the day he sadly passed away. And, the great thing about Bill’s writing was this: he never came at it – at any piece he wrote – from the standpoint of the journalist being as important within the article as whatever the subject matter was.

And now, I’m journeying in to London town all over again – this time with a remarkable Project-X endorsement under my belt – for further meetings that may just underline my own line on the horizon.

Maybe that’s helped me to become less grumpy than normal – in that the pair of gelled-up twenty-something Indian lads (am I allowed to describe people from the sub-continent as that in these politically correct days?) who are yelling at each other on the Tube because they can’t be arsed to take out their bhangra-blaring i-Pod ear-plugs aren’t annoying me… that much. Am I allowed to term them so? I dunno and couldn’t care less.

Mind you, that whole politically-correct speech rubbish has got to me of late – recently there was the madness of the Golliwog incident and then I found out that one cannot ask for someone’s Christian name any longer. Why? Ahh… that’d be considered offensive. Bonkers I know but, apparently true – so, nowadays, one has to ask for someone’s first name so as not to cause (possible) offence… Great isn’t it..? Gypsies are no longer… errrm, Gypsies either. Oh no – they’re the ‘travelling fraternity’. All the Gypsies I ever met were rather proud of their heritage but it seems that matters not. Travelling fraternity doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it.

Bit bizarre though, don’t you think? For example, if one travels to a Muslim country (which means one can’t fxxk in public or drink alcohol) then… one obeys that country’s rules; fair enough. If you don’t – as a visitor – you’re deported with few questions asked. However… in the UK it doesn’t work like that – the minority rules the majority; upset a visitor or an immigrant and you’re banged up.

Oh… and one isn’t allowed to call a Frenchman a… ‘cheese eating surrender monkey’ either. That I can grasp as being rather derogatory and I’d never have described my close-by Merle HQ former near-neighbour, Dodgy Dede as that… no matter that he served in Algeria and always had slabs of the finest fromage on his table whenever I got invited round to dine chez Dede and Claudette. I found that wonderful snippet (not Dede) on the Internet – for nothing – too… great isn’t it; I’m making hay while the sun shines.

That phrase though has prompted another reminiscent thought – of one of Rob’s alarmingly dry-humoured emails to me discussing his own cancerous treatments when I lived in France; it ended with the words… don’t let the attack-monkeys get to you. I never figured that bit out… maybe, just maybe, he’d been trawling the world wide wait and found…?

Anyway… Project-X… and that ringing endorsement. This is what popped up the other day, and signed off by none other than the Chairman / CEO of the IFPI:

“This project will make available a wealth of archive material for educators and students. As the pioneers of the popular music revolution grow older it is important to capture their experiences in a way that others can study, so the real history of rock n’ roll never fades away. The information captured will be priceless to those who want to shape the next generation of the music industry.”

Its not just as good a calling card as it gets, but highly significant in that a global organisation of the calibre of the IFPI has seen fit to approve of Project-X in this manner.

And, its leading to (or helping in) the real opening of doors now – while the lady with whom I’m meeting in Wrights Lane was already a supporter, this endorsement adds considerable weight since she, herself, has offered to further the whole via her own set of contacts.

Sometimes it really isn’t what you know… but who you know… or have done for many years.

Its also made a nowadays incumbent of St Peters Square sit up, ramrod straight, and take proper notice; we’d spoken a day or so before and yes, he’s just received my email. Perhaps I’d like to swing by for tea, biscuits and a bit of a chat in leafless Hammersmith for later in the afternoon that I’m in London?

He swishes in, long brown mackintosh buttoned up tight against the cold, apologising loquaciously for being a few moments late. We stride into his office that overlooks where Rob and I used to man the old Island Press Office – the building’s changed a great deal in the intervening years… nowadays, its wide open spaces and deeply carpeted; a far cry from the early days of coir matting and muted colours on the walls with posters and other promotional paraphernalia scattered about.

I like this, dear boy… I like this a lot. You’re really on to something here. You have a budget?

I nod in the affirmative. Good – mail it over will you; there are some people I know (and he lists of a number of names – most of whom he knows better than I do) who’d be very interested in this. He then asks a lot of quick-fire questions, clarifying a few points he’s thought of and gets as many rapid responses. And, you’re off to the House of Commons next Tuesday?

Again I nod in the affirmative.

Splendid. You have a suit? Of course you do – can’t imagine you possess a tie though. Right… keep in touch, we should speak again – let me know how you get on won’t you?

I walk away up the left side of the Regency Square that was working-home for so many years. I’m wanting to make a call but, with only minimal credit left on my ‘phone that’s not an option. Instead, I look to the setting sun and see the stars.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

White Riot

The train is jam-packed. The sickly-sweet stench of discounted aftershave mingles with cheaper-still perfume worn by fade-to-grey bottle-brunettes.

Dreary anonymity surrounds me; I’m awash in a gently-swaying, antiseptic sea of drab.

All around, people are hiding behind their modern day equivalents of sofas and cushions – lap-tops and BlackBerrys – when once they’d have read news in newspapers or quietly relaxed into their books.

But… my anonymous travelling companions have now all assumed the haunted look of those who feel the fashionable need to be in touch… twenty-four-seven.

The young blonde opposite whispers yes every few seconds into her elderly Nokia hand-set, so long past its sell-by-date that its (probably) become retro-fashionable; beside me, the paunchy-man who’s nicked his chin while shaving is having trouble with his Vodaphone empowered wireless lap-top – each time he checks an e-mail, he’s prompted to enter a new password.

Right in front of me, the older man’s well-designed hair resembles nothing more than a sticky mass of Brylcreem – he’s siphoning through one spread-sheet and pie chart after another while the loud Estuary voice nearby is barking frustrated instructions into his ‘phone (seemingly) oblivious to the fact that the entire carriage can hear his self-important irritation.

