I can almost sense you rolling your eyes already, but hear me out.
I’ve often thought that many of their songs have a country-tinge to them. This, a live favourite from 1977’s Rockin’ All Over The World album (with a deliberate mis-spelling since they were the subject of my only ever take-down notice) is a case in point:
Go on, give it a go. You only have to listen to it once to see what I mean.
The UK Compensation Act 2006 makes it clear that an apology is not equivalent to an admission of liability.
This means that if, heaven forbid, you are involved in a road traffic collision – not an accident, as that implies, as Howard Jones once said, no-one is to blame, and in road traffic collisions at least one person is to blame – you can say “I’m sorry” and it cannot be interpreted as you saying “I’m sorry for what has happened, it’s all my fault.”
In my line of work, I see this a lot. “Your driver admitted liability!”, solicitors and insurance companies will say in open correspondence. “No they didn’t, they said they were sorry, which is not the same thing,” is my usual response.
You’ll have noticed over the past ten, fifteen years, maybe longer, this has crossed over into the public realm, and specifically into politics. Ministers caught with their trousers down, or who have said something obviously heart-felt but off script, will usually issue one of those “I’m sorry if…” statements. “I’m sorry if my words caused offence” is how it goes, and we all know that if they could, they would add: “But I do really think that the working class are scum and I don’t see why we should feed their children whilst their parents are staying home during the lockdown we’ve finally implemented. It’s not my fault if they don’t have savings, or friends who work in finance, or land, or rich parents.”
On Tuesday, as the UK hit 100,000 Covid-related deaths (top of the league! Woo-hoo! Go Yoo-Kay! They told us that post-Brexit we’d be the best, and they were right!) we were treated to an early evening press conference from the Prime Minister.
This is how the red tops chose to report it the following day:
Aw, poor old man of the people Boris Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. So very very sorry, but none of this is his fault.
Did you spot it? That’s right: Johnson didn’t just say that he was sorry. He said that he was “deeply sorry for every life that has been lost”.
And then he continued, saying that “as Prime Minister I take full responsibility for everything that the Government has done. What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could and continue to do everything that we can to minimise loss of life and minimise suffering.”
Which takes it out of the protection provided under the parameters set down under the UK Compensation Act 2006. He accepts responsibility: not the Government. Him.
Right there you have an unequivocal admission of liability. Get on the phone to those no win-no fee solicitors if you’ve lost a loved one as a result of Covid-19. Name Johnson, not the Government, as the Defendant. Just imagine: 100,000 law suits against him.
And if you need evidence of his ineptitude, feel free to use this rather handy chronology of the early days of the pandemic, courtesy of those chaps at Led by Donkeys:
For the sake of completeness and impartiality, there is mention in that clip of Johnson endeavouring to reach a divorce settlement with his estranged wife. It omits to mention that she was being treated for cancer when Johnson started being unfaithful to her, with his current partner and mother of at least one of his children, Carrie Symonds. You’re welcome.
That clip only goes up to May 2020, so here’s the edited highlights of the Government – and thus, by his own admission Johnson’s – decisions since then which haven’t exactly helped with “flattening the curve” either:
“Eat Out to Help Out”
Closing our borders a mere ten months after the pandemic started
Permitting families to mix over Christmas, and then
I don’t normally like to binge-watch TV shows which are airing weekly, daily, whatever, on terrestrial TV; I quite enjoy the old-fashioned communal feeling, now enhanced by a hashtag on Twitter, that millions of others are watching the same thing as I am at the same time, feeling the same emotions, absorbing the same experiences.
But recently, there have been two exceptions.
Firstly, Staged. The second series (note: note season) of this was about to air on BBC1, but I’d not seen the first. Having caught some of the promotional interviews the main stars had done, I was intrigued. See, I like David Tennant, and I like Michael Sheen. But which one’s best? There’s only one way to find out:
No, wait, that’s not right.
What I meant to say is that I like David Tennant, and I like Michael Sheen, and so I had to stop for a moment and think why I hadn’t bothered with the first series. And I remembered that it was because at the time it had seemed a bit “luvvy”, a bit “I AM AN ACTOR!!” and so I had avoided it.
