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.


Anonymous said...

Being geographically challenged means I didn't see your Brit Awards. The Grammys were tedious other than Plant / Krauss - far too many collaborations which those kind of shows sem to like yet which don't work very well.

I'll forgive the fact that you've yet to post another compilation Neil on the basis that what I've just read was probably your best piece so far.

Sounds like your Project-X has really shifted gears now - to have an endorsement such as you have from the IFPI is serious indeed.

Power to you.


Drew said...

I think the deliciously anarchic KLF's sub-machine gun blank-firing into the audience at 'The Brits' hi-lighted what a self-regarding pageant the whole affair has become now. The very zenith of 'F**k-you!', and never matched since.

The 'Goody' industry has become truly grotesque, down at the low-quality media's end of the municipal drainpipe. With Clifford as the inevitable middleman/matchmaker in this avaricious alliance, a heart-wrencing picture of her pain being worse than anyone else's is being splashed across the red mast-heads for the gluttonous consumption of a public which needs to be seen to care.
Complete absence of decorum. Tomorrow's fish & chip wrappings.

Political correctness which gives undue consideration to avoid even the slightest chance of inadvertantly offending somebody's over-inflated sense of self-identity...don't get Drew started.

All speed to 'X', so we can tell it all as it really is.