At eleven o’clock of me, an almost-shaven-headed-bloke is bent forward, filling in a crossword on a gleaming silver i-Pod Touch that he’s dangling between his legs; behind me, two middle-aged ladies who are, I presume, co-workers discuss the questionable sexual attributes of their younger female boss.

The randomly picked-up newspaper I found on the platform – seconds after missing the train I had wanted to catch – is telling me pretty much all I know anyway; we’re facing this calamity, that catastrophe, another disaster, one more crisis or… yet another fxxk up – global, national or local, you take your pick.

Hey Neil – missed your train on such an important day? Sorry to say, but yes I did – as two, terribly nice-wee elderly biddies in front of me decided that a nice-wee chat with the nice-wee ticket-lady before their nice-wee day-trip-to-London was the order of the(ir) day… despite the fact that a queue of twenty-plus people were standing behind them, patiently awaiting their own turns at the nice-wee kiosk.

Ah well, I’m finally on my way and… so long as tube-connections work for me, I should make it with about five minutes to spare. Not ideal as it’ll negate the pre-meeting conflab with the bearded wonder over a cappuccino; hence the over-filled and piping-hot, British Rail variant on the theme that, if I’m not careful, is going to scald my hand.

Idly glancing down at the pages, I see that the banks’ continual meltdown is being well documented as is the Government’s equally predictable failure to deal with that or pretty much anything else; the Arctic and Antarctic Ice-caps are melting faster than indigenous animals can keep up with – Brown Bears heading one way, Polar Bears off hunting Seals another; job-less figures all over the globe are rising like the tides of East Anglian floodwater; Scottish road-gritting is nearly at a standstill because there’s virtually no grit north of the border; there’s a mass out-cry over whether a (totally bonkers by all accounts) Dutch MP should be allowed into the country; a pizza delivery company are annoying non-Muslim locals in Birmingham for introducing halal chicken and pepperoni; a Bishop has been arrested for allowing his children to read a book for ten minutes perched on his chimney-pot; a recent winner of the Turner Prize wants to construct a thirty-three times life-size White Horse that’ll be cunningly positioned beside a Kent motorway to welcome visitors by road to Britain’s green and pleasant… England’s cricketing and football teams are being lambasted for performing in as shambolic a manner as ever and, while I simply can’t be bothered to look, I’d imagine – for those hoodwinked by such blinkered gibberish – that there are probably calamitous soap-debacles being reported upon within these pages too.

Regulatory culpability and counter-blame appear as (regulated) watchwords for the start of this annum that’s (already) about as miserabilis as it can get.

But… hang on a sec… why do I know most… if not all… of this… stuff… already?

Easy – ‘cos I can get pretty much any shred of information or news that I need or (may not) require from… the Internet…

Pretty darned good, this Internet thing, isn’t it?

You see, no one – physically – needs to buy a newspaper any more.

Because, with the rise and rise of new ‘delivery platforms’ one can get all the information that one used to rely upon a newspaper providing via the Internet that, in turn, arrives via one’s phone or lap-top or other ‘mobile device’ of one’s choosing.

All very 21st Century.

And – according to Time Magazine (and I’m not about to argue with their research) – it appears that there are more readers of ‘news’ than ever before; the content which ‘newspapers’ are producing (ie proper / traditional reporting) is more popular than ever to the extent that there are more younger people than ever before are devouring this in-depth journalism.

More readers equals more sales… doesn’t it? Not exactly…because…

The problem is… all this insightful reporting, bitingly-brilliant picture research, superlative imagery and breathtaking design-work is being accessed and read for… FREE.

Don’t believe me..? According to a Pew Research study, last year more people in the US got their news online than paid for it. Even though I can’t find a similar study for either Europe or Australasia, I’d imagine that it’d be about the same.

And, in the midst of the economically shrink-wrapped crunchy-bar, who the hell can blame them?

News organisations around the globe must be haemorrhaging money right now because they are… quite literally (and seemingly quite happily)… giving EVERYTHING they produce away for… nothing… nada… zip… nichts… zero… niente… nil… ingen ting… nowt… nic… zilch… rien… nought…. niets…… NO INCOME.

Hmmm… bit of a good business model wouldn’t you say?

This windswept Voltaire on its grassy-knoll in the prairie reckons (and has for some time) that IF the Internet carries on as it is, IF the society it has spawned is allowed to carry on – the everything for FREE culture – then we’re looking at collapse about as eagerly as Lemmings eye-up a cliff.

Don’t agree..? Lets have a bit of a squint at it this way, then.

Pretty much every morning over the past seven to ten years, I’ll trawl around certain web-sites, soaking up the news or reporting which they each offer.

As just one example, such is my addiction for bike racing, is generally the first link I click on. The browser launches quickly enough and I can access all the in-depth race reports my mind can cope with; view pictures of riders winning stages of races all over the world within minutes of them crossing the finishing line; I can read reports on press conferences; access in-depth rider interviews along with all the other train-spotting stuff I love to do with (proper, legs-shaved) bike racing.

Not for everyone, I’ll admit – but, it floats my particular narrow-boat.

This web-site, which is run out of Australia yet has reporters and photographers all over the world, has substantial traffic – in other words, its not just me viewing.

On every web-page there are adverts for bikes, clothing, equipment and the rest. Companies pay (I’d imagine) many Euros / Dollars / Pounds to put those adverts on-line. This is how Bill (who founded this fabulous resource) funds what is by a long way, the most comprehensive cycling web site on the planet.

However… I’ve never once clicked on any of those advertisements to see what lies behind the glossy exterior. And, I’d doubt that I’m the only one such.

Added to which, accessing as often as I do means that I nowadays don’t bother with buying any of the ‘conventional’ cycling magazines that are produced monthly or weekly.

Because I can access everything I need on a daily basis, their news and reporting is out of date and secondly, I’m getting everything I want… for FREE.

The sum total of this is – all of those magazines have lost my custom yet, at the same time, is gifting me the cashmere sweater equivalent every single day.