But since I had literally nothing else to do one Sunday, and the new series started the next day, and the first series was up on Netflix and the BBC iPlayer, and since episode was only fifteen minutes long, I figured I’d give it a go. And what an absolute treat it is.
In case you’ve not seen it, the premise is that Tennant and Sheen (or should that be Sheen and Tennant?) have been cast in a play together, which due to the Covid-crisis has been put on hold. However, the writer and producer encourages them to rehearse via Zoom calls. And that’s it.
In much the same way as Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden play exaggerated versions of themselves in The Trip, so the same is true here with Tennant and Sheen and, like The Trip, it really is very funny indeed. And it’s very meta.
The second series picks up where the first left off, but ups the meta stakes: the TV series has been a success, and is being remade for an American audience, but neither Sheen nor Tennant has been cast, as they’re not considered famous enough in America. They are, however, much against their combined wills, roped in to provide advice to the various actors being considered to play them in the USA version. There’s a whole host of brilliant cameos here, all playing the same exaggeration game. Like I said, it’s very meta.
Spoiler alert, here’s one of the many trailers (with some swears):
It does get a bit “luvvy” in one episode of the second series, but they manage to reign it back in for the subsequent episodes. A strong recommend.
The second show I’ve binge-watched, as you will have guessed by the title of this post, is Russell T. Davies’ magnificent It’s A Sin.
I can’t pretend to have seen all of his works, but I’ve really enjoyed everything I have seen by Davies, and It’s A Sin seems to be the crowning glory (not a euphemism) he has been building up to writing about since he first burst on the scene with Queer as Folk in the 90s.
Spread over a ten year period, it opens in 1981, with a group of friends who share a house in London: Ritchie (played by Olly Alexander from current pop group Years and Years, who is an absolute revelation); his best friend Jill (Lydia West, who I’ve seen being tipped as the next Dr Who, and if they don’t pick Matt King/Super Hans then they could do a lot worse); Roscoe (Omari Douglas), Colin (Callum Scott Howells); and Ash (Nathaniel Curtis). I’ve singled out Alexander there, but truthfully there isn’t one duff performance amongst them.
As well as these young ‘uns there are some wonderful appearances by the likes of Stephen Fry, as a Conservative MP with a…er..soft spot for young black men; Tracy Ann Oberman as Ritchie’s agent; Neil Patrick Harris, who you will know from either 80s US-series Dougie Howser MD, or, from a brief appearance in Gone Girl, or if you’re really unlucky to have seen it, from How I Met Your Mother, one of the worst US sitcoms to have come out hoping to ride on the tailcoat of Friends. He is simply magnificent here And best of the lot, Keeley Hawes, who puts in an astonishing performance as the confused, indignant, hurt, resolute, heartless yet caring contradiction that is Ritchie’s mother. If she doesn’t win every award going for this, then I demand a recount.
Spoiler alert, here’s the trailer (with some swears)::
Never has the phrase “one minute you’re laughing, the next you’re crying” been more true than with It’s A Sin, as the group have their lives turned upside down by the AIDS crisis. It plays out like the latest in the Final Destination movie franchise, except nobody cheats death at the beginning. Or, if you prefer, like the opening twenty minutes of any episode of Casualty, except you don’t need to work out what happens to each character to lead them to a hospital bed.
It’s A Sin is not for every one though; if you’re not comfortable with fairly explicit sex scenes, which given the story-line are all gay sex scenes, then I’d say it’s probably best you avoid, but it really is your loss.
I absolutely loved it. I can’t remember the last time I watched anything where the tears changed from ones of joy and laughter to ones of feeling so absolutely distraught at the handbrake turn that had just unfolded in front of me.
And it’s a story that needed to be told; the impact of AIDS/HIV and the way the government attempted to deal with it should be on the national curriculum as part of either history or sex education classes, or both. There are lessons to be learned.