They produce their ‘resource’ with love, care and attention to detail (to satisfy the likes of myself and many, many others) yet… they give it away for nothing and, the anticipated revenue streams their advertisers have been expecting just isn’t there equals… before too long there won’t be any more on-line advertisements which further equals… sooner or later, this fantastic ‘resource’ will go under – it simply cannot and absolutely will not survive… leaving people like me stranded and unable to get our daily fix.


They (and many thousands of others similarly placed) adopt a new business model.

You don’t expect to go into a department store and walk out with that cashmere sweater you like so much for nothing… do you?

The principle with the Internet is exactly the same.

Meaning – if you (me) – the end user – wants to access ‘content’, then we’ll have to PAY for it.

Would I subscribe to Hell yes. Especially if that was the only way I could get a hold of the information I wanted. The same would go for all of the web-based ‘services’ I wanted.

Because… this, ultimately, is how the web will have to go.

Newspapers will probably be the first as a genre – the graph is changing (as noted in the Pew Report) whereby the hairlines have now crossed and the distance will increase as ‘mobile devices’ become even more sophisticated.

Moreover, the financial economic equation will continue to show disastrous losses – all that ‘content’ costs the newspapers and… sooner or later, they’ll realise that web-based advertising isn’t working nor is it the previously much-trumpeted way forward and… before too long, they’ll figure out that – while its imperative to have a www presence – they can’t offer it for nothing.

Yet… from other reports that I’ve seen, it appears that there is resistance – Luddite commentators saying that people will not purchase, will not subscribe.

To be brutal, they (consumers as well as content providers) won’t have any choice.

Because… content providers will NOT be able to provide content that doesn’t pay (at the very least) for itself.

And that’s purely a very simple matter of… basic economics.

The train arrives in decent time, the tube connections run perfectly and I walk along Piccadilly in confident frame-of-mind; I’m clad in my very own cashmere sweater, have my feel-good-feel-tall sexy-boots on while my scarf and coat-tails flap, bat-like, in the breeze.

The bearded wonder and I meet opposite our destination and… determinedly, we walk through the IFPI’s portals precisely on time.

Ninety minutes later this – amongst many other aspects of Project-X – has been discussed with the serious grown-ups who’ve been gathered around their formal boardroom table; the cashmere sweater analogy, with regard to our own burgeoning content base, has been utilised and… has fallen upon… very attentive ears…

We leave with Project-X having gained other, hugely important, industry-endorsees and my next twenty-four hours are spent revising and revitalising budgets that I’d begun work on during my sojourn in New York since they’ve now been formally requested by parties who’d best be described as…very interested.

The next two meetings have already been set.

On Tuesday morning I’ll be back amongst the stale aftershave and cheaply-perfumed brigade, heading to the metropolis along the chemin de fer, Kensington bound.

A week further down the line and I’ve an evening meeting diarised that’ll see the bearded wonder and I formally presenting Project-X at a venue in Westminster… to people who really do have the power.

To an outsider, it must look like Project-X is progressing by inches….but, and especially in the midst of these cash-strapped times, I know that I’m now inching my way to the realisation of an oft-criticised vision.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Out Demons… Out

It appears – ok, science informs us – that we all dream.

While one lays snoring (gently or otherwise and generally dependant on the opposition’s point of view) the oft-derided other is their own respective land of nod, curled up foetal-like under the finest lightweight Egyptian cotton – their addled and over-active mind beset by demented demons and flesh-eating dragons; flatulent bank-managers wobbling over the highest-heights while staring down into bottomless credit-card-pitfalls; standing in front of towers made of cannons firing blanks yet turning the pages of children’s picture-books; walking though acres of bluebells in foreign fields ringed by hissing snakes all of whom look and sound like Gilbert O’Sullivan… asking why, why, WHY?

Is sleep a time (of day / night) when our inner meanderings come out to play; our self-tortured imaginations running roughshod and rampant; churning through the fertile valleys of our minds – like so many Don Quixote’s floundering aimlessly at that many windmills?

Wouldn’t life be better without dreamscapes; without nightmares?

Or… do they tell us… something?

Like… our innermost worries; the stuff that only comes out as deep darkness falls and we become enveloped in bible-back? And, so… if that’s the case (and I’m just surmising here) how, I wonder, do our favourite soap-star characters sleep at present?

No, I don’t mean Ena Sharples and her hairnet, Elsie Tanner or Vera Duckworth from Coronation Street – they’re all dead anyway (so I’m reliably informed). In fact, from a cursory glance at the programme the other night, most of the current-cardboard-cut-out-cast of ‘one-dimensional-characters’ look like they’ve been only semi-revived from a collective mortuary-slab, so deceased is their shared ability at ‘acting’.

No, the cast I was referring to was… the bankers – the soiled suits with matching ties and creased handkerchiefs who are playing the leading roles in the soap of the moment.

Our dearly un-loved one-eyed Prime Minister of parts of Northern Ireland, some of Wales, not much of Scotland and a few bits of urban-England has suddenly got all feisty about these hand-shandiers. He’s looked at the newspapers, seen that his Smithy-like pal Tony Blur has stolen a march on not just him but all of Europe’s leaders by being invited to an early-doors Obama led prayer meeting and thought, oh shit… this bloke is being listened to; I’d better copy and paste a few bits from one of Barrack’s recent speeches and tow the transatlantic line.

Equals… Brigadier Underpant, the single-sighted brown-dirt cowboy, has got his voluminous under-garments in a bit of a pickle; found that his political testicles have been twisted ever so slightly (ouch) and therefore has, of late, started to sound-off about the off-the-wrist-merchants who are not only saying – we’re terribly terribly sorry but, hey look, its not really our fault… They're, compounding their own crocodile-tears, by self-justifying paying themselves… colossal bonuses over and above gigantic salaries.

Good boy… Rover – you’re only three, maybe four months late.

Why something like this wasn’t addressed as the leaves on the trees began turning yellow / orange / ochre / russet and brown (sic) is, quite frankly, way beyond me – the situation was there for all to see; anyone with half an ounce of common sense could work out how bad it was going to get but… as per bloody usual, everything is left to the last minute before political righteous indignation is spouted forth on the back of an absolute public outcry.

Who knows if Obama is going to be good for his own country, good for the world..? Only time will tell.

But… as a bare minimum, he’s come straight out of the White House traps with his trainers laced up tight… and has led the charge in terms of the absurdities of the fat-cats paying themselves outrageously. He, at the very least, has had the courage of his convictions to say… enough is enough.

Yet, the Brown-dirt-cowpoke and dear, dear Captain Darling – who have held the reins in the UK for more months than its been days since Obama fluffed his inauguration acceptance – have just pissed into the gale of change and, only of late, have realized that downwind would’ve been the better option.

Proof positive, if any further was needed, that Britain needs… no, really requires… someone strong… someone who tells it like it bloody well is… at the front end of the firing line.

Maybe the bloke who’s about to start a cull of grey-Squirrels is the chap to lead the charge of this particular Light Brigade?

Caught an earful of this character yesterday afternoon on the radio and it seems that there are now too many grey Squirrels in Scotland and they need to be kept in check otherwise the red Squirrel population will fall even further. According to him, Squirrel contraception (I kid you not) isn’t the answer so, a three-year, selective, cull is now underway from Tayside northwards.

Hey little grey Squirrel, come to Daddy… I promise you this won’t hurt (much).

Listening to Squirrel-extermination-bloke was almost as good as not just the re-run of series the second of Gavin and Stacey (genius, isn’t it?) but… coming across a truly bizarre new BBC series – the Naked programmes… So far, we’ve been treated to unclothed Office Workers / Beauticians / Estate Agents. Naked Nurses, so we are promised, are next up. However, before anyone accuses me of being of long-mackintosh persuasion and simply sat in front of the BBC I-Player, eager to see bare as a badger flesh… think again.

For sure its formatted in that each episode runs along more or less parallel lines and, I suppose, it’s a form of reality-tv… but…it’s a million miles away from the pitiable attention-seekers of spoilt-older-sister or the wretched un-reality of east-dale-ward 9-blues-next-door-neighbour-oaks…. And the psychology within is… fascinating.

Essentially, its about a set of four or five disparate people who’re brought together under one roof for four days, confronting their own fears that are, in the main, (lack of) confidence based. Ordinary people who doubtless dream horrid dreams at night about (what they consider to be) their own inadequacies… or failings.

Fear – for want of a better word – of (say) public speaking; fear brought about through something that’s happened in their past such as partner-rejection or similar; fear of heights (yes, can concur with that one); fear of perceived failure; fear of being overweight and / or considered unattractive / body image; a fear of being pushed to one side or hard-work overlooked; fear of microwaves (possibly I’m in a minority of one here); fear of the dark; fear of dentists – you get the drift.

Anyway… the contestants – if that’s the right word – undergo a series of challenges that end with them all (and yes, they’re given the choice) of doing this or that final dare stark-bollock-naked… but, the starting point is always… the writing down and listing out those self-thought-of inadequacies.

That’s probably a well-worn, tried and tested form of psychology (I know not) but… that owning up to oneself of those kind of things… a sort of self-confrontation if you like… is (or appears to be) a real wake-up call.

Therefore… I reckon the makers need to commission three new programmes – Naked Politicians, Naked Bankers and Naked Any-List Celebrities.

Wouldn’t it be great to see people of that ilk confront themselves. The first two categories in light of the recent economic down-turns / credit-crunchy-bars and all the other adjectives the media are so fond of calling this D E P R E S S I O N that we’re globally entering.

The latter category in order that an entire television generation might just realize that this absurd celebrity / five-whole-minutes-of-fame stupidity they aspire to is something not to aspire to.

Besides, they’d be mentored by… wait for it… a Mr. Phang – tho’ curiously, he pronounces his name Pang – the h remaining silent.

I wonder why?

Perhaps he’s not wanting to actually admit that he’s a relative of a dentist who, at one time, had a practice on the Chiswick High Road… True or false…? The former – unlikely as it may be.

Mr Phang’s emporium was one that I was once taken into, kicking and screaming, by a well-meaning companion only to be told (that’s me, not my companion) that I was – by far – the worst behaved customer he’d ever attempted to practice dentistry on. Personally, I was ever-so-slightly put off by being frog-marched into a dentist called… before I even got to lay down in his fake-leather white-plastic reclining chair.

Anyhow, said surgery was also pictured on the original sleeve for Pink Floyd’s 1973’s A Nice Pair album cover… although, for reasons I know not of, that image has been long-since replaced (see, this Voltaire does have some relevance toward music).

In any event… this Phang (Pang-pronounced) mentor-bloke is a believer in The Lady Thatcher… nope, not the late Dennis’ keeper of the keys to the gin-cupboard wife nor, lest it be thought, a reference to the Bobby Charlton school of comb-overs as worn by Arthur, Prince of the Satanic Mills, Mrs T’s long-time bette-noir… oh no… but… a sideways glance at Phang’s belief that the more hirsute contenders would look better for the cameras when, shall we say, tidied up somewhat prior to indulging in their final task.

Ahhhh… joy. Big Muff - clearly not.

Meantime, the rain keeps pouring down with floods adding to the snow and grit-free road’s chaos of travel.

This week’s earlier Project-X meeting was shelved at the last minute due to the fact that none of us travelling into Central Londinium could actually guarantee making it to Piccadilly on time… train schedules looked like they were going to be haphazard to say the least; leaves on the line were expected; snow-ploughs were needed; overhead cables were fusing.