The soundtrack is, as you would expect, just magnificent, a real smorgasboard of camp 80s classics, but of every thing that features, I have to post this really, don’t I?:
Staged (Series 1) is currently available to stream on Netflix, and Staged (Series 1 & 2) is currently available to stream via the BBC iPlayer; It’s A Sin is currently airing on Friday nights at 21:00, and the whole series is available to stream via the All 4 app.
Today, it is two years since my best friend Llŷr died.
Since he passed, as I’ve tried to cope with, understand and process what has happened, I’ve read many articles offering advice on the subject of grief and loss. Some of them have helped, some…not so much. But I thought that posting a pertinent quote for each year that has passed since he left us seemed a good way to mark the anniversary.
So here goes:
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved.
But this is also the good news.
They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up.
And you come through.
It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” – Anne Lamott
Whilst I think that every word of that is true, I wanted the second quote to be something a little more personal, something which I hadn’t gone looking for, and for a good while I was struggling to come up with anything. Obvious things, like the lyrics to Cliff’s Wired for Sound or Phil’s Sussudio, didn’t seem appropriate, somehow.
But then the other day I caught the end of The Shawshank Redemption, a film I’m sure you’re all very familiar with (if not: spoiler alert!).
It was not a film that Llŷr and I watched together, but one monologue by Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, made me think about my departed friend, and it reminded me that a memory of him will often appear from nowhere, just when I’m least expecting it.
And once I’ve wiped the inevitable tear away, I can smile at the memory, even though I wish there could be more moments to add to it:
“Those of us who knew him best talk about him often.
I swear, the stuff he pulled. It always makes us laugh.
Sometimes it makes me sad, though, Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are just too bright and when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice…but still, the place you live is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone.
I guess I just miss my friend.”
Whenever I write one of the posts in this series, I try to take a step back, and I think: Am I doing him a dis-service by trying to remember him this way? It helps me to be able to write about him, but is that enough of a reason to keep doing them?
And then I read the compassionate, caring comments that these posts tend to generate, and my doubts dissipate. And I think of something my boss – and friend – Kay said to me: “I never knew Llŷr, but I feel as if I do because of what you’ve written.”
That’s all I want really; for those who knew him to never forget him, and for those that didn’t to understand, well, they were unlucky. Had they known him, then they would have loved him just as much as we all did.
Of all the hundreds, no thousands, no millions of tunes Llŷr loved, this, I believe, was his favourite, and I will wager there’s not one person who knew him that doesn’t think of him whenever they hear it:
I realised this later than perhaps I should have done, but given that I didn’t start going “proper” clubbing until I hit 30, that’s no real surprise. (By “proper” clubbing, I mean the type of club where you are just there for the music and atmosphere, not one of the meat markets where pissed up lads would try and cop off after the pubs were shut.)
There’s no doubt about it, it was a mid-life crisis, but one that I embraced whole-heartedly, and not one that I reflect on with any regret or shame. In fact, it was regret which finally led me to go: I’d been a DJ at the college at the end of the 1980s/start of the 1990s, when the whole rave culture was properly kicking off, but did I engage? No. I turned my nose up at it, denounced it as “not real” music because it didn’t have guitars on it. Idiot.
One of the things I loved about clubbing – apart from the music – was how easy it was to chat to random strangers. If a tune came on that I wasn’t keen on, or didn’t know, or if I just needed a cigarette – smoking on the dancefloor was a definite no-no – I’d make my way over to the seats and spark up. Almost inevitably, someone sitting nearby would come over to bum either a cigarette or a light, and I was always prepared for such an eventuality, taking two packets of cigarettes out with me, several lighters, even a couple of packs of chewing gum, just in case. I probably could have set up a tobacconist kiosk. In any other setting once that transaction was completed, that would be it. But not here: in this world, this would usually just be an ice-breaker, followed up with either: “You ‘avin a good night mate?” or “Where you from mate?”
Nobody seemed to care that I was a good ten years older than everyone else in the club that night. Many of them just assumed that I’d been going since circa 1990, and I was happy to let our conversation continue with them under that misapprehension. It imbued me with some undeserved elder statesman kudos.