So, after much e-mailing and telephoning back and forth, we’re scheduled to sit around the corporate table mid-morning tomorrow instead.

And – while waiting for the appointed hour… I’ve been busy.

And, be this a good thing or not, I’ve branch-lined out somewhat. Not content with my thin-controller furtherance of Project-X, I’ve come up with another – this being called Project-I. And this (already registered www site / tho’ under construction) scheme has spawned a couple of cousins of its own… called A and C… both, admittedly, are in nappies but… each has musical parents.

However, place them all in no particular order and I’ve realized that I’ve now got Project C.I.A on the go.

Where the hell is Russell Crowe when you really need him?

My name… is… Gladiator.

Monday, February 2, 2009

It Started With A Kiss

And, it did…

Today, the worst snow-falls during the last eighteen years in the South of England and, almost needless to say, that very same Southern part of the country comes to an abrupt, grinding halt.

Now, its not as if the snow arrived unexpectedly… in fact, far from it… its been forecast for a few days now; Britons have been urged to get ready to brave and combat this Siberian-borne cold snap… and, yet… what really happens? Everything stops.

Everyone knew it was coming and still… everything comes to a grinding halt.

It stopped to the extent that buses did not run in London today at all – yet, in the Blitz during war-torn years, they continued working. Does that say something or… is it just me? Trains were suspended; tubes likewise and the roads were awash with lorries in ditches, up embankments and across central-reservations. Travel chaos ruled and news reports suggested six million never made it to work.

Hardly a surprise then that the latest IFPI meeting called for late morning was a bit of a non-starter; five of the six who were to be round their corporate table either got stuck in the process of doing their own Captain Oates thing or simply looked out the window and said, bollocks to all of that. Three hours pointless extremely early morning travel trying to get from A to P and not progressing that much farther than C, I gave in to the inevitable. A flurry of ‘phone calls and e-mails – lets re-schedule for later in the week…

And, the last few days..? They’ve been mixed ones… There was the truly sad and totally unexpected discovery that the unique talent of John Martyn is no more – realising that’s all that’s left is his wonderful body of timeless music… and that, equally sadly, concluding that he’ll most probably become more famous in death than in his own lifetime.

And, of random discovery too – Voltaire, it seems was a frequent visitor to an exceedingly favourite place of mine, the Chateau of Chenonceau in the Loire Valley; arguably (I’d say) one of the most beautiful buildings anywhere on our climatically-challenged planet, let alone France.

Nowadays, walk up the long straight avenue and then, just after you step away from the shelter of the Plane trees, there is a choice of… either straight on or…

My recommendation isn’t to follow the hoards – instead, its to hang a left at about 11 o’clock; traverse the formal gardens originally laid out by Diane de Poitiers and head for the far corner. Once there, turn round about 45 degrees – and this remarkable piece of architecture, a jewel-like Chateau and its 60+ metre Renaissance Galleried bridge of six spans across the River Cher, comes into sharp relief. Quite breath-taking and absolutely, jaw-on-the-ground, staggeringly beautiful.

Previously a fortified mill, the Chateau of Chenonceau was built in the 16th century by Thomas Rohier but its fame (and notoriety) really came home to roost when occupied by the mistress of Henri 2nd, Diane de Poitiers, she of aforementioned green fingered bent.

However... Diane, somewhat unceremoniously, got chucked out of this really rather lovely estate on the former’s death: a tournament (why not); single combat (like you do); wrong end of a whacking great blow to the head (like you shouldn’t really) – as King, shouldn’t he have known better? You’d have thought so, eh? And who nabbed Chenonceau after the funeral? The second Henri’s widow, the formidable Catherine de Medici who, curiously enough, was a bit of a dirt under the fingernails-style gardener too – her box-hedged formal lay-out is the other side of the top end of the avenue.

Anyhow, that was all long before Voltaire’s time of course – he would have (been) driven in his carriage and four through the massive wrought iron gates that separate the village from the Chateau and down that same long avenue of Plane trees a couple of centuries later.

There, he’d have been welcomed by Madame Dupin who was the incumbent of the time; she’s credited as saving the Chateau from destruction during the Revolution as well as playing host to a veritable bevy of writers and free-thinkers alongside Monsieur V – Rousseau, Fontenelle, d’Alembert and many others.

So… I wonder – just as a random example – what they’d have made of climate change; I wonder how their liberally-contemplative minds would have reflected; on the basis that the globe was facing a monumental crisis and thus, out of necessity, would have to find ways to change its ways.

Two more centuries down the line and our, brave and new, world has – as an all encompassing generality –harnessed (much of) the technology to renew its own energy resources and yet, from this grassy knoll, seems somewhat unwilling to implement – on a wide-scale – such resources and technologies… And, therefore, this Voltaire sitting on his far-from-home suitcase, is wondering… why?

As one example, lets have a quick squint at the case of the River Severn. Far less an attractive waterway than the Cher winding its way downstream through France but, by all accounts, the Severn boasts a tidal surge that – if harnessed correctly – could provide enough energy to renew five percent of Britain’s annual requirement for power.

Bit of a step in the right direction, wouldn’t you say..? Of course – no debate about that.

However, with legions of boffins, white-coated scientists and clip-board wielding researchers on hand, I’m wondering just how long it is that that – as a fact – has been known. Plus… I’m also wondering why the date of 2050 is being bandied around to implement such a scheme?

Because, the other side of that particular coin says… climate change – and its clearly disastrous consequences – have been known about for decades. Yet, how long – for example – is it that we’ve known from scientific studies that carbon emissions would have to be reduced to more or less nil by the middle of this century?

Personally, I wasn’t aware (possibly for not paying attention at the back of the class). However… those in the know, the studiers of studies such as this – who are paid to know and to advise – would have known… or… weren’t they paying attention either?

Anyway as expected (and not before time), there are now committees, public enquiries and all those good things being set up – the not so small matter of wildlife and the ecological and environmental impact has to be looked into, duly considered and so forth. Of course… of course; even though their natural habitats are already being affected by rising sea-levels, migrating birds have their rights too.

Jolly good… but – should something like this have not been figured out twenty years ago? Wouldn’t it have been a bit of a better move to get ahead of the game as opposed to running the gauntlet of taking it to the wire?

Wind farms are another example – a natural source of renewable energy and yet the main detraction (as I see it) is that… they’re not pretty. That’s a subjective view (sic) wouldn’t you say… but, isn’t there an over-riding issue that says… necessity now really outweighs beauty?

Solar panels… and those dinky little solar lights that’ll be purchased by the dozen from those garden centres and DIY warehouses that’ll still be left standing as the depression’s teeth bite deeper and Spring morphs into Summer. They look very pretty as dusk falls, light up millions of gardens to a certain degree but… they’re only powered by a tiny strip of solar plasticy-stuff that’s about an inch square; most probably the reason they don’t give out a lot of light and light up a few blades of surrounding grass.

Yet – just as another indiscriminate example – why isn’t every single street-light around the world powered this way?

Of course it’d take time to convert them all – yes, true, there’d be a cost involved and the bit of plasticy-stuff would – out of necessity – have to be a bit bigger… sort of like a… yes, a Solar Panel…. but… the counter to that is – just how much (percentage wise) of global power is used to light urban streets and motorways? Maybe someone out there who reads this would know the answer to that – but the main point is, why are we (as a world) not doing something as simple as this. Or, am I just a simpleton?

The downside could, I suppose, be a rise in hoodie-crime whereby we’d see people shinning up lamp-posts to nab the solar panels to power their boom-boxes. Better than knife crime though.

Here’s another thought – wherever one travels, there is new building going on. Yes, I know that the construction sector has been hit bloody hard by the ‘credit-crunch’ and that the housing market is in free-fall… but, that’s not where I’m heading with this – again it’s just a little wonderment of mine, which says… why aren’t new houses being roofed with a combination of tiles and… solar panels?

The technology is there – plus, it’s a known fact that the mass-production of solar panels is not expensive – equals… why not? The upsides are obvious… and yet, all we see are endless television adverts for companies like Everest, fronted by a bloke who walks through these deeply irritating slices of television as if he’s suffering from a nasty dose of hemorrhoids, plying their wares.

Of course it makes sense to replace the replaceable… IF you have the spare cash nowadays – but, who has that? Equals – why not start the process with new builds? Seems so obvious, yet – I don’t see it happening… do you?

Nope… instead what I did see was that, in Northumbria, they’ve (that’d be a load of clip-board wielding researchers from, I guess, Newcastle University) discovered that cows are happier if they’re given names and… that if they’re named then they produce more milk; apparently an extra (nearly) two pints a day.

Highly laudable and a truly stonking bit of research… goodness knows how much the tax-payers have ploughed into that… but, if that’s the way forward with our bovine lady-friends – so be it.

However, I’d still argue that another product that they emit has as much value. Maybe there’d be an equation (sorry, I don’t have my calculator or clip-board to hand right now, nor do I have oodles of research Euros) that’d show (prove) cows’ production of methane multiplies by their being given names.

Come along Daisy, be a good girl and don’t struggle… I just need to insert this tube, I promise it won’t hurt… much.

HRH the Prince of Wales (allegedly) talks to his plants; we now have farmers talking to their cows… oh look, there’s an ocean wave over there – I think I’ll have a bit of a chat with one of them.

Time, I think, to burn a crumpet or three, make my small contribution to global warming and have a bit of a ponder on Project Y.

Although you never can tell, I had a sneaking suspicion that there might be something of a response to the random list of covers that I heaped up onto the world wide wait fairly recently – and Drew, from near to the best boulangerie in all of France, was first out of the traps with a few views of his own. An individual for whom the very words music and informed-thought go together like ripened carrot and dangled stick; it was no surprise that some of his own, stimulating, musings were proffered.

To be frank, I’d not really planned to write anything more on the subject… but… having done-so, I suppose the actual doing-so fired my own creative (?) juices, meaning that over the past few nights, I’ve tossed and turned in the borrowed bed with ever-lengthening lists appearing like so many rain-cloud speech-bubbles above my head.

Because… as each succeeding day-break approached, it equally dawned on me that I’d missed out quite a few that, frankly, should have been in there.

Equals, Drew’s nudge was a little bit of impetus in a direction in which my solar-powered-Voltaire-vehicle was already heading; find a few that really work and counter with one or two that don’t make the grade.

And so, ablaze with another bout of imagination; fuelled by a far from healthy intake of caffeine, ecologically energized by a colossal bacon sandwich swilled down by a rapid trawl through my trusty repository of music, the i-Tunes folder… and taking the place of time that should have been spent at the IFPI, off I go (again):