I made so many friends during the few years I regularly went clubbing, it’s incredible, many of whom I’m still in touch with, despite barely having seen them in the last fifteen years or so. Some I recognised from work but didn’t really know, some I’d never met before but would regularly hook up with or bump into the next time I was out in clubland, thereby sealing a new friendship. The occasional person I had no recollection of whatsoever. Maybe I’ll write about some of them, sometime. Names will have to be changed to protect the not so innocent.
I look back on those nights with a huge amount of affection, and wish I could go back there. But I remember the night I realised it was time for me to quit all too vividly.
Some mates and I had gone to a club which wasn’t really to my taste, but I’d been outvoted. It was all bright and shiny and polished and had mirrors on every wall, the very opposite to the dark and dirty surroundings of Cardiff’s now-closed Emporium which I simply adored.
I fancied a cigarette, left the dancefloor before remembering that the smoking ban had just come in. I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of going outside, so I thought I’d just sit down for a bit, see who was around to chat to. Only to find there was nowhere to sit, so I ended up just standing, on my own, sort of near the dancefloor, looking around me at all the beautiful people.
And I suddenly felt very old and very out of place. When I was young and we went to a club, we used to point and laugh at an old bloke who was there on his own, probably just wanting an after hours drink, but looking like the archetypal dirty old man. Is that how I look to these people?
So I hung up my dancing shoes, and never went back.
So, for as many weeks as I remember to do it, a tune which reminds me of those days will appear here, sometimes with an anecdote, sometimes not.
Starting with this, which would often get aired in the final hour or so of the club night at the Emporium me and my mates went to the most:
This has been getting a fair bit of airplay on BBC 6Music for the past few weeks:
This is what it says on Freestylers’ Bandcamp page:
“Successfully crossing the divide between dance and pop – there’s nothing but relentless energy and good vibes from Freestylers’ new single ‘Happiness’. Drawing inspiration from the rave classics that inspired the prolific production duo’s early sound, the track has become a much requested anthem in their regular lockdown live DJ sets. Similar to the most anthemic moments of Chase & Status & Sub Focus – plant your hands in the air, it’s about to go off!”
It really does remind me of some of those Old Skool rave classics, but it also reminds me of something else, something quite, quite different, which I was quite surprised wasn’t getting mentioned at all when Happiness was getting played, and which isn’t mentioned anywhere on their Bandcamp page, or any other of the promotional blurb I’ve read.
It can’t just be me that’s noticed that the melody line – and indeed the saxophone – bears more than a passing resemblance to this, can it?
And then I read the comments under the video on YouTube. Definitely not just me who’s noticed…
This is the series where I feature The Guardian’s idea of the 100 best UK #1s ever, and we see what I have to say about them.
There’ll be one along that I disagree with at some point, surely?
Not this week, there won’t.
Here’s what The Guardian had to say about the record at #95 on the list:
“It won’t be too much of a spoiler to reveal that this is the only No 1 single in this list that concerns how the brutally uncaring nature of new technology can paradoxically deepen nostalgia while rendering the past irrelevant. Trevor Horn and co turned this material into postmodern gold, building jingles, prog, orchestral pop and more into a screwball fantasy. That cold steady kick drum, meanwhile, is like techno kicking the door down to take over pop culture.”
They speak, of course, of this:
If I think back, this was probably one of the first singles I can properly remember seeing on Top of the Pops, although I was certainly aware of all of the singles from the Grease soundtrack a year earlier too, and there’s a vague awareness of Blondie and Sparks bubbling away back there, although for very different reasons (Debbie Harry would become my first pop star crush, whilst Ron Mael absolutely terrified the bejesus out of me).
However, I don’t necessarily remember it being performed on Top of the Pops, but I do remember seeing the video, which, given the subject matter of the song – how the rise in the popularity of videos being used to promote pop songs would ultimately make the radio an obsolete broadcast form – is a tad on the ironic side.
And the reason I remember the video? Well, it was shiny and silvery and a bit tacky and a bit space-agey, full of space-agey machines, just like the two TV shows which I was obsessed with back then: Dr Who and Blake’s 7.
And here are two of the space-agey machines from (Ton Baker-era) Doctor Who:
Absolutely terrifying….and from Blake’s 7:
Let’s see how impressive it looks when you switch it on:
Erm…it’s just a see through case with some tubes and wires and flashing lights in it, and a voice which sounds suspiciously like K9 from Doctor Who, that’s what that is.
But I digress. Video Killed…was also the first time that many of us encountered Trevor Horn; although Buggles would go on to have two further Top 40 hits in the UK (Living in the Plastic Age and Clean Clean), it was as a producer that Horn earned his star status, producing records by, in chronological order (pretty much) *deep breath*: Yes, ABC, Dollar, Spandau Ballet, Malcolm McLaren, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Band Aid, Grace Jones, Propaganda, Godley & Creme, Pet Shop Boys, Simple Minds, Paul “Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft” McCartney, Seal, Marc Almond, Tori Amos, Barry Manilow, Tom Jones, Cher, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner (he should hung up his headphones by now, in my book) and Charlotte Church, as well as forming the ZTT record label and being part of The Art of Noise.
Released in 1979, Video Killed… predicts the rise in the importance of video some two years before MTV was launched, and as such it’s prophetic, but inaccurate. Horn’s own career is evidence enough of this. But it can hardly be described as having killed radio; given it a bloody nose maybe, but killed? Nah. Had he also predicted the rise in popularity of the podcast, fit-bits, and podcasts about fit-bits (there’s bound to be one our there somewhere, isn’t there?) then maybe I’d have paid a bit more attention.
Since I mentioned the show earlier in this post, with the news that Jodie Whitaker is standing down as The Doctor in Dr Who, there will soon follow the usual media feeding-frenzy about who the next one will be.
I have a suggestion.
The best Doctors are the ones who manage to seem other-worldly, and I think there’s one actor who could pull this off at a stroke. I’m tempted to start an internet campaign to make them the next Dr Who. And that actor is…Matt King.
Matt, who? I hear you ask.
Matt King. This Matt King:
That’s right: Super Hans from Peep Show.
In a world where they can rehabilitate super-swearer Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It as Peter Capaldi’s incarnation, then I see no reason why they can’t do the same for drug-addled Super Hans.
And if he’s not quite other-worldly enough, just give him some more crack*. That should do the trick.
And this could be his show-reel:
Who’s with me? Anyone….?
*I am not really advocating this, although I am deadly serious about King’s suitability.
Today, a song that I absolutely adored when I was a kid. And still do, obviously
Co-written with Jacob Brackman, Nile Rodgers, Todd Rundgren, and Steve Winwood, this was released by photographer-turned-singer Lynn Goldsmith under an alter ego.
It is performed as an instruction guide, a self-help tutorial, and has none other than Carly Simon playing the part of the “before girl” in those before and after adverts one sees, which act as the breaks between Goldsmith’s spoken lessons.
I’m still pretty sure this record is absolute genius – name me another song which conveys teenage fears of having a first snog with a rhyming couplet as bang-on as: “Will I spoil it with my overbite?/Will our noses bump in the moonlight?” – and simply cannot understand why it only got to #17 in the UK charts back in 1983. It deserved better.
Prepare to be transported back to when you were a young ‘un:
Oh, and in case you’re interested and wish to try it at home, the ‘romance chant method’ mentioned in the song goes like this:
“Hableme el unico del mundo. Digame: comoe te hare ese sonido. Tan glorioso. Que aun hoba con anticipation de el. Me ha reducio a un bestia. Grunedo. Entusiomandose why paliptando.”
Which, according to Google Translate (so y’know, large pinch of salt at the ready) means this:
“Speak to me the only one in the world. Me: I’ll make that sound for you. So glorious. That he still worked with anticipation of him. He has reduced me to a beast. Grunedo. Enthusiastic and palpitating.”