o Sweet Thing – The Waterboys / Van Morrison… how the hell did I miss this gem, an absolutely near-as-perfection rough diamond, from off the previous touted list. To be truthful, I’m not altogether sure if the Waterboys ever, officially, recorded their version of Van the Man’s classic from Astral Weeks… However, it was a staple of their live set on the mid-Eighties tour they did in both North America and across Europe with the guys from Dublin’s fair city. Which means I got to see it played quite a few times. Yeah, I know – bloody lucky. So… the version I’m thinking of was taken from a show in Toronto on one of the days off from the main run of concerts; a somewhat hastily put together gig was arranged at El Mocambo, the medium sized club in which the Stones had once played warm-up dates and where a stunning Elvis Costello bootleg had also been recorded. The place was absolutely jam-packed and it was one of those most magical of musical nights where everything was as good as it gets; the band played as well as – I think – I ever saw and yes, this really was a night when The Big Music came out to play. And, the entire show was recorded straight off of the desk and someone (can’t remember who) gave me a tape – this being long before the digital age. Back in Blighty it became an almost permanent fixture in my car-stereo until… the unthinkable occurred; the thin cassette tape wound its way around the innards of the machine and… broke. No copy, no back-up, no… nothing. Maybe a copy exists somewhere out there in www-land… if it does, I’d dearly love one… until then, Mike Scott’s take on Sweet Thing is filed away in my memory-bank of musical highlights as one of the greatest covers of all time.
o Twist & Shout – Chakka Demus & Pliers / The Beatles / The Isley Brothers… so strange and way out of the ordinary that it almost works; CD&P’s bump ‘n grind hip-swiveller got them an unlikely hit bringing a little ray of Jamaican sunshine that shook-up the charts almost as much as the mop-tops originally did. However, its worth searching out the bros Isley’s earlier cut (which gave them their first hit in over three years as a follow-up to Shout which, itself, is a worthy inclusion in that it was covered by Lulu & The Luvvers) to see just how far this song has travelled over the decades.
o Dancin’ Barefoot – U2 / Simple Minds / The Mission / Patti Smith… very occasionally played live, this is the U2 version that was used in the soundtrack to a film entitled Threesome and I have a sneaking suspicion that it might also have seen the light of day as a single b-side. Never saw the movie but, I’d imagine from its title that the plot involves some form of ménage a trois. Both The Mission’s and Simple Minds’ versions are – as one’d imagine – gruesomely bombastic and I’d wager that there is a definitive reading of the song still to be recorded.
o Light My Fire – Al Green / Jose Feliciano / The Doors… something tells me that the original is just such a timeless cut that nothing could top it – yet, in a peculiar way, both Al Green’s gospel cry and the blind Feliciano’s flamenco stab at it from behind his heavy-duty Roy Orbison sunglasses do add a certain something to the original; most especially through their singular vocal interpretation on the lyric.
o I Can’t Get Next To You – Annie Lennox / The Jess Roden Band / Al Green / The Temptations… the pen is mightier than the sword – it’s a song (for whatever reason) that simply doesn’t suit or work with the female voice; thus Annie’s brave attempt is a bit like the long-jumper who attempted the world record without the benefit of a run-up… close but no cigar. The Temps’ stone-ground classic is, needless to say, the benchmark variant but… for those who were lucky enough to witness the Kidderminster Kid and his own-named band in full flight during that long hot summer of ’76 would remember their truly inspired, sweat-soaked, attack’s on this northern-rock-face of soul… Ronnie Taylor’s sax was way out there but it was Jess’ voice that always lifted this into other-worldly places; the singer who should’ve but never quite did.
o Me & Mrs Jones – Amy Winehouse / Marvin Gaye / Curtis Mayfield / Al Green / Billy Paul… hmmm, what to say here then… its hard to pick a winner (not that this is a contest), the original stands up loud and proud even if a little pop-tastic to these ears; Mayfield, Gaye and Green all bring something special to the lyric and yet what do you say to the Amy and her wine-gum approach to Me & Mr Jones… she cuts it yet, somehow, there’s a flavour missing to her particular brand of this mustard.
o The Last Time – The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra / The Who / The Damned / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Jimmy Nail / The Rolling Stones… a somewhat cheesy instrumental version put together by the Stones’ then manager… quite listenable yet not particularly noteworthy until… The Verve are factored in. One of the key hook-lines to Bittersweet Symphony is lifted directly – as a sample – from Oldham’s orchestral version of Mick ‘n Keef’s original. Somewhat foolishly, no one in The Verve camp thought to properly clear that sample (for publishing) thus, when that song became a monumental hit, law-suits were invoked… and its rare indeed to out-gun Allen Klein’s office… equals, Richard Ashcroft fell a long way short in royalty earnings (from memory – he eventually conceded the lot). The Who’s version leaves a lot to be desired having been rush-released (rush-recorded?) around the time of the writer’s being banged up after the infamous Who Breaks A Butterfly On A Wheel, Redlands, Mars Bar informed drugs bust. The least said the better about Jimmy Nail’s cover while the Damned’s full-on amphetamine fuelled version is interesting to say the least and altogether different to the RPO’s languid assault on what is, essentially, a very beautiful melody.
o The Thin Line Between Love And Hate – Annie Lennox / The Pretenders… ahhh… truly phenomenal… its quite extraordinary (to these ears) how much menace Ms Lennox is able to convey in what, on first hearing, sounds like such a simple reading of a song… sure, she’s working with a set of amazing Chrissie Hynde lyrics but even so… after two or three listens, its that exceptional ability of hers to mix the bitter-sweet with absolute intimidation within an incomparable arrangement that takes her version right out there into the ether of true greatness.
o She’s Lost Control – Grace Jones / Joy Division… who’d a thought it… Grace playing on the swings with Joy Division; chasing Ian Curtis’ lyric – that centers around a girl’s epileptic fits – around a musical climbing-frame constructed Sly ‘n Robbie. Forming a key moment in her Compass Point, Taxi All-Stars informed trilogy of albums, this was a truly genius spot of A&R direction by the 6’3” tall Captain – otherwise known as Bill Stewart; former cricket commentator and Guards Officer, whose credit for the content on all three of those records has been severely undervalued.
o A Whiter Shade Of Pale – Annie Lennox / Procul Harum… the original’s simply too good to muck about with and, sorry Annie, yours just doesn’t work. File under, big mistake – shouldn’t have bothered. However… the other song that does, off that same album of covers, and to absolutely epic effect – and I dunno who the original was by – is No More I Love You’s… God, but how glorious is that… an almost-hymn to the desolation of the final goodbye.
o Comin’ To Git Ya – The Beautiful People / Jimi Hendrix… oh Lordy Miss Clawdy, this is a curious one; The Beautiful People were (possibly still are) an electronica combo that had an absolute obsession with Jimi and… who came up with a bit of a beezer idea: to re-work some of Jimi’s songs within the genre they inhabited and to intercut all of that they did with a stack of samples from the original masters… Alan Douglas – head of the Hendrix estate at the time, went along with it and they were given a free run of those masters. This melds together dance and Jimi, though his bits come in at different angles and from a selection of different tracks… thus, I’m not quite sure if it properly qualifies as a straight-out cover… in any event, it’s a remarkable mixture with this track heading for where JMH was bound for anyway – musical outer space.
o My Sweet Lord – Billy Preston / George Harrison…this is a version taken from the Concert For George show… recorded, I think, not that long before Billy himself died… and, with him backed by a load of musical illuminati. Better than the original – jury’s out there – but still, in its own way, this is indispensible… basically because it sounds so utterly glorious and a real celebration of George’s unique talent.
o The Tide Is High – Blondie / The Paragons… a bit like making a sauce, so long as you have a few fresh ingredients, are able to work up a good base and as long as you get the rest of ‘em into the pan in more or less the right order and keep tasting… you’ll do just fine. The base here is a simple yet fantastic song that very few had heard outside of Jamaica; the other key ingredients are Chinn & Chapman’s staggeringly good production plus that special something (ingredient) of Blondie – Ms Harry in particular – themselves. Reggae-matic for the masses – yeah, of course… a signpost to world domination… true again… file under exceptional…oh yes, it is on my grassy knoll.
o Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – U2 / Eric Clapton / Guns ‘n Roses / The Alarm / Bryan Ferry / Randy Crawford / Bob Dylan… where do you start with Dylan’s masterpiece that was written for the soundtrack of Pat Garret & Billy The Kid – perhaps with the truly dreadful screech of Axl Rose who almost single-handedly demolished the song beyond redemption (ok, so I’m a minority of one here but, I gotta say, I absolutely loathe not just the band but what they did to that song); Brain Ferarri’s take is hardly subtle or awe inspiring; The Alarm – Dylan nuts as they were, worked up a storm with it live even tho’ their own haircuts were a cumulative disaster; Clapton’s… a bit bland (though much beloved of his gigantic audience) and so – I’d suggest that if a killer-variant was out there, it’d be the one that contains U2 as Dylan’s backing band for the night; the foil provided by Bono to Bob’s lead vocal knocks this onto a different ledge all on its own.
o Stand By Me – John Lennon / Ben E King… what a song… what a bloody amazing song; and absolutely nothing to choose between either of ‘em. Suits both voices down to the proverbial T; suits you sir… oh yes.
o You’ve Got A Friend – Dusty Springfield / James Taylor / Ella Fitzgerald / Carole King… knit one, pearl one, perm any nine from ten as there are literally dozens of covers… its that archetypal situation isn’t it – a great song and everyone but everybody wants to have a bash at it, perhaps to see if they can truly stamp their own authority on it. The Carole King original by way of the Brill Building off of Tapestry is as good as it gets; Sweet Baby James Taylor’s is about as definitive as it comes with – as great as they are, the likes of Ella and Dusty coming in close(ish) behind.
o The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan – Marianne Faithfull / Dr Hook…the original by the bloke with the eye-patch who looked a bit like a slimmed down but 3rd rate Captain Pugwash-Sparrow, was, frankly, pretty bland but this – filled in by rippling keyboards courtesy a certain S. Winwood – is far from it; MF pushes the lyric so far that you can almost smell fresh baguettes as she drives in that open top car across Paris. Another inspired piece of A&R direction – possibly via Killer Tuesday (tho’ I don’t know for certain) – otherwise credited as Mark Miller Mundy, the producer of Broken English from which this landed MF into the lower reaches of the charts.
o The Long Black Veil – The Chieftains with Mick Jagger / The Band… yet another unlikely coupling, Paddy Maloney – chief Chieftain alongside the Big Boulder himself – launching in to a story of infidelity and the honour of non-betrayal as told from the scaffold, rope around the neck and the trap-door about to drop. There are echoes of The Band’s original in this, especially in Jagger’s vocal phrasing – being something of an aficionado of theirs, it’d be The Band’s original as choice #1 but… as odd as this might seem, the Chieftains variant on their theme is well worth checking out.
o Some Guys Have All The Luck – Robert Palmer / Junior Tucker / Rod Stewart / Maxi Priest / The Persuaders… just a great song equals, plenty of hits though, still for my money, the best of the many versions is that by Junior Tucker – who turned it into a rather sweet early-teen anthem of pubescent annoyance at his school-mates making out with all the best looking gals. Rod and Robert had variously laid their way around the world with a multiplicity of blonde bimbettes on the back of their hits with this so it would’ve been nice for Junior’d if had a hit too… but, he didn’t; still the superior version though.
o Downtown Train – Rod Stewart / Tom Waits… as much as Rod Stewart’s version made pop-sense of the song, Tom’s own gravel-based dirge is still miles ahead down the track. The only good thing that happened when the Modster covered it is that it brought the song – as quality a piece of writing as ever there was – to a much wider attention. Forget the cover, go download the original.
o I Am The Walrus – Spooky Tooth / The Beatles…traversing the peak district of the Beatles’ loaded canon is always a bit of dangerous undertaking; the chance of being blown straight out of the water by committing mediocrity being a distinct possibility. Not so here; recorded when the group, that started life in Carlisle as Art before mutating into the (much better named) Spooky Tooth, began falling to bits. Hence the title of their final offering being The Last Puff. The references to the original are all there but this is as heavy as lead-guttering and a more-than laudable precursor for what Kurt Cobain would be credited as inventing decades later in Seattle. If Nirvana was musical Renaissance by way of growled vocals and heavy guitars this, by definition, is Neolithic grunge.

So, there we go then… not any form of compilation – just a few arbitrary thoughts on a haphazard selection of songs… some downright miraculous, others – errr, not quite so bridled by out and out quality.

Time, I think, to leave the distracting world of potential Project Y and… re-enter the (su)real world of Project